Hunting and Fishing News & Blog Articles
Sarcocystosis, Elk & You
GUEST AUTHOR: Scott Salmon
“Sarcocystosis is a disease caused by a parasite called Sarcocystis. There are numerous species of Sarcocystis. This disease usually affects animals but also can also cause disease in humans.” https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/sarcocystosis/faqs.html
2021 was the year I had planned to use my Wyoming elk points. I had 6 points and planned to put in as partners with my hunting buddy Brian. With a 3 point average we were pretty confident we would draw. Once results came out we saw we were given a general elk tag in Wyoming. Now with tags in our pockets we began to look at units to hunt. We looked at seasons, hunt success, and dates. Once we compiled the data we determined we would do a rifle hunt in October in a unit that had a success in the 30% range. Brian and I began looking at maps, contacting biologists, and researching anyway we could.
As time became close, our excitement grew. We planned on driving into the unit three days before the season opened and scout the areas we had picked out on our maps. With bags packed and gear ready we met up for the 17 hour drive and headed out. We split the drive into two days and hoped to get there early afternoon on day two to set up camp. The next morning we drove to a trailhead and hiked in to scout. Once into the drainage a few miles we started seeing elk and by afternoon we knew this was definitely a good area to be on the opener. That morning we had seen multiple bulls and heard other bulls bulging in the timber.
Day one brought us with excitement and eagerness to get into the drainage we had seen the bulls. We left the trailhead in the light of our headlamps and a few hours before daylight. As daylight hit the hillsides we saw a herd a mile away getting pushed by a herd bull up into a saddle. Brian and I quickly made our way over to the herd to cut them off before they made it into the timber for the day. Using the wind and terrain to our advantage. Brian was able to sneak into 100 yards of the herd bull and place a nice shot on him. After watching the bull go about 70 yards and expire, we quickly grew huge smiles on our faces and gave each other a quick hug and fist bump. With it being 7:45 in the morning we knew we had plenty of time to get the bull quartered, deboned, and ready for the four mile pack out. Each of us knew our part and quickly got to work on the bull.
As we started to debone the bull, Brian’s face portrayed a disgusted look. I looked at him and asked what was wrong? As I approached him I looked down at his knife tip and noticed little white worm looking objects all over in the bull’s meat. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. In disgust we started looking at all the meat cuts and noticed it was everywhere, running along the muscle fibers. We had no idea what they were but knew we were going to pack all the meat out and start asking questions and doing research.
After getting all the meat out I sent numerous messages and made phone calls to the local biologists and game warden. Brian and I soon found out his bull was full of Sarcocystis (parasite). Not very excited about this and still with lots of questions to be answered, we went back into another drainage to see if we could find a bull for me. That morning we located another herd and I was able to harvest a nice 5×5. We figured we would have one bull with good meat at least giving us some good quality organic meat for our families. As we started breaking down my bull we saw my meat was even worse than Brian’s and were quickly upset and knew we needed to get to the bottom of the parasite and determine if we could even see if we could feed it to our families.
After getting my bull out we spent the next day making phone calls and making a trip to talk to the biologist. Wyoming’s biologist informed us the parasite was like rice breast in ducks and isn’t recommended to be eaten per the info on WGFD website. The biologist told us to pack it all out and take it home. Once we did this, if we didn’t want to eat the meat, we could dispose of it there. I found this disturbing and quickly sought out the local game warden in hopes of a better answer. After a few phone calls the warden contacted us, sent us the info he had on parasites, and gave us the disease specialist in the area’s phone number. We asked the warden if we could get our tags back or points back in hopes of bringing good, clean, organic meat back to our families. The warden told us Wyoming doesn’t do this. Very irritated, Brian and I headed home with a tough decision on whether we were going to feed parasite ridden meat to our families. It turns out the meat can be eaten but the presence of the Sarcocystis requires it to be cooked to 158 degrees.
After 17 hours, many phone calls, and researching the parasite we both decided to discard the elk meat. We knew there was a chance it could affect our families, especially with how prevalent the parasite was in our meat. I know I don’t like my elk cooked well done, other than in burger form.
This decision weighed heavy on our minds and still does today. We do not like waste and enjoy the meat from our hunts. It’s definitely why we hunt. We want to provide for our families. Brian and I both want to educate the hunting community and make them aware of this parasite. We also hope that Wyoming might consider giving tags or points back to other hunters who suffer the same fate.
Editor’s Note: This story was submitted to Eastmans’ Hunting Journals in the hopes it would educate other hunters.