CWD — Know Your State’s Rules

Deer that get CWD lose weight, have little fear of predators, drool excessively, and eventually have tremors and loss of coordination. Although they can have the disease for a long time without exhibiting these symptoms, once they do exhibit them they usually die within months.

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

Many Pennsylvania hunters hunt in bordering states — New York, Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia. Many New York hunters hunt in Pennsylvania, other bordering states, as well as Ontario. The proximity of good deer hunting and the ease of travel give avid deer hunters incentive to hunt neighboring states. 

But now, a new problem might keep more deer hunters home. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been spreading, and every state is taking measures to stop it or prevent it from spreading. 

CWD is a serious disease. It’s the deer equivalent to “mad cow disease” in cattle, “scrapie” in sheep, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. It is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) which deteriorates brain tissue. Not enough is known about it to eliminate it, and it can affect whitetail deer, mule deer, elk, moose, and every other species in the deer family. 

CWD can take years to manifest itself, and no test exists to identify it in a living animal. Eventually, it kills every deer that gets it. 

State wildlife agencies have taken steps to limit the spread of CWD, and some states where it hasn’t yet appeared hope never to see its arrival. Both states where I routinely hunt, Pennsylvania and New York, now prohibit hunters from bringing deer they harvest across state lines. 

That means a New York hunter with a buck from Pennsylvania can’t bring it home to have his favorite deer processor make meat out of it. Nor can bring it home to be mounted by whatever taxidermist he thinks is best. The same is true of taking a New York deer home to Pennsylvania for processing or mounting. 

CWD is caused by prions (deformed proteins) that might exist throughout the animal, but are concentrated in certain tissues — the brain and spinal cord, eye tissue, spleen, lymph nodes and glandular tissue including tonsils. These tissues, plus uncleaned skull plates, have the highest risk of transmitting CWD. The prions are difficult to destroy and can be passed from one animal to another through saliva, urine, and feces, so it can even contaminate the soil. Prions can be viable for years, and possibly infect a deer that eats vegetation where the prion exists. 

Every state is taking precautions to prevent the spread of CWD. Every hunter should help for at least two reasons. 

One, we must all join together to protect the deer in the area we hunt and in our own states. We can’t depend on a few conscientious hunters to stop the progressive spread of CWD. We must all be on the same page if we are going to protect our deer. 

Two, it’s not just about deer. Whitetail deer are a keystone species so their future is the future of wildlife conservation across North America. Wildlife conservation depends on whitetail deer hunting more than any other single species. We know what can happen when we have too many deer, but what happens when we don’ t have enough? For one thing, the dollars they generate for wildlife management will disappear. We can’t let that happen. 

This season, make sure you obey the law in any state you hunt and in your home state. Find out what your state game agency says about transporting out-of-state deer to your home state. If you bring meat home, make sure you know the rules. If you plan on having the antlers mounted, make sure you’re doing it without risk to the deer where you live. 

CWD is spreading and if it can be slowed or stopped, it will be hunters who play the key role.  

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.