Hunters, government, industry at odds over deer urine

  • Sep. 3, 2017 12:30 p.m.

Deer hunters who like to lure their quarry with a dab of eau de doe-in-rut will have to find another way to attract a trophy buck in New York if state wildlife biologists have their way.

Proposed regulations would add New York to a growing list of states and Canadian provinces banning deer urine lures in an effort to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease, a deadly brain infection that’s working its way through North American deer, elk and moose populations.

The disease is similar to so-called mad cow disease, which affects cattle. Both diseases are caused by infectious proteins called prions, which are believed to be shed in saliva, feces and urine and can contaminate forage plants and build up in soil.

“Not only does this horrible disease kill animals slowly, but wild white-tailed deer hunting represents a $1.5 billion industry in the state,” Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said in releasing a draft plan to control it last month.

Since the disease was first recognized in captive mule deer in Colorado about 50 years ago, it has slowly spread to 24 states and two Canadian provinces. States have spent millions of dollars trying to halt it; Wisconsin even hired sharpshooters to kill deer in an infected area.

Wasting disease was discovered in a handful of wild and captive white-tailed deer in central New York in 2005, prompting the state to enact measures to halt it. They include a feeding ban to avoid concentrating deer in one area, a prohibition on hunters bringing deer carcasses from infected states into New York, and a ban on deer farms importing livestock. It’s the only state to have eliminated the disease after it was found in wild populations, Seggos said.

Now the state is taking public comments through Sept. 15 on additional rules, the most controversial being the ban on scent lures using natural deer urine.

That ban doesn’t sit well with deer farmers who collect and sell urine, manufacturers who market it under names like “Code Blue” and “Buck Bomb,” and hunters who dribble the foul-smelling fluid on foliage or cotton balls hung near their tree stands.

“When you’re bowhunting, you have to draw the deer in close,” said Dave Vanderzee, president of the New York Deer Farmers Association and operator of a private hunting preserve. “Attractant is the only way to do it in New York because you’re not allowed to have a bait pile.”

Ed Gorch, an upstate New York hunter who has been bowhunting for 45 years, said he uses deer urine and other scents, even skunk, to distract deer from his own smell. “As for switching to synthetic scents, I don’t think it would make much difference,” Gorch said. “I think most sportsmen would go along with that once they realize the danger of chronic wasting disease.”

Of about 275 deer farms in New York, 10 per cent to 15 per cent collect urine in barns with grated floors that allow urine to drain into a collection vat, Vanderzee said. A state ban on urine scents would devastate the captive deer industry, which has already suffered under a host of ever-stricter state regulations, he said.

Dr. Nicholas Haley, a veterinary researcher at Midwestern University, said the captive deer producing urine used by hunters are some of the healthiest animals in the country. Disease transmission, he said, is less likely from urine than from deer meat brought in by hunters from infected areas.

New York allows hunters to bring in venison and hides from infected states but not deer bones and brains, which are considered more likely to carry disease prions.

“We’re all for the health of the herd, which is why we partnered with the Archery Trade Association in developing stringent guidelines for collection facilities to minimize the potential for contamination,” said Chip Hunnicutt, spokesman for the scent-maker Tink’s.

Tink’s also makes synthetic scent lures that are allowed in states with urine bans. Alaska, Arizona, Vermont, Virginia, Ontario and Nova Scotia have banned the use of natural deer urine and other aromatic deer secretions.

Jeremy Hurst, a New York state biologist, said “research clearly suggests there is some risk” of transmitting wasting disease through deer urine scents. In recent years, he said, the disease has been detected in captive herds previously thought to be free of it.

Krysten Schuler, a Cornell University biologist who has been researching chronic wasting disease since 2002 and helped develop New York’s response plan, said there’s 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 favourite hunting spot,” Schuler said. “We can’t put the genie back in the bottle once it gets out there.”

Just Posted

Joshua Frank takes stand in murder trial

Joshua Frank testifies he had no idea Klaus family would be murdered

Doctor first in Red Deer to offer Mohs surgical suite for skin cancer

A local doctor says a skin cancer surgery newly offered locally will… Continue reading

Lacombe family in TV cooking contest needs Central Albertan votes

The Gustafsons are in the running to win a trip to Italy

Methamphetamine, THC found in half-million dollar seizure and Bowden Institution

Nearly half a million dollars worth of drugs and other contraband was… Continue reading

Community support needed to bring Canadian Finals Rodeo to Red Deer

Bid from Westerner Park and Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce

WATCH: National women’s hockey team in Red Deer

Before heading to next year’s Olympics in South Korea, the women’s national… Continue reading

New columnist joining Advocate team

Market Gypsy starts on November 30

Volunteer with victim services in Red Deer

Learn more at info session on Nov. 27

Updated: Missing Sylvan Lake women found

Women were reported missing earlier this week

Liberals propose billions for affordable housing, including individual benefits

A Liberal government fond of promising help for those working hard to… Continue reading

Alberta Party sees growth in Central Alberta

Greg Clark addressed health care needs addressed in Red Deer

Ponoka council freezes Ponoka Fire Department spending

All discretionary spending frozen until full budget numbers are presented

WATCH: Ponoka’s Festival of Trees sees continued support

Three days of celebration and fundraising held at the Calnash Ag Event Centre

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month