At this weekend's opening of firearms deer season, hunters were seemed happy to comply with the first-ever mandatory checks for chronic wasting disease (CWD).
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) this weekend required the checks, which started voluntarily in 2010, in its CWD Management Zone, which includes 29 counties in northeast, central and eastern parts of the state. Cole County is in the zone.
"It's been going really well. Hunters have been great," said Lucas Bond, an MDC spokesman. "If it wasn't for them, and the cooperation from all the Missouri Department of Conservation employees, this would not be able to work. So we're very thankful. There's no complaints, and it's running smoothly."
Wyatt Gabel, a high school student who previously lived in Jefferson City and now lives in Dallas, Texas, returned here this weekend with his father, Dale, to hunt.
Early Sunday afternoon, the father and son brought their deer to Conservation's sampling station at Russellville High School.
Wyatt had just shot his deer in Cole County, literally spitting its heart from 100 yards away with a .300 short magnum rifle. He said they saw three or four deer on Saturday and two or three on Sunday.
He said he supports Conservation's efforts to check for CWD and to reduce the problem.
"We believe in conservation backwards and forwards," his father agreed, noting MDC is undertaking an enormous effort to test for the disease. "It's pretty impressive," he said.
Bond said more than 130 deer were checked at the Russellville station on Saturday. The goal, he said, is to get 18,000-20,000 checked throughout the 29-county zone.
The checks are free to hunters, who have access to the results when they come in after four to six weeks. No evidence suggests CWD is a threat to humans, but the Centers for Disease Control recommends not eating deer meat that has tested positive. MDC lets hunters make their own decisions.
"They (hunters) understand this is not just about the Missouri Department of Conservation trying to help save the deer herd, it's actually their deer herd. And we're wanting to make sure that the deer herd is safe and away from CWD, and we're just trying to manage that."
CWD is a disease — similar to mad cow disease — that affects the cervidae family. It's not bacteria or a virus, but a transmissible neurological spongiform encephalopathy disease. It is caused by deformed proteins called "prions." It is 100 percent fatal, and there is no cure yet.
Thirty-three cases have been confirmed within the management zone. Symptoms include drooping head, tremors, lack of coordination and excessive drooling.
Bond said he didn't know yet whether initial harvest numbers from the firearms season are above or below previous years, but said he was encouraged by the good weather.
"I don't think you could have asked for better weather yesterday," Bond said. "It's perfect deer season weather."