By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Liz Lynch thought she’d lucked out when she killed a healthy-looking mule deer buck near Lander this fall, but then the buck tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD).
“Hindsight being 20/20, there was a very high likelihood that he would be CWD positive,” Lynch told Cowboy State Daily. “He came from the Lander area, and a very specific subset of the Lander area that is known to have high CWD rates.”
Lynch, an archeologist from Pinedale, said she typically uses most of the carcasses of the deer she kills, but not this year.
“I usually use the bones for stock and marrow broth,” she said. “I like to use tallow for skin care. It works very well.”
“With this deer, I threw anything to do with the marrow away, including the areas affected by the shot, and he was killed with just one shot,” she said. “Pretty much anything that’s not muscle tissue, I threw away.”
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department made testing hunter’ kills mandatory this fall in several deer hunt areas in central and eastern Wyoming.
Lynch said he killed her buck on a general tag in deer hunt area 92. CWD testing wasn’t mandatory there, but she decided to have the buck tested anyway.
As the disease spreads among deer herds, it’s likely there will be few, if any, places left in Wyoming where hunters can take for granted that the deer they kill aren’t infected, Lynch said.
“I think it’s coming for us all,” she said.
On The Fence About Eating It
Lynch processed the meat from the carcass, but hasn’t eaten of it yet, and isn’t sure whether she will.
“Antler-wise, he wasn’t a huge mule deer, but his body size and molar development indicate he was about 5 to 5 ½ years old,” Lynch said.
So, it’s favorable that a buck that age had at least the outward appearance of health, even though it was infected, she said.
And it’s that infection that’s making her hesitant to fry up deer steaks just yet.
“Normally, I would eat the heart and the tenderloins pretty fast,” she said, adding that the meat from that deer “is just sitting in my freezer. I’ve marked those packages with big red ‘plus’ signs so I know which ones they are. I’ve just been staring at it, trying to decide whether to eat it. I know I won’t share it with anybody else.”
Threat To Humans?
CWD is transmitted between deer and elk through prions, or malformed proteins. It is always fatal. Animals suffering the later stages of the disease can be emaciated and lethargic.
It’s in the same disease family as mad cow disease, which can infect humans and cause fatal brain and nervous system deterioration. There are no documented cases of CWD spreading to humans, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Game and Fish still recommend against consuming meat from infected game carcasses.
Lynch said she still has a late-season whitetail doe tag in deer hunt area 157 near Pavilion, and CWD testing is mandatory there.
If she kills a doe, the odds might be better that deer will be CWD free, Lynch said. That’s because whitetail does are far less likely than mule deer bucks to wander about and intermingle with many deer across several locations.
Federal Money Might Fund Wyoming Testing, Research
Meanwhile, a bill going before the U.S. Senate could bring “millions of dollars” to Wyoming for CWD research and testing, Jaden Bales, spokesman for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, told Cowboy State Daily.
The chronic wasting disease research and management act passed the U.S. House by a vote of 393-33, he said.
It was sponsored by Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisconsin, and seems to have the support of Wyoming’s Republican senators, Cynthia Lummis and John Barrrasso, Bales said.
If it’s passed and signed into law by President Joe Biden, it could fund such things as improved CWD testing methods for live and dead animals, and more research into how far and fast the disease spreads, he said.
“Wyoming is an epicenter for CWD,” Bales said, adding that CWD research and testing has side benefits.
“The really cool thing about the mandatory testing going on in some areas right now is that it provides a lot of additional information, such as data on antler width and molar development,” he said.
The time is now to get a handle on CWD in Wyoming, Bales said.
“I’d really hate to be an old man and say, ‘I wish we could have done something back then, but we missed the boat,’’ he said.