Understand fluid motion as it relates to deer hunting is part of the Science of Fear

The theory of fluid motion is a urban deer hunting concept built on maintaining a presence with a Whitetail deer (at the alert distance) long enough to make a successful shot. It is an adaptation of one of the oldest traditional hunting techniques- still hunting. With a major shift in Whitetail behavior in suburban America, the ability to use “urban camouflage” is a fundamental tool in becoming an evolving predator and has become far more effective than classic tactics.

Establishing and controlling alert distances is one of the most effective skills of the ‘Modern Still Hunter’ (The Urban Deer Complex).

Still hunting is a developed skill that requires patience, endurance, and focus. As we push forward into the 21st century it has become a dying art for Whitetail hunters and each year the tradition fades. Over the years I have harvested many deer throughout New England practicing the skill my Uncle Dennis had taught me in my youth.

I will be first to say that like all things, we evolve. As evolving predators, many urban and suburban hunters have stumbled upon a unique urban deer behavior. That different behavior (separate from classic rural hunting grounds), is the change in “alert distances” of Whitetail that have a highly developed and complex view of human activity. This change in behavior has sparked an adaptation of “modern” still hunting.

Alert distances, were briefly discussed in the previous installment of the series (Flight Distances- the Science of Fear). AD, or “Alert Distance”, is the instance where a Whitetail becomes alarmed at human presence or on guard, and when they actually begin to flee, Whitetails have shown their “flight distance”. We find that deer in suburban and urban America are more tolerable to human contact because, put plainly, they do not have much of a choice.

Even though deer are more apt to allow humans to come closer, it does not mean we can casually walk up to them. There is still a very specific group of human behavior a deer is looking for in a human to establish what is safe and what is not.

The first of those requirements is that Whitetails will still only tolerate human activity in places they have come to expect it, (conditioned to it). These are the places the casual outdoor enthusiast hikes on a trail, rides a mountain bike, or anywhere else human traffic is commonplace. Whitetails will observe humans on these trails from much closer distances than what rural Whitetails would ever consider. Once we step off trails and enter the “non-human” walking areas, deer will quickly switch from alert to flight from fear of deer hunting.

The second behavior that deer come to expect is fluid motion. This is the fundamental basis of the “theory of fluid motion” deer hunting technique. The average non-hunter will never notice a deer standing 20 yards off the trail. They are probably caught up in cell phone calls, headphones, conversation, and everything else that makes non-hunters less keen on spotting deer.

These deer that have developed complex ideas of human behavior and will maintain this alert distance as long as the human does not stop. In most cases, a sudden stop in fluid motion will cause the deer to activate the flight response.

In the hunting theory of fluid motion a hunter must maintain constant movement when a deer is spotted off of a trail. Learning how to walk by a deer, draw our bows, and make an ethical shot is something we should practice previous to the season. Hunters must also maintain the discipline to understand that in the majority of cases we can pass by the deer many times before it will take flight.

I have harvested many deer with this deer hunting method over the years. Walking backwards past deer, making small loops (of constant motion) to pass for a better chance, and whatever else deer have come to associate with “safe” human behavior.

Although I will not say that classic still hunting does not work in suburban America, the availability of walking trails and this unique adapted behavior make this “modern” still hunting technique of blending in with the everyday human much more effective. Whitetails are an extremely adaptable creature that can distinguish very specific different behaviors in humans, making the still hunter an obvious threat.

We need to understand that most of this comes down to the age old saying, “we saw the deer when we least expected it”. Those moments, no matter what part of the country we are in, hold one important and fundamental fact. This is when we behave least like hunters and more like the “everyday” citizen. It is when we are closest to our vehicles, talking to our hunting companions on our way out, and just plain not being hunters.

For a more in-depth look at modern still hunting tactics, and urban deer behavior including such topics as how camouflage affects a Whitetails interpretation of human threat, please refer to Part Two, Chapter Eight- Urban Camouflage and Part Four, Chapter Six- The Modern Still Hunter, in the book The Urban Deer Complex- Real Tactics of the Part-time Hunter.
Refer back to ‘The Science of Fear’ for more on this series and stay tuned for the next installment, ‘Scent: The Strongest Memory…

About The Author A.J. DeRosa

A.J. DeRosa is an American film maker and outdoor writer. He is considered a pioneer in the modern era of hunting. From the amazon best selling deer hunting book ‘The Urban Deer Complex‘ to his critically acclaimed film series 'Project Upland'. He continues to push the boundaries in outdoor media, including niche market regions and unique cultures to the mass market.

comments (3)

  • I have been using non threatening/non predatory behavior to deceive deer for years now. Early in my bowhunting career I learned this lesson as i was heading into one of my stands. I used to sneak in and out of my stands very carefully. Crouched, slow, silent movements…very predatory in appearance. One day as I was sneaking in, i rounded the corner of a finger of brush protruding from a thicket into open hard woods when I heard a deer stomp, snort and bolt. this deer saw me sneaking and immediately recognized my movement as predatory. it wasn’t until a few days later that I noticed a deer watching me walk casually down a trail on the same property…I saw the deer from a ways off but i never broke stride or even acknowledged the deer’s presence by looking directly at it. this deer let me pass within 15 yds. As i got down the trail a ways i stopped and turned around to watch this deer step out of the woods and cross the trail with zero regard for my crossing just a few moments before. Deer are particularly adept at perceiving predatory/threatening behavior.

  • I read this article a few weeks ago. And thanks to what I read here. I was able to harvest my first suburban deer in 14 years. Try it it works.

  • Some of the closest, most intimate encounters I’ve had with deer have been with animals that I’ve decided not to kill, or ones that occurred outside of hunting season. These encounters, whether in or out of hunting season, were made possible by my ability to instantly behave in a non-threatening way. I’ve found that dropping to the ground “on all fours”, not looking directly at the animal and even mimicking “herbivore behavior” has a very calming effect on deer. Once I spent about 15 minutes in the corner of a greenfield with a 2-1/2 year old 4 pt buck who must’ve thought I was the weirdest looking deer he’d ever seen. He browsed, groomed himself and inspected me from as close at 5 yards before losing interest and moving on.

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