The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission is extending the hunting season for whitetail deer in six hunting districts after citing high rates of chronic wasting disease (CWD).
This extension period is to help prevent the spread of CWD. A serious neurological disease affecting white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, and moose, CWD can severely impact local deer populations. It has a 100-percent fatality rate in all of these species.
Brian Wakeling, Game Management Bureau chief, told commissioners during an online meeting last Thursday that the prevalence of CWD in whitetails this year is exceptionally high — and it may be as high as 50 percent in some areas. Back in June, the state approved a surveillance plan in northwest, southwest, and eastern Montana.
“This is largely in response to some extremely high CWD infections centered around (Hunting District) 322,” Wakeling said. “Surveillance suggest CWD prevalence may be as high as 50% in a localized portion of Hunting District 322 where approximately 2,000 white-tailed deer are routinely counted at spring green-up.”
To prevent the fatal disease from spreading through deer populations in other valleys, the Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to approve a CWD management hunt. The new guidelines will last from Dec. 15 to Feb. 15 in nine hunting districts.
Wakeling said the hunt is “on the most aggressive end of options for targeted removal.”
He and other state officials are hoping the hunt will reduce the density of white-tailed deer populations in areas where the disease is prevalent. That will minimize the chances that mule deer, elk, and moose will contract it.
“The whole objective is to reduce density so that contamination is reduced,” Wakeling added.
Montana Extends Deer Hunt to Eliminate ‘Zombie Deer’
Hunters across the country have used 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they can also become more aggressive and less afraid of humans.
Meanwhile, according to the CDC, the chronic wasting disease is a member of a group of diseases by the name of prion diseases. In October 2017, CWD was first detected in free-ranging deer in Montana.
CWD is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep. The disease spreads through bodily fluids like feces, saliva, blood, or urine, and transmits through direct contact. It can also transmit indirectly through environmental contamination of soil, plants, food, or water.
There has yet to be a case of humans contracting CWD. However, officials warn against eating meat from animals with the disease.