Former Wyoming Game and Fish disease specialist John Henningsen extracts lymph nodes from a hunter's mule deer at the Alpine hunter check station in 2012. Analyzing the nodes in a laboratory is the method of determining whether a deer has been infected by Chronic Wasting Disease. (Wyoming Game and Fish/Mark Gocke)

For the first time ever, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is requiring some hunters to collect samples from deer they kill to help monitor the spread of fatal, incurable chronic wasting disease.

The agency imposed the requirement for hunters in deer hunt areas 96 and 97, home of the Sweetwater Herd. The areas straddle the Sweetwater River southeast of Lander and include popular hunt areas around Sweetwater Rocks, Green Mountain and riparian lands along the river.

Archery season is underway in the two areas and rifle season begins Oct. 15.

Why it matters

The Game and Fish Department seeks to accurately gauge the prevalence of CWD in deer herds across the state. It is difficult, however, to get enough samples without the help of hunters as the agency found out last year. “We can only set up check stations in so many cases,” said Daryl Lutz, Game and Fish Department wildlife management coordinator in Lander.

Regulations govern the movement and disposal of game animal parts from endemic areas in an effort to limit CWD spread.

The civilian-appointed Game and Fish Commission approved the regulations in 2018, Scott Edberg, the agency’s deputy chief of wildlife, said in an email. “[T]he 2021 hunting season for Deer Hunt Areas 96 and 97 is the first time we implemented the requirements,” he wrote. CWD sample collection from the Grand Teton National Park elk reduction program and National Elk Refuge hunt are the purview of the federal government, but conducted in cooperation with the state.


Chronic Wasting Disease, an incurable and always fatal disorder of the central nervous system, emerged among deer in southwest Wyoming in 1985. Game and Fish has been tracking its spread and is seeking ways to reduce its prevalence and transmission. Biologists agree they have much to learn from the malady, believed to have spread from a Colorado research facility. A cousin of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans and Mad Cow Disease, it has not been firmly proven to be transmissible to humans, although some research suggests it could cross the species barrier.

Who said what

Hunters can learn how to extract a lymph node by watching a video, or they can bring the animal’s head to the nearest check station or Game and Fish office.

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“While people are more than welcome to take their own [sample] we do encourage people to get [the head] to us,” Lutz said. “It ensures we get the right sample. We’re making ourselves readily available to help people comply with the mandatory sampling.”

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Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at or (307)...

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  1. I find it ironic that our state agency has no problem mandating some public behavior (sampling for CWD) when it comes to protecting the health of our deer herds, but when it comes to a mandate to protect human beings’ public health, state officials lack the political backbone to act similarly. SAD.

  2. Here we go, Are you kidding me ??? CWD has been here for years and has spread into deer herds in several states, consequently when you find CWD in the Sweetwater herd unit what does that prove (that’s it’s in the Sweetwater herd unit) RIGHT !!! Then what? Curtail hunting in those areas ? What about all areas of the state mandatory reporting, lets take after Pennsylvania shall we ?
    The department has far better issues to address such as the severe decline in antelope populations, the demise of our moose an bighorn populations, demanding hunts for wolves and grizzlies and going head to head with the feds and the anti hunting community, state and federal funds (PR & DJ) better spent, if the legislature finally gets total control of (OUR) Department not (YOUR) department, it’s the beginning of the end, the Commission should fully realize that mandates only serve to alienate the public. What say you??