How well can whitetails hear? Recent research uncovered facts all hunters should know.
It’s a common story among bowhunters; a barely audible sound, perhaps an arrow scraping against its rest on the bow was heard by a deer and ended what could have been a successful hunt. Surely an animal that can detect such faint noises must have almost supernatural hearing ability. Does it?
When you add that incredible hearing ability to the deer’s incredible sense of smell, it’s no wonder whitetails are among the most difficult big-game animals to harvest with archery equipment since the hunter has to be within easy “hearing” distance of the quietest sounds. While there is ample evidence to support the whitetail’s incredible sense of smell, until recently little was known regarding their sense of hearing.
Thanks to a landmark study by researchers at the University of Georgia, hunters now have a much better understanding of what deer can hear.
Everyone knows sounds vary from extremely deep, low sounds to high, screechy sounds and from whisper quiet to eardrum-shaking loudness. There are a couple other things you need to know as well. Humans can hear a range of sounds, but some animals can hear sounds outside the hearing range of humans. Ever heard of a dog whistle?
Supposedly, it tweets a sound higher than what you or I can hear but Rover can easily hear it. That may be the case, but if you rely on a dog whistle to get the attention of Rover, make sure to blow it loudly. Low sounds travel much farther through the atmosphere than high sounds. That’s why when you hear loud, distant music, you are much more likely to hear the low base sounds than the high notes.
Back to the deer. The researchers, using fenced in deer aged one to four, were able to send out sounds from very low to dog whistle high and at varying loudness levels. Then using electrodes implanted in the each deer’s head, they were able to measure the brain activity which occurred when those sounds were made. In other words, they could tell if the deer was hearing a sound, whether it reacted to it or not.
They learned a deer can hear any sound a human with normal hearing can hear. If you can hear leaves rattling as you walk through the woods, so can the deer. If you can hear the arrow scraping on your bow’s arrow rest, so can the deer. In keeping with how far sounds travel, however, the low sounds of footsteps on a path will likely be able to be heard farther away than the arrow scraping sounds.
They also found that though deer don’t hear amazingly low sounds any more than humans, they can easily hear dog-whistle high sounds far beyond the ability of humans to detect. Don’t take any dog whistles with you when hunting!
This study only detailed the range of a whitetail’s hearing ability. It wasn’t focused on how loud a sound needed to be to be heard. But hunters should never forget a deer can actually hear sounds better than humans. Back to the scrape of an arrow on a bow’s rest. A hunter can hear it up close, for sure, and maybe as far as 10 feet away. It would be hard to hear for a human to hear it from 10 yards away.
To a deer, with ears about 10 times larger than a humans and with the ability to rotate those ears make them “point” at the direction a sound originates, expect them to be able to hear a noise easily when, to a human, it would be impossible to detect. There’s more.
While a deer’s overall hearing ability is not much different than ours, they are far more “in-tune” with their surroundings because their survival depends on the use of their senses to detect potential predators far enough in advance to escape unharmed. They are constantly listening and focusing on the sounds in their environment. Consistently successful hunters know this and understand remaining silent is an important aspect of every hunt.