Deer-Discussion Leftovers

Think of them as tasty leftovers from a recent meandering phone conversation with state Deer Project Leader David Stainbrook about the 2015 preliminary deer harvest. Nothing big. Just a few interesting observations about deer behavior gleaned and stored for future reference after delving into a peripheral discussion about a Penn State deer-collaring research project Stainbrook led a grad student.

An indelible lesson learned was that even when researchers knew deer were very near, the stoic hoofed critters were nearly invisible and impossible to find bedded in brushy undergrowth. Although Stainbrook didn’t attempt to quantify what percentage stayed put and what percentage fled, or the buck-to-doe ratio of those that stayed, he came away from his project amazed once again by the uncanny ability of deer to blend into their habitat, not to mention their bold nerve to ride out close encounters by remaining still and smartly alert while allowing human intruders to pass by. Just a long honed survival skill.

Stainbrook said some bucks were gone well before anyone could get close, but they quickly returned to the vacated area anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours later. The rest hung tight, hidden, and let the researchers pass right by.

“Deer blend in so well when still; they were amazingly tough to see, even when we knew they were right there with big black collars on their neck,” Stainbrook said in a discussion spinning off local hunters’ perception that our local deer herd is shrinking, contrary to MassWildlife claims. “It did not appear to be based on individual deer — e.g., skittish deer versus deer that stay put — but rather on other factors like weather conditions. It depended on how noisy we were and how well they could sneak out unheard and unseen, but also how close we got to them, and how noisy we were.

“One interesting thing I learned by investigating bedding sites from some of the mature bucks was that they selected sites that were nearly impossible to sneak up on without them seeing or smelling you. That is likely why they lived to adult age and why we hunters have such a tough time meeting up with mature bucks that show up on our trail cameras.”

So chalk up this tidbit of information as just a little food for thought for hunters who have likely walked right past many a wise, wary, confidently bedded trophy buck that chose to hide rather than run. More often than not, the strategy works in the deer’s favor, especially during coordinated drives involving many hunters working in unison with walkie-talkies.
Then again, how many times have you heard successful hunters tell their tales of shooting monster, wall-mounted bucks that they discovered curled up at the base of a gnarly hemlock tree in a damp, dark swamp during a windy, driving rainstorm, or, then again, standing motionless behind a clump of smallish trees that make them practically invisible.

It’s why experts implore deer hunters to move slowly, make little noise and always diligently scan the area through which you’re passing with optimal care and focus. Sometimes the only detectable clue of a deer’s presence is a slight flick of an ear or slow head movement. And even then, a hunter must be efficient to quickly shoulder a gun and hit his or her mark before the deer springs up and is, in a flash, gone.

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