Has CWD Ever Actually Killed a Deer?

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

The answer is definitely yes. We did a little digging to learn more

Do you believe CWD is a serious threat? (Shutterstock / Tom Reichner photo)

Swim through the rough seas of deer hunting discussions on social media, and you’re bound to spy a vessel full of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) posts. And it’s a safe bet someone responded in the comment thread with something like, “CWD has never even killed a deer. If it has, where are all the dead ones? Where’s the proof?”

Frankly, there’s plenty of proof.

Renowned Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) writer and editor Lindsay Thomas Jr. recently reported on a story where a hunter watched a deer fall over dead from CWD.

“A Mississippi hunter sat in his stand and watched a deer die of the brain-destroying disease on January 21, 2018,” Thomas said. “When a tissue sample from the carcass was tested, it delivered the state’s first-ever confirmed case of CWD, making Mississippi the 25th state to find the disease.

“I put it to you like this because there are people who think we shouldn’t be concerned about CWD,” Thomas continued. “Among the false and misleading claims some of these people make is that there’s no documented case of a deer actually dying of the disease. This was false long before January 21, but hopefully the Mississippi hunter’s story can help nail the lid on that particular myth.”

Thomas’ full report was even more revealing.

Most deer infected with CWD die from something else before succumbing to the actual symptoms of the disease. CWD makes deer more susceptible to other illnesses, as well as predation. It’s like someone with an immune deficiency ultimately dying from the common cold.

Another, more recent example was a CWD-positive deer found dead in North Dakota back in February. According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s Dr. Charlie Bahnson, CWD was confirmed as the cause of death.

"All 14 previous detections were perfectly healthy-looking deer that were hunter-harvested before they got sick," Bahnson said. "This deer was severely emaciated and had an empty digestive tract, which is unusual even in starvation cases that can occur in harder winters like this one. This deer stopped trying to forage some time ago."

The full account was quite troublesome.

And yet another example comes to us courtesy of QDMA’s Matt Ross.

“Last October, in Missouri near the Arkansas border, an adult doe was found dead on a farm in Oregon County,” Ross said. “The doe was the first [wild deer] in Missouri to be found dead with the disease.”

CWD kills deer, and likely a lot of them. It just isn’t as visible of a disease as some others, such as Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD). CWD has a long incubation period, and deer that die from it often have prolonged, deteriorating health that makes them highly vulnerable to other causes of death. But the CWD infection is the ultimate cause of them being sick, and the disease is considered a bigger long-term threat to deer than anything else. And it worries game managers.

“Multiple scientific studies have confirmed population declines over time due to CWD,” Ross said. “CWD is real and it is serious business. It’s not a made-up disease. It is 100% fatal. There is currently no cure. And eradication after it has become established in the wild currently doesn’t appear feasible with the tools we have today.”

It’s not all bad news, though. Ross encourages hunters to follow wildlife agency rules and recommendations and to remember that CWD still hasn’t spread countrywide.

“Although it’s in 26 states and three provinces, luckily fewer than 10% of all U.S. counties are CWD-positive,” Ross said. “We need to keep it that way. So be responsible if you hunt in or close to CWD areas or containment zones. If you kill a deer there, don’t remove the whole carcass. Bone out the meat and leave all high-risk parts behind. Be sure to get it tested. And don’t eat the meat until test results come back negative.”

Be smart about CWD. Don’t let it freak you out. Don’t let it keep you from deer hunting. But don’t say it doesn’t kill deer, either. Because that’s not true.

Correct anyone who says otherwise.

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