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All About Deer Glands

It isn’t groundbreaking news that getting past a deer’s ability to wind danger is the key to consistent hunting success. While it is totally impossible to eliminate all human odors, it is crucial to do all one can to keep human odors to a bare minimum.

Hunters, however, who control their scent, and combine the use of different natural glandular odors common to white-tailed deer, will dramatically increase their chances of bagging a mature buck. Combining these two strategies creates a powerful tool in the deer hunter’s arsenal of tactics. As most season hunters know, there are several internal and external glands on whitetails. Each plays a significant, specific, and essential part in a deer’s communication, pecking order, behavior, procreation, social structure, and its day-to-day survival.

Knowing how, when, where, and why to use a particular scent or combined glandular odors that match specific hunting tactics is a trick that will radically improve any hunters overall success. This buck is pass the does estrus pheromones over his Vomeronasal Organ, located in the roof of his mouth in order to identify the exact condition of estrus the doe is in. Attract more buck when using doe estrus by not using too much at one time. Instead make it smell more natural by using doe estrus sparingly. The glands of a white-tailed deer include the tarsal, interdigital, metatarsal, preorbital, forehead, orbital, prepucial, nasal, anal and sebaceous.

There is also an important organ, located in the rook of a deer’s mouth, the Vomero -Nasal organ that also plays a significant role in the life of a whitetail, particularly during the breeding season. Additionally, even a deer’s saliva plays a vital role – especially for male deer.

Each gland and/or organ emits pheromones, secretions, and an unbelievable combination of a wide variety of compound chemicals. These olfactory messages act to alert, calm, attract, frighten, identify, and even assist in establishing a deer’s rank within the herd.

By understanding each gland or organ and what the deer uses it more for, hunters can create “olfactory illusions” that will help to attract, hold, purposely spook, and even intentionally direct deer in specific directions. Combining the scents of deer glands with different tactics will increase your deer sightings and success. Plan to include the tips shared here – you may end up taking a buck of a lifetime this season!

INTERDIGITAL GLAND

The interdigital gland is a commonly used gland by whitetails. It is located between the toes of the hooves.It is a small sac that opens from a duct.When squeezed, the sac emits a yellowish substance with a potent odor that reeks of rancid cheese.The odor emitted from each deer’s interdigital gland is unique to that particular animal and it helps to identify it to other deer.

Each time a deer puts its hoof on the ground, the gland emits a tiny amount of interdigital scent. The scent enables other deer to identify and follow a particular deer if they choose to. The odor from the interdigital gland also aids deer in identifying when a transient deer is in their range.When interdigital molecules begin to evaporate, the odor of the track changes, and may be how deer and predators can judge the freshness of the track and which way the deer is moving.

Interdigital Scent

is also used to warn other deer of potential danger. When a deer stomps its hoof, it is depositing an excess amount of interdigital scent. In doing so, it alerts other deer to danger through scent, sound, and sight.
A deer coming upon excess interdigital scent immediately knows there is, or was, potential danger in the area. It is alerted and will mill about nervously for several moments in an attempt to decipher the odor. It will then either walk back in the direction it came or take a wide berth around the scent left. It rarely, if ever, walks directly over it.

TACTICS

This scent can be used in a few ways to attract, intentionally spook, or change a deer’s travel route. To attract deer with this scent, it is important not to use more than a couple of drops of interdigital on a Drag-Bag, or the soles of a boot before walking toward your stand. Once you are within 30 yards of the stand, walk a circle completely around it and then more directly to the stand. Deer will often follow the scent with their nose hold tightly to the ground.

Interdigital scent can also be used to intentionally roust deer from thick cover (blow-downs, standing corn, laurels, etc). When a likely parch of cover is spotted, place several drops of interdigital scent on the ground. Stomp your foot several times and glow an alarm-distress snort. To create the entire illusion of a deer signaling danger, position yourself so your scent is blowing toward the cover. This tactic can be used without including the alarm-distress vocalization.

Interdigital scent can also be used to purposely change a deer’s direction of travel toward a particular stand instead of it taking another trails. It works especially well where two well-used trails intersect. Simply place a several drops of scent (interdigital) several yards down the trail you don’t want the deer to travel (the excess scent indicates a deer encountered potential trouble at the spot). Once the deer smell the excess interdigital, they will briefly pause, become skittish, and quickly head back from where they came or turn down the other trail leading to your location.

TARSAL GLAND

The tarsal gland is an external gland located on the inside of a deer’s hind legs. This gland secretes fatty substances called lipids. Tan in color most of the year, this gland turns almost jet-black during the rut. Bucks continually urinate and deposit pre-pucial scent over it, which cling to the long, thick hairs of the tarsal gland, making it darker and darker as the season progresses.

