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Author Topic: Do deer "learn"?  (Read 3814 times)

Offline Jpmiller

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Do deer "learn"?
« on: May 23, 2023, 11:25:51 AM »
So I've been thinking about some old wary animals I've witnessed and the thought occured if this was truly a learned trait or an inherent personality trait that's selected for as an animal ages? I watched a pair of whitetail fawns at my dad's house in mazama, twin bucks, together one summer with mom. One was super skittish and one was very bold. Long story short I killed the bold one the following fall and I'm pretty sure the skittish one stuck in the general area for a number of years growing into maturity. He didn't "learn" to be skittish he just was skittish.

I've seen similar stuff with the neighborhood deer at my place. There are far less predators and basically no hunting so it's not exactly the same.but as ive been able to watch individual deer the ones who start skittish seem to grow older and the ones who aren't skittish either die or move on earlier (most of the time).

It just for me wondering about if deer/elk/whatever have the ability to and do "learn". Does a bull that gets bugled in by a hunter "learn" not to respond to bugles or is it that bulls that respond to bugles get killed and ones that dont live another day? Or is it both?

Anyone have any experience observing this or know of studies about it? Or am I over thinking it all waiting for the draw?

Offline baldopepper

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2023, 11:47:37 AM »
Some years ago one of the states (don't remember which one) did a study on  pheasants. Idea was to find why pheasants were tending to run more than holding in place in cover.  Not sure how it was conducted, but final conclusion was that birds that ran lived long enough to breed while birds that held were more often jumped and shot. In other words, there was a genetic disposition to breed more skittish, running birds than hold/hide birds. Suspect there's some correlation to that in game animals. Bold/non wary animals get killed off quicker than those that pass on the wary gene.

Offline boneaddict

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2023, 11:53:53 AM »
THey absolutely learn, without question.


about skiddish versus non skiddish....  so many factors influence this behavior.  Take a non skiddish animal and something can have them flighty as heck the next day.  Say just like a horse.   I dont know if you have ever ridden a horse, but take your most trusted saddlehorse and climb on one frosty morning and you can just feel how tight they are and know you'll have trouble.   

Wind is a factor
temp is a factor
whether there is a cougar working the area is a factor
so on

Offline nwwanderer

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2023, 12:00:25 PM »
Learn or die, not just genotype.  Been watching critters for a bit, domestic, wild and in between.  There is a reason you do not see a bunch of old ones even if they are there

Offline AL WORRELLS KID

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2023, 01:24:09 PM »
Yup! Deer are Smarter, Question is will those Poachers ever Learn?
« Last Edit: May 23, 2023, 01:31:03 PM by AL WORRELLS KID »
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Online hunter399

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #5 on: May 23, 2023, 02:19:32 PM »
THey absolutely learn, without question.


about skiddish versus non skiddish....  so many factors influence this behavior.  Take a non skiddish animal and something can have them flighty as heck the next day.  Say just like a horse.   I dont know if you have ever ridden a horse, but take your most trusted saddlehorse and climb on one frosty morning and you can just feel how tight they are and know you'll have trouble.   

Wind is a factor
temp is a factor
whether there is a cougar working the area is a factor
so on
I agree totally.
They do learn.
Some faster then others.
Some hot lead hitting the ground next to them,they learn real quick.
Other types of learning,such as no elk buggies ,turkey gobbles,nocturnal,thick cover,ect,ect, is more of a survival evaluation.
But sometimes they learn the fast way or the slow way.
But they be learning.
Some animals such as the predator side learn fast and are very smart.
TRUE GRIT
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TRUE GRIT
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Offline Jeeper

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #6 on: May 24, 2023, 08:41:35 AM »
I jumped a buck that took off like a shot and ran with his belly almost touching the ground. He even kept his head low as he scooted off!

Offline dilleytech

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #7 on: May 24, 2023, 04:21:43 PM »
Every deer has a different personality just like every human. They are intelligent animals that absolutely learn.

Offline Jpmiller

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2023, 09:45:59 PM »
Does anyone know if it's been studied at all? Would be very interested to read about what they can learn and retain.

