Outside of Disney movies, deer can't talk, so they have to find other ways to communicate. Whitetail deer have a lot of ways of communicating, but one way that hunters commonly encounter is the stomp. It looks like the deer is taking a very deliberate front step. It picks up its front hoof and snaps it down, making a clunking or scratching sound depending on the terrain. This stomp can mean different things depending on the situation and other deer sounds it accompanies, so it's important for hunters to understand why deer stomp their feet.
What Does It Mean When Deer Stomp Their Feet?
When a deer stomps its hoof, it's a blunt but complex non-verbal cue that communicates information to other deer and probably you—if you're there to hear or see the stomp.
What It Tells the Herd
To the rest of the herd, that information is: look out! The deer wants to tell its companions that it's noticed something strange. It's still not sure what it is, and it's not time to run for the hills yet. Still, the herd should be on high alert.
As a result, when one deer stomps its foot, you'll usually see the others look up. For hunting, this is definitely a problem since now you have 10 times as many eyes to spot you.
What It Tells You
To you, that information is: I see you! The deer is telling you you've been spotted. Since many predators—including the human hunter to an extent—rely on the element of surprise, this is often enough to get the threat to move on.
Interestingly, though, the deer might be bluffing. If a deer has stomped, it's certainly sensed some kind of danger, whether by sight, sound or smell, but that doesn't mean it's pinpointed exactly where or what you are. While a stomp is far from a promising sound, it doesn't absolutely mean your hunt is over.
What It Doesn't Mean
Deer stomping can look a little like a bull getting ready to charge, so some hunters mistake it for an aggressive gesture. A stomping deer isn't getting ready for violence, though. In fact, it suggests that it's being cautious.
Why Do Female Deer Stomp Their Feet?
When female deer, or does, stomp their feet, it's all about the herd. Does are extra cautious, especially in the spring and summer when they have newborn fawns, and any whiff of danger is worthy of sounding the alarm.
You may notice older does, sometimes without fawns of their own, stomping their feet. The herd doesn't immediately run away, but the mothers do put themselves in front of their fawns and slowly start moving away from you. Meanwhile, the stomping doe continues to watch you closely, stomping again if you come any closer.
In other words, female deer stomp their feet to alert the other does to danger so they can protect their fawns. All the does act kind of like sentinels, keeping the entire herd protected.
Why Do Buck Deer Stomp Their Hooves?
Male deer, or bucks, stomp their feet for many of the same reasons as does, especially in the spring and summer when their testosterone is low and they form herds with other males. They just want to relax and eat with their friends without being bothered by hungry predators, so when they sense a threat, they stomp their hooves to warn the other deer and put the threat on notice.
However, during the deer mating season, known as the rut, bucks also stomp to assert dominance and claim territory. Young and submissive bucks often run from mature dominant bucks with big racks, so when a mature buck sees another mature buck, he may stomp as a way of making his presence known and showing that he's not backing down. He's a tough guy too.
Similarly, when a buck enters into a new territory, he might stomp even if he doesn't actually see a rival. This is telling any bucks within earshot that he's the new big man on campus, and, if they have a problem with it, challenging them to a fight.
Bucks also stomp, albeit a bit more lightly, when they've found a doe they like. If a buck is interested in a particular doe that's going into estrus, he follows her around in a behavior called "tending." As he does this, he stomps his hooves to let other bucks know she's taken.
Deer Stomping, Snorting And Blowing: What Does It Mean?
While stomping is a bad sign, snorting or blowing are even worse. Deer usually stomp first when they suspect a threat, but they snort or blow when they're sure of it. A sound similar to a human sneeze, a snort or blow is a warning to the rest of the herd that there's a threat and they need to run. "Snorting" and "blowing" usually refer to the same deer noise, though blowing is louder and more pronounced, meaning the deer is even more worried about the perceived threat.
If you're hunting, you may not even see a deer snort or blow. You just hear it, and then never see any deer for the rest of your hunt.
If you do happen to see the deer snorting and blowing, you'll probably see it stomping too. The deer will almost certainly be looking at you too because the snort means you've been spotted. Because the snort's purpose is to warn the herd, this means there were other deer nearby that are long gone now.
The takeaway for hunters? If you see or hear a deer stomping, be extra careful. It's suspicious but not positive you're a threat. Don't convince it! If you do, you're sure to hear the snort or blow, meaning your hunt is over.
Final Thoughts On Why Deer Stomp Their Feet
The deer stomp is one of the most common methods of deer communications and one of the most frequently encountered by hunters. While it doesn't definitely mean a deer has spotted you, it means it's on high alert, so be extra careful to remain hidden from its eyes, ears and nose. If you give yourself away, you're likely to hear or see the stomp combined with a snort or blow, in which case the deer has spotted you, and your hunt is likely ruined.