Deer hunting is not just a popular sport in western Kentucky; for many, it's a way of life and a means of putting food on the table. But with the kill comes the responsibility of properly disposing of the animal carcass.
Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KFW) Deer and Elk Program Coordinator Gabe Jenkins said carcass dumping "is ethically wrong and it's illegal--it's criminal littering."
"Dumping a carcass on someone else's road or property, it's just poor etiquette and we should know better," he said. "We need to be cognizant of our behavior; carcass dumping is not well received and as hunters, we need to hold ourselves to a better standard."
When it comes to disposal of the carcass after the kill, Jenkins said there are several options--but his first suggestion is speaking with the landowner to discuss their preferences. He said the common practice of removing the guts immediately following the kill and leaving it in the same place where the animal dropped is usually considered acceptable because the remains are eaten quickly by coyotes and other scavengers. But some landowners may prefer to have the guts buried, which only requires carrying a small shovel.
"Leave it where the animal spent its life is the best rule," he explained. "But if the landowner wants it buried--bury it."
The problem is not usually the guts but the bones and hide, Jenkins said, which can persist on the landscape much longer and puts off a foul odor. He said to check with local meat processors, who may be willing to dispose of it. Another option is double-bagging and disposal in the trashcan with other household trash; he recommends checking with the garbage pickup company first but said the carcass is not a bio-hazard and really is no different than chicken or turkey scraps.
Aside from the ethical responsibility of proper disposal, Jenkins said, proper disposal will help ensure chronic wasting disease (CWD) doesn't spread to other animals. The disease which is striking herds in surrounding states can persist in the soil, grow into the plants and the deer who eat those plants are able to contract the disease through the food--further spreading the devastating disease.
CWD hasn't yet reached Kentucky, Jenkins said, but it's within 50 miles in Tennessee and 65 miles in Missouri and has been detected in six of the seven bordering states. It's an always-fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk, moose and caribou and has spread to more than half of the states in the U.S. since its discovery in the late 1960s, he explained. He said it's a degenerative disease similar to that of mad cow for cows and once the animal has contracted CWD, there's no cure--they die.
"As of right now, scientific evidence says humans can't contract it by eating the meat of an animal infected with CWD, but as a hunter who eats deer, I wouldn't feed meat from a diseased animal to my family," he cautioned. "All the states who have confirmed cases of CWD offer testing which is usually free to do and it tells you if the animal is diseased. If you're hunting in an area where the CWD is affecting the herds, you need to get the meat tested before you eat it."
A press release issued late last week by KFW said an infected deer or elk can transmit the disease whether it's alive or dead and movement of deer is the primary reason for the rapid spread of CWD, which is why Kentucky has made it illegal to bring whole carcasses of deer, elk, moose and caribou into the state.
"Chronic wasting disease threatens what we've all worked so hard to establish with the deer and elk herds," KFW Commissioner Rich Storm said. "Our agency does not take it lightly, and neither should sportsmen and sportswomen. It's an issue of importance to everyone. We want future generations to enjoy what we have right now."
Motorists who see a carcass being transported across the state line into Kentucky should report the sighting immediately by calling 1-800-25-ALERT (1-800-252-5378).
Hunters may alert KFW to sick deer or elk by calling 1-800-858-1549 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Emailed reports should include the hunter's name, phone number and county where the sick deer or elk was observed.
Officials with the departments for Public Health and Fish and Wildlife Resources also advise hunters to take the following precautions when handling deer and elk:
• Wear latex or rubber gloves to minimize exposure.
• Bone out all meat and avoid severing bones.
• Minimize handling of brain, tonsils, spinal cord and lymph glands.
• Thoroughly wash hands and sanitize all tools used.
• Process deer individually and add no meat from other animals.
• Do not split the backbone.
• Contact Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to report sick deer or elk (1-800-858-1549)
More information about CWD and the state's response plan should it be detected in Kentucky is available online at fw.ky.gov/cwd.
Jenkins said KFW is releasing a special series of videos about CWD and the agency's efforts to combat it which will all be available on the website as well.
Bow season is in effect until Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Jan. and the 16-day gun season begins Nov. 9.