Thousands of big-game hunters from Ohio and Michigan are heading west in annual quests for deer and elk, and with that comes advice and cautions from state wildlife agencies about handling meat and antlers.
The cause for concern is the nationwide effort to limit the spread of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, which has a kin to a mad-cow disease in deer, elk, and possibly moose.
Though CWD has not been shown to affect humans, it is always fatal to infected deer and elk, which is reason enough to take maximum precautions against its spread. The disorder is found in deer and/or elk in 11 states and two Canadian provinces.
The list includes Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming among states, and Alberta and Saskatchewan among provinces. Specific areas, game units, counties, or zones only are affected in the state and provinces; for a complete list, go online to www.ohiodnr.com and search for "deer carcass disposal regulation." Then click on the text below under "Chronic Wasting Disease positive areas."
Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania so far all have been shown to be CWD-free, and all have issued similar administrative wildlife orders or rules governing the importing of game carcasses.
"The risk of introducing chronic wasting disease from the transport of carcasses of hunter-killed wild cervids [deer, elk, moose] appears small when compared to the risk of introduction from the movement of living, infected animals," the Ohio Division of Wildlife states.
"However, proper disposal of carcasses, trims, and parts would virtually eliminate the risk of CWD introduction from hunter-killed deer, elk, or moose, regardless of origin, destination, or health of the animal."
It is acceptable to bring back to Ohio deer or elk meat that is deboned, the wildlife division notes. More specifically, only the following may be brought back to Ohio:
Meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached.
Meat that is boned out, securely and completely wrapped either commercially or privately.
Cleaned hides with no heads attached.
Skull plates that have been cleaned of all meat and brain tissue.
Antlers with no meat or tissue attached.
Cleaned upper canine teeth.
Hides and capes without any part of the head or lymph nodes attached.
A finished taxidermy mount.
Michigan and Pennsylvania rules generally agree with the foregoing. In addition the Michigan Department of Natural Resources advises in its 2006-2007 hunting and trapping guide that hunters should minimize handling of brain or spinal-cord tissues, and to avoid consumption of those parts or eyes, spleen, or lymph nodes of harvested animals.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission also advises hunters to wear rubber or latex gloves while field-dressing carcasses, and to wash knives, saws, and other instruments thoroughly after field-dressing.
The PGC notes that it is wise to request that the carcass be processed individually, without meat from other animals being added, or to process your own game. Another alternative is to have the game processed in the area where it was harvested.
CWD was first identified in 1967 in northeast Colorado and is a transmissible spongiform ecephalopathy (TSE) that affects deer, elk, and moose among other cervids. It is a progressive, always fatal disease of the nervous system, and does not show up in an animal until its latter stages.
Affected animals afflicted with advanced cases will look emaciated or starving, are sluggish to react, exhibit erratic movement and droopy posture, and even may drool. Hunters quite likely will recognize such abnormal behavior quickly and should avoid such animals.
Scientists theorize that the disease is triggered by an as-yet unidentified agent that can transform normal brain proteins into abnormal forms. No effective vaccine is available to innoculate animals, nor is there yet a practical test on live animals.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has intensively investigated CWD for a link to human health and has stated that "the risk of infection with the CWD agent among hunters is extremely small, if it exists at all. "The CDC goes on to add that "it is extremely unlikely that CWD would be a food-borne hazard."
(Some afterthoughts:) So, why all the fuss? To ease unrealistic fears, too often driven by attention-getting panic stories in the media, that's why.
The truth be told, hunters are far more at risk when driving the highways to and from hunting grounds than from any other safety threat, including being shot by another hunter.
The latter is another risk that is overblown by perception rather than calmed by reality.
Shooting accidents are rare, so they make news; similar injuries in auto accidents are so numerous and common that they go ignored by editors.
Similarly, some hunters may be at great risk from being in poor physical condition.
Hunting can be a very demanding, exciting experience and every year some individuals who are couch potatoes the other 50 weeks of the year drop dead in the woods and mountains.
In the end nothing beats using your head, for something more than a hat rack.