If you drive by the Game & Fish Department building where I work you will see a sign that says, "Deer Head Collection Site." You might also see this sign at certain other places within North Dakota. And without any additional information a reasonable question might be. "Why on earth would someone want to collect deer heads?"
Allow me to enlighten you. For the past several years now during the deer hunting season the ND Game & Fish Department has been collecting deer heads to obtain tissue samples to be tested for Chronic Wasting Disease. If that name sounds bad it's because it is. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system of white-tailed deer, mule deer, and elk. It is essentially the "deer" version of Mad Cow Disease. It causes the animal to not want to eat and the body starts to waste away, hence the name. It has become a concern in recent years because cases of it have been found in almost every state surrounding North Dakota. Fortunately, we have not yet discovered any instances of CWD within North Dakota.
To help prevent this disease from coming into North Dakota certain regulations have been established pertaining to the transportation of deer across state boundaries. In addition for the last several years we have been sampling roughly 1,000 or so deer heads from selected areas throughout North Dakota to check for any occurrences of CWD and to help us learn more about this disease.
Getting samples from over 1,000 deer heads takes some time so the Game & Fish Department encourages employees to help out when they can. I've tried to participate for the last few years now. It's definitely not for everyone. It involves digging into the back of a deer head and taking out the lymph nodes which get sent to Wyoming for testing. It's bloody, messy, and a bit smelly from the piles of deer heads that have been sitting around for various lengths of time. But for reasons unknown even to me, I do find it interesting. You get used to the smell after awhile and it feels good to be helping out. It certainly is a drastic change from my normal line of work with computers.
In addition to collecting lymph nodes, certain information about each deer is recorded. The hunting unit where it was harvested, the type and sex of the deer, as well as the age. If you're wondering how you find out the age of a deer, you check it's teeth. Biologists can tell by the size and wear of the the teeth roughly how old the deer is. The lymph nodes get packed in little bags, labeled, frozen and then sent off for testing.
Another question you might ask is why in the world am I bothering to write about this? The answer is, "I don't know". Possibly because it's something I'm interested in, or maybe just to give you a little more insight into the place where I work and one of the extra-curricular activities I participate in. I think it does fall outside the realm of, shall we say, "ordinary" job duties. At any rate, whether you're interested in this topic or not, hopefully you can find some comfort in knowing the state game & fish department is doing what it can to help make sure CWD stays out of North Dakota. And if you are a deer hunter, consider donating your harvested deer head to the department for testing. For more information, please visit the Game & Fish website at http://gf.nd.gov/