The Debate Over Deer Urine

synthetic scent

Earlier this summer South Carolina became the 9th state to ban the use of urine-based scents for deer hunting. In a press release, the South Carolina DNR said in part: “the department is following the lead of other states in proactively prohibiting the use of (urine) in order to minimize the potential for CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) introduction into South Carolina.”

In response to this and other state bans on urine-based scents, two major scent companies—Wildlife Research Center and Tink’s, have issued this response:

The argument made by rule makers to ban these products is that they unnaturally congregate deer like bait or feed, thereby increasing interaction between animals and possibly increasing the spread of disease. While a scent set-up can effectively attract the interest of deer nearby for a short period of time to the benefit of a hunter, putting a small amount of deer urine on some wicks is insignificant regarding the overall “congregation of animals” argument.  It would cause no more congregation than using a call or decoy and is a natural occurrence of deer already in the area.

A typical deer releases about 64 oz of urine per day in good weather conditions and 42 oz in bad weather conditions which calculates to approximately 150 gallons per year.  We have never verified the frequency on camera, but our assumption is that each deer urinates on average 4 to 6 times per day.  That’s over 1,800 times per year.  The point is that deer are naturally urinating exponentially more urine in the general area already versus a hunter using 1 or 2 oz of urine that lasts a few hours to attract deer closer to his hunting location.  Even with deer lure, you still have to be in a good spot where deer already exist.  It does not bring in dozens of bucks from far away for extended periods of time like bait or feed might.  The animals do not eat the scent and do not spend long periods of time there interacting with each other like they would at a bait pile. The animals that are attracted live and urinate all around that area already.

It is important to note that lead authors of the most commonly referenced studies on urine and CWD agree that “the risk of urine-based scents spreading CWD is virtually zero”.  See more about this at www.cwdfacts.org

Over the last 3 decades I have used a lot of deer urine and have hunted over a lot of corn and other feed in states where baiting is legal. As I look at this issue from this dual perspective, two valid points from the above statement jump out at me:

While a scent set-up can attract the interest of deer nearby for a short period of time…putting a small amount of deer urine on some wicks is insignificant regarding the overall “congregation of animals” argument…

(Scent) does not bring in dozens of bucks (or does) from far away for extended periods of time like bait or feed might. The animals do not eat the scent and do not spend long periods of time there interacting with each other like they would at a bait pile.

I agree, the argument that a hunter’s use of scent can “congregate deer” does not hold water. How many times have you had 3 or 4 or 6 deer run in and stand under a scent wick? Never. Occasionally a doe or a buck will get a whiff of scent and come to a hunter’s setup—that’s why you use the stuff–but I have never seen multiple deer congregate at a urine wick or even a mock scrape for any length of time. I doubt anybody who has hunted a lot has seen it either.

On the other hand, countless times I have sat and watched 3,6 as many as 8 or 10 deer or more come to a corn or oat pile (and to a food plot or other natural food source also for that matter). Feed does congregate deer.

One hunting organization at the forefront of monitoring CWD and educating hunters says that the risk of disease transmittal through hunters’ use of deer urine is small.

In a statement, the Quality Deer Management Association said: According to current research, the risk of spreading CWD to new areas through the use of natural urine is extremely low, but it’s not zero. The accumulation of infectious materials is much higher in muscle tissue and organs than urine.

In QDMA’s view, it is far more important at this time for all hunters and wildlife agencies to focus on stopping the two most risky activities: 1) Transportation of infected deer carcasses out of CWD zones and 2) All transportation of live deer and elk.

In areas where natural urine has not been banned, we encourage hunters to only buy products from companies participating in the Archery Trade Association’s Deer Protection Program or to use synthetic urine.

POSTSCRIPT: What it means for hunters this 2019-20 deer season:

In addition to South Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia have banned the possession and use real deer urine in the woods. Minnesota and Pennsylvania have implemented bans on urine scents in CWD management zones. A statewide ban on deer/elk urine goes into effect January 1, 2020 in Oregon.

If you plan to carry and use scents to attract bucks in any of these states you must use a manufactured scent. Wildlife Research Center makes 8 varieties of synthetic scent that I use and trust.

A last big thing to remember: In this age of CWD, the days of shooting a buck, loading the carcass in your truck and driving across a state line are virtually gone. If you plan to travel to hunt this fall, even if it’s just 10 miles across a state line, it is imperative that you read and know your state’s regulations on transporting deer and deer parts.

