A Whitetail’s Five Attributes

Posted on June 21, 2016



Fight, Fright, Flight, Avoidance, and Submission

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As complex as the white-tailed deer may seem, in reality, it actually lives out a relatively simple existence. Where the complexities arise is not with the animal itself, but rather in our own perception of exactly what the deer is actually doing. You see, because the whitetail is a secretive creature, with many unexplained mysteries shrouding its behavior we quite commonly tend to equate human reasoning to its actions. And the fact that we cannot verbally communicate with a deer only exacerbates our true understanding of the ways of the whitetail. In reality, the only way that we can truly gain insight into the everyday life of a deer is through observation. Through that surveillance we begin to see similarities and the cause and effect of nature, which then provides us the necessary information to make judgments as to why a deer behaves the way it does.

Having the knowledge of why it is believed a deer acts the way he does will indeed lead to when he is apt to exhibit that behavior. That in turn will lead to where that action may occur, which when all of this information is compiled should stand to place a hunter in a much more favorable position to capitalize. Understanding the following five attributes of a white-tailed deer and the reasoning behind their behavior can only add to the hunters growing arsenal or information. After all, it is my firm belief that the more a hunter knows about the animal he or she pursues, the greater their success.



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Whitetails don’t pick fights, are not malicious, have no predisposition to antagonize, own no property that needs to be protected through the use of sheer force, and are not by nature gladiators seeking to rule their domain. In essence, a buck doesn’t go looking for a fight, however, under the right circumstances coupled with the perception of being intimidated he won’t back down. A deer never fights except for life, whether it is for his own existence, or for that of its offspring. All whitetail battles are over essentials. The chief reason for bucks to fight stems primarily from a chemical surging through their body called testosterone.

Once a buck’s testicles drop – which coincides with velvet peel – testosterone begins to flow. As autumn progresses, this hormone increases dramatically hence changing the buck’s entire demeanor. Within a few short weeks he transforms into a highly aggressive animal, and although the buck doesn’t defend his territory, he shows little-to-no tolerance for another male.

When a rival buck shows up looking for breeding opportunities and cannot be encouraged to back off through posturing, a fight will ensue. Make no mistake about it, when two mature bucks engage in combat, each has only one thought, destroy the other. This combat generally starts the week leading up to breeding and will continue throughout its duration.



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Because deer are a prey animal they are always on edge, extremely nervous and are easily frightened. After all, if someone wanted you for dinner wouldn’t you be just a little bit cautious? Despite the whitetail’s world being filled with a variety of scary experiences, each individual deer has its own unique personality and will react differently under similar circumstances. Some deer are quite timid while others show a surprising amount of nerve when frightened. And because their actions vary from one deer to another it becomes difficult to predict a whitetails reaction when faced with eminent danger. Archibald Rutledge explains,

A buck (or doe) in cover, if he hears what he takes to be danger approaching, will carefully weigh his chances; though it is his instinct to run up the wind, he will dash down it if in such a course appears to be his way to safety. If from afar he hears the noise and decides that it means danger, he will probably slip craftily out; if the danger is near before he is aware of its approach, he may steal out silently, he may bound out with astonishing vigor and speed, or he may lie where he is, even though the peril be upon him.



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One of the whitetails greatest assets is its speed and agility. Within mere seconds a reticent buck in his bed can be on his feet, bounding down the hillside and out of site before you can even get your gun shouldered. How is that possible, it takes me at least two minutes once awake to even recognize where I am. But then I don’t have wolves with pointy teeth knocking on my bedroom door.

The reason for this phenomenon is a naturally occurring hormone called epinephrine. During flight response the adrenal gland releases epinephrine into the blood stream, signaling the heart to pump harder, increasing blood pressure, opening airways in the lungs, narrowing blood vessels in the skin and intestine to increase blood flow to major muscle groups, and performing other functions to enable the deer’s body to run when encountering a perceived threat.

Again, because each deer is unique it will have a different flight distance; some deer will be running at even the hint of danger while others will cautiously wait to verify exactly what the disturbance is.



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Whitetails are truly masters at the game of evasion; they will use every part of their terrain to ensure that they feel secure. They will use the wind, thermals, other animals, birds and fellow deer to protect themselves. A whitetail is highly attuned to its environment and knows full well the sounds or absence of noise from the native species living around him and is able to interpret what that means. Deer learn at an early age that to avoid danger, remaining undetected is a far better alternative than running pell-mell all over the countryside. This is one of the chief reasons why a buck spends upwards of 75 percent of his life bedded. It was realized long ago  that he who is moving, the deer or its pursuer, is the one that is most vulnerable. I would never want to know just how many deer I’ve walked past during my hunting career; those that remained motionless with nerves of steel. I’m sure it would be debilitating to my ego.



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There can only ever be one top dog and all others must submit beneath that hierarchy. Whitetails have a pecking order also, both males and females. Does live within a family group with the matriarchal doe, usually the oldest, being the leader. The buck pecking order is constantly in a state of flux based upon the dominant buck’s condition, age and ability to beat back any rival that is looking to ascend the throne. A buck that is subservient to the dominant male that wants a piece of the breeding action will take uncommon risks. He will wander into unfamiliar grounds searching for receptive does, tangle with other bucks and be much more mobile during daylight hours in order to satisfy his desire.



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The white-tailed deer is an exquisitely adapted animal. We, as both hunters and observers, thirst for the knowledge that will put us one step closer to truly understanding this splendid creature. We hunger for those ill-formed pieces to the whitetail puzzle that seem to elude us. That is why, my friends, we continue to be so fascinated by the magnificent white-tailed deer.


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Posted in: Whitetail Deer