My first experience with using an animal scent was in 1969 when I went deer hunting for the first time with a friend of mine, his older brother, and father. During the long drive up north to Hurley, Wisconsin, I would occasionally pick up this odd odor in the car, and I finally had to ask what the smell was. I was surprised to find out it was some mix of (deer) doe urine and other materials. They said doe urine is used to attract bucks, [male deer] and mask the smell of humans. Not coming from a hunting family this is something a novice wouldn’t know or understand, at least I didn’t, and I actually thought they were joking.
Thus began my journey into animal scents, I have long since given up hunting. In 1980 when I bought my first 35mm camera that I use in place of a rifle, but my fragrance passion and studies continue to this day, because of this curiosity about the animal scents.
Lures, also known as scent baits, are used extensively for hunting, trapping, and even fishing. There are striking similarities between lure making and perfuming, as many of the same materials are used or were used, such as deer musk, ambergris, civet, essential oils, etc.
Of course just like most modern perfumes, almost all lures are made with synthetics.
Lures are used in a sense as a human might wear a perfume, not to smell good, but in a way to illicit a response, an action or a reaction. There may be various responses to both: will the scent trigger fear, signal a food source, or even a mating response? The materials are also used in similar ways: ambergris and musk are used as fixatives, and the synthetics musks are used to mimic primordial scents.
Of all of these materials, I found deer musk to be the most interesting. There was a buck lure we used that was supposed to have deer musk in it, and it was quite an interesting scent. In 1975, I started to play around with making my own lures, and stopped in at a small sports shop up north with friends looking for this buck lure and hoping to find deer musk, but to my surprise was told this was not made with real deer musk.
The owner picked up a small bottle from behind the counter and told us, this is real deer musk, to me it looked a little like ground coffee, but the smell of it was shocking! It smelled nothing like we had thought what was deer musk.
He explained it had been banned and was now illegal because of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, and that synthetics are now used. I forgot what he mentioned his small stash was worth, but in the back of all of our minds we wished we could have been able to afford to buy some, but instead we settled for some of the synthetics.
In the following years, every now and then you might find someone offering real deer musk, and, as before, it would prove to be synthetic. On the other hand, civet musk was always found in good supply, as was castoreum. I suppose part of that was because so much of it was used in the food and flavor industry in addition to the perfume industry.
Starting in 2004 or so, civet musk became impossible to find after hundreds and hundreds of thousands of civet cats (not actually felines, they are closely related to the mongoose) were destroyed inhumanly after the SARS viral outbreak of 2002-2003. Sadly, they had been wrongly identified as the source, and because of this slaughter the civet cat is now on the CITES endangered species list. Around this same time I had been experimenting with more and more fragrances that I would wear rather than the lures, and began to study some basics of perfuming.
I would give some away as gifts and had received some nice feedback, so I continued on with my perfuming interests and research, and the more I read in old books, I found the same reference to many of these materials that I had used in the lures, specifically the animal musks. So there I was full circle as it were, looking for deer musk.
Of course this quest was in vain, by mid 2008, early 2009, I had given up the search.
During the summer of 2009 while finalizing a civet paste purchase, I was notified by US Customs that a number of permits were required. I contacted the US Fish and Wildlife Department for help, and was surprised to learn of the number of permits needed. While researching this process I also discovered that deer musk was also a material that could be imported with the proper licenses.
After exhaustive work, legal fees and permit expenses, our company SMK Fragrance received all of the required permits in November of 2010, and we had located a CITES-licensed exporter and finalized the sale and import of a musk pod.
Sadly as humans one of our faults in the past and to some extent now, has been to exploit our natural resources, this was due to ignorance, greed, or simply ignoring the facts, whether the resource was deer musk, timber, crude oil, or fresh water. We know now there is no excuse for this type of behavior. In fact, over the last decade or more, strict laws and conservation efforts have saved a number many natural resources from extinction, and have helped some populations rebound. This type of management and conservation has resulted in the Siberian deer CITES status to be raised to the appendex listing of II, the same status as agarwood species.
Part of the Siberian deer management for controlling the population and overall health of the herds requires culling of any sick animals as well as culling of aged deer through managed hunts. This type of harvesting is the source of the legal musk pod export, and the money for the managed hunts as well as the sale of these pods helps offset the management and conservation fees. Unfortunately, poaching and illegal harvesting still occurs, and some of the government seizures of these materials help generate income to aid in the conservation and management fund. I wanted to share this information to let the public know there are legal ways to obtain true deer musk.
Image: Medieval woodcut illustration of a musk deer (Wikipedia)
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