Deer use their tarsal glands and the pheromones from them (which are mostly made up of lactones) as visual and olfactory signals. In mature deer, both bucks and does, the gland emits more pungent odors and is darker in color than it is in less mature deer. When excited, the hairs on the tarsal gland stand erect and can be seen for quite a distance by other deer. There is little doubt that this gland is one of the more important glands to whitetails – and hunters.

Any hunter who has harvested a buck or doe during the peak rut knows about the strong smell that is associated with this gland. However, some may not know that the tarsal gland is used in a behavior called “rub-urination.” Rub-urination is what a buck does as he begins to use his tarsal gland scent. He places his two rear legs together pressing each tarsal tightly against each other. Then, he squats slightly and begins to urinate. The urine flows over both glands. Then, he squats a bit lower and excretes fluid from his pre-pucial gland over the tarsal glands. Next, the buck rubs the tarsal glands together several times. This action is referred to as rub-urination.

THE TACTIC

The optimum response period from tarsal scent is from mid-October through mid-December. Place several drops on a drag-rag before walking to your stand. Once you are within 30 to 50 yards of the stand, walk a circle completely around the stand and hang the drag rag on a low branch. Then, put a few additional drops of tarsal scent on the soles of your boots and walk to your stand. The tarsal scent will permeate the area and act as an attracting scent for both bucks and does. It will also act as an agitating odor for mature bucks. Don’t place tarsal scent on your clothing. You don’t want a buck’s attention focused directly on you. Instead, direct his attention or aggression to an area off to one side or the other of your stand.

Another way to use tarsal scent is to place it in mock scrapes or mock rubs that you create. Additionally, it can be used in a natural scrape or at the base of a natural rub. I use tarsal scent in a natural scrape or rub to lure in a belligerent buck that has become agitated thinking a competitive buck is working his area. Both bucks and does will react by freshening the scrape or rub with their own tarsal scent. Mature bucks will tear up the scrape or rub significantly. If this happens, it is a sure sign you’re onto a mature buck in the area.
Tarsal scent is especially effective when used with full-sized deer decoys or when using a natural deer tail as a decoy. Place a few drops on the inside of the decoy’s legs to add realism to your setup. With a natural deer tail, please a few drops of tarsal scent on the ground beneath where the tail is hanging. The tail should hand about 24 to 26 inches above the ground on a branch. Lastly, you can use tarsal scent along with a does estrus scent when hunting during the rut.

FOREHEAD GLANDS

The forehead glands are between the top of the deer’s eyes and the antlers. They become active in September and get progressively more pronounced throughout the rut. The potency of these glands is directly associated with the deer’s age and social status. The forehead glands produce an oily substance that makes the hair around the eyes darker. As a buck rubs a tree or an overhanging branch, his forehead scent is deposited. This acts as an olfactory communication message to other deer. It advertises the social ranking, current breeding status, and even the age of the buck leaving the scent. The older a buck is, the more trees and branches he will mark. Some biologists believe that the odor from the forehead gland pheromones left on trees and other vegetation helps bring does into estrus.

THE FOREHEAD GLAND TIP

Unfortunately, forehead gland scent is not available commercially (at least not at this writing). The only way I have used it is from a dead buck. The best way to do this is to take a clean rag and (while wearing plastic gloves) rub the rag vigorously against each gland. Or, press the rag to the glands and, with your fingers, squeeze the oil from the glands. Place the rag in a zip-top plastic bag and seal it immediately. When making mock rubs or scrapes, remove the rag and wipe it on the rub or on an over-hanging branch over a scrape. This has proven to be an excellent strategy. I have seen both bucks and does investigate mock rubs and scrapes I have created using the forehead gland scent.

PRE-ORBITAL GLANDS

The pre-orbital or lacrymal glands, are the tear ducts located on the inside corner of the deer’s eyes. There are a few sebaceous and sudoriferous glands located at the tips of each pre-orbital gland. Some researchers feel these glands do not produce a lot of odor. Others disagree with that analysis. Deer often rub the corners of their eyes on vegetation, on over-hanging branches, twigs, and while rubbing trees. Many other researchers, including my good friend and former business partner, Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III, feel that deer use these glands for “self marking” purposes. Therefore, it appears deer do deposit scent from their pre-orbital glands purposefully. The pre-orbital gland’s primary function is as a tear duct. It is also believed to be under muscular control and may be opened to emit odors. It is also said pre-orbital glands are more visible in mature bucks and signal aggressive behavior to other bucks.

