November 24, 2014

Elyria
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What Deer See

DSC_1228aI was lying in the tall grass at the edge of the woods across from Elyria Fire Station Number 4 on Abbe Road. This was long, long ago; before they put up a fence and decided it was Elyria High’s soccer field. Because it didn’t get a lot of traffic and was far enough off the busy road, it was a great place for urban deer to quietly graze and commune. Because it was close to where I grew up, it made a great place for ten-year-old me to observe deer in the early evening. That is, at least until Mom started ringing that annoyingly loud bell from the front steps and I had to make my way home. If the yellow porch light was on but the street lights weren’t yet, I was safe. Sometimes I stretched it a little.

This particular night I was stretching it, because it was pretty dark. And really, I tried to be a good kid but I couldn’t pass this one up. A small herd of seven or eight deer had moved in all around me until I was surrounded. As long as I remained still, “made myself small”, used the cover of the grass and moved ever so slowly, I found I could usually maneuver to within twenty feet of them. Today, I was closer than that, more like ten feet. It was a personal best and I didn’t want to spoil a good run. Having read too many Zane Grey novels I had some idea that I was eventually going to becomeso stealthy that I would be able to reach out and touch a deer, barehanded and counting coup!

Slowly pushing up on my fingertips, I started to “skootch” just a little closer when the doe closest to me sensed something was wrong. Her ears turned erect, her head went straight up, and she seemed to look right at me. I froze. She let out a short huff, and all the deer around her brought their heads up too, but they didn’t leave. I remained absolutely motionless, still confident in my ability to pull this off. “I’ll just lie here until she forgets about me.” I thought, but she didn’t forget. Seemingly angry, she stomped one hoof on the ground and lowered her head peering straight forward. One or two deer in the back scampered off but most of them staid put, so I was good, convinced that she must have “scented” me because nobody can see the invisible boy, the amazing Byron!

Whether she actually saw me or she just decided it wasn’t worth chancing it, she up and left and the invisible boy had to retreat back down “Snake Hill” and make his way home, hopefully quick enough not to get grounded so he could stalk deer again the next night. Over the years I’ve built quite a bit on those stalking skills, much of it by doing the same kind of dance with deer in the many places I’ve been fortunate to hunt them, and usually much more wary whitetails that live in the city and drink from your bird bath. I’ve invested many dollars in elaborate hunting clothes in the best and latest camouflage patterns and spent countless hours reading up on the habits and natural abilities of deer, always hoping to close the gap until one day I actually reach out and tap one unsuspecting whitetail on the shoulder.

Although I’ve had numerous deer approach my ground blind to within an arrow’s length, I’ve never touched one and that goal has become less important than being able to bring my bow to full draw without being detected. What became apparent to me by observation is that deer don’t see what we see, and what is invisible to us isn’t invisible to them, and vice versa.

A new study revealed at the Quality Deer Management Association conference has made a quantum leap in what we know about deer vision. We’ve known for a long time that deer see mostly movement and less so the colors we see, but did you know that a deer’s focus in its peripherals is as sharp as it is straight ahead? Just because a deer isn’t looking “at” you doesn’t mean he doesn’t see you. Also, the color that deer perceive the least is red, not green, and they are pretty mush unable to decipher green from brown. What that means is if you’re wearing the latest hot-shot camouflage pattern from head to foot, you look like one big blob of color to them, and those old timers who hunt in red plaid and orange are actually less visible to deer. Do you really want to be less visible only to other hunters?

You may want to re-think your hunting wardrobe this season!