Top 10 Deer Hunting Myths

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buck rubs
Bucks of all ages and size often work the same buck rubs. Even so, small bucks seldom initiate rubbing on a big tree. That first contact usually requires a brute that needs something stout to test his antlers, bulk and muscle. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Myth No. 7: Bucks run for the hills when the shooting starts.

A deer’s instinct is to survive with the resources at hand, and fear prevents it from seeking refuge in unknown territory. That’s especially true in the eastern United States where deer live in relatively small areas with ample food and cover.

Radio-telemetry research reveals that whether whitetails are hunted by humans, hounds or both, they seldom stray far or long from their home range. Dr. Grant Woods of Missouri says whitetails will never be confused with Christopher Columbus.

“Most whitetails act like they’ll fall off the edge of the world if they leave their home range,” he said. “Familiarity is their best chance for survival, especially in thick cover. If a whitetail lives in open terrain, its home range might be larger, and then its best defense might be putting more ground between itself and the threat.”

Myth No. 8: Bucks only pay attention to deer scrapes during the rut.

For deer hunting purposes, that’s true enough. During the two weeks before peak breeding, bucks frequently paw deer scrapes, sometimes urinate into them, and work the overhanging branch with their antlers/forehead, mouth, nose and pre-orbital glands.

However, some deer scrapes draw year-round attention. These off-season visits are less noticeable, except when documented by scouting cameras, which shows bucks sniffing and marking the overhanging branch.

“The speculation is that bucks feel compelled to communicate their presence to each other, no matter what the time of year,” Miller said. “But in fall it goes beyond branch marking. They convey a complex pulse of new information by pawing the deer scrape and probably leaving scent from their interdigital glands. Then they convey another new pulse of information by urinating over their tarsal glands and into the deer scrape. Whatever it is the bucks are conveying, all research shows scraping activity peaking two weeks in advance of breeding.”

Myth No. 9: Only big bucks rub big trees.

Research in recent years verified that bucks of all ages and size work the same deer scrapes, and sometimes the same buck rubs. Even so, small bucks seldom initiate rubbing on a big tree. That first contact usually comes from a brute that needs something stout to test his antlers, bulk and muscle.

Even though subordinate bucks might approach these signposts nervously -- and frequently lick their tarsal glands clean in order not to draw the attention of bigger bucks – they often can’t resist the urge to leave their own scent where a bigger buck rubbed.

“If you watch how bucks rub, they’re not rubbing their antlers; they’re rubbing their forehead and the base of their antlers,” Kroll said. “They’ll stop and smell it often, making sure they’re leaving their scent for the next buck to smell. That’s their advertisement. It helps keep them primed. When a big buck is around, rubbing helps him suppress his subordinates. As long as they can smell him, they’re looking over their shoulders, worrying he might be near.”

Myth No. 10: Deer cannot see hunter orange.

For years the common belief was that whitetails were color blind and saw everything in black-and-white. That statement is half-right. Research suggests deer likely have red/green color blindness, which means they see reds and greens in shades of black and white.

The whitetail’s eye is equipped to pick out violet, blue and yellow colors. Therefore, deer likely see hunter orange as more of a yellow, and can best detect lighter-colored varieties of hunter orange. Darker varieties of hunter-orange fall more into the red spectrum, which is more difficult for deer to see, especially when dyed into soft fabrics like cotton, wool and fleece.

Deer can also detect light reflecting off hard surfaces, which is why they can best see hunter orange on sunny days on garments made of “hard” fabrics like nylon or vinyl. Meanwhile, any color in shaded, darker backgrounds isn’t as obvious.

If you’re worried about deer seeing hunter orange, choose garments made of soft, natural fabrics in camo/orange prints, and stay in the shadows.

Whitetail Facts

  1. Science considers whitetail deer to be red/green color-blind. This vision deficiency affects only 7 percent of humans.
  2. The average human nose contains about 5 million receptor sites. Impressed? Don’t be. The nose of a whitetail deer contains hundreds of millions of receptor sites.
  3. Deer scrapes are popular places to hunt, but research finds between 85 to 98 percent of deer activity at scrapes occurs at night.
  4. Radio-telemetry studies of deer during hunts reveal they seldom leave their home range, even if it’s as small as 200 acres. The few that stray farther usually return before the next dawn.
  5. In various deer scrape studies, researchers found that after-shave, peanut butter and “new-car-smell” were just as likely to attract deer as commercial buck or doe scents.
  6. How far do deer migrate? Minnesota studies of two migrating herds in the early 1960s recorded averages of about 10.5 miles for bucks and seven miles for does, but one buck traveled 165 miles and one doe traveled 85 miles.
  7. A 2001 Pennsylvania study in which deer hunters carried GPS recording units found 72 percent remained stationary (on stands) from 6 to 8 a.m., and 58 percent remained stationary from 2 to 4 p.m. The average maximum distance these deer hunters ventured from a road was .52 miles.
  8. How many times do individual bucks successfully sire offspring each fall? A 2001 Texas study found a maximum of 28 percent of bucks fathered more than one full-term pregnancy.
  9. In several years of deer scrape studies in Texas by Dr. James Kroll, only one buck returned to a mock scrape more than once.
  10. The average amount of time Texas bucks spent at a mock scrape during Dr. James Kroll’s studies was less than a minute.
  11. Even though herds with higher numbers of mature bucks produce more rubs, buck rubs don’t provide a reliable index for judging a buck population. A University of Georgia study in 1987 found rub numbers also increased during years of good acorn crops.
  12. In University of Georgia studies, up to 11 different antlered bucks worked one deer scrape site during a two-week monitoring period.
  13. If you make mock scrapes, start in summer and make sure the overhanging branch is within the deer’s reach. Michigan’s John Ozoga found that 80 percent of deer scrapes which included an overhanging branch all summer became full-fledged deer scrapes in fall.

Deer Hunting Myths Conclusion

Consistently successful deer hunters remain open to new ideas, and see every encounter as an opportunity to learn something about whitetails. They don’t shy from testing old beliefs and discounting relentless myths, but they also know there’s value in following general rules about deer biology and behavior. After all, if you discount everything as myth and wait for scientific proof to the contrary, you’ll suffer from paralysis through analysis, and start believing all success is random chance.

What’s the fun of deer hunting if not its rich mix of mystery, science and hands-on experience?

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