Chronic wasting disease has raised its ugly head in Mississippi again

The author with a nice mature buck, the age class that seems to be most often affected by CWD.

Discovery of second CWD deer draws more attention to Mississippi regs

Normally, at this point in the season, I would be busily engaged discussing the pre-rut, the rut, trail-camera setups, and everything in between, but this particular December I see us stepping off into uncharted territory.

What makes this December so different from those of the past is that chronic wasting disease (CWD) has raised its ugly head in Mississippi, and quite frankly, deer hunting will probably never be exactly the same again.

CWD was discovered last January in a buck in Issaquena County. Since that discovery, a multi-county “Issaquena CWD Management Zone” has been established, within which strict guidelines have been put in place that include outlawing supplemental feeding and the use or establishment of mineral or attractant stations. This is in addition to regulations governing the cleaning and processing of a harvested deer within the zone, and carcass transportation out of the zone. The Issaquena CWD Management Zone includes portions of Issaquena, Sharkey and Warren counties.

A second CWD deer

Unfortunately, on Oct. 8, 2018, a second CWD-positive deer was found in Pontotoc County in the northeastern part of the state. This discovery, of course, resulted in the establishment of a Pontotoc CWD Management Zone, which includes Union and Pontotoc counties and a portion of Lee County. The same restrictions and regulations from the Issaquena Zone are in effect in this newly established area. With two CWD positive bucks being found in a span of 10 months in different areas of Mississippi, and the resulting establishment of the two CWD Management Zones, I see this going in only one direction in the future. In a state the size of Mississippi, with a huge resident deer herd, the chances of finding additional infected deer over time are pretty good ­— some might even say high. All of us had better get used to this new reality and become as informed as possible.

The best way to become informed is to visit the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ website: www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/chronic-wasting-disease. If you are a hunter who moves through one of the two CWD management zones during the season, you may be surprised at what is being required and/or recommended regarding hunting, carcass transportation, field dressing, meat processing, disposal and equipment cleaning.

Carcass disposal

Getting people to responsibly dispose of deer carcasses in CWD zones is going to really difficult to accomplish.
Getting people to responsibly dispose of deer carcasses in CWD zones is going to really difficult to accomplish.

One topic that is covered in MDWFP’s “Best Management Practices” document addresses recommendations for minimizing potential environmental and human exposure to CWD while handling carcasses and processing meat from deer taken within one of the CWD management zones. Under the sub-topic “Disposal,” the recommendation states the following:

Recommended disposal methods for unwanted portions of carcasses (bones, organs, etc.) are:

• Leave at the harvest site

• Double-bag and send to an approved, lined landfill; or

• Deep burial (8 feet or deeper)

Those options leave me with a slightly cocked head and a furrowed brow. I absolutely see the wisdom of what is recommended, but after almost 50 years targeting deer and observing my fellow man, I see a defect in the recommendations. There is no doubt that the MDWFP sees the same defect, but reality and practicality give the agency little room to maneuver while still allowing hunters to hunt and take deer in the CWD zones. Since lymphatic and nervous tissue have the highest concentration of CWD prions in an infected deer, the second and third options hold the greatest chance of keeping CWD prions released through carcass disposal from infecting other healthy deer. The highest CWD prion concentrations include tissues in the brain, tonsils, spinal cord, spleen and lymph nodes.

Fallible humans

In several decades of experience and observation, one immutable fact has been a constant: fallible humans do all of the hunting. That means that the three recommendations for proper disposal will never be implemented as intended. I have seen far too many de-boned deer carcasses were dumped in creeks beneath bridges, thrown out in roadside washes and ditches and tossed into old stagnant ponds ­— plus everything in between. As I point this out, I personally have no better idea about what to do. In a way, I see the CWD carcass-disposal recommendations as a bunker fortified with bars and locks and alarms, but with an unlocked back door.

Very few hunters have quick ready access to a track hoe, a back hoe or a dozer, so that mostly eliminates deep burial as a practical option. Regarding the second option, who exactly is going to invest the time and expense of “sending” their carcass remains to an “approved, lined landfill” — if one is even located anywhere nearby? Maybe a few hunters, but not many I know would go to that amount of trouble.

By default, we are left with the first option, which is by far the easiest of the three. The problem is that some gut piles will be left at kill sites, but with today’s prolific use of ATVs, I dare say most deer are hauled straight to the camp or truck. As a result, most gut piles wind up in a gut bucket back at the skinning shed, along with heads, hides and everything else left after deboning. Buzzards and coyotes are usually the cleanup crew. This begs this question: since the culprit prion molecules are so resilient and long-lasting in the environment, what about the scattered coyote scat and buzzard poop that results? Hmmm, the devil always seems to be in the details.

What can leave a CWD Management Zone:

• Commercially or privately cut/wrapped meat

• Deboned meat

• Hides with no head attached

• Finished taxidermy

• Antlers with no tissue attached

• Cleaned skull plates (no brain tissue)

• Cleaned skulls (lymphoid or brain tissue)

Bill Garbo
About Bill Garbo 85 Articles
Bill Garbo is a petroleum engineer and avid whitetail hunter from Madison. He has lived and hunted out west and taken numerous big game species, but hunting big old mature southern whitetail bucks is his favorite pursuit by a country mile.