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Checking in on CWD check-ins

Emily Miller 13 Plainfield shot her first deer Friday checked it Gebhard Woods State Park. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

Emily Miller, 13, of Plainfield shot her first deer Friday and checked it in at Gebhard Woods State Park. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 19, 2012 1:33PM

MORRIS, Ill. — Emily Miller bounced around the side of her father’s pickup.

The 13-year-old from Plainfield shot her first deer Friday morning in Grundy County.

‘‘We had an awesome time,’’ she said, watching intently as Illinois Department of Natural Resources staffers checked in her deer at Gebhard Woods State Park.

John, her father, had field-dressed the eight-pointer while she watched.

Friday morning, I decided to observe a check-in on opening day of Illinois’ first firearm season.

Years ago, most counties had check-in stations, generally staffed by college students. Since the switch to automated reporting, check stations have disappeared, except for counties where chronic wasting disease has been found.

In those counties, IDNR staff check in the deer and take samples.

Gebhard Woods is the check-in for Grundy County but also takes deer from other counties, such as LaSalle.

Wildlife biologist Bob Massey had a solid crew with fellow wildlife biologist Joe Rogus, heritage biologist Dan Kirk, forester Tom Gargrave and Lorel Rutherford, a recent Aurora University grad working at Des Plaines Game Propagation Center.

They knew each other well enough to rib about ‘‘A team’’ and ‘‘B team’’ for the two teams checking in deer.

Rogus walked me through the general process. One person does the paperwork — check in the deer with a tag, ask if any bobcats or turkeys had been seen, find out where the deer was shot, get personal contact info (in case a deer tests positive for CWD) — then gives the hunter a harvest pin.

‘‘There is lots of cross-referencing. Otherwise, you are in trouble,’’ Rogus said.

Another person, the cutter or sampler (Massey and Kirk on Friday morning), asks permission to take samples for CWD testing. Those doing a full mount do not want to participate; nor are same-year deer (fawns) tested.

If the hunter agrees, the sampler slits the neck, removes the lymph nodes and obex (brain stem) and puts them in a bottle of Formalin (sent to the Illinois Department of Agriculture lab in Galesburg), cuts off the end of the tongue (sent to the University of Illinois, where Nohra Mateus-Pinillais is studying the DNA/family connections of CWD) and finally pries open the jaws to age the deer by checking the teeth.

‘‘We are getting a ton of information with this,’’ Massey said.

To do this, in plastic carriers, Kirk and Massey each had sample bottles of Formalin, a knife, pliers, tweezers, a metal jaw spreader, a scalpel and a grapefruit knife, which Massey called a ‘‘high-tech obex remover.’’

Wear of choice was high rubber boots and Carhartt coveralls.

Larry Houberg of Reddick brought in the first deer at 8:22 a.m. At the end, he asked the universal question for CWD counties: ‘‘If she had whatever it is, can we still eat it?’’

So far there has not been any crossover from deer to humans documented. But it is highly suggested not to eat the organ meat if a deer tests positive for CWD.

Impressive bucks included a nine-pointer with a 24-inch spread, shot by Brian Pohlis of Westmont, and a 17-point non-typical, shot by Mike ‘‘Seth’’ Watchinski of Morris.

The deer of the morning was a nine-pointer with a rack base diameter near 6 inches and weighing more than 200 pounds, field-dressed.

‘‘I had him at 40 yards, but then a doe spooked him,’’ said Dave Fannin of Morris, who had seen him the two previous Sundays.

It was a busy morning on a perfect day for hunting. The early lunch rush came and went.

It was time.

I had to my own tag to try to fill.

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