The Daily, The Woods

Study a deer’s body language

Most people know this buck’s body language. He’s scent-trailing a doe.

Many years ago a book hit the market. It dealt with human body language. Some said that reading it would allow a man or woman to study the opposite sex’s body language, and if everything clicked, good things could happen.

The study of body language is of benefit to certain people, and police are good at reading what a person is thinking when stopped for a traffic violation. Employers study the body language of a person being considered for a position with that firm.

Are they nervous, and is it caused by the interview or does it mean something else? People who refuse to look another in the eye seldom get the job because it’s thought they are trying to hide something. A person who chatters often is very insecure.

Knowing how to read a deer’s body language can mean increased success.

Body language plays another big role with people. Interviewers often stand while the person being interviewed sits, and this position provides greater leverage and an increased sense of superiority in the interviewer. However, the person being interviewed can figure this out pretty easily, and stand up to gain an equal or better leverage.

Sometimes knowing what the interviewer is trying to do, and beating them to the punch, can be an asset. It also can be detrimental in certain cases.

All of this having been said, it’s been my practice for many years to study a deer’s body language. Reading a deer can help hunters determine when to draw and shoot, and when to wait for a better chance. The clues are there in how the animall behaves.

A calmly feeding deer is at ease and is not suspicious. A deer that constantly looks around senses danger. A doe that stands with her head up, ears swiveling in all directions while sniffing the air, is on red alert. Young bucks follow the lead of a mature doe, and larger bucks often stay far enough behind the does to stay out of trouble.

Body language is easy to read. A doe moves slowly down a trail, and if she has been shot at or has detected human movement in a ground blind or tree stand, she will stop abruptly. Her and her fawns will lower their head, and snap it up to spot movement. if it is late October, and the rut is about to start, and she stops and checks out her back trail, it usually means a buck is trailing behind.

Little things can mean a lot when watching deer react to different stimuli.

Her body language tells you to sit still, don’t move or make a sound. This assumes the hunter is downwind of the deer. If the deer can’t smell you, and no noise or movement is heard or seen, it’s likely the doe will get over her jitters and continue walking. Any buck will follow behind her. It means remaining silent and motionless.

A look from a buck toward another, a hesitation in a step, ears laid back, neck hairs that stand on end, a lowered head and antlers and a certain swaggering and threatening posture can tell hunters which animal is the boss buck of this crew.

Once the head goes down or turns with a hard gaze, smaller and subordinate bucks duck and move away. I’ve watched slow-thinking smaller bucks get antler tines stuck in their butt, and I’ve seen them still cowed, wary and limping 60 days later. Slow, dull-witted bucks often are physically injured by larger bucks, and some yearlings die. They learn quick from dominant bucks if they don’t pay attention.

So, you ask, how can knowing a whitetail’s body language help put venison in your freezer? It’s relatively simple. Let’s use the above examples.

A few examples of body language and what it means. There are others.

Once a doe decides there is no danger, and quits doing her head fakes, she moves on because she has detected no danger. The unseen buck that has been trailing her saw no movement, heard no sounds and couldn’t smell any danger, so he walks down the deer trail past your stand and a quartering-away shot drops him.

A highly agitated deer will flick its tail back and forth while staring intently at a real or imagined threat. Often this tail movement precedes a sudden departure.

A quartet of whitetail bucks move along, and somewhat like young kids, they bump and jostle each other, act like their big brothers and get into mock antler-pushing contests. Hunters may not be interested in the year-and-a-half-old 4-pointers and 6-pointers, but has his eye on a big 8-point with a rack that extends past his ears.

Big bucks usually take casual interest in small bucks. They are more alert than naive basket racks, but if they pass close enough for a shot, and the buck stops, unless the hunter has made a big mistake, the buck may see another animal of comparable size. In every buck of any size, there exists the need to display their dominance. It is what leads to epic battles than can cause the death of another buck during the rut.

Watch that big buck’s ears. If they are up and twisting right and left, he is listening to some distant and unheard sound. However, if his ears go back and the neck hairs rise, it usually means another big buck is nearby.

It now becomes a serious decision time. Shoot the buck within range or wait to see if an even larger buck is in the area. If it is the latter, the larger buck may approach for a closer shot or may turn and head the other way as he shags a doe.

The study of deer behavior is a continuous work in progress. It begins when fawns are little, and a doe never seems to lose their innate fear of everything. Studying that fear, and the cautiousness of a big buck or the easy-going attitude of young bucks, can help hunters find a chink in the armor of whitetail deer.

Know what the body language tells you, and use those weaknesses to your advantage. Sometimes killing a buck is nothing more than reading their body language, which in many cases, will tell hunters what they can expect next from the deer.


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