Whitetail Hearing – Supernatural or So-So?
By: Brian Murphy, QDMA, and Dr. Gino D'Angelo
While there is ample evidence to support the whitetail's incredible sense of smell, until recently little was known regarding their sense of hearing
It’s a common story among bowhunters, a barely audible sound of an arrow scraping against its rest alerted a deer and thwarted a successful hunt. Surely an animal that can detect such faint noises must have almost supernatural hearing ability. When you add this to their incredible sense of smell, it’s no wonder why whitetails are among the most difficult big-game animals to harvest with stick and string.
While there is ample evidence to support the whitetail’s incredible sense of smell, until recently little was known regarding their sense of hearing. Thanks to a landmark study by researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA), we now have a much better understanding of what deer can hear.
What is Sound?
Before discussing the results of the study, let’s review the basics of sound. Sound is simply the vibration of air molecules. The speed at which the air molecules vibrate describes the sound’s frequency. The faster the vibration, the higher the frequency. Frequency is measured in hertz. A sound’s loudness is described as its intensity and is measured in decibels.
Normal human hearing ranges from 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz. Low-frequency sounds, below 20 hertz, are referred to as “infrasound” and travel farther than high-frequency sounds. Frequencies above the range of human hearing (20,000 hertz) are referred to as “ultrasonic.”
The vehicle-mounted deer whistles used by motorists in hopes of preventing deer-vehicle collisions are supposed to emit ultrasonic sounds. Manufacturers claim these devices can be heard by deer but not humans. However, prior to the UGA study, there was no scientific evidence to support or refute this claim.
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