 

 

Pre-Season Whitetail: How To Scout and Find Bucks

glassing for buck spot scopeYears ago, an Ohio bowhunter by the name of Chad Moore wrote and told me about the dream buck he had just shot. The tale of the tape was impressive: the 6½-year-old 9-pointer with the drop tine and beams like Red Bull cans at the bases scored 186 non-typical. The story of his hunt was pretty simple and straightforward.

Chad didn’t use a big or flashy technique to kill the giant. He just did a lot of good things right: the scouting, the trail-cams, the tree-stand placement, the scent control… He kept at it day after day, until the monster popped up in his bow sight one afternoon. Then, heart thumping and knees shaking, he held it together and made the shot.

That is usually how it works. Most of the time, substance over style is how you get the brutes. So fit together these tips and tactics into one solid game plan tweaked to your land. Then, hunt hard and smart day after day. When you get your shot, be cool under pressure. The 2019 season, which is just around the corner, might be the season of your life.

Phase 1: Seeing is Believing

Forget the rut for now and focus on the early season, the second best time to shoot a whopper. Bucks have two weaknesses now. Singles, doubles and bachelor’s groups (generally a couple of small guys hanging out with a shooter or two) are still visible in open areas, and they are still locked into tight summer bed-to-feed patterns. Step one, find them; step two, pin down their travels so you can capitalize on those weaknesses.

trail camera bach group dean

It begins with having the right tools. If I had to choose between buying a new bow, gun or binoculars, I’d want them all, but I’d go with the glass. You need a full-size 10×42. Also, you can’t really count tines or gauge beam mass without a spotting scope on a tripod. A 20×50 or 20×60 model is the way to go.

On these sultry late summer evenings, drive out to your land an hour before dusk and glass  a field of alfalfa, clover, wheat or cut corn from a good distance away. No crops on your land? No worries. On one of my Virginia places I glass a lot of does and bucks in fields that haven’t been planted for years. After those fields are hayed for the last time in late summer, deer hit them hard to feed on the new, green forbs that pop up, especially if we get some rain. You might also find your buck mingling in a clear-cut, or in a wide log road, in a power line right-of-way…you get the picture. Spend as many evenings on the job as you can. The more times you spot the same buck(s), the better.

Have you been committing the biggest scouting sin—not glassing in the mornings too?If so, grab a cup of Joe and get out there at sunrise this weekend. Watch deer walking edges and tree lines, cutting across swamps, slinking in ditches and the like as they make for their bedding areas back in the woods. This reveals another link in their routine.

Once you’ve glassed a stout 8- or 10-point a few times, look for the corner, ditch or chute in the tree line where he most often pops out into the feed or leaves it at sunrise. Mark these entry and exit points on an aerial photograph. You’re off to a great start.

Phase 2: Trail-Cam Tactics

One summer Iowa bowhunter Jay Gregory glassed a stud in the soybeans on several evenings. The buck was coming out of deep cover in a river bottom. Gregory sneaked in there and set a few cameras on the best trails he could find. Throughout September he got some awesome pictures. My Lord, that giant will score close to 200, he thought. One October day he got the shot he really wanted. The buck crossed the river near his bedding area in broad daylight at 8:00 am. Gregory moved in with a tree stand and killed him a short time later. He scored 198.

There are three morals to this story:

1)      Late-summer visuals coupled with trail-camera photos take your scouting to the next level, and double your chances of patterning and shooting a monster.

2)      “Once you spot an old buck in a field, sneak in and set cameras on trails in a nearby riverbed or creek bottom,” says Gregory. “As summer deepens, mature bucks spend a lot of time hanging out near water in low areas. If you get lucky and set your cams in the right spot, you can find out exactly where he’s bedding.”

3)      Night pictures of bucks are cool, but once you snap a big boy on the prowl in early or afternoon shooting light, move in and hunt your best stand for the kill. Sometimes a titan will only move in good light for a few days each fall; a cam picture can help you be in the right spot at the right time.

Phase 3: The Ground Work

You still need to get out and do some good old ground pounding. How else can you set a stand or blind and expect that brute you’ve been glassing and photographing to walk within 25 yards of it?

scent killerScout one day around lunchtime, when deer are bedded. Spray down with Scent Killer. Walk across a field or cutover to a tree line where you’ve watched a fat 8-pointer step out. Check the wind; it should blow out of the woods. Sneak 50 to 100 yards back into the wind and timber. Don’t go much deeper than that, or else you’ll bump deer. Some does and bucks loaf super-tight to the feed this time of year.

