Everyone thinks that dogs have the upper hand when it comes to their sense of smell but most veteran hunters know that isn’t true. The nose of a common whitetail deer has up to 297 million olfactory receptors whereas dogs have only around 220 millions of them.
If you take deer hunting seriously, then you will need to make sure you understand deer’s characteristics and behaviours really well. Otherwise, no matter how advance your gear is, your chances are slim (you don’t really need expensive, advance gears for a good deer hunting experience).
Images speak a thousand words, so we created an Infographic, Deer Senses 101 – detailing important facts you need to know.
Hunting is a common activity amongst a wide variety of people. As such, no two people do it exactly the same way. There’s a fine art to it. Deer hunting, especially for whitetails, is a popular sport that a lot of hunters love doing expertly. They’re easy to find in most hunting zones, but this presents a serious challenge when it comes to hunting them successfully. In order to properly hunt a whitetail, you need to understand that their senses work differently than our own. It’s not necessarily that their senses are better than ours, just that they are different and need to be kept in mind when you go out hunting them. Their specialized senses allow them to escape human “predators” much easier than we’d like to think.
The two senses that you need to be aware of–and to prepare yourself to tackle–are a deer’s sense of smell and hearing. These are the two prioritized ones within a deer that will give you away. Its sense of eyesight should also be kept in mind, too.
Let’s start off with understanding a deer’s sense of smell. The basic fact that you have to keep in mind is that a deer can smell over 1 000 times better than both you and I, combined. Like dogs, deer have the capacity to smell anything between 500-1 000 times more than us. To put that in perspective, you should think about the idea of what a smell could mean to a deer. So, a deer will be able to smell you, in the sense of where you are now–making it easy to avoid you–but it can also smell where you’ve been in the past and even how long ago you were there.
This means that you have to really take note of the wind and which direction it is blowing to. Make sure that you keep your scent blowing away from the deer so that it only smells the forest and the vegetation, not you moving around and getting close it.
As far as specific distances go, considering this information, experts in deer hunting and their senses believe that a deer can smell you up to half of a mile away. It makes it pretty hard to sneak up on them for that reason. If you are in a climate with high humidity (around 50% to 70%), a deer will have ideal conditions and will smell you from half a mile away without a problem.
In the same sort of situation as far as the environment is concerned, a deer can smell a doe’s pheromones even better than they can scent a human. Deer have been known to sense these important pheromones up to a full mile away in the right situation. These are, of course, ideal conditions for the deer and its sense of smell. But it’s important to keep in mind.
In terms of what deer are actually sensing, it has the ability to process and understand up to six smells at one time, giving them faster processing power and the ability to determine whether the smell is a good one or a bad one much faster as a result. Their noses are perfect equipped for taking in smells, having thousands of receptions in their nostrils to absorb the scents coming towards them. Additionally, there is a unique part of the deer’s mouth, on the roof of it, which acts as a second nose, giving them even more power in that area. This is called the Jacobson’s organ.
A deer’s sense of hearing doesn’t actually differ much from our own, in that it is no stronger or weaker than what we can hear as humans. This means that in terms of what we can hear and how far away we can hear it, it evens out pretty well. Humans can hear between 20- 20 000 hertz, and tend to best receive sounds between 2 000 and 5 000 hertz. Deer can hear within the same frequencies, and best understand the sounds that are coming between 3 000 and 8 000 hertz. As you can see, there aren’t many differences in the specific numbers. This means that deer can talk to each other with their noises just as humans do without our “noise” ranges, and we will be able to physically hear each other and the noises that we are making.
One of the big differences in a deer’s hearing and a human’s hearing is that deer have the ability to hear high frequency noises that humans can’t at all. The best example of this would be when two pieces of metal scrape and slide against each other. It produces a tinkling or scraping sound which isn’t a big deal, but the reality is that it is making a much louder noise that we just can’t physically hear. This very same noise is what has caused the deer to run away, having heard you from quite a distance away. This means that while a deer’s sense of hearing isn’t really that much stronger than a human’s, it can still hear a lot that we can’t really process, so you need to hunt in awareness of this.
