JVG_200925_PECK

First published in 2004, this is a photo of Ted Peck’s ‘heartbreak buck,’ a buck believed to be sick with CWD that was registered in Orfordville.

Bow season opened last week. Once we’ve experienced a couple of killing frosts, more hunters will be in the woods looking for the trophy buck of a lifetime.

Here in southern Wisconsin, odds are the dominant buck which rules the woods is a 4½-year-old bruiser—which has Chronic Wasting Disease.

Mt. Horeb was the epicenter of CWD in Wisconsin. The WDNR began monitoring this disease in 1999, with the first positive CWD case in the wild deer population showing up in 2002.

CWD was first discovered in the United States in Colorado back in 1967. There is strong evidence that the prions of this debilitating brain disease jumped from sheep to mule deer at a Colorado research facility, although Minnesota DNR supervisor Michelle Carstensen says the “true origin is not understood.”

Carstensen said, “the only thing we’re certain of here in Minnesota is that CWD is a ‘gift’ from Wisconsin, just like spread of the disease into Illinois and Iowa.”

Check out www.cwdalliance.org if you want to track spread of this deer-demic across the United States over the past half-century. Once ANY disease is found in 5% of a population, scientists agree it is never going to go away.

It’s hard not to ponder this fact when taking a pragmatic look at COVID-19 and possibilities ANY vaccine will have as America pushes forward. Once a genie sneaks out of the test tube, it’s just a matter of time before it becomes part of the tapestry of life.

Lyme disease can be traced to microscopic bugs escaping from the government lab in Ft. Deitrich, Maryland. Like COVID-19, severity and variety of side effects of Lyme continue to manifest in myriad and diverse mutations with truly serious overtones.

Ironclad proof that CWD is the result of a lab research gone awry can’t be traced back to genesis of this disease first discovered in Colorado. The evidence trail for origins of COVID-19 will likely get lost somewhere close to a research lab near Wuhan, China.

There is little value in knowing the true origin of any disease. How we cope with the situation going forward is what really matters.

This year the WDNR is offering “robust testing” for CWD in a number of northern Wisconsin counties. To participate, all you need to do is cut the head off of your trophy buck and get it to one of many kiosks for testing.

I can remember back in the early 2000s participation in CWD testing was mandatory. Requiring Americans to obey the government or face prosecution is when any government initiative will lose public support. When the WDNR forced Wisconsinites to give up the head of the trophy they had been dreaming about for an entire lifetime of whitetail hunting, hunter support for CWD evaporated immediately. This is why CWD is Wisconsin’s “new normal.”

Back in December 2004, I did a couple columns in this newspaper about the “heartbreak buck.” I put this basket-rack animal out of its misery with a load of No. 6 shot on the public hunting grounds near Orfordville—attempting to contact the DNR both before and after doing the right thing for our natural resource.

This was the year prior to WDNR mandate to submit all deer heads for testing.

Sometimes doing the right thing has unintended consequences. The DNR ordered me to bring the little buck’s rack to the DNR Service Center here in Janesville. For the next two hours I was forced to endure good cop/bad cop interrogation by a pair of wardens.

The only thing that kept me from an expensive ticket was intercession by then Chief Warden Randy Stark.

Not being averse to shameless self-promotion, you can read about the heartbreak buck saga in my latest book “Tails, Trails & Tales with the Old Guide” available on Kindle and through Amazon.

Volume II of these mostly recycled Gazette columns should be released after the election in a few short weeks.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine Captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc

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