Hunters in part of south-central Pennsylvania will be subject to extra restrictions when deer season starts today as state wildlife officials work to ensure the wild white-tail population has not contracted a deadly disease.
Those who kill deer within a 600-square-mile area covering parts of York and Adams counties must take the carcass to a checkpoint so it can be tested for chronic wasting disease. The neurological infection is fatal to elk, moose and deer, though it can’t be transmitted to humans.
Two captive deer died of the disease this fall on an Adams County farm, the first cases ever reported in the state. The Pennsylvania Game Commission stresses that the contagious illness has not been found in wild deer.
“If the disease is contained in the captive herd, then we do not anticipate many changes or impact,” commission executive director Carl Roe told the (Harrisburg) Patriot-News.
About 750,000 hunters are expected to participate statewide in the two-week firearms deer season. Today’s start is often referred to as an unofficial state holiday, since many hunters take the day off from work and some school districts close.
A recent Game Commission survey of 2,000 residents in Adams and York counties found that about 75 percent of hunters don’t plan to change their behavior because of the disease. In the past few weeks, the state has held three public meetings in the area to answer questions.
“I’ve been sitting along the same edge of the same field on the first day for a lot of years,” said Evan Stark of Gettysburg, who went to two meetings. “And, I’ll be sitting there again on the first day this year. I’ve eaten a lot of deer from that game lands, and I’m going to eat the one this year too.”
However, the survey found that about half of hunters were somewhat concerned, and 19 percent were very concerned about the disease. About 9 percent said they will handle venison more carefully.
“My wife’s complaining. We eat venison, but now she’s leery about it,” said Ken Stevens of York Springs. “I don’t know what to think either.”
Roe has said that hunters should shoot only healthy-looking animals, and take precautions like wearing rubber gloves when field-dressing their deer and washing thoroughly when finished.
Symptoms of chronic wasting disease include weight loss, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, and abnormal behavior like stumbling, trembling and depression. There is no cure or vaccine.