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by Rory Sheats and Kathleen Cason


Intro  |  The scent of a deer  |  What deer see and hear  |  Managing the herd


Karl Miller studies the language of deer: not only the sounds they make and hear, but also the sights and scents that taken together form the basis for their communication. Understanding deer behavior and how they perceive their environment may help fine-tune the ways deer populations are managed.

“What we ’re trying to do with our research is provide information - physiological, behavioral and reproductive - that is helpful in maintaining deer herds,” said Miller, a professor of wildlife ecology and management at the University of Georgia.

“In some areas of the U.S., deer overpopulation negatively impacts plants and other wildlife species and also increases the likelihood of deer-vehicle collisions, ” Miller said. “In most other places, however, where deer populations are managed through hunting, we need reliable information to help fine tune management practices. Our research can be useful in either case.”

Miller, who co-edited the deer management bible, Quality Whitetails, has been studying deer behavior formally for more than two decades and informally since he was a boy hunting in north-central Pennsylvania. His research has encompassed a broad range of topics including how deer mark their surroundings with various scents, physiology of reproduction, sexual attraction, social behavior, feeding habits and preferences, and even the meaning of the grunts, mews and other sounds that deer produce. But he may be best known for his investigations of deer communication.

“My main interest is to understand the behavior and physiology of white-tailed deer, particularly how they communicate with each other and perceive their environment,” Miller said.

For example, he studies how deer use odors produced by scent glands on their foreheads, noses, feet and legs to communicate with each other. So far, making sense of deer scents is an inexact and complicated process.

“Until someone figures out how to put a human’s mind into a deer’s brain, we will never be certain what a deer learns when it smells something ” Miller said.


Intro  |  The scent of a deer  |  What deer see and hear  |  Managing the herd


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