“Bad news, bad news, and more bad news.”

Those are the words of the Deer Project Coordinator for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), Matt Knox, describing the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) situation in Virginia.

That’s perhaps the one blemish on the outlook for the coming deer season. To combat CWD, DWR has enacted new antlerless only firearms deer seasons for September and from early January through late March on private lands in nearby counties. The first season will open Sept. 4 and close Oct. 1 — just before bow season. The second special season to combat CWD will follow late muzzleloader and bow seasons, starting Jan. 2 and extending through March 27.

These extra hunting seasons will be on private lands only in Clarke, Frederick, Warren, and Shenandoah counties.

Opinions will vary on how sportsmen feel about these new CWD deer seasons. Some people may feel it is too dramatic a step to curtail chronic wasting disease in the state. After all, they will say, there have been just slightly over 100 CWD deer detected in the last 12 years. They will point out that one consequence will be that many bucks who drop their antlers in January, February, and March will be shot as antlerless deer. Others will think it is a good move to reduce the local deer herds substantially to try to combat CWD and welcome the extra hunting opportunities.

Matt Knox says CWD was first detected in the state in fall of 2009 near Gore in Frederick County. It is a fatal disease for deer, but there is no evidence to this point that it can be transmitted to humans.

The outbreak consisted of just a few deer at first but has slowly spread south and east. It has become fairly prevalent in Frederick County, where 87 deer have died of CWD in the last decade. But only a few cases have appeared in Warren and Clarke. Recently, a few other counties have seen CWD deer, including Fauquier, Loudoun, Rappahannock, Culpeper, Madison, and most recently Montgomery. The number of confirmed CWD cases are two in Clarke, two in Fauquier, one in all the others except Shenandoah with 12, and Frederick, with 87. Most of the deer in Shenandoah County that had the disease are in the northern part of the county near the border with Frederick County.

To further combat the problem, mandatory CWD testing is being required in area counties on opening day of the regular gun season, Nov. 13 this year.

The new early and late seasons will be welcomed by some, but others will be unhappy that deer can now be hunted seven months out of the year in Shenandoah and other nearby counties on private land, where most local deer hunting occurs.

CWD is found now in most states and Canadian provinces and sportsmen and game managers are learning to live with it. Some states have hundreds of cases every year, so Virginia’s situation is not bad compared to other locales. A variety of approaches have been tried, from slightly expanding doe hunting to dramatic steps like Virginia is now taking to try to substantially reduce the deer herd in our area so that there will be fewer whitetails around that may catch or spread the disease.

Other than that CWD news, the deer outlook is excellent for the coming seven-month long whitetail hunting season.

Last year some 209,356 deer were taken by Virginia hunters. That total included 101,509 antlered bucks. Shenandoah and other local counties have thriving whitetail herds on private lands, according to Knox.

Besides the special early and late firearms CWD hunts, the other main change in regulations for fall of 2021 is that the DWR has transitioned completely to electronic reporting and will no longer distribute paper check books. All deer harvested must be reported now by telephone or on the internet.

In another regulation change, muzzleloaders also have a new minimum caliber requirement, reduced from .45 to .40 caliber. And starting with this year’s black powder season, only the projectile must be loaded from the muzzle of the rifle, not the powder charge.

So instead of waiting for the bow opener, hunters can now oil up their .30/06 and hit the woods on Sept. 4, just a few weeks away, for the first new CWD antlerless deer season.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident