Whitetail Q&A: Ask the Deer Professor

Whitetail hearing, sexing deer tracks, and rub reconnaissance.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Q: My buddy swears that the hour chime on his watch-which is pretty quiet-spooked a deer from 100 yards. Is this really possible?

A: Probably not. It may shock hunters who've formed opinions about the hearing ability of deer based on personal experiences, but a pair of studies (the first by Arthur Stattelman of the University of Georgia, and a second and more recent one by Dr. Kenneth Risenhoover at Texas A&M; University) suggest that a deer's hearing is not much better than our own.

A buck is not the Six Million Dollar Man. It can't hear the bad guys whispering a quarter mile away. It does, however, live in the woods 24/7 and can instantly identify unnatural sounds. So a watch chime could certainly spook a buck-but probably not from 100 yards away.

Q: Can you tell the sex of a whitetail deer by looking at its tracks?

A: Over 50 years ago, a biologist named Weston argued that "no man, not even the most astute woodsman, can positively and consistently identify the sex of a white-tailed deer by its track alone." I agree with this.

We have measured the hooves of lots of deer and found that there are differences in both hoof length and hoof width between the sexes, but there is considerable overlap. Our studies demonstrate what many hunters have long known: A really big track was likely made by a buck, but it's impossible to tell this beyond the shadow of a doubt based only on its size.

There are other clues, though. A mature buck's hooves tend to be more rounded at the tip. Unlike does, bucks sometimes urinate as they walk, so a urine trail in the snow is a pretty good clue. Also, bucks tend to be lazy when they walk and may leave drag marks in a light snow from their front feet, whereas does typically don't. Still, there's only one way to be absolutely certain about the sex of the deer that made a particular track, and that is to find the track while the deer is still in it.

Q: There never seem to be many fresh rubs during the early season where I hunt. What's going on?

A: The number of rubs on any piece of property is influenced by several factors. In our studies, we've recorded densities that range from less than 500 rubs per square mile to over 3,000. Obviously, the overall buck density has an influence. But study results indicate that the number of rubs correlates more directly with the density of 21/2-year-old or older bucks. A Michigan study found similar results and showed that young bucks made fewer than half as many rubs as older bucks, and they tended to begin leaving this sign much later in the fall. So a lack of early-season rubs at least suggests a lack of older bucks. Keep in mind, though, that an older buck or two may well show up in your area as they start ranging more widely during the rut.

Dr. Karl V. Miller is a professor of wildlife ecology and management at the University of Georgia's D.B. Warnell School of Forest Resources and one of the country's foremost whitetail deer experts. Please submit questions for this page via e-mail to deerquestions@yahoo.com.