What Does Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer Really Look Like?

Not all deer infected with CWD look sick. Here's what you really need to know about this nasty prion disease.

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posted on November 1, 2023

Chronic Wasting Disease, also called CWD, is a kind of prion disease to which members of the Cervidae family--deer, elk and moose--are vulnerable. Although there's no evidence that eating venison from a deer with CWD can infect humans, it's strongly discouraged by every health organization out there. (It's not hard to understand why, given that CWD works in much the same way as Mad Cow Disease, which definitely can infect people who eat tainted beef.) How can hunters tell if the deer they've got in their crosshairs might have CWD? For answers, we're turning to the experts at the National Deer Association

In this video, you'll see that not all deer infected with CWD look sick at all. In fact, the sobering news is that most of them don't. That's because CWD affects the brain in a progressive way, so most animals with CWD in the wild wind up dying of something other than CWD before they start to look sick.

And what do these brain-damaged deer die of? Well, they wander into the path of cars and guns more often than healthy deer ... and that means that, if you live in an area where CWD is present, your chances of harvesting a deer that has it are higher than getting one that doesn't. That said, there are things that we as hunters and conservationists can do to help keep ourselves--and the deer population--healthy. Here's what they are! 

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