Hunters, who have been both angry and concerned for years over the reduction of the deer herd in Pennsylvania, now have a new and serious threat to the deer herd, chronic wasting disease.
CWD has been a threat for years, being found in surrounding states and so it was feared that it would eventually infect Pennsylvania's deer herd. Now this fear has come true with at least two cases of CWD being confirmed in Blair county and one in Bedford. This surely means that there are other animals out there that have the disease and have not yet been found.
CWD is a degenerative brain disease that causes the deer to slowly deteriorate, to waste away as it were, and eventually die. Authorities tell us that the disease cannot be transferred or "caught" from deer to person but rather from deer to deer. The virus is spread by exchange of bodily fluids, saliva etc. between animals.
It means, basically, that if you spot a deer in your back field or in the woods or along a stream that appears to be drunk - stumbling, drooping, thin- you can pretty well know you are seeing a sick animal. What should you do, should you see such an animal?
The Pennsylvania Game Commission says to report it at once to them, to get a good take on the location, be prepared to lead a authorized person to that location and then let them handle it. I've already heard some saying that if they should see what they think is a sick animal they will just shoot it to put it out of its misery and keep the disease from spreading.
Think for a moment what will happen if hunters or others think they can shoot deer carte blanche because they think it should be put down. First of all, it is important for the Game Commission to definitely know if an animal is infected and they will put it down and take it for examination if that is needed. Just shooting animals and letting them lie on the basis of our own suspicions will just be wasteful in the end.
This attitude will be just an open door for poachers and what we do not need in this environment is people killing off deer and saying " I thought it was a sick one." That would happen.
A couple of years ago, in Armstrong County, on the first day of rifle buck season, I chanced upon a dead 10-point buck. It had been dead for several days, that was evident, and it had tags in its ears. I got so excited about the fact that these were tags that carried a $100 reward that I didn't put much attention to the overall condition of the animal.
I told the other folks in my hunting party about the deer that evening back at camp, and so the next day my hunting buddy Joanie Haidle and I went back to the site of that dead deer just for curiosity's sake. Joanie grabbed it by the antlers and turned it over and we were astonished at how emaciated the deer looked on that side.
This was a few years ago, when knowledge of CWD was hardly publicized and neither of us ever gave that possibility a thought. As I look back on it, I now know I should have reported that deer and had it examined.
So, as spring gobbler preseason scouting is soon to begin and trout season is a short time away, find the number you need for the nearest Game Protector, deputy or even a regional office and put it in your cell phone so that you can call when you find or see a "drunk" deer.
On March 20 at 7 p.m. at the Spring Cove Middle School, at 185 Spring Grove Circle in Roaring Spring, the Pennsylvania Game Commission will hold a meeting for the public to inform us of the facts of chronic wasting disease. This is an important meeting where many of our questions can be answered so try to make time for it.
I believe that hunters, anglers, hikers, bird watchers and all other outdoor types can be very helpful in this quest to spot this problem within their own areas. But it must be done correctly and not take matters into our own hands. At the meeting, we will find out exactly the things we can do to be cooperative in this matter.