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Do not feed deer

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Giving deer one less reason to congregate is a good way to slow the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD); a disease that’s spread by deer-to-deer contact. That’s the rationale behind the regulation prohibiting the feeding of deer that’s in effect in parts of Missouri.

This game law, Regulation 3 CSR 10-4.200 in the Wildlife Code of Missouri, applies to the 38 counties that comprise the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) CWD Management Zone. A number of these counties are in southern Missouri. (A complete list of CWD Management Zone counties can be found at mdc.mo.gov or in the “2022 Fall Deer & Turkey Regulations” booklet that’s available at most MDC offices and most places that sell hunting and fishing permits.)

This regulation states, in part, that in the CWD management zone that “the placement of grain, salt products, minerals, and other consumable natural and manufactured products is prohibited.” The exceptions to this regulation are:

Feed placed within 100 feet of any residence or occupied building

Feed placed in such a manner to reasonably exclude access by deer

Feed placed as part of a feral hog or CWD management effort that is authorized by a conservation agent or MDC

Feed and minerals present solely as a result of a normal agricultural, forest management, or crop and wildlife food production practice

It’s important to note this deer feeding prohibition doesn’t just apply to hunting situations. It also encompasses the practice of putting out feed for deer by people in both rural and urban settings “who just like to see deer.” And let’s face it – in Missouri, everyone likes to see deer. This feeding prohibition is one way to ensure white-tail viewing opportunities will continue for hunters, campers, hikers, and all people who enjoy the outdoors.

One of the best ways to see why this regulation is important is to look at the disease it’s designed to slow the spread of. CWD is a fatal disease of deer and other members of the family Cervidae (elk, moose, etc.) The disease was first found in Missouri’s wild deer population in 2012. Since then, 210,000 deer in Missouri have been sampled for the disease and 292 positive cases have been found.

So, on the one hand, it can be said that the prevalence of CWD in Missouri’s deer’s population is still very low. However, it can be said with equal certainty that the disease is present in the state. Thus far, it’s been found in pockets of the state – the 38 counties that comprise Missouri’s CWD Management Zone are counties where CWD has been found or are within a 10-mile radius of a site where the disease has been positively identified.

The infectious agent for CWD, a type of protein called a prion, may be passed on to other deer in urine, feces, or saliva. CWD can be transmitted directly from one animal to another or indirectly from a contaminated surface – such as a deer feeder.

To be clear, feeding deer does not cause the disease, but it concentrates deer around a feed source. Bringing a number of animals together increases the possibility that the disease will spread if one of the deer coming to the feeder is infected with CWD.

The visible symptoms of CWD include emaciation, excessive salivation, and a lack of coordination. However, it can take months (and sometimes more than a year) for a deer infected with CWD to show symptoms. Thus, an infected deer can spread the disease to other deer while appearing healthy.

More information about CWD and CWD regulations can be found the “2022 Fall Deer & Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information” booklet or at mdc.mo.gov.

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