As permits get harder to draw in our home states, more and more hunters are venturing out and hunting surrounding states and even states across the country. Our never-ending pursuit of obtaining a permit, filling our tags, and bringing our trophies home has created some controversy amongst the industry. Whether it is finger pointing or factual, CWD is spreading like wildfire. At the end of the day, we as sportsmen need to do whatever we can, either leaving your take with a professional or digging in and getting it done yourself.
More than half of the United States does not have a confirmed case of chronic wasting disease (CWD), so those states are setting up defenses to prevent the disease from spreading to them. In recent months, Nevada and Arizona did just that, and I assume many more states will follow. Where Nevada went as far as passing a state bill, states like Arizona are encouraging hunters to do their part to keep CWD at bay.
States that have confirmed cases of CWD, such as Wyoming, are currently taking steps to prevent it from spreading to neighboring states as well as stopping the spread within their own state. These steps include population management within their hot zones and enforcing strict rules upon non-residents leaving with their trophies. Wyoming has taken the largest stand, whereas other states are still at the encouragement stage. Wyoming regulations were recently released and stated that they require ungulate hunters to only transport their harvest to a camp, private residence for processing, taxidermist, processor, or CWD sample collection site in Wyoming, provided the head and all portions of the spinal column remain at the kill site or are disposed of in any approved landfill or approved incinerator in Wyoming. Whole deer, elk, and moose carcasses cannot be transported out of Wyoming. The only parts that are approved to leave the state are edible portions with no part of the spinal column or head; the cleaned hide without the head; skull, skull plate, or antlers that have been cleaned of all meat and brain tissue; teeth; and finished taxidermy mounts. All hunters need to check with their home state for the rules about importing deer, elk, or moose from Wyoming.
There are two main things you can do to help prevent the spread of CWD – take your harvest to a professional in the area in which you harvested or take some tools with you to make your harvest legal to get back home. If you choose to take your harvest to a professional, many taxidermists and processors will offer a “rush” if you have a few days to wait around or you can have your trophies and meat shipped to you. Luckily, we live in a technology-rich world where our friend Google can get us headed in the right direction to find the right taxidermist and/or processor. However, another good option is to find the guy in camo at the gas station as they can usually help in letting you know who is the best around town.
For the more DIY guy, taking care of your trophy and meat can be done on your tailgate. A lot of these tips will help you and your local taxidermist in the long run. In general, the brains and the spinal column are a no-no, and as Austin Atkinson says, “They are for the birds.” Many of us prefer to use the gutless method when taking care of our animals in the field. Using this method alone gets you one step away from being “legal” in most situations. The gutless method will leave you with four bone-in quarters, both backstraps, tenderloins, neck, and rib meat, as well as a decision about what to do with the head. If you are packing around a bone saw, here is where you can skull cap or saw the skull for an almost complete Euro look. If you decide to go this route, make sure that you expose the brain cavity so that you can remove all of the brain matter before transport.
If you are skull capping the animal for mounting, be sure to check with your taxidermist beforehand as to what they will need. You can always take more off, but you cannot add more bone. For a full Euro, the head is easier to disconnect than many think. A knife and sometimes a slight twist is all you need. This is where your taxidermist will thank you. Remove the head right below the occipital bone (the flat plate on the back of head) between the first vertebrae and where it connects to the brain cavity. If you have a European mount lying around, turn it around and look at the backside to see what your target looks like clean. There is no need for the vertebrae and the extra neck meat.
Once you get to this point, you will need to remove the brain tissue. There are many options for you to do this. The first but not really recommended option if you are wanting to do a Euro mount is to turn the skull upside down for a few days in the heat until the brain rots and falls out. This is not ideal as the tissue will get hard and allow the oils to sink into the bone, thus leaving a yellow tinge once the skull is whitened.
Proper PPE (personal protective equipment) is recommended for the next few options. One option is to take a metal clothes hanger and attach it to a power drill. Put a 90-degree bend on the top, stick it in the cavity, and give it a whirl. This will detach a lot of the connective membrane and brain matter, allowing it to come out on its own or with the assistance of a pressure washer at the local car wash. Please make sure you pick up and discard of all brain matter.
The next few methods will take a lot more preparation as far as tools you will need beforehand. If you run into your local hardware store, you can get a metal pistol nozzle for a garden hose. Also, grab some 1/4" copper tubing and corresponding couplers to fasten them together. The copper tube can be shoved up into the brain cavity, and the pressure will blow the brain matter out of the cavity. Use the proper PPE as you don’t want any of this in your eyes or mouth or even on your hands. This trick will also work with an air compressor if one is available.
Last, but not least, is perhaps the most time-consuming method – boil it. Our friends over at Camp Chef offer many single burner cooker options that work great for this. Get a single burner with a fairly high BTU output and a bottle of propane. I like to use the stainless water troughs that you can find at many of your local farm and ranch stores. You don’t need a big momma, just one that will fit the species you are hunting. I like to wrap the horns in Saran Wrap and fasten it tight with electrical tape to prevent any discoloration. Another tip is to use aluminum foil. I place it where the horns are in contact with the trough and where the burner is potentially sending flames up the side. Again, the local car wash is a good place to use a pressure washer, or you can use a tough brush to get the meat off of the head. A scoop of OxiClean or another degreaser will go a long way with your trophy, both in making the meat more jelly like and in taking the first steps to degrease the skull.
Whether the state you’re hunting has rules or not regarding CWD spread, I believe it is our job as sportsmen to do our part to control the spread of zombie deer. This is not a conclusive list of what you should or shouldn’t do, so be sure to check with your home state, the state you’re hunting in, and the states you will be traveling through to be sure you are not breaking local law.