Minnesota DNR Director, Local Hunter Give Inside Look at State’s Christmas CWD Hunts

by Jennifer Shea

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is giving 50 hunters a big Christmas present: the chance to hunt limitless deer in state parks this weekend.

There’s just one catch. The hunters have to help wildlife officials sniff out Chronic Wasting Disease. 

Keeping CWD Out of the Food Chain

CWD is a highly contagious neurodegenerative disorder that affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer and moose. It causes symptoms such as weight loss, stumbling, listlessness and neurological problems. The disease is fatal and there are no treatments for it.

While no human has yet reported a CWD infection, some animal studies have found it can infect monkeys, which raises concerns that people could be at risk. The World Health Organization suggests taking all steps necessary to keep CWD agents out of the human food chain.

DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife Deputy Director Pat Rivers told KTTC that parks like Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, Forestville Mystery Cave and Great River Bluffs State Park will be open to hunters participating in the special Christmas CWD hunt.

“Hunters out here have the opportunity to hunt within the park which is a unique opportunity for them,” Rivers said. “What we’re asking in return for that is for them is to submit any samples of deer they catch on the hunt.”

CWD Is Spreading in Minnesota

Southeast Minnesota is rife with CWD cases. But the Minnesota DNR wants to find out how widespread the disease is among the state’s entire deer population.

“Currently we’re dealing with this disease in the southeast,” Rivers said. “As it’s creeping north, we’re trying to slow that spread.”

 The DNR’s goal in opening up the parks to hunters is to cut the number of infected deer running around. 

As for the hunters, they said they’re having a great time trying to help out.

“We found a nice, wide open area, sat down and waited,” hunter Joey Rustad told KTTC. “We got lucky as far as seeing them.”

Spotting the deer is only half the battle, however. And the animals proved difficult to kill.

“Took a couple shots. Didn’t get anything,” said Mitch Hanson, Rustad’s friend. “It’s about coming out and having fun in my opinion.”

DNR officials hope to give the hunters access to as many deer as possible throughout the weekend.