Whitetail Body language
Submitted By: © 2005 James L. Bruner on 8/30/2005
Deer communicate through many actions which include scent, verbally, and
visually. Here are a few of the most common visual signs encountered while in the
woods. Realizing what these actions mean can help you understand what is taking
place and possibly what to do next.
Flehmen Or Lip Curl
Although this behavior is normally correlated with deer, especially bucks, this
action is not exclusive to deer or even the males of each species but its always
related to detecting certain scents in urines and receptiveness. A buck will
exhibit the lip curl after detecting certain scents. The reaction is caused due
to an olfactory organ called the vomeronasal. The organ is located on the roof of
the mouth near the nasal passage and acts to block off normal breathing and
direct air, or scents, into the pouch where it is examined and consequently
produces the infamous lip curl. If you experience a buck reacting in this manner,
chances are he has picked up the trail of a hot doe and will soon leave the area
unless you're lucky and the direction of the trail is heading towards you.
More than likely another buck is in the immediate vicinity when you witness a
buck with his neck and back fur standing on end or bristled. If the buck is the
actual aggressor then his head would probably be held high to make his antlers
and overall stature look as large as possible. This could well be the dominant
buck in the area. Providing he exhibits no immediate signs of leaping into
action, you might want to wait a moment to support your suspicion and possibly
get a look at the other buck causing this reaction. In any event it's a good sign
that the rut is in full swing and there are does nearby that are breeding or
nearing their breeding cycle.
If you should encounter a buck with his ears laid back and fur bristled its
normally a sign of a lower form of aggression with no immediate intent to commit.
Many times a smaller buck will perform this technique and back down before being
run-off by a larger more dominant buck. While trying to prove his status the
smaller buck will normally concede to the larger buck before continuing to leave
the area in search of more receptive does. In this event pay particular attention
to the field of vision the deer is using. It should be a perfect indicator of
where the other buck will appear.
Typically a doe in estrus will exhibit a very easily recognized form of body
language through the use of her tail. A doe with her tail straight out and stiff
is, more times than not, ready to be bred. A darkness or black appearance on her
hocks will confirm these signs. If you encounter this type of action in the
field, stay alert! Chances are a buck, or maybe two, aren't too far away.
Also referred to as a "fake" a deer will many times use this action to catch a
hunter or predator in the act of movement to confirm their suspicions. A deer
will often times catch a glimpse of movement or something out of place while its
feeding and snap their head up to try and get a better look. This is usually
followed by a fairly lengthy stare in the same direction. The deer will then
resume feeding, or appear to, and at any given moment snap its head back up to
try and catch you off guard. It's been speculated whether or not the deer
actually will resume feeding in between these intervals. This will occur until
the deer is satisfied that no danger is present but beware, this an alert deer
and any movement may send it into flight.
This is often found in succession after a deer has tried the head bobbing to
seemingly no avail. The foot stomping is a general warning sign that something
isn't right in this neck of the woods and is associated with scent left on the
ground for a further warning. It has also been noted that deer will use this
tactic to try and get a hunter, or predator, to make a move. Personally I believe
this was devised much more so for the predator to try and stimulate their
instinct of chase when an animal tries to make a quick get-away. Although it
works equally well with some people don't be totally alarmed when a deer begins
to stomp. I have seen both bucks and does stomp at a squirrel in the brush then
return to feeding. All may not be lost in this case so hold your composure and
wait for the deer to settle if possible.
This is commonly seen in the woods by anyone who has spent time in deer country.
The "all is well" sign in amongst the herd provides a positive message that no
apparent danger lurks nearby. Deer seen in this manner are generally very calm
and grazing randomly. The tail flick actually serves dual duty by signifying that
the deer is also about to move. If you experience this action you've done your
homework correctly and haven't alerted the deer of your presence.
Everyone has seen this and it usually brings a few words of despair but don't
feel completely lost for the day. It is common for a doe to raise her tail in the
air when running. It's a visual sign for the yearling to follow through the
taller grasses and undergrowth. This doesn't mean that the deer have run out of
range either. Sometimes deer will bolt a short distance for no apparent reason
and then stop. If you're hunting with a firearm stay on the deer. They almost
always stop for a look back before entering too deep into the woods. Consequently
its been noted that deer running with its tail down has the good possibility of
being a buck. Keep your eyes peeled for deer trying to sneak off in this manner
during the confusion. Could be a wily old whitetail buck is slipping right past
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