It's enough to make dollar signs dance in the deer farmer's eyes. Let's see, a single deer pees about half a gallon or 64 ounces a day. Sold as deer-hunting scents at $4.00 to $13 per ounce (retail), that amounts to $256 to $832 a day or $93,440 to $303,680 per deer per year! Not a bad return on your investment! Too good to be true? Probably. A great opportunity for deer farmers? Maybe.
At Deerfarmer.com, we get frequent inquiries about how to get into the deer urine market. In this article, we will examine this potential market - its opportunities, risks and production considerations. Hopefully, this will help you decide whether deer urine is a market you want to get into.
It all began with Mr. Richard, a Cobleskill, New York trapper who produced the first known deer scent in the 1940s. It was called Original Indian Buck Lure and he sold it through ads in outdoor magazines for $2 a bottle. It did not contain any deer urine.
Urine-based scents really got started in the 1960 when George Robbins, a Connellsville, Pennsylvania mink farmer founded the Robbins Scent Co. He began supplying urine in bulk and bottle to scent sellers who sold "secret" formulas and blends.
The market today for deer-hunting scents, most of them urine-based, is estimated to be about $18 million per year in the United States. Some 17 million Americans hunt white-tailed deer each fall, and are looking for every advantage they can get.
There are several reasons why deer scents are growing in popularity. Hunters typically do not have as much time as in the past to devote to shooting that trophy white-tail buck. Any "gimmick" that promises greater success - especially if it only costs $4 to $10 - is worth a try.
If you have ever hunted white-tailed bucks (I have), you know what an intelligent and cunning animal they are. Older, quality trophy bucks are very hard to bag. If they are hunted a lot, they develop very effective strategies to ensure they live past the hunting season. So deer scents are designed to appeal to their weaknesses for females, especially during the rutting season. My hunters (including myself) have seen doe-in-heat scents attract bucks.
Another reason for the growing use of deer scents is the boom in bow hunting. Bow hunters need to get close to their prey for good shots, and luring big bucks with the scent of a sexy doe is one way to do it.
Is there any empirical evidence that these scents are effective in attracting big bucks? Urine and glandular secretions help wild animals, including deer, find each other to mate, fight or, in the case of natural enemies, stay away. Whether they are effective coming out of a bottle is debatable. However, this is a mute point - enough people believe in the value of the product to keep on buying it. So the market keeps on growing.
If you want to produce deer urine to sell, how do you do it? Paul Carson of Kane, Pennsylvania has been in the business for 15 years. He produces and sells urine under the name of West Wind Whitetails & Scents.
According to Carson, the first important factor is to have tame deer. He bottle-raises all his fawns that will later provide the urine. This includes bucks. Tame bucks can be very dangerous during the rut, so remove their hard antlers for your own safety.
Mr. Caron's collection system is simple. He has raised buildings about 8 feet square. These buildings have slatted floors that allow the urine to fall through to the sub-floor which drains the urine into a pipe and then into a bucket. The urine is collected every morning and refrigerated.
He puts 2 does in overnight for a period of about 12 hours. They have all the water and feed they need. Two does can produce about a gallon and a half of pee in this time period. Since the deer regularly eat in the buildings, there is no stress to them. The floors are pressure washed regularly to keep them clean.
Mr. Carson found that by boarding up the buildings to make them darker causes the does to come into heat. This is one way that doe- in-heat urine can be collected earlier and be on the market for hunting season.
The collected urine is strained. Carson says paint filters from the local body shop are excellent. The urine is immediately refrigerated. He adds a preservative - sodium benzoate (same stuff as found in soft drinks). Much of the urine is stored in 5 gallon buckets and shipped to scent companies all over the USA by UPS. (Paul admits he gets some pretty funny looks when he declares to the UPS clerks what the contents are). Doe-in-heat urine currently sells from $70 to $100 per gallon.
Mr. Carson packages the rest of the urine into 2 or 4 oz high density plastic bottles to be sold under his West Wind brand name. These are sold to local sporting goods stores, over his website and via the phone. For a small operation, bottling can be easily done manually.
We strongly recommend that you secure your markets FIRST before you invest in any production capability.
