Editors Blog

Dan Schmidt: How Deer React to Human Pressure

It's crucial to keep the wind in your favor, but no matter how hard you try, your mere presence will alert deer. Keep this in mind when scouting new properties. (photo by Dan Schmidt)

It’s crucial to keep the wind in your favor, but no matter how hard you try, your mere presence will alert deer. Keep this in mind when scouting new properties. (photo by Dan Schmidt)

Human pressure – be it from hunters, hikers or horse riders – is the No. 1 suppressor of daytime deer activity.

Deer & Deer Hunting contributors Charlie Alsheimer and Vermont biologist Wayne Laroche have documented the extent of this suppressor during their ongoing study of how the moon affects deer behavior. Using trail timers to document deer activity in several states, they learned that 55 percent of all deer movement occurs during daylight in areas where there is little or no human pressure. Throw human pressure into the mix, and the percentage falls way off. For example, the trail-timer data show that moderate to heavy human activity causes deer to spend only 30 percent of daylight hours moving throughout their home areas.

By Daniel E. Schmidt

Extrapolate those figures for what they’re worth. Translation: If you’re after mature deer, be cautious as to how you use your property. Avoid running ATVs across the property at all times of the day, and adopt an low-impact approach for deer-sensitive zones like bedding and feeding areas throughout the year. Also, it’s wise to limit blood-trailing recoveries to the cover of darkness, especially when a wounded deer runs into a self-imposed sanctuary. Mature bucks are especially sensitive to pressure, and it doesn’t take much to blow them out of an area.

Spook a buck you’re hunting more than once, and you’ll probably won’t see him during daylight for the rest of the season.

Spook a buck one time, and he will most likely adopt nocturnal behavior for at least a little while.

Spook a buck one time, and he will most likely adopt nocturnal behavior for at least a little while.

I hesitate to mention these tactics, because it goes against my beliefs that deer hunting should be fun and enjoyable. Hunters shouldn’t be so paranoid about spooking deer that they walk through the woods like their stepping on eggshells. However, nothing will spook a mature deer from its core area more than constant human pressure. Still, human pressure affects the behavior of deer of all ages. Even antlerless deer won’t tolerate constant intrusions.

SEE ALSO: Get Great Deer Info at ShopDeerHunting.com to Learn More

How you approach and leave your stand sites definitely affects deer patterns. When possible, don’t walk across open fields to get to or from your stands. If that means walking a quarter-mile out of your way so you can skirt a woodline, do it. You’ll see fewer and fewer deer throughout the season if you constantly blow across such feeding areas just to take a shortcut to your stand. Field-side bowhunting is especially difficult in the afternoon, because deer invariably show up before darkness and leave you watching them from a distance. In these situations, it’s a huge mistake to get out of your stand and walk across the field before darkness.

They might be 300 yards away, but I guarantee that these deer will remember where you appeared and walked across the field. The best way to combat this problem is to have a partner pick you up after darkness. The intrusion of someone else walking in from the road or driving a vehicle to get you will still spook deer, but not nearly as bad as you will by suddenly appearing in what otherwise is a deer’s comfort zone.