Deer are among the most plentiful and most popular game when it comes to hunting in North America. With a range that stretches from Canada all the way down to the northern part of South America, deer can be found virtually everywhere.
Whether you are in pursuit of a trophy rack for your wall, a freezer full of prime, organic meat or just looking for a way to keep these pesky animals from chewing up your garden and flowers, outsmarting these ungulate animals is quite the trick.
But is it possible for the hunter to become the hunted? Are deer dangerous?
Yes, deer can sometimes be dangerous to people, and they can cause severe injuries on the attack using their antlers and kicks. You should never approach a wild deer.
When it comes to negative human and deer interactions, deer are probably most infamous for the tremendous number of automobile accidents they cause every year. But this isn’t the only way they can hurt you.
The antlers that bucks have are not for show, and deer that are very threatened might go on the attack instead of running away. This can turn into a seriously bad day for you! Keep reading to learn more.
Understanding Deer Behavior
Deer are typically concerned with two things: mating and eating, and little else besides unless they are taking care of young.
If they aren’t in the middle of the rut, mating season, deer are either resting or eating, or else looking for something to eat. And this is with good reason!
Compared to other animals their size, deer need a lot of food in order to survive.
An adult white-tailed deer will consume between 8 and 10 pounds of vegetation per day during the spring and summer, and more in the fall!
This is necessary to maintain their high metabolism and keep their energy levels up so they can escape predators and compete during mating season.
Prior to mating season, males will grow a new set of antlers. These start out covered in a soft, spongy tissue called velvet that will eventually harden into multiple spars of the bone-like substance we are all familiar with.
Once their antlers have hardened, bucks will use them to battle other bucks for the chance to mate with does. These battles can be quite fierce, and sometimes even deadly.
During mating season, bucks will become much more aggressive and territorial as they attempt to assert their dominance over other males.
This is when most negative on-foot human-deer interactions occur, as bucks will charge at people that come too close to their does or to them.
Are Deer Aggressive Toward Humans?
Generally no. Deer are not typically aggressive animals and will usually only attack humans if they feel very threatened or cornered.
Deer, as a rule, prefer escape to combat in all circumstances outside mating battles.
However, during mating season or when defending their young all deer might go on the offensive to deter predators or protect themselves.
Have Deer Ever Attacked Humans?
Yes, and quite often compared to other wild animals in North America though this is due more to the number of deliberate “close encounters” that people have with deer rather than any sort of malice on the deer’s part.
There are still many reports of people being gored, kicked, and otherwise injured by deer every year in North America, and many, many more that go unreported.
These incidents usually happen because the person got too close to a wild deer, or was perceived as a threat by a doe defending her fawns.
In any case, considering the numbers and range of deer throughout North America, you have more cause to be concerned with an attack by them than most other animals!
How Do Deer Attack?
Deer attack by using their powerful legs to kick and stomp at their assailant, or by using their antlers to gore them, in the case of bucks.
Either way, if you are on the receiving end of an attack it is going to hurt, a lot, and injuries can be terrible.
Deer have four sharp hooves on each foot that they use for a sure grip in any terrain. These same hooves can be used as potent weapons when a deer must resort to kicking to defend itself.
Bucks will also use their antlers as ferocious weapons, and the wide, rock-hard rack of spikes can easily impale you or leave you slashed open.
Bucks have anywhere from 4 to 12 points on their antlers, all of which are all quite sharp.
A buck’s usually MO is to thrash a threat with them using a wide sweeping motion, often while charging.
The weight and speed of a buck means you might well be run through by their antlers if unlucky.
What Causes Deer Aggression?
Deer, as mentioned, are rarely aggressive without cause but in nearly all recorded incidents aggression is the result of provocation on the part of the human. Provocation in this case means “being too close”.
The vast majority of reported cases of deer aggression have been linked to humans attempting to feed them, getting too close to does with fawns, or too close to a buck during the rut.
In both cases, the deer are simply trying to protect themselves or their young from what they perceive as a threat.
Do Deer Eat People?
No, though surprisingly deer are not total herbivores, though that makes up the vast majority of their diet.
Deer may opportunistically feed on nesting birds and eggs, and tiny mammals like mice if they encounter them while foraging, but they will not eat meat exclusively.
There have been a few very rare reports of deer attacking humans and eating them, though these are unverified and likely tall tales- at least, I hope they are!
Are Deer Territorial?
Yes, at least partially, and use scent and visual marking to let other deer know where they are, where they have been and to alert them of possible danger.
Bucks will mark copiously during the rut in an effort to jealously protect the does they have exclusive access to.
How Strong is a Deer?
Deer are quite athletic and powerful animals, especially bucks, and are capable of running at high speeds and leaping over long distances or tall obstacles with ease.
A deer is capable of exceeding 40mph in a sprint on favorable ground, can leap more than 9 feet high and clear a distance in excess of 25 feet in a single bound. Impressive stuff!
For our purposes, that means a deer that snaps and decides to defend itself is going to be on you in a blink and will beat the daylights out of you.
What Should You Do if You See a Deer?
If you see a deer in the wild, or even in the middle of the suburbs where they are increasingly common, just stay away from it.
Deer are highly wary animals and will usually withdraw when they sense even the slightest disturbance.
That being said, they are also notorious for quickly adapting to the presence of people and other unusual stimuli, losing their fear of things in short order.
If you must be near a deer, make sure to give it plenty of space and do not try to touch or feed it.
What Should You Do if Attacked by a Deer?
Don’t count on running from a deer. If it can reach you, it can catch you, and will likely be on you before you can react when it charges.
Though an aggressive deer might or might not be content to let you run if you try, you definitely don’t want to be taken from the back.
Instead, try to make yourself as small a target as possible and curl up in a ball on the ground with your hands over your head and neck.
Try to keep yourself calm and wait for the deer to lose interest and move on. Alternately you can make a try for the deer’s neck or head in an effort to control it.
This may stop an assault from the antlers but it is dangerous and risky; deer are strong, and you’ll be in a real fight!
One sure method of defense is to squeeze into a place where the deer cannot fit, such as very dense brush or a close stand of trees. If their antlers will get tangled up, they are unlikely to even try to reach you.
Do Deer Carry Diseases People Can Catch?
Deer carry a variety of diseases that can be spread to humans, or rather they carry ticks that can spread diseases to humans.
Lyme disease is the most common one, but there are others like Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Most of these illnesses can be treated if they are caught early, but Lyme disease in particular can be very difficult to diagnose and treat.
If you have any reason to believe you have been exposed to a deer-borne illness, see a doctor as soon as possible.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.