Offline huntnnw

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #9 on: May 24, 2023, 10:33:51 PM »
All the years chasing whitetails one thing I know is if there is a cat to be known in the area deer are on edge its noticeable. I have hunted many areas where there are very few to no cats around and those deer are way less skitish

Offline cjjcb

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2023, 06:43:24 AM »
I've seen it with hunting whitetails out of a tree stand. Deer don't typically look up. But,you get busted by a doe and a week later she comes into the area and looks right up at you. That's learned...
Common stock, we work around the clock.
We shove the poles in the holes.

It’s not right vs left, they’re both fed from the same trough. It’s a distraction…It’s have vs have nots and in that scope, everyone here is a have not…
It’s only ever been about class war… Top 1% vs everyone else… Tank the two party system and get real, meaningful change…Whoops, just spilt my beer….

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Offline buckfvr

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2023, 11:14:27 AM »
They become conditioned to their environments, learning what events to associate with danger and what posses no danger.  They learn to accept certain human activities that do not (with repetition) trigger alarm.  Does and young bucks have a different threshold for tolerance of human activities than say a mature buck.

Offline Pathfinder101

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2023, 01:14:57 PM »
I have seen (and killed) older mule deer bucks in the area that I hunt that were laying with their chins on the ground to get their antlers below the brush line.  Does don't do it.  Young bucks don't do it. 
You can't tell me that they don't learn. :twocents:  Probably by seeing their older buddies do it.   :dunno:
These bucks were both killed that way.  I've seen it so much that I expect it now.
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Offline NOCK NOCK

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2023, 05:12:55 PM »
When they see my big white chevy coming they run........they have definitely learned of the killer inside.  :chuckle: :chuckle: :chuckle: :chuckle:
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Online hunter399

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #14 on: May 25, 2023, 05:35:34 PM »
When they see my big white chevy coming they run........they have definitely learned of the killer inside.  :chuckle: :chuckle: :chuckle: :chuckle:
Mine is black.
Same here ,they always on the run.
When they see my beater.
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Offline cjjcb

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #15 on: May 25, 2023, 07:37:40 PM »
When they see my big white chevy coming they run........they have definitely learned of the killer inside.  :chuckle: :chuckle: :chuckle: :chuckle:
Mine is black.
Same here ,they always on the run.
When they see my beater.
:tup:
Reinforce what they think they already know!
 :chuckle:
Common stock, we work around the clock.
We shove the poles in the holes.

It’s not right vs left, they’re both fed from the same trough. It’s a distraction…It’s have vs have nots and in that scope, everyone here is a have not…
It’s only ever been about class war… Top 1% vs everyone else… Tank the two party system and get real, meaningful change…Whoops, just spilt my beer….

"ATF should be a convenience store, not a government agency."

Offline cjjcb

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #16 on: May 25, 2023, 07:45:33 PM »
But that also brings up an interesting learned point… how many folks here have slow roll pass a deer and the buck/doe did nothing but stare? THEN, the truck stops or hears a truck door open/close and they’re gone! I’d bet that happens alot…
Deer know whats up….
Common stock, we work around the clock.
We shove the poles in the holes.

It’s not right vs left, they’re both fed from the same trough. It’s a distraction…It’s have vs have nots and in that scope, everyone here is a have not…
It’s only ever been about class war… Top 1% vs everyone else… Tank the two party system and get real, meaningful change…Whoops, just spilt my beer….

"ATF should be a convenience store, not a government agency."

Offline OutHouse

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #17 on: May 30, 2023, 12:36:14 PM »
JP, I may know about the skittish one that grew to maturity if we are talking about the same time frame. Last year, he was a solid 5 by 5 and he only showed himself once on camera, and it was at night. I think they definitely learn.

Offline Jpmiller

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #18 on: May 30, 2023, 01:00:28 PM »
I'd be super interested if anyone knows of any actual studies about it. The anecdotal evidence seems really strong but it would be super interesting to see what the limits are.

Offline Stein

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #19 on: May 30, 2023, 03:08:43 PM »
I read a study where they collared mule deer.  One fawn made the migration trip once and then somehow got separated and mixed in with another herd.  The next year he left that herd and retraced his steps within ridiculous accuracy by himself.

Not sure if that is learning or what, but they can do some pretty remarkable stuff.

