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CWD clouds opening of firearms deer season

If it weren’t for the existence and spread of Chronic Wasting Disease in Pennsylvania’s deer population, especially in this part of the commonwealth, today’s opening of the firearms deer season would have virtually no major concern besides the always important issue of safety.

But CWD and the not-conclusively settled question about whether it poses any dangers to humans, even if only to humans with certain health issues, will infringe on the unbridled enjoyment, enthusiasm and challenge that this first day of hunting has meant to state residents of both genders for generations.

On the matter of something special, today is the first time in more than 50 years that the Keystone State firearms deer season will open on a Saturday. And, with today’s opening, the season expands to 13 days, three of them Saturdays — a bonus to many 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday workers.

It always is a boost to opening-day hunting prospects if a blanket of snow a couple of inches deep exists to help hunters track their prey, but there are many skillful hunters in this part of the state who are undeterred when little or no snow is present to help them.

Many are successful year after year, even if they exercise patience and wait for the opportunity to bag only what they consider to be the “right” deer.

Still, CWD is eroding some of the uninterrupted attention cemented in past hunting seasons — attention geared foremost toward achieving a successful hunt.

The 2019-20 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest devotes four of its 63 pages to CWD, including reminding hunters what they should do — and not do — if they see a deer that seems to display symptoms associated with the disease.

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, as of March, nearly 80,000 deer had been tested for CWD in Pennsylvania and, as of that same month, 200 free-ranging deer in this state had tested positive for the disease, 197 of them in what has been designated as Disease Management Area 2, which includes all or parts of more than 15 counties.

At least parts of Mifflin, Juniata, Snyder, Huntingdon and Perry counties are in that DMA covering more than 6,700 square miles.

On the minds of some hunters today will be CWD’s long incubation period. The Game Commission says it takes, on average, 18 to 24 months for infected deer to show symptoms of the disease.

As the disease progresses, infected deer may exhibit a lowered head and/or lowered ears, wasting or thinning, a rough coat, excessive drooling, as well as abnormal behavior.

Estimates are that North America’s whitetail population is 20 million to 25 million animals. It also is estimated that about 11 million hunters go into the woods and fields each fall trying to bag one.

The whitetail is by far the most popular game in the United States, and deer hunting helps forge a strong outdoors bond between fathers and sons, and even some fathers and/or mothers and their daughters.

Many families find themselves strengthened by this annual outing that is beneficial not only from the food perspective, but also from another one — helping to prevent potentially dangerous and damaging overpopulation.

Too bad the spread of CWD, for some individuals, is making hunting less enjoyable this year. Hopefully a cure or vaccine will be forthcoming soon.

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