Back in there, look for this early sign:

Rubs: Big rubs start popping up around September 1. Soon after stripping their velvet, dominant bucks post mega rubs on aromatic pines or cedars, hardwoods or even fence posts to tell does and other males, “This spot is mine!” Find a cluster of arm-size rubs on a ridge or in a river bottom near a crop field and you’ve found some segment of a big deer’s core area—hunt there into October.

Droppings: Lots of fresh pellets or clumps in a thicket or swamp tell you animals are edding there. If they’re dry and light brown, look for the nearest cornfield or oak flat where the deer are feeding and plan an ambush. If the scat is moist and greenish-black, check a nearby clover or wheat plot or maybe an apple orchard. Also look for pellets beneath mast trees where deer feed.

Tracks: Lots of so-so tracks indicate a lot of deer. A deep, splayed, three-inch print tells you a heavy buck is with them (size of his rack, nobody knows). Look for buck tracks along the edge of a field or in a muddy creek or river crossing.

Beds: I sometimes carry a tape measure to check tracks and also beds. My field research says a full-grown buck’s bed in matted grass or leaves is roughly 45 to 50 inches long, while a doe or young buck’s is 40 inches or so. You can never get too much info.

You’ve got about 6 weeks to put this 3-phase plan to work before bow season, good luck!

11 Cool Facts: How Whitetail Bucks Grow Antlers

velvet buck compress1) Back around April, as the days got longer and the light increased, new antlers began to grow from buds that formed on pedicels on bucks’ heads. Within a month, main beams and brow tines began to sprout and split off.

2) Now, throughout early summer, the fledgling racks grow fast and furious. Antler tissue is the fastest-growing tissue in the animal world. Beams and tines may grow a quarter-inch or more per day, the process driven by a buck’s hormones and the photoperiod of the days.

3) According to biologists, a buck’s rack will show most of its points by mid-June, though tine length is typically less than half developed at this time. Most of the beam length will grow by late June.

4) Those are general rules, but the growth of individual racks can vary. Some bucks will show a lot of antler growth early, while others seem to add a bunch to their rack later in July.

Here are some interesting facts about summer antler growth:

5) Antlers are made of bone, consisting mostly of calcium (22% in fully developed bone), phosphorus (11%), magnesium and other minerals. Although some of the minerals needed for antler growth are taken from food, scientists note that lot of them are sucked from the buck’s skeleton, which may cause him to develop osteoporosis during the summer. Setting mineral licks for the deer may help.

6) Throughout June and July, velvet antlers have a complex system of blood vessels that causes them to be hot to the touch. There is so much blood carrying protein and minerals to a buck’s antlers that even small racks easily detected with thermal imaging devices.

7) Tiny hairs on the velvet stick out and make growing antlers appear thicker than they really are. The hairs act as a radar system so the buck won’t bump into trees, fence posts, etc. and damage his soft antlers.

8) Sebum, a semi-liquid secretion, on the hairs gives the velvet a shiny look. Sebum also acts as an insect repellent to keep biting flies off a buck’s rack and face.

9) In early August antlers begin to morph from soft and pliable to hardened bone. A buck’s antlers will change from looking swollen or bulbous at the tips of the tines to a more normal diameter. Once this change in appearance occurs the buck won’t add much beam or tine growth.

10) By mid-August most of the antler growth for the year is done. Sometime between September 1 and 15 bucks typically shed the velvet. The cue for antler hardening and velvet shedding is the change in photoperiod caused by decreasing daylight and increasing darkness, which results in a significant increase in the bucks’ testosterone.

11) Velvet shedding typically takes only a couple of hours, though it is not uncommon to see a deer walking around for day or two with bloody velvet tatters. One last thing you might not know: Bucks have been known to turn their heads and peel or even eat the dry velvet off their new racks!

After that, the tree rubbing and antler-polishing begin. With their new crowns gleaming, mature bucks are ready and willing to breed the does for the next three months, until their testosterone begins to fade and the fascinating antler cycle begins all over again.

How To Build Summer Mineral Licks For Deer

mineral siteMineral sites or “licks” provide hubs for your trail cameras and allow you to gain critical intel on bucks for months. You take pictures and watch them grow all summer, which is fun, and you start to pattern and narrow their movements as bow season approaches later toward fall.

