In the Field: Response to CWD

by Anna Mitterling, Wildlife Cooperative Coordinator, MUCC

The newest set of CWD positives is startling. At least 30 positive cases in Michigan, with more to come for sure, as thousands of samples are waiting at the lab for the rest of the CWD test kits to be delivered. This is horrible news for Michigan deer.

If you are not directly affected by CWD, I hope this awakens your awareness of the disease and prods you to take action. If you are directly affected, I hope that this post encourages you to take action with renewed vigor. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a prion disease that is transferable directly (deer to deer contact) and indirectly (deer comes in contact with contaminated matter – bait pile, scat pile, deer carcass, etc.). CWD is always fatal and will kill the deer (moose, elk, etc.) if something else doesn’t do the job first. Deer with CWD can carry the disease for up to two years without even showing signs or symptoms that they are sick. Once the disease has laid dormant for 18-24 months, the deer will start to show symptoms comprised of skinniness, approachable, droopy head, saliva coming out of its mouth, and generally looking very sick. Regardless of looking sick, when a deer has CWD, it is shedding those prions into the environment; the longer it is sick, the more prions it sheds. Once CWD is established in an area, the prions are in the environment, meaning the disease is there to stay. The prions are known to be active in the environment for at least fifteen years. To compound all of this, the immediate effect of CWD on a deer herd is slim. However, in states where the disease has been present for 30 years or so, they are starting to see drastic impacts on the population level.

I share all this to simply express the gravity of the situation. Having CWD in our wild herd is not a good thing. First and foremost, preventative steps should be taken to avoid spreading the disease. Simply following laws regarding the transport of harvested deer is an important action to take. Dead deer can transport the prions just as much as live deer can, so transportation of both should be stopped. Secondly, regardless of where you live or hunt in the state, I challenge you to get your deer tested for CWD. Early detection increases the potential to contain the disease. If you do not hunt near a check station, and you do not hunt in a CWD core area, you can collect heads, freeze them, and bring them to get tested. Be sure to keep information about the deer with the head, including date harvested, location of harvest, and name with contact information of the hunter.

If you are part of a cooperative, emphasize the importance of submitting heads for testing. Find creative ways to work with myself and DNR to spread the word and collect samples. Make sure that members of your cooperative have ample opportunity to learn about CWD and the risks it poses. If you are not in or near a cooperative, consider starting one. I would love to connect with you and help set up a plan to get your cooperative started with the goals of managing for a healthy deer herd – disease free and living sustainably with its habitat.

As responsible hunters, we need to be able to look at this problem and have motivation to find solutions. We have tough choices to make that each of us as hunters have to evaluate and make for ourselves. We are responsible to understand the disease, to ask questions, to take action. Does CWD in an area mean eradication? No! Does it mean giving up on your dream to manage for mature bucks? No! But it does mean that reducing deer densities will help decrease the spread of the disease. It means that harvesting more does should be a focus of that area. CWD means we need to band together as hunters, and together put our best foot forward to do all we can to minimize the spread, to educate our fellow hunters, to cultivate an attitude of empowerment. We have the means and resources to make good, solid decisions regarding CWD. I think that by talking, sharing, asking questions, being open to hearing different perspectives, we can each come to a place where we are confident with our plan.

We are the ones… We are the ones who buy licenses, who pull the trigger, who release the arrow. We are the ones who decide to follow laws that are intended to reduce the spread of disease. We are the ones who decide to harvest a couple extra does and donate them to Sportsmen Against Hunger or share with a family we know. We are the ones who choose to band together and come up with solutions. When you feel powerless and out of control, when you feel angry and want to pass blame, when you hear there is another positive CWD deer…. remember – we are the ones who manage our deer herd, and it is up to us, to do all we can to protect this resource. Because if we don’t, who will?

If you are interested in banding to do all we can to stop CWD, and you want to start up a cooperative to do this and cultivate a healthy, balanced deer herd, please contact me at

To see QDMA’s recommended guidelines for managing CWD, click here.

To see the latest DNR press release, click here.

#WeAreTheOnes #FightCWD #HunterStrong


  1. Mel Smith on December 8, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    We also need to STOP using Deer Scents & Attractants that come from real deer and switch to Synthetic Deer Scents & Attractants. It’s believed that it may be a source of the prions being spread. We also need to stop the Hunting Ranches from Importing Cervids, another possible source of spreading prions. The NRC should make it Mandatory to check in Deer harvested and the DNR should pick up all road kill for testing.

  2. Bill Bivens on December 9, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Good comments and the responsibility is ours to own. It is a difficult balance of put information out to create knowledgeable hunters and public vs fear and emotion without a proven course of action. Who will hunt “sick deer that “have to be” tested before eaten?
    Not all sick deer have CWD not all deer have CWD. We have had EHD (not well defined either) in our area twice and much confusion exists many think it is CWD. Eight or Ten yeas ago the DNR goal was to reduce the Barry County deer numbers by half. With increased doe harvests and EHD I think we are lower than that goal. We are no longer taking does. And the other balance is the danger of CWD to humans. As far as I know CWD has not shown to be a danger to humans (and hopefully it never will). Keep trying to be a solver. I only have ten or less years to hunt and that is a different perspective to have as well. In the future “the good ole days” may have different ring to it now.

  3. Terry S. Singeltary Sr. on August 9, 2018 at 1:51 pm

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