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

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.



Can Deer Antlers Help Cure Cancer?

summer antlers cam pic.jpg 6-08According to an international study lead by Chinese researchers and published in the journal Science , a system of cancer-related genes allow deer to grow a new set of antlers every year, but the animals rarely die of cancer thanks to other tumor-suppressing genes in the body that keep the aggressive cells in check.

An antler is a complex organ of bone, blood vessels, nerves, muscle and velvet. “Deer can completely regenerate (this) organ. No other mammal has that ability,” said Wang Wen, the study’s lead author.

The researchers also noted that while deer might get tumors all over their body, the growths do almost no harm and disappear with time.

This jibes with what we have posted on BIG DEER blog about tumors and growths on whitetails here in the States. Unless growths occur on the face an restrict breathing and/or vision, scientists say they are rarely fatal.

The study says that some 19 genes work together in a deer’s body to allow antler cells to thrive without developing into cancer in other parts of animal’s body.

In a commentary article in the same issue of Science, Stanford University researchers said the discovery could help scientists develop new drugs to battle cancer. They also noted that the new findings related to antlers could help with tissue engineering and regenerative medicine in humans.


How Do Deer Handle Summer Heat?

summer deer webIt’s about to get really hot and humid–how will does with fawns, and bucks growing racks handle the heat?

Temperatures above normal during summer causes some stress in deer. The amount of stress is dependent on the quality of the habitat. For example, deer consume more water than any other mineral (yes, water is a mineral, a naturally occurring substance) and the amount of water deer need increases during periods of above normal temperatures. If water is limited by either quantity or quality, many of a deer’s bodily functions are limited, such as a buck transferring calcium to growing antlers, or a doe producing milk for fawns.

Deer can usually travel to find water. But if they are forced out of their home range to find water, which is rare, it requires huge amounts of energy that can’t be used for other bodily processes such as antler and milk production.

But in the end, unless there is a prolonged drought in your area, summer stress rarely has a lasting impact on deer herds. As the seasons and weather change, deer can usually deal with it just fine.


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.


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.