Deer hunters react to plans to contain fatal deer disease

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HUNTSVILLE - Troy Barney didn't get a deer during a recent trip to Trophy Country. But he said that's part of the fun of the hunt.

"I never know when I'll see a deer, or if my aim will be perfect. But that not knowing, that competition, is what brings me back every fall," he said.

Deer season for archers opened in Missouri Monday.

Bow hunters spent the day there looking for high-scoring bucks, those with the most antlers. Barney said if a fatal deer disease, known as Chronic Wasting Disease, spreads in Missouri, he's not sure if anyone will see any deer in the future.

"There's no cure, and there's no way to know a deer has it until an autopsy is performed," Barney said. 

In the fight against Chronic Wasting Disease, deer farmers who operate fenced-in hunting preserves and the Missouri Department of Conservation have disagreed about solutions. 

Last week, the Missouri state legislature failed to override a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon that, if passed, would have relabeled captive deer as livestock instead of wildlife. That would have put captive deer under the control of the Missouri Department of Agriculture instead of the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Barney and other hunters at Trophy Country, where there are no fences, said they think the Department of Conservation is better equipped to handle Missouri's deer. 

"We do more than eat deer, don't we? We hunt them. Hunting and the issues that go with it have more to do with the Department of Conservation than Agriculture," said Barney.

The Missouri Deer Association president declined to comment on this story. But the association's website said the regulations that could be imposed on deer farmers by the Missouri Department of Conservation would cause the captive deer industry to die.

Captive deer farming has an economic impact of around $133 million per year, according to the Missouri Deer Association's website. The Missouri Department of Conservation said deer hunting is a one billion dollar industry in Missouri.

The deputy director of the Missouri Department of Conservation said these proposed regulations are meant to stop the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal and contagious deer disease. He said the proposals will be discussed in a Conservation Commission meeting in October.

Tim Ripperger said, "The proposals include a requirement for double fencing on pay-to-hunt deer preserves, so that wild deer and captive deer can't make bodily contact and perhaps spread Chronic Wasting Disease."

He said another proposal would increase testing for the disease on captive deer farms.

The Missouri Deer Association website said captive deer are already tested at a much higher rate than wild deer. Ripperger said the Missouri Department of Conservation has tested more than 40,000 wild deer in the last few years.

A statement on the Missouri Deer Association website described the Missouri Department of Conservation as comprised of "very well-funded unelected bureaucrats with very little oversight".

Trophy Country owner Curt Rodgers said he thinks the Department of Conservation has handled Missouri's deer well - for the most part. 

"I don't like how nowadays you can just call in deer kills on the telephone. The conservation department used to make you check them in in person. Now they have less involvement in terms of costs, responsibility of their agents, and consequently, they're not on top of it as much as they once were," said Rodgers.

In his veto, Nixon stated that, according to Missouri's constitution, care of wildlife must be left to the Missouri Department of Conservation, not the Department of Agriculture.

Ripperger said, in a committee hearing, both the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri Department of Agriculture testified that control of Missouri's deer should remain in the hands of the Department of Conservation.

Nixon's veto of the bill missed being overridden by only one vote.