Brain Matter & Other Things

Outdoor Outpost: June 2023

Joe Schuster | May 30, 2023

Surely, if you put in enough time in the deer stand, you probably have been busted. You know that terribly unsettling feeling that you get when a deer catches your scent in the wind, raises its nose a few times and blows loud enough to scare off any other deer nearby. Well, the whitetail deer is one wily game critter. Their sense of smell is about 300 times the ability of humans. With eyes located on the sides of their heads, they have an incredible ability to see things almost entirely around them. 

So, which is smarter? A whitetail doe or buck? Based on stories from hunters, an older doe is certainly the hardest to kill based on these senses and their ability to evade dangers. My son and I (and I’m sure others) call these “Nanny Does.” It would seem that these senses combined with a pretty good-sized brain allows them to escape a lot of danger. Well, their brains are actually about the size of a human fist. 

What about a deer’s ability to recall from old memories? Based on significant tales from hunters over the years, if you take a shot at a deer, with a rifle or even a bow, or if you spook a deer on the way to your stand, they will probably not return to that same location as it seems to be embedded in them with a sense of danger. 

Different than deer, turkeys are almost devoid of a sense of smell. However, they sense danger and it doesn’t take a turkey hunter very long to understand that! 

I was bowhunting one time in a state that had a fall turkey season. I was in the stand 30 feet up and heard an incredible racket as a flock of turkeys were coming through the woods 75 yards away. I thought it was going to be easy to get a shot at a bird with my bow. When they were 50 yards out, I slowly moved my hand to scratch an itch on my side. Those rascals detected it and took an immediate turn and walked away. 

While deer can be curious, turkeys are not. They sense danger and they are gone. However, they may not have the same sense of staying away from an area where they once detected danger. I have had non-dominant gobblers come into an area where I’ve shot a dominant gobblers just minutes after the shot. 

One thing turkeys do have is an incredible ability to see, almost to 300 degrees around their heads. They also have a very sharp sense of hearing. Once they detect a noise, they can lock in on the direction pretty quick. Although not really used to avoid predators, their sense of touch can reveal an acorn under leaves as they scratch around. It’s hard to believe that with these two great senses of hearing and sight that their brains are only about the size of a pea. But they sure do put it to good use. So, make sure you’re aware of their sense and put your brain to good use when you’re hunting these critters!

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