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Does Engine Noise Spook Deer?

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"QUESTION: Bob, we have all sorts of vehicles traveling our club's road systems. This includes pick-up trucks, ATVs and SUVs traveling from the bunkhouse to our stand areas.

The biggest debate at our club's annual meeting involves how vehicles might spook our deer. And it often includes whether or not the noise of an ATV scares deer any differently than other motorized vehicles.

Does Engine Noise Spook Deer?Also consider we have two heavily traveled state roads bordering our property.

Some members have silencers on their ATVs, and although it doesn't eliminate the sound completely, it at least eliminates the "putt-putt-putt."

What are your thoughts? - Mike P.

ANSWER: To my knowledge there is no empirical data on how motorized vehicles influence deer behavior. 

Intuitively, the more you can reduce human influence and disturbance on an area the better. 

In many cases, however, some disturbance is unavoidable. You or anyone else who works the land, including landowners, need to get from one place to another for various reasons. Fortunately, deer become somewhat accustomed to human intrusion, particularly if it is routine. 

They get used to farmers rumbling by in farm equipment, foresters cruising timber or gas-and-oil workers checking wells.

Deer might even get used to hunters if you're checking cameras or filling feeders on a regular basis. This will likely still disturb some deer, particularly the older ones. 

In these cases, deer also seem less disturbed by moving vehicles than walking hunters. Again, routine is key. 

If you suddenly start off-roading on the opening day of hunting season, you'll notice deer sightings will drop off quickly over the next few days.

As for ATVs versus other vehicles, it again depends on the deer becoming accustomed to routines. I suspect deer will hear an ATV without a silencing device from a longer distance than a pickup truck with a good muffler. But if your truck has glass packs or a faulty muffler, it stands to reason it's even louder than an ATV and will be less desirable than a muffled ATV or pickup. I recommend spending a few extra dollars to quiet down your trucks and ATVs alike.

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