Terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase was used to add labeled dAMP residues to the 3' end of oligonucleotide probes that hybridize to the 5' end of the neomycin phosphotransferase II gene. Southern hybridization conditions were described in which the sensitivity per unit of exposure time was about 30-fold greater for the tailed probe as compared to the 5'-end-labeled probe. The tailed oligonucleotide probe had the sensitivity per unit of exposure time comparable to that of a nick-translated probe of high specific activity: in 3 h of autoradiographic exposure both easily detected an amount of target equivalent to a single-copy gene in 10 micrograms of human DNA. The thermal dissociation profiles of 5'-end-labeled and tailed oligonucleotide probes were virtually identical and the tailed oligonucleotide probe was as allele specific as the 5'-end-labeled oligonucleotide probe. The useful lifetime of a 32P-tailed probe was about 1-2 weeks. Finally, by adding 50 35S-labeled nucleotides to the 3' end, we prepared a stable oligonucleotide probe with a sensitivity per unit of exposure time comparable to that of the unstable 5'-32P-labeled oligonucleotide probe.