Deer are the most popular game animal in North America, and with that “popularity” comes a host of superstitions, myths, or straight-up untruths. Many of these come from hunters themselves, whether they’re outrageous theories, stories they heard from their friends, or simply legends handed down from their elders. Most of these are in good-natured fun, much like wearing your lucky shirt when bowling or donning three different jerseys for the Super Bowl. But sometimes these myths are taken seriously. Perhaps worse, other misconceptions are spread by those who oppose deer hunting.
Here is a list of seven common myths about deer hunting, and why they are patently false.
1. Deer flee an area once shooting starts, and older deer are better at hiding
This is only partly true. Recent studies by researchers at Auburn University and Pennsylvania State University have found that deer do “react” to hunting seasons. Yet the animals never pack up their things and move. Instead scientists found that the animals would begin seek out hiding spaces in the day, and visit food plots or agricultural fields at night. They never, however, fully leave their range—they’re just being sneaky.
“That’s right, these bucks find what I call ‘vantage points.’ Places where the prevailing wind comes from the west—nothing is going to sneak up on them from that direction. And to the east? A steep slope where they can make a quick getaway—or definitely see or hear some hunter struggling up the slope!” wrote Duane Diefenbach, leader of the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, on his study’s blog.
As it turns out, older deer are not more experienced than their younger counterparts, either. Deer of all ages had about the same range size and behavior.
“To [test] this we created ‘harvest zones’ around each deer stand on the property with a buffer representing the area around each stand in which a hunter could see and harvest a deer,” McCoy, who was also part of the study by Auburn University, explained. “Using daytime GPS locations (since hunting does not take place at night), we found that all bucks, regardless of age, responded negatively to increased hunting pressure. By late November the chances of a buck entering the harvest zone during daylight hours were only a quarter of what they were when the season started.”
2. The lunar cycle has an effect on the rut
Some hunters believe that the lunar cycle has an effect on when the rut begins, insisting that the rut begins at a certain phase of the moon—typically a full moon. Recent studies, however, show that the lunar cycle has no influence on deer breeding.
According to the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), an investigation by biologists at the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources found that the majority of does are bred during the last two weeks of November and the first week of December, regardless of the lunar cycle. Other researchers working on similiar studies also came to the same conclusion: when it comes to the rut, the moon doesn’t matter.
When it comes to deer movement, however, the moon does play a small part. You can watch a QDMA interview with deer researcher Marcus Lashley on that topic below:
3. You can’t urinate next to your stand/blind
If deer can pick up on human scent, it seems to follow that urinating next to your treestand is a bad idea—right? Well it appears that is just a myth. Many biologists believe that human urine will elicit little to no response from deer because most deer do not associate it with a predator. In fact, urine from other animals, such as livestock, has been known to attract deer, so it may even work out in your favor.
More than likely, the only way that peeing near your treestand will hurt your chances is if the deer hear you doing it. And as the video below shows, perhaps not even that.
4. Deer hunting is bad for the population
While most hunters know this is completely false, it is misconception frequently projected by some animal advocacy groups—who argue that the large number of deer harvested every year must hurt local populations. Wildlife experts, however, say otherwise. State agencies rely on hunters to manage game species, and the hunting quotas set for game populations each year are the products of extensive research.
“Hunters aren’t harming wildlife populations,” stated the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on its site. “Hunters see to that out of self-interest. That’s why they support state and federal conservation agencies limiting seasons to just a few weeks or months a year, limiting the number of animals they kill, and placing restrictions on killing females of some species. These regulations help ensure that wildlife populations stay healthy. They also make the pursuit of game more difficult, requiring hunters to use their wits, patience, and hunting skills.”
In addition, sportsmen of every stripe contribute heavily to wildlife conservation and to the funding of state and federal conservation agencies. If not for the efforts of hunters, whitetail deer in North America would likely be on the verge of extinction.
5. A buck’s range will grow with its size or age
It seems to make sense that as a buck grows larger and more experienced, it would begin to carve out a wider range for itself. That, however, just isn’t true. According to wildlife biologist Clint McCoy, male deer surveyed in South Carolina’s Brosan Forest only had a home range of 350 acres. The largest ranges in the survey actually belonged to two yearling bucks, who held a territory of 754 and 640 acres. McCoy told QDMA’s Quality Whitetails that age and size had little effect on how big a buck’s range will be, but it is instead the animal’s “personality” that determines how far a deer will roam.
6. Rubber boots don’t mask your smell from deer
This one is more of a “debunking the debunked myth” variety. Many hunters believe that rubber boots offer some layer of scent-blocking from a curious deer’s nose, and one of the more prevalent pieces of advice out there is that rubber boots do not actually mask your smell. Well, they don’t. Or at least, they will not make whoever is wearing them completely invisible to deer. Yet rubber does hold scent weaker than leather boots, and a proper air-tight rubber boot will offer some degree of scent protection. In addition, many manufacturers offer special “scent-free” footwear. Opinion on these can be divided, but rubber is definitely easier to keep scent off than a porous leather boot. Just be sure to keep them clean.
7. Hunting is cruel
This is another myth commonly spread by groups that oppose hunting. Whether you hunt with a bow, crossbow, rifle, or something else, someone has taken issue with your methods, calling it “cruel.” However, wildlife officials say that hunting is a comparatively humane way for deer to die, especially compared to what happens in nature.
“Most wild animals don’t pass away in comfort, sedated by veterinary medication,” stated the Minnesota DNR. “They usually die a violent, agonizing death. Though a hunter’s bullet or arrow can cause a wild animal pain and trauma, such a death is no worse than the other ways wildlife perish. A deer not shot eventually will be killed by a car, predator, exposure, or starvation. An old, weakened pheasant doesn’t die in its sleep. It gets caught by a hawk and eaten.”
Of course, ethical hunters make sure to minimize any suffering by making accurate shots. Hunting is not just about the thrill of the chase or even the venison, it is about respecting your quarry.
Which myths did we miss? Let us know in the comments below.