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Many people assume that deer and antelope are silent and don’t have any vocal communication. It’s true that deer communicate mainly by body language and scent. However, they do use vocal communication, and one of these is snorting.
Deer snort primarily as a response to a smell, sight, or sound that concerns them. It serves as a warning to other deer in the area and alerts them to possible danger. Snorting is usually accompanied by foot stamping and a tail flick. The snort may help prime the deer’s body for a quick getaway.
Often your first interaction with deer may be hearing them snort. It is helpful to know why deer snort and what this means if you are roaming through the wilderness.
What Makes a Deer Snort?
Deer are prey animals which means they must be constantly vigilant and ready to run if danger appears. Some people might describe this behavior as skittish, but it helps keep the deer alive. Deer snort when they see, smell or hear something that alarms them.
When a deer snorts, it alerts the rest of the herd of potential danger. The herd becomes vigilant and ready for a possible attack. Deer are social animals, and the herd is essential for security, helping to keep fawns safe and ensure the survival of the species.
Many hunters and photographers know that when they hear the deer snorting, they have been spotted or smelled by deer. Deer do not only snort when they see people. They may also snort when surprised by a rabbit leaping out of a bush, birds raising alarm calls, or detecting a predator lurking.
Are There Different Kinds of Deer Alarm Snorts?
There are two kinds of alarm snorting that deer produce. The first is a loud, explosive single snort that the deer gives as it begins its flight. The deer produce this when they suddenly encounter danger at close range and are startled.
The single snort given as the deer starts to run is accompanied by tail flagging (moving to the side). Deer flag their tails to show their white or lighter-colored tail hairs. This helps keep the herd together when a predator is chasing them. The deer can easily see the herd’s whitetails, even if visibility is poor.
The second snort occurs when deer are concerned about any danger that is a safe distance from the animal. The deer gives several long snorts, usually accompanied by forefoot stomping and tail flagging.
Deer snorts accompanied by foot-stomping are used to intimidate would-be predators or animals that the deer find alarming. The intention is to frighten the animal away.
How Do Deer Produce a Snort?
Snorting is produced by forcibly blowing air through the nostrils that are slightly contracted by tightened muscles. The air explodes through the nostrils, causing a vibration that we hear as a snort.
Do Does and Bucks Both Snort?
Does and bucks both snort, but a study found that does snort more often than bucks. Does are usually found in herds which are vitally important for the species’ survival. Therefore, does are quick to snort and seem to have a higher level of herd awareness.
Bucks may be found living singly or even in bachelor herds as they do not participate in rearing or protecting offspring. Researchers found the bucks snort less often in these instances as they are less preoccupied with herd safety.
Do Deer Snort for Reasons Other Than to Raise Alarms?
Deer use snorting with a purpose other than to raise the alarm. They may combine the snort with another form of vocalization, which changes the meaning.
Deer may snort when they are irritated or frustrated. This is often accompanied by forefoot stamping. A doe hounded by young bucks may snort and stamp to show her displeasure. Deer irritated by flying insects also snort and may stamp their feet.
A snort accompanied by a grunt is often used in mating situations. Dominant buck may use three to four loud snorts, followed by a grunt to intimidate a submissive or young buck. The snort-grunt is used in conjunction with threatening body language. The buck holds its ears back on its head, stamps its front feet, and may shake its antlers.
Does may use an aggressive snort-grunt in a situation where their fawn is threatened or to indicate a pending attack. Does use snort-grunts far less often than bucks.
Bucks produce snorts accompanied by a grunt and a high-pitched wheeze. This sound sequence is almost always associated with mating behavior. It often indicates the beginning of a dominance fight between bucks.
Are There Physiological Changes Accompanying Deer Snorts?
Snorting may serve to clear the nostrils of dirt and dust, allowing the deer to smell odors better in times of potential danger.
Snorting facilitates the intake of extra oxygen, which may be needed if the deer needs to make a sudden escape. At the same time, adrenaline (also called epinephrine) surges through the body, preparing it for a flight or fight.
Blood is directed to major muscle groups, the pupils dilate for better vision, and pain sensations are suppressed. Adrenaline release occurs in a threatening situation and would coincide with the alarm snort. It is unlikely to be released when the deer snorts from frustration or irritation.
What to Do If I Hear a Deer Snort?
If you are out in the woods and hear a deer snort, your first response should be to keep as still as possible. You should not automatically assume that the deer is alerting to your presence.
The deer could be snorting because it has seen another predator such as a wolf, bear, cougar, or coyote. It would be prudent to closely search your surroundings for any signs of danger.
If the deer is looking at you, it is probably safe to assume you are the reason the deer snorted. To prevent frightening the deer, you should keep still and quiet. You may be lucky, and the deer relax, giving you a wonderful opportunity to observe the herd.
Deer that produce a snort-grunt with foot-stomping when looking directly at you may be preparing for an attack. Although wild deer seldom attack, researchers have found that deer become stressed when there are many people in their environment. Deer are also more likely to be aggressive when they have babies in the herd.
What to Do If a Deer Attacks You After Snorting?
In some instances, a deer may attack you, and the snort is your first indication that you need to prepare yourself. It is critical that you do not shout, wave your hands or act in a threatening fashion.
Back away slowly, keeping the deer in your line of sight. Do not run, as the deer may take that as an opportunity to chase you. You cannot beat a deer in a running race! If the deer charges you, try to climb a tree or put an obstacle such as a tree, vehicle, or rock between yourself and the deer.
Deer snort to communicate danger, frustration, or potential aggression. They may combine snorting with other vocalizations or body language which signify their intentions.
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