Deer hunting is supposed to be fun, and for most of us successfully killing a deer and bringing it home to turn it into proudly sourced table fare is the pinnacle of that enjoyment. That is, however, unless you’re fined, arrested, or even sued in the process. You may think I’m joking, but after an initial period of educating hunters about chronic wasting disease (CWD) travel restrictions, wildlife agencies are beginning to enforce the laws that prohibit movement of carcasses between states.
“The onus is still on you as the hunter to know before you go,” wrote Jennifer Jackson, Idaho Fish & Game Department regional communications manager, in an online article. “The officers are allowed to issue a warning or a citation at their discretion. There’s a little education period at the beginning of a new law and then eventually more citations will probably be written.”
Tactics ranging from increased undercover surveillance along major interstates to targeted educational campaigns on billboards along borders, to literally chasing down anonymous tips, have not had an overly positive effect at changing hunter behavior when it comes to carcass transportation, so as the disease continues to spread, agencies have taken it up a notch.
Headlines in recent years from Alabama to Idaho of unknowing (or uncaring) hunters caught transporting legally harvested deer or deer parts across state lines have made the news, with penalties ranging from simple warnings to misdemeanor charges and moderate fines. Some states even threaten jail time. However, two prime examples of punishment occurred earlier this year in Kentucky and South Carolina that hopefully begins to change our national conduct around moving deer carcasses.
The Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) filed a lawsuit against a Bluegrass State resident who illegally brought home the head of a buck harvested in Wisconsin. That deer later tested positive for CWD, an always-fatal neurological disease of most deer species that today is found in 31 states.
The hunter immediately cooperated with law enforcement, admitted to the violation, and paid a fine initially; however, KDFWR is now seeking $1,900 in civil damages incurred during the investigation, testing, carcass disposal and cost of the prosecution.
“Over the past two decades, KDFWR has tested more than 40,000 deer and elk in Kentucky for CWD as part of its efforts to prevent the spread and introduction of this disease into the commonwealth,” Kentucky Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Rich Storm said in a public statement. “For years, we’ve informed the public about the threat posed by CWD in our hunting guides, press releases, magazine and television shows, websites, town hall meetings and social media. The information is out there for hunters.”
Since the suspected infective agent of CWD is most concentrated in the brain, spinal cord and lymph nodes, successful deer hunters are generally asked to only cross state lines with boned-out meat, antlers connected to clean skull plates, clean hides, or clean jawbones/teeth, or finished taxidermy.
South Carolina Indictment
Three South Carolina deer hunters allegedly broke a similar, longstanding state law when they transported the remains of a CWD-positive buck from Kansas to their home in 2019. That law, which prohibits hunters from bringing whole or field-dressed deer carcasses or high-risk parts into South Carolina from states that are known to harbor CWD, has been in place since 2004. State legislators strengthened the penalties for violating it in September 2022 after neighboring North Carolina confirmed its second known case of CWD within 75 miles of the South Carolina border.
“The three men were arraigned in a U.S. District courtroom in Lexington County on Aug. 29, where a judge set their bond at $20,000 apiece,” wrote Dac Collins of Outdoor Life. “If convicted of the charges, they could spend up to five years in prison.”
According to the indictment, the three hunters not only allegedly broke two state big-game and wildlife possession laws, but they also face federal charges under violation of the Lacey Act, which prohibits interstate transport of illegally taken wildlife.
Don’t Become a Defendant
To better understand the regulations impacting travel, we’ve teamed up with onX Hunt on a layer within the app that provides up-to-date information on CWD distribution, regulated zones, CWD sampling sites and disposal locations. Get the app and use these resources to ensure you’re following the rules. Also, the CWD Alliance offers a webmap that displays where you can transport whole deer, elk or other cervid carcasses across state borders as you are traveling after a hunt.
Don’t be caught transporting a legal harvest with high-risk parts into a prohibited state or province, or better yet learn to skin and debone your own deer and begin traveling only with acceptable parts from every kill, as we expect this will be a skill required of all hunters in the future.
“Despite our best efforts at education, unlawful import of those prohibited parts remains a problem,” Alabama Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Enforcement Chief Matt Weathers said in an online article. “[Our agency] has gone to great lengths to provide a sustainable white-tailed deer herd for the citizens of Alabama to enjoy. Today, however, simply providing this herd isn’t enough. We must protect it. We protect it not only for ourselves but for those who will come after us.”
The NDA believes CWD is the most serious long-term threat to the future of wild deer and deer hunting we face today. Action by hunters can delay or prevent damage while scientists look for new tools in the fight; but because its impacts are difficult to see on the landscape now or won’t become serious for many years in most areas, it is easy for some to dismiss or disregard the danger. We must slow or stop the continued spread to new areas now, to protect wild deer and hunting for future generations.