Keep CWD Out Of Georgia

Sportsmen are the first line of defense against chronic wasting disease.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. | March 9, 2019

Last fall, next door to my family’s hunting land in Wayne County, some of our neighbors noticed a buck behaving strangely. He was running in circles in a pecan orchard in broad daylight, in the backyard of a home. Corky Thrower, Key Roberson and Edwin Tyre, all deer hunters, approached the buck cautiously and filmed it as it stood there, drooling and looking confused. The buck was skinny and holding its head at an odd angle. 

Our neighbors notified Georgia DNR, and biologist Kara Day from the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) office in Richmond Hill came and collected the buck for testing. The buck had a cranial abscess, an infection that often starts with head wounds from fighting and becomes fatal if it works its way into the buck’s brain, slowly killing it. A horrible way for a buck to go, yet I breathed a sigh of relief when the news was relayed to me. Thank God it wasn’t chronic wasting disease (CWD).

CWD is creeping closer and closer to our beloved Georgia deer woods, with the nearest cases now in western Tennessee and northeastern Mississippi. Is it inevitable that we will find it here? Not if all Georgia deer hunters are like our neighbors, who took action and quickly reported what they saw to DNR. Not if all of us stay informed about this disease, work to stop it, and share the word on what everyone can do to help.

I’m not here to debate some of the pointless and divisive arguments about CWD to be found online. Where it came from. Who is to blame for spreading it. How long it’s been in North America. There’s only one thing for hunters in a state like Georgia to know, and it isn’t debatable: If you don’t have CWD in your deer woods, you don’t want it. It is a serious threat that is extremely difficult to fight once it is established in a specific area, so the appearance of CWD radically changes the culture and traditions of deer hunting in and close to the outbreak zones. Let’s save our energy by avoiding arguments and focus on the fight ahead: Keeping CWD out of Georgia and any other state or county that doesn’t have it yet. Here’s what you can do.

If you see a deer behaving strangely or displaying symptoms of serious illness, report it to Georgia WRD immediately. This is one of the most important steps. If a spot outbreak of CWD is discovered early enough when very few deer are infected, it is possible to remove those few deer and stop the outbreak before it can take root. This is apparently what happened in New York. Many other states, unfortunately, are coping with outbreaks that were dug in by the time they were discovered. As with the Wayne County buck, what you see may have many potential causes besides CWD, but call it in anyway and let the experts decide whether follow-up testing is appropriate.

If you travel out of state to hunt deer or elk, bring nothing more than deboned venison and a clean skull plate and antlers back to Georgia. One of the two primary ways to spread CWD into a new area is by hauling the infected carcasses of harvested deer or elk out of CWD zones. Infective CWD “prions” are found throughout a sick deer’s body, but they are concentrated in certain areas like the brain, spinal cord and some organs. If these parts are discarded in the woods, a new hot-spot of CWD prions is created in the environment, and healthy deer could potentially encounter them, creating a new outbreak. If you hunt out of state, first learn whether you are hunting in a CWD outbreak zone. If you are hunting where CWD is present, then:

• Submit all deer harvested there for testing by that state’s wildlife agency. 

• Dispose of the deer carcass in the CWD zone following that state’s guidelines.

• Bring nothing more than deboned venison and a clean skull plate and antlers back to Georgia (cleaned teeth, such as elk ivories, are also okay).

• Wait for test results before eating the venison (Note: There’s no evidence CWD has infected people who consume venison, but human disease experts recommend you reduce any unknown risks by avoiding consumption of infected deer).

• If your deer tests positive for CWD, dispose of the frozen venison in a landfill or bury it deeply. Do not discard it on the ground outdoors.

Remember this fact: Deer carry CWD up to two years before outward symptoms appear, so you cannot look at a deer and tell whether it might have CWD. If you killed it in a CWD Management Zone, get it tested! And do not bring the carcass back to Georgia.

If you hear rumors of anyone planning to illegally import live deer into Georgia, or know of anyone who has already done so, report them immediately to Georgia WRD Law Enforcement.

The other primary way to spread CWD is by trucking live deer around. Georgia is very fortunate that our legislature never allowed commercial deer farming or breeding to become an established industry here. The lack of legal trade and traffic in live deer is probably one of the reasons we haven’t seen the disease yet. However, just because it’s illegal to bring live deer into or through Georgia doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Help stop all movement of live deer by listening out for rumors. Someone usually brags about the big deer they trucked in. Someone usually sees trailers hauling live deer arrive in the night. Report this information to Law Enforcement and you might help stop a CWD outbreak in your home woods.

Put your local DNR game warden and WRD wildlife biologist on speed dial.

Whether it’s a poacher or a sick deer, don’t wait for an emergency to wonder who you’re supposed to call. Visit the WRD website now and find the phone numbers for your nearest regional office of WRD Game Management and DNR Law Enforcement. Plug them into your phone and be ready to use them. If nothing else, save the Ranger Hotline: 800-241-4113.

Follow Georgia WRD on social media and sign up for their free e-newsletter. 

Stay informed on the latest information from our state wildlife agency so you can learn of breaking news and assist with efforts to monitor deer in Georgia. Visit and scroll to the bottom right corner of any page on the site. Look for “Stay Connected” to find links to e-mail and social media.

If every Georgia deer hunter followed these few simple steps, we could likely keep CWD out of Georgia forever. Not every Georgia deer hunter will read this, though, so there’s one more step you can take to help: pass these tips along to the hunters in your family and community. If deer hunters work together, we can protect our deer hunting heritage in Georgia and ensure future hunters can enjoy it just as we have.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. is Director of Communications for the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA). Follow Lindsay on Twitter @LindsayThomasJr and Instagram @lindsay_thomas_jr.

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