The hunting quota for mule deer in Montana's first chronic wasting disease hunt is close to being filled, prompting Fish, Wildlife and Parks to announce that it will close the hunt a half hour after sunset on Sunday, Jan. 7.
Those who purchased a whitetail tag can keep hunting until that quota hits 200 or until Feb. 15, whichever comes first.
By Thursday hunters had harvested 268 deer in Carbon County as part of the special hunt in south central Montana. Of those, 183 were mule deer — just short of the 200-animal quota. By Sunday, FWP officials expect an additional 17 or more muleys will have been shot.
The deer brought to FWP's check station at Joliet or to Billings since Dec. 15 also include 85 white-tailed deer.
"We've had a lot of people calling" to see if the hunt was still underway, said Bob Gibson, FWP Region 5 information officer.
One call came from a Minnesota hunter who, along with his friends, had nine tags.
"They were wondering if the quota was reached," Gibson said. "I told them I wouldn't wait too long."
To date, the laboratory testing samples from deer harvested during the special hunt has not completed its analysis.
During the 2017 general deer hunting season, FWP sampled about 1,300 deer harvested in south central Montana. The laboratory found that six of those deer — five mule deer and one white-tailed deer, all in Carbon County — tested positive for exposure to CWD. That prompted the special hunt.
The special hunt is designed to gather information about the distribution and prevalence of CWD in deer in an area of Carbon County. Hunters are required to submit their harvested deer to FWP within three days either at a check station at Joliet or at FWP’s Region 5 headquarters in the Billings Heights.
The Joliet check station will be open from 10 a.m. to half an hour after sunset every day except Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 15, or until the quotas for both species are met and the season closes. The Region 5 headquarters is open during normal business hours.
CWD is a progressive, fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose. It has been present for some years in states and Canadian provinces north, east and south of Montana, but was first found in wild deer in the state this fall during a focused CWD surveillance throughout south central Montana.
CWD has not been shown to spread to people, pets, livestock or wildlife outside of the deer family. However, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend not consuming meat from an animal known to be infected with CWD. The CDC also recommends that hunters have deer tested if they were harvested in areas where CWD is known to be present.
More information about CWD and the special hunt is available online at fwp.mt.gov/cwd.