The first topic we tackle in this series called ‘The Science of Fear’ on urban deer behavior is a deer’s flight distance.
What is so interesting about this topic is how complicated such a seemingly simple subject can be. The flight distance of one Whitetail in the rural woods of America will most likely be completely different from urban deer behavior. In fact, the diversity is so great that we are unable to simply write down a list of what estimated flight distances are for each part of the country.
Upon further examination of this complex matter, we must also factor in the actual area the deer are fleeing to account for behavior associated with that environment whether natural or unnatural. For example, if an area that was previously closed to gun hunting is opened, deer will rapidly adapt to understand that what was a safe flight distance for archery is not safe for a firearm.
This comes from the psychological evidence of conditioned behavior; a topic that I have found to be the driving force for successful and adaptable hunting methodology.
There are two stages of flight in animal behavior. The first being AD, also known as “alert distance”, (this topic discussed in depth in part two ‘The Theory of Fluid Motion’ of this series), and the second being ED, or “escape distance”.
Escape distance is interchangeable with the term flight distance. The conditioning process is very basic. At a certain distance when presented with a stimulus (in this case a human), it initiates the flight response. What we truly want to concern ourselves with is how these flight distances are established in urban deer behavior.
In more rural areas with heavy gun hunting pressure (particularly rifle country), we can see that Whitetails will begin the flight response immediately when we are within their sight. With years of conditioning as a result of gun hunting, deer have become more threatened to human presence. The risk of human contact is deadly even at great distances- and they fully understand that.
For suburban hunters, theory behind flight distances comes with some leeway. As a result of constant human exposure, deer are forced to create more complicated views on when the flight response is necessary. If they didn’t, suburban woods would constantly be a melee of frantic deer chaotically running for their lives.
We find that when you switch from suburban gun hunting areas to urban archery only areas, deer have a far higher tolerance for distances with humans. This reaction can differ depending on minute details, such as a human walking a trail or veering off of it. In heavily populated areas deer have come to learn that humans, much like themselves, are habitual creatures. We use trails, they use runs, and they understand that pattern.
Where this theory becomes most dangerous to deer, and most effective for the evolving hunter, is in the dissection of the “alert distance” and that brings us to part two of ‘The Science of Fear’ with ‘The Theory of Fluid Motion’.