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Deerhunting 101 Tarsal Glands

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The tarsal glands on a whitetail deer are located on the inner surface of hind leg and secrete a powerful identifying odor used by deer all year. This is a patch of extra-bristly hairs, each growing out of its own fat pad based below the skin. The fat pads secrete an oily substance that coats the hairs. Deer unfamiliar with each other will sniff each other’s tarsal glands to get to know one another. Their powerful 300 million nasal scent receptors store this information in their brain which can recall it in the future for identifying purposes.

Tarsal glands can be used as an attractant because they peak a deer’s curiosity. Doe tarsals will attract other does and bucks all season. During the rut phases, the tarsal glands of bucks will bring in dominant bucks for a challenge.

You can save tarsal glands from a deer you shoot. There are bacteria in a deer’s tarsal gland which is proven to cause illnesses in humans so use rubber gloves while handling tarsal glands. With a sharp knife, skin around the gland and remove the entire gland before field dressing.

View a youtube video on field dressing featuring tarsal gland removal:

The quicker you can take a harvested deer’s tarsal glands and get them to the refrigerator or freezer the better off you will be. Take the tarsal glands, put them in a zip lock bag, mark it with the deer’s information (sex, estimated age, dominance level) and store it in the freezer or refrigerator.

How to use the tarsal glands in the field

The tarsal gland on a deer is normally only 12-18 inches off the ground so that is the most logical place to put it. Wedge the tarsal gland in the crotch of a sapling or branch.

Alternatively, you can hang tarsals from a branch to get better wind dispersion. With a knife tip, punch a hole in the skin around the gland. Run a string through and hang it about 3 feet above the ground within shooting range of your position.

Try to install it so the scent will be carried by a cross wind to the deer’s anticipated location. This can get tricky; you want the deer to smell the tarsal glands, not you, so choose a location wisely.

*Never leave tarsal glands or any scents in the field while you are not hunting. This is a bad practice and only educates deer.