cwd-deerWe’ve talked a lot about EHD (commonly known as blue tongue)but now another ugly deer disease, chronic wasting (CWD), is taking center stage. CWD is a contagious and progressive neurological disease that causes degeneration of the brain of infected animals, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior and ultimately death.

CWD has been around for decades in the West. It was found east of the Mississippi in Wisconsin in 2002, and since then has been documented in 8 eastern states, including Virginia. Since 2009, there have been 7 documented cases of CWD in Virginia, all confined to private land in Frederick County along the West Virginia border.

CWDmap082012The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) has spent more than 1 million dollars on CWD monitoring and management efforts. The state prohibits hunters from bringing whole deer carcasses and certain parts (i.e., brain and spinal cord) from high-risk CWD areas, which includes any state where wild deer have been documented with CWD, and any high-fence enclosure anywhere in North America. Most experts believe an enclosure where deer are confined in a relatively small area to be the ultimate CWD breeding ground.

Now the next step, which took effect July 1, 2015, is to prohibit hunters from using natural deer urine anywhere in Virginia. VDGIF biologists point out that the agent known to transmit CWD has been found in the urine of infected deer. Officials are concerned that urine collected from captive deer in other states (and bottled and sold to hunters) is a threat to spread CWD in the Old Dominion.

Bottom line for hunters: No more laying scent trails into your stand with hot-doe scent (Tink’s, Golden Estrus, Code Blue, etc.) you’ve been using for years. One of my favorite tactics, especially during our early muzzleloader season in November, is to hang several wicks doused with buck urine/tarsal near my stand to challenge prowling bucks. Can’t do that anymore.

Additionally, you cannot go old-school and collect the urine or cut off the tarsal gland of any deer you shoot and then use it to attract deer on other hunts. That’s illegal too.

Will the ban last beyond the 2015 deer season? Likely. VDGIF officials say the possession and use of urine-based scents will be prohibited until it is proven that CWD prions are not spread in commercial deer urine products. This could take years…if it’s ever confirmed.

“Virginia won’t be the last state to do this,” notes deer biologist Kip Adams. “Vermont has also banned them, and Pennsylvania too in their disease management areas.”

I understand that during the public comment period on this topic in Virginia, comments ran 2-1 in favor of continuing to allow urine-based scents, which is not surprising. A lot of VA hunters have asked what I think.

On the surface this ban does seem like overkill. CWD has been around in states like Wyoming for years, and it has not wiped out the deer herds. And we’ve been using deer pee to attract bucks for decades with no confirmed spreading of CWD in this manner.

That said, wildlife officials must be vigilant as CDW increases. “For a disease that’s uniformly fatal, I think that sooner or later you’re going to start seeing some (deer) population impacts,” said Dr. John Fischer, a wildlife veterinarian and Director of the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia.

Next blog: If you hunt in Virginia or any state or area that prohibits natural deer urine lure, there are some alternative attractants to try.