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Upcoming Deer Seasons and CWD

The statewide archery season is about to kick off on Oct. 1, followed by antlerless-only muzzleloader season starting on the 15th of Oct. Not far behind all of that are the regular firearms season, flintlock, and the extended firearms season. Serious deer hunters no doubt have already been preparing for the upcoming seasons, but something few of us want to think about is how do we handle the continuing threat of CWD.

If you are unfamiliar with CWD, here is a brief review. CWD is a neurological disease that affects members of the cervid family — deer, elk, moose, and caribou. It’s caused by abnormal prions or proteins and not your typical virus or bacteria. The prions kill brain cells and eventually cause death to the affected animal. The CWD prions can be found in saliva, urine, and feces, thus making it easy to spread to other animals. Affected animals may not show signs of the disease for more than a year. Look for these signs in deer affected with CWD; drastic weight loss, stumbling, lack of coordination, listlessness, drooling, excessive thirst or urination, drooping ears, and a lack of fear of people.

CWD first showed up in Pennsylvania in a captive deer in 2012 and then in our wild deer the following year. Since then, it has spread to other areas of Pennsylvania.

In an attempt to better manage and control CWD, the Pennsylvania Game Commission created DMAs or Disease Management Areas. Due to the increasing cases of CWD showing up in new areas, the commission has created a new seventh DMA. DMA 7, which encompasses 460 square miles, really hits home for many reading this piece right now since it includes portions of Lycoming, Northumberland, Montour, Columbia, and Sullivan counties.

Be aware that these new DMAs bring new rules and regulations to help stop the spread of CWD. You may not use or possess any cervid urine-based attractants, something many of us used to help cover human scent on our boots and as an attractant. Nor are you allowed to feed free-ranging deer any time of the year since bringing deer into close contact with each other increases the chances of spreading the disease. It is also illegal to move “high-risk” parts beyond the DMA from which they came. For the most up-to-date DMA boundary descriptions, you can go to

What are “high-risk” parts? These parts include the head and everything within, the spinal cord/backbone, spleen, skull plate with attached antlers and cape, visible brain or spinal cord tissue, upper canine teeth, or any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord tissue. These parts also include unfinished taxidermy mounts and brain-tanned hides.

So how will all of this play into this year’s deer hunting season? I’m not sure myself. From what I understand, there is no evidence that the disease has spread to humans. The Game Commission is encouraging anyone who takes a deer in any of the DMAs to submit its head for CWD testing. I guess the intent is to test around 300 deer from each DMA each year for a five-year period. At this point, I don’t know where the testing sites will be established nor how long it will take to get results from the testing. I guess if you want to look at something on the positive side, additional antlerless permits will be available in areas where the commission wants to reduce deer numbers to help control CWD.

Let’s hope we get this under control soon so we can get back to some good old deer hunting.