Whitetails Also Communicate via Scents

Like most animals in the world, including tame cats and dogs, white-tailed deer  communicate with one another via scents, which is a good thing to know if you are a deer hunter. All mark their personal home ranges, larger hunting ranges too if a wolf, with urine. Urine is apparently different enough in odor for each animal, even of the same species, to make it clear which among them marked the boundaries its home range with urine. This is especially important among mature whitetail does with young and the most dominant (highest in the local buck pecking order) of bucks living in each square-mile or two (except perhaps where whitetails have become accustomed to being overabundant). Does with fawns viciously protect their smaller (90-250 acre) individual home ranges from invasions by other does with fawns. Whereas dominant bucks allow a certain number of lesser antlered bucks (lower in the pecking order) to live in smaller home ranges that overlap with ranges of other bucks and does within their large, urine-marked home ranges,  as the primary breeding phase of the rut draws near, via threat or battle, bucks most dominant force all other antlered bucks in their ranges to temporarily live elsewhere. 

About mid-October, musk odors produced by antlered bucks become a dominant form of communication. A pungent musk then being produced in increasing volumes in buck tarsal glands located on the inner surfaces of their hind legs just beneath their hams, is carried via a liberal stream of urine to buck ground scrapes (see photo), intended to warn other bucks to keep out of their home ranges, now their intended breeding areas. Antlered bucks also mark their intended breeding ranges with easy-to-spot and smell antler rubs (bark scraped off of tree trunks with antlers to expose large patches of bright wood), which are laced with another identifying musk originating from glands in scalps of bucks—carried by a viscous fluid that runs down the sides of their heads down onto the sides of their necks, causing wrinkling of neck fur most obvious on dominant breeding bucks. Scalp musk is also regularly applied to branches or boughs overhanging ground scrapes of dominant breeding bucks. Before long during this period, lesser bucks are forced off-range and the only ground scrapes thereafter regularly renewed (commonly once every 24–48 hours) within doe ranges are those made by dominant breeding bucks, serving as potent reminders to displaced bucks to “keep out or suffer the consequences.”

 Once the first two-week breeding period begins two or more weeks later (in November), the pheromone emitted from urine of does in heat becomes a dominant form of communication. Each mature or yearling doe is in heat 24-26 hours and only about 10%, (1–2 does per 2 square-miles) is in heat on any one day. Downwind bucks can detect the odor of this pheromone two or more miles away (ignored or checked cautiously by mature experienced bucks if accompanied by human odors). If a dominant breeding buck happens to be accompanying another doe in heat within its range, another doe in heat will not wait long for the buck to show up. It will then go to the buck, easy to locate via its strong airborne musk odors spreading downwind.

All whitetails have tarsal glands. Those of does do not produce musk. Tarsal glands of both sexes produce another odor, ammonia-like, emitted in great quantity by whitetails while they are greatly alarmed. When airborne, it serves as a warning to all other downwind deer within 200 yards or so that something dangerous is near (a hunting wolf or human, for example). Much of this odor falls to the ground, creating an easily-to-identify trail scent that can be rapidly followed by less-fleet deer such as fawns. Where emitted, this trail scent serves as a warning to other deer four or more days. A bounding whitetail will usually halt upon gaining a safe distance from a hunter or predator to cleanse (lick) the tufts of fur overlying its tarsal glands to halt the release of “danger scent.”

 Individual whitetails, including fawns, are also identified by one another and by hunting wolves via a variety of scents released into their hoofprints by interdigital glands located between their cloven hooves.

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