The other big difference between a deer’s sense of hearing and a human’s is that their ears can adjust. They are similar to a satellite dish that takes in a sound and then can swivel around (together, or in different directions) to see where the sound is coming from. We can achieve something similar by forming a cup out of our hands and putting it around our ears (come on, we’ve all done it before). The thing is that deer can move their receptive ears in all directions and accurately pinpoint where the sound is coming from.
You’ve probably seen a deer facing you and staring right at you, but his ears are swivelling all around. If this is the case, he’s trying to figure out where the sound you made is coming from; he hasn’t really spotted you as a threat yet. If, however, both ears are pointed at you and he’s looking at you, he’s zeroed in on you being the threat and is getting as much sensory information from you as possible. In these cases, you know that you’re essentially stuck.
Another way that deer communicate is by listening to each other. When they move in groups, you’ll see a deer’s ears move around every so often, mostly in one direction or another, and this will give you some tips on where the other deer in the group are. This is great to watch for if you can remain undetected where you are.
While a deer has good eyesight, this is often seen amongst hunters and experts as the weakest sense that they use. Deer are thought to be farsighted, meaning that they can see things that are far away much clearer than they can see things up close. This means that a threat will be easier to spot from a distance easier than up close as well, which is something that you can use to your advantage if you are careful about it.
Deer can see approximately 5 times better than us, and can see yellow and blue colours, but are unable to process red or green colours. They, instead, are able to see a lot more with their peripheral vision with a wide angle that gives them the power to see a lot more than we are capable of. Experts estimate that a deer have peripheral vision between 250 to 270 degrees, giving them a field of vision of 300 degrees. This means that their blind spot is a mere 60 degrees. That being said, their colour and depth perception takes a large hit as a result. This is why, when they are trying to get a good look at something, they twist their heads and shift their angles a lot… it gives them the power to create a 3D image to look at and see clearly.
Deer have incredible night vision and can detect even the smallest amount of movement, making hunting at dawn and dusk (the best time to hunt deer) tricky, but also more likely, because this is why they like to move around the most and enjoy their surroundings. It’s something worth considering.
What This All Means
Hence, now you know all about the main senses that a deer has; their pros, their cons, and everything else that you are going to need to educate yourself on this incredible animal. The thing is, now that you have all of this information, what are you going to do with it? There is so much to take in and so many options to work with, how does it all come together?
Firstly, let’s take a look at how all of these senses lineup in terms of their strength: smell, hearing and sight. The most important thing when you are looking at hunting a deer successfully is to fool its sense of smell. Like what we’ve already discussed, this is going to be how a deer is aware of where you are in the present moment as well as where you have been in the past, so you need to make sure that you work in favor of that.
When you are picking a hunting spot to use as your base, make sure you create a spot that is going to be directing your scent away from the deer, that is one of the defences that you can have against them sensing you before you can get a shot and getting a deer successfully. If you do this correctly in the zone where deer like to be, you will find that the deer will come.
When you pick your hunting spot, however, you also need to remember that it should be a place where you are going to be able to stay still comfortably for an extended period of time. Remember that deer will be able to detect even the smallest hint of movement and will be able to zero in on your location using sound and eyesight combined. Pick somewhere that you find relatively comfortable and settle in for a wait.
If you want to really get fancy with using their senses against them, put out a deer decoy in a strategic spot and some scents. This combined with a bleat call will help you bring any nearby deer to come and check out what they see to be a companion, bringing them perfectly into your area so that you can get a clear shot at them.
There is no perfect way to use their sense against them, they’ve survived as long as they have for a reason, after all, but if you keep all of this in mind and you keep working on crafting the art of hunting deer, you’ll be able to really have a good kit together for the hunting season. As difficult as it might be to be able to successfully hunt a deer, you are going to be able to make it a lot easier with the information that you see here, and knowing everything about a deer and its senses is going to be able to give you the freedom to make your hunt more successful.
It’s like the old saying goes, “know your enemy”, except in this case, it’s going to be more in the ballpark of “know your target”. Working to make sure that you stay in their tiny blind spot, metaphorically speaking by knowing where that blind spot is will make you a much stronger, better and efficient hunter, and you’ll be able to make the kill a lot easier than without knowing it. There’s a time for intuition, and then there’s a time for knowing what you’re up against. Using these two hand in hand will make you successful in many ways when it comes to setting yourself up for success at the hunting camp.