Southwest Missouri hunters get deer tested for deadly disease on opening day of rifle season

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POLK COUNTY, Mo. (KY3) - Saturday marked opening day for rifle deer hunting season in Missouri. Some hunters in the Ozarks were required to take their catches to testing sites to check for Chronic Wasting Disease.

13-year-old Lila and her dad Reg have been hunting together since she was a toddler, but Saturday was a first for both of them.

"This is the first time I've got to actually shoot and clean and help deliver the deer myself," Lila said.

After bagging her first doe, Lila and Reg brought it to a testing site near Bolivar to check for Chronic Wasting Disease.

"This is the first time I've been a part of the testing process. It went well, it was easy," Reg said.

Francis Skalicky, Media Specialist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said CWD is found earliest in a deer's lymph nodes.

"So we pull the lymph nodes, we send the lymph nodes off to be sampled. If we find a positive sample, we will notify the hunter," Skalicky said.

He said the testing is required in or near counties where the deadly deer disease has already been found.

"It's always fatal to deer. So it would be devastating to Missouri if it got established here, because deer are a big deal," he said.

The MDC has listed 29 counties where CWD testing is mandatory during opening weekend. Eleven of them are in the southwest region, including St. Clair, Cedar, Hickory, Polk, Christian, Barry, Stone, Taney Ozark, Howell and Oregon counties.

"So yes, it is here, but yes, we are ahead of the game and sampling like this, with the cooperation of the hunters, helps us stay ahead of the game," Skalicky said.

Skalicky said, since 2002, the state has tested about 134,000 deer, and only about 170 were positive for CWD. He said, even though that's a low percentage, it's still important to find out where the disease is and how it's moving through the state.

“Unfortunately, we can’t line up all the deer and have them vaccinated like you can livestock. So this is probably the next best thing we can do. We can sample, we can identify where it’s found. We can take some steps to minimize the spread," Skalicky said.

Skalicky said there were 20,000 deer tested in Missouri for the 2018 opening weekend and he expects to be an even higher number this year.

He said more southern Missouri counties are being added to the mandatory testing list because the disease in spreading in nearby northern Arkansas.

Reg grew up hunting, without the risk of his deer being infected with CWD, but hopes the state can use testing to slow down the progression of the disease, so his family can keep hunting for years to come.

"We want it for my generation and [Lila's] generation and her generation after that, that can still go out and do the American tradition of hunting," Reg said.

The mandatory testing will continue Sunday. Results from the opening weekend samples should be ready in about three to four weeks. The MDC will only contact hunters whose deer test positive for CWD.

Hunters who want to see their deer's results can click
HERE.

To see the testing site locations, click HERE.

The MDC also offers voluntary CWD testing all season long. For information about that, click HERE.

For more information about Chronic Wasting Disease, click HERE.