The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is providing free testing of deer for chronic wasting disease throughout the state this season.
More than 130 testing locations have been established through regional offices, drop-off locations and participating taxidermists. All of these options are free to the hunter and are completely voluntary.
With new cases of CWD being found in surrounding states, far removed from Arkansas’ known CWD management zone, many hunters in other parts of The Natural State may want to have their deer tested. Although no verified cases of CWD being transmitted to humans currently exist, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly encourage everyone to have deer from a known CWD-positive area tested before consuming the meat. Testing also assists the AGFC with ongoing disease surveillance in the State’s deer herd.
To help this process, the AGFC’s Research, Evaluation and Compliance Division has ramped up efforts to make this process easy.
“We now have drop-off sample locations throughout the state,” said A.J. Riggs, AGFC wildlife health biologist. “Close to 70% of the state is within a 20-minute drive of a testing location, and the rest of the state is still within a half-hour or so.”
Many of the free testing locations available to hunters are voluntary drop-off freezers that allow hunters to leave samples with their contact information and are available 24 hours a day.
The AGFC began implementing this network of freezers last deer season, and many hunters took advantage of the opportunity.
“Last year we brought in about 1,200 samples through our freezer collection points in its first year,” Riggs said. “That’s in addition to nearly 5,500 samples we collected through other voluntary methods.”
Hunters should bring the deer’s head with 4 to 6 inches of the neck attached and any antlers removed to the location and place it in one of the provided plastic bags with their name and contact information on the card provided. The AGFC will collect these samples and have them analyzed by the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission laboratory. Testing results should be available within two to three weeks.
“Our average turnaround time has been much better than that, but hunters should plan for the two- to three-week window to store their deer in a freezer before processing or eating the meat,” Riggs said.
Test results will be posted through a secure system at www.agfc.com/cwd.
“We also will call the hunter personally for any test that comes back with CWD being detected,” Riggs said. “We can make arrangements to dispose of the meat properly for them and give them an additional deer tag.”
Replacement deer tags will be issued to enable hunters the opportunity to harvest an additional doe to make up for the meat lost. Additional buck tags will not be issued as hunters will be allowed to retain the antlers of their deer for taxidermy purposes. Antlers, teeth, hides and cleaned skull plates are all low-risk items in spreading the disease.
“All testing locations will remain open until archery deer season ends, Feb. 29,” Riggs said.
In addition to “self-serve” drop-off locations, the AGFC has a network of more than 40 taxidermists who will pull and submit CWD samples for free. While most of the animals they see are mature bucks, many will pull a sample from deer they are not mounting for hunters who want the help.
Visit www.agfc.com/cwd to find a free testing location and learn more about CWD in Arkansas.