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Hunters upbeat despite deer ailment

March 10, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Amy Hetzner
A deadly brain disease in Wisconsin's deer herd and the state's plan to kill 500 white-tailed deer to see if more could be infected didn't dampen hunters' outlook as they packed into Milwaukee's Sports Show on Saturday.

They continued to line up at rifle ranges and try their hands with bows and arrows in archery competitions.

They inspected rows of knives and racks of rifles in the show's booths. And they formed long lines to apply for licenses with the state Department of Natural Resources.

The Sports Show, which is sponsored by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is being held at the Midwest Express Center through March 17.

"I bet you anything that people don't even realize that there is a problem, or a possible problem," said Kirk Crawford, a hunter from Fond du Lac who works for Midwestern Shooters Supply, which was doing a brisk business Saturday.

Three deer killed in November in Dane and Iowa counties have been found to have chronic wasting disease, which is similar to mad cow disease and causes animals to grow thin and die.

The Wisconsin DNR, which has tested 82 deer already for the ailment, announced plans Friday to kill and test 500 deer in south-central Wisconsin to see if more could have the disease.

Even those hunters at the Sports Show who realize the problem that chronic wasting disease could pose to the deer population said they plan to continue hunting and eating deer meat. The disease has not been found to affect humans [There is evidence that CWD prions can infect human brain tissue--BSE coordinator].

"Do I worry about it? I have a 2-year-old grandson, you bet I worry about it," said Norb Kucharski, a hunter from Oconomowoc who eats deer two to three times a week.

But he trusts the DNR to do the right thing to stop the disease from spreading, he said. And if the DNR decides it needs to kill and test 500 deer to do that, he said he would support that.

Otherwise, he said, chronic wasting disease could spread to the state's elk herd and ruin years of protecting elk in Wisconsin.

"You've got to trust what they do professionally," Kucharski said. "They're going to get a lot of flak and heat over this."

The hunters said they didn't think the state's plans to kill 500 deer for research would affect their hunting season, given that there are too many deer already.

It could make for weaker hunting in Iowa and Dane counties, if the DNR concentrates its testing on one deer management unit, said Pat Kilps of Hubertus.

Still, it's worth it if that would protect the state's herd, he said.

"I think it's a good idea," he said. "There's no other way to do the research and find out the numbers that have been affected."

Publicity over the disease could end up increasing the deer population if people stop eating venison, said Wayne Ingham, president of the southeast branch of the Quality Deer Management Association.

"It's a great concern if that would spread out and the general public stops eating venison. They will stop hunting," he said. "Without that, how is the state of Wisconsin going to manage the deer herd? . . . Then the deer herd is just going to explode in Wisconsin."

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