The Truth About Deer Lungs

Editor’s note: In light of some confusion and controversy over the D&DH article “Dead-Space Debacle” by Dr. Tim Lewis, we are allowing contributing editor Dr. Phillip Bishop the opportunity to clarify additional points on this intriguing aspect of white-tailed deer anatomy and physiology in the December issue of D&DH.

The next time you harvest a deer without hitting its lungs, take a few moments to look around for yourself. Carefully open the bottom of the chest cavity by making a shallow cut along the outer circumference of the diaphragm.

If you do this without damaging the lungs, you should be able to see a set of inflated lungs in the chest cavity. You are introducing air into the cavity by opening it, but often the lungs will stay inflated anyway because the deer’s windpipe is closed.

If you want to, you can move your hand over the surface of the lungs. The lungs will, in most cases, adhere to the chest wall. See if you can find any dead space, which would be there in a living animal. I don’t think you can.

Now remove the lungs by cutting the esophagus and the wind pipe (trachea). Note how the heart is almost entirely surrounded by the lungs. You would be hard-pressed to make a heart shot without making a lung shot, wouldn’t you?

Taking a few moments to study a deer’s heart, lungs, liver, stomach, and muscles can make us better deer hunters and increase our admiration for one of God’s greatest creations. And all we have to do is invest a little time.

A Few Words About Science…

A recent letter to the editor ended with the words, “Hunters should not be deceived by science.” I agree totally with the writer. I am a scientist and a very skeptical one, because I see science being done all the time.

On the other hand, much of what we know about whitetail deer is a result of science. Hunters use the methods of empirical science to learn their own lessons from deer.

Empirical science is done by making observations. Sometimes we scientists, and we hunters, make erroneous observations, and sometimes we make good observations. Good science, and good hunting, require that we be careful in making and interpreting observations. I would encourage a healthy level of skepticism and that we ask ourselves continually “is it possible I’m wrong?”

But, if we take the letter writer’s statement too far, we will be the dumbest hunters in the woods. A lot of what we know about deer and deer hunting comes from science.

Without science, we wouldn’t know about the estrous cycle of a doe, antler growth, young buck dispersal, or about the scent glands of a buck, or how whitetails see, hear or detect odors. Without science, we wouldn’t know why broadheads need to be sharp or the role of arrow weight in killing deer.

So, keep your skepticism, make your own observations, but learn from science as well as from whitetails.

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