Tips for disposing deer carcasses and parts to minimize spreading chronic wasting disease

Properly disposing of deer carcasses will help slow the spread of chronic wasting disease.

Woman with deer
Photo by Nikki Hersch, MSU Extension

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

Chronic wasting disease is always fatal to infected cervids. It is very unlikely you would see a deer who has reached the end stages of chronic wasting disease; the only definitive way for a deer to be diagnosed is through obtaining a chronic wasting disease test from an accredited laboratory.

Chronic wasting disease spreads by both direct contact between animals and indirect contact with saliva, urine, feces, blood, carcass parts of an infected animal and contaminated soil or plants. Once the prions are on the landscape, they can remain infectious for years. Unlike viruses, bacteria or fungus, there is no antidote or cure for a prion disease.

The disease is not known to affect humans, although the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization both recommend not eating infected cervid meat. Beyond the potential human health risks, chronic wasting disease poses a threat to deer population health and management. Hunting of deer is an important wildlife management tool and has substantial direct (licensing) and indirect (travel, gear, venison processing) impacts on Michigan’s economy.

If you are a Michigan hunter, it is important to know how to properly dispose of a deer carcass. Proper disposal of carcasses from harvested deer will help combat the spread of chronic wasting disease.

First, hunters may opt to remove the whole deer from the field or quarter the deer and pack it out of the woods. Either method is acceptable. When field dressing your deer, always wear disposable rubber gloves, have a plastic sheet or tarp on hand to lay under the carcass while field dressing, and have non-porous garbage bags on hand. This will prevent direct contact with the soil, mitigating soil contamination and, ultimately, disease spread.

After the viscera has been removed, place them in a non-porous garbage bag and pack them out of the woods. You may dispose of them in a landfill or bury them where your deer was harvested at least 2 feet beneath the natural surface of the ground and in accordance with local ordinances.

If quartering the deer in the field, avoid cutting through the spine and the brain tissue; these are the areas that have been found to contain the largest amount of prion material. Carefully remove meat quarters from the bone and place them into the bag of your choice to pack out. When leaving the carcass behind, the best practice is to bury the remaining bones and body parts at least 2 feet beneath the natural surface of the ground and in accordance with local ordinances. Place the carcass and all remains including the viscera into the ground.

If you are planning to get your deer tested for chronic wasting disease, remove the head or extract the medial retropharyngeal lymph nodes and place them in a sealed plastic bag. If removing the head, properly wrap it in plastic for safe transportation. Any harvested deer parts such as bone or meat trimmings should be double bagged in a non-porous garbage bag and disposed of in a landfill.

For more information about chronic wasting disease, tips and tools for hunters and venison consumers and other deer related topics, visit Michigan State University Extension’s Chronic Wasting Disease website.

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