By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Wildlife officials once again will test deer for chronic wasting disease and will continue to focus on northwest Kansas where the always-fatal, brain-wasting disease has been found in three of the past four years.

Twenty-four deer checkpoints have been established in northwest Kansas by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, which plans to test anywhere from 500 to 1,000 deer in the region.

That region includes Cheyenne, Rawlins, Decatur, Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, Wallace, Logan and Gove counties -- an area that covers the epicenter of CWD in northwest Kansas.

The disease was first discovered in a free-ranging deer in Cheyenne County in 2005. Three additional cases were found in 2007, all of them in Decatur County.

Last year, 10 deer were positive for the disease. One came from Cheyenne County, two from Rawlins, five from Decatur and two from Sheridan.

Twice now, wildlife officials have conducted special sampling efforts, killing deer in Cheyenne and Decatur counties in an attempt to determine the depth of the presence of the disease. In both cases, none of the nearly 100 extra deer that were killed tested positive.

Patrick Inman at Oberlin will be among those testing deer this year, just as he has the last several years, in perhaps what has been the hot spot for CWD discoveries the past two years.

Already, he's taken samples from four or five deer that were killed in road accidents.

"I haven't gotten anything from muzzleloaders or archery," he said.

The list of check stations, however, was just released by KDWP.

"They're kind of slow," Inman said of getting the information out into the public's hands, adding that disease coordinator Shane Hesting said the program was struggling with adequate funding to keep everything up and running.

"I hope they don't completely drop the ball on it," Inman said.

He's not been told to limit the number of deer tested.

"All of them that I get the opportunity," he said of deer to be tested.

Already, he said, he's tested a fawn that was struck by a car, and a "five-by-five young buck."

Inman said the deer were moving, what with the colder weather and the start of the rut.

While there's plenty of deer, there aren't many trophy-size bucks.

"There's a lot of does and fawns," he said. "We had a phenomenal fawn drop."

KDWP deer coordinator Lloyd Fox saw the same thing when he and a couple students were out in Decatur County to survey the deer herd in an attempt to determine what effect CWD might be having.

"That's what he told me too," Inman said of Decatur County having a strong doe and fawn population. "He said they didn't see a lot of mature bucks. And I didn't tell him any different."