Wisconsin's gun deer hunting season kicked off Saturday, but chronic wasting disease, a contagious illness transmitted from deer-to-deer, continues to loom over the tradition in southwest Wisconsin.
The disease causes neurological issues, wasting and, eventually, death. There is no known risk to humans, but the possibility is still being studied by state and federal health officials.
Katie Mosley, who owns Kate's Bait north of Dodgeville, one of two official CWD sampling stations in Iowa County, said a lot of hunters are concerned about the disease.
"Deer test pretty high in our area for CWD, so it's something that's definitely on the mind of a lot of hunters," Mosley said. "It's such an unknown disease right now, most people don't know, they have to make that decision whether they want to eat it or not if it has that disease."
Mosley said despite the concern, many hunters don't know much about the disease or the free testing.
"I'll ask people that will come in just to pick up supplies if they want their deer tested, and there are a lot of people yet who don't know anything about the CWD," Mosley said.
Mosley is trained to collect samples for CWD through the DNR. Hunters are asked to provide their electronic registration number, DNR customer number, contact information and the location of the harvest. Mosley then collects the sample.
"I go out and I make a small incision just under the jawline and take out two lymph nodes and then I age the deer," Mosley said. "The DNR picks up all the samples once a week for the testing."
Iowa and western Dane counties have the highest concentration of CWD cases in Wisconsin. Heavy concentrations also exist in southwestern Sauk and eastern Richland counties.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources area wildlife supervisor Andy Paulios said more hunters getting their deer tested would allow officials to know more about the disease and its spread.
"We want to better understand the disease and how prevalent it is and the geographic extent," Paulios said. "Hunters are our main partners in that effort."
Paulios said deer infected with CWD may be symptomless, so testing even seemingly healthy deer is important.
"It doesn't always show symptoms, especially early on, so if you're in the CWD zone and you're concerned definitely get it tested," Paulios said.
For more information on official CWD sampling locations, visit the DNR's website.