7 Whitetail Deer Glands and What They Do

By Brad KaufmannFebruary 1, 2021

What role do the glands on a deer perform? Deer hunters are likely familiar with the tarsal gland and the communication role it plays during the rut (breeding period), but did you know there are actually 6 other glands found on the white-tailed deer, many of which are used for communication?

Check out the illustration below for a closer look at the seven glands of a white-tailed.

Pre-Orbital Gland Forehead Gland Nasal Gland Inter-Digital Gland Pre-Putial gland Tarsal Gland Metatarsal Gland

Deer Glands on Head

1. Pre-Orbital Glands ​

If you’ve ever watched a buck work an over-hanging branch (licking branch) at a scrape, you’ve likely noticed that there’s more going on than him simply thrashing the branch with his antlers.

Look closer and you’ll see that deer use the licking branch as a means of contact with their pre-orbital gland. Located in the front corner of the eye, this gland likely produces a scent that bucks and does rely on for communication.

2. Forehead Gland ​

Another gland a buck uses while tending a licking branch or rubbing a tree, is the Forehead Gland. Similar to sweat glands, the forehead gland lies beneath the hair follicles of a buck’s forehead. 

This gland secretes a fatty oil that bucks transfer to a rubbed tree, post, or licking branch in the communication process, primarily during the rut. Research shows the forehead gland to be most active in dominant bucks.

3. Nasal Glands

You may fool a deer’s eyes, but you’ll rarely fool their nose. A deer’s nose was designed for survival. Within this system is the nasal gland, located on the inside edge of each nostril.

The nasal gland is designed for detecting odors in the air. The gland lubricates the nasal passage, allowing for greater reception of scent in the air.

4. Inter-Digital Glands

You’ll find the interdigital glands on a deer located between their hooves on each foot. Spread the hoof apart and you’ll find a small hole, designed to emit interdigital gland secretions for herd identification. This is likely a very important and complicated gland that most hunters don’t even know exists.

With every step, a deer leaves scent via this gland, allowing deer to identify each other, as well as determine how long ago a deer was there. It is believed that when multiple deer travel the same trails at different times, they aren’t following the visual trail, but they’re following the scent from the interdigital glands of previous deer.

2 other uses of the interdigital glands, are by bucks when making scrapes. When they scrape at the ground, they are leaving emissions from that gland in the ground. And whenever a deer stomps their hoof in caution of potential danger, they may be leaving scent to deter other deer from using that area at a later time.

5. Pre-Putial Gland

The newest gland to be discovered on the deer is the Pre-Putial gland. It is located within the penal sheath of a deer and serves the purpose of lubrication for breeding during the rut.

Deer Glands on Legs​

6. Tarsal Glands

The tarsal glands are what most hunters are familiar with. The tuft of hair at the tarsal gland is easily located inside the deer’s back legs, near where the legs bend. The pungent stench that develops at these glands will often allow you to smell the deer before you see it. 

But despite what many hunters think, this gland does not actually produce scent. Rather it produces a fatty oil that mixes with the tuft of hair and captures urine as deer rub-urinate down their back legs.

Due to the bacterial growth and foul odor found at the tarsal glands, hunters should avoid touching, or allowing the tarsal glands to come into contact with the meat during the field dressing and butchering process.

7. Metatarsal Glands

The metatarsal gland is located on the outside of a whitetail deer’s back legs, five to six inches above the deer’s rear hooves. Little is known about this gland’s purpose. In fact some biologist claim it serves little, if any, use these days. While other researchers believe that it acts as a temperature gauge to regulate the deer’s body temperature and conserve energy.

Still, others claim that the gland puts off a strong odor designed for territorial communication among bucks during the rut. The size of the metatarsal gland varies by region, with northern deer displaying larger glands than what you’ll find on deer in the south.

Brad Kaufmann
Brad is a full time employee with Bowhunting.com. He works behind the scenes with both the Bowhunt or Die Webshow, and many of the videos and articles that Bowhunting.com produces.
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