Are State Agencies Over-Stepping Their Bounds by Regulating Deer Urine Products?

The use of these hunting lures is now under scrutiny. Is your state regulating deer urine products? Are they legal or illegal in your state?

Are State Agencies Over-Stepping Their Bounds by Regulating Deer Urine Products?

I’ve used deer urine in two ways to bowhunt whitetails. First, as an attractant. Second, and only on rare occasions, as a cover scent. The real question is, does deer urine work? Sometimes it’s easy to tell. If you laid down a scent line on the way to your stand, later observed a buck crossing that trail and then following it to your position, it obviously worked. 

However, you may not know if a deer reacted to the deer scent or simply out of curiosity. No matter, it worked. Yet, now, the use of doe or buck urine is being questioned by state wildlife agencies. 

Why is that?

We know that the causative agent in the spread of chronic wasting disease is a misfolded, abnormal prion. We also know that these prions are found in CWD-positive deer and elk urine, saliva and in nervous tissue such as brain and spinal matter. As an aside, I might add that prions are also found in lesser amounts in the muscle tissue of deer.

Prions get into the environment via urine, saliva, feces and body parts of infected deer. They can remain there for years. How many years can they remain in the soil and infect deer that come into contact with them? We don’t know. But from circumstantial information, most biologists believe these prions can remain infective for decades.

If you had to pick the main way that CWD has appeared in areas where it was not previously found, it would be from moving — but sick — deer, from one game farm to another. That movement has been curtailed to a degree by some states that do not allow deer farms to bring deer in from other states where CWD is found. 

Another possible way CWD can be transmitted into new areas is from the movement of certain deer parts from a CWD-positive state or CWD-positive area into the hunters home area. Many states now have strict regulations about such movement. For example, if you kill a deer in a CWD area, you must have it butchered or boned out there before bringing it home. This can be inconvenient for hunters, but it's the reality of CWD.

 Most state biologists agree that the spread of CWD through deer urine, by comparison, is a low risk.
Most state biologists agree that the spread of CWD through deer urine, by comparison, is a low risk.

Today, states are super-sensitive about the spread of CWD. They should be, because this disease is nothing but trouble for the future of our wild deer. As state wildlife agencies continue to collect scientific data regarding CWD and see CWD spreading in their state as well as others, the more they will consider doing anything to slow its spread.

Shooting deer where CWD is found has some effect, but you cannot shoot your way out of this disease. Baiting is a major problem. Hunters love to bait, but bait sites concentrate deer. Thus, baiting enhances the chance for a CWD-positive animal to leave prions that other deer will pick up. As already mentioned, moving harvested deer from one state to another is also a problem. 

This brings us to deer urine. Most state biologists agree that the spread of CWD through deer urine, by comparison, is a low risk. Before addressing this issue, it's worth noting there is no test to determine if deer urine contains prions. Furthermore, there is no regulatory oversight of urine-based products by either the state or federal government.

Hunters use deer urine on draglines, place it on limbs over scrapes, or even place it directly in scrapes or mock scrapes. For a deer to get CWD from this approach, two things must happen. First, the deer urine must have prions. Second, deer must lick the deer urine. Relative to the second point, I have rarely seen deer lick the ground at a scrape. I’m sure it happens, but I haven’t seen it. I have seen deer lick overhanging branches above scrapes. We know that happens.

Here's the critical question: What are the chances a deer farm that produces and sells deer urine has CWD? Obviously, the deer urine business is intently interested in this issue because of what is at stake. In response to the potential problem and the banned use of deer urine in a few states, some of the largest suppliers formed a Deer Protection Program under the auspices of the Archery Trade Association. Members of this group must demonstrate they've received herd certification and are in compliance with the APHIS Herd Certification Program and/or a federally approved state CWD certification program. 

Herd certification means there has been no CWD on that farm for five years. Also, deer facilities in the ATA Program will not import any live deer unless there is a natural disaster (i.e., fire, storm, etc.) and a mortality event occurs on that farm. Thus, in essence, these farms are supporting closed herds.

In addition, if there is CWD within 30 miles of the deer farm, they must put an 8-foot double fence around the facility. This all sounds good, but there are questions about this program. Deer with CWD may appear fine and live a year or more before showing signs of infection. Thus, urine from that deer might be taken from a deer that appears fine and still end up in a hunters backpack. How can this happen if they have closed farms and the farm hasn’t had CWD for five years? 