On one of the farms I hunt in Virginia, my friend Jack and I have 8 licks scattered across 800 acres of woods. About 1 strategically placed mineral site for every 100 acres is about right.

We normally begin lining these sites with minerals sometime in May, and the deer visit them immediately. The bucks on this farm know where the licks are and have been hitting them regularly for years. But anywhere you make a new lick, deer will find it rather quickly.

Right now, in June when the bucks’ new antlers are starting to grow fast and show, we get serious with our mineral-and-camera game.

This week we’ll start running trail cameras at all our licks, and keep them rolling through mid-August, when mineral usage by deer tends to slow. During the next 2 months we’ll get thousands of deer images–almost too many!

Immediately we can see what kind of rack year it is shaping up to be, which is something every hunter wants and needs to know. We wade through the picture mountain of does and young bucks and start focusing on the mature deer. Any thick 8- or 10-pointer that looks to be growing to the 130-class catches our eye, and we really hone in on the odd buck in the 140 to 150 range.

We start making notes on the big deer we’ve located at our licks, and the days, times and locations of their travels. We cross-reference those notes with a huge aerial photo of the property tacked on the camp wall and voila, the patterns of the bucks and where to hunt them begin to come into focus.

How to Build a Mineral Lick

The experts at Anilogics say the ideal time to establish a new mineral site is early spring, but if you’re just getting around to it now worries. Deer will hit your sites hard for the next 2 to 3 summer months.

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Locate your licks strategically. The corners and edges of crop fields and food plots are good spots, especially where thick cover is nearby. All our licks are fairly close to main deer trails, where bucks can veer over to check them with minimal effort. Two of our best sites are near creek crossings back in the woods.

Look for a flat spot with a good tree for a camera within 12 to 15 feet. Clear a spot six to eight feet in diameter, and rake away the old leaves and grass down to bare soil.

Clay soil is best because it binds and holds the minerals longer. If the soil is super sandy where you hunt, you might want to find some clay or denser dirt and mix it in the lick.

Through years of trial and error we’ve found that our deer prefer loose minerals over blocks. We’ve tried many brands and have the best luck with Mineral Dirt 180. The deer here in the Virginia Piedmont love it and flock to it in summer. You should experiment with several brands of minerals to see which deer prefer in your location.

mineral dirt 180

Apply and scatter a coat of loose minerals around a site—there is no set amount, sometimes we use a whole bag, especially during the first freshening of early summer. Sometimes we mix the minerals into the dirt with a rake or boot, sometimes not. It doesn’t seem to affect site usage by our deer either way.

We refresh our licks with a new application of minerals once every 3 or 4 weeks; I have friends that do it once every 2 weeks. If and when a trail camera reveals that noticeably fewer deer are showing up at a lick, time to refresh it. We run Spartan Go Cams at many or our sites, so they are easy to monitor from afar on our phone apps.

It is fun to watch how the most active sites grow. As deer dig for the minerals, the holes get bigger and deeper. We have a couple of years-old licks deep enough to hide half a buck!

Let me end with this important note. Here in Virginia, using minerals is legal during spring and summer, but not permitted from September 1 through the end of hunting season. State laws on using minerals and attractants vary across America, so check your game regulations carefully.

10 Fun Facts About Whitetail Fawns

fawns 1We celebrate the beautiful little creatures being born right now!

–A fawn weighs 4 to 8 pounds at birth; its weight doubles in 2 weeks.

–A fawn has a unique smell that the mother recognizes.

–A fawn can walk hours after birth.

–A newborn fawn spends its first weeks mostly alone and in hiding; it interacts with the mother doe only twice a day and nurses 2 or 3 times.

–A healthy fawn can outrun you when it’s only days old, but it takes 3 to 6 weeks before it can elude most predators.

–A fawn has about 300 white spots.

–25% of twin fawns have different fathers.

–”Multiple paternity” was found in triplet fawns at Auburn University. Three fawns born to the same doe had 3 different fathers!

–Twin fawns are the norm. In a prime habitat where the soil/feed/cover are outstanding, 20% to 30% of does might drop triplets. In a habitat with poor soils and feed, a doe is lucky to have and raise one fawn.

–A doe might give birth to 2 buck fawns or 2 doe fawns, but by the end of fawning season things average out to about 50-50 doe and buck fawns in a deer herd.