New York considers banning some deer lures, but the controversial attractants remain legal in Pennsylvania
In mid-August Shane Grassly of Wexford hung tree stands on his family’s woodland property in Allegheny County. Not a whiff of deer attractant was released anywhere near his stands.
Not until yesterday morning, when Grassly said he planned to drag a handkerchiefsprayed with doe-in-estrus urine all the way to the tree he’d be sitting in during the opening of Pennsylvania’s earliest antlered and antlerless archeryseason .
“You don’t want [the bucks] to get used to it or it won’t work,” he said, while comparing deer attractants at a big-box hunting and fishing store. “I don’t think the brand matters as muchas the way you use it. Spray too much of it all over the place and it’s unnatural. I think it probably works — I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t — and I think the deer-scent industry is too big for them to let diseases get into it.”
But in recent years hunters, scent manufactures, scientists and wildlife managers have been at odds in a growing debate over the risks and even effectiveness of urine-based deer lures. A number of wildlife managers have said the threat to wild deer presented by chronic wasting disease, which can be carried in urine, is so great and so possible that urinebased attractants have been banned in a growing number of states and Canadianprovinces.
Chronic wasting disease, similar to bovine mad cow disease, is a disorder caused by altered proteins called prions that are found in the nervous system tissue and lymph nodes of infected mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk and moose. The animals can produce the infectious proteins for a year before showing symptoms. The prions are transferred animal-to-animal through the exchange of saliva, feces and urine, and via contaminated food or water. The disease cannot be detected in live deer and is always fatal.
Much about the prions remains unknown, but it is believed they can remain viable in soil for years, perhaps decades, contaminating the vegetation that deer eat. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported there is no research showing that humans can contract CWD through contact or venison consumption. The Centers recommend, however, that high-risk deer parts should be avoided and surgical-style gloves should be worn when touching any dead animal.
During the rut, does signal to the bucks that they’re in estrus by releasing pheromones through glands and urine. Commercial deer farms usually collect doe urine through grated floors. The raw product is a congregate from many deer. It is bottled by deer lure companies and sold under many product names — some farms sell urine directly to customers through the internet.
Reputable deer farm owners and scent bottlers recognize that the threat chronic wasting disease poses to wild deer populations also threatens their industry. Guidelines for collection facilities have been established to minimize the potential for contamination.
The problem is there’s no way to be sure, and a miscalculation could end deer hunting in a state that getsit wrong.
Krysten Schuler, a Cornell University biologist who has researched chronic wasting disease since 2002, told the Associated Press there is no commercially available test to ensure urine products are free of disease prions.
“Until this product is proven safe, I don't think hunters should risk contaminating their favorite hunting spot,” she said. “We can't put the genie back in the bottle once it gets out there.”
Alaska, Arizona, Vermont, Virginia, Ontario and Nova Scotia have banned the use of deer urine and some other deer secretions. In New York, where CWD was first confirmed in 2005, a vote on the disposition of deer urine products is expected in the coming months. The most controversial of the proposed rule changes is a total ban on scent lures using natural deer urine.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has long debated a deer urine ban. Last year it expanded CWD protocols including its ban on use or possession of urine-based deer attractants within the state's three Disease Management Zones. Deer urine remains legal for use outside the DMZs.
Many are convinced that banning a hunting product used by millions of archers can’t be the right approach. Nicholas Haley, a veterinary researcher at Midwestern University in Illinois, told reporters CWD transmission through urine is possible though improbable. Prions are less likely to be spread through urine, he said, than from deer meat brought in by hunters from infected areas.
One argument against the use of commercial urine-based attractants, said Pennsylvania Game Commission deer biologist Jeannine Fleegle, is that contrary to the habits of many hunters, studies on deer olfactory communication have cast doubt on whetherthe products work.
“When comparing rutting buck urine, human urine, estrous doe urine and ‘ new car' scent, there was no difference in visitation [of mock scrapes],” she said, in a 2016 interview. “The conclusion was that deer were visiting out of curiosity and not out of sexual attraction.”
Grassly, deciding which deer attractant to buy, said he hasn’t considered switching to a masking scent.
“Raccoon urine or the smell of apples to cover my scent?” he said. “It’s hard enough to get a deer to come within 30 yards. Until they ban it or prove that it’s dangerous, I’m sticking to doe-in-estrus.”