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Though hopefully not while we’re hunting, almost all of us at one point or another have had the privilege of being stomped at by a whitetail deer. While perhaps not as infuriating as a middle finger during a traffic jam, it can be a little unnerving, especially if you don’t know what it means. Because the hoof stomp is one of the whitetails’ most common and significant methods of communication, it’s worth knowing what they’re trying to say.
What Does a Deer Hoof Stomp Look Like?
You’ll know it when you see it. Standing straight and alert, the deer will bend its front leg up under itself and snap it down so the hard hoof makes a thud sound on the ground. The hoof will usually land slightly in front of the deer.
Why Do Deer Stomp Their Feet?
Deer stomp, or stamp, their hooves for a number of reasons. It’s one of their most important body signals. Mostly it’s to raise the alarm and call for caution. Despite popular belief, it’s not a show of aggression. It’s not meant to scare you off necessarily or intimidate you. A deer that stomps its hoof at you is highly unlikely to charge or attack you.
First and foremost, a stomp of a hoof is a deer’s way of letting you know you’ve been spotted. “Nice try,” they’re saying. “Better luck next time.” Presumably, most of their predators—including humans, for that matter—rely on the element of surprise, so telling you you’ve been spotted is a great way to get rid of you.
Provoking a Reaction
Deer can’t see very well, especially over long distances, and can’t see as many colors as humans. That’s why they often don’t notice you when you’re sitting still in a tree stand.
As a result, a deer might sense that another creature—like you—is nearby via smell or sound, but it still can’t see the potential threat. It will then stamp its hoof to provoke a reaction and get the nearby creature to move. This way the deer can get a better look and decide whether they’re in danger.
Alerting the Rest of the Herd
In the area where I live, several herds of does and their fawns form in the spring into the summer. Most of them don’t even pay any attention to me, but one herd hates me for no discernible reason. Sometimes I’ll just be walking down the road unaware the herd is nearby when I’ll hear the characteristic stomp and turn to see an older doe with her hoof firmly in front of her. Normally, all the other does also look up from what they’re doing and move towards the matriarch, forming a wall between me and the fawns.
Basically, the noticeable sound of the hoof stomp is an alarm for the rest of the herd. They all know there’s a potential threat nearby and act accordingly.
Other Whitetail Language Deer Combine With Stomping
The snort is the most likely language you’ll see combined with a hoof stomp. It sounds like a human sneeze and is the next level up from the stomp with regards to the deer’s suspicion. While a lone stomp means the deer is merely suspicious, the sneeze means they’re convinced you’re a threat and are warning the rest of the herd. It’s not a sound you want to hear if you’re hunting.
Doe Grunt or Bleat
Not to be confused with the aggressive grunt of a buck during the rut, the higher grunt of the doe is merely a way of establishing social bonds with her herd. Similarly, the bleat, which is a high-pitched sound similar to a goat’s bleat, is a doe’s way of communicating with other does or fawns.
These deer sounds suggest they are happy, so you’re a lot less likely to hear them combined with a hoof stomp, but if you do, it’s a good sign the deer isn’t super worried about you. Most likely it’s a doe that’s spotted you and wants to make sure her fawns are nearby just in case.
What Should You Do If You See a Whitetail Stomping?
If you see a whitetail stomping at you, don’t go stomping off mad yourself. Unless you hear a snort along with it, which would probably be followed by the deer running off anyway, the stomp doesn’t necessarily mean the deer is going to take off or even that it’s spotted you. Instead, maybe it’s just picked up on your scent or heard a strange noise.
If you’re hunting, get slowly and quietly into position to take a shot since the deer may move on soon. If you’re just enjoying nature, don’t worry and just appreciate the bit of whitetail language you’ve experienced.