Offline borntoslay

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #20 on: May 30, 2023, 03:28:21 PM »
I think they definitely learn, I busted out a big whitetail a few years back. He held in the bottom of the canyon until i was basically on top of him. Trotted down to the bottom where there was a road, he stropped and looked both ways before crossing the road. No joke
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Offline borntoslay

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #21 on: May 30, 2023, 03:31:41 PM »
I have seen (and killed) older mule deer bucks in the area that I hunt that were laying with their chins on the ground to get their antlers below the brush line.  Does don't do it.  Young bucks don't do it. 
You can't tell me that they don't learn. :twocents:  Probably by seeing their older buddies do it.   :dunno:
These bucks were both killed that way.  I've seen it so much that I expect it now.

Sleeping maybe? I got a whitetail one year and it seemed like he was doing that but I think he was taking a snooze. Not sure really
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Offline bigmacc

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #22 on: May 30, 2023, 07:30:00 PM »
Do deer learn? Absolutely, they start when they’re dropped. From “minute one”.👍

Offline Okanagan

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #23 on: May 30, 2023, 08:27:12 PM »
I have seen (and killed) older mule deer bucks in the area that I hunt that were laying with their chins on the ground to get their antlers below the brush line.  Does don't do it.  Young bucks don't do it. 
You can't tell me that they don't learn. :twocents:  Probably by seeing their older buddies do it.   :dunno:
These bucks were both killed that way.  I've seen it so much that I expect it now.

Sleeping maybe? I got a whitetail one year and it seemed like he was doing that but I think he was taking a snooze. Not sure really

I've watched two different mature mule deer bucks in different states lie down with their neck on the ground and antlers tilted back as near as they can get them to the ground.  They were not sleeping.  One of them was 40 feet from me and he rolled his eyes to look at me without turning his head.  He was sneaking across behind my back as I slowly walked a ridge, crawling on his belly but by pure chance I turned around and caught him in the open.

Besides those two I also watched a 4x4 mule deer buck that was sleeping with his head laid down. 

Not much to do with the topic of learning, but interesting behavior.


Offline fowl smacker

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #24 on: May 30, 2023, 08:44:46 PM »
I have seen (and killed) older mule deer bucks in the area that I hunt that were laying with their chins on the ground to get their antlers below the brush line.  Does don't do it.  Young bucks don't do it. 
You can't tell me that they don't learn. :twocents:  Probably by seeing their older buddies do it.   :dunno:
These bucks were both killed that way.  I've seen it so much that I expect it now.
The deer at my house (blacktails) all lay their chin on the ground when sleeping or resting from time to time.  I thought it was funny when I first saw it, but they've all done it, older bucks, young bucks and does.  But yes, I do think deer learn as well.

Offline bigmacc

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #25 on: May 30, 2023, 08:57:40 PM »
I have seen (and killed) older mule deer bucks in the area that I hunt that were laying with their chins on the ground to get their antlers below the brush line.  Does don't do it.  Young bucks don't do it. 
You can't tell me that they don't learn. :twocents:  Probably by seeing their older buddies do it.   :dunno:
These bucks were both killed that way.  I've seen it so much that I expect it now.

Sleeping maybe? I got a whitetail one year and it seemed like he was doing that but I think he was taking a snooze. Not sure really

I've watched two different mature mule deer bucks in different states lie down with their neck on the ground and antlers tilted back as near as they can get them to the ground.  There were not sleeping.  One of them was 40 feet from me and he rolled his eyes to look at me without turning his head.  He was sneaking across behind my back as I slowly walked a ridge, crawling on his belly but by pure chance I turned around and caught him in the open.

Besides those two I also watched a 4x4 mule deer buck that was sleeping with his head laid down. 

Not much to do with the topic of learning, but interesting behavior.
Yes sir👍 I killed a buck once that I thought I’d hit dead to rights. Some on here know of this buck. Long story short, 6 hours and 5 boot miles later we found him. Laying like a good old bird dog next to a fire place. About 15 or so yards away when I rounded the rockslide. He had his head buried in the sage brush, I only seen his antlers and his driver’s side ear. My brother and I stopped, I raised my rifle as he reared up like a horse, I put a round into center mass, he buckled and I shot another round into his chest before he hit the ground. I ended up putting another round at point blank range under his front leg where I figured his heart was. That did it. We looked him over, he was a big bugger, we noticed both back legs were shot off at the knee caps. The first shot I took went through both hind knee caps as the buck lunged forward to mount a doe. I had my crosshairs behind the shoulder, about at his heart level. That buck crawled on his two front legs, dragging two stumps for miles, he was so low to the ground we never seen him going through the 4-5 foot tall brush. Even when we came up on him he was still trying to hide and survive. He was 28” across, 5 by 5. Dressed at 329 with the hide still on. Game fellas said he was about 8 and a half yo.

