Ban on Urine-based Scent in Deer Hunting Causes a Stink

By Bill Cochran, Special to The Roanoke Times

A mother deer and her three fawns walk along a hill on a farm in Salem.
Last season, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries asked deer hunters to voluntarily refrain from using urine-based scents to attract deer or to mask their own scent.
 
This year, the agency has cranked that up a notch, telling hunters that beginning July 1 it will be unlawful to use such scents, which are readily available at hunting supply stores, online and through catalogs.
 
In fact, a new regulation, passed earlier this month, makes it illegal even to carry the stuff when hunting.
 
That has some hunters steamed.
 
During a recent public-input period, the ban was opposed slightly more than 2-to-1, but the number of participants in the survey was small. Complaints likely will increase this fall when hunters discover that stores will gladly sell them scents only to find out that urine-base products are illegal to use.
 
DGIF officials said the intent of the new regulation is to keep the highly contagious and deadly chronic wasting disease from spreading in Virginia's deer herd. Thus far, the agency has spent over $1 million on CWD monitoring and management efforts.

Since 2009, there have been seven documented cases of CWD in Virginia, all confined to private land in Frederick County along the West Virginia border.

Virginia's effort to help corral the disease by banning the use of urine-based scents is cutting edge. Only a couple of other states and two Canadian provinces have taken this stand.
 
DGIF biologists have said that the agent known to transmit CWD has been found in the urine, feces and saliva of infected animals. Officials are concerned that urine collected from captive deer and elk in other states is a threat to spread CWD when hunters disperse it in the woods of Virginia where deer can lick it up.
 
Some hunters swear by the scent. No telling how much of the product is dumped onto whitetail habitat, some of it from risky suppliers. That makes it a threat to Virginia's natural heritage and the $600 million annual economic impact of deer hunting, officials said.
 
Synthetic scents are an available substitute for the real thing and can be used without risk of disease, DGIF officials said.

Steve Lovern believes DGIF has overacted, and he is hot about that. He made a case for the use of scents during the June DGIF board meeting in Richmond, then stormed out of the hearing room when the board voted to support a staff-recommended proposal to ban the use of the product.
 
Lovern operates Reaper Scents in Stoney, which markets 15 cover scents and attractants including deer urine, which sells for $19.99 per 4-ounce bottle.

He sees a number of flaws in the DGIF ban. For one, what is to stop hunters from using the scent when it will be available in the marketplace? Enforcement will be a nightmare.

"If hunters want to use it, they are," he said. "If it is going to be illegal to use, it should be illegal to sell."
 
Lovern believes the ban will hurt his business in Virginia, but sales in other states should remain strong. His market for the most part consists of mom and pop sporting good shops.
 
The source of Lovern's urine is a farm in New York where deer are held captive. State authorities randomly test the animals for CWD, so he considers his product disease-free.
 
Deer aren't likely to ingest scent used in hunting, because in most cases it is sprayed on clothing or dispersed in the air with a scent wick or cotton balls, he said. CWD is more likely to be spread through supplemental feeding.

"As they eat, saliva drips from their mouth and another deer eats that saliva. This is how CWD is transmitted."
 
Feeding is illegal in Virginia during the hunting season, but not other times of the year.

DGIF officials said they are taking the threat of CWD seriously because research indicates it can result in a significant decline in the deer population.