LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is rolling out additional opportunities for hunters to get their deer tested for chronic wasting disease throughout the state this deer season.
More than 130 testing locations have been established through regional offices, drop-off locations and participating taxidermists. All of these options are free to the hunter and are completely voluntary.
With new cases of CWD being found in surrounding states, far removed from Arkansas’s known CWD management zone, many hunters in other parts of The Natural State may want to have their deer tested. Although no verified cases of CWD being transmitted to humans currently exist, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly encourage everyone to have deer from a known CWD-positive area tested before consuming the meat. Testing also assists the AGFC with ongoing disease surveillance in the State’s deer herd. To help this process, the AGFC’s Research, Evaluation and Compliance Division has ramped up efforts to make this process easy, no matter where you live in Arkansas.
“We now have drop-off sample locations in almost every county of the state,” said A.J. Riggs, AGFC wildlife health biologist. “Close to 70 percent of the state is within a 20-minute drive of a testing location, and the rest of the state is still within a half-hour or so.”
Many of the free testing locations available to hunters are voluntary drop-off freezers that allow hunters to drop off samples with their contact information. Many of these locations are available 24 hours a day. The AGFC began implementing this network of freezers last deer season, and many hunters took advantage of the opportunity.
“Last year we brought in about 1,200 samples through our freezer collection points in its first year,” Riggs said. “That’s in addition to nearly 5,500 samples we collected through other voluntary methods.”
It is easy to get a deer tested through a drop-off location. Simply bring the deer’s head with 4 to 6 inches of the neck attached and any antlers removed to the location and place it in one of the provided plastic bags with your name and contact information on the card provided. The AGFC will collect these samples and have them analyzed by the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission laboratory. Testing results should be available within two to three weeks.
“Our average turnaround time has been much better than that, but hunters should plan for the two- to three-week window to store their deer in a freezer before processing or eating the meat,” Riggs said.
Test results will be posted through a secure system at www.agfc.com/cwd.
“We also will call the hunter personally for any test that comes back with CWD being detected,” Riggs said. “We can make arrangements to dispose of the meat properly for them and give them an additional deer tag.”
Replacement deer tags will be issued to enable hunters the opportunity to harvest an additional doe to make up for the meat lost. Additional buck tags will not be issued as hunters will be allowed to retain the antlers of their deer for taxidermy purposes. Antlers, teeth, hides and cleaned skull plates are all low-risk items in spreading the disease.
Riggs says staff also will notify hunters via phone if their sample is not usable for some reason, so it is important to give complete information with their deer’s head.
“We have had a few cases where there was too much damage or not enough of the neck to pull a good sample,” Riggs said. “It is important that the sample be an intact head with 4 to 6 inches of neck still attached.”
Staff is delivering freezers this week, and all established drop-off locations should be ready to receive samples by opening day of archery deer season, Sept. 28.
“All testing locations will remain open until archery deer season ends, Feb. 29,” Riggs said.
In addition to “self-serve” drop-off locations, the AGFC has a network of more than 40 taxidermists who will pull and submit CWD samples for free. While most of the animals they see are mature bucks, many will pull a sample from deer they are not mounting for hunters who want the help.
“We have a lot of the state’s taxidermists onboard with the program, but if a person’s favorite taxidermist doesn’t participate, they can still bring the animal to an AGFC regional office and have a sample pulled after their taxidermist removes the cape.”
Riggs notes that hunters should remember not to move deer harvested inside the CWD Management Zone outside of that zone, even for testing purposes.
“We have a lot of testing options within Arkansas’s CWD Management Zone, so it should not be an issue to find one,” Riggs said. “Deboned meat can be taken outside of the zone, as well as taxidermied heads, cleaned skull plates, antlers and capes; so hunters can still bring their trophy home if they hunt in that area but don’t live there. It just takes a little extra effort to help us slow the spread of this disease in Arkansas.”
Visit www.agfc.com/cwd to find a free testing location and learn more about CWD in Arkansas.