By T R Michels
Deer species, including white-tailed
deer, communicate in a number of ways; through a wide
variety of body postures and movements to communicate by
sight; through a number of scents and scent organs to
communicate by smell; through sound by vocalization,
blowing through the nostrils and thrashing branches. The
information provided here is and excerpt from the book
Whitetail Addict's Manual, by T.R. Michels,
available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products
Whitetails use several different movements and body
postures when they interact with other deer, and as they
react to the different sights, scents and sounds around
Deer often stamp their front
feet when alarmed to alert other deer of danger. The
foot stomp may also be used to try to startle a
predator. The excess interdigital scent left on the
ground during the foot stomp may also tell other deer
that a deer felt endangered in the area where the scent
Tail Flag Deer use a tail waving motion as they
flee, probably to warn other deer of danger, and to show
other deer which way the flagger is going. Does flag
more often than bucks; a running deer that is not
flagging may be a buck.
Head Bob A deer sensing danger may lower its head
as if to feed, and jerk its head back up again quickly.
The head bob may be an attempt to catch a predator
moving while it thinks the deer is feeding. The quick
head bob may also be used to startle a waiting predator
into giving its position away. The head bob may be used
after a foot stomp.
Tail Flicking A deer will remain still as long as
it does not flick its tail from side to side. Once the
tail starts to flick the deer is getting ready to move.
Ear Twitching A doe with its ears forward or
relaxed is usually alone or with its fawns. A doe
twitching its ears to the side or backwards is probably
listening to her fawns or other deer. A doe turning its
ears or head to the rear during the rut may have a buck
Hoof Pawing Deer paw to dig up food under snow
and heavy vegetation; to dig up minerals; and to clear
away sticks, stones and snow before laying down. Bucks
may paw, stomp and sniff the ground when making a scrape
under an overhanging branch. When a buck paws slowly
while making a scrape it may stay awhile; if it paws,
stops, looks around, and paws again, it may be getting
ready to leave.
Aggressive Body Behavior:
Bucks and Does
Walk Toward The aggressive deer walks toward
another deer. This is the lowest level of aggression.
Ear Drop The deer lays its ears back along its
neck with the ear openings facing out. This is low
intensity aggression that is frequently used.
Head High Threat The deer stands erect, holds its
head high, tilts its nose upward, and lays its ears
back. The tail of the deer may be held half way out.
This is a rarely used threat.
Head Low Threat The deer lowers its head and
extends its neck toward another deer, with its ear's
laid back. This is called the "Hard Look" by deer
Head Raise The head of the deer is pointed in the
direction of another deer, the head is snapped up and
backward, and then back to a resting position.
Lunge The deer lunges with its head toward
another deer without making contact.
Front Leg Kick A dominant deer strikes at a
subdominant with a forefoot one or more times. The hoof
does not necessarily hit the other deer. Also called the
Charge The deer runs rapidly at another deer, but
stops before contact is made.
Chase A subordinate that does not respond to a
lower level of aggression may be chased by a dominant,
while the dominant uses the head low posture as it
pursues the subdominant.
Rake A dominant lifts a foreleg about eighteen
inches above the ground and drags it across the back of
a subordinate. It is used by a dominant to displace a
subordinate from a bed.
Poke One deer contacts another with its nose.
This is commonly used to direct group movement or to
displace another deer.
Head Shake The deer lowers its head, and spreads
its forelegs to lower the front of the body, while it
shakes its head from side to side with its ears
flopping. A high intensity threat usually performed at a
Body Push The aggressive deer approaches another
deer and pushes against the rear of the other with its
shoulder while laying its throat on the back of the
Sidle Two deer walk slowly side by side in a head
high threat posture. Bucks usually turn their head and
body slightly away from each other in a show of
redirected aggression. If neither deer retreats, one or
both of the deer may flail at the other with their
forefeet or rush the other deer.
Rear Up A deer rears up on its hind legs. This is
usually preceded by a head high threat.
Flail Deer stand on their rear legs and strike
out with both forefeet at each other. Flailing continues
until one deer quits. This is the most intense form of
aggressive behavior exhibited by does, and by bucks
Aggressive Behavior: Bucks
Nose Licking The buck licks its nose constantly
from both sides of its mouth.
Crouch The buck lowers its head and tilts its
antlers toward an opponent. The aggressive buck is
usually hunched, with all four legs partially flexed,
lowering the height of the deer. The buck's hair often
stands on end, and it may walk slowly with a
stiff-legged walk. This is performed only during the
breeding season among high ranking bucks.
Circling The aggressive buck slowly circles its
opponent while crouching.
Grunt-Snort A snort performed while the buck
circles another buck. The upper lip is raised upwards at
each side beneath the nostrils and the nostrils are held
tightly closed while a five to ten second burst of air
is blown through the nostrils causing them to vibrate.
This is known as the Grunt-Snort-Wheeze.
Antler Threat A buck lowers its head so that its
antlers point directly at another buck. If the other
deer also uses an antler threat a rush usually follows.
Antler Thrust A buck rapidly lowers its head so
tat the antlers point toward the side or rump of another
deer, the abruptly raises its head. Bucks may do this to
both bucks and does. It does not always result in
Sparring Two bucks lock antlers and push and
twist their heads back and forth. This is a non-violent
contest between bucks of all sizes. The bucks may remain
Rush The rush is a rare form of aggression
usually between two aggressive large bucks. Both bucks
lunge at each other with an antler clash. They may
attempt to push or pull each other backwards or
sideways. Their hair often stands on end, and the white
hairs of the metatarsal gland are often visible. Bucks
frequently grunt and snort during a fight.