November 04, 2021
It's not like deer hunting isn't already complicated enough, with what used to be an already difficult task of trying to outsmart mature bucks each season that can suddenly evaporate from your hunting ground like leftover Halloween candy after Oct. 31.
Even so, chasing whitetails is becoming even more complicated these days as disease spreads and a sea of regulation changes continues to take place in the U.S. and Canada.
I was reminded of that recently, looking at a map of my home state of Texas and the huge deer-hunting options that lay at my disposal over the next several weeks, as the early archery season ends and the general season begins.
But that same map also showed several new challenges as the deadly specter of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) continues to grow across the vast state, home to some 254 counties and approximately 5.4 million whitetails.
CWD Cases Still Increasing
The deadly wildlife disease—which is a slow, progressive and always fatal neurological disease found in certain cervids like deer, moose, and elk—was first discovered in my home state back in 2012 when CWD was found in free-ranging mule deer in a remote region of the Hueco Mountains near the Texas-New Mexico border.
That's a long, long way from the North Texas region where I live, but nevertheless, through CWD's ongoing spread in wild and captive deer herds, the disease is now suddenly knocking on my backdoor.
Literally, I might add, suddenly popping up in a captive deer one county away from where I live. And in recent years, that's been the trend too, not an occasional exception to the rules as the disease has now been detected in 261 free-ranging and/or captive cervids in 14 counties across Texas.
With the nation's largest whitetail herd, and plenty of mule deer and exotic animals, biologists in Texas have now found CWD in a collection of wildlife that includes native white-tailed deer, native mule deer, free ranging elk, and exotic red deer.
To date, 168 of those CWD cases—including in the nearby North Texas county that is scarcely 35 miles from where I'm writing this—have come from captive breeding facilities and/or associated release sites.
The disease has also been noted in 68 free-ranging deer across the Lone Star State, including some from a region where I hunted only a few years ago.
What does all of this mean? Well, as noted at the outset of this piece, deer hunting—already complicated enough to begin with—is becoming even more so as the menace of CWD continues to spread and bring about new cases, new local and state restrictions, and new carcass-importation restrictions in states all across the country.
Consider the recent whitetail-season outlook news release issued a couple of weeks ago from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, a news piece that spoke to the state's voluminous hunting crowd about what they must do and what they can do to help slow and control CWD.
"The discovery of new cases of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has prompted TPWD to establish new containment and surveillance zones to mitigate the potential spread of CWD," said the news release.
"TPWD recommends hunters review information about testing requirements and carcass movement restrictions in the CWD zones for the 2021-22 season before heading out to the field.
"Landowners and hunters play a critical role in managing CWD. The most effective way for them to help slow the spread of CWD is to report sick deer to a TPWD biologist, properly dispose of inedible carcass parts, and to voluntarily test their harvests by taking them to a local check station or contacting a TPWD biologist in their area.
"By adhering to CWD regulations and recommendations, hunters, landowners, and communities are helping to ensure that native deer populations remain healthy and plentiful for years to come, allowing for the conservation of the species and preservation of Texas’ hunting heritage and traditions."
Sounds a bit noble. And a bit multi-layered, changing, and increasingly complicated, right?
How to Stay Informed
Yes indeed. And in light of all of that, what can you do where you live, hunt, and travel to stay up to date with CWD news and regulation changes as you head into the deer woods to chase whitetails this fall?
Well, for starters, stay tuned to outdoor news sources like Game and Fish Magazine and other Outdoor Sportsman Group hunting publications.
Another way to stay informed on CWD is to go to the various websites and information clearinghouses run by private organizations, government agencies, and wildlife health professionals.
One such website is the one run by the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance. Another is the CWD page run by the Centers for Disease Control . Still another is the U.S. Geological Survey's map showing CWD distribution across North America. And of course, there are multiple websites run by various state agencies with pages devoted to CWD information like the one maintained by TPWD.
NDA, OnX Maps Team Up
But thanks to a cooperative effort between the National Deer Association (NDA) and onX Maps, there's a simpler and easier way to keep up with everything related to CWD and associated hunting regulations across the country.
That's because the NDA and onX announced just this week an effort that will deliver newly expanded information in the onX Hunt app, thanks to a map layer that will make the CWD-information gathering process even easier for deer and elk hunters.
According to a news release, NDA and onX first worked together on a nationwide database of CWD information back in 2018. But now, the new CWD layer shows testing locations, carcass disposal sites and regulations for each CWD management zone across America.
NDA reports that this information, along with the in-app website links to resources like those mentioned above, will help hunters fight CWD and become a part of the solution as the landscape continues to shift and change with each new round of CWD news and positive case discoveries.
- In light of the continuing partnership between NDA and onX, the map/app maker is offering a 20-percent discount off their Premium Membership for those who use the code "NDA" at onXmaps.com. FYI, if you don't already have the onX app on your smartphone or tablet, it's available on iTunes or the Google Play Store, as well as on the onX Maps website.
We're talking about an unwelcomed subject, and an increasingly complicated one, but that sounds pretty good, right? Yes, indeed.
"NDA's CWD map layer in onX Hunt is designed to make deer hunters more aware of CWD and its presence so they can comply with harvest, testing, and carcass transportation rules intended to help stop the spread of this serious disease," stated Kip Adams, NDA’s chief conservation officer, in the news release.
"When you're hunting deer in a CWD management zone, it's critical that you submit samples from any harvested deer for testing, and that you properly dispose of the carcass before leaving the zone."
And the news CWD layer in onX maps makes that challenging process just a little bit easier now.
In addition to the discount noted above, NDA and onX note that the CWD layer on onX maps is included free for all who purchase the app.
How does it work? When the nationwide layer is activated by a user, each county where the disease’s presence has been confirmed is highlighted in red.
Then, by tapping or clicking inside any affected county, that will pull up additional resources for hunters like local sampling locations, disposal sites for deer carcasses, and links to regulations at the local and state level that are designed to stop the spread of the disease.
Obviously, deer hunters everywhere wish that CWD wasn’t an on-going topic in the whitetail hunting world. But it is and it isn’t going away, anytime soon.
So, we'd all be well advised to make the best of an increasingly complicated and disturbing subject, doing what we can to help biologists learn all they can about the disease, and hopefully one day, put a stop to it.
Whether it's somewhere across the country or right in our very own backyard.