A PRE-ORBITAL SCENT TACTIC

This is another glandular scent that is not made commercially, but can be collected the same way as forehead gland scent. It will help “create the entire illusion” when making mock rubs and scrapes. I get slightly better response from deer when I include the pre-orbital scent on face rubs and scrapes. But, it involves a considerable amount of effort to collect it from a dead animal.

METATARSAL GLANDS

Metatarsal glands are inside a light tan-colored circle of hair about 1 2/3 inches in length located on the outside of the hind legs between the toe and the hock (or heel) on whitetails. Some naturalists and biologists feel the gland is atrophying (getting smaller through evolution because the deer no longer needs or uses it). Therefore, it has no viable purpose any more. This is thought to be the case because the metarsal glands no longer have ducts. Still, others believe the glands emit a pheromone that deer use for communication and as an aggressive odor to warn off other deer during the rut. Using Metatarsal Gland Scent as a Tactic.

Because the glands are not totally understood, be prepared for anything to happen when using metatarsal glandular scent. Over the years, I have tried it several times. Sometimes it has helped to attract deer – but not often enough to make it a worthwhile tactic.

I have provided information about four more glands below. None of them are made commercially that I know of. Therefore, it’s not practical to try to obtain scent from these glands or organs to use as a hunting tactic. But, it is important to know about these glands and the purposes they serve.

NASAL GLANDS

These two almond-shaped glands are inside the nostrils. They help a deer detect odors. Some researchers feel they are also used to lubricate a deer’s nose. It is also believed that deer use their nasal glands to leave scent on overhanging branches and at rubs.

VOMERONASAL ORGAN

The organ is often referred to as a buck’s second nose! It is obviously not a second nose at all – but it does serve some of the same functions and purposes as the nose. The next time you take a buck, look at the roof of its mouth. You will see a diamond-shaped formation with a small passage leading into the palate. This is the vomeronasal organ (VNO).

The VNO is crucial to bucks during the rut. During this time, its primary function is to analyze doe urine. During the rut, a buck will make a lip-curl while he inhales deeply – this is also known as a Flehmen gesture. The buck curls his upper lip and sucks air into its mouth. Any urine scent gathered passes over the organ. The buck is immediately able to evaluate the urine to detect if it contains estrous pheromones. If the urine does hold estrous pheromones, the buck will know if it has been left by a doe that is close by him or from one that may have passed through the area recently. This helps the buck avoid chasing after does that may not be ready to breed for 24 or more hours. When the vomeronasal organ detects a higher volume of more pungent estrous pheromones, the buck immediately pursues that particular scent until he locates the “hot-doe” that deposited it! According to researchers, the vomeronasal organ is capable of detecting the exact state of estrus the doe is currently in to within hours. Analysis of urine through the vomeronasal organ is thought to synchronize the breeding readiness between bucks and does, and ensures that both sexes are in peak breeding condition at the same time.

PREPUTIAL GLAND

This gland is located on the inside of the buck’s penal sheath. It is thought to serve two purposes. It is used for lubrication and is also thought to contain sperm. Since researchers only recently discovered this gland, they have yet to determine its exact functions or role it may serve in communication among deer.

SALIVARY GLANDS

These glands are inside the mouth and produce saliva (which contains enzymes to help in digestion). When a buck rubs a tree he ALWAYS licks the rubbed trunk and deposits the salivary enzymes on the tree. He also does this when he rubs twigs and branches at scrapes. When a buck makes a licking stick, he takes a small twig o r tiny sapling into his mouth and places it between his teeth. Then, he gently pulls his head back to fray the end of the twig or sapling. It is thought that the buck does this in order to deposit scent from his salivary glands on the licking stick as well as on overhanging branches at scrapes, and on rubbed trees.
Well, there you have it – an explanation of the deer glands and ways to use the odors they emit to help you either reduce or cover your human odor or help you attract deer. By using each glandular scent correctly (by using it sparingly and not over using it), you will increase your sightings and, hopefully, the number of deer you bag as well.

Article by Peter Fiduccia, taken from PDFA Winter Magazine
Peter Fiduccia aka The Deer Doctor has been the host of the Woods N’ Water Big Game Adventures TV Series for more than 30 years. In 2014 the program will be aired on the Pursuit Channel (on both DirectTV and Dish Network) and Time Warner Sports from October to December. Peter has written several books on tactics to hunt whitetails including his two latest books; Shooter’s Bible Guide to Planting Food Plots and Whitetail Tactics.

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