Mandatory sampling of all whitetail deer harvested on the opening day of the modern firearms season, Nov. 13-14, will be required in McDonald and Barry counties. Hunters can take their deer or just the head on the day of harvest to a designated sampling station.

The effort is part of a campaign by the Missouri Department of Conservation to detect the disease as quickly as possible as it spreads, and to monitor changes in the state population.

In Barry County, sampling stations will be set up at Roaring River State Park, south of Cassville; at The Gathering Place in Purdy; and at the Central Crossing Fire Protection District headquarters in Shell Knob. In McDonald County, the sampling stations will be at the McDonald County Fairgrounds in Anderson, and at Rocky Comfort Elementary School in Longview.

Sampling stations will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on opening weekend.

Mandatory sampling is also required in 32 other counties, including Stone and Taney. The latter are the only two counties in Southwest Missouri that have a positive in deer for CWD, with each having four positives during the 2018-19 season.

In all, there have been 206 positive cases in Missouri’s free-ranging deer herd since the state began testing more than a decade ago. Missouri has tested more than 150,000 deer in that time.

Missouri officials have already conducted nearly 300 samples from deer collected in the 2021-22 season, with 262 negatives, 15 pending and no positives.

However, wildlife officials also are worried about the expansion of the disease in Northwest Arkansas, where 1,113 cases in deer and elk have been reported since it was first detected in an elk there in 2016. Newton County, Arkansas, has been the epicenter of the disease in that state, accounting for more than half of all cases.

About 300 of those cases have been found in counties along the state line. Among the Arkansas counties bordering Southwest Missouri, CWD has been found in Benton County seven times, the closest being north of Bentonville, only a few miles from the state line; Carroll County, 124 times; Boone County, 169 times; and Marion County, eight times.

In January, Arkansas announced that a team of state and federal officials, led by the University of Georgia, would be researching CWD in the state and will be capturing, collaring and monitoring deer over a five-year period. The study will focus around Newton and Searcy counties, where the outbreak originated, according to Keith Stephens, spokesman for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

The goal of the study is to obtain a better understanding of how deer infected with CWD move across the landscape, survive and reproduce relative to healthy deer, according to Jenn Ballard, state wildlife veterinarian with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

The hope is for wildlife officials to use the information to develop strategies to mitigate the spread of the disease.

Missouri Department of Conservation Wildlife Health Program supervisor Jasmine Batten said much remains unknown about CWD in Arkansas, but they do know that around the epicenter as many as 1 in 5 deer may be infected. But she added that it “varies a lot over even small geographic areas.”

According to the department, it takes an average of 18 to 24 months from the time a deer is infected until it looks visibly sick. Deer can spread CWD before they look or act sick. In Missouri, most deer that test CWD-positive do not exhibit the disease.

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