CWD in Tennessee
Positive CWD and High-risk CWD Counties
Positive CWD county: a county with a confirmed case of CWD.
High-risk CWD county: a county with a confirmed case of CWD within 10 miles of the county border.
Deer carcass transportation and wildlife feeding restrictions apply to positive CWD and high-risk CWD counties. Therefore, if a new county becomes positive or high-risk (based on CWD test results) these restrictions will automatically apply. Visit tn.gov/twra/cwdcounties for the most up-to-date map of positive and high-risk CWD counties. All other regulations (e.g., deer hunting unit, season dates, bag limits, etc.) remain the same unless changed by TWRA.
Carcass Transport Restrictions
Only approved parts (see graphic to the right) may be moved out of positive or high-risk CWD counties.
- Deer carcasses can move from one high-risk CWD county to another high-risk CWD county. Deer carcasses can move from a high-risk CWD county to a positive CWD county. Once brought into a positive CWD county, deer carcasses originating from a high-risk CWD county cannot be moved to another high-risk CWD county.
- A deer carcass cannot be moved outside of positive CWD counties but can move from one positive CWD county to another adjacent positive CWD county.
- Approved parts are free to be transported anywhere statewide.
Within positive CWD counties and high-risk CWD counties, the placement of grain, salt products, minerals, and other consumable natural and manufactured products is prohibited.
Feeding restrictions do not apply if the feed or minerals are:
- placed within one hundred (100) feet of any residence or occupied building; or
- placed in such a manner to reasonably exclude access by deer; or
- placed as part of a wild hog management effort authorized by the agency; or
- present solely as a result of normal agricultural practices, normal forest management practices, or crop and wildlife food production practices.
There are restrictions on moving whole or field-dressed deer carcasses. The following approved parts may move freely throughout the state and out of the state:
- Antlers (including ones attached to clean skull plates)
- De-boned meat / Cleaned skulls and skull plates
- Hides & Tanned products / Finished Taxidermy
- Teeth (free of meat and tissues)
TN residents hunting out of state - Only approved parts (i.e., deboned meat, clean skulls, skull plates and teeth, antlers, finished taxidermy, hides, and tanned products) from deer, elk, moose, and caribou may be brought back into TN.
Nonresident hunters - Be aware of potential restrictions on taking your TN deer and elk carcasses back to your home state. Check your home state regulations and regulations of those states you travel through to return home.
CWD Management Programs
TWRA has several programs to encourage hunters to assist with CWD management by harvesting additional deer and submitting their deer for CWD testing:
Unit CWD Earn-A-Buck
Unit CWD hunters can earn additional bucks by harvesting antlerless deer and submitting them for CWD testing.
- Tennessee’s antlered deer bag limit (2) did not change; therefore it still applies to hunters hunting Unit CWD as well as the rest of the state.
- Unit CWD hunters may earn an unlimited number of antlered deer for harvest in Unit CWD, in addition to the statewide antlered deer bag limit of two.
- An additional antlered deer is earned for every two antlerless deer harvested in Unit CWD and submitted for CWD testing.
- Earned antlered deer must be harvested in Unit CWD.
- Valid for 2021-22 hunting season only.
CWD Replacement Buck
- Unit CWD hunters will receive a replacement buck if they harvest an antlered deer with an official test result other than not detected.
- There is no limit on the number of replacement bucks.
- Replacement bucks must be harvested in Unit CWD or in the county where the qualifying CWD-positive antlered deer was harvested.
- Replacement bucks must be harvested in the current deer season or during the following year's deer season.
The 2021-2022 deer hunting season will mark the third full deer hunting season since the discovery of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in southwest Tennessee. We may never know how or when CWD was introduced into Tennessee, however, it is clear that CWD is endemic in Fayette and Hardeman counties. Furthermore, the disease will always be present there at some level. TWRA remains committed to preventing the spread of CWD throughout Tennessee and striving to decrease the prevalence of the disease where it is known to exist.
The Disease At A Glance
CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy found in deer, caribou, elk, and moose. It was first recognized as a syndrome affecting mule deer by researchers in Colorado in the late 1960s. It was not until the early 1980s that CWD was identified as an infectious abnormal protein called a prion.
Prions, the unique infectious agent that causes CWD, are a challenge to manage for many reasons, including:
- Prions are not living organisms.
- Prions are extremely difficult to destroy (both in the body and outside of the body).
- Prions can be found all throughout the body and in most tissues, fluids, and excretions.
- Prions accumulate in the highest amount in the brain and spinal cord which leads to the symptoms seen in sick animals.
- Once infected, animals may not begin to show clinical signs for up to 18 months.
- Once an infected animal begins to show signs of CWD, they may live for many months.
- Although prions do not reproduce outside of a living host, they may remain infectious indefinitely once in the environment.
- Direct and indirect transmission occurs.
- Prion infections are always fatal: mortality rate is 100%.
- No vaccines or treatment for prion infectionscurrently exist.
- There are no known cases of CWD in humans.
Surveillance and Monitoring Efforts 2018-2021
Since 2018, TWRA has implemented a robust and far-reaching surveillance program designed to detect new CWD infections across the state and to monitor changes in prevalence where the disease is already found. These goals were only met because of the continued support of hunters and industry partners.
TWRA has tested over 38,000 free-ranging white-tailed deer and elk through the statewide surveillance program. Surveillance goals were successfully met in every Tennessee county over the last three years. Over 1,300 deer have tested positive for CWD, with all of them being located in southwest Tennessee.
To date, CWD has been detected in eight counties (Chester, Fayette, Hardeman, Haywood, Lauderdale, Madison, Shelby, and Tipton). Four additional counties (Crockett, Gibson, Henderson, and McNairy) have been classified as high risk due to the detection of CWD within 10 miles of the county line.
