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Whitetail's Hearing Compared To Humans

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"QUESTION: Could you tell me how a deer’s hearing is compared to a humans? I have heard that it is better, but not that much better, than ours. Also, do deer get used to certain noises? — Tommy

ANSWER: I probably can’t give you as detailed an answer as you would like, because we really don’t know precisely how acute a deer’s hearing is. More important, we can only guess as to how and why deer react the way they do to certain sounds.

whitetail deer

It’s probably a fair guess that a whitetail’s hearing is at least as good as our own, probably better. I base this on the simple fact they have larger pinnae — the external, visible part of the ears. Furthermore, they can reposition their radar-dish ears to pick up sounds coming from different directions without moving their heads. Humans are passive listeners, waiting until we hear something then reacting to it. Deer are active listeners, constantly searching for any sound of danger, because their lives depend on it.

The second part of the equation is how whitetails interpret and react to sounds. That might depend, to some extent, on their mood — whether they’re relaxed or tense. Bowhunters especially are familiar with the phenomenon of string jumping, where an alert deer can actually duck an arrow simply by reacting to the sound of the bow at the shot.

Deer almost certainly grow accustomed to certain noises, particularly routine sounds they have experienced that had no ill effects associated with them. They might get used to the sound of a tractor tilling a field but will bolt at the first sound of an ATV. I have several bow stands in developed areas where deer all but ignore hikers, bikers and dog walkers on established trails, but flee the first time someone steps off the trail and into the woods. The most extreme example I witnessed was a deer that strolled out onto a 100-yard shooting range while we were taking a short break to reload.

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