Lymph node testing easier to test deer for CWD

Ross Bielema

Chronic wasting disease is a threat to deer herds in Wisconsin and many other states, but also a threat to our entire deer hunting culture.

I have to admit that I haven’t taken the disease too seriously as a hunter, in part because I felt there wasn’t much I can do about it, but I can.

I can help researchers stay on top of its spread, first primarily in captive deer and now in wild ones. Shawano County recently discovered two more cases of CWD in wild deer this season, with two previous wild deer cases in 2020.

Although I live and hunt in Waupaca County, where CWD has existed for many years, I’ve never had any of my deer tested, mainly because I would have to travel many miles to a CWD testing station or kiosk to leave my deer’s head. It simply wasn’t convenient, and although that may sound selfish, after days of gun hunting and a long day in the field, I was ready for some hot food and a warm bed, not a long drive with a deer head in my van.

Many other hunters probably feel the same way, but we just lost another excuse to avoid testing and potentially useful research data.

More and more meat processors and taxidermists are learning how to collect deer lymph nodes that researchers can use to determine the presence of CWD, an always-fatal disease that manifests in a deer’s brain, bones and spinal cord. This process allows the hunter with a trophy buck to have his deer tested and still retain the rack and neck for a shoulder mount.

At the same time, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is adding self-service kiosks (often at the same sites with lymph node collection) so hunters can remove their own deer heads for testing and leave them in a freezer.

Such is the case for Northwoods Sausage in New London, one of the area deer processors that I often take my deer to (when I finally manage to bag one, anyway). Northwoods has a variety of delicious sausage, deer stick, bratwurst and jerky options, and it’s a small family operation that seems to go the extra mile with both meticulous meat handling and customer service. Kay Trewin, co-owner of the business with husband Mike Trewin, told me just before the gun deer opener that they could now collect lymph nodes after DNR staff came and showed Mike how to do it.

Jacob Fries, a DNR wildlife biologist at Hartman Creek State Park in Waupaca, helped set up the self-serve kiosk at Northwoods as part of his CWD kiosk “route” in Waupaca and Waushara counties. Also included are places for hunters to dispose of deer carcasses.

The prions found in CWD-positive deer (prions are abnormally folded proteins that concentrate in bones and brain, but are shed through bodily fluids) can contaminate the soil for years and spread the disease to other deer, so leaving carcasses in the woods is another way to spread CWD. This is another reason why I prefer to take my deer to a processor. This is one of the better explanations I have found about prions and their spread:

Fries and his counterpart in Shawano County, DNR wildlife biologist Jaqi Christopher, will be kept busy checking their respective kiosks roughly every other day during the nine-day gun season that ends Nov. 26. The bonus for deer hunters who submit their deer heads is that they will also find out the age of their deer through tooth examination.

Hunters fill out a form and are given a six-digit number to track their deer through the process, Christopher said. When testing is complete, typically in 10 to 14 days, hunters receive an email and can also see results in their Go Wild account.

Shawano County lymph nodes and heads are collected at the Navarino field office before they are shipped to the Wisconsin Veterinary Lab in Poynette for testing. Fries and Christopher also will go to hunters for testing upon request. Christopher can be reached at 715-853-2952, while Fries can be reached at 920-420-0384.

Christopher noted that the lymph nodes are located where the neck meets the jaw line, and require cuts to the spine. The nodes can be collected from caped heads by going under the skin, so that trophy is in no danger of damage, she explained.

Shawano County kiosks include the Navarino (Shiocton) and Shawano DNR field offices, Pingel Processing in Shawano, Kropf’s Meat Processing in Bowler, the Marion Plaza Shell station, village of Tigerton, Breaker Taxidermy in Tigerton and Jim’s Venison Processing in Wittenberg.

For all CWD kiosks and deer carcass disposal locations, visit

Why not contribute to CWD research by donating your deer heads or lymph nodes this convenient way? Your kids and grandkids may one day thank you for helping to preserve our deer hunting legacy.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Readers can contact him at