Jeff Schumacher has lived in Florida for nearly 10 years, but prior to that he grew up shoveling snow and deer hunting during Wisconsin’s cold winters. He has since taken up hunting in the Sunshine State, but about every-other year, he and his friends head north for Thanksgiving to spend time with family and deer hunt southwest Wisconsin’s Grant and Sauk counties.
Wisconsin, a popular destination for thousands of deer hunters across the country, is one of 26 states and 3 Canadian provinces where chronic wasting disease has been detected. CWD, which has not been detected in Florida, is a contagious disease that is fatal for deer, elk, moose, caribou and other members of the deer family. Since CWD was first discovered in Wisconsin in 2002, it has increased in prevalence and geographic extent. The highest prevalence rate for CWD in Wisconsin occurs in the southwest counties of Dane, Iowa, Richland and Sauk, where the percentage of adult bucks that test positive for CWD ranges from 15% to 51%. Because Schumacher and his friends don’t want to see this happen in Florida, they take extra precautions when handling their harvested deer.
“When we go up and hunt Wisconsin, we make sure to check the regulations on transporting harvested deer for every state we will be driving back through,” Schumacher said. “I research everything and do what is needed to comply with every state’s regulations, including Florida’s, to ensure we’re not spreading the disease.”
“My buddies and I have taken more precautions since CWD has become more prevalent, including allowing Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources to test our harvested deer,” Schumacher said. “The tests are free, only take a couple weeks to come back, and there are numerous collection sites where we drop off the needed samples.”
Currently, there is no scientific evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans or livestock under natural conditions. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend consuming meat from animals that test positive for CWD or from any sick animal.
Schumacher said care should also be taken when field dressing and processing deer harvested from a state or province where CWD has been detected.
“We always debone our meat and freeze it – and if we harvest a deer at the beginning of the trip, we even have time to process it,” Schumacher said. “We then transport the frozen meat with dry ice in a sealed cooler all the way back to Florida.”
The FWC offers the following safety tips for field dressing and processing harvested deer:
- Wear latex or rubber gloves.
- Bone out the meat. Don’t saw through bone and avoid cutting
through the brain or spinal cord (backbone).
- Minimize the handling of brain, tonsils and spinal tissues.
- Wash hands and instruments thoroughly afterward.
- Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals. Normal field dressing coupled with boning out a carcass will remove most, if not all, of these body parts.
- Cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes.
- Properly dispose of carcass.
“If you’re not going to process the deer yourself, have a processor already lined up. And make sure you request your animal be processed individually, with no meat from other animals added to yours. Wisconsin processors are well versed about CWD and can do it safely,” Schumacher said. “And if you harvest a nice buck that you would like mounted, I suggest using a taxidermist up there – they can do the mount accordingly and ship it to you when it’s finished.”
Preventing CWD from entering Florida
To keep Florida free from CWD, hunters are prohibited from bringing into Florida whole carcasses of any cervid (deer, elk, moose, caribou and other members of the deer family) from the following states where CWD has been detected: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the CWD-affected Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec.
Deer harvested from these locations may only be brought into Florida as boned-out meat or processed meat cuts, a hide with no head attached, antlers with a clean skull plate, finished taxidermy products, and upper canines (teeth) – as long as all soft tissue has been removed.
“We’re fortunate that CWD has not been detected in Florida or our immediate neighboring states. But it’s going to take the help of hunters to keep it that way,” said Cory Morea, the FWC’s Deer Management Program coordinator. “Anyone planning to hunt deer, moose or elk out of state needs to be aware of certain laws and regulations aimed at preventing CWD from being brought into our state.”
Monitoring deer in Florida for CWD
The FWC is educating hunters, landowners and outdoor enthusiasts about CWD and asks that anyone who sees a sick, abnormally thin deer or finds a deer dead from unknown causes to call the toll-free CWD hotline, 866-CWD-WATCH (866-293-9282). In addition to extreme weight loss, deer with CWD exhibit odd behaviors such as loss of fear of humans, lowering of the head, blank staring, walking in circles, staggering, standing with a wide stance and being lethargic.
If you harvest a sick or extremely skinny deer in Florida, avoid handling it and call the CWD hotline. An FWC biologist can then collect the deer and take it to a lab for testing.
The FWC has an ongoing CWD monitoring program because continued surveillance is necessary to help Florida remain free of CWD. Since 2002, the FWC has tested nearly 13,000 deer that were hunter-harvested, road-killed or reported as exhibiting abnormal behavior. Hunters can support the FWC’s surveillance efforts by voluntarily submitting their deer heads for testing (skull cap and antlers can be removed and kept by the hunter). Learn more by visiting MyFWC.com/CWD.
The FWC and its agency partners – Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – have a comprehensive response plan in place should CWD be detected in Florida. Controlling the spread of this disease is extremely difficult once it becomes established in a deer population. Multiple management strategies would be used to prevent more deer from developing CWD.
To learn more about CWD and how to prevent it, visit MyFWC.com/CWD.