Will Pennsylvania dispense with antler-point restrictions in CWD management areas?

Other states, including Missouri, Arkansas and Michigan, have decided to dispense with antler-point restrictions in management areas where chronic wasting disease has been detected.

Those states have taken that action because a large majority of yearling bucks disperse up to 12 miles in the spring or fall. Such dispersal of CWD-positive bucks spreads the disease. So eliminating antler restrictions is a strategy to slow that spread.

The obvious question is, will Pennsylvania follow suit?

The answer is, “maybe,” according to David Walter, Penn State adjunct assistant professor of wildlife ecology and assistant unit leader of the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the university. Walter is one of the foremost CWD researchers in the eastern United States.

Whether antler-point restrictions will be eliminated in disease management areas in the Keystone State will be up to Pennsylvania Game commissioners, Walter said, and the actions will likely only come after a study of deer dispersal.

Walter and Game Commission veterinarian Justin Brown are putting the finishing touches on and will soon publish a study that analyzed CWD prevalence in deer hit by vehicles in Disease Management Area 2 in the western-central part of the state, where the disease is found in wild deer.

They found that the majority of road-killed deer infected by CWD were yearling males (and to a lesser extent, young females). The research findings are significant because no other state has studied roadkills like Pennsylvania, where the Game Commission has tested thousands of deer killed on roadways since 2013.

“What we have found is different than anywhere else in the country,” Walter said. “When you only look for CWD in hunter-harvested deer, it skews your perception of the ages of deer.”

Antler-point restrictions have turned out to be popular with hunters wherever they have been implemented because they quickly result in older, larger bucks with bigger racks. But it seems that eliminating them in areas to deal with CWD has been accepted by hunters in other states.

If the commissioners decide to go in that direction here, I think that Pennsylvania hunters will accept it. Some may even welcome the move. But removing antler-point restrictions will increase deer harvest, and that will no doubt be controversial.

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