So far, there’s some good news.

Nearly 700 deer have been tested for chronic wasting disease this year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported, and none of them have been confirmed to carry the degenerative prion disease. This comes after an infected wild adult doe was discovered Jan. 23 less than a half-mile from Trophy Woods Ranch, Merrifield. Captive deer with CWD were confirmed on the deer farm in 2016. The facility has since been closed and the animals euthanized.

On the other hand, the discovery of CWD in the wild in north-central Minnesota, the continuing spread in the southeast and the discovery of an infected captive deer in Meeker County prompted the DNR to institute a number of restrictions on the upcoming deer firearms season that begins Saturday, Nov. 9.

“These regulation changes really go along with the development and finalization of our chronic wasting disease management plan,” Barbara Keller, Minnesota DNR big game program leader, said during a teleconference Monday, Nov. 4. “The aim is to keep prevalence down where the disease occurs and to stop the spread of the disease outside where it’s been found to occur.”

Keller noted while the state had one affected deer permit area in the southeast in 2018, that number was expanded to seven in the southeast and another in north-central Minnesota, in Crow Wing, Cass and Aitkin counties. In addition, Keller noted the discovery of an infected captive deer in Meeker County necessitated surveillance in that area.

For local hunters, the affected deer area is 604, which contains portions of Crow Wing, Cass and Aitkin counties with Emily in the northeast corner, Pine River in the northwest, Bay Lake in the southeast and Brainerd-Baxter in the southwest corners of the area.

In this zone, hunters are subject to the following stipulations:

  • Hunters can harvest unlimited antlerless deer.

  • Antler point restrictions are canceled.

  • Cross-tagging or “hunter party” tagging is allowed.

  • Carcass movement or transportation restrictions are enforced for all seasons. Carcasses may not leave Area 604 until they have been registered, sampled for CWD, verified to contain no CWD prions and processed.

  • Statewide or Late Southeast licenses are viable during any firearms season.

  • Hunters may purchase unlimited disease management tags for $2.50 to take an antlerless deer.

  • Deer feeding and attractants bans are in effect in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties.

To sample the deer for CWD, hunters may use self-service sampling stations through Friday, Nov. 8, and Nov. 25-Dec. 31. Minnesota DNR staff will be sampling deer from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 9-24. Hunters are required to register their deer and may do so via the internet, by phone or in person through walk-in registration.

Stations for CWD sampling and carcass disposal in Area 604 include:

  • Crow Wing County Landfill, 15732 Highway 210, 3 miles east of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport. Disposal only.

  • Minnesota DNR office, 1200 Minnesota Ave., Aitkin.

  • Minnesota DNR Office, 1601 Minnesota Drive, Brainerd.

  • Croft Mine Historical Park, 23150 Highway 6, Crosby.

  • Emily Volunteer Fire Department, 20823 County Highway 1, Emily.

  • Emily Meats, 39990 Highway 6, Emily. Disposal only.

  • Gull Lake East Side Public Water Access, 5056 Nashway Road, Nisswa.

  • Cass County Fairgrounds, 525 First St., Pine River.

Keller noted the process is faster when hunters present the deer with the head and neck easily accessible for testing, while it’s always smart to notify testers if the deer is intended to be mounted by a taxidermist so the procedure can be done to protect the future mount.

At this time there isn’t a way to transport Area 604 dumpsters to the Crow Wing County Landfill where an incinerator is located. Michelle Carstensen, a wildlife health program supervisor, said the contract bid will soon go out to a private commercial hauler so carcasses can be transported properly and expediently by opening day Nov. 9. Carstensen noted a goal was to establish 26 dumpsters across the state, but a realistic number may be 16 dumpsters in the south and four in north-central Minnesota by the time the firearms season arrives.

To date, 54 wild deer tested positive for CWD in Minnesota, said Carstensen. The two most recent cases were deer discovered south of Lanesboro and near Houston - both areas with prior documented cases of CWD - while a third pending cases near Chatfield has yet to be determined one way or another. All three communities are in the southeast portion of Minnesota.

Once the deer is processed, the carcass needs to be dismembered properly if it is to be transported from permit areas. Hunters need to ensure “risky parts” or portions of the deer that typically carry concentrations of the CWD prion are removed from the carcass and disposed of in predetermined dumpsters before travel. These are primarily the brain and spinal column. Hunters may receive testing results in about four to five business days, though the sheer volume of samples from opening day may push those carcasses back to eight days or more.

A graphic illustrating the parameters of zones administered by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to monitor and prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease. In north-central Minnesota, Area 604 (left) encompasses portions of Crow Wing and Aitkin counties with Emily in the northeast corner, Pine River in the northwest, Bay Lake in the southeast and Brainerd-Baxter in the southwest corners of the area. Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
A graphic illustrating the parameters of zones administered by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to monitor and prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease. In north-central Minnesota, Area 604 (left) encompasses portions of Crow Wing and Aitkin counties with Emily in the northeast corner, Pine River in the northwest, Bay Lake in the southeast and Brainerd-Baxter in the southwest corners of the area. Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The following is a list of meat processors and taxidermists identified by the Minnesota DNR for Area 604:

  • Dave’s Wild Game, 27106 County Highway 11, Aitkin.

  • Emily Meats, 39990 Highway 6, Emily.

  • Minnesota Meats (Princeton Meats), 145 Southgate Drive, Aitkin.

  • Von Hanson Meats, 15811 Audubon Way, Baxter.

  • David Ringstrom, 20334 Lancelot Lane, Brainerd.

  • Nathan Anderson, 18785 Tower Road, Ironton.

  • Wild North Taxidermy, 20839 Highway 371, Brainerd.

  • Jones Taxidermy, 40476 Pinewood Drive, Emily.

Roughly 500,000 Minnesotans take part in rifle season every year and license sales have seen a healthy uptick in 2019, said Keller, who noted - a week out from the beginning of the season - already more than 153,000 total licenses have been sold, which represents a 16% increase over last year. Much of this can be attributed to a jump in youth license sales this year, she noted, but regular firearms tags rose 4% on their own as well.

Area weather outlook

  • Saturday, Nov. 9: A chance of snow showers. Cloudy with a high near 32.
  • Saturday night: A slight chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy with a low around 14.
  • Sunday, Nov. 10: Mostly cloudy with a high near 20.
  • Sunday night: Mostly cloudy with a low around 9.

Source: National Weather Service in Duluth