They learn, they learn how to survive. It may be from other deer, bucks may learn from other bucks. Young will learn from herd does or their moms but one thing is for certain, they start learning soon as they hit the ground.

Offline Caseyd

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #26 on: May 30, 2023, 10:57:47 PM »
I have seen (and killed) older mule deer bucks in the area that I hunt that were laying with their chins on the ground to get their antlers below the brush line.  Does don't do it.  Young bucks don't do it. 
You can't tell me that they don't learn. :twocents:  Probably by seeing their older buddies do it.   :dunno:
These bucks were both killed that way.  I've seen it so much that I expect it now.

Some star thistle 4ft high and they’ll never move  :chuckle:

I hate to admit the amount of times I’ve had one jump out on the second pass/way out. One notorious spot there is a second ditch from heavy runoff that they get down into.

Offline dilleytech

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #27 on: May 31, 2023, 11:31:19 AM »
But that also brings up an interesting learned point… how many folks here have slow roll pass a deer and the buck/doe did nothing but stare? THEN, the truck stops or hears a truck door open/close and they’re gone! I’d bet that happens alot…
Deer know whats up….

They understand the difference between a predator hunting them. And a predator just strolling by.

Offline dilleytech

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #28 on: May 31, 2023, 11:33:25 AM »
I have seen (and killed) older mule deer bucks in the area that I hunt that were laying with their chins on the ground to get their antlers below the brush line.  Does don't do it.  Young bucks don't do it. 
You can't tell me that they don't learn. :twocents:  Probably by seeing their older buddies do it.   :dunno:
These bucks were both killed that way.  I've seen it so much that I expect it now.

I watched a turkey lay down flat in the grass the other day when I stopped to look at it in a field 30 yards off the road. Grass was about 4” tall and I could barely see it.

Offline Pathfinder101

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #29 on: May 31, 2023, 12:42:25 PM »
I have seen (and killed) older mule deer bucks in the area that I hunt that were laying with their chins on the ground to get their antlers below the brush line.  Does don't do it.  Young bucks don't do it. 
You can't tell me that they don't learn. :twocents:  Probably by seeing their older buddies do it.   :dunno:
These bucks were both killed that way.  I've seen it so much that I expect it now.

Sleeping maybe? I got a whitetail one year and it seemed like he was doing that but I think he was taking a snooze. Not sure really

Nope. 
Making a long story short; the buck in the pic with my 13 year old was bedded between two not-legal two points we stopped to glass.  I was shifting from one buck to the other with my binos and saw antler tips duck below the brush level.  Told PathfinderJR to put his scope between the two bucks and wait.  A few minutes later one of the two points got up and stood there, then the other.  When that big buck jumped out of his bed he was already starting to bound away when the bullet caught him in the shoulder. 
I thought "Man, that brush must be taller than it looks" so I walked up there and found his bed.  The brush was less than 2' high.  The antler tips I saw were him laying his chin on the ground after he saw us stop to glass them.
You can't tell me he didn't "learn that" from other bucks.
And I know those two 2 points had not "learned it yet".
 :twocents:

Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes.  That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.

Offline bigmacc

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #30 on: June 05, 2023, 08:02:57 PM »
Another cool old story that prove that deer learn.

Grandma and grandpa went on an afternoon hunt(for those on here that remember this story, I’m shortening it😆), grandma had got back to camp to make some lunch, grandpa was to meet her. They went out basically for a stroll, I remember grandma telling this story many times, it was a summer type day. They went into a bowl only about a mile or so out of camp when they started hearing motor noises. A couple kids from another camp were riding Hondas in a figure 8 type course. Grandma and grandpa sat down and watched the boys for awhile. Grandpa noticed antlers within the figure 8. He motioned for the boys to come over, asked if either had a hunting license, “ no” was the answer. One buck stood up, second buck stood up. , twin 4 points. Both had been laying in that tall sage for at least a half an hour or so while these two boys were there, both with their head’s sucked to the ground until the noise stopped. The picture is in one of our albums. The whole story is a dandy. Deer do learn, every once in awhile they make mistakes. My dad used to say they “are a lot smarter than you, because your in their world”. 
« Last Edit: June 06, 2023, 07:15:17 AM by bigmacc »

Offline OutHouse

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #31 on: June 07, 2023, 03:04:30 PM »
This thread reminded me of a small three point who I ran into many times a few years ago. There were a few larger bucks in the area and I was dead set on them, and ended up with tag soup at the end of the season. The thing about the wee three point was that I had been busted by him several times when trying to get where I thought the bigger guys were. He ended up learning to tolerate me!

