Hunters: Pack rubber gloves to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease

Prions from cervids infected with chronic wasting disease are present in blood and spinal fluid, and they are shed across the landscape in waste products, where they can last for decades.

Man with deer
Photo by Troy Stanton.

Since 2015, chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been found in deer in several of Michigan’s lower peninsula counties including Clinton, Gratiot, Eaton, Jackson, Ingham, Ionia, Kent, and Montcalm, as well as Dickinson County in Michigan’s upper peninsula.

Chronic wasting disease is a disorder of the neurological system that affects cervids. Cervids are animals that are members of the deer family, such as deer, elk, and moose. CWD is caused by a prion, or misfolded protein. Prions are mostly found in the brain. Cervids that contract CWD may take months or even years before they show symptoms of the disease. Symptoms can include extreme weight loss, lack of coordination, drooping head and/or ears, excessive drooling, excessive drinking, and excessive urination. CWD is always fatal to infected cervids.

Chronic wasting disease is not known to affect humans, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization both recommend not eating infected meat from an infected cervid.

Hunters need to be aware that the disease can also be spread via infected plants and soil. Prions are not easily killed by traditional strategies such as heat. Research from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston has shown prions have been able to bind to the roots and leaves of wheat grass plants when incubated with contaminated material, even in highly diluted amounts. They also found that plants grown in infected soil can transport the deadly prions.

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension has a free bulletin that explains how to field dress, butcher, and prepare venison. Here is a quick checklist of additional gear to pack when hunting:

  • Hunting license and kill tag(s)
  • Sharp knife
  • Small hatchet
  • Several feet of rope or nylon cord to drag the deer
  • Disposable sheet of plastic
  • Brown paper towel (using white paper towel could be misidentified by another hunter as a deer’s tail)
  • Disposable rubber gloves
  • Sharpening steel or other knife sharpener
  • Gallon or ½ gallon sized resealable food-grade bags for heart and liver
  • Nonporous disposable trash bags
  • Pre-moistened wipes to clean knives
  • String and/or zip ties

Movement restrictions apply to animals harvested in Montcalm County, or Otisco, Orleans, Ronald and North Plains Townships in Ionia County and Nelson, Spencer, Courtland, Oakfield, Grattan, and Cannon Townships in Kent County, 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 may be moved out of the area,


  • The deer carcass is taken directly to a registered processor; and/or
  • The intact deer head detached from the carcass is taken directly to a licensed taxidermist.

Hunters can help slow the spread of CWD and have a safe hunt by following best practices in the field and at home.

Don’t forget that beginning this year, deer hunters are required to report a successful harvest within 72 hours or before transferring possession of the deer to another person, processor, or taxidermist. Harvest reporting will allow the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to obtain real time data on the number of deer harvested which helps the department make decisions about deer herd management, better assess hunter activity, and will help in determining disease prevalence rates, such a s CWD, more accurately. Information that is collected from the harvest survey is not public and would only be utilized when specifically required by law. Hunters can receive technical assistance to report their harvest over the phone by identifying their closest DNR customer service center location and calling the phone number listed for that location.

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