It is sometimes helpful to put things into perspective, because we deer hunters do some things that don’t seem all that strange to us but might seem pretty strange to a non-hunter.

For example, we complain about the cost of a hunting license, then go to our sporting goods retailer and have no problem plopping down $9 plus tax for a one-ounce bottle of deer urine. Yes, we pay good money for a waste product that deer naturally deposit all over the woods we hunt by the gallon. And while some folks might think that’s just crazy, others think it might actually be dangerous.

Deer hunters use deer urine and extracts from various deer scent glands to lure in their quarry. The theory is, and it makes sense, one deer might be attracted by the aroma of another, particularly during the fall mating season. The practice has been going on as long as I’ve been alive and probably much longer without any issues.

Whether it’s actually a recent phenomenon, or more likely we’ve just recently become more aware of it, the incidence of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been on the rise. A malady of cervids (deer) very similar to mad cow disease, it was initially identified in western states in the late 1960s, and later in the upper midwest. It now occurs from Saskatchewan and Alberta, south to Texas, and as far east as central New York and south-central Pennsylvania. While we still don’t know how the disease is spread, some suggest a connection with the captive deer industry.

That, in a roundabout way, is partly why several states, including Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Virginia, have enacted bans on the use of urine-based deer scents and lures in recent years. Their motivation is fear that those urine-based scents could result in further spread of CWD. But that fear is derived out of baseless possibility.

Doing a little digging I found an article on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website that quotes state veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen saying, “People were using doe urine as a lure in southeast Alaska, and research has come out showing urine could transmit CWD.” That’s not a false statement but it is misleading. Urine could transmit CWD, or it might not. To date there is not a single shred of empirical evidence demonstrating that CWD could be spread by urine-based scents. We don’t even know how it’s spread in the wild.

But with the list of states banning the use of urine-based lures on the rise, there was clearly a need for research. I found one study, conducted by Nicholas J. Haley of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona, and his colleagues. In summary the researchers took urine from clinically sick, CWD-positive deer, concentrated it 10 times, then injected it directly into the brains of mice that were genetically altered to be susceptible to CWD. One of the nine mice became infected.

Chip Hunnicutt is director of marketing for Arcus Hunting, a company that sells, among other things, Tink’s deer lures. Hunnicutt points out, “People overlook the fact researchers had to do some unnatural things and still were barely seeing any results.” He then elaborated on the the results of that study. “Scientists ranked the infectivity of different components of a deer with brain tissue having the highest infectivity. In fact, scientists said it would take over 33,000 gallons of urine to have the same infectivity as one gram of brain tissue. Second-highest was carcass, followed by lymphoid tissue, then de-boned meat and digestive tissue – which have up to 100,000 times the number of CWD prions as urine – followed by blood, saliva and feces. At the bottom of the list was urine.” In fact, Haley, who conducted the research, has advocated against banning the use urine-based products because the risk is so low.

In the Alaska article, Beckman further stated, “Most urine is produced on game farms, some in states where they have CWD, and there are no regulations or standards in place to ensure that scents are disease free.” Well, that’s partly true. Most urine is produced on farms and some of those farms are in states where CWD has been documented. But according to Hunicutt, 95 percent of commercial deer urine comes from one of the 11 facilities. Every one of those 11 facilities is involved in a voluntary part deer protection program overseen by the Archery Trade Association that has rigorous inspection protocols far stricter than those required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the end we’re left to make choices. The threat of CWD is very real. It continues to spread, though we still don’t know how, or ultimately what impact that could have on wild deer populations. Some say it could be devastating. Fortunately that has not been the case yet. We could take the cautious approach and ban urine-based scents based solely on the possibility that something could happen, though there’s no real evidence to support that notion. Or we could let hunters continue to spend their $9 an ounce and hope nothing bad does happen. I guess the right course of action is a matter of perspective.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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