I Saw the Deer When I Least Expected It

Written by Suburban Deer Behavior

white-tailed deer

The classic story of whitetail deer has lots to tell us about deer behavior.

We have all had that moment when we are packing our gear in the truck or casually talking to a hunting buddy and all the sudden—a whitetail deer. It is the moment we all say, “I saw the deer when I least expected it.” It can be frustrating and comical. It can be rewarding.

This experience is something we at the Urban Deer Complex have taken a hard and long look at over the years. Why? Because it shows all of us that in the moment we least behaved like a hunter was the moment when the deer came closest to us. There is more than one lesson to take from this timeless hunting story.

Whitetail deer are by default an edge species. They use edges, whether they are in vast forests or urban environments, as major travel routes to feeding and bedding areas. This is why we hunt “natural funnels.” When we find a deer yards from our truck, we are finding them where they travel. Their nature tells them to work these parking lots and road edges. The fact that we do not traditionally hunt those areas has conditioned deer to understand that forty yards off the parking lot is safer than forty hundred yards into the woods.

It’s not all about whitetail deer behavior, either.

Our own behavior is reflected in this story. Hunters often creep through the woods, engaging in silent and stealthy behavior, while non-hunters go about the woods casually. They talk loudly on their phones, walk like elephants, smoke cigarettes, and whatever else suburban Americans do. These people exemplify what deer consider safe human behavior.

This idea was first called “urban camouflage” in the book The Urban Deer Complex. It is the idea that we as hunters can blend in with non-threatening human behavior in order to become more effective hunters. Urban camouflage provides the foundation for modern still hunting techniques. It is the reason why making lots of noise is unlikely to have negative associations for whitetail deer.

So the next time we say, “I saw the deer when I least expected it,” we need to ask ourselves how we were behaving at that moment. What were we doing that a whitetail deer did not feel was threatening? If we apply these lessons to our hunting tactics, we evolve to our prey as whitetail have already evolved to their predators.

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Last modified: October 4, 2018

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