Of all the questions she gets about hunting, one is the most common for Cami Wells, Hall County Extension educator for home economics.
“They ask, ‘What do I do with this?’ ” Wells said. “A lot of times, the husband will go shoot a deer and then tell the wife, ‘OK, make something with this.’ They have no idea what to do.”
While recipes for deer chili or jerky might be helpful, there are also health issues to consider, especially with Nebraska reporting several cases of chronic wasting disease in deer, a brain and spine disease similar to mad cow disease.
As a result, the Hall County Extension Office in cooperation with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will be holding a workshop on Nov. 3 that will teach hunters and those who prepare wild game how to safely handle and harvest meat.
The program will be at College Park in Grand Island, and will feature a real animal carcass for demonstration, Wells said. Dennis Burson, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Office of Animal Science, will be presenting. The workshop will contain information on field dressing, safe handling and more advanced preparation of animals.
The reason for the program, Wells said, was part in response to reports of chronic wasting disease, but also in response to the type of questions she receives as an extension educator.
“I had received several calls from people concerned if the deer they had in their freezer was safe to eat,” she said. “We get a lot of questions about how to prepare, but there’s a safety issue there as well.”
This is the first such program to take place in Grand Island, Wells said, but Burson has been conducting similar programs in other parts of the state. Making the program accessible to new hunters and those who have been hunting for a while is part of the goal, Burson said.
“Part of it is going back to good practices with storing and preparing wild game,” he said. “We haven’t done anything like this for a number of years in this state. It’s for those who’ve been doing it a while and those who are new.”
Part of the issue, Burson said, is longtime hunters might have learned their skills in preparing or dressing animals from their elders who never had to consider issues such as chronic wasting disease. While the disease isn’t widespread at this point, he said hunters should always be cautious.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a contagious neurological disease affecting deer and elk. It causes a characteristic spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death.
The disease takes place in the brain and spinal column, which will be the main focus of the program. Burson said while there’s no clear-cut evidence right now about what CWD can do to humans, it’s something to be wary of.
While the topic is serious and will be taken seriously at the workshop, Burson said it’s also a chance to have fun with hunting, which is why many take up the sport in the first place.
“What we’re advocating is a level of caution, but it can be fun, too,” he said. “There’s a lot of variety to what you can do.”