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Hunters play key role in the battle against chronic wasting disease

  • 11/16/2021 1:55:00 PM
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Iowa’s deer hunters are the most effective tool to monitor and manage for chronic wasting disease, and heading in to the two shotgun seasons, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is again asking for their help.

The goal is to test around 5,000 deer samples with the bulk coming from portions of northeast and eastern Iowa near Wisconsin, Illinois; south-central Iowa near Missouri; and western Iowa near Nebraska, where the disease has been detected. Additional testing will be conducted in Pottawattamie, Cerro Gordo and Davis counties, following positive tests from captive facilities. All Iowa counties have at least 15 samples collected annually. The disease has been found in every state around Iowa.

The Iowa DNR is prioritizing samples from adult bucks as they are of higher risk of contracting the disease because they interact with many different family groups. Yearling does are the lowest priority because they are least likely to contract the disease. “If the disease is going to show up in a new area, it’s likely going to be found in adult bucks,” said Tyler Harms, wildlife biologist for the Iowa DNR. “Hopefully, targeting this group will allow us to catch it early, and then we can put our plan into action.

“Part of our chronic disease plan calls for reducing deer densities in the area around where the positive deer was confirmed. To do that, we’ve created opportunities for hunters to harvest deer in these targeted areas and are encouraging hunters to take advantage of these extra tags. We want to manage the local deer herd in these areas toward the lower end of our population goal,” Harms said.

Chronic wasting disease is a neurological disease belonging to the family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or prion diseases. It attacks the brain of infected deer and elk causing the animals to lose weight, display abnormal behavior, lose body functions and die.

The disease is spread from animal to animal through nose to nose contact and through environmental contamination from urine, feces and saliva left by infected deer. There is no cure once an animal becomes infected.

So far during the 2021-22 deer hunting seasons, one hunter harvested wild deer from Wayne County has tested positive for the disease, bringing the total deer testing positive since monitoring began in 2002, to 112.

Hunters willing to provide a sample are encouraged to contact their local wildlife biologist to arrange for collection. The DNR is also working with taxidermists who, after receiving notification from the hunter, can collect the sample without damaging the mount. “Just let them know ahead of time that you would like to provide a tissue sample,” Harms said.

Hunters who provide samples are encouraged to use separate knives and utensils to break down the deer and hold their meat separately until the results are available. They’re also encouraged to wear gloves when processing the animal and to thoroughly wash their hands and equipment. Test results are usually available within 7-10 days during the shotgun seasons.

If the deer is going to a locker, hunters should reach out to the locker ahead of time for their processing schedule and other handing requirements before arriving at their door with the meat. They should also check with their local waste hauler or landfill to see if there are any specific waste disposal requirements for accepting the deer carcass. The other option is to bury the carcass where it was harvested.

Hunters who harvest lower priority deer, like fawns, or after the state DNR sample quota is reached, have the option to provide their own sample to test by the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, in Ames, for $25. There are step by step instructions on how to do it and the form needed online at