A lethal ungulate sickness that is inexorably expanding westward across Wyoming has officially infected a famous population of mule deer that grow to trophy proportions in the Wyoming Range.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department sent word Wednesday afternoon that chronic wasting disease, or CWD, was confirmed early this week in a mule deer buck that was shot by a hunter Sept. 16 in the Willow Creek drainage south of Hoback Junction.
The hunter whose deer turned up positive for the infectious prion disease evidently came in from Greys River Road, because the animal’s lymph nodes were extracted by a Game and Fish staffer at the Alpine hunter check station.
“It is certainly unfortunate, however, it’s not unexpected,” Game and Fish Regional Supervisor Brad Hovinga said.
Although deer hunting unit 152, where the buck was killed, is technically in the Wyoming Range, the herd that uses that portion of the Bridger-Teton National Forest is known as the Sublette Herd.
Chronic wasting disease is not entirely foreign to the area, but it is in the early stages of afflicting deer and elk in the Snake River watershed. A mule deer found dead in 2016 clear on the other side of the Wyoming and Salt ranges near Star Valley Ranch tested positive for CWD. Another infected animal was discovered near Pinedale the following year.
The incurable condition, which can persist outside animal hosts in grasses and soil, officially reached Jackson Hole last fall, turning up in a road-killed mule deer found near Kelly.
A human has never contracted CWD, but eating meat from animals infected with CWD is not advised.
The deer hunting season in the hunt area where the infected animal was found goes through Saturday.