HomeDeer Hunting NewsWhitetail Body Language

Author: James L. Bruner

Deer communicate through many actions which include scent, verbally, and visually. Here are a few of the most common visual signs encountered while in the woods. Realizing what these actions mean can help you understand what is taking place and possibly what to do next.

Flehmen Or Lip Curl
Although this behavior is normally correlated with deer, especially bucks, this action is not exclusive to deer or even the males of each species but its always related to detecting certain scents in urines and receptiveness. A buck will exhibit the lip curl after detecting certain scents. The reaction is caused due to an olfactory organ called the vomeronasal. The organ is located on the roof of the mouth near the nasal passage and acts to block off normal breathing and direct air, or scents, into the pouch where it is examined and consequently produces the infamous lip curl. If you experience a buck reacting in this manner, chances are he has picked up the trail of a hot doe and will soon leave the area unless you’re lucky and the direction of the trail is heading towards you.

More than likely another buck is in the immediate vicinity when you witness a buck with his neck and back fur standing on end or bristled. If the buck is the actual aggressor then his head would probably be held high to make his antlers and overall stature look as large as possible. This could well be the dominant buck in the area. Providing he exhibits no immediate signs of leaping into action, you might want to wait a moment to support your suspicion and possibly get a look at the other buck causing this reaction. In any event it’s a good sign that the rut is in full swing and there are does nearby that are breeding or nearing their breeding cycle.

If you should encounter a buck with his ears laid back and fur bristled its normally a sign of a lower form of aggression with no immediate intent to commit. Many times a smaller buck will perform this technique and back down before being run-off by a larger more dominant buck. While trying to prove his status the smaller buck will normally concede to the larger buck before continuing to leave the area in search of more receptive does. In this event pay particular attention to the field of vision the deer is using. It should be a perfect indicator of where the other buck will appear.

Typically a doe in estrus will exhibit a very easily recognized form of body language through the use of her tail. A doe with her tail straight out and stiff is, more times than not, ready to be bred. A darkness or black appearance on her hocks will confirm these signs. If you encounter this type of action in the field, stay alert! Chances are a buck, or maybe two, aren’t too far away.

Head Bobbing
Also referred to as a “fake” a deer will many times use this action to catch a hunter or predator in the act of movement to confirm their suspicions. A deer will often times catch a glimpse of movement or something out of place while its feeding and snap their head up to try and get a better look. This is usually followed by a fairly lengthy stare in the same direction. The deer will then resume feeding, or appear to, and at any given moment snap its head back up to try and catch you off guard. It’s been speculated whether or not the deer actually will resume feeding in between these intervals. This will occur until the deer is satisfied that no danger is present but beware, this an alert deer and any movement may send it into flight.

This is often found in succession after a deer has tried the head bobbing to seemingly no avail. The foot stomping is a general warning sign that something isn’t right in this neck of the woods and is associated with scent left on the ground for a further warning. It has also been noted that deer will use this tactic to try and get a hunter, or predator, to make a move. Personally I believe this was devised much more so for the predator to try and stimulate their instinct of chase when an animal tries to make a quick get-away. Although it works equally well with some people don’t be totally alarmed when a deer begins to stomp. I have seen both bucks and does stomp at a squirrel in the brush then return to feeding. All may not be lost in this case so hold your composure and wait for the deer to settle if possible.

Tail Flicking
This is commonly seen in the woods by anyone who has spent time in deer country. The “all is well” sign in amongst the herd provides a positive message that no apparent danger lurks nearby. Deer seen in this manner are generally very calm and grazing randomly. The tail flick actually serves dual duty by signifying that the deer is also about to move. If you experience this action you’ve done your homework correctly and haven’t alerted the deer of your presence.

The Flag
Everyone has seen this and it usually brings a few words of despair but don’t feel completely lost for the day. It is common for a doe to raise her tail in the air when running. It’s a visual sign for the yearling to follow through the taller grasses and undergrowth. This doesn’t mean that the deer have run out of range either. Sometimes deer will bolt a short distance for no apparent reason and then stop. If you’re hunting with a firearm stay on the deer. They almost always stop for a look back before entering too deep into the woods. Consequently its been noted that deer running with its tail down has the good possibility of being a buck. Keep your eyes peeled for deer trying to sneak off in this manner during the confusion. Could be a wily old whitetail buck is slipping right past you.

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