Thursday, Jan. 4, is the first day of two long weekends for firearm deer hunting in portions of Ionia and Montcalm counties. It's the first time the Department of Natural Resources has held January hunts -- and it's all to look for chronic wasting disease.

The disease showed up in Montcalm County this fall, about 30 deer were found to be infected. This after a case in Lansing in 2015.

It's been a problem in states like Colorado for decades. Chronic wasting disease is a deadly brain illness that affects deer, elk and moose.

The DNR needs to test deer from northern Ionia County and eastern Montcalm County where CWD has not been detected yet, but they fear it may have spread.

"It's a slow spreading disease but even with that, it doesn't go away," explained DNR Field Operations Manager John Niewoonder. "We had hoped to prevent it but we know that it is here at a relatively low level.

"We want to find out exactly where it is, and how many deer have it and then we can try to do some management to stop the spread of the disease and reduce the movement into other areas of the state."

Thursday through Sunday is the first long weekend. Jan. 11 through 14 is the second.

Baiting is not allowed either weekend.

Participating hunters are required to turn in heads of harvested deer within 72 hours for testing. Filling out the tag completely at drop off locations and check stations is very important to tracking the disease.

According to, there is no existing evidence that CWD poses a risk for humans -- but, hunters are encouraged not to consume meat from animals known to be infected.

For more information about exactly where this extended firearm deer season is taking place, and for DNR deer check station and drop off locations, click here.

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