How to Extract a Deer or Elk Lymph Node

Follow these Steps for Proper Extraction

CWD Sampling Kit contains a specimen bag, data card, and two sample bags. If a sampling kit is not available two resealable plastic freezer bags and a piece of paper or 3x5 card may be used. Please contact to request sample bags.
  1. Fill out data card.
    • Record hunter’s first and last name, GOID, document # from the deer or elk tag (D- 0000000000-0), date, and location of the harvest (hunt zone at a minimum, GPS coordinates preferred).
    • Record the name of the person extracting the lymph node.
    • Place the data card in the outer pocket of the specimen bag or attached to the ear if submitting the head.
    • If you do not have a sampling kit, a piece of paper or 3x5 card can be used to record the above information.
    • We will not test samples that cannot be traced back to a specific location or a hunter. 
  2. Collect both Retropharyngeal Lymph Nodes (RPLN) – For a trained individual this process can take less than a minute. If you wish to preserve the hide, cape out or skin the animal first.
    • Lymph nodes are located at the base of the skull between the windpipe and the spine. With the deer laid on it's back, head and neck extended, make a cut just behind the jaw through the trachea and esophagus.
    • The paired RPLNs should be located at the 5 and 7 o’clock position relative to the windpipe and are firm, oval to kidney shaped, tan to red tissues between the size of a dime and a quarter.
    • Place each harvested RPLNs in separate sample bags provided.
    • Place the two sample bags in the resealable compartment of the larger specimen bag.  
    • Samples can be frozen until submission to CDFW.
    • If without a sample kit, place both in a single resealable plastic freezer bag. Seal that bag and place it within a second resealable plastic freezer bag along with the paper or 3x5 card containing the requested information.
    • Videos of how to sample for RPLNs can be found online, below are links to the Wyoming Game and Fish and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife videos
  3. Head collection for later sampling
    • If you are unable to collect the lymph nodes, CDFW asks that you remove the head along with the topmost portion of the neck and attach a data card to the head with tape or zip tie. The head can then be frozen until it can be collected by CDFW.
  4. Sample Submission
    • Please reach out to your local CDFW contact to arrange pick up of samples.
    • RPLN samples can also be shipped directly to CDFW. If you reach out to one of the contacts below, they can arrange for a freezer shipping box and label to be sent to your location.
    • For additional information please contact us at or (916) 358-2930.

Ship Samples to this address:

CWD Surveillance Program
Wildlife Health Lab
CA Department of Fish and Wildlife
1701 Nimbus Rd. Suite D
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
(916) 358-2790

Wildlife Health Lab
1701 Nimbus Road Suite D, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
(916) 358-2790 |