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Free chronic wasting disease test kits available online, at local DNR offices

Hunters near Grand Rapids and other areas must have opening weekend deer tested.

whitetail buck
Any deer hunter in Minnesota can now request a free, mail-in CWD test kit to find out if their deer carries the disease. The kits are available at local DNR wildlife offices, from the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and online from the DNR.
Contributed / Anthony Heflin for the Wisconsin DNR

GRAND RAPIDS — More and more Minnesota hunters are being forced to come to grips with chronic wasting disease as part of their annual deer season experience, including — new this year — hunters in the Grand Rapids area.

Two CWD-infected wild deer were found in Grand Rapids last winter, the first in Northeastern Minnesota. Now that area — formerly deer permit area 179, now area 679 — has come under full CWD alert by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Area 679 is considered a CWD management zone, as are areas 604 east of Brainerd and 661 in northwestern Minnesota, area 605 in the southern Twin Cities and several in far southeastern Minnesota. Testing of all deer shot in those areas opening weekend is required by the DNR.

CWD map Minnesota
More hunters will be required to have their deer tested for chronic wasting disease as the fatal deer menace spreads in Minnesota.
Contributed / Minnesota DNR

New this year, any deer hunter in Minnesota can request a free, mail-in, do-it-yourself CWD test kit so they can find out whether the deer they shot has CWD. Hunters remove the deer”s lymph nodes and mail them to the DNR, which sends them to wildlife diagnostic laboratories.

Some 5,000 of the kits are available statewide. And while the results will help the DNR track any expansion of the disease, the kits are more for hunters' own concerns, said Barb Keller, big-game program supervisor for the DNR.


“This is providing a service for hunters, mostly those who hunt outside of established CWD zones but who still want to have their deer tested for peace of mind,” Keller said.

Minnesota DNR CWD test kits for hunters
The Minnesota DNR is distributing 5,000 CWD test kits free to any hunter in the state who wants to have their deer tested. The kits require the hunter to remove the deer's lymph nodes and send them to a lab.
Contributed / Minnesota DNR

Hunters can obtain the kits by calling the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association at 218-327-1103 (members or non-members); calling or stopping in at any DNR wildlife offices; or by going to dnr.state.mn.us/cwd/cwd-kits.html , where an instructional video on how to remove and handle the lymph nodes is available.

Test results will be available online as well.

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Make a plan before you hunt

The DNR is encouraging all hunters to confirm which deer permit area they are hunting in and to check what new regulations may be in place for that area. For more information, go to dnr.state.mn.us/cwd .

Regulations in CWD management zones

  • Testing is mandatory during the opening weekend of the firearms season, Nov. 5-6, in areas 679, 604, 661, 605 and several areas in southeastern Minnesota.
  • Testing options include pre-ordered mail-in test kits; DNR-staffed CWD test stations at wildlife offices, including in Grand Rapids; self-service drop-off stations where hunters can leave deer heads; approved taxidermists; and venison processors. 
  • Carcass movement restrictions are in place. Deer harvested in any season can't be moved out of a management zone until a "not-detected" test result is received.
  • Hunters who want to move deer shot in CWD management zones outside that zone before getting a test result must first debone or quarter their deer, properly disposing of the head and spinal column inside the zones. The DNR provides dumpsters for hunters to use to help facilitate carcass disposal.
  • Deer feeding and attractant bans may be in place. Deer permit areas do not necessarily follow county lines. A deer permit area may only partially overlap with a county that has a deer feeding and attractant ban in place.

Regulations in CWD surveillance zones

  • Testing is mandatory during opening weekend, Nov. 5 and 6, in deer permit areas 110, 157, 159, 169, 184, 197 and 225.
  • Testing options include pre-ordered mail-in kits; DNR-staffed sampling stations available Nov. 5-7; self-service sampling stations; and taxidermists and processors participating in the partner sampling program.

What is CWD?

CWD is an always-fatal contagious neurological disease that affects the nervous system of deer, elk, moose and caribou. It is caused by prions (abnormal proteins) that are highly resistant to disinfectants, heat or freezing; cooking the meat will not destroy this disease. The disease can spread through contact with an infected animal's saliva, urine or feces. It can also spread indirectly through exposure to a contaminated environment like soil. CWD prions are extremely resilient and can stay in the soil for a long time, making containment of an affected area a challenge. It may take animals a year or more after exposure to show symptoms of the disease.

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Are humans at risk?

So far, the disease has never been known to infect humans. But, as a precaution, state health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend against consuming meat from deer that test positive for the disease. Because infected deer can look healthy, experts encourage testing for the disease regardless of your harvested deer’s physical condition, especially in areas where CWD is known to be present.


Recommendations for avoiding CWD

  • Wear rubber gloves while field dressing or butchering your deer. 
  • Bone out meat from your animal.
  • Avoid or minimize handling of brain and spinal tissue.
  • Wash hands thoroughly after handling the carcass. 
  • Avoid consuming the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes. 
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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