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Why do deer always look surprised?

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  • Why do deer always look surprised?

    Every time I nearly total my car on a whitetail, the lasting impression I have is that the deer was completely stunned to see cars when they stepped out of the woods. I realize they didn't evolve with the auto, but come on. It's been roughly 100 years, how many deer generations? These are NJ deer, they've been down this cars-travel-on-roads thing before. Yet they always react with the staring incomprehension of a cave man in Times Square.

  • #2
    Well, at least they aren't suicide deer like I had in MI! Ya know, they act shocked to see you from the other side of the road but seeing that you've stopped, they kamikaze themselves into the vehicle. From a standstill across the road at a full run. I haven't technically ever hit a deer. But I've been hit BY a deer.

    I will be on the lookout for the deer you speak of.
    A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

    Might be a reason, never an excuse...


    • #3
      My theory is they just can't comprehend any object that can move as fast as a car. Just like horses, when they don't understand something they freeze & stare at it a moment or two, trying to comprehend. If there were as many horses running wild as there are deer, I'm sure we'd see just as many collisions with horses.

      I hit a deer once & grieved over it for months. Much more hurt by the fact that I killed a beautiful wild animal than I was about the few dents it put on my car.

      Fortunately, I found by accident, my diesel truck seems to be a natural deer deterrant! I haven't any statistics or science to back this up, but since I started driving the diesel, even though I am in a very deer infested area, I rarely see them - if I do, it is far away. They must hear danger in the sound of the deep rumbling engine? Most modern cars are fairly quiet by comparison.

      If I drive a car again I will put deer whistles on it. Sight of any road killed animal makes this softy tear up :-(


      • #4
        I find that pretty much all wildlife do the "surprised" thing. See it around here in possums, raccoons, skunks - anything non-domestic that's crossing a road.


        • #5
          Raccoons dont act surprised, they have given me "What the hell do YOU want" look while munching cat food in MY kitchen.
          Hence the purchase of the magnet operated cat door.


          • #6
            I think the expression "like a deer in headlights" is apt -- I'm not sure how it is with their biology, but perhaps there's a certain point beyond the flight instinct that is the fear instinct. They're just so scared they completely stop and freeze up. I also think they get tunnel vision and fixate on things.

            I was driving home from work a few weeks ago and in the process, I always drive by one particular field that generally has a dozen head of deer or more during feeding hours. A group of does were crossing the road ahead of me so I slowed up and stopped and waited for them to cross. One particular girl was looking over her shoulder in the direction she had come from and just stood in the middle of the road. It took her a good 20 or 30 seconds before she "came to" and remembered where she was. I swear she levitated sideways a good 6ft when she saw my car and scrambled off the road, her legs going every which way. It was quite comical but I can easily see how someone could have plowed into her if she was in the middle of the road during that dusky time at night when the headlights don't quite work yet and it's not light enough to see clearly anymore.


            • #7
              The same reason that you'd freeze up if you saw an intergalactic warship coming at you with and energy shield.

              That's basically what it seems like to them.


              • #8
                I remember reading somewhere that it is the bright headlights that make them freeze. Something about the light in their eyes and the way that it transmits to their brain is what makes them go "WHAT THE...FREEZE!!!!!"

                It is also the same science behind spotlighting deer during hunting season (illegal and disgusting)the bright light makes them freeze, and then easy to shoot.


                • #9
                  Mine always look dadgum surprised to see the horses appear. Um, they spend ALL DAY grazing alongside the horses... and then one walks out an hour later and they're SHOCKED. I don't think deer are all that bright...
                  "The Son Dee Times" "Sustained" "Somerset" "Franklin Square"


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Chall View Post
                    Raccoons dont act surprised, they have given me "What the hell do YOU want" look while munching cat food in MY kitchen.
                    Hence the purchase of the magnet operated cat door.
                    Haha, too true. Love racoons....
                    "The Son Dee Times" "Sustained" "Somerset" "Franklin Square"


                    • #11
                      Read a journal article somewhere about how it would be best to update the phrase "fight or flight" to "freeze, fight or flight".

