In recent weeks, I am happy and relieved to say that more and more hunters are telling me they have decided to go out and do their part and hunt this year. That’s important because to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease, we need hunters to continue their role as “managers” of Wisconsin’s deer herd.

Many of these hunters have asked, “If I shoot a deer, what do I do with it?”

We have a long tradition in Wisconsin in using the wild game we kill, so the answer is clear. Except in the Intensive Harvest Zone, we expect hunters will take their deer home as they always have, or share it with friends or feed the hungry through the 2002 Deer Donation Program.

In most of Wisconsin, we hope hunters will approach this season as business as usual. Hunters should butcher the deer according to Department of Agriculture guidelines. We’ve worked with landfills and others statewide to make sure they continue to accept waste portions from your boned out deer — the part that doesn’t go in the freezer for consumption. The majority of human health experts indicate that based on available science, CWD is a low risk for people. However, if you are still nervous about eating the meat, put it in the back of the freezer. In three to six months we will have results of sampling statewide, and we will be able to tell you with confidence whether CWD even is present in the county where you hunt.

More than 80 processors in 40 counties are in the 2002 Deer Donation Program this year. You can donate your legally harvested deer taken outside the CWD Management Zone. Simply field dress and register your deer and then drop it off at a participating food processor — check out our website at www.dnr.state.wi.us or contact your local DNR office for a list. There is no cost to you — costs are paid from the Wisconsin Wildlife Damage Abatement and Claims Program, funded from a license surcharge and voluntary hunter donations.

In the Intensive Harvest Zone, we will sample ALL deer taken. Hunters will know in three to six months if their deer is CWD positive. Odds are, it will test negative. The infection rate in the zone is currently only 3 percent. Once results are in, hunters can make an informed choice.

We realize, however, that we are asking hunters to take more deer in the Intensive Harvest Zone than they may be able to use. We will have options for disposing of deer, IF hunters do not want them. Estimates put disposal of deer in excess of $2 million dollars IF we cremate all deer from the zone. We have developed a plan that will allow us to hold frozen carcasses from the Intensive Harvest Zone. Negative-testing deer will be landfilled — a disposal option which all the available science points to as safe — at a remarkably lower cost. Cremation could cost $120 per deer; landfilling costs about $4 per deer.

More than ever, you should plan ahead for deer season this year. Here’s a few tips:

* Buy your licenses now. We sell one-third of our licenses in the week before gun deer season — and it could be even more this year.

* Decide ahead of time what you are going to do with “your” deer. How many deer are you going to keep? If you want to give a deer away to someone, plan ahead and talk with that person. Will that person butcher the deer?

* If you take your deer to a processor, contact the processor beforehand to see if they have any special requirements this year.

* If you decide to donate a deer to the deer donation program, make sure you know who are the participating meat processors.

* Know ahead of time, what you are going to do with the butchered waste (if you butcher at home). Check with your local disposal service.

* In the Intensive Management Zone, check DNR’s website for sample collection and carcass drop-off site locations.

* Hunt safely and remember the fundamentals of firearm safety: Know your target and what’s beyond. Treat every gun as if it were loaded. Always point the muzzle of your gun in a safe direction.