NDA Members Vary in How They Hunt With (or Without) CWD

August 3, 2020 | by National Deer Alliance

In a recent edition of our On Watch Newsletter, we asked National Deer Alliance (NDA) members about how chronic wasting disease (CWD) has impacted their hunting. Deer diseases, and CWD specifically, is one of NDA’s primary focus areas, and we wanted to know how NDA members are hunting with (or without) CWD. Here’s what they had to say.

About 68% of responding members live in a state where wild deer have tested positive for CWD. That’s not necessarily surprising, though, considering CWD has been confirmed in wild herds in 26 states. Still, only 28% of members hunt in an area that is covered by special CWD management regulations (i.e. CWD Management Zone). While a few members mentioned that this is a conscious choice, many members simply do not live or hunt where CWD is present. However, some noted that CWD is close to where they hunt, and new positive detections seem to get closer each year.

Just 1% of responding members have ever harvested a wild deer that tested positive for CWD. Most respondents noted, however, that they have not had any of their deer tested. “I have never tested any of my deer for CWD,” said Ray from Pennsylvania. But others are hoping to change that. “I haven't had my deer tested – I will be starting this year though,” John from Colorado said.

Other members have been testing their deer without incident, though. “I’ve gotten my deer tested for the last three years. Five deer and no positives,” said Mel from Michigan. Phil from Montana has had similar results: “I have had several tested over the past couple of years from positive areas and have never had a positive result.”

Finally, we asked if the presence or absence of CWD in a specific state or area affects members’ decisions to hunt there. For most members (58%), it doesn’t. For these folks, tradition or family-owned property plays a big role. “I hunt traditional family property,” said John from Michigan. “I don’t know if I would hunt elsewhere even if CWD arrived.”

Another member echoed that statement: “I have my own property in a CWD infected county that I do hunt. I would not go to another county with CWD unless it was for the purpose of reducing the herd in a highly infected area.”

But many members did note that the presence or absence of CWD does affect their decision to hunt out of state. “When I traveled to Colorado to hunt deer and elk, CWD presence in the units I was interested in was one of the determining factors in unit selection,” Jacob from Ohio said.

“I used to hunt in Illinois and Colorado,” Eric from Georgia noted.  “CWD is definitely a factor in just staying in Georgia and managing my own land. I’m not interested in hunting in a CWD area.”

Other members went a step farther and stated that they’re not interested in hunting a CWD area, even if it’s close to home. “Yes, living in a zone that has CWD management regulations isn't too much of a logistical hassle. However, hunting in a CWD zone that you don't live in is challenging because you essentially have to quarter and/or debone the deer, cape it (if mounting), remove any antlers, and dispose of the carcass before you can drive home,” said Aaron from Minnesota. “That turns what would historically be a fun hunt 90 minutes from home into an out-of-state hunt in terms of regulations and post-kill work.”

Still others are not interested in hunting at all if CWD is present. “I would not hunt any member of the deer family in an area with CWD. For me, it's simply not worth the uncertainty,” Keith from Ontario, Canada said. “Being unsure of the disease status of the animal I harvested would ruin my hunt. If I wanted to hunt in an area with CWD, I'd chose to hunt a non-susceptible species (e.g., pronghorn, black bear).”

While CWD’s impacts to NDA members’ hunting decisions vary, one thing remains consistent: CWD is a looming threat to wild deer and deer hunting. NDA stands ready to help wild deer, deer hunters and deer managers in this perilous fight against CWD.

Keep your eyes on your inboxes, or subscribe to our Newsletter if you haven’t already, to participate in our next Hunter’s Voice survey. You could be featured in a future article for NDA’s On Watch Newsletter!