The Missouri Department of Conservation will conduct mandatory Chronic Wasting Disease sampling of harvested deer in Cole and Moniteau counties and 23 other counties on opening weekend of the fall firearms deer season, Nov. 1-12, according to a news release.
Hunters who harvest deer in any of these counties of MDC's CWD Management Zone must present their harvested deer at one of MDC's 56 CWD sampling stations so staff can collect tissue samples to test the animals for CWD.
The mandatory sampling counties include ones recently added to the CWD Management Zone after cases of CWD were found there in 2016-17, counties with previous CWD cases and counties near where cases of CWD have been found.
To find mandatory sampling stations online, visit mdc.mo.gov/cwd and in MDC's 2017 Fall Deer & Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet, available where permits are sold.
MDC is also offering voluntary CWD sampling throughout the entire deer hunting season at more than 55 participating taxidermists and designated MDC offices in and around the CWD Management Zone. To find voluntary sampling locations, visit mdc.mo.gov/cwd.
Sampling locations will be open 7:30 a.m. until at least 8 p.m. Deer must be presented by the hunter who harvested the animal. Hunters will be asked to identify the location within the county the deer was harvested.
Deer may be field dressed before being taken to a sampling station. Hunters can also present just the deer head with about 6 inches of neck attached.
For bucks bound to a taxidermist, hunters may also leave the deer intact and inform staff the deer is bound for a taxidermist. Staff will complete paperwork and inform the hunters about participating taxidermists taking CWD samples.
Hunters will be given information on getting free test results for their deer.
CWD sampling consists of cutting an incision across the throat of harvested deer to remove lymph nodes for testing. Tissue samples are sent to an independent lab.
MDC officials said the opening weekend of the firearms season is the most popular two hunting days for most deer hunters in Missouri. During those two days, hunters take about one-third of the state's total annual deer harvest of about 275,000 animals.
"Focusing on this key weekend gives us the best opportunity to collect the most tissue samples during a very concentrated time period," MDC Wildlife Disease Coordinator Jasmine Batten said in the news release. "Prior to conducting mandatory sampling for the first time last year, we collected about 7,600 tissue samples through voluntary sampling over the entire deer season. Thanks to deer hunters, last year we collected 19,200 samples during opening-weekend mandatory sampling."
Batten said the increased number of samples collected gives MDC scientists a better understanding of the distribution and prevalence of CWD — where it is and how many deer may have it. It can also help find new cases in new areas.
A hunter killed a CWD-infected buck near Centertown in 2015.
It's unclear how the disease has spread across the state, but more than 40 cases have been confirmed since 2010, both in captive deer and free-range deer.
CWD is similar to mad cow disease: The highly infectious disease is always fatal to animals in the deer family; there is no vaccine or cure; symptoms can remain dormant for years; the disease can remain in soil and on other surfaces for an indefinite length of time; and there is no way to screen living animals since the test involves sampling brain or lymphatic tissue.
No evidence suggests CWD is a threat to humans, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends not eating deer meat that has tested positive for CWD.