Steamboat Springs Lou Wyman sat on his porch Tuesday afternoon as a helicopter swirled overhead and Colorado Division of Wildlife agents took aim at deer on his ranch.
For 37 years, Wyman was in the elk ranching business, and for a majority of those years, chronic wasting disease was never an issue. But now that two deer have tested positive for the disease, agents are in the process of culling some 300 deer from Wyman's ranch and the surrounding area to see how far the disease has spread.
"We never had it," Wyman said while sitting on a chair outside at his ranch in southwestern Routt County. "It was never a problem.
"I'm not sorry we are out of the business. Right now, there are too many people in it and too many regulations."
The two deer that tested positive were on the Motherwell Ranch, a captive elk facility in southwestern Routt County. The deer were fenced in with the commercial elk herd last summer.
The Wyman Ranch, one of the county's oldest, is next door to the Motherwell, one of the newest. Both ranches are at the base of the Beaver Flat Tops.
The Division of Wildlife announced the first case of CWD last Friday and confirmed that a second deer tested positive for the disease Tuesday. How the deer got the disease is under investigation.
Tests for a third deer suspected of having the disease came back negative Tuesday morning.
The two cases mark the first time the disease has been found on the Western Slope. Cases in Colorado were thought to be confined to the northern part of the state on the eastern side of the Continental Divide.
Wildlife agents from Routt, Rio Blanco and Jackson counties have killed at least 120 deer so far. Agents armed with rifles are hunting deer within a five-mile radius of the 6,000-acre Motherwell Ranch. A helicopter is assisting in the hunt.
"The helicopter is helping us find the deer and herd them to areas where we can get to them," said Dan Prenzlow, area wildlife manager for the DOW in Meeker.
On Monday, agents killed 80 deer in a 10-hour period. Forty deer had been killed by noon Tuesday.
Officials are hopeful 300 deer will be killed by the end of the week.
"We need to kill 300 because that number will give us statistical validity whether the disease has spread," Prenzlow said.
Chronic wasting disease attacks the brains of infected deer and elk, causing the animals to starve to death. A mutant protein causes the disease, and there is no vaccine or a cure for it. How the disease is spread is not known.
There is also no way to test a live animal for the disease.
Because of this, officials have no choice but to kill deer to determine if the disease has spread to other deer in the area.
"It is not pleasant at all," said Mike Middleton, a Routt County DOW officer who was hunting deer on an all-terrain vehicle Tuesday.
As of noon Tuesday, Middleton had killed 21 deer. Each time a deer is killed by an agent, the animal's left hind leg is wrapped with duct tape and given a number.
Agents also are responsible for documenting the sex of the animal and the location where the animal was killed. To determine the location, agents are using hand-held global positioning system devices that are the size of a calculator.
Slain deer are taken to a camp officials have set up on the Wyman Ranch where the heads of the animals are removed so they can be tested in Fort Collins.
Eighty deer heads were taken to Fort Collins early Tuesday morning. Officials expect a second load will be transported this morning.
"It is not a pretty sight," Middleton said.
Officials are hopeful test results of each head will be available within 24 hours.
"We are very hopeful we don't come up with anymore positives," Middleton said.
Middleton, who participated in a similar operation last fall, said reaching the 300 number will be tough.
"They are starting to move," Middleton said of the deer. "It is getting harder and harder. They are running harder. It takes some skillful shooting."
Officials have not determined what to do with the carcasses. Options include disposing of the carcasses with a mobile incinerator or dumping them into a Moffat County landfill.
Prior to the operation, 281 entrapped wild deer and 43 entrapped wild elk were killed at the ranch during public hunts in January and February.
Although the disease is not linked to any neurological diseases that affect humans, officials are urging anyone who has meat from the hunts not to eat it until the testing is complete. More than 170 deer harvested at the Motherwell Ranch have tested negative. None of the 103 captive elk at the facility has been tested for CWD by the Department of Agriculture.
Wyman is hopeful deer will not become a rare sight on the ranch, which has been owned by the family since 1918.
"It is a bummer," Wyman said. "We hope it does not spread any further."