DNR checks for chronic wasting disease on opening day of firearm deer season
BELDING, Mich. —
On Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources check station in the Flat River Game Area in Ionia County was the site of a steady stream of smiles and congratulations for a job well done.
Nov. 15 is opening day for firearm deer hunting season, and hunters couldn’t be happier.
“I was nervous after I shot it,” hunter Mark Stanley said. “I mean, my heart was just racing afterwards.”
Stanley shot his first buck ever Wednesday, and he’ll head back to deer camp with a great story.
“I didn’t really have a whole lot of time to get nervous because from the time I saw it to the time I shot it was about 20-30 seconds at the most," Stanley said.
Hunter Chris McColley is an old pro. He’s come home with a buck the past four opening days in a row, and Wednesday the streak continued.
McColley said hunting is part of growing up in Michigan: “You take off work, whether it be with your son, your father, or your grandpa.”
Despite the deluge of rain throughout the morning and into the afternoon, hunters said opening day is something that can't be missed, no matter the conditions.
DNR Field Operations Manager John Niewoonder said, “It’s kind of like another holiday for a lot of people in Michigan. So, there’s a lot of excitement, a lot of energy associated with opening day.”
Niewoonder said that hearing hunters’ stories and sharing in their success is what makes his job fun. But Niewoonder’s job as a biologist with the DNR is also extremely important; he and his staff not only measure deer antlers, document size, and record where the deer were shot, they take biological samples from the deer lymph nodes.
“We’re really going to test as many deer as we can, so we know what we’re up against and what we’re dealing with,” Niewoonder said. What he and the DNR are dealing with is chronic wasting disease in the deer population.
In areas of Kent, Montcalm and Mecosta counties, hunters are required to stop by check stations to get their deer tested for the disease.
“It’s one of the things we were sitting in the blind talking about, that it is kind of a bummer that you have to worry about having things tested,” McColley said.
Niewoonder says the disease causes brain damage in deer and they waste away. The disease is always fatal, and once it’s in an area it’s impossible to get rid of it. Now, the state wants to know just how widespread the disease has become.
McColley said, “If there’s something we as hunters need to watch out for, it’s worth taking the 20 minutes to drive over and have it checked.”
Niewoonder said technically there is nothing wrong with consuming deer meat if the deer had chronic wasting disease. Humans cannot get the disease. But if a hunter is told their deer was infected, the Department of Natural Resources recommends that they dispose of it.