The five-year rule assumes that deer can only be infective for five years, yet we now know that this isn’t the case. Plus, if a CWD-deer lived on that farm years ago, infective prions can still be in the soil. Yes, dealing with CWD is difficult. 

Bottom line, enforcement will be tough. Arrests will be few, but the law is the law. Each hunter must make an ethical decision as it concerns deer urine and the spread of CWD. Photo: Wildlife Research
Bottom line, enforcement will be tough. Arrests will be few, but the law is the law. Each hunter must make an ethical decision as it concerns deer urine and the spread of CWD. Photo: Wildlife Research

This whole situation leaves the state with three options. They can do nothing. Given the low risk that deer urine has for the transmission of infective prions, many states have chosen to do nothing. A few states without regulations (e.g., New Hampshire, Connecticut), ask hunters to consider limiting urine and synthetic lure use, voluntarily.

Another option for states is to restrict the hunter’s use of deer urine. Third, they can ban the sale of such products. Actually, there might be a fourth option. While not fool proof, there is no doubt that the urine farms in the ATA Deer Protection Program are reducing the chances that prions are in their deer urine. Therefore, a state or province could ban deer urine, except for that which comes from the ATA program farms. Enforcement of such an approach would be difficult at best. 

How will a state enforce regulations banning the use of deer urine? 

No question, it is a bit of a conundrum. For example, Montana law states no sale or use of deer or elk urine to mask human odor if the urine originated in a state or province with documented CWD. The wording in this may have changed, but I could not find a record of that, so assuming this is the regulation, how can it be enforced? How does one know whether the product is being used to attract, or to “mask” human odor. Who monitors the sale of deer urine based on its point of origin? I haven’t talked to Montana officials, but my guess is this: Even though the wording has problems, the intent of their regulation was to prevent the sale or use of deer urine. Period.

What’s next in the CWD saga? Pre-orbital gland lures have become popular. In fact, I use them. Since they do not contain urine, what about their use? Again, it all depends on how the regulations are phrased. For example, Nova Scotia law states “no person shall, while in a wildlife habitat, possess or use a product that contains or purports to contain any body part of a member of the deer family, including urine, blood or other fluids.” Actually, this is pretty clear. If you’re in the woods, you cannot have any such product with you. Even though pre-orbital gland lure does not contain urine, it is a “fluid,” so it is not legal in Nova Scotia.

Pennsylvania law is also clear. You cannot use deer urine for hunting in areas of the state where CWD is present. Elsewhere is okay, though.

Bottom line, enforcement will be tough. Urine comes in small bottles, not particularly obvious. Conservation officers are swamped with work, and body-searching hunters just won’t happen unless the officer is suspicious. The reality is that the use of urine-based products is really up to the hunter. Arrests will be few, but the law is the law. Each hunter must make an ethical decision.

If all this isn’t complicated enough, a new study showed that in Wisconsin public land areas with CWD, the prion density was high around man-made mineral sites (10 such sites examined) and natural mineral sites (one such site studied). My guess is that this study will stimulate state agencies to consider promulgating new regulations that will affect placement of minerals for deer. Another can of worms for the manufacturers, state agencies, law enforcement and hunters to deal with because of CWD.

States and Canadian Provinces Where CWD Has Been Found 

If you hunt in any of these states or provinces, you should check the regulations for use of deer products. Liquid deer products are now being scrutinized by every state agency, so the situation is fluid. Chances are that if CWD has been found in the state or province where you hunt, the ban of deer urine products has happened or is being considered. Just because they were legal to use one year, does not mean they are still legal. 

North Dakota
Nova Scotia 
West Virginia
South Dakota  
New Mexico

States and Canadian Provinces That Ban Urine-Based Deer Lure


New Mexico**
Minnesota (southeastern portion)
Nova Scotia
Pennsylvania (in Disease Mgt. Areas with CWD)
Tennessee (effective 2019)
Yukon Territories 

** New Mexico regulations state “can’t use bait or scenting.” And you cannot take game in “a scented area.” You can use scent-masking agents on your person, but they may not be used to attract game species.

Featured Photo: Wildlife Research Center


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