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Deer Behavior In Bad Weather

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"I saw deer grazing during a storm. How can this be?

QUESTION: Bob, After Hurricane Katrina passed through the Gulf Coast, it lingered in our part of Alabama for several days. On the second day of the nasty storm, we saw a handful of does grazing in our field at mid-day during a driving rain with winds up to 50 mph. They seemed unfazed. I've always wondered how this can be. And when large storms come, what do deer do differently to protect themselves from the elements? - Graham M.

I saw deer grazing during a storm. How can this be?ANSWER: The answer might seem quite simple and intuitive, but that's not necessarily so.

I recall one opening day several years ago when it was so warm, windy and rainy that I nearly slept in. If it hadn't been the season opener, I probably would have. But I'm glad I didn't, because I tagged-out early and was back at the check station by 7 a.m.

Several studies have looked at how various environmental factors affect deer movement and have found little if any correlation between wind, rain and increased or decreased movement. 

However, that certainly runs contrary to what I've observed, and you've probably noticed less deer sightings in the rain, too.

Deer are constantly on the alert for danger, using their keen senses to pick out foreign scents, noise or movement. 

For them, a storm event like a hurricane creates a sensory overload. The woods are full of noise and movement making it much more difficult to detect danger.  I believe this makes them edgier. And when deer feel threatened, they tend to seek shelter. 

Most hunters would probably agree that deer movement drops off considerably during high winds. Rain seems to have a similar, though perhaps less dramatic effect.

The intensity and location of the storm likely also play a role. An intense storm with heavy rain and high winds is more likely to suppress deer movement.

I believe deer move more during a light, steady rain, perhaps because of the darker conditions, cooler temperatures and low pressure (more on that in a bit).

I've also observed mid-western deer, where it's inherently windy, are less sensitive to the wind.

Getting back to barometric pressure, there's little doubt deer can sense it.  And they seem to react by moving more ahead of a falling barometer and behind a rising one. 

Intense storms like hurricanes often involve dramatic pressure changes. It's possible the deer you observed were reacting to the rising barometer after the bulk of the storm passed. It's also possible they had previously been riding out the storm as long as they could, but needed to fill their empty stomachs.

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