We’ve all heard amazing stories of a buck’s ability to elude danger without warning, and we’ve all had experiences ourselves where a nice buck stopped one step shy of a shooting lane, backed up and then slunk away unscathed.  Is this a sixth sense?

Sixth Sense

I have hunted deer for a long time and had a lot of deer come past my stands. I can’t think of very many times when a deer did something that I couldn’t explain. I don’t think they have a sixth sense – I think they are just really good at staying alive.

We have a hard time categorizing these events. Did I make a slight noise? Did he hear my heart beating? Did he somehow pick up scent molecules that had drifted and settled in that area at some time during the day? Did someone else walk past my stand? Or was it just the buck’s sixth sense that kept him alive?

Often we attribute unexplained behavior to a sixth sense. If, in fact, deer do have a sixth sense we need to understand it so we can find ways to overcome it. If they don’t, we need to sharpen our skills so these last-second getaways become a thing of the past.


In a 2001 Gallup poll, 50 percent of Americans stated that they believe they possess a sixth sense, so it should come as no surprise that many deer hunters also believe deer possess this same highly evolved intuition.

We can all agree that deer sometimes respond to sensations that humans cannot perceive. Possibly this early-warning system is a function of electromagnetic fields, as postulated by T. Neil Davis of the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska. In a paper he wrote back in 1979, Davis stated that there is documentation of living things that can sense low frequency electromagnetic fields.The homing pigeon is one example. He feels that animals do have a sixth sense tied to these fields. But, let’s face it; Davis is a seismologist not a biologist.

We all produce brain waves, micro-voltage electric signals that jump between the neurons of our brains. EEG equipment can record it but these signals are not in any sense being transmitted. Still it is at least possible that they are being received.

Deer Have a Sixth Sense

Deer are very good at knowing when we have been in their area. Even after you leave the woods, they may know you were there and be “unexplainably” cautious in that same area later.


This is the theory subscribed to by most of the biologists in the deer research community. Dr. Grant Woods, for example, made an analogy comparing a deer senses to human senses. “When a person loses one sense, often their other senses will intensify to make up for the loss,” he said.

I believe that a deer’s senses, and especially its sense of smell, are at this sort of heightened state all the time. They live 24/7 with one primary goal: to stay alive. Everything they do is focused on that goal. They are totally in tune with their senses all the time.”

A deer’s senses and awareness of its environment have to be razor sharp or it would quickly become venison. They notice things and sense things that we aren’t even aware of and they do it in ways we can’t even fathom. If you’ve seen the movie Daredevil you saw how the central character was able to create three-dimensional images with his hearing (like a bat’s sonar) after losing his eyesight.

A deer’s sense of smell is so refined that they are able to create virtually a three-dimensional image of their environment simply by sniffing the air. If something in their world changes (like a broken or cut branch) they are just as likely to smell it as they are to see it. As a result, almost nothing flies under their radar.

Beat a Buck's Sixth Sense

When deer encounter danger (hunters) in certain areas consistently over a lifetime they learn to be very wary in those types of places in the future. This is what I call “accumulated experiences”.


Now, let’s say we give these survival machines three or four years to soak up everything in their environment with these highly attuned senses.

Suddenly we have super deer, bucks with awesome abilities to sense things and now the experience to categorize everything so they can monitor even the subtlest aspect of their world for signs of danger.

They don’t wait around trying to reason things out or to decide whether or not to listen to their “inner voice”. Those are human attributes. They simply melt away and live to see another day.

Experienced hunters will tell you that a certain spot where they set their stand “just felt right”. They weren’t in some kind of supernatural contact with the hunt gods, but rather they listened to a subconscious cue based on years of watching deer travel through and around various kinds of terrain.

Why, then, is it any more of a stretch to think that a buck can sense a situation that “just feels wrong” based on similar prior experiences? The fresh smell of sap from a newly cut shooting lane, an opening in the woods that seems out of place or just a bottleneck that feels too tight – they could all signal danger to an experienced buck.

Swirling Wind

At one moment the wind may be perfect, but swirling occurs regularly in the woods where trees and terrain features block and redirect wind flow easily. What seems like a sixth sense, may just be a small swirling air current that carries your scent to the deer.


I’ve seen some goofy stuff done in hunting camps in the name of beating a buck’s sixth sense. I know two famous hunting personalities that lined their hunting hats with aluminum foil to “bottle” their brain waves. In the first place, that’s weird. In the second place, electromagnetic waves travel right through aluminum foil. Nice try guys.

Gene Wensel, a popular bowhunting author in the 80’s and 90’s, wrote an entire chapter in his otherwise great book Hunting Rutting Whitetails about his one-time ability to concentrate hard enough to attract several bucks to his stand at a prescribed time. It never worked again. Hmmm, imagine that. I like Gene ,but he stepped a little too far out on that one!

Gene states that brain waves are a reality and that medical science is aware of this fact. True enough, but when EEG’s glued to a man’s head have a hard time picking them up, and modern computers have a hard time reading them and creating some orderly set of directions based on them, it is very doubtful that deer can.

Maybe there are psychic deer that can read our minds or feel our intentions in the air. I guess we can’t completely rule that out, but I wouldn’t break out the tin foil hat any time soon.


I, and all the guys I hunt with, subscribe to the last two theories: (Hyper Sensitivity and Accumulated Experiences). Personally, I’ve watched thousands of deer from my tree stands and I can count on one hand the number of times a buck or doe has shown wariness that I couldn’t explain. In nearly all the other cases where I got the slip, it was easy to point to a tangible reason. Boiling this sixth sense down to something real puts the ball back in our court; to be consistently successful, we’ve got to continually refine our strategies and hunt with extreme attention to detail each and every day.

Published with permission from Bill Winke of Midwet Whitetail.com.