Rule Changes About Importing Prize Deer Puzzling Florida Hunters

by Quentin Blount

Hunting season is beginning in states nearby Florida but new guidelines from the state have some hunters and taxidermists puzzled.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently set up new guidelines on importing deer carcasses from out of state and into Florida.

The purpose of the new rule is to help prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. CWD, as its often referred to, can severely impact local deer populations.

CWD is a serious neurological disease affecting white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose. According to the CDC, it is a member of a group of diseases called prion diseases. CWD is fatal in all of these species.

Hunters around the U.S. have coined the phrase “zombie deer” for those infected with CWD. Ultimately, the symptoms of CWD reduce infected animals to zombie-like creatures: stumbling, drooling and drastic weight loss. The CDC says they can also become more aggressive and less afraid of humans.

The disease spreads through bodily fluids like feces, saliva, blood or urine. CWD is transmitted either through direct contact or indirectly through environmental contamination of soil, plants, food or water. CWD is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep.

Currently, Florida is one of 24 states in the U.S. where CWD is not present.

New guidelines cause confusion for hunters

However, it’s not uncommon for Florida hunters to travel out of state to hunt. Chad Cooper, a second-generation Florida taxidermist, says he’s been doing just that for his entire life.

“As soon as that hunting season comes in they forget about this season in Florida they go off to hunt a trophy deer and they want to bring that deer back to their chosen taxidermist that they have been using for years,” Cooper told ABC’s Channel 3 WearTV.

Cooper says the new guidelines are causing confusion among hunters. Many think they can no longer bring out-of-state deer into Florida.

“I’ve been alarmed by so many of my clients that are calling me now saying you mounted my deer head for years but now I don’t know what to do,” Cooper said.

The FWC’s new guidelines state that only specific parts of a deer can be brought in from out of state. These include de-boned deer, finished taxidermy mounts, antler hides, skull caps, and teeth if all soft tissue has been removed.

Hunters bringing in a deer from Alabama or Georgia just need to get a permit. However, the FWC notes that if CWD is detected in Georgia or Alabama, it would rescind the exemption for these two states.

Above all, Cooper fears the confusion will impact his business and other taxidermy businesses in northwest Florida.

“It’s our livelihood, you spend a lifetime acquiring your clientele, you establish a relationship with your clientele, these people go off on their hunts every year and now they are confused because they think they have to leave their deer.”