Hunters: pack rubber gloves to prevent the spread of disease

Practicing good hygiene and using simple harvest practices can help protect deer hunters this fall.

Man with deer
Photo by Troy Stanton

Hunters can be a critical link in keeping zoonotic disease spread under control. By practicing good hygiene and using basic harvest procedures, hunters can protect themselves, their families and other wildlife.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a disorder of the neurological system that affects cervids, such as deer, elk, and moose. Prions, or misfolded proteins produced in the animals’ body, can be distributed on the landscape by infected animals through blood, saliva, urine, and feces. In addition to transmission by direct deer-to-deer contact, the prion material can also bind to roots and leaves of plants and infect other deer, which is what makes CWD particularly challenging. Since 2015, 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.

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.

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

In addition to CWD, deer may carry other transmittable diseases such as Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB), Q fever, leptospirosis, and COVID-19, which can affect human health. Following best practices, such as wearing rubber or disposable gloves while field dressing and handling harvested deer, and cooking venison to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit can reduce the risk of deer-to-human disease transmission.

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension has a free bulletin that explains how to field dress, butcher, and prepare venison as well as short home processing tutorial videos. 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 type of 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, to control the spread of CWD by human actions, apply to animals harvested in Montcalm County in its entirety, as well as 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

OR

  • 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 other zoonotic diseases and have a safe hunt by following best practices in the field and at home.

For more information about CWD, safe home processing, and the latest research to combat CWD, visit https://www.canr.msu.edu/chronic-wasting-disease/index.

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