How Whitetail Deer Really Hear (and why it should change the way we hunt!)
Throw out what you think you know about deer hearing, the real science might be a game-changer.
Recently, I read a popular blog that highlighted 15 myths about whitetail deer. This blog proceeded to highlight one aspect, hearing, as being much different than most hunters had presumed or been taught growing up. Unfortunately, this blog still gave very little information about this main sense of whitetail deer, some of which was misleading. So let’s talk about the real and often overlooked science of deer hearing, and why it is absolutely critical for the whitetail hunter to know about.
First, all hunters should be paying considerable attention to deer hearing, and planning/strategizing around it heavily. Many do not due to a heavy emphasis by the hunting industry on eyesight and the sense of smell. We need to start thinking for ourselves. Being 1 of 3 of the major senses whitetail deer use to stay alive, hearing should get major attention if we want consistent success. Consider this.. many feel the sense of smell is king of whitetail senses, and with good reason. But how many directions can a deer smell a hunter? The answer is ONE, just downwind. It is a strong, but limited sense. How many directions can a deer hear a hunter? The answer is ALL directions, 360 degrees. Much less limited. Also, how far does scent travel? Hundreds of yards? This is very dependent on wind thermals, temperature, swirling, etc., however testing of hunter noises show some can travel over half a mile. Research also shows it takes merely one interaction (sighting, smell, or noise) for deer to drastically change their patterns (AKA pattern us due to hunting pressure). So, should we pay more attention to hearing than scent? Maybe not, but these facts should compel us to start paying just as much attention to this very crucial sense of whitetail deer. Now, let’s look at the science regarding how deer hear to shed more light on why giving it considerable attention is critical for hunters.
There are 3 ways deer hear better than humans, and 1 way they hear similar. First, the similar way. Deer hear intensity (loudness) of noise about the same as humans. This means that a loud noise to them is loud to us, a soft noise to them is also soft to us. But, here is how deer are very different.
1. Pinnae: The outer ear of the whitetail is large, funneling all stray sounds to their eardrums. They may hear similar to humans as far as loundness, but they have a major edge in picking up the slightest sounds (hunter or predatory noise). Recall a time you were watching deer and their ears, and heads, turned and looked toward something that you did not hear. Usually, a few moments or even minutes later a deer or intruder comes into view. This demonstrates the uncanny capability of deer to detect and isolate the slightest sound. Their radar dish ears play a major role in picking up the slightest noise we make, locating the source of this noise, and busting many hunters. Their pinnae, give them a major edge. Further, hearing is what I call a “trigger sense.” It is used as a trip, a trigger to tell the eyes where to look, therefore making it more crucial to deer than eyesight. Sorry camo companies. (For more about the vital hearing - vision link, READ HERE).
2. The Sweet Spot: Whitetail Deer hear in a very wide frequency range, and a very important core area of sensitivity (AKA, the sweet spot). Deer can hear from about 200Hz - 64,000 Hz. This is much higher than humans. Their highest sensitivity is around 8000Hz, which is crucial. This chart was taken by a University of Toledo study on whitetail deer, and shows this range compared to a human’s.
Not only do deer hear a very broad range of frequencies (or sounds), but they hear the best in the frequencies that hunter noises fall in (around 8000 - 10,000 Hz). Yes, according to research also done at the University of Toledo, hunter noises tend to peak in the same frequency range where deer hear best. So, every time you crunch a leaf, snap a twig, or clang a stand, whitetail are keenly adapted to pick up these sounds. And, with their huge radar dish pinnae, funnel them right to their eardrums. Another major reason that any noise made by a hunter, is a major enemy to success.
3. Ultrasonic Hearing: Humans can hear from 20 - 20,000Hz. As you get close to 16,000 or so, most cannot hear these frequencies well due to their extremely high pitch. As stated above, whitetail can hear up to 64,000 Hz, and very well up to 54,000 Hz. This means they can hear noises much higher in pitch than we can, in fact about 3X as high. Much like a dog hearing a dog whistle while we cannot, deer can hear high pitched hunter-noises made by our squeaking, clanging, crunching, and many other activities (even if we do not realize we are making these noises). See the purple frequency graph of hunter noise - crunching goldenrod. All frequencies right of the orange dots cannot be heard by humans, but can by whitetail. On top of this, deer use these high frequencies to help locate the source of these slight and sometimes inaudible sounds, effectively making the large pinnae, sweet spot hearing, and ultrasonic hearing a killer trifecta against even the most stealthy hunter.
When we include how far hunter noises can travel (some up to half a mile - see chart on our homepage) to the science of how whitetail deer really hear, it should be a wake up call to take the sense of hearing very seriously, and begin taking extreme measure to eliminate any noise from our hunting areas.
For more details on specific tactics to do this, CHECK OUT OUR FREE HUNTER'S GUIDE: Achieving 100% Stealth HERE!