Deer use three main forms of communication.
- Deer make Sounds or use vocalization i.e deer talk (Hearing)
- They leave Scent which is a chemical means of communication (Smell)
- Deer will display various Postures i.e. the use of body language. (Sight)
The following forms of deer communication are focused on whitetail deer. All deer species have the same or at least very similar methods to communicate amongst themselves. They also may combine some or all these forms when communicating.
As hunters the more we can learn about the forms of deer communication the better.
Particularly learn about sounds deer make as that is what we are likely to come across the most. This in turn means the better hunters we will become.
- Sounds and Calls Deer Make
- Alarm and Distress Calls
- Aggressive and Dominance Calls
- Maternal Deer Sounds and Calls
- Mating and Rutting Calls
- Deer Social Calls
- Non Vocal Deer Sounds
- Deer Sounds For Hunting
- How To Make Deer Sounds
- Deer Scent for Communication
- Deer Visual Communication
- Deer Warning and Alarm Postures
Sounds and Calls Deer Make
Deer sounds such as a buck grunt, a fawn bleat or a doe call communicate a very wide range of information.
They can be categorized into:-
- Alarm or distress calls
- Aggressive or dominating calls,
- Maternal and Mating calls
- Social calls
Alarm and Distress Calls
A Deer Blow – Snort
This is typically a warning of danger sound and one many hunter’s will come to recognize when the deer has ‘winded’ them.
It is used to alert all other deer that there is danger present. It is made by the animal forcing air rapidly from their nostrils and makes a ‘blowing’ type sound.
When seriously injured or cornered deer will make a very loud bawling sound. Also made by fawns when they are scared or separated from their mother.
Aggressive and Dominance Calls
Grunt Call – Buck
Used to establish dominance amongst the group.
A buck will also use a blow snort call similar to the alarm call above.
It is typically the dominant buck telling the subordinate buck to watch out or there will be a fight. It is a very aggressive message being sent by the dominant buck. Heard mainly during the rut or mating season.
Related Article: Deer Hunting Terms, Phrases & Slang
Maternal Deer Sounds and Calls
Doe Low Grunt
Does will make a short low grunt to call in their fawns. They will also use this sound when communicating with other older deer. Quite similar to the buck grunt.
This is the fawns answer call to its mother. It can mean the fawn is hungry or just wants its mother. It is a soft meeewww sound.
A more urgent, stronger and louder call by the fawn to its mother. The deer bleat is The fawn crying out for its mother
Mating and Rutting Calls
Buck Tending Grunt
This is the deer sound bucks make during the rut, particularly by the dominant males. Used when they have their doe to show dominance. May sound like a pig or hog rooting around.
The buck will use a slightly different version sometimes referred to as a trailing or breeding grunt when he is chasing a doe.
Doe Estrus Bleat
This is a doe call to let all the bucks know she is ready for mating. Generally made before she has ‘hooked up’ with a buck.
Made by the male when he is really worked up by the prospect of mating. Whilst whitetail deer do make this sound it is much more common with red deer. Red deer will roar throughout the night which makes for some exciting times.
Deer Social Calls
Like the does low grunt this is a general call to other deer in the group to all get-together.
Non Vocal Deer Sounds
Bucks when in the rut will hit their antlers against trees to express their dominance and to let other bucks know they are around. They will also spar and fight each other if the vocal, scent and body language communication methods of dominance have not resulted in one of the bucks backing down.
Here is the sound of bucks sparring or fighting each other and when you hear this deer sound in the woods the adrenalin really starts pumping, well it does for me anyway!
Deer Sounds For Hunting
The use of deer sounds or calls when hunting if done properly will significantly increase your chances of calling in a deer.
The main point to remember is not to overuse calls. Like all things deer hunting, patience is the key.
Here are some of my preferred ways to use deer vocalization when hunting. I encourage you to experiment and combine calls depending on what situation you are hunting in. I also encourage you to practice your deer sounds regularly.
A great resource to understand which deer sound to make and when is contained in the video below.
The Estrus Bleat is a great way to call in bucks as you are imitating a doe that is looking for a partner. A buck full of testosterone often can’t resist this call. Use it during the peak rutting period.
The Tending Grunt call is also best used during the main rutting period however do not overuse it. Every 15 to 20 mins I find is more than enough. One of my favorites to use.
A Fawn Bleat is the preferred call to make when hunting a doe. I find this a very effective deer sound to make.
The Buck Grunt snort and wheeze call is one I only use occasionally and typically if the above methods have not produced any results.
Social calls and low grunt deer sounds are ones I tend to ignore when hunting. I prefer to use the mating calls during the rut, as the bucks are full of testosterone and more likely to forgive a call that is not perfect.
How To Make Deer Sounds
The best and most effective method to make deer sounds in the woods is to use a deer caller.
Deer callers come in two main varieties
A: -Manual deer call:- you use your mouth.
B:- Electronic deer call.
I use the manual call option because it gives me more control and is much lighter to carry in my pack. Although I do own an electronic caller. I will add a post in the future reviewing the types of deer callers available, discussing the pros and cons of each.
For now, I recommend you use a manual deer call system, and the best way to learn apart from practice is to watch the experts.
I regularly use the Extinguisher deer call by illusion systems, for whitetail deer hunting it is the best on the market.
It also comes with a simple to follow instructional DVD.
What I like most about this deer caller is the lifelike deer sounds it generates. You can change from buck to doe to fawn with just a push of your finger -very easy. It is lightweight which is always a good thing.
Watch this great instructional video from Illusion systems and Rod White (Gold Olympic medalist) on calling deer.
It contains some great information on how to use a deer caller and importantly offers an enormous amount deer communication tips. In fact, there is so much valuable information about deer sounds I suggest you watch this video a few times!
