Hunters: Look for signs of illness in deer

Deer showing signs of illness may or may not have Chronic Wasting Disease.

November 14, 2018 - Author: ,

whitetail deer standing in snow
Look for visual signs of body condition and alertness to determine if a deer is healthy.

Identifying deer with Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is not always possible by visual observation. There are common signs that may indicate a deer is sick, including poor body condition and lack of alertness. However, deer can be in poor body condition but not be sick if they have recently been lactating or are in an environment with limited access to feed.

Signs of poor body condition include rib, hip and/or back bones showing on the animal. Deer with their head up with their ears actively reacting to sounds around them are alert. Deer that have CWD will most often be in poor body condition and not alert but deer with these symptoms may have other illness or disease. Deer with CWD may also have lost their fear of humans.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has an interactive web tool that uses photos and allows you to test your ability to identify sick deer. While it is best to observe deer over time, that may not be an option for hunters. If possible, observe deer to see if they put on more weight or if they remain in poor condition and start exhibiting additional signs of illness.

There are numerous DNR check stations and drop boxes available to hunters, especially in the Michigan CWD Core Area (Ionia, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm, and Newaygo counties) and Management Zone (Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Ingham, Ionia, Isabella, Jackson, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm, and Newaygo counties). Regardless of where a deer is harvested, if it shows signs of an illness, please have it tested.  

Hunters play a very important role in controlling the spread of CWD. This includes proper dressing procedures, carcass disposal and submitting deer for testing.

All deer harvested in the Michigan CWD Core Area (Ionia, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm, and Newaygo counties) and Management Zone (Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Ingham, Ionia, Isabella, Jackson, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm, and Newaygo counties), cannot be moved out of those areas unless:

  • It is deboned meat, quarters or other parts of a cervid that do not have any part of the spinal column or head attached, antlers, antlers attached to a skull cap cleaned of all brain and muscle tissue, hides, upper canine teeth, or a finished taxidermist mount; or
  • The head is submitted at a designated DNR drop off locations within 24 hours after killing the deer. Drop off locations include DNR check points, drop boxes and some venison processors.

Carcasses can be moved into the CWD Core Area from a CWD Management Zone county with no restrictions. Hunters may not take a deer from the CWD Core Area into the CWD Management Zone for processing unless the conditions above are met.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend not consuming venison from infected deer. Michigan State University Extension highly recommends that venison from a positively infected CWD deer not be consumed. When in doubt, do not consume the venison and properly dispose of the entire carcass.

CWD is a neurological disease that affects cervid animals. It can be transmitted through direct animal to animal contact or contact with saliva, urine, feces, blood, and/or certain carcass parts such as brain tissue and spinal cord of an infected animal.

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