I Saw the Deer When I Least Expected It


white-tailed deer

The timeless story of White-tailed deer and what it means to deer behavior.

We have all had that moment. The moment when we are packing our gear in the truck, or casually talking to a hunting buddy and just like that there is a White-tailed deer standing in front of us. It is the moment we all say “I saw the deer when I least expected it.” It can be frustrating, comical, and in some cases rewarding.

This experience is something we at the Urban Deer Complex took a hard and long look at over the years. It was one of the fundamental building blocks to understanding deer behavior. It showed all of us that in the moment we LEAST behaved like a hunter was when deer were closest to us.

There is more than one lesson to take from this timeless hunting story. We take how we behave and apply it to a deer understanding, as well as take the location itself as two separate understanding of white-tailed deer.

White-tailed deer by default are  an edge species. Whether in vast forests or urban environments they work edges as major travel routes and paths to feeding and bedding areas. This is why we hunt “natural funnels” and ultimately travel routes. What we find with deer being only yards from our truck is an exasperation of whitetail behavior. Not only does their nature tell them to work these parking lot and road edges but the fact we do not traditionally hunt those areas have conditioned deer to understand 40 yards off the parking lot is safer than 400 yards in the woods.

Our own behavior is also reflected in this story. Hunters often creep through the woods, engage in silent and stealthy behavior. While non-hunters go about the woods more casually. Talking loudly, walking like an elephant, smoking cigarettes or whatever else suburban America is up to these days. These people have established what deer deem as safe human behavior. It is a process they have experienced through generations of exposure to human activity.

This idea was first called “urban camouflage” in the book The Urban Deer Complex. The idea that we as hunters could blend in with non-threatening human behavior to become more effective hunters. It is the basis that makes walking on hiking trails and effective modern “still hunting” technique. It is the reason that making lots of noise has a less likely chance of negative associations for white-tailed deer.

So the next time we say those timeless hunting story words, “I saw the deer when I least expected it.” We must ask ourselves how were we behaving at that moment. What were we doing that a white-tailed deer did not feel threatened to our presence. If we apply these lessons to our hunting tactics we (as white-tailed deer have already done) evolve to our prey.

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Last modified: September 22, 2016

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