LARRY DABLEMONT, photographer/naturalist

In the fall issue of my magazine, The Lightnin’ Ridge Journal, on the newsstands now, there is a letter from a Texas doctor you should read, concerning this horrible disease. I am not suggesting that you buy the magazine. You can just find it and read the doctor’s letter on page 64 without buying it. It won’t take long.

In many ways the public is being misled about chronic wasting disease in deer. Some of it is because no one really has the answers. Some of it is out of fear of lost revenue from unsold deer tags.

If you eat deer meat, you need to know that several Missourians have been diagnosed with the disease, known as Jakob-Kruetzfeldt disease, and died an awful death. How many Ozarkians have died from it no one can say. It is a horrible disease for humans to deal with and you can learn much about it on the Internet, but not all about it because there are so many questionable aspects of the disease. It has been a disease dealt with in England for more than 30 years because of “mad cow” disease – another name for it. In the U.S. it exists in deer and elk and goats and is known as “mad deer” disease. But it all stems back to one thing, a protein known as “prions.”

Hunters have been misinformed about this disease, spreading to new counties each year. It is likely that it exists to some degree in the Ozarks right now, and there is no holding it back because in the Ozarks of north Arkansas it has been found in whitetail deer and elk in large numbers. I believe a Polk County landowner found a deer on his place with chronic wasting disease and you can see a photo of it on my website. He made several calls to the MDC asking them to come and check the sick deer, but no one ever came. That deer should have been tested.

The economics of this disease is stressed too much. What needs to be talked about is what the disease might do to those of us who eat deer meat. Worrying mostly about how a scare might affect the sale of deer tags is wrong.

My daughter, a doctor for more than 10 years now, has not been willing to say much to me about it when I question her, because there is so much not yet known. She did tell me that she saw a case of it in a patient at Columbia when she was finishing her doctorate at the University of Missouri. A disease created by something known as a “prion,” Jakob-Kruetzfeldt disease is a neurological disease that destroys the brain, and it is complicated to diagnose. The bodies of those known to have died from it are not taken to a coroner, but immediately cremated, as apparently instructed by the Centers for Disease Control in Georgia.

There is no doubt it could have been stopped in our state 15 years ago, if the raising of penned deer had been outlawed. That is what Colorado did when they first learned of the disease – they shut down all operations buying and raising elk and deer to be used as hunted trophies. And to my knowledge, no wild elk or deer tested for “mad deer” disease to date have tested positive in that state.

North Missouri deer pen operators were spending thousands and thousands on deer purchased from Ohio and Michigan, brought into our state without testing. The disease then started to occur in wild deer around those north Missouri operations, and I do not know if any have been closed down. What is scary is the idea that prions can exist in the soil, according to the experts. What if it does indeed spread to cattle and goats?

I am going to continue to eat deer meat only when it is a deer I have killed. The prions that cause the disease are supposedly not found in blood, but in spinal fluid, and in the brain. If you do not cut the spine or brain in anyway, it may be that you could eat an infected deer and not contract the disease. But who knows for sure? No one! The doctor who wrote the article on page 64 of my magazine says that people have been known to get Jakob-Kruetzfeldt disease from eating deer meat. Perhaps that was because the meat was tainted by spinal fluid. But that is what he says, and he is a doctor.

As for me, I will heart-shoot any deer I hunt and remove the meat from the bone without ever cutting a bone. I worry about the bone marrow as well as the spinal fluid. If you are a deer hunter, I would suggest you do the same. I process all my deer meat, and have never taken it to a processor. There is a worry that meat processors might accidentally get your meat mixed up with someone else’s. There is no problem if you are very familiar with your meat processor and confident that won’t happen.

My decision on whether to take a deer on my place will be whether or not he appears healthy and whether or not I can make steaks, stew meat, hamburger and jerky from the meat. I like venison, and if I didn’t I wouldn’t hunt. I don’t need any more sets of antlers laying around for the squirrels to chew on. Any hunter who is out there trying to bag a trophy set of antlers again and again, needs to examine what makes him think that way. Any deer not acting naturally, any that stumble or stagger, should be shot and not touched. It then should be tested.

Human greed created Jakob-Kruetzveldt disease. They created it in England by feeding meat by-products to cattle, a creature God created to eat grass and grain – not meat. In the deer and elk pens, similar meat and bone by-products were mixed into the deer feed to try to make bigger antlers and more money from them. No one knows where it is going to end, or how bad it might get. You can be sure it exists in the Ozarks; it will move north from Arkansas soon if it isn’t already here.

The possibility of the disease spreading to humans, needs to be talked about, because several known cases have occurred in Missouri. Talking to their relatives, I learned that in at least three of those deaths, venison was a big part of the diet.

I’ll hunt deer this fall once again, and hope I feel comfortable eating venison for a few years to come.

See my website for a photo of that deer I mentioned – larry dable mont out doors.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo., 65613 or email lightninridge@windstream.net.

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