QUESTION: Bob, The first time I checked my trail camera photos this year, I captured an image of a nice buck with what appears to be a large growth on the side of its mouth. I've never seen anything like this before.
If I am able to harvest this buck, do you think it will be safe to eat? - Matt R.
ANSWER: There are several possibilities as to the cause of this growth.
Cutaneous fibroma: a benign tumor or wart caused by a papillomavirus. Because the growth appears to be underneath the skin and lacks any discoloration, I suspect that is not the case here. If it is, you still have nothing to worry about as far as consumption.
Abscess: a bacterial infection, often related to a wound or injury. Brain abscesses are also fairly common among deer - more common than most folks realize. They usually result from an injury to the skull, most often from fighting. Given the location on this deer, that is less likely. It's certainly not a brain abscess, but could be an abscess resulting from an injury to the jaw. Here again, consumption is not an issue and the deer appears to be in good condition.
Herniation: It's also possible there has been a herniation or some other injury or malformation of the mouth or inner lips, which is allowing food to pack into some type of pocket. I once examined a buck that had a defect in the roof of its mouth. Its nasal cavity was packed with food.
A fourth possibility that you probably hadn't considered is that this buck enjoys a good chaw of tobacco once in a while. He bears a slight resemblance to a shortstop I once knew.
Whatever the case, I believe this deer is safe to eat.