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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

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CWD is a serious threat to Vermont’s deer and moose populations. It is fatal to deer. CWD is not known to be transmissible to humans, but it has been devastating to free-ranging deer in several states and Canadian provinces. CWD has been impossible to eliminate once it has been established in a population.

Prevention of CWD is key. When a first case is discovered in a new area such as Vermont, action must be swift and decisive to try to remove the disease before it becomes established. Deer numbers must be reduced to less than five deer per square mile in an area as large a 10-mile radius or about 300 square miles in the area where a wild, free-ranging infected deer is found. This reduction must be done for at least five years.

You can help by learning about CWD and reporting sick deer to your local game warden or call Vermont Fish & Wildlife at 802-241-3700.

Signs of illness in deer include excessive drinking and urination, emaciation, drooling, listlessness, drooping ears, and lowered head. CWD is a neurological disease caused by mutant proteins known as “prions.” CWD is similar to other diseases such as scrapie in sheep and “mad cow disease.” Prions infect new animals when they are passed between deer, elk and moose after being shed in body fluids and feces. Prions can bind to soils and remain infectious for many years. There is no reliable live-test, and infected animals can appear healthy for years.

CWD was originally discovered and spread from captive deer in Colorado. CWD first appeared east of the Mississippi River in 2002 when it was discovered in Wisconsin. This disease continues to spread over long distances by the captive deer and elk trade. Recently, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri have had CWD introduced by captive deer or elk farms. The disease has not yet been found in their free-ranging deer populations.

To date, the disease has been documented in 18 states and two Canadian provinces. New York discovered CWD in captive deer and two wild deer in nearby Oneida County in 2005. No infected deer have been discovered in New York since. The disease was recently found for the first time in Virginia, and additional cases were discovered in nearby West Virginia.

As part of a nation-wide effort, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, in cooperation with U.S. Department of Agriculture, has been testing Vermont deer for CWD since 2002. Each year brain samples were taken from about 400 deer heads collected from cooperating meat-cutters and taxidermists. Results from nearly 3,000 deer tested indicate that Vermont is currently free of CWD.

The department and Fish and Wildlife Board have taken steps to prevent introduction of CWD into Vermont by banning deer feeding and baiting, and by placing controls on the importation of carcasses from states and Canadian provinces that have CWD, or from any captive hunt facility or farm.

More information about Chronic Wasting Disease can be found in the Big Game Management Plan, found on the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s website (, and at

Also, see Importing Big Game.


Responsible hunting demands the animal be utilized. Game meat is healthy and delicious, but the road to a savory meal requires care in the processing and preparation.

Meat quality is a result of the animal’s age, sex and diet:

  • Older animals tend to have tougher meat
  • Bucks and bulls in rut often taste stronger

Most importantly, quickly and carefully field dress the animal and care for the carcass.

Plan ahead. Make sure you have the time and tools to do the job right.

Most game meat is low in saturated fat and calories and rich in protein. Use low-fat cooking techniques, such as broiling, grilling, baking or stewing instead of frying to keep it that way.

Did you know? Venison is an Old French derivation of the Latin ‘venatio’—to hunt. It used to refer the meat of any animal taken while hunting. Now, it refers to meat from the deer family, including moose and elk.


Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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