I would see him and I could walk right past him as long as it was not too close and he would just watch me. He even followed me a few times, peaking his head around trees to observe me. One time I sat with him, literally. I posted up in some cover where I thought the big guys were going to come. He shows up shortly thereafter, sees where I am, probably winded me too, flanked me so he could see me for sure, then walked about 30 yards away and sat down. We sat there for a probably a couple hours, and I thought he would be bate in the sense that other bucks might smell him and come on over.

This, of course, was with whitetails who are really curious sometimes.

Offline idaho guy

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #32 on: July 15, 2023, 08:30:28 PM »
All good stories. I agree deer and elk learn. Especially elk with calls. Some is genetic for sure. For a long time I thought big whitetail “learned” to be nocturnal. After years of trail cam pics I learned some just started out nocturnal. One small buck in particular came in almost exclusively in the dark since he was a 2 point. He became a pretty big buck as a result. The rut got the best of him and he moved daytime to his demise lol. Made me start doing a chicken and egg thing in my head. Do the big bucks become nocturnal or do the nocturnal bucks become big 😂 they definitely learn a lot as they mature but a lot that become mature were just born with better instincts.

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Re: Do deer "learn"?
« Reply #33 on: July 23, 2023, 05:07:27 PM »
Quote from: Pathfinder101 on May 25, 2023, 01:14:57 PM
I have seen (and killed) older mule deer bucks in the area that I hunt that were laying with their chins on the ground to get their antlers below the brush line.  Does don't do it.  Young bucks don't do it.
You can't tell me that they don't learn. :twocents:  Probably by seeing their older buddies do it.   :dunno:
These bucks were both killed that way.  I've seen it so much that I expect it now.


Same here as I too hunt the open country of Central Wa. 15 years ago or so, during opening weekend I was tucked in the shadow of a large erratic glassing during the noon hour. I was overlooking a large coulee that had some great habitat on my side (steep talus slopes, finger ridges, pockets of sage, small cheatgrass flats, with CRP on top), along with a gravel road way down in the bottom. Below me, and off to the South about 5-600 yards away there was a very small "bench" with a pocket of sage that just looked "deery". I kept looking at this 20-30' dia sagebrush patch, and I just felt that something wasn't right. To gain a little more elevation, I ended up crawling up on the erratic that I was posted up under. Once I was prone, I could make out antler tips sticking above the sagebrush, if I didn't touch my binocs after I had them focused on the sage patch. Honestly, I was pretty proud of my spotting ability, but then they'd disappear? But then re-appear in a slightly different location in that patch?! This went on for about an hour until I ascertained there were actually 4 different bucks in this little pocket.

The wind appeared to be good for a stock, plus I've been hunting the area for a long time. With 4 of them in there, I'd have to go low and slow. It took a while, but as I got closer I was really having fun glassing that patch of sage. Once I got close to the rim of the coulee, I could hear the opening weekend traffic rolling through on the washboard gravel road. What really surprised me, was every time a rig got close, all 4 of those bucks would lay their heads right down on the dirt! That would then allow me to move alot faster, and I'd really cut off some distance. I was having a really good time, and I knew I'd kill a buck either way...I just wanted to see how close I could get (I figured I'd bounce another deer, and blow the the stalk). I finally stopped when I was probably 40-ish yards away? (it really doesn't matter)..but the subject of my story is all 4 bucks were 3-1/2 and 4-1/2 years old,  3-4pt mule deer that were hiding in this little perch. They had the wind in their favor, they could see the valley floor below them, and they hid every time a rig drove by. They just didn't account for the 2-legged guy that wanted to take one of them home. Obviously they "learned" to hide from cars as they drove by, (they'd really get their antlers into the sage too..it was neat to watch) but they neglected to keep one deer "on-point" looking in the direction I approached, even though it was up-wind. I finally had to bark a couple of times to get them to stand up so I knew I had a clean shot, then I tipped the best one over. Unfortunately, the sage burned a few years ago and the deer don't lay on that flat anymore.

 


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