Have you ever spooked a herd of deer and noticed that they never run into each other when scrambling away? Here’s what biologists think.
As hunters, we know occasionally spooking game is inevitable, whether it’s stumbling upon a group of deer while scouting a new area or bumping a buck on your way to your stand. When this happens, have you noticed that herds of spooked deer never run into each other—and always move in one direction?
A team of biologists from the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague did and wanted to know why. They set out for some open fields, where they began spooking groups of grazing roe deer on purpose.
The team conducted studies in 60 separate areas in three popular hunting locations of the Czech Republic. In the course of 46 days between April and August of 2014, they spooked over 188 groups of deer to monitor their movements.
While we would assume the deer would just run in the opposite direction of the threat, we would be wrong. The team found that the spooked deer always ran toward either magnetic north or south.
They believe the deer can pick up on the Earth’s magnetic field, using it like a built-in compass. By doing this, all the deer immediately turn in the exact same direction to escape the threat, and then, using the same process, they quickly reassemble up the trail. How cool is that?
“This suggests that an important function of this behavior is to coordinate the movement in the group,” explained Petr Obleser, one of the lead researchers. “To keep the common course of escape when frightened and to maintain the cohesion of the group.”
While these findings are interesting, the team needs more evidence. They have been urged to repeat the experiment in different places during different times of the year to check their results.
If this holds true, it can give hunters a huge edge when stalking spooked animals. Anyone carrying a compass could essentially keep moving directly north or south and meet up with the deer once again.
Obleser’s full report can be read in Springer’s journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.