Deer hunters are now in the field taking part in the opening days of the state’s archery and crossbow seasons, but hunters in chronic wasting disease-affected counties will have to continue to keep an eye on the calendar.
New carcass-movement restrictions put in place for the 2018 season to assist in limiting the spread of the disease go into effect Oct. 1. With the new carcass-transportation rules, the whole carcass of a deer harvested in a CWD-affected county will no longer be allowed to leave the county of harvest unless it is taken to a licensed meat processor or taxidermist within 72 hours of the carcass leaving the county.
That means hunters must self-process their deer in the county of harvest, take their deer to a licensed meat processor in the county of harvest, or have an established plan to get the carcass to a licensed meat processor or taxidermist shortly after leaving the affected county.
“If a deer comes from a CWD county, you cannot remove it from the county until it’s either processed by you in some way — that can mean fully processed or it can mean quartered with the spinal column and the head left behind — or it can leave the county if within 72 hours of leaving the county, you take it to a licensed meat processor,” said Kevin Wallenfang, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources deer and elk ecologist. “If you’ve never butchered your own deer and have always taken it to a processor, this rule isn’t going to affect you very much. You can still do that, but it’s got to go to somebody fairly quickly.”
Wallenfang said the rule will most affect two types of hunters: those who like to process their deer on their own and people who hunt across a county line from where they live.
“I’m in that boat too. I hunt in Vilas County and will no longer be able to just bring a deer home with me,” he said. “We’re going to have to plan for that and break deer down or process them in camp before we come home.”
Currently 55 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties are considered CWD-affected counties. Of the affected counties, 25 are designated as such due to having a wild CWD-positive deer, 16 are within 10 miles of a wild CWD-positive deer and 14 have a captive CWD-positive or are within 10 miles of a captive CWD-positive deer, according to the DNR.
“It’s a little complicated. It’s going to take a little bit of study for people to understand it,” Wallenfang said. “First of all, hunters are going to have to know if their county is affected. If your county is affected and you plan to process that deer yourself, you’re going to need to take whatever tools you need — knives and wrapping paper or plastic tubs or however you plan to transport that meat home — you’re going to need to plan to break that animal down so that you’re within full compliance of the rule.”
Wallenfang said another change in the law — which used to require processing within 72 hours of registering the deer — is to allow for the deer to be taken to a processor or taxidermist within 72 hours of leaving the county.
“You can go and hunt and stay in deer camp all week, even if you got a deer on opening day and registered it right away,” he said. “Now you can leave that deer hanging all week long, and then as soon as you leave for home, your 72-hour clock starts ticking.
“If a hunter plans to process it themselves, they’re going to have to break the animal down before they leave (the affected) county. If they don’t process it themselves, they just need to get it to a processor within 72 hours of leaving the county.”
According to the DNR, the only parts from deer harvested in the CWD-affected counties that may be transported beyond those counties are meat that is cut and wrapped (either commercially or privately), quarters or other portions of meat to which no part of the spinal column is attached, meat that has been deboned, hides with no heads attached, finished taxidermy heads, antlers with no tissue attached, clean skull plates with no lymphoid or brain tissue attached, clean skulls with no lymphoid or brain tissue attached, and upper canine teeth.
The new transportation and processing rules include changes to what can be left behind in the field — including on lands that are state owned or managed — in order to make meeting the processing requirements easier for the hunter, Wallenfang said. He said now the spinal column of a deer the hunter processes in the field must be left in the field and the head can be transported for testing purposes or taxidermy, but 72-hour rule still applies.
“You can leave those in the field now,” he said. “It used to be that all the pieces minus the guts had to come out of the woods. All that has changed too. You can process your deer in the field, just like you would if you were on a Western elk hunt, and leave that spinal column behind.”
Hunters who use a licensed meat processor but like to wait to bring the deer in to avoid a post-hunting-season rush must quarter or debone the carcass or keep the deer carcass in the CWD-affected county of harvest until within 72 hours of when they plan to bring the carcass to a processor.
Justin Henthorn of Eagle’s Peak Processing in Gilmanton said he doesn’t expect the rule changes to have much impact on his processing business.
“Everybody usually brings their deer in within 24 hours of getting it home,” said Henthorn, who also hosts a CWD-test site at Eagle’s Peak Processing. “There were some who waited two or three days after gun-deer season if the weather was cold enough. But it’s been warmer the past few years, so they’ve been bringing those in right away too.”
In 2017, archery and crossbow hunters combined for one of the highest buck harvests in history, and Wallenfang said signs are pointing to another successful year of hunting this year.
“There’s good deer numbers around the state,” he said. “Deer numbers in the north have rebounded since that bad winter we had in 2013. The harvest has been going up every year.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me to see something like last year’s record numbers again this year.”