Hunters who want their elk or deer heads tested for chronic wasting disease needn’t be intimidated by the unfamiliar procedure. Essentially, peace of mind is as simple as filling out a form, tossing a deer or elk head into a barrel and waiting a week or two for results.
Outside the “endemic” area of northeast Colorado, where testing is mandatory, results from the early hunting seasons indicate that 10 percent to 20 percent of hunters want their animals tested. That percentage is likely to jump as hunter numbers rise and deer join elk in the next three combined-species rifle seasons.
Though the procedure is simple, many hunters are puzzled about some of the particulars of turning in samples and getting results.
First, before heading to camp, hunters should determine which collection site they intend to use. The sites are posted at Division of Wildlife offices and on the Web at wildlife.state.co.us/cwd/. People with limited licenses received the list in the mail.
Hunters with heads they don’t wish to keep for trophies can simply drop them off at the collection sites. Others can pick up their heads after the taxidermist skins them or can take the heads to division offices in Craig or Grand Junction, where samples are taken quickly. The procedure is simpler for European mounts, in which only the skull cap and antlers are kept.
“It’s OK to cut the antlers off,” said Andy Holland, a wildlife biologist at Hot Sulphur Springs. “But it’s important that hunters leave a quarter of the neck with the head to ensure a good sample.”
Holland said heads are viable for several days if the weather is cold, but they should be turned in quickly if the weather is warm.
A new test using lymph nodes, which the USDA approved Monday for Colorado, produces samples with a longer shelf life than delicate brain samples. The test will be used outside the endemic area. It also makes it easier to get samples from head-shot animals, and it provides faster results.
Jeff VerSteeg, the division’s terrestrial wildlife chief, said most hunters will receive results in five to 10 working days from the day Colorado State University testing units get the sample. It could take longer if the sample falls at the rear of a long line at the lab. The division plans to empty head barrels once a day.
The division will call hunters whose animal tests positive for CWD. It won’t call about animals that test negative, but VerSteeg said the information turnaround is much faster for negative results. Hunters can check the status of their test by calling (303) 297-1192 or by checking the division’s Web site.