Have you ever wondered how well deer can hear and how far away can they hear you? Well a couple of years ago, the folks down here at the University of Georgia conducted a study using an audiometer to produce a series of sounds and frequencies, all the while measuring the deer’s brainwaves to determine which frequencies they were hearing. To make a long story short, this study determined that despite having 7″ long ears that twitch and turn like satellite dishes trying to pick up the best signal, whitetail deer actually hear in a similar frequency as ourselves. This is good news, especially if there are deer out there like our team member Kevin. We used to joke that he was deaf as a post when Adam and I would take off after a bird and Kevin had never heard the gobble.
Sounds in the forest are impacted by numerous environmental factors such as wind, terrain, vegetation, etc. and the whitetail deer seem to have an act for being able to isolate that slight clank your grunt call made against the limb of your bow as you stood up to get into position from all the chirping birds and rustling in the leaves. You think to yourself “How could he have heard that?” Well, remember that a deer’s survival lies in its ability to sense and identify danger. So as they live out their lives, they continue to learn what sounds are “natural” and not dangerous versus those that may be “unnatural” and dangerous. I used quotes there because deer in different environments associate with different things. For example, I have watched as deer continue to feed in an alfalfa field while the farmer was mowing it. If the tractor came close, they would bound out to a safer distance and continue feeding. While on the same farm, deer have bolted at the sound of an atv. The same can be said for the deer in a more suburban setting that ignore lawn mowers and barking dogs. They have learned that these sounds, when in the correct context, are no threat, yet in remote areas wolves and coyotes put them on red alert.
Now we all know that a deer’s nose is by far its greatest sense when it comes to fooling our efforts to catch one off its guard. A close second would be their sharp eyesight, honing in on any poorly timed movement. So out of the three, I would have to say that a deer’s hearing can be the most easy to overcome. Should you be the victim of an unfortunate sound that has alerted an approaching deer, you may find that by remaining perfectly still and allowing your camouflage to do its job, and having practiced good scent control measures prior to climbing in the stand, that the deer will settle back down. You will know if your busted when the head bobbing starts as the deer tries to confirm a movement detected or his head flies back with his nose in the air, checking for the faintest hint of odor. Once he has used his other senses to determine that strange sound he heard came from what looks like a human in a tree that smells like yesterday’s gym socks, he will put two and two together and be gone!
Here are a few things that I do to help keep the deer from hearing me while on a hunt:
Many hunters focus on what they are doing once they are in the stand but forget about the noise they are making on the way to and from the tree. The first thing I do is clear a trail large enough that I will not snag anything on the way to the tree with either my clothing, pack, bow, or stand (if using a climber). This includes any overhanging branches or briars as well as any dead branches on the ground. I know in many places this isn’t feasible. When hunting the public lands of southwest Virginia, the last thing I was going to do was clear brush for 2 miles back to my stand, creating an open invitation to any other Tom, Dick, and Harry who happened to come across it. But where it can be done, it will help keep your approach silent and stealthy.
Also, use natural travel ways that can make the trek easier for you. If you are struggling, due to terrain or weight of your gear, etc. an arduous hike will have you losing focus on being quiet and your more likely to stumble over a log, kick a branch, or snap a twig. Take your time, and use natural paths, streams or drainageways, etc. that can make it less stressful.
Climbing the Tree and Securing the Stand
When hanging a tree stand, you always want to make sure the winders are fully inserted into the tree, the steps are tightly fastened, or the ladder is properly attached to prevent any movement. This is a big safety concern, but could be a source of an unwanted squeak when you least desire one. The stand itself should also be tightly secured to the tree and as level as possible, or with a slight incline. This will not only provide safety, but also increase your comfort. Maintaining your comfort while on stand will reduce fidgeting and weight shifting which can cause a loosely attached stand to make a sound if allowed to rub against the tree. It will also prevent the same sound when standing or shifting position for a shot. Any strap used for the steps or stand should be a “ratchet” type. This will provide maximum security. Do not drop equipment from the stand to the ground such as winders, saws, etc. They are sure to alert any nearby deer to your presence upon impact.
When climbing into and out of the stand, do not overload yourself with gear. Oversized packs are more likely to snag on branches on the way up and are cumbersome while in the tree. Pack only what you will need. Always use a tow rope to raise your weapon to your stand. Again, not only is this a safety issue, but reduces the likelihood of banging it on a step or snagging it on a limb. When bow hunting, be sure your arrows are securely fastened in the quiver before hoisting the bow up. Nothing screams “Hunter” louder than the sound of an arrow coming loose and falling from 18 feet, hitting every step on the way down. Believe me, I been there.
Probably the most important thing to keep in mind with your equipment is to stay organized. Keep things in your pack in certain pockets so that you know exactly where they are when needed and don’t clutter up those pockets with unnecessary items or things recklessly thrown in there, like a tangled bow rope. It will only cost you time, frustration, and additional noise and movement. I personally do not like to wear things around my neck. So I keep my binos, rangefinder, grunt call type items on hangers or cut limbs close enough to be easily reached but not in the way of drawing my bow. Keep your bow as quiet as you can with lubricants, dampener, felt, mole skins, whatever is necessary for all moving parts and where the arrow comes into contact with the rest. You want a silent draw and a quiet release. The ability of a deer to react to the sound of a bow or “jump the string” is well documented and incredible to see. Ideally, you will want to take the shot when the deer is not alert and so reducing its reaction.
Talking on Stand
This one may seem like a no brainer, but whether you are with your hunting buddy or like us at DEER30 Outdoors and filming your hunts, you are going to be doing some talking to each other or the camera. Prior to the shot, keep all communications to a minimum and as soft as possible. After the shot, don’t go crazy hoopin’ and a hollerin’. I know your excited and you may have just shot the buck of a lifetime, but you may also be spooking any deer that may still be in the area for the next day’s hunt, not to mention that many states allow you to harvest more than one deer a day. Control your excitement and save the screaming and shouting for camp and you will be able to hunt that same small patch of woods with better success.
I hang most of my stands in the summer, months before the season opens, to give the deer plenty of time to forget about the sounds they heard from the crazy humans up in the tree. But it does not make noise reduction any less important than when you hang a stand moments before the hunt. Keep these things in mind while on or preparing for your next trip to the woods, and they just might make you a more successful hunter.