Part 3 of 9: The 411 on Where Whitetails Stand with Disease in 2019
The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) constantly fights for the conservation and preservation of deer and deer hunting. Part of that fight is the warfront on disease. This was shared in their 2019 Whitetail Report.
CWD is caused by an abnormal protein referred to as a prion. Prions are neither alive nor dead. You can’t kill it with heat or chemicals. Once contracted, it is an always-fatal disease that thrives in the nervous system of cervids (deer, elk, reindeer and moose). It can be passed on through saliva, urine, feces, spinal and brain fluids, etc. Similar diseases affect other animals such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) which is also referred to as Mad Cow Disease. It’s also found in sheep, known as Scrapie. Interestingly enough, we already know that Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) — a sister disease to BSE and CWD — is capable of infecting humans. CWD has been found in 26 states. That said, in most of those states, CWD is confined to a very small area within them.
“Regardless of whether CWD has been identified in your area, it impacts deer hunters everywhere by restricting what hunters can do,” QDMA said. “For example, it limits freedoms such as traveling with whole carcasses after a successful hunt, as well as using a variety of hunting products and/or management tools. It also removes the possibility, in some cases, for hunters to advance buck age structure because research suggests that bucks are more at-risk to contract CWD than does. As a result, some agencies have removed and/or restricted use of regulations that move bucks into older age classes. In contrast, other agencies argue the removal and/or discontinuation of such regulations will not result in a positive outcome toward slowing CWD spread and have decided to continue their use due to their popularity and net impact on hunter engagement. Because this disparity is inherently confusing to hunters and the public, we surveyed state and provincial wildlife agencies to determine the percent buck and doe (see table) of all positive CWD samples from within their jurisdiction.”
Interestingly, the prevalence rate is much higher in bucks than their female counterparts. This is believed to be the case because does typically stick to their family groups throughout their lifetime. On the contrary, bucks form different bachelor groups each year and also share close proximity with different does within their home range.
In the Southeast, bucks accounted for 65 percent and does 35 percent of all positive test results. The Midwest shared the same statistics. In the Northeast, it was even higher with 69 percent (bucks) and 31 percent (does).
In 2018, CWD was detected for the first time in many new places.
“In February 2018 and for the first time ever CWD was found in a free-ranging white-tailed deer in western Mississippi,” QDMA said. “In October, a CWD-positive second deer was confirmed in Pontotoc County, on the other side of the state; and then a third was discovered back in Issaquena County, just 6 miles north of the original case. In December, a case was confirmed in Marshall County on the Tennessee border.”
CWD-positive cervids were also found for the first time in: northeastern Iowa, northern Illinois, northern Michigan, southeastern Missouri, southwestern Tennessee, Quebec and Finland.
According to QDMA, while not as worrisome to biologists as CWD, Hemorrhagic Disease (HD), which is closely related to Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and Blue Tongue Virus (BTV), has been found in 14 states and continues to impact deer each year. Officials also continue to test for and monitor Bovine Tuberculosis (BTB), which has only been discovered in Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin. Very few positive results have been found.
In conclusion, the largest threat, especially disease-wise, is CWD. It will continue posing the largest challenges to deer, deer hunters and biologists in the coming years. It will take a united effort by all sportsmen and sportswomen to reach a point of resolution and best management practices for this disease. For now, the best known way to prevent spread of the disease is to prohibit, or at least limit, the transport of live captive and free-ranging deer, as well as moving high-risk parts of harvested deer, too.
“Chronic wasting disease in deer is a serious matter,” QDMA said. “While the long-term implications are concerning to QDMA, to other wildlife conservation organizations, and to the majority of wildlife disease experts, the situation is not hopeless. Each day we learn more about this fatal disease, and this knowledge will ultimately help us find solutions that are not yet in our grasp. To buy time, we must prevent the further spread of CWD, and the good news is there are many steps that every hunter can take now, whether or not they are already affected by the disease. To learn more visit QDMA’s website where we have posted a clearinghouse of information about this terrible disease.”
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.