If a hunter pees in the woods, do deer, bears or elk really care?
If they do care, how do they respond? And for how long? Do they respond differently if hunters consumed coffee, garlic, onions, beer, cheese, cabbage or other aromatic drinks and foods?
With so many opinions and questions, and so many assumptions and scant science, it’s tough to support or dismiss any claims about human urine’s effect on game animals.
Maybe that uncertainty explains why so many hunters carry plastic bottles to treestands and ground blinds, striving to leave no urine behind to “educate” prey of their presence. Others, however, consider such precautions a bother or nonsense, and pee freely from their treestand or when stepping away from their blind.
Still, others such as “Driftless” Doug Duren have long touted their “Buckman Juice” for attracting deer or piquing their curiosity. Duren got the idea years ago when first using trail cams on his family’s farm in southwestern Wisconsin. Photos from those early efforts often showed only the legs, butts or noses of passing deer. He realized he needed a way to make them stop and pose.
That inspired Duren to create mock scrapes and treat them with commercially bottled deer urines. While making his first scrape, however, he forgot to bring his $8 squirt bottle of buck lure. After cursing his forgetfulness and weighing his options, Duren figured “what the heck,” and let go a stream carrying traces of the morning’s coffee, orange juice, and vitamin supplements. For good measure, he used his free hand to grab the scrape’s overhead licking branch and doused that, too.
The results were impressive. The next batch of photos showed bucks and does alike stopping to sniff Duren’s Buckman Juice. He hasn’t bought commercial deer lures since.
Duren wasn’t a pioneer in directly treating mock scrapes, however. The late Charlie Alsheimer wrote how-to articles about it for Deer & Deer Hunting magazine in the early 1990s. Alsheimer urinated often into fresh scrapes while hunting his western New York deer woods. He wasn’t certain why it worked so well, but assumed all the uniquely human odors soon evaporated when exposed to air and sunlight, leaving behind mostly ammonia.
Likewise, Alsheimer assumed all the sex-related hormones and pheromones presumed to be in deer urine also evaporate once poured or sprayed into a scrape. After experimenting with commercially bought ammonia, Alsheimer reported it worked much the same as deer and human urines.
The scientific community got involved in 1998 when Texas researchers Ben Koerth and James Kroll at Stephen F. Austin State University tested how deer responded to mock scrapes treated with four unique scents: no scent, human urine, estrous-doe urine, and rutting-buck urine. Deer visited all the scrapes, but bucks paid more visits to scrapes treated with either human urine or rutting-buck urine.
Further, when analyzing which bucks visited scrapes treated with those two scents, Koerth and Kroll found no difference in their ages or their numbers. The only noteworthy difference was that mature bucks were more likely to visit the scrapes at night. The researchers also found no difference in visitations for untreated scrapes and scrapes treated with estrous-doe urine. Further, most scrape visits occurred during a 25-day period starting 2.5 weeks before the region’s normal peak rut and ending one week after the peak.
Koerth and Kroll expanded that study in 1999 to include six mock scrapes and untreated natural scrapes. Starting October 26, they applied three substances to different mock scrapes: rutting-buck urine, estrous-doe urine, and “new-car” scent, a spray bought from an automotive store. Deer “readily visited” all of the scrapes, mock and untreated. Based on the deer’s reactions at the scrapes, Koerth and Kroll concluded they were merely curious about the scents, and that the scents elicited little or no sexual attraction.
“I believe any strange, nonthreatening scent placed in the mock scrape will elicit the same investigative behavior by deer,” wrote Koerth.
That might explain why some hunters also report good results when pouring aftershave and cheap colognes into scrapes.
Skeptics, of course, note that peeing into a scrape requires a time investment that only pays off after “the bad stuff” evaporates. In contrast, peeing from a treestand or ground blind instantly releases several ounces of warm, fresh human odors that could scare nearby prey. Therefore, many hunters refrain from peeing from or near their stands.
What do the hunting masses think? I’m unaware of current surveys studying if hunters use their urine to trick deer. However, based on the research cited above and testimony from folks like Duren and Alsheimer, I sense hunters today are more willing to pee strategically.
But when putting that question to Deer & Deer Hunting’s readers in 1994 while working as the magazine’s editor, I found 75 percent of respondents never use their urine as scent, and 12 percent said they rarely use it. Only 15 percent said they always, usually or sometimes tried it.
Those using it, however, were divided on whether it worked best for spooking or attracting deer. Those using it to scare deer usually peed on trails or feeding areas they couldn’t cover from their stand, hoping it would steer deer closer. As one hunter wrote, “On several occasions, I’ve observed deer circling toward me after encountering the contaminated area.”
Another hunter offered a contrasting strategy: “I create a line of scrapes and wait to see if a buck will take it over. I freshen the scrapes and rubs daily, and urinate in a different one daily. Every year for the past three years I’ve had bucks take over the scrapes and rub lines.”
Rocker Ted Nugent weighed in with this tactic: “My most consistent buck-getter has been my own pee from a treestand. During the rut I give a grunt call after urinating from the tree.”
Attractant or repellant, it’s hard to predict how human urine consistently affects prey animals. In many cases, after all, it’s hard to know if they’re responding to our urine or our other body odors, especially if we don’t follow a scent-control program.
Likewise, how can we prove deer suddenly started avoiding a site because we peed there repeatedly? Bryan Kinkel, a deer researcher and habitat consultant in Tennessee, detailed the futility of hunting mature bucks from permanent stands in a study conducted in 2000. Although trail cameras regularly documented mature bucks roaming properties he managed day and night, Kinkel and his hunters seldom spotted the old bucks while hunting.
“Deer learn to avoid stands within a year, so we quit using permanent platforms and went totally to portables,” Kinkel said. “The longer a stand stays on one tree, the more deer avoid it. That’s why our stands never stay in one place all year.”
Bottom line: Pack a pee bottle if you wish. Or don’t. It’s your choice. If you pay attention in the woods, you’ll probably find evidence to support your decision, whatever it might be.
Feature image by Matt Hansen