The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Other Sports

November 16, 2013

Are deer as smart as they sometimes seem to be?

CAMERON — Every fall I hear about a big buck someone has been tracking and watching for weeks. But when the gun season arrives, that big buck vanishes, only to reappear a few weeks later. Are deer really that smart?

Keen senses of smell, vision and hearing have a lot to do with deer “intelligence.” Deer often sense the presence of hunters long before hunters sense them. But is intelligence or instinct responsible?

Actually, it’s natural selection at work. Those individuals, males and females, that are most wary and hyper-vigilant, tend to survive hunting seasons. And thanks to experience, older deer tend to be bigger and more impressive physically. Those individuals get to breed, at least for a few years, and pass on the genes that promote adaptive behavior and survival.

But sometimes deer just seem smart. In a new book, “Whitetail Savvy” (2013, Skyhorse Publishing, $29.95), author Leonard Lee Rue III devotes a short chapter to “Instinct vs. Intelligence.” He cites several examples that seem to illustrate deer intelligence.

In one case, a big buck was seen routinely on a farm except during the hunting season when it disappeared. Finally, tracks were found leading to an old root cellar in the middle of a field. Trail cams revealed that the buck spent every day during the hunting season bedded down in the root cellar.

Another intelligent deer discovered that hiding in a storm sewer under a major highway was a safe place to avoid hunters. Despite constant traffic and road noise, this buck crawled into a large pipe every day during the hunting season.

I’ve made a similar observation in my own backyard. About 50 yards from the house, there’s a small shed on the edge of the woods. I use it to store lumber, old pipes and other junk. It’s open on two ends, but the interior stays dry and protected from the wind.

A few years ago on a cold January day, I came out of the woods near the shed. As I approached, three deer bolted from the shed. One almost ran me over. Upon closer inspection, I found three beds on the dry dirt floor. Since then, I’ve found deer “hiding” in that shed quite a few times, especially on snowy days.

Another example of deer learning and intelligence has unfolded right outside my house. Ten years ago deer never came close to the house. They might walk across the yard or watch from the edge of the woods, but they were too wary to come close.

In recent years, however, as the coyote population has increased, deer seem to feel more secure closer to the house, especially at night. Several times a month I hear coyotes yipping not far from the house, but they never come into the yard. I love the sound, but I’m sure it unnerves the local deer.

I think that’s why deer now bed down right next to the house. Sometimes I spook deer from these spots at night, and other times I find used beds in the morning, and they are right up against the foundation. Such positions may provide protection from wind, but I think safety from coyotes is the primary reason deer stay close to the house.

Deer also seem able to interpret human behavior. I’ve lived at this location for 28 years, and though there’s plenty of hunting taking place around our property, the yard is safe. Often I walk the 150 feet from my garage to the house, especially late in the day, and a deer or two will be in the yard just 20 feet from the driveway. I can stop, yell, wave my arms or even lift my arms into a shooting position, and the only response I get is a snort or stomping feet. Experience tells the deer they are safe. When I encounter deer in the woods, usually I only get to see that big white flag as they flee.

Learning from experience is clearly a sign of intelligence. I conclude that at least some deer are pretty smart cookies.

— Contact Dr. Shalaway via his website (www.drshalaway.com), via e-mail at sshalaway@aol.com or at 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

1
Text Only
Other Sports
  • 042014 old white Happy birthday to The Old White

    As Greenbrier owner Jim Justice proudly stood behind the podium on the first tee box addressing a crowd at the 100th anniversary of the historic Old White TPC Course, a surprise guest emerged from the bushes by the tennis center.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • 042014 bubba Watson becoming a West Virginian

    Greenbrier owner Jim Justice was glued to the television a week ago today, watching Bubba Watson try to chase down his second green jacket at Augusta National Golf Club.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • 041914 old white Old White to celebrate 100 years

    The home of The Greenbrier Classic will be having a birthday today, and the celebration should be something special.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mullens, Pineville to meet in Anderson Memorial

    After many years away from the sideline, legendary Mullens High School coach Don Nuckols is returning to the game of basketball.

    April 19, 2014

  • 041914 D'Antoni Lakers mum on D’Antoni

    Mike D’Antoni was still the Los Angeles Lakers’ coach when he left their training complex to spend the Easter weekend out of town with his family.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • D’Antoni’s Lakers future still unclear

    With the Los Angeles Lakers season officially over — the Lakers beat the Spurs 113-100 Wednesday but finished 27-55 overall, the most losses in the club’s history and the franchise’s worst winning percentage since the Minneapolis Lakers in 1957-58 — Marshall fans will be keeping a close eye on what’s going on in Tinsel Town over the coming days.

    April 17, 2014

  • McClung moving from mound to dugout

    Seth McClung was getting his daughters Madison and Fallon inside and ready for their baths when his phone rang. He’s said before that he enjoys the role of “daddy day care.”

    April 15, 2014

  • First stop Waffle House; next stop The Greenbrier

    Bubba Watson decided to keep his post-Masters victory more low key this year. Instead of going to New York for a media tour, he headed home to Orlando, Fla., and kept plans for a five-day vacation with his wife.

    April 15, 2014

  • Pick 3: Cam Huffman's answers

    Is Mike D’Antoni the best hire for Marshall basketball if the Herd can land him?

    April 15, 2014

  • Pick 3: Gary Fauber's answers

    Is Mike D’Antoni the best hire for Marshall basketball if the Herd can land him?

    April 15, 2014