CWD Affects Antler Restrictions

It seems that at least once a year I devote some column space to chronic wasting disease, and the reason is that it is the most important negative factor that our hunting future has ever faced. Yes, the negative potential of CWD is that bad.

This young whitetail buck is stricken with chronic wasting disease. The question is, will the lifting of antler restrictions in states like Missouri and Arkansas help slow the spread of this insidious disease in those states?

CWD is now found in 24 states, three Canadian provinces, plus Norway and South Korea. Make no mistake about it, this spread will continue. Over the next 12 months, more areas will get CWD. Missouri first got CWD in 2010 when it was detected on a game farm. They'd been watching for it for years. Missouri tested 22,000 deer from the wild from 2002 to 2004. From 2007-2011 they tested 16,000 deer. In 2010, they found CWD in a deer from a game farm. Two more were found from a shooting preserve 15 miles from that farm in 2011.

It was only a matter of time before it would jump from those captive deer to the wild. Sure enough, CWD was found in two free-range deer close to the deer farm in January 2012. The DNR immediately removed 650 deer within five miles of the farm, and five were positive. The 2012-2013 winter killed a number of deer and four were positive, plus another during the fall hunting season.

Others were found up to 2014, and all within two adjacent Northeast Missouri counties. However, in the 2014 fall hunting season, a huge buck from a central-Missouri county tested positive. This prompted the game agency to eliminate antler restrictions in the 29 counties around infected counties.

Why would they do that when hunters really supported antler restrictions? The answer is simple: A large majority of yearling bucks disperse up to 12 miles in the spring or fall. Such dispersal of a CWD-positive buck spreads the disease. Thus, eliminating antler restrictions is a strategy to slow that spread. I discussed hunter reaction to the elimination of antler restrictions with a game agency official, and he noted that there was a surprisingly low amount of negative reaction. They apparently understood the gravity of the problem.

Missouri is not the only state to use this strategy. Antler restrictions have been in place in Arkansas since 1998, but CWD was first found in deer in 2015. This prompted the sampling of 166 deer around the area where the positive deer was harvested, and 23 percent tested positive. Obviously, CWD had been there quite a while. This prompted the removal of antler restrictions in a 10-county area. Can we expect to see this strategy used as CWD continues to spread? Probably. Just another negative outgrowth of CWD.

Bad Winter Affecting Wildlife In The West

This past February 3, Utah closed shed hunting until April. The reason was simple. Deep snows affected the ability of deer, elk, and moose to find food. Any further disturbance from shed hunters would put more stress on the animals, and exacerbate the situation. Apparently some people enjoy shed hunting a great deal, maybe too much, and within two weeks of the ban over 16 were arrested.

The deep snows this past winter also led to another rarely used strategy. Normally, the feeding of deer and elk is a bad idea. However, deep snows in the West changed that this past winter. Idaho started a feeding program in the southern part of the state, and Oregon did so in the eastern portion of that state. Without feeding, deer losses would have been much worse.

Baiting Bill In Alabama

The present baiting regulation in Alabama requires hunters to place bait at least 100 yards from any stand, and not in the line of sight of any stand. This regulation applies to hog and deer hunting on private land. However, as I write this column in March, there is a bill that just passed the House and is going to the Alabama Senate for a vote. This bill allows baiting on private land, but eliminates the 100-yard and line-of-sight ban. But there is an interesting twist.

The bill mandates that hunters must buy a $15 license to bait. This bait license is in addition to their regular hunting license, and if passed, it is expected to bring in an additional $1.5 million.

If this bill passes, will we see other state game agencies implement such a "bait license?" Most state wildlife agencies are short on money, and baiting is extremely popular with hunters. Will the hunters be willing to pay to bait? My guess is that if passed in Alabama, we will see other states move to this strategy.

Mountain Lions Kill Moose

In recent years there has been a great deal of interest in predators killing deer, elk, and moose. Just how much do they take? Researchers at the University of Alberta have given us some answers. They followed collared cougars, and also did ground searches, to locate an amazing 1,509 "predator events." As part of this study, they followed 42 GPS-collared lions for a combined total of 9,543 days. That alone is rather amazing.

Captured cougars included 30 adult females, seven adult males, six subadult females, and 10 subadult males (Note: not all lions were collared). Kill rates for deer, elk, and moose were an average of 0.8 animals per week, but there was a lot of variability. In fact, one cougar went 75 days without killing an ungulate, apparently surviving on small birds, mammals, or carrion.

Cougars killed 1.49 times as many ungulates in the summer as in the winter, as more young prey were taken. Average searching time before killing an ungulate was lower in summer (117 hours) than winter (159 hrs). Females with kittens killed most often. Here are the interesting numbers.

The average number of ungulates killed per year was 67 for females with kittens more than six months of age, 47 for females with kittens less than six months of age, 42 for adult females without kittens, 35 for adult males, 31 for subadult males, and 24 for subadult females. The fact that adult males killed fewer animals than adult females was attributed to the fact that they killed larger prey. The researchers also noted that cougars rarely killed adult moose, but they did take juvenile moose.

Now Alberta officials have some idea of how many big game animals are taken by mountain lions and can better assess harvest strategies in various parts of the province. Great data to have, and it sheds some light on the impacts of mountain lion predation.

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