CWD: An Uncertain Link to Hunting Scents

Hagerty Ryan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Photo courtesy of Hagerty Ryan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

With deer season underway in many parts of North America, hunters are using a variety of scents, such as dominant-buck or doe-in-estrus urine attractions, to lure deer closer to their stands. However, some states, like Alaska, Virginia and Vermont, have recently banned the use of these products for fear that is contributing to the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD). The agent that causes the sickness has been found in infected deer’s feces, saliva, and urine.

CWD is an infectious brain disease that has been killing deer, elk and moose since it was first identified in captive mule deer in a Colorado research facility in 1967. CWD is classified as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), and is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep. The infectious agents of CWD are classified as prions, which are infectious proteins without associated nucleic acids. CWD is incurable, always fatal, and now infects wild deer and elk in two Canadian provinces and 20 states; and captive herds in two provinces and 14 states.

Scent manufacturers are now caught in the middle of this debate. Wildlife agencies would rather prevent the disease than try to manage it once it arrives. Some manufacturers want to work with states, but regulations are variable. There are still also many unknowns about CWD and the risks of transmission and there is no inexpensive way to test live animals for CWD.

Elk Cows

According to the Archery Trade Association (ATA) there are probably less than 30 captive herds around the country that provide deer or elk urine to the manufacturers. The ATA is working with its members to craft guidelines for scent manufacturers. Guidelines would assure wildlife agencies and hunters that they are producing safe, reliable products. By working with the ATA and the agencies, scent manufacturers hope to establish standards that allow their continued use.

Wildlife agencies are cautious about endorsing industry standards. They do not want to risk CWD outbreaks if urine is spread from an infected herd. State agencies believe that taking pro-active steps to reduce the use of natural deer urine attractants by prohibiting their use will further minimize the risk of introducing CWD into new area.

If the scent industry and states can’t reach agreement on standards, it is likely that more states will ban the use of urine-based products, leaving hunters unable to use these products.


For more information about CWD visit the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance at

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