4 Superpowers of White-Tailed Deer … and a Bowhunter’s Kryptonite

by | May 5, 2017 | Featured, Wildlife

Deer can smell a hunter from a half-mile away, spot anything that moves, pinpoint the faintest noise and dodge a hunter’s arrow. These superpowers make them seem invincible to bowhunters. In reality, a deer’s keen senses prevent them from becoming dinner. But armed with some knowledge, you can find their kryptonite and experience bowhunting success. After all, overcoming the challenge – and securing your own wild meat – is part of what makes bowhunting so rewarding.

1. Smell


Deer use their nose as a primary defense against predators. In fact, they have 800 times more receptors than your nose, which means they can more easily detect smells. Photo Credit: John Hafner

A deer’s olfactory senses are its greatest superpower. Deer use their nose as a primary defense against predators. In fact, a deer’s nose functions better than a bloodhound’s nose. Olfactory receptors are the key – a deer’s long nose is loaded with them. They have 800 times more receptors than your nose. But that’s not all: The roof of a deer’s mouth contains the Jacobson’s organ, which sorts out smells. When a deer breathes, it automatically detects various smells in the air, including human scent.

A deer has one more weapon in its sniffing arsenal – its brain. A significant portion of a deer’s brain is devoted to deciphering smells. The brain acts like a super computer, interpreting the faintest of scents.

How to defeat super smell:  The best way to defeat a deer’s nose is to use the wind. Wind carries scent through the air. You can use this to your advantage by using the wind to blow your scent away from the deer. Position yourself downwind of a deer trail or feeding area to remain undetected by a deer’s nose.

Also, remember that you leave trace scent behind any time you take a step or touch a branch. You don’t notice it but deer certainly can. Wearing rubber boots and clothes washed in scent-free detergent reduces trace scent on your hunt. When walking to a deer stand, try not to touch branches or trees. Also, choose a path into your stand that doesn’t cross deer trails. Finally, avoid hunting the same area continuously. The more you visit an area, the more scent you leave behind. Watch the frequency of visits to your favorite spot.

2. Hearing


A deer’s large ears provide a hearing advantage over humans and other predators; they can independently swivel each ear to capture sound from all directions, and pinpoint the sound’s origin. Photo Credit: John Hafner

A deer’s hearing isn’t spectacular. They can hear as well as we can, but they do have one advantage – a deer’s ears are like large antennas; they can independently swivel each ear to capture sound from all directions.

Their swiveling ears can also pinpoint the exact location of a sound. One wrong move, and a deer will snap its head in your direction, and you’ll be busted.

How to defeat super hearing: Avoid making unnatural sounds. Sounds like rustling leaves and acorns dropping are part of deer’s world and won’t alarm them. The sound of a bow bumping into a treestand makes an unnatural metallic “clink” that isn’t part of their world, and it will send a deer running.

3. Reflexes

Deer have fast reflexes that enable them to react quickly to sights, sounds and smells they perceive as danger. Photo Credit: John Hafner

You’ve seen superheroes dodge arrows in the movies, but deer can actually dodge a speeding arrow, as well. In the rare instance a predator sneaks within striking distance, a deer has one last trick – a super-fast reaction time that can thwart an attack.

When a deer hears a bow firing, its brain automatically processes the sound as a threat. The deer will instinctively drop its body and spring into a sprint. Bowhunters describe this as “jumping the string” or “ducking the string.” The deer drops so quickly that an arrow can miss it completely.

How to defeat super reflexes: You need intimate knowledge of deer behavior. A deer reacts faster when it is alert. The best time to take a shot on a deer is when they are relaxed or distracted.

If a deer has its head up and is looking around, it is alert. A deer that is feeding with its head down is relaxed. Read the deer’s body language, and plan your shot accordingly.

4. Eyesight


A deer’s eyes are on the side of their head, which gives them 300 degrees of peripheral vision. Their eyes excel at detecting movement and seeing in low-light conditions, but struggle to differentiate certain colors. Photo Credit: John Hafner

Using a typical eye exam, a deer would have 20/100 vision. This means at 20 feet, a deer can see as well as a human can at 100 feet. That isn’t very impressive, but it doesn’t tell the whole story of a deer’s vision.

Depth and clarity of vision aren’t necessary for a deer’s survival. The deer doesn’t have to read the label on your shirt to know a human means danger. A deer’s eyesight excels in low light and detecting movement.

Eyes have photoreceptors called cones and rods. Rods are sensitive to light, shape and movement. Cones allow eyes to see color. A deer’s eye has more rods than our eye, but fewer cones. They can see better in low light and detect movement more effectively than we can. But they don’t see the same spectrum of colors we do. They can’t distinguish between greens, oranges and reds that well, but can see differences in yellow, blue and violet shades. That’s why camo is more effective than blue jeans at concealing anxious bowhunters.

Furthermore, a deer’s eyes are on the side of their head, which gives them 300 degrees of peripheral vision. Chances are, if you can see a deer’s eye, it can see you.

How to defeat super eyesight: Many bowhunters have had their hunt go awry at the last moment. The deer is in bow range and is calm and unaware of their presence. But as they draw the bow, the deer bolts, waving its tail goodbye. So what happened? The deer used its ability to detect movement and its strong peripheral vision to thwart the bowhunter’s efforts. Before making a move, wait until the deer is looking the other way or its vision is obstructed.

So what’s the deer’s kryptonite?

Deer’s keen senses make them a challenging animal to bowhunt. But overcoming the challenge – and securing your own wild meat – is part of what makes bowhunting so rewarding. Photo Credit: John Hafner

Deer are perceptive. They notice their surroundings and can detect anything out of place. Smells, sounds, and shapes that don’t belong put a deer on alert. After all, they are at home in the woods.

Consider this: A new smell to a deer is like opening the door to your house and smelling gas. You would instantly know that smell isn’t normal. A poorly disguised ground blind to a deer is like walking into your house and seeing a new couch in your living room. You simply can’t miss it.

Beating a deer’s senses isn’t easy, but smart hunting is a deer’s kryptonite. Bowhunting 360 and the Bowhunting 360 Facebook community are great places to learn how to be successful this hunting season.

Find a store
near you.