Cole McNaughton, 9, left, and Ian McNaughton, 11, show off Ian’s first deer, harvested in Clinton County.
Cole McNaughton, 9, left, and Ian McNaughton, 11, show off Ian's first deer, harvested in Clinton County. (Submitted photo)

Chronic Wasting Disease wasn't found in any of the nearly 2,100 wild deer samples tested from York and Adams counties last year, but the fatal deer disease could continue to affect the local hunter's experience for seasons to come.

Hunters in the two-county, 600-square-mile management area were mandated to take their harvests to testing stations last year after the disease turned up in two deer at an Adams farm, one of which was once kept at a Dover Township deer farm.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission last week announced that three hunter-killed wild deer, part of a broader testing initiative, were positive for the disease. Two were from Blair County; the other was from Bedford County.

Though the disease wasn't found in York's wild deer population, Game Commission procedure calls for continuing the management area restrictions for five years, said Barry Leonard, information and education supervisor for the south-central region.

"Normally we would do it for another four years, but since it was found in free-ranging deer elsewhere in the state ... there will probably be other measures taken," he said. "Whether we continue (testing) on a mandatory or a voluntary basis is to be decided."

Fines issued: Leonard said it's possible the captive deer in York and Adams went on breeding exchanges at deer farms outside the area, and that's how they caught a disease that hasn't manifested in the wild population locally.

It's possible the "more strict" regulations could be moved to the areas where the disease was found in the wild, but officials are still managing the commission's response for the fall season, he said. There could be adjustments to the timing of the season or mandatory check-in sites for Blair and Bedford counties.

The new regulations in York and Adams didn't appear to affect the turnout for hunting season, he said, as the number of deer harvested seemed to be in keeping with pervious years' trends in the area.

There were "dozens" of citations filed against people who failed to comply with the mandated testing, said Richard Palmer, director of the Bureau of Wildlife Protection.

Officials won't have a final number of fines, which range from $100 to $200, calculated until June.

Some people violated the rules because they were loyal to specific meat processors, while others "just didn't want to do it," he said.

Wants fewer rules: Hunter Jeff Georg of Manchester Township is among those hoping for less restriction in York County.

The 43-year-old father said he's been a hunter for about 23 years, and he wanted to teach his sons the lessons that can be found out in the woods: no instant gratification, no video games.

But while son Cole McNaughton might be one of few 9-year-olds who can say he's seen the sun rise over a quiet woods, the story of the day he bagged his first deer was tainted by the CWD restrictions, Georg said.

"He has a bigger memory of the difficulties surrounding the harvest of the deer than he does the joy of his first deer," Georg said.

Cole shot a button buck just before dark, but the two were turned away from a state-approved butcher because he was only accepting past customers.

"So we drove another 20 miles out of the way to get to the (state) testing station, where we were told they weren't going to test it because it was too young," Georg said. "It was 9 o'clock until we got home that evening. That wasn't the joyful experience that it could've been."

Precautions: Leonard said officials hope to make the testing process as smooth as possible, but most hunters have understood the necessity for and the scope of the operation being undertaken by the commission.

Officials can only hope to manage the spread of the disease, for which there is no treatment or vaccine, he said.

People are discouraged from eating meat that hasn't been tested or that tested positive, though the Centers for Disease Control has said there have been no cases of people becoming ill from meat since the disease was first found in Colorado in 1967, Leonard said.

There's also no evidence of the disease jumping to any other species, he said.

In addition to social "licking" of deer, the disease is in part spread in the wild through the same intuitive rituals that propagate the species, he said.Females secrete hormones that bucks can detect and, "in his excited state," the bucks will "lick up" the ground where a female's urine or feces might've been, he said.People who see an obviously sick deer are encouraged to the call the commission at 814-643-1831, he said.

Symptoms include a dropped head, excessive thirst, down ears, and lack of fear of humans.

"Toward the end, there's very little muscle tone to the animal, hence the term wasting disease," he said. "If they see deer acting strange like that, they should give a call and let us know."

- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.