They aren’t out of the woods yet. A total of 640 deer were harvested during the DNR’s chronic wasting disease (CWD) special winter hunt that concluded over the weekend.

According to DNR wildlife health specialist Erik Hildebrand, a total of five deer have tested positive for CWD and a sixth animal is suspect. The final results on the sixth animal will be announced by the end of the week.

With additional animals testing positive for CWD and the fact that only 640 deer were harvested during the special 15-day hunt, more animals will need to be harvested.

Originally, the DNR had set the goal at 900 animals they wanted harvested in the newly-designated Zone 603, which includes most of Fillmore County and small portions of Olmsted and Winona counties. The special hunt fell 260 animals short of that goal. The DNR is hopeful the special landowners hunt, which runs from Jan. 16 through Feb. 12, will help increase that number.

“We’re hoping we can get good cooperation from the landowners,” Hildebrand said Tuesday morning. “We’ve got to reduce the deer density. It’s the only way we’re going to improve this situation.”

The DNR had estimated the deer population in Zone 603 at about 6,000 animals. A recent aerial survey indicated there are approximately 11,000 deer in the zone (23.6 deer per square mile), nearly twice the original estimate. The aerial survey, and the additional animals testing positive during the winter hunt will prompt the DNR to increase the harvest number.

“We haven’t established what the new harvest number should be,” he said. “Once we get all the information in, we will discuss this.”

All but one of the animals that tested positive to CWD was within a three-square-mile area north of Preston. The aerial survey indicated the deer density in a 12-square-mile core area between Preston, Lanesboro and Fountain was 35 animals per square mile.

“With that density, it makes it really tough to fight this disease,” Hildebrand continued. “CWD is transmitted through saliva and urine. This core area is excellent deer habitat. We are going to have to really concentrate on reducing the density in this area.”

Hildebrand pointed out the DNR still has 135 animals whose results are pending. So the number of deer testing positive, harvested during the 15-day hunt in January, may increase. He added four of the deer which tested positive and the suspect animal were all does. They were all found in the core area. A lone buck that tested positive was harvested about three miles north of the Eagle Bluff Learning Center.

Landowners season

The landowner special season will run through Feb. 12. Any firearm that is legal for shooting deer in Minnesota will be allowed during this special season. However, landowners will determine which weapons will be allowed on their own land. The hunt will go each day from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset.

Feeding ban in effect

A ban prohibiting the feeding of wild deer in a five-county area that includes all of Fillmore, Houston, Mower, Olmsted and Winona counties is in effect as part of the DNR’s comprehensive long-term disease management strategy.

According to the DNR, the purpose of the ban is to reduce the potential for the disease to spread from deer-to-deer by reducing the number of deer concentration sites.

CWD can spread from one deer to another following nose-to-nose contact, contact with saliva or other body fluids. By eliminating deer feeding sites, where that easily can occur, the potential for the disease to spread is reduced.

The deer-feeding ban makes it illegal to place or have food capable of attracting wild deer. This includes salt/mineral blocks and deer attractants. People who feed birds or small mammals must do so in a manner that precludes access to deer or place the food at least six feet above ground level.

People who enjoy feeding wildlife and choose to continue feeding must place the feed so deer can’t access it.

Food placed as a result of normal agricultural practices is generally exempted from this rule. But cattle operators should take steps that minimize contact between deer and cattle.