Why Do Deer Antlers Smell? And How To Remove The Odor!

So you found a set of deer antler sheds, or you want to make a European mount with your big buck…but you notice an odd odor coming from the antlers…

What is that? Why do deer antlers smell and how can you remove the odor?

In this article, I’ll tell you a few reasons why deer antlers smell and share with you how I remove the odor so they are safe to display in my home.

Table of Contents

Why Do Deer Antlers Smell?

Deer antlers sometimes have a smell or foul odor that can be caused by the glands located in their forehead, or sometimes by natural debris stuck around the base, such as mud, plant vegetation or even blood.

Why Do Deer Antlers Smell? And How To Remove The Odor!

But, rest assured. It’s very easy to remove the smell from deer antlers or deer skulls, that way you can proudly display them in your home or business.

Types Of Deer Antlers

Deer antlers can be found in two different forms: hard horned and velvet.

Velvet antlers are found during the growth phase of a deer’s antlers and are not found as sheds. When a buck is killed with velvet antlers, it is not uncommon for velvet antlers to sometimes stink and even shrink during the drying period..

This is because the antlers still have skin, membranes, and blood inside of them that need to be properly cured and preserved before it’s ready for display.

Most taxidermy shops will know how to cure velvet antlers, and remove any odors while preserving that unique ‘fuzzy velvet‘ look.

However, If anything is missed inside of a velvet antler, these can spoil and quickly produce a bad smell. In order to properly preserve velvet antlers and avoid any type of smells, great care must be taken to preserve them with special processes.

Hard horned antlers are solid and calcified antlers after the velvet growth stages. They are usually very hard and do not contain any living tissue inside.

Hard antlers should have no reason to smell really bad, but there can be a number of different reasons as to why a shed antler or the antlers on your deer skull might have a smell to them.

Hard antlers are usually found after a deer has ‘shed’ them, found on a ‘dead-head’ (a dead buck skeleton)

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Every case is different and will vary, but some common culprits of a smelly deer antler are:

  • Lingering hair and blood – Freshly dropped sheds can sometimes have hair and blood on the bases that can produce strong smells. While some sheds come off cleanly, others can carry a lot of caked-on blood or hair that will quickly spoil and start to smell.
  • Bone smell – Because antlers are bone, they are made of calcium and that can produce a distinct scent. This can be hardly detectable to a very strong odor depending on the antler and the conditions it is found in.
  • Gland scent – Deer have multiple scent glands on their bodies, and these all serve certain functions. A forehead gland is often used when a buck makes a rub and helps to communicate to other deer in the area. Antlers can and will get this scent on them as well.
  • Other animal scents – From coyotes that will chew on antlers or mark their territory with them to small rodents that like to eat antlers for the nutrients, other animals love deer antlers and will often leave their own scent on them.

If you have a deer antler that has a smell to it, it is most likely from one or two of the sources listed above.

Removing The Smell From Deer Antlers

For hard horned antlers, removing the smell is actually quick and easy. All it requires is a place to work, some warm water, and a mild detergent.

A common favorite is a simple dawn dishwashing soap. Soak the antler in the water for a few minutes, and then using a rag or medium bristle sponge you can start rubbing them down with the soap and water.

This will not only start to remove the smell, but can also remove any additional mud, dirt, or moss that clings to the antler. If you see any hair or blood around the base of the antler, this is a great time to remove that as well.

Once you have put in a little bit of elbow grease and rubbed down every inch of the antler with soap and water, completely rinse it off with clean water and allow it to dry.

Not only should the scent be gone, but the antler itself should clean up very nicely.

If some scent persists, repeat the process and attempt to scrub the antler a little harder. Just be careful you do not scrub too hard, however, as this can damage or discolor the antler.

Repeat the process until you get the deer antler to a level of scent that you are happy with.

Final Thoughts

There are a number of reasons as to why your favorite set of sheds or deer skulls might have a funny smell to them.

Fresh deer antler shed

From lingering blood or hair to deer gland scents, it is not uncommon to have a little bit of a smell with antlers but luckily with a little bit of water, soap, and elbow grease, you can get rid of this smell and continue to enjoy your deer antlers without any annoying smells!

Frequently Asked Questions

Do shed antlers have a smell?

Most deer sheds will not have any detectable smells to them, although some can be found with stronger odors, especially if they are attached to a rotting carcass, or found in a damp and wet environment.

How do you stop deer antlers from smelling?

A gentle wash and occasional cleanings with soap and water can keep any hard horned deer antlers from producing any bad smells. For fresh velvet antlers, your best option is to contact a reputable taxidermist.

Will washing or cleaning my deer antlers ruin them?

As long as you use warm water and mild soap, cleaning deer antlers is perfectly safe.