Deer hunting opener: CWD testing required for DNR management zones

During this opening weekend of the fall 2021 season, hunters harvesting in specific management areas across the state are required to provide samples of those deer to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, so they can study how chronic wasting disease is spreading in the state’s wild deer populations. 

This weekend is one of two this season where sending samples to the DNR is mandatory for some management areas across the state. Click here to learn which areas fall under the mandate and to learn more about what hunters need to know about CWD.

Margaret Dexter, wildlife health program specialist for the Minnesota DNR, said they’ve seen dozens of hunters bring samples to them over the weekend. The site she was working at in Rosemount this weekend is a staffed testing hub where hunters can drop off deer heads and staff will remove the lymph nodes and prepare them for testing. 

"The reason we have mandatory testing for the opening weekends is that’s when the most deer are taken by hunters so it’s time and efficiency for us so we can collect as many samples in a short period of time," Dexter said. 

Hunters bring the head of the deer they harvested to a drop-off site and attach it to an information card that tells researchers the area where the deer was harvested. After the weekend is over, the DNR sends the samples to the lab where they are tested. Dexter says they can get the results in as soon as a week and use the information to keep the deadly and contagious disease from spreading. 

"We’re concerned with herd health. The disease is always fatal so we want to remove as many positive deer from the landscape as we can because the prions that cause the disease can remain in the soil and be picked up by other deer later on," Dexter said. 

Dexter says CWD can spread from deer to deer through saliva, blood or mucus. She says deer usually die two to three years after getting the disease. 

Dexter says even in areas and at times when testing isn’t mandatory she recommends hunters provide samples anyway to help the DNR collect better information and prevent the spread in wild populations before it gets out of control. 

"We would like as many samples we can get so we can see if the disease has spread at all in this area and if there are any new areas it might have spread to," Dexter said. 

The mandatory CWD testing sites will stay open all day on the Mondays after the weekends they are required. They will also stay open through the end of the bow season so hunters can continue sharing samples.

If hunters would like to keep deer heads for trophies, Dexter says there is information on how hunters can provide lymph node samples without having to give away the head. 

Officials said that as of Monday morning, they've had 6,313 deer samples checked, and the number is expected to increase throughout the day.

The next mandatory sample weekend (for areas that are in the management zones) is the weekend of Nov. 20-21.