Staff at the Glenwood Department of Natural Resources were worried about meeting their goal in terms of sampling the wild deer herd for Chronic Wasting Disease after the youth and early antlerless seasons in mid-October, but firearms hunters stepped up in permit area 213.

The DNR has a point system in place based on the sex and age class of deer that were submitted by hunters for sampling in both deer permit areas 213 and 273. Those are the two DPAs that are part of the West-central surveillance area that began this hunting season after a CWD-positive doe was confirmed on a small deer farm in Douglas County in December of 2019.

There have been no confirmed cases of CWD, the always-fatal neurological disease affecting the cervid family, in the wild deer herd in areas 213 or 273. As of Dec. 14, 383 samples have been submitted with zero positives and zero pending cases in 213. Just 53 samples have been submitted in area 273, with none of those positive and one pending.

“Basically all of (the samples) came through a vendor of some sort,” Glenwood DNR wildlife manager Kevin Kotts said. “We have three different taxidermists in Alexandria, and they were getting not just deer they were going to mount, but also getting samples of smaller bucks and antlerless deer. I’m going from memory here, but I’m thinking we had well over 200 deer sampled through the taxidermists just in Alexandria.”

Hunters could drop off the heads of adult deer at sampling stations around both permit areas or by working with a select group of area taxidermists and meat processors who agreed to be a part of taking samples.

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In the first year of sampling in this area, the DNR had a point goal in area 213 of 862. Deer submitted for sampling are assigned a point value, with older-aged bucks receiving the highest point values based on their higher likelihood of being carriers of CWD. The DNR met its goal in area 213 thanks to an influx of samples during the regular firearms season, but they are still well short of goal levels in area 273 (385 points).

“We’re still trying to get deer from 273, but we’re not going to get to our goal in 273 just because there’s a lot fewer deer harvested in that permit area and we’re so far behind at this point that we can’t catch up,” Kotts said.

Submitting samples of deer for CWD purposes was voluntary in Minnesota this year, with much of that having to do with the COVID-19 pandemic and not wanting to have hunters gathered in large groups at mandatory sampling stations during firearms season.

Kotts gave a lot of credit to the vendors who collected samples for the DNR in helping them reach their goal in area 213. Going through taxidermists not only brought in a lot of individual deer, but it added a lot of older bucks into the samples that hunters brought in to get mounted.

“We’re getting a lot more mature bucks by percentage than we would say at a regular roadside station,” Kotts said.

This is the first year of at least three years that the DNR will collect samples from this area as a way to try to confidently say whether or not CWD could have gotten into the wild herd.

“That’s the plan is to continue sampling and hopefully we continue to get negatives,” Kotts said.

“We may have to do three more years on 273. I’m not sure about that one because I don’t think we’re going to be very close to our sampling goal. We’ll do a review of the whole process and talk about what went well. What could we do better? How do we get a little more participation out west?”

Narrowing down where samples come from

Deer permit area 213 covers a large area of land, with a western border of Fergus Falls and an eastern border of Long Prairie nearly 80 miles away. Permit area 273 generally has lower deer densities and sits south and west of 213.

The DNR cannot make public where specifically the deer farm was that had the CWD-positive case in 2019. While it would seem ideal to get samples from directly around the site itself where that positive was found, getting detailed data specific to a location proved a little more difficult this year during the pandemic.

“If a deer was to come back positive, we do call the hunter and confirm and get exact location of property name, coordinates, etc., if it was not provided,” DNR wildlife health specialist Janetta Kelly said. “Even if we received (the township, range, section information) from them, we still aim to get it down finer to property and coordinates.”

Hunters who dropped off deer at one of the self-service sampling stations around the area were asked to fill in the township, range and section the deer was shot in by looking at a map provided on site. Hunters who went through a vendor like a taxidermist to submit their sample were only asked to provide what permit area the deer was shot in.

“Those fine resolution maps are large,” Kelly said. “It is very hard to fit that fine data on a smaller handout map and make it readable. That is why we don’t provide them to vendors. We have also found that vendors get frustrated trying to figure out that data for the hunter, and it makes them not want to participate. We would rather have them participating at some level, as opposed to not at all.”

The DNR would often also set up check stations right around the site near the positive farm to try to get specific samples from that area, but the pandemic made it impossible to ensure they could do that safely this year.

“If we are still in these constraints in the years to come, we will work with vendors to find ways to get finer spatial data,” Kelly said.

Hunters still had through Dec. 13 to hunt with a muzzleloader in Minnesota, and archery season runs through Dec. 31. Kotts said a few vendors are still taking samples in the West-central CWD surveillance area and those who shoot a deer this late season and want to get it sampled can also call the Glenwood DNR at 320-634-7337 to set up an appointment.