Along with the opening of archery deer hunting this month – and the fall firearms seasons before you know it – comes the reality that the state has engaged a full-court press to control a deadly disease.
Jefferson County is at the center of one of four chronic wasting disease (CWD) containment zones in the state. With nine positive cases identified since 2016, our home turf is sandwiched between Franklin and Ste. Genevieve counties, where 24 and 35 cases have been detected respectively.
The volume of testing is the most important element in finding new cases and pinpointing potential hot spots. Mandatory testing during the November portion of the firearms season will score the largest percentage of tissue samples, but hunters who participate by voluntarily submitting their harvests for testing can provide a huge boost to the science.
Last year the testing numbers were down by more than 50 percent because the mandatory two-day testing requirement was waived in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Statewide, the total dropped from more than 32,000 tests the prior year to 15,300 for the 2020-2021 season.
The state Department of Conservation will resume mandatory check stations for opening weekend this year in 34 counties, including stations in Herculaneum, De Soto and Cedar Hill.
Voluntary testing made up much of the data last year, but more can be done by hunters who want to help keep the deadly brain-wasting disease in check. With an annual harvest in the state hovering around 300,000 deer, barely more than 1 percent of them are tested in the good years.
A deer may have CWD for more than a year before showing any symptoms, so even though it may look healthy, it can still be infected. It is spread through deer-to-deer contact or in the environment when shed through saliva, feces, urine or the carcasses of infected animals.
There is no evidence that the disease can be transferred from deer to people, but the Centers for Disease Control recommends that hunters in areas where CWD has been detected should have their deer tested. Meat should not be consumed from deer that test positive, and the state’s Share the Harvest program accepts donations of meat only from animals that have been tested.
In Jefferson County, hunters have four locations for voluntary testing. Three local taxidermists take samples and submit them on behalf of deer hunters: Belmar’s Taxidermy in Arnold (314-706-2090), Bilbrey Studio in Barnhart (636-475-9391), and Larry’s Lifelike Taxidermy in Festus (636-937-1500). Hunters should call ahead to make sure the business is open at the time.
The other option is a freezer drop-off site at the Festus Crystal City Conservation Club on Highway 61 near Exit 170 off Interstate 55. The drop-off locations are not available on opening weekend of the firearms season, but archery, youth-season hunters, and any other time, deer heads can be deposited in the freezer for testing.
Materials will be available at the freezer sites, such as trash bags, zip ties and data sheets. Hunters should include the deer head with about six inches of neck attached. Antlers should also be removed, so taking bucks to the participating taxidermists is probably a better option.
At the freezer drop-off locations, hunters will need to record their name and contact information, as well as their Telecheck ID numbers and the location where the deer was harvested. Conservation department staff will collect the heads from the freezers and extract the samples to be submitted for testing.
Other locations for free testing near Jefferson County include Pemberton’s in Gray Summit, Oder’s Taxidermy in Desloge and Nature’s Gallery Taxidermy in Ste. Genevieve. Freezer drop sites are available at the Dairy Queen Parking lot at Hwy. 32 and I-55 in Ste. Genevieve County and the U.S. Forest Service Office on Hwy. 8 in Potosi.
More than 100 sites are available throughout the state for voluntary testing, including 48 partner locations, 42 drop-off freezers and 11 conservation department offices. The safety of the deer meat that you and your family consume is important, and the bonus of helping to control disease spread helps everyone, including the state’s wild deer population.
The conservation department website (mdc.mo.gov/cwd) provides information and links to many other outside resources. The 2021-22 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet is available where permits are sold and provides details on chronic wasting disease in the state.
John Winkelman is Marketing Director for Liguori Publications near Barnhart, Mo., and the Associate Editor for Outdoor Guide Magazine. If you have story ideas to share for the Leader outdoor news page, e-mail email@example.com, and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.