How Hunting Influences Flight Behavior

The upcoming October issue of D&DH features a fascinating look into deer behavior in relation to hunting pressure.

The research-based article, written by retired deer biologist John J. Ozoga, examines the science behind deer densities and population dynamics in relation to what hunters and game managers see in the field. This issue will be mailed to subscribers on July 22. It hits newsstands on Aug. 12.

In one of the studies cited in Ozoga’s article, researchers studied deer flight behavior (defined as the distance an animal may be approached before it flees) by driving forest roads during summer in northern New York.

They found sex-age differences in wariness associated with hunting. Mature bucks were more wary in hunted areas, as demonstrated by their tendency to take flight at greater distances from human observers in hunted versus unhunted areas (57.9 yards and 29.5 yards, respectively).

However, no such hunting effects were noted among antlerless deer or among spikehorns. Antlerless deer exhibited average flight distances of 33.8 yards in unhunted areas and 37.6 yards in hunted areas. By comparison, yearling bucks had even greater tolerance of vehicular traffic, with an average flight distance of only 19.1 yards in unhunted areas and 21.7 yards in hunted areas.

Logically, those animals with the longest flight distance, the wariest, may never be seen. Furthermore, since deer tend to be more tolerant of vehicles than they are of humans afoot, deer flight distances could be even greater when encountered by hunters.The relatively short flight distance of young bucks on unhunted as well as hunted areas suggests they are the least wary of all deer and, therefore, highly observable and most vulnerable to hunting.

Michael Stuwe conducted a three-year study of flight order and behavioral development in whitetails at the National Zoological Park’s Conservation and Research Center in Virginia. He found that adult males and fawns were the most flighty, but flightiness did not differ among maternal does, other does, and yearling males.

Since the area had not been hunted in more than 9 years, Stuwe could not explain the extreme wariness of adult bucks.The flight response of fawns changed with their physical and behavioral development. Initially, when only a few days old, they showed no fear and became wary only when their mothers showed alarm.

Stuwe suggests that fawns learn correct danger assessment and proper flight response in a 2-stage learning process.

In the first stage, fawns learn potential sources of danger by following their mothers’ response. During the second stage, from about 2 months of age up to 7 months, they are inclined to flee before their mothers, but gradually learn to distinguish between sources of danger and react accordingly.

By 7 months of age they are able to evaluate dangerous situations correctly and independently of other members of the family group.He concluded that flightiness in both sexes simply depends upon age. That is, “as deer accumulate experience with dangerous situations over the years, the careless deer are killed by predators or hunters.”— John J. Ozoga