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Do Deer Have a Sixth Sense?

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"QUESTION: I've noticed on several occasions, especially when bowhunting, that deer tend to sense me if I make direct eye contact with them. I can be completely upwind from them and motionless, but they will make me out nearly every time if I look directly at them. It's as if they have a sixth sense. In your professional opinion, do deer have some sort of sixth sense? --J. Dunson

ANSWER: If you were asking my professional opinion as a deer hunter, I'd be inclined to say, "yes." Show me someone who hasn't experienced this and I'll show you someone who hasn't hunted much.

Do Deer Have a Sixth Sense?At one time or another, we've all encountered a deer that seems to sense our presence for no obvious or apparent reason.

If you were asking my professional opinion as wildlife biologists, I'd be less inclined to go with the sixth sense theory, and suspect some other cause.

It could be scent. Prevailing winds might be in your favor, but unseen winds can swirl, carrying your scent downward via downdrafts and eddies. Even on calm days, as the air cools, it drops, carrying elevated scent with it.

It's also possible you left some scent on the way to your stand. I've observed deer on numerous occasions suddenly stop and go on full alert when they hit the trail I walked in on.

It could be sight. Extensive research into deer vision has proven they see differently than we do, with greater sensitivity in the blue and purple range of the visible spectrum. This is the color range that is most enhanced by fabric brighteners in standard laundry detergent, and in the dyes of many clothing manufacturers, including makers of camo hunting clothes.

Check your camo some time with a blacklight and you might be unpleasantly surprised to see it literally glows in the dark. Deer may not notice it in full daylight, but at twilight, when they're most active, it stands out.

There is one other possibility at least worth mentioning. All living things emit a faint electromagnetic signal. Science has proven that some vertebrates (fish) can detect these signals. It's possible, though as yet unproven, that "higher" vertebrates might be able to detect them as well.

Then, there are the inexplicables. Why is it we feel more connected to a person when we look them in the eyes? And how is it we can feel someone staring at us?  I don't know, but I try never to make eye contact with a deer at close range, just to be on the safe side.

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