Deer Scent for Communication
Arguably more important than vocal sounds, deer use scent in many ways to communicate with each other. Their ability to leave various scents from parts of their body to communicate different messages is nothing short of amazing.
Deer scent is very long lasting and due to a deer’s incredible sense of smell, it can be sniffed out from a very long way away. Deer will leave scent markings throughout the year, however, pre-rut and during the breeding season the leaving of scent is most common.
When communicating through scent deer can find out a lot of information about another deer’s sex, social status and sexual preparedness. They use the scents to track a possible sexual partner as wells as to determine the level of competition from other bucks in the area.
In fact, people who are and have researched a deer’s ability to communicate through scent admit there is still a lot of information we humans do not yet understand.
Deer have glands in their feet called the interdigital glands. This means they leave a scent to communicate information about themselves to other deer with every step they take.
Deer will mouth branches to leave a trace of saliva there to mark their territory and leave information about themselves. Bucks will primarily do this to let others know of their social status.
The Forehead Gland
This method of deer communication is often combined with the saliva. A buck will rub his forehead, between the eyes and antlers, on the same branches and leaves as well to mark his territory and leave messages about himself for other deer in the area.
He will also do this on scrapes and rubs he has made. Particularly during the mating season he is letting all the other deer, males and females know he is there and ready.
Deer Urine And Poo
Helps other deer to gain information about another deer’s sex and age as well as what food they have been eating. A doe in estrus will leave this on and around scrapes to let the bucks know she is around and ready for mating.
Deer Tarsal Glands
The tarsal gland is located on the inside of the deer’s back legs and is urinated on. When the tarsal gland is flared it releases a scent to communicate to other deer the state of dominance, sexual readiness and general physical condition of the animal.
The Preorbital Glands
Located underneath the eyes, this gland leaves a scent on scrapes and rubs also along with saliva. Other deer will smell and lick this scent to understand who is in the territory.
Deer Metatarsal Glands
Found on the outside of the hind legs this scent is used to attract suitable does into the area. It will also leave specific information about to other bucks about who is in town.
Considerations when Hunting
Whilst there are various scents a hunter can use for the purpose of this article I will provide a few basic tips.
- Do not walk around too much stinking up your hunting area.
- Do not touch branches and leaves excessively leaving your human scent everywhere.
- Likewise, with scrapes and rubs, try to avoid touching them.
- Don’t piss everywhere in your hunting area.
As this article is more focused on informing you how deer communicate I will save for a later post a more in-depth discussion of deer scent products available to the hunter.
Deer Visual Communication
Like many animals, deer have a series of postures or body language they use to communicate various messages to each other.
A dominant male will hold his head high and proud to assert his position. Basically saying to the younger or subordinate bucks don’t mess with me.
The lower status bucks will keep their heads lower and often walk with a slightly bent or hunched back. When two bucks are challenging each other they will display this authority type posture until one of the bucks submits or walk away.
When neither buck gives in they then use a more aggressive posture to communicate their position until eventually a sparring match or fight may result.
The dominant male will sometimes strike at a younger buck or doe to exert his authority.
When a deer drops its ears this is a low form of aggressive behavior and is very commonly used. Most often it is the first posture a deer will make when not happy with another deer being there.
Before engaging in a sparring match or full on fight two bucks will stand side to side as an expression of aggression.
They will turn their heads to basically look back over their shoulder at each other. It is a method for them to size each other up before they move on to the next stage of the challenge being an antler charge or sparring match.
This is when two deer will stand on their back legs basically throwing fake punches at each other.
I say fake punches because physical contact with each other is not the goal with this deer body language. It is primarily an opportunity for the deer to size each other up before going to their main weapons – ie their antlers.
This form of deer communication between bucks during the rut is typically the next level of aggression before the actual physical fight.
Bucks will lower their heads and point their antlers at each other as though they were about to make a rush or charge. When the other buck replies with a similar posture the fight is on.
This is almost like a slow dance when it begins. The bucks will lower their heads using an antler point then push their antlers together.
They will then use their neck muscles to twist their heads to determine who is the strongest. This reinforces dominance amongst the bucks during the beginning of the rutting season.
After the vocal communications, scent messages and initial body postures if no agreement is found, ie one of the bucks does not submit and leave then the real fight begins.
If you have ever been lucky enough to witness this you can appreciate how magnificent these deer really are. If you have not seen two mature bucks fighting get out into the woods more and make sure you do, you will not be disappointed. Although I must caution it is not a common sight.
Deer are a bit smarter than us and prefer to use other methods of communication first where there is no risk of wounds or death.
After pointing their antlers at each other the two bucks will run or charge straight at each other. They may even do this several times until a clear winner is established.
Deer Warning and Alarm Postures
Deer will use a variety of body language postures and movements to communicate warning signals amongst themselves. These include:
Stiffening of the whole body, ears pointed forward and standing dead still.
Bobbing their heads up and down.
Flaring or flashing their tails upwards.
Stamping their feet and then emitting a snort as described above.
Wagging their tails in an upright position when the deer is running away from the danger and acts as a guide for other deer to follow.
Once the threat of danger is no longer apparent deer will often wag their tails once or twice, slowly from side to side
If you are like me even just a little bit you can not but be amazed at the magnificence of these animals. As mentioned above there is still a lot of information we do not understand about deer communication. Particularly, the information contained in their scent messages left for each other.
As hunters, we can benefit from this information. Mostly around the use of deer sounds and I encourage to get hold of a deer call system like the Illusion Extinguisher and practice your calls.
Remember to learn all Your Deer Hunting Terms!
I hope you have enjoyed and learned something from this research please feel free to share it with your buddies and budettes. Good hunting to you all.