null Skip to Main Content
What’s the Deal with Deer Warts?

Brow Tines and Backstrap

What’s the Deal with Deer Warts?

Posted 2023-06-09  by  Mike Hanback

Ever see a deer with icky, hairless tumors on its body in summer? Most are temporary and harmless, but the affliction can be severe.

Montana bowhunter Len Strode was haying on his ranch one summer day when he ran up on a whitetail buck sprawled out next to a dike, gasping for air. Len hopped off his tractor and investigated. Oozing growths covered one side of the deer’s face. The largest was the size of a tennis ball. Batches of lesions ran along the animal’s back and undersides, around the groin and down two legs.

Montana law prohibits a citizen from putting an animal out of its misery, so Len contacted the regional office of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. A warden arrived, but the deer had already died. After taking pictures and putting on protective gloves, Luke and the warden loaded the animal so he could take it back to his office for further examination.

A biologist diagnosed “deer warts” and said the buck had the worst case he’d ever seen. It was the first deer the biologist knew of that had died from the affliction.

Image: Whitetail-Deer-Warts-1

Experts believing warts are transmitted from deer to deer via grooming. Image courtesy of Mike Hanback

What are Deer Warts?

Scientists call them cutaneous fibromas. The gray-to-black hairless tumors, which can sprout up in varying sizes on a deer’s skin, are caused by a virus that can spread from deer to deer. According to the National Deer Association, experts believe grooming among deer likely plays a role in spreading the virus. Warts frequently appear on an afflicted deer’s head and neck — precisely where deer lick and groom each other the most.

Although the papillomavirus that causes warts is fairly uncommon, fibromas can pop up on whitetails anywhere in their range during summer. Scientists say that although the tumors can look horrific on a deer, they are usually a temporary condition. Most affected deer clear up and recover.

In rare and extreme cases, as with the buck Len found in his hayfield, warts can kill a deer. If a bad case of fibromas grows on a deer’s eyes and mouth, interfering with the animal’s ability to see or eat, the deer will likely die.


Image: Whitetail-Deer-Warts-2

Often, deer live with warts for years and rarely die from the condition. Image courtesy of Mike Hanback

Can You Eat a Deer with Warts?

Suppose you shoot a deer with warts during September bow season. Can you eat it? First, it’s OK to gut it. Deer cannot transmit the papillomavirus to people, so you’re good there.

Biologists note that warts grow on skin and do not penetrate through to the meat, so a deer with a minor case of fibromas that otherwise appeared normal and healthy before you shot it is probably safe to eat.

Not that anyone would want to, but never shoot and try to gut or eat a grossly deformed deer with an extreme case of icky, hairless warts. An animal severely afflicted with fibromas might have an internal bacterial infection that renders the meat rancid.


Watch all the latest video episodes

Latest Products
Exit off-canvas