Deer Scent Communication
What do we really know? - Dr. Karl V. Miller
To learn more about deer glands, hover over each gland .
Research conducted by Dr. Atkison while he was at the University of Georgia demonstrated that the entire area between the antlers and eyes is another very important gland to whitetails. The skin in this forehead area contains large numbers of sweat glands that become active during the rutting season. It seems certain that this gland is the source of scent left on antler rubs, and possible on overhanging branches, during the breeding season.
The preorbital, or lacrymal gland, is a small pocket located in front of the deer's eyes. At most times the pocket is closed. However it is under muscular control. Rutting bucks may open this gland when signaling their aggressive intents to other bucks. In additions, does often open this gland when they are tending their fawns.
Inside the nostrils of deer are two almond-shaped glands that empty to the nostril by a short duct. We don't know if this gland produces a scent or if it just serves to lubricate the nose. However, it is possible that it may be used to mark overhanging branches in addition to other glandular regions of the head.
Without a doubt the most important gland to whitetails, the tarsal gland is located on the inside of the deer's hind legs. This gland consists of a tuft of elongated hairs that is underlaid by an area of enlarged sebaceous glands. These glands secrete a fatty substance, called a lipid, that adheres to the long hairs.
All hunters who have harvested a buck know about the strong smell that is often associated with this gland. However, not many know that this smell does not come from the gland itself but rather comes from urine deposited on the gland. All deer urinate onto the tarsal gland in a behavior called rub-urination.
The interdigital gland is located on all four feet. It is a small, sparsely haired sac that opens between the toes by a short wide duct. In this sac you can generally find a yellowish, cheesy material. The material often has a foul, rancid odor. Some of this scent in undoubtedly left in a deer's track every time it takes a step. Molecules evaporate off at different rates. This could cause the odor of the track to change over time which may be how a deer (or a predator) can tell how old the track is and which way the track is headed.
The metatarsal gland is located on the outside of the deer's hind legs. It is an oval ring of whitish hairs that surrounds a black callous area. The area under the hairs has large numbers of enlarged sebaceous glands. We have been unable so far to determine what function this gland plays in deer communication, if any.
At the University we have very recently discovered another previously unknown gland on whitetails. The preputial glands, as we call them, are located on the inside of the buck's penal sheath. Since this gland was discovered so recently, we have not had time to determine what purpose it serves in communication among deer.
Two Noses - Vomeronasal Organ
Few hunters realize that a deer actually has two "noses". The second nose is technically not a nose, but it serves some of the same purposes. If you look on the roof of the deer's mouth, you will see a diamond shaped structure with a small passage leading into the palate. This additional nose, called the vomeronasal organ (VNO), is similar to the Jacobson's organ that snakes use to "taste" the air. Deer use the VNO exclusively to analyze urine.Finely finished hunters are the result of Years of Scientific Study combined with Years of Experience.