Deer hunters submitted about 3,500 samples for chronic wasting disease tests during the first weekend of Minnesota’s firearms deer season, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR intends to collect between 5,000 and 6,000 total samples at selected registration stations across the state as part of an ongoing surveillance program to determine if the disease is in the state’s wild deer herd.

According to early estimates, six of the 16 antlerless permit areas reached their goal of collecting about 360 samples in the first weekend of the firearms deer season. The remaining 10 permit areas will continue to collect samples throughout the firearms deer season or until their goals are reached.

“We had good success collecting samples in the northern permit areas,” said Mike DonCarlos, research manager for the DNR Division of Wildlife. “It appears that hunter success was lower in the south, and we didn’t get as many samples there.”

A total of 717 samples were collected in the Aitkin area (Deer Permit Area 154), and at least 285 were collected on the Iron Range in Permit Area 175. No more samples will be collected in those areas, DonCarlos said.

A total of 272 samples were collected in combined Permit Areas 181/199 north and west of Duluth, said Mike Schrage, wildlife biologist with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, who supervised sampling in those areas. Schrage said more samples may be collected this weekend.

Most hunters expressed little concern about chronic wasting disease, Schrage said.

“I had two hunters all weekend I talked to who said they were going to wait for the results before they ate their deer,” Schrage said. “The incentive to get their deer tested wasn’t there.”

Volunteers, DNR staff and tribal staff were stationed at selected big-game registration stations in 16 permit areas around the state. Hunters who brought deer in for registration were asked to voluntarily submit their deer for sampling. Only deer that were 1 year old or older and harvested in certain areas were sampled.

Chronic wasting disease, a fatal brain disease known to infect deer and elk, was discovered in a captive elk near Aitkin in August. It has not been found in Minnesota’s wild deer herd.