The easiest route is to provide urine to established scent companies who have the marketing channels in place. Ideally, you can secure contracts to provide the urine in advance. Be sure you understand and can live with the terms of any agreements.
The other way to go is to market the products under your own brand name. There are many more factors to consider here. First, you will need to establish a strong brand name. Your packaging must be appealing, and labeling is important. According to Carson, your labels should be 4-color and also include scan codes.
You will also have evaluate and develop your distribution channels. Your choices are direct marketing or use of retailers. Sporting goods stores are the best choice for retailers. You will have to do a lot of visits to the stores, phone calls and give out many free samples. Your success with the retailers will depend on how well your products sell. You may also want to consider some cooperative marketing programs with your retailers to move your products off their shelves.
Direct marketing can be done through selling off your website, direct mail campaigns, ads in outdoor magazines, brochures, trade shows and so on. There is much more administration involved - taking orders, collecting payments, shipping the products out and related activities. You need to be properly set-up and staffed for direct marketing. Otherwise, poor service will kill your business very quickly.
What about your product line? Doe-in-heat seems to be the best seller. There is also regular doe pee, and dominant buck urine (buck-in-rut). The latter also seems to be growing in popularity. You may come up with some other products that fit well into your product line.
What about unique features? Some claim there scents are 100% natural. Others guarantee freshness. Some claim that their products are not watered-down. Some claim that their pee comes from genetically superior whitetails. Some say their urine comes from individual animals and is never mixed. How will you differentiate your deer scent products from the crowd?
As with any business venture, the deer urine market has its risks. Here are some you should be aware of:
1. Competition - there are some big players with heavy advertising budgets in this market, e.g., Buck Stop Lure Co.'s Mate-Triks Original Doe-in-Heat Buck Scent, Wellington Outdoors' Tink's 69 Doe- in-Rut Buck Lure, and Pete Rickard's Love Potion No. Nine. In addition, there are probably many others smaller players in the market as well. (Paul Carson says business has never been better, so there still may be room for additional suppliers and products).
2. Opponents - PETA has been successful in getting deer urine products removed from some store shelves because of claims of animal cruelty. Don't even think of caging up your deer for long periods of time to collect urine. Practicing humane animal treatment and welfare will reduce this risk.
3. Scams - unfortunately, the industry has had a few scandals in the past where products were not what they were advertised to be - plain ammonia, cow urine, etc. being bottled and sold as deer scents. Deal with reputable companies, or if you are selling the product yourself, always be ethical and maintain your integrity.
4. Diseases - at least one hunter claims he got brucellosis from using deer urine. It is probably a good idea to collect urine only from TB and brucellosis tested and accredited herds. Now with the CWD issue, the animals should come from herds under CWD surveillance. Perhaps the industry needs to look at how to pasteurize the urine without reducing its effectiveness.
How to use the product
There are several ways deer scents can be used. One is to pour some on your clothing to mask your own scent and to attract the bucks. This is NOT recommended because deer can be dangerous animals when in rut and can attack (nearly happened to me)!. Also as indicated above, deer urine is hardly a sanitary substance, and there is a risk of contacting brucellosis or some other disease. Besides, when you walk into the house, your wife is sure to throw you out!
Here are three recommended ways:
1. Drag line method - approximately 100 to 150 yards before you get to your hunting area, take a clean piece of cloth, saturate in scent, attach a string and drag the string behind you until you pass your hunting spot. Hang the cloth about 1 foot off the ground and then walk back to your hunting spot.
2. Cotton ball method - place 5 cotton balls in an empty film canister overnight with the scent. Locate these cotton balls around your hunting spot and about 1 foot off the ground so that the scent can circulate.
3. Sprinkle method - open the bottle of scent and sprinkle a few drops in several areas around your hunting spot. Be sure to sprinkle scent on a few low ground branches so that the scent can circulate.
Deer urine is a totally renewable, sustainable resource that may offer some revenue diversification for white-tailed (and mule) deer farmers. It is definitely worth checking out.
[My thanks and appreciation to Paul Carson for sharing all his secrets on urine production and marketing with us at the Alberta White-tail and Mule Deer Convention in Edmonton in April 2001. Paul can be reached at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at http://users.penn.com/~deer ].