Deer hunting could look a lot different for thousands of York County hunters this year, depending on where they bag a deer.
Nearly the entire northern half of the county - most areas north of Route 116 and Route 30 - has been declared a management area where state game officials must test for chronic wasting disease in the wild deer population because a captive deer was diagnosed in the area.
Hunters must take any deer killed in the 600-square-mile area of York and Adams counties to a site in East Berlin for testing before it can be processed. The free testing is voluntary now, but it'll be mandatory during rifle season, from Nov. 26 to Dec. 8, said Jerry Feaser, spokesman for the state's game commission.
After a hunter's deer is tested at the site, located in the commission's maintenance building on State Game Land 249 at 1070 Lake Meade Road in East Berlin in Adams County, the hunter can take the deer to any processing facility as long as it's within the management area, he said.
Single site: Feaser said he isn't sure how long the wait could be and there's "so far" only one site where the testing can be done, so hunters are encouraged to take the usual precautions to maintain a safe meat temperature. The sportsmen will get a letter in the mail about two weeks later to tell them whether the deer tested positive.
While there's no evidence that the disease can be spread to humans, Feaser said it's "still never advisable to eat something that you know is sick."
That means hunters such as Rick Althouse, who lives in East Manchester Township but hunts in the management area near Hellam Township, will be asked to drive nearly an hour away for testing that could render meat inedible weeks after paying around $100 to have it processed into steaks and bologna.
But the 47-year-old Althouse said that won't deter him from hunting in the area.
"I wouldn't want to drive it all the way over there," he said. "But I'm playing the odds, and they're not very high for getting an infected deer."
Despite testing more than 38,000 deer since 1998, the disease hasn't been found in wild deer. The new regulations are in effect because a captive deer was diagnosed on a farm in Adams County, and it had been held on three other facilities in the area.
Because that deer once lived at the former Rutt Acre Whitetails farm on Pickett Road in Washington Township, the York County property was quarantined last week. Other quarantined farms are on Bremer Road in Dover Township and in Williamsport, Lycoming County.
Happy with precautions: Althouse and other hunters said they're not thrilled with the extra drive and the possible delay caused by the testing, but they're actually glad the regulations are in place.
"Somebody has to control it and make sure it doesn't spread," Althouse said. "It could get worse, and it could ruin hunting for a long time."
Hunter Lee Webb, 46, of Manchester Township, hunts inside the management area near Dillsburg.
"If that's going to be the only check station, that's a pretty big issue for getting hunters to respond ... but any sportsman that has a serious concern for white tail deer in Pennsylvania will do it."
He said he loves deer and the sport of hunting, and the testing is ultimately best for the preservation of a healthy herd."It's a serious concern for the Pennsylvania sportsman," he said. "This disease, when it takes hold, it can do a lot of damage to a population."Hunter Jeff Georg, 42, also of Manchester Township, said he understands the necessity for testing despite the inconvenience.
"I think it is somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction by the Game Commission, though," he said. "(The infected deer) was confined to a pen, and there's no evidence of (the disease) in the countryside. I would hope (officials) are also working closely with deer farmers to make sure their population is regulated."
He said the extra step also adds concern about getting the deer to a processing plant if weather is warm.
Processors: A couple of local meat processors said they were still reacting to the Game Commission announcement and they aren't sure whether or how the change could affect business.Charles Ilyes Family deer processing center is near New Salem, outside the management area.Partner Wayne Hartman said he doubts it will discourage hunters, many of whom are very devoted to the sport.At JL Miller & Sons Meat on Indian Rock Dam Road in Spring Garden Township, outside the management area, vice-president Tom Cox said he doesn't know whether most of his customers hunt inside or outside the management area.More info coming: Hunters within the management area cannot move "high-risk" deer parts - including the head, spinal cord and backbone - outside of the area, the commission said.
Also prohibited is the use or processing of urine-based attractants within the disease management area, because such usage would cause deer to gather in certain areas, increasing the possibility for disease to spread.
Feaser said a series of meetings will be scheduled to inform hunters and others, with testing site hours and other details to be announced.
The penalty for violating the testing regulations when they become mandatory would be a citation, similar to those issued for poaching and other violations, he said.
He said the Game Commission is expecting between 30,000 and 35,000 hunters from York and Adams counties.
The essentially cuts York County in half, with the affected area starting north of Route 116 west of York and continuing east to the Susquehanna River, north of Route 462.In Adams County, the disease management area's boundary includes New Oxford, McSherrystown, Bonneauville, and areas around Gettysburg and Biglerville.
- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.