White-tailed Deer: Foot-stomp


I saw several whitetail deer last weekend as well, including three watching the eagles devour the deer carcass from the hill above.  I noticed this doe behind a tree as I drove along and stopped to take her picture.  She is the alpha female.  The boss.  She will tell the other deer with her what to do.  Being relatively silent creatures, whitetail deer have subtle forms of communication that allow them to convey their intent to each other.  This alpha doe, being responsible for making the group’s decisions, displayed two of those forms while I took pictures.


The foot-stomp.  By stomping her foot, she can tell the other deer with her to stop, which I believe would be one stomp.  A second stomp and the other deer will turn and run.  Her initial command told the others to merely stop, while she investigated.  She then turned toward me to get a better look.  They know cars generally don’t leave the road and chase them into the trees, so they will approach a car.


She moved in a little closer and she doesn’t like what’s going on.  Her foot is raised because she’s deciding to give the command to run.  Her tail is pointed straight back.  That’s a warning.  She does not like what’s happening.  Every band of whitetail deer has an alpha pair – a buck and a doe – usually the oldest most experienced.  When their tails are down they’re comfortable, not frightened.  When they twitch it, similar to a dog wagging its tail, that means they’re nervous.  When it’s up, that means they’re frightened.  Straight back, like in the picture above, is a clear signal that this doe does not like me being there.  She then gave the signal to run and the three deer with her turned and ran up the hill.


Here’s the hard part for most humans to understand.  Her job does not end when the deer take off running.  As the leader of this band, she is responsible for the band’s safety.  She will run about thirty to forty feet and will then stop and check her back-trail.  As a photographer, or hunter or just casual observer, this is the part where self-discipline is required.  Do not make any moves until after she stops to check her back-trail.  If you move before she stops, she will just keep on running.  If you wait, she will stop and just look at you.

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February 2010

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