Gerald Almy: Ban on deer urine scents in effect

Gerald Almy

To reduce the chance of spreading Chronic Wasting Disease, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) has banned the use of urine-based deer scents in the state by hunters. Effective July 1, 2015, Virginia hunters may not “possess or use deer scents or lures that contain natural deer urine or other bodily fluids while taking, attempting to take, attracting, or scouting wildlife.”

The new law goes into effect just as hunters are beginning serious scouting and setting out trail cameras for the opening of bow season in early October, with the goal of minimizing the risk of introducing Chronic Wasting Disease into new areas of the state. Since it was first discovered east of the Mississippi in Wisconsin in 2002, CWD has been discovered in eight eastern states, including Virginia. Across North America it has been found in 22 states and two Canadian provinces.

So far in Virginia the disease has been found mainly in one northwestern county — Frederick. It’s believed it spread there from bordering West Virginia. Eight cases have been discovered in Frederick. More recently, two cases were reported in 2014 in Shenandoah County, which adjoins Frederick.

The state has spent over $1 million on CWD monitoring and management efforts, hoping to contain the disease. The urine ban is another step to keep the disease in check. No case of CWD in the country has been directly linked to bottled deer urine, but the Game Department feels the possibility of it spreading in this manner is too strong to ignore.

Here is a quote from the Game Department statement released explaining their justification for the new law. “The infectious proteins (prions) known to transmit CWD have been found in the urine, feces and saliva of infected animals. To make these commercial scents, urine from captive elk and/or deer kept outside of Virginia is collected over a grate system that does not prevent contamination from either feces or saliva.”

“The ‘urine’ product is not treated chemically or with heat to kill the infection’s proteins because these treatments would also secondarily destroy the desired scent characteristics. The infectious proteins causing CWD are extremely resistant to degradation and may persist in the environment for years in contaminated soil, thereby posing a disease transmission risk to deer for extended lengths of time. Additionally, many of the facilities are located in areas or states with CWD. Deer in Virginia that taste or sniff these products may actually be exposing themselves to CWD harbored by deer living hundreds of miles away that were used to collect the infected urine.”

Although it hasn’t been proven that CWD can be transmitted through bottled urine, the VDGIF counters that it wants to take a pro-active approach until it’s proven that prions are NOT spread in commercial deer urine products. “The VDGIF’s intent with this regulation is to protect our deer hunting heritage by ensuring that future generations have the same opportunities to deer hunt as are available to Virginians today and to protect the long-term health and stability of the Virginia deer herd. Both of these goals can be achieved, in part, by trying to minimize the areas in Virginia infected with CWD,” says Deer Project Leader Matt Knox.

With the new law, it will still be legal to sell and buy deer urine lures, but sportsmen won’t be able to use them when hunting in the state. Besides urine, feces, blood, glandular oils and other bodily fluids cannot be used. For do-it-yourselfers, making your own lures from these fluids or tarsal glands and using them in Virginia is also now illegal. You can have these urine and glandular products in your home for use in other states where they are allowed, but not in the field while hunting deer in Virginia.

Using scent synthetic attractants that do not include urine or other deer bodily fluids will be legal. But baiting with food or minerals is illegal.

The VDGIF predicts that CWD will become worse over time, and potentially lead to deer population declines, based on the outcome in other states such as Wyoming, where CWD areas have lower populations than areas without the disease.

And population declines are the last thing the VDGIF wants now, after the 20 percent deer kill decline in 2014, due mainly to EHD outbreaks and recent high doe harvests, both of which have already reduced the number of whitetails in the state substantially.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.