Now that I have your attention, let’s make one thing clear: Deer do not “stomp” their “feet.” Sigh. Thanks to modern society’s way of dumbing down the English language, I must use the words stomp, stomping and feet in this blog to make sure this deer blog installment gets enough traction. Enough prefacing. The proper terms for this commonly observed whitetail behavior is stamp and stamping, and hoof and hoofs (or hooves, if you’re old school). In any event, let’s get to the point!
When a white-tailed deer becomes alert, it often stops abruptly and begins stamping. It almost seems like an exaggerated gesture. The deer curls its front leg up and into its body and then slams that hoof to the ground in a forceful manner. The deer will typically stand in the same spot and repeat this gesture until it identifies what it initially perceives to be an unknown source of danger. When a deer is super alert, or if it sees or hears something in addition to the initial danger, the deer will often snort (or “blow”). When that happens, the stamping deer will usually hightail it out of the area.
Hoof stamping behavior isn’t absolute. That’s the case with all whitetail behaviors. Oftentimes, the hoof stamping will be light and delicate — almost as if the deer is being overly cautious. “I think I sense danger, but I’m not so sure.” In these cases the deer will typically stay alert after just one or two hoof stamps. The deer will then resume its feeding or traveling behavior.
Some of the best deer behaviorists of all time have studied whitetail hoof stamping behavior for years. One of them is Leonard Lee Rue III of New Jersey. Lennie is one of my idols in the whitetail world, as he taught several generations of hunters on the ways of the whitetail before anyone even thought of documenting the many behaviors. According to his research from the 1950s, hoof stamping behavior is also associated with olfactory communication among whitetails. “Each time a deer stamps its forefoot, there is a high probability that interdigital scent is placed on the ground,” Rue once said. “I have often noticed that other deer will put their noses down to the ground to smell the exact spot where a previous deer had stamped its foot. The other deer do not seem unduly alarmed, but they do take note of it.”
As a hunter, what should you do if a deer you’re sizing up stops and begins stamping? Act quickly and decisively! The jig is up … that deer won’t be sticking around for long. Get yourself into shooting position; make sure you have a clean shot at the vitals, and waste no time.
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