Most hunters know about the diseases and physical maladies that can adversely affect deer herds in their particular state or region, including chronic wasting disease (CWD) and the cyclic, insect-borne epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). In addition, there are numerous parasites and other factors that can cause harvested venison to be inedible or otherwise unusable.
But a special restricted deer hunt that takes place each year might produce whitetails with traits not only unique to that area, but also requiring testing methods unlike any deer hunt you’ve ever experienced—unless you hunt in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. After all, when was the last time you had your freshly harvested deer checked with a Geiger counter for radioactivity?
Kinda’ give a whole new meaning to “deer ticks,” doesn’t it?
In recent years, three, 2-day deer hunts have been scheduled on the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge reservation in October, November and December. However, for the past 2 years, the October hunt has been cancelled; in 2012 as a result of a security breach and last year because of the federal government shutdown (remember that?).
As a result, the 2014 hunt held in October was the first time in 3 years the reservation hunt has coincided with the rut, resulting in a record single hunt harvest for participating hunters—with 238 deer taken, compared to a total of 188 in the 2014 November and December hunts combined.
Of this year’s total checked by wildlife officials, two were retained because of radioactive contamination—meaning they were “too hot” to leave the reservation.
Oak Ridge, aka The Atomic City, is headquarters of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and historic sight of the Y-12, known as one of the “hottest” spots on earth. Built in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, the facility’s electromagnetic uranium enrichment plant separated U-235 from U-238 and produced the material for the world’s first atomic bomb.
In the 1940s and 50s, laboratory workers often simply buried some of the waste byproducts produced by the facility, which resulted in the radioactive runoff.
That practice ended decades ago.
Each deer harvested is tested by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and wildlife authorities for strontium-90 in the bones and for cesium-137 concentration in muscle tissue. Since the deer hunts began in 1985 to thin the problematic herd, more than 10,000 deer have been harvested by hunters, and about 200—just under 2 percent—have been retained because of high radiation.