11/23/2010 – Learning more about how and why a deer reacts to hunting pressure will help hunters bag bucks more effectively. To understand how deer learn to fear man and how much human contact a buck can stand before he reduces his daytime movement patters, I’ve talked with master deer hunters and scientists.
As Dr. Keith Causey, retired professor of wildlife science at Auburn University, explains, “Deer learn to fear man just like any other animal learns to fear man. Man’s been a predator, and deer have been a prey species for thousands of years. The deer that don’t fear man have been weeded-out of the population. Fear by prey of a predator comes from experience and from being taught by the more mature members of the population.”
Dr. Robert Sheppard, a master bowhunter who teaches in bowhunting and blackpowder schools, also is a cardiologist who must pay close attention to even the smallest detail when practicing medicine. This trait of his also applies to his deer hunting. “Most hunters believe deer learn to flee from hunters when the animals see men, and that deer associate sighting a man with the knowledge that man is a predator,” Dr. Sheppard reports. “However, I tend to believe deer learn to fear first the odor man gives off. Then at some time during the deer’s development, the animal associates that odor with a visual sighting of man. As you walk through the woods, your body produces odor that smells much stronger to the deer than to you. I’m convinced deer recognize that human odor as a dangerous smell and do all they can to avoid it.”
Brad Harris, videographer and well-known deer authority, explains that, “In the woods, deer are aware of all the sights, the smells and the sounds of the forest. When man comes into the forest, man presents an unfamiliar sight, sound and smell. Because the deer’s natural instincts teach him to avoid anything not native to his environment, this may explain how deer learn to dodge hunters.”
Also, we know from biologists spending thousands of hours watching deer in the wild that a tremendous amount of information is transferred from the doe to the fawn during that first year of life. If you’ve watched young fawns with a doe, she’ll communicate danger, caution, fear and calmness to her offspring. Bob Foulkrod, a professional hunter and guide, suggests that, “Deer learn to run from man almost immediately after they’re born, because their mothers teach them to flee from that potential danger.” According to Dr. Causey, “Scientists have observed that fawns initially use a strategy of freezing to hide from danger until they reach 5- to 7-days old. After that time, they flee from man or any other predator or animal that approaches them.”
Dr. Sheppard feels that fawns fear man, particularly in the South, because, “Bow season starts early in the fall, often from mid-August to mid-October. In most of the areas where hunting pressure is heavy, by the time gun season arrives in November, many of the fawns, even those still with spots, have had enough encounters with human odor in the company of their mothers to recognize the smell as a danger signal. They’ve learned from their mothers while walking through the woods and seeing their mothers’ reactions when they encounter human smell. The doe will jerk her head up, snort and run off when she and the fawn smell humans. The next time the fawns encounter the smell, they know it means danger.”
Many hunters believe the more a deer sees or smells humans, the less likely that animal is to appear in the woods during daylight hours. However, Foulkrod believes the intent of the human determines the fear factor of the buck. “If a buck’s in a non-pressure situation where he sees hikers, blueberry pickers or photographers during the summer months, he may run on first sighting the human before turning to see if he’s being pursued,” Foulkrod mentions. “When he realizes he isn’t being chased or shot at, he can take a lot of human pressure. But after hunting season opens, and the bucks realize that every time they come in contact with humans, they’ll be pursued, then only a little pressure will put a buck into his nocturnal state. He’ll cease his daytime activities, especially if he’s a 2-1/2- or a 3-1/2-year-old deer.”
Causey agrees with Foulkrod as he states that, “Since deer are individuals, determining how much hunting pressure one deer can withstand and using that information to draw a conclusion about all deer is impossible. However, from the harvest data I’ve seen and the datasets I’ve reviewed, I know that when a buck is 3-years old or older and experiences intense hunting pressure, then he becomes reclusive in his behavior and almost impossible to harvest legally because of his nocturnal activity.”
To learn more about how much hunting pressure a buck can stand, including how deer become nocturnal and how to reduce hunting and hunter pressure and to determine the best area and time to hunt pressured bucks, go to http://www.protoolindustries.net/blog/.