Deer Carcass Handling

Safe handling of any wildlife carcass is important to avoid exposure to wildlife pathogens (infectious agents that cause disease, including bacteria, viruses parasites, and prions). Over the last 20 years, 73% of new pathogens found in humans also have a wildlife host. Many of these are transmitted to humans directly through contact with wildlife (rather than through an insect, infected water, or other modality). Contact with blood, entrails, or other body fluids is the best possible way to move a pathogen from a deer carcass into your body!

CWD – Safe Handling Recommendations:

The VDGIF advises hunters to follow these simple recommendations:

  • Do not shoot, handle, or consume any animal that is abnormal or appears to be sick.
  • Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing your deer.
  • Bone out meat from your deer.
  • Do not saw through bone and avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord (backbone).
  • Minimize handling of brain, spinal tissues, or fluids.
  • Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
  • Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes of deer. Normal field dressing, coupled with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all, of these body parts.
  • If you have your deer commercially processed, request that your animal be processed individually, without meat from other animals being added.

Other Wildlife Diseases

Although CWD has never been diagnosed in a human, other diseases that can be transmitted to humans during the field-dressing of deer include:

  • Tuberculosis
  • Brucellosis
  • Tularemia
  • Q Fever
  • Salmonella

Tuberculosis and brucellosis have never been diagnosed in Virginia wild white-tailed deer, but tularemia, Salmonella, and Q fever are widespread across all of North America and can lead to serious health problems.

How can you avoid pathogen exposure while handling a deer carcass? Wear gloves! Gloves will not only protect against viruses, bacteria, and parasites, but also against creatures such as ticks, which carry their own host of pathogens. Disposable or rubber gloves (wash them well!) provide a physical barrier between deer and hunter.


Gloves on the hands are a way to avoid potential transmission opportunities. Shoulder or elbow length gloves are best, but for less messy tasks hand gloves will suffice.

If you do begin to feel ill within a few weeks of exposure to dead wildlife, contact your doctor! Remember to tell them that you have been handling a dead animal, even if it looked healthy and even if you were wearing gloves. Early symptoms of many pathogens transmitted by wildlife can resemble other diseases, so you need to let your doctor know what you have been up to!