Protecting our Deer from Chronic Wasting Disease

Protecting our Deer from Chronic Wasting Disease

Jarrod E. Stephens

The Ashland Beacon

     Deer hunting in Kentucky is a tradition that runs deeper than the roots of the bluegrass. Families enjoy the pursuit of whitetail deer and putting venison on the table. Bow hunters have been trekking into the woods for the past few weeks in search of a harvest and the early youth season and muzzleloader seasons have come and gone. However, deer season in Kentucky is simply getting started at this point. 

     As I have mentioned in articles in years prior, the whitetail deer has had a long road to recovery after nearly being wiped out. Numbers have grown and in recent years after facing bouts with an epizootic hemorrhagic disease that was commonly referred to as blue tongue, some populations have struggled. Any disease that adversely affects our wildlife is devastating not only because it can affect our way of life but also because every animal is an important part of the natural landscape.   

     Many hunters wait to hunt until the cooler weather arrives which typically gets the deer up and moving. Along with the anticipation of this year’s season, there has also been another element of uncertainty about a potential health risk that our deer could soon face. 

     Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a neurological disease that has begun affecting deer in many states across the nation and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife is now taking preemptive steps to help keep the disease out of the Bluegrass state. There have not been any cases noted in Kentucky but most of our bordering states have had cases of CWD. 

     Gabe Jenkins, the Deer and Elk Program Coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, explains CWD and its symptoms. "Chronic wasting disease is an always fatal degenerative brain disease that affects members of the deer family (White-tailed and Mule deer, elk caribou, and moose). Animals can be infected with CWD for months or years before clinical signs are evident. In the terminal stages of infection, deer and elk will show signs of progressive weight loss, excessive salivation and urination, increased water intake, and depression. Other noticeable changes include decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, blank facial expression, and repetitive walking in set patterns. In elk, hyper-excitability and nervousness may be observed. There is no known treatment for the disease and the disease is typically fatal."

     Jenkins said that the first cases of CWD were documented in the 1960s in a Colorado research facility on a mule deer. There has never had a positive result in Kentucky. This has been largely in part because Kentucky has been proactive in taking steps to prevent the disease from entering the state. "We analyze the science and research and adopt the best management practices where feasibly possible, to prevent the introduction of the disease into the state. We have regulations requiring the proper disposal of carcasses and carcass parts for taxidermists and deer processors. We also don’t allow high-risk carcass parts to be imported into Kentucky from any state." 

     According to Jenkins, hunters must know the laws about carcass transportation.  "Leave the infectious materials of a harvested deer/elk on site where the animal is harvested.”

     If you do encounter a deer that exhibits the aforementioned symptoms, you can call the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife and report the sighting.  1.800.858.1549 There is also a wealth of information about CWD on the Fish and Wildlife website.


     In a recent press release, the KDFW stated that more than 40,000 deer and elk in Kentucky have been tested since 2002 and there has never been a positive case. This year they are asking for voluntary access to your deer harvest to complete a test for CWD. They have created two ways for you to get your deer tested. You can email or call your local KY Fish & Wildlife biologist to arrange sample collection after you harvested a deer. You can call Wes Mattox 606.448.1605 or Nathan Gregory 859.473.0061. You can also make the arrangements with the following email address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

     The second means for testing is to drop off the head of your harvested deer at one of the KDFWR offices or CWD freezer locations. The nearest office is located at Dewey Lake 2744 Lake Road, Prestonsburg, KY 41653. The nearest freezer location is at Minor Clark Fish Hatchery 120 Fish Hatchery Road, Morehead, KY 40351. The freezer locations are open 24/7 during deer season. All participation is voluntary but is designed to preserve the future of our deer population. 

     Whether or not you’ve seen the photos circulating on the internet showing a deer affected by CWD, there’s no mistaking the agony that the disease puts the animal through. Sadly, there is no cure for CWD, and wildlife agencies are focusing on limiting the spread of the disease through the implementation of guidelines that will hopefully stop or at least slow its spread. Hunters need to be vigilant about sharing the news about carcass disposal and avoid transporting any potentially infectious materials so that our long-standing tradition of deer hunting will go unaltered by this devastating disease.

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