For the moment, hunters in northeast Missouri weren't thinking about the ominous threat of the future that came in the form of a contagious, deadly disease among deer.
The discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) put the region on the map . for all the wrong reasons. The region once was best known as Missouri's deer-hunting capital; a block of counties where both deer and hunters were abundant.
But ever since CWD — a disease that has no cure and has the potential to decimate a deer population over time — was discovered here in 2010, the region has been better known as the epicenter for the biggest threat Missouri whitetails have faced in years.
You never would have known it Nov. 16, though, when the Missouri deer season opened.
As always, there were no vacancies in motel rooms in Macon, the heart of the region. Deer camps were set up at almost every pulloff in the popular Atlanta Conservation Area. And hunters dressed in blaze orange safety clothing brightened small towns in the region.
Yes, hunters were aware of CWD and the threat it poses in the area. But for the time being, all was well in deer country.
"What we're trying to get across is that CWD isn't the end of the world right now," said Jason Sumners, deer biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. "But it's something we're very concerned about over the long term."
CWD was first discovered in northeast Linn County near the Macon County line in 2010 in a captive-deer operation. Since then, the disease has been found in 21 deer — 11 in captive operations and 10 in free-ranging deer — all in the same area.
That might not sound like much. But is has been enough to get wildlife officials with the Department of Conservation to think about worst-case scenarios. The disease has been discovered in 20 other states and has caused widespread losses in parts of some such as east-central Wyoming, Sumners said.
The quandary for Missouri wildlife biologists? "How do you raise awareness without causing panic?" Sumners said. "We've learned from other states that CWD starts slowly, but just gradually grows. If you don't get on top of it, you could have a real problem."
There was no panic on opening day. Hunters showed up in force in counties such as Macon, Adair and Linn, and they found deer. Lots of deer.
Consider a wooded tract of land just 15 miles northeast of the core area where most of the infected deer have been found.
When Matt and Katie Brucks of Columbia climbed into their two-person tree stand, they didn't see much at first. But then the show started.
Page 2 of 2 - About 8:30 a.m., the deer appeared in force. The couple watched as eight adult bucks, one spike buck and two does showed up in front of them.
When Matt spotted an eight-point buck chasing a doe, he pulled the trigger and found success.
"This has always been a great area for deer," Matt said. "We've taken some nice bucks off this land."You worry long-term about what could happen with CWD. But right now, it hasn't affected the hunting."
Brucks wasn't the only one who found success. Katie's brother, Chris Hansen of Saratoga, Wyo., heard Matt fire his shot and was coming over to help retrieve the deer. As he did, he flushed a small doe and he was able to shoot it.
A friend, Bill Heatherly, who co-owns the land with Chris and Katie's father, Lonnie Hansen, also experienced a good opener.
He shot a big doe, the type of deer he was targeting.
"I was hunting for the freezer," said Heatherly, a former wildlife biologist who lives in Jefferson City. "I am a meat hunter."
Plenty of other shots were fired at the region's abundant deer. Katie Brucks said she counted 29 shots being fired from 6:50 a.m. to a little after 9 a.m.
The only reminder of the threat of CWD? The numerous sites where hunters could voluntarily bring the deer they shot and have them tested for the disease.
That's where Matt Brucks was headed after he shot his deer.
"That's one way hunters can help out," he said. "We have good deer hunting now, and we want to keep it that way."