Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, is a disease that attacks the brain and nervous system of whitetail deer, elk, moose, and mule deer. Most hunters will never encounter an animal infected with CWD, however, the likelihood of seeing one has increased over the years as the disease has spread throughout the United States and Canada. This disease, if not stopped, could potentially threaten hunting as we know it.

 

Identifying Infected Animals

The best way to avoid infected animals is understanding the symptoms. We’ll take a look at the behavioral and physical symptoms to watch out for on your next hunting trip.

The first thing to look for is any strange behavioral abnormalities. Animals infected with CWD will often walk in a strange, staggered pattern. They might also walk in circles or other strange patterns. They will also exhibit poor posture with their heads down most of the time. You might also find an animal infected with CWD confused and alone.

There are also a number of physical symptoms to look for. Like the name of the disease implies, animals infected with it will waste away physically and mentally. Being extremely malnourished is the first sign of CWD. Excessive saliva and strange facial expressions is another telltale sign. An animal infected with CWD will also have a very unpleasant aroma, like rotting meat.

 

Taking Extra Precautions

The scariest part of CWD is that an animal that has been recently infected may appear to be completely normal. An animal may be infected but show no symptoms during the incubation phase of the disease.

It’s important to wear rubber gloves when field dressing or processing any animal that could potentially have CWD. Parts of the animal like the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes should be off limits due to the risk of exposure to the disease.

 

It is unclear at this point how dangerous CWD is to humans. Some studies seem to suggest that humans are immune to CWD, while others claim it is a very real threat. Whatever the case may be, avoiding animals infected with CWD is the smart thing to do. Chronic Wasting Disease is just a fact of life that hunters will need to deal with from this point forward. It doesn’t have to ruin your hunting trip, but you definitely need to be aware of the risks involved and learn how to avoid them.