Most samples are collected during hunting season as part of a massive statewide effort, but samples are also collected from road-kills and from sick and dying animals throughout the year. Samples are collected through a network of voluntary hunter submissions, assistance from taxidermists and processors, and TWRA-sponsored check stations.
After the 2020-2021 deer hunting season, Fayette County had the highest county-wide prevalence of CWD at 13.7% and Hardeman County had the next highest at 9.2%. Both Fayette County and Hardeman County have seen increases in prevalence since 2018. Within these two high-prevalence counties, the disease is not distributed evenly, and the prevalence essentially represents an average for the county. Roughly 60% of the known positive deer come from an area centered on the southern half of the Fayette-Hardeman county line. CWD prevalence is higher in and around this core area than in other parts of these counties. A much lower percentage of deer that are harvested from other areas of Fayette and Hardeman counties test positive for CWD. The remaining counties where CWD has been detected all have prevalence below 1% and range from 0.58% (Shelby) to 0.12% (Lauderdale).
Although it may seem as if the disease has spread rapidly across southwest Tennessee, the reality is the disease was likely there for many years before being detected. It has taken three years of surveillance to fully understand the extent of the affected area, but we now believe we have identified the current, distribution of CWD in Tennessee.
It is critical that we swiftly and effectively employ our management. If left unchecked, the disease may yet continue to spread past the known range in Tennessee.
CWD Management in Tennessee
Best management practices for CWD involve a multipronged approach to not only prevent the spread between individual animals and amongst different deer groups (i.e., reducing the geographic spread and prevalence), but also to address the environmental persistence of prions as a source of infection. At this time, there are no practical means of removing, inactivating, or mitigating prions in the environment, which leaves the focus of management on limiting deer interactions and human assisted movement of prions.
Much like managing wild deer populations, CWD management is only successful as a collaborative effort between the Agency and its stakeholders (e.g. hunters, landowners, etc.). It is a balancing act between meeting disease management objectives and maintaining a viable and sustainable population. Current programs are aimed at increasing hunter participation through increased bag limits and harvest opportunities, engaging landowners in active CWD management, focusing additional removal of deer around confirmed positives in low prevalence areas, and conducting annual aerial surveys to monitor the effects of CWD on population levels. In addition, regulations help prevent the spread of prions by humans. Current CWD-specific regulations restrict the movement of live deer in the state, restrict the movement of infected carcasses outside of known CWD endemic areas, and prohibit practices that concentrate deer.
Future of CWD in Tennessee
The long-term impacts of CWD on deer populations in Tennessee are currently unknown. Other states battling CWD have documented deer population declines above 40% in locations where the disease is present. Other states have seen a shift in the age structure—meaning they no longer see older deer. These outcomes are neither desirable, nor consistent with managing for long-term, healthy, and sustainable deer populations. TWRA is committed to preventing these undesirable outcomes.
TWRA is actively pursuing collaborations for research projects to improve the detection of CWD in field settings. One such project is using dogs as biosensors (i.e., detectors) of active infection in wild animals. Additionally, research is being developed to better understand the role environmental deposits of prions play in the natural disease transmission cycle.
TWRA is committed to learning more about CWD disease dynamics through disease surveillance and monitoring programs. TWRA needs active input from our stakeholders, and strives to provide them with the most up-to-date developments. CWD management programs in Tennessee are constantly being refined in response to new research and changing conditions across the landscape. TWRA is currently developing a long-term CWD Management Strategic Plan to provide a framework for prevention, surveillance, monitoring, management, and research activities.
CWD management is not a one-man band. It is a partnership between TWRA, partners,, hunters, landowners, and you. Your engagement and support is needed. Please, harvest more deer in Unit CWD. Abide by carcass transportation and feeding restrictions in CWD-positive and high-risk counties. Read all of the CWD content in this hunting guide and at CWDinTN.com. Seek out credible sources, and understand the newest scientific information on CWD management. Sign-up for email updates at CWDinTN.com. Together we can conserve a healthy deer population for the benefit of present and future generations.
Why Should You Shoot More Deer in Unit CWD?
The short answer is an increased harvest will result in fewer deer in Unit CWD, resulting in less frequent deer interactions where disease transfer can occur.
TWRA’s goal is to keep CWD from spreading and to keep the number of infected deer to a minimum, reducing infection rates where possible. Hunter harvest is the only feasible way to accomplish thisat a large scale.
Presently, an increase in both buck and doe harvest is needed in Unit CWD. Bucks are the most likely to spread this disease to new areas since they have larger home ranges than females and testing results show they are twice as likely to have CWD. Increased doe harvest will decrease local deer densities and lower transmission within family groups.
Fayette and Hardeman counties are the most heavily impacted. High disease rates there indicate the environment is a source of infection in addition to animal-to-animal contact. Left unchecked, infection rates will continue to grow, causing a population decline and a younger overall deer population.
Population reduction is also needed in the remaining Unit CWD counties which are either positive with relatively low infection rates or are not yet positive but CWD has been detected within 10 miles of the county border. Fewer sick deer will help lower the likelihood that CWD will continue to expand within Tennessee. Adherence to regulations, including feeding and carcass transportation, is also a critical way people can help TWRA manage this disease.
Hunter harvest is the primary means to best manage CWD in Tennessee, especially at the large geographical scale at which the disease is known to exist in Tennessee.
If we are responsive as hunters and harvest more deer, we will continue to enjoy an overall healthy deer population. But if we don’t, CWD will do its dirty work, leaving us and future generations with a mostly diseased, unhealthy deer population in the CWD area. Furthermore, the disease will spread more rapidly potentially affecting new areas of the state and the likelihood of harvested deer being CWD-positive will increase.