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August 20, 2020 5 min read

If you took a test right now on deer glands, how would you do? Do you know how many glands a whitetail deer has? Do you know where each gland is located? Do you know the function or purpose of each gland? If you are not sure how to answer any of these questions, you are not alone. 


Over the last decade, I have been making mock scrapes and using only three glands lures. After learning more about some of the other glands, a whitetail uses to communicate with I have added more lures to my hunting arsenal. Let me help you understand the eight glands and their purpose. 


Glands on the Leg

Interdigital Gland

Whitetail deer have an interdigital gland between their hooves on each foot. To see this gland, you will have to spread the deer's hoof apart and look between them. Between the hoof, there is a small hole that allows the interdigital gland secretion to come out. 


Each deer has a distinct odor. The interdigital gland allows deer to identify one another. Each time a deer takes a step, it releases a small amount of the gland secretion. Why is this so important?


The importance of the interdigital gland allows a mother to locate their fawns. Bucks can find a doe bed, check it, and follow a doe that might be in estrus. Non-receptive does will be on high alert when they smell the interdigital gland lure from a cruising buck. Deer know their home range well and like to know there are no intruders.

Metatarsal Gland

The metatarsal gland is located on the outside of a whitetail deer's back legs. About five to six inches above the deer's rear hooves is a white tuft of hair. Inside of the hair is an opening that is a duct for the metatarsal gland.


The metatarsal gland will give off an aggressive odor during the rut to warn other bucks in the area. Each deer will have a unique scent that it will give off. Bucks can become familiar with the individual odor of each other. The metatarsal gland seems to be larger in deer that live further north. Some biologists claim that deer are no longer using this gland. I am not sure what to think because I use the gland lure for hunting almost every year. 


Tarsal Gland

A whitetail deer has two tarsal glands that are located inside the deer's hind legs. You can find the tarsal glands where the deer's back legs bend. The large tufted of lightly-colored hair sticks out and is strategically placed for the deer to create a unique scent specific to that deer.


Because of the unique odor hunters can sometimes smell a buck before they see him. The pungent odor is always most potent during the rut when the deer are making scrapes. When a buck is worked up, the hair on the tarsal glands can stand erect as a sign of aggression or dominance. Some deer biologists believe the tarsal gland scent can signal a doe that a buck is ready to breed.


Glands on the Head

Nasal Gland

The nasal glands are inside the deer's nose. Biologists describe the glands as being shaped like almonds. The nasal glands are essential for deer. Hunters know deer rely heavily on their noses to help them detect odors in the air. But there is another vital purpose for the nasal gland.


The primary purpose of the nasal gland is to detect odors in the air to help deer survive. Deer are constantly checking the air and walking into the wind, so they know what is around them. A deer's nose is far better than their eyes!


The second purpose of the nasal gland is two-fold. The gland lubricates the nasal passage, which allows deer to detect scents. The lubricant from the nasal gland can help deer leave their scent on licking branches.


Preorbital Gland 

A deer has two preorbital glands that are just below the corner of their eyes. The preorbital gland has two different glands located in the tear duct. The sudoriferous and sebaceous glands are the glands inside of the duct. The preorbital glands are controlled by muscles and can open wider to emit an odor.


The primary purpose of the preorbital gland is a tear duct that helps lubricate the eyes. Deer will often put a licking branch in the corner of their eye. The preorbital gland will open and let the liquid from the gland cover the branch. Biologists believe this is a way that deer will self-mark areas. Older bucks often have preorbital glands that are more defined, which may be a sign of aggressive behavior towards other deer. 


Forehead Gland

The forehead glands are located above the eyes and between the antlers of a buck. A doe also has forehead glands above their eyes and between their ears. The glands will start to produce an oily substance in September. As the rut moves on, the glands will secrete more oils. The secretion will cause the hair on the buck's forehead to get darker and even reddish.


The purpose of the forehead glands on a buck is essential. As a deer marks a tree with the oily substance, it leaves some information for the other deer in the area. A deer can learn three things from a rub: First, a deer can determine the age of the deer, making the rub. Secondly, a rub can explain a deer's social status. Finally, it can communicate to other deer its breeding status. 


An older buck secretes more oils from his forehead glands. Thus, older deer will mark more trees. Some biologists believe that forehead gland secretion has a pheromone that can help a doe come into estrus. 


Salivary Gland

The salivary gland is inside the mouth of the deer. The glands are on the roof of the deer's mouth, in their cheeks, and gums. Deer use their salivary glands for more than just digesting food.


The primary purpose of these salivary glands is to produce saliva. The saliva will help a deer digest food it eats and is also vital for marking. Deer will deposit saliva on branches, vegetation, and trees to let other deer know they are in the area. When a deer takes the licking branch in its mouth, it will bite down with their teeth. Biting the branch allows the deer to deposit their scent to the licking branch.


Newest Gland

Preputial Gland


This gland is located in the penal sheath of the buck. It has two primary purposes: lubrication for breeding, and it contains sperm for reproduction. The preputial gland is the newest gland that has been found and studied. Deer biologists believe it to be used for communication during breeding, but there is no hunting use at this time.


These eight glands are used daily in the whitetail world. Some are used more than others, and some are only used during certain times of the year. Deer use non-verbal communication to interact all of the time. In the next post, I will give you some strategies on how to use each of the gland lures while hunting.

 

Brian R. Kightlinger

 

About the Author 

Brian Kightlingher is an avid outdoorsman, middle school social studies teacher, and official whitetail deer scorer. He has had a passion for everything in the outdoors since his youth. Brian enjoys shooting archery and competing in 3-D archery competitions. He enjoys talking about whitetail deer, turkey, exotics and meeting others who have the same passion that he does. As a staff writer for bowhunting.net, Brian's column is read by people all over the world. Many of his articles are about his personal hunting adventures and product reviews. Brian's work has also been featured in the Northeast Big Buck Club Magazine and the Pennsylvania Game News. 

Brian speaks to hunters about Field Judging Whitetail Deer and Scoring Deer. He has created "Left In The Field Outdoors" where hunters can read his weekly blog, watch videos, and check out bucks harvested in Northwest Pennsylvania. Visit him at LITFOUTDOORS.com