Friday, November 9, 2012

Deer Scent Glands

I came across an article in the Natural Connections newsletter that you may have missed.  John Miller of MDC discusses the different scent glands of deer and how they use them.  He kindly gave me permission to reprint it. 

Click to enlarge
When a first-time deer hunter tags their deer on the leg, they sometimes see a strange “hole” above the ankle on the outside of the hind leg. Racing through their mind may be questions such as: How did this hole get in the deer’s leg? Is this from an injury or parasite? Did someone shoot this deer in the leg?

Upon close inspection, a matching hole at the same location of the other leg may be found and they soon realize that these are supposed to be on the deer. This may be their first introduction to how a deer makes its own scents, because they have just found one of several deer scent glands.

Like many wild animals, the sense of smell is very important to deer for survival. Deer, with their keen sense of smell, are good at identifying fellow deer and other animals, finding food, and detecting potential danger. White-tailed deer are equipped with up to seven external and internal glands that help them communicate with other deer. In addition to identifying specific members of the herd, these scent glands help deer to communicate health, breeding cycles, and even social status. The five most easily visible glands include the tarsal, metatarsal, interdigital, preorbital, and forehead glands.
  • Located on the inner “hock” of the hind legs is the tarsal gland. This gland allows deer to recognize other individual deer and social status. Strangely enough, deer may actually urinate on their tarsal gland and rub them together to get a more “individual” scent. 
  • The metatarsal gland is located on the outside of the hind leg between the hock and ankle. The use of the metatarsal is mostly a mystery and some biologists feel that it may alert other deer to danger. 
  • The interdigital glands are located in between the split hooves of the front and back feet. These glands may help deer leave a scent trail that expresses dominance to other deer. 
  • The last two sets of external glands are on the head. The pre-orbital gland is located in front of each eye in what looks like a tear duct. When rubbed on branches during the breeding season, the scent from these glands may communicate social status and gender. 
  • Finally, the forehead glands are located near the nose and most likely have two purposes. The scent not only relays breeding availability when left on branches and rubs, but also allows young deer to recognize their mothers.
As you prepare for deer hunting season, look for signs such as rubs and deer trails. With practice, some deer hunters can improve their chances by imitating one or more of these deer scents using home remedies or commercial fragrances. Scent glands ultimately help deer to recognize other deer, but also help them to navigate through their landscape

John Miller is Interpretative Center Manager of the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery Conservation Center
More detailed information is at this University of Georgia link.

1 comment:



  1. Deer stay alive by avoiding predators. They do this by using their senses to detect danger. A deer’s most acute senses are smell, hearing, and to a lesser extent, it’s sense of sight.
    Deer Scent

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