This year Colorado Parks and Wildlife has started an initiative to better understand the distribution of Chronic Wasting Disease throughout the state, and hunters have been called upon to help them out. In 2017, mule deer hunters from specific game management units will be required to submit a sample from deer that they have harvested to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife office in order to be tested for Chronic Wasting disease or CWD.
Chronic Wasting Disease is a form of what scientists call a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, or a disease that targets the brain. CWD has been specifically recognized in deer, elk, and moose in western states, including Colorado. Basically, CWD is the result of a misfolded protein called a prion that targets the brain of an animal that is infected and leaves microscopic holes in that particular animal’s brain. This leads to the animals displaying behavior that would otherwise seem irrational. Infected animals often become emaciated and weak, and all animals infected will die at some point from the disease. The problem is, animals that are infected with CWD often show no signs of being sick, so it is difficult to acquire an accurate estimate as to how many animals in an area are infected.
This year, selected hunters will be required to submit the heads of harvested mule deer to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife office to help biologists get a better understanding of how many deer are affected by CWD throughout the state. Hunters selected from 20 different game management units (these units are listed on page 19 of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s 2017 Colorado Big Game Brochure) will receive a notification in the mail before hunting season letting them know that if they harvest a deer they must bring the deer’s head to the closest CPW office. For the hunters required to bring in a sample, the testing will be free of charge, if you want to get your deer tested on your own, it will cost $25.
In order to have your animal tested, you just need to bring in the animal’s head. If possible, remove the animal’s head 2-4 inches below the skull. Do not bring in just the brain or a piece of the brain, as that is not accepted for testing. It is recommended that you get the head of your animal to the CPW within five days of harvest. If you have been selected to bring in a sample, but you have an animal that you would like to mount, have no fear. The sample that the CPW will remove will in no way damage the skull or hide of the deer. To help make things simple, the CPW has asked that if you plan to have your deer mounted with the hide on, take your deer to the taxidermist first so that they can remove the cape. On the other hand, if you plan to have a European style mount you should bring your animal to the CPW before the taxidermist.
A couple weeks after the sample is taken, you will be able to find out whether or not your deer was positive for Chronic Wasting Disease. If your deer happens to test positive, it is recommended by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife and by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, that you do not eat the meat of that animal. There have not been any known instances of CWD being transmitted to humans, but it is also a disease that is not well understood and as the cliché goes, It is better to be safe than to be sorry. In some areas, if your animal tested positive you may be able to get an antlerless license through the CPW office so that you can still fill your freezer.
By Colt Allred
NWCO Hunting Guide