Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deer Head Collection?

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


Steve at Random said...

I found this interesting -- looks like Clint picked up on it as he has pictures on his blog. This little tidbit will come up sometime in conversation when people are discussing the "other duties as assigned" notation that we all have on our job descriptions. Thanks for a neat post.

Ar Vee said...

Randy,I'm thinking you probably don't eat much venison after work.After a clean shot and processing the meat at home.It always took me a couple months to forget the smells.Hunters here always think of wild game as the healthiest meat because it's not exposed to antibiotics,like beef.I once observed a hunter take the liver from a fresh killed deer,cut off a peice of liver,and eat it raw.Thankfully I've never been that hungry.Have you ever smelled a rutting buck deer?That smell will stay with you awhile.My neighbor bagged one,the other day.He asked me if I wanted a hind quarter.It made me wonder where the other 3 quarters went.He got an elk,too.He gave most of it to a grizzly bear,I think.He,the neighbor, will probably wind up eating beef.He's mostly interested in the head and horns.He's probably one of those biologists,too.He sets the horns in his front yard and kinda paces until someone notices.The mayor lives just down the street.He has a similar ritual.I guess we were only ones to miss it.My wife over heard him at church,and she said,"Oh you got an elk"?HIS wife blurted,before he could reply,"You didn't see the elk head in the front yard for a week!"I suppose if Men could have camp fires in town,and everything else,they would all gather around the fire,by the street,and tell hunting stories while the women scraped hides.Hunters from Cal.have alot of restictions on wild game coming into there state,too.I think they have to remove the backbone from an elk to bring it,the elk, into the California.I've seem men cutting bone until they were exhausted to comply with that resriction.I would like to tell them you can cut the meat from the bone easier than cutting the bone,but I guess I'm a little non-compliant!Go Figure.

randymeiss said...

I do enjoy venison. The Christmas potluck we do at work is interesting to say the least. I've tried a number of different dishes and for the most part they've been delicious. But you are right. After a day of having my fingers digging into the back of a deer head and smelling the decaying flesh. Deer is definately not my first choice of meals at the end of the day.