Do deer have a 6th sense | THLETE Whitetail Deer Hunting

Do deer have a 6th sense | THLETE Whitetail Deer Hunting

May 5th 2019

Call it what you will, whitetail deer develop a heightened awareness and become harder to hunt as they age. Mature whitetails live relatively secretive lives and can become ghosts if they feel pressured in their core area. But do older deer actually have an additional survival sense that alerts them to the prospect of danger?

In my opinion, it is not necessarily a 6th sense but rather a heightened awareness towards survival that accumulates throughout years of being a prey animal. Deer are constantly under pressure to survive, and each time they escape a predator, they learn a valuable lesson. It could potentially be natural predators, disease, weather conditions or hunters that the whitetail must adapt to on a year round basis.

Mature whitetail deer move and react differently than sub-dominant animals. Spend enough time in a tree and you will inevitably have an experience that is unexplainable and will leave you scratching your head. Is the wind wrong? Am I silhouetted? Did I move? Did I make noise? But is there actually enough rationale to attribute these occurrences to a so called “sixth sense?” Personally, I feel that more often than not there is an explanation for particular whitetail behaviors and much of the time in comes down to scent/odor dispersal. In essence, a whitetail lives with 2 major intentions, stay alive and to reproduce; to stay alive in the wild a whitetail must be totally in tune with its senses and surroundings at all times.

To bring this into perspective, one hunt in particular stands out in my mind that left me baffled. At the time, I was only 25, but I had my sights set on one of the largest deer that I have ever had the opportunity to hunt. The scene unfolded in southern Dakota County Minnesota in early November 2009. The buck I was after was holding to a relatively small parcel of land that ran adjacent to a bean field which then dropped sharply into a ravine to the north. The only time that I could sneak in and hunt him was with an N/NW wind.

Long story short, I only saw him once that fall while on stand and he came from exactly where he was supposed to. This deer was massive, towering G2’s and brow tines in the 8″ range, a real giant that I would place in the mid to high 170″ class. He was quartering toward me on the exact trail I had set up to hunt when he suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, raised his nose and scent checked the breeze. At the time, I had no idea why he did this, the prevailing wind appeared to be perfect and he was upwind from my location. He proceeded to take 3 steps backward (the only deer I have ever seen do this) on the same trail he came in on, turn, and do a huge loop all the way around my stand before meeting up on the same trail 150 yards down from my location. I was completely dumbfounded. It was not until the next year that I began to piece together the puzzle of the crime scene. I took a bunch of Windicator swabs and let them go from the stand (similar wind and same time of day). What I saw blew me away. Morning thermals along with a wind eddy caused as the prevailing wind hit the edge of the timber created a curling effect that looped and slingshot my scent cone in an entirely different direction than expected. Rather than my scent drifting out into the field, it was coming off of the treeline and doing a curl from top to bottom back towards the field edge. I never saw that deer again and never heard of any other hunter tagging him. He was a true monarch and was the inspiration behind this article.

As for the monster buck from 2009, my hypothesis is that it was not necessarily a sixth sense but rather that he reacted like a deer that had been hunted. He caught a whiff of something that he didn’t like and responded in a way that he felt safe. That particular buck was so in tune that he immediately knew something was off and as mature bucks tend to do; he didn’t wait around to see what it was. Younger deer tend to run through the woods like lit bottle rockets during the rut, but not him, his moves were precise and calculated. An old whitetail has zero tolerance for anything that is unnatural, that is how he stays alive. It is hard to measure the extent of a wild animals sense range. As humans, we don’t necessarily rely on our ability to survive and evade danger on a daily basis so we may never truly know the full spectrum of a prey animals will to survive.

It comes as no surprise that hunters will do just about anything to beat a bucks senses. An old time hunter that I have an awful lot of respect for (which is amplified by the number of P&Y bucks on his wall) once told me to never make direct eye contact with a mature buck when he is within range. He said that the deer could sense it and will get jittery. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I have caught myself on more than one occasion slightly cocking my head to the side and closing one eye. These little mind games are a dime a dozen. We all know that they probably do not make a difference, but what if? Why chance it?

SO is it unfair to think that a mature whitetail is so in tune with his surroundings that he can pinpoint danger simply from relying on previous experience? Absolutely not. It all depends on that particular animal and the run-ins that he has had with perceived danger in the past. The more a hunter alters the area around a stand, the more likely a buck is to be turned off by a given scenario. Someone once described hunting mature deer to me this way; imagine sitting in your living room, you know where everything is placed. You know where the bookcase is, picture frames, furniture, etc. Now imagine somebody came in and moved your recliner 3 feet to the left, would you notice? Perhaps a new scented candle, would you notice that? Apply that directly to a whitetail. They are incredibly in-tune animals and know when their surroundings are altered even in the most minute ways. Maybe that new cover scent that you applied to your boots is not natural to that specific ridge. It may be the best cover scent ever made but a mature buck might associate that smell as unnatural.

Bottom line, bucks learn from close calls and the more he has, the harder he is to hunt. Human pressure and predation can turn a buck into a ghost, but it is that extra edge that makes them so interesting. I can only imagine the number of deer camps where the story of “him” is told every fall, year after year. I think that we as hunters progress in a similar manner to predatory animals. As we age and spend more time hunting, we increase our knowledge base of game species and how to hunt them successfully.

Practice low impact hunting and hunt smart to fool the so called “sixth sense buck.” I still believe that every whitetail is killable, even the most sought after, high pressure, public land bruiser. The best hunting gear in the world can’t buy you years of accumulated lessons learned while in the field.