GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The start of firearm deer season in Michigan is something many hunters look forward to all year, but new research shows that trekking into the woods could bring you closer to COVID-19 than you might expect. 

A study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found COVID-19 antibodies in two-thirds of a white-tailed deer sample tested in Michigan. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service took 113 samples from white-tailed deer between January 2020 and March 2021 and found that 67% of them had COVID-19 antibodies. 

Although it was a small sample, it’s raised some questions about the spread of the virus within animal populations, especially as firearm deer season begins. 

Scientists wrote that it’s unclear how deer are exposed to COVID-19, but possibilities include people, the environment, other deer, or other animals. So, what does that mean for hunters?

A spokesperson with APHIS wrote in a statement that at this point, there isn’t any evidence that animals are playing a significant role in the spread of COVID-19 to people. Based on the information they have, the risk of transmission from animals to people is low. There also isn’t any evidence to show that people can get COVID-19 from preparing or eating meat from an animal with the virus. 

APHIS and its partners, however, plan to start a multi-year study soon to learn more about the impacts of COVID-19 in deer as it relates to human and animal health.

Researchers want to find out how common the virus is in deer, the potential impact of COVID-19 on overall deer and wildlife populations, and if white-tailed deer can act as a reservoir for the virus, potentially leading to new variants.