New York con­sid­ers ban­ning some deer lures, but the con­tro­ver­sial at­trac­tants re­main le­gal in Penn­syl­va­nia

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Outdoors - By John Hayes

Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette

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.”

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