How Fast Can a Deer Run?

Breanna | |

Deer are fast animals. They have to be to escape the many predators in their environment like cougars, bears and, of course, humans. When they’re really motivated, they can hit speeds of 35-40 miles per hour (55-65 kilometers per hour).

Of course, just like you, deer rarely hit their top speed. Deer have different gaits and can jog, trot or walk at any speed up to their top range. Other factors can affect how fast they can run as well, including age, illness and injury. 

Watch whitetail deer running up a hill

Why Are Deer So Fast?

As we said, deer have developed the means to run so fast as a way to escape predators. As any hunter can tell you, deer aren’t reluctant to run. At the smallest sound—a twig snapping or your jacket brushing the tree stand—they’ll break into a sprint and disappear in an instant.

Deer can do this because of their fine-tuned physiology. If you watch a deer running, you’ll notice just how coordinated their legs are, the front and back legs working in opposing rhythms to continuously launch the animal off the ground and forward.

The main reason deer are so fast is related to their muscles. Generally speaking, animal muscle fibers are divided into two types: 

  • Type I: These are called slow twitch muscle fibers. They can produce small amounts of power for long periods of time without getting tired. In other words, they’re for endurance.
  • Type II: These are called fast twitch muscle fibers. They can produce short bursts of maximum power but get tired quickly.

Scientists have discovered that deer have a much greater proportion of type II muscle fibers than humans and many other animals. As a result, they’re capable of great bursts of speed, which is what allows them to run so fast.

Slow Motion Night Footage of Adult Male Deer Running

Can You Outrun a Deer?

Frankly, no, you can’t. To get an idea, consider Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, widely considered the fastest person alive. The maximum instantaneous speed Bolt has ever recorded was 27.3 miles per hour (about 44 kilometers per hour) at the 67-meter mark during a 100-meter race. Of course, Bolt can’t even maintain that speed over the entire 100 meters, his world record for that distance being 23.4 miles per hour (37.6 kilometers per hour).

In other words, not even Usain Bolt can run as fast as a deer, and he’s quite extraordinary. The average human running speed is only about 6 miles per hour (10 kilometers per hour), just 15% of a deer’s max speed.

Sprinting after a deer is simply a waste of time. However, as we mentioned when discussing muscle fibers, humans do have a physiological emphasis on endurance. This is why tracking a deer over long distances is usually a better strategy than chasing after it. 

The Intense 8 Hour Hunt | Attenborough Life of Mammals | BBC Earth

Are Deer Faster Than Horses?

Humans have bred horses for thousands of years to be fast, hunting deer being one of their uses. Most horses can gallop at about 30 miles per hour (50 km/h), which they can do for about a quarter mile. 

Racehorses and other horses bred for speed can get even faster, usually over 40 mph (65 km/h). The Guinness Book of World Records lists the fastest horse speed over two furlongs, which is a quarter mile, at 43.97 mph (70.76 km/h) set by Winning Brew at the Penn National Race Course. The record for 1.5 miles is 37.82 mph (60.86 km/h) set by Hawkster in Santa Anita Park.

As you can see, there are certainly horses out there capable of outrunning deer. Plus, horses have better endurance than deer. A hunter on horseback can often catch up to their quarry eventually.

Watch Horses Chasing Deer

Are Deer Faster Than Dogs?

Your average dog can run about 20 mph (30 km/h) over short distances, but there are hundreds of dog breeds that vary considerably in their skill and physiology. Some were bred for endurance, some for speed. For example, greyhounds, the fastest dog breed, can reach speeds of 43 mph (70 km/h).

Hunting deer with dogs is illegal in many places, but where it’s allowed, many hunters go with breeds like the labrador retriever. This dog, for example, can reach speeds of 35 mph, roughly the same speed as deer. Plus, they have better endurance and can usually wear deer down over a long chase.

Watch a dog chasing deer in 4K   

Are Deer Faster Than Bears?

Grizzly bears, a primary predator of many types of deer, can run about 35 mph. This is roughly the same speed as a deer. That’s no coincidence. These animals have been in an evolutionary arms race for millions of years. Sometimes the deer gets away, sometimes the bear catches it. This is especially true over long, wide-open distances.

Grizzly Bear Killing Caribou

Are Deer Faster Than Wolves?

Wolves also run about the same speed as deer, a bit over 35 mph. They can only do this for short bursts but can still maintain high speeds up to 20 mph over medium distances. In general, though, wolves don’t use speed to catch deer. Instead, they wear their prey down and catch them using cunning and pack tactics.

Wolf Hunting Tactics | National Geographic

Are Deer Faster Than Cougars?

Cougars are fast in short bursts, sometimes reaching 40-50 mph (65-80 km/h). In fact, this is the primary strategy cougars use to catch prey like deer, along with their incredible ability to jump 18 feet from a sitting position or 40 feet with a running start

If the cougar catches the deer by surprise, it can certainly overpower it. However, the cougar’s strategy is so focused on short bursts of speed and strength that if it misses its first opportunity, the deer often escapes.

Cougar attacks Elk

How Fast Can a Deer Swim?

Believe it or not, deer can actually swim pretty well. They can reach speeds of 15 mph (25 km/h). Considering Olympic swimmers usually only hit about 6 mph, that’s probably a lot faster than you. Deer often have to swim to escape predators, so don’t assume that a body of water is going to stop a deer you’re tracking.

The Swimming Deer of Oak Bay

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