How smart are deer?
That question has been going around for as long as I can remember. Many scientists believe the deer are incapable of thought. They insist that deer simply react to stimuli like robots without the ability to think or feel. I don’t quite swallow that, do you?
Deer are born with an innate knowledge that is far superior to ours. They instinctively know the difference between edible and inedible plants, between predators and prey animals, how to walk, and how to suckle. Some research shows that they even can tell the difference between venomous and nonpoisonous snakes. It seems the most important task a doe has to teach her fawns is the lay of the land
While I agree that the majority of a deer’s actions are in direct response to a stimuli, I also recognize there is some cognitive thought process going on. Deer can learn. If a deer bumps into a human every time he travels on a certain trail, he will learn to avoid that trail. If a deer is spooked while he is bedding, he will, more than likely, never bed in that spot again. Those are learned responses and not innate knowledge.
I’m not saying that deer don’t think, but they certainly don’t think the way humans do. First off, we think in language and the deer don’t have one. Imagine what it would be like to think without language and you will probably have a pretty good understanding of what is going on inside a deer’s mind.
Some deer have great memories. I have had deer bust me in a tree stand and remember that stand location even the next year. Now that’s a good memory. Dear certainly can recognize the shape or silhouette of a man and don’t need any confirmation from a second cents to flee the area. And what about a big bucks tendency to button hook?
A big buck will often hook back parallel to his own trail so that he can watch to see if anything is following him. Sounds like a little thought process is going on to me.
A deer’s brain is quite a bit smaller than ours, about 1/6 the size. But that doesn’t mean he’s not intelligent. I suppose the best way to understand how dear think is to evaluate how information is received by the brain.
All sensory information must first be received by the brainstem. The brainstem or primitive brain is reactionary and files all information into three categories.
1. Is this something I can eat?
2. Should I flee or should I fight?
3. Is this something I should mate with?
Since we don’t fit into the food or mating categories, we need to concentrate on not doing anything that could trigger a flee response in the deer.
Most of the time when we find ourselves in a stare down contest with a deer it is because the deer has not decided what we are or how to respond to us. We would do a lot better in hunting if we were to think about all of our actions and make sure not to trigger a flee response.
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