Attitudes and Behavior of Deer Hunting Club Members Following Discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease that affects cervid species including white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).  As of 2021, it occurs in seven southeastern states, and more discoveries in the region are likely to occur. Hunter education regarding CWD is critical to obtain support for disease management actions that rely on hunter participation but potentially are in opposition to typical hunter objectives. In August 2018, we provided educational programming on CWD to 84 members of a deer hunting club in west Tennessee. After CWD was discovered in the immediate area of the club in December 2018, in spring 2019 we surveyed the attitudes and hunting behaviors of club members. When surveyed five months following discovery of CWD, 86% of respondents expressed extreme or moderate concern about CWD. The number of total deer sightings was the most important factor influencing hunter satisfaction for 70% of respondents. Reducing deer density often is used to reduce CWD prevalence rates, but 66% of respondents did not support such reductions. Despite our efforts to educate hunters and, once CWD was detected, to encourage hunters to maintain or increase harvest, doe harvest declined by 78% during the 2019 deer season. Understanding attitudes and harvest behaviors of hunters is essential to managing CWD. Hunting clubs in the southeastern United States may provide important opportunities for outreach and education before and after CWD is discovered in their areas. Our survey indicates hunter concern about CWD is great, and state wildlife agencies likely will need to develop effective educational strategies to maintain or increase doe harvest if the disease is discovered.

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