                      Of course, deer are not as surprised as I am when I get the bill for repairing my car...


                      • #12
                        I'm also in the "I don't hit deer, deer hit ME" club. They skip back off into the woods, I limp over to the car repair place. Yup, deer okay, car not
                        I like mares. They remind me of myself: stubborn know-it-alls who only acknowledge you if you have food.
                        Titania: 50% horse, 50% hippo
                        Unforgetable: torn between jumping and nap time, bad speller


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Damnatio Silvestris View Post
                          The same reason that you'd freeze up if you saw an intergalactic warship coming at you with and energy shield.

                          That's basically what it seems like to them.
                          This reaction also applies to students during final exams.

                          I've read about the headlights making deer freeze, but I don't remember where I saw it
                          Proudly blogging for The Chronicle of the Horse!


                          • #14
                            here is a funny story but slightly off topic.

                            I go to school at USF in Tampa, we are over run by muscovy ducks they are everywhere.

                            On campus there are tons of these big ducks and I see them using the CROSS WALK more than the students do. They go down to the edge of the field/grassy area, walk along the sidewalk and will cross at the walk. Its a campus law to stop for anything in the cross walk and the ducks make it across safely.

                            Its most likely because the concrete slopes down and they are looking for an easy way down the curb (they are a bit of a lazy fowl) but I laugh every time there is a pile up and a muscovy is bee bopping their way across the cross walk.



                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Electrikk View Post
                              I'm also in the "I don't hit deer, deer hit ME" club. They skip back off into the woods, I limp over to the car repair place. Yup, deer okay, car not
                              I hit or got hit by (it's a matter of perspective, isn't it?) a deer that ran into the road just yesterday. It did not freeze but ran in front of my car and kept on going into the woods on the other side of the road. The front bumper & hood on the driver's side of my car are seriously damaged, but my husband and the guy at the collision shop say it looks like she just glanced it and is probably in the woods laughing at me.


                              • #16
                                I giggled at the thread title, Vacation1! Also in NJ-

                                My DH was backing down a driveway in his SKV (Serial Killer Van-seems like all serial killers drive a big Chevy van) and going, what, maybe 2? miles /hr when he felt a big thump. Seems the deer he'd seen and been ogled by on the way in picked just that moment to depart the yard he was leaving, and one somehow missed seeing the 20 ft long 7 ft high silver moving object when loping to greener fields Deer was uninjured and was last seen giving him the stinkeye from the safety of the hydrangeas.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Chall View Post
                                  Raccoons dont act surprised, they have given me "What the hell do YOU want" look while munching cat food in MY kitchen.
                                  Hence the purchase of the magnet operated cat door.
                                  In my world, it is the deer who are affronted and fussed that I have DARED to drive on their road / driveway. They stomp their feet and snort at me.

                                  "Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit."
                                  - Desiderata, (c) Max Ehrman, 1926


                                  • #18
                                    It took me awhile driving at night to realize just why in the police blotter there are "Struck a deer" and "Struck BY a deer" entries, I thought whoever entered them was just silly. Um, no, struck by a deer is totally valid! I gotta say, my '08 Ford Escape has taken an awful lot of punishment and she still keeps truckin!
                                    It's a small world -- unless you gotta walk home.


                                    • #19
                                      If there is an animal crossing the road in front of you, blow your horn. It jolts them out of that frozen state and gets them moving, hopefully fast enough so they don' t end up as roadkill.
                                      I realize that I'm generalizing here, but as is often the case when I generalize, I don't care. ~ Dave Barry


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Guin View Post
                                        If there is an animal crossing the road in front of you, blow your horn. It jolts them out of that frozen state and gets them moving, hopefully fast enough so they don' t end up as roadkill.
                                        Unless its a squirrel. If you beep at a squirel they stop, stand up on their hind legs, and stare at you. Then you have to play dodge-squirrel. Not fun in a car. Less fun on a motorcycle.
                                        ~Rest in Peace Woody...1975-2008~