Deer Sense Breakdown
by Thomas Grill
It may be obvious that deer have very keen senses. But, let’s break this down anyway. The more you know, the greater your success will be in the field. The three primary senses that a whitetail deer will use in order to avoid becoming a slab of steak on your grill are: smell, vision, and hearing. By understanding the strengths of a deer’s detection methods, you will be able to tailor your hunt in a manner that eliminates the possibility of sending that deer running 30-40 miles per hour the other way.
The sound of a deer snorting downwind will make every hunter’s heart skip a beat. A deer’s sense of smell is the best sense that a deer possesses. Their sense of smell is by far much more superior to that of a human. Be aware that humid conditions can really enhance this sense because it wets the membranes of the deer’s nose. In less humid conditions, the membranes of a deer’s nose are drier which can diminish the strength of this sense. With the right wind and weather conditions, a deer may be able to smell a threat anywhere from a couple hundred yards to a ½ mile away. This is why the hunting industry places so much emphasis on scent control products. So be very selective with your choice of laundry detergents and the applications of your deodorant, body wash, and other hygienic products that are ‘fragranced.’ Despite your scent control efforts, the best way to actually defeat this sense is to use the wind as an advantage and hunt downwind from your target.
The eyes of a deer are position on the sides of its head. This is a very common characteristic of a prey animal and it provides a much larger field of view. Even with the ability to see almost 300 degrees around them, they lack depth perception unless both eyes are focused on the same targeted area. Deer see in both 2 and 3 dimension. If both eyes are looking in different directions, they would see a 2 dimensional picture. Whereas if both eyes overlap field of view, that area would appear in 3 dimension. When compared to our vision, it would be fair to say that deer have roughly 20/100 vision and cannot see the same color spectrum that we do. In the past, studies suggested that deer could only see shades of gray, white, and black. But, more recent studies are claiming that deer see other colors in the spectrum such as blue very well. Because of this, they tend to have trouble distinguishing stationary objects. Nonetheless, they are extremely capable of picking up quick movements and they obtain excellent night vision. To counter this sense, outdoor color scheme clothing such as camouflage combined with slow movements that are outside of a deer’s 3 dimensional scope is ideal.
Deer have fairly large cupped ears. It is said that with the right conditions, a deer can hear up to a mile away. When compared to a human, studies have proven that a whitetail can hear high frequencies much better than we can. On the other hand, they have poorer hearing in regards to lower frequencies. One thing to consider, is if a deer doesn’t see or smell you, even though they may hear you, it may not view you as a threat and flee. This is because with the expansion of our own species, deer are usually exposed to all kinds of different sounds such as airplanes, automobiles and other sounds associated with human life. However, it is essential that you keep that sounds that are related to your hunting efforts to a minimal especially when you are making an attempt to get up close and personal. Smart deer will easily be able to determine that you are a threat just by the clinking and clanking of your equipment. Another factor to consider is that high winds can diminish a deer’s ability to hear long distances. So I highly recommend that you take advantage of this and use the wind in your favor to defeat both the ears and nose of the deer. Also, when walking conditions are noisy, be sure to pattern yourself to sound in an animalistic manner.
If you learn to beat these senses, you will put more meat in your freezer!
Thomas’ outdoor obsession began as child when he chased whitetail deer and small game throughout the coal infested hills of Pennsylvania. Upon high school graduation, he relocated to Wyoming where he completed a four year enlistment in the U.S. military as a police officer, followed by another six year enlistment in the intelligence field. After his military obligations, Thomas, became a private contractor for the Department of Defense, which led to multiple deployments. It did not matter what the job or environment was, he was always consumed with his passion for the great outdoors. When he arrived stateside after his last Afghanistan deployment, he decided that he had to make a career out of it.
Since then, he enrolled and graduated from a professional hunting and fishing guide school based out of Colorado. He currently works as a North American hunting and fishing guide and is in pursuit of his own outfitting business. He loves his job and has the utmost respect for the sport and the wildlife. Overall, Thomas’ goal is to not only share his love for the outdoors with others, but to educate them in a manner that will promote greater success in the field. He feels that the more research you do in regards to the animals, the greater one’s obsession will become.
With over 25 years of hunting and fishing experience, Thomas has successfully hunted and fished the United States from coast to coast. Furthermore, he has even spent time hunting and fishing abroad. His preferred weapons of choice include archery and black powder equipment. If he isn’t busy chasing big or small game animals, you can find him waterside with a fishing rod in hand.