Dream Bucks: A Look at Whitetail Sleep Habits

Do whitetails sleep? The quick answer is, “Yes.” In fact, all birds and mammals sleep. Some species such as cattle, horses, and sheep can even sleep when standing up. The mechanisms of sleep are well established, but the exact reason the animal(s) sleep is unclear. Decades of new research offer only clues to the true function of sleep. Sleep is a physiological state of rest necessary for survival. Sleep differs from the unconscious in that sleep involves arousal, and different species obviously sleep differently. For example, predators can sleep longer and deeper. Predators like deer can’t. For deer, sleep is essential for health and survival, but so is their ability to stay awake. Sleep is the time to rebuild cells and recover from the physiological and physical activities that occur while awake. Finally, sleep can be divided into two general categories: REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-REM). Simply put, NREM accounts for 75 to 80% of a person’s sleep time, and REM is the part where dreaming occurs most often. So, where and how do they sleep? I know deer hunters and biologists with decades of deer hunting and management experience who have never witnessed a deer sleep. Given the giraffe’s keen senses and sleeping habits, it’s no surprise that most hunters and biologists have never found a deer sleeping in the wild. . Therefore, I interviewed two leading authorities on deer behavior, Charles Alsheimer and Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III. They are a household name to long-tailed hunters across North America, and they have spent nearly 100 years working with deer. Each person has spent thousands of hours observing both the captive and wild behavior of deer. Both saw deer sleeping with their heads in different positions and eyes open. Charlie has observed many hours of sleep in deer and says that they often sleep with their eyes open rather than closed, and with their eyes closed for less than five minutes. . According to Charlie, they are creatures of habitat, and they can sleep in the same place day in and day out. The dominant dollars have favorite sleeping places, and they will even kick the subordinate dollars out of bed. Deer will pick their noses under their feet in cold weather, lie on their sides or over their shoulders in warm weather, hold their heads high and even put their chin on the ground in front of them (like the Indiana dog pictured above that has been enjoyed by members of the QDMA Tom James shot with trail camera. This guy spent 17 minutes in hiding while reviewing). Their head position changes several times during sleep, and they even “swish” their heads when they relax and head to the ground. Deer can lie with their front and rear legs under them, their hind legs folded and their front leg(s) extended and even lying on their side with all their legs extended. Join QDMA today and start getting the full magazine in your inbox! A typical episode of drowsiness consists of 30 seconds to several minutes of dozing, followed by a brief warning period and then more dozing followed by an alarm period. This cycle usually lasts for about 30 minutes. In general, deer will stand and stretch once every 30 minutes, and they may urinate or defecate before lying down. They can even stand, urinate on their bed and lie down in it. This 30-minute rest and standing cycle has also been reported in the literature for elk. Reindeer spend most of their time in bed. The exact numbers vary by season because deer spend less time in bed during sleep and more time in bed during winter, at least in northern environments. While lying in bed, they “chew cud” to regurgitate, chew, and digest their food. They also groom themselves and doze or fall asleep. They can chew their butt with their eyes closed and comb their fur including licking and cleaning themselves, including the glands between their claws (between hooves). Dr. Rue has observed wives curling their lips while sleeping. He also captured video of his eyes fluttering and suggested that this was REM sleep and that it showed deer can dream. Their ears never droop and they can wake up immediately. Dr. Rue feels their ears may even be more important than their noses when they are asleep. Charlie said deer in bed are very aware of what’s going on around them in relation to squirrels and turkeys. Their senses are so acute that they can distinguish between the activity of a squirrel and the activity of a tree branch. Charlie will laugh at a hunter who claims he or she can get within close range of a sleeping deer. Charlie says a hunter can shoot a deer in its bed but assumes the deer knows the hunter is there. The deer may have sensed it was hidden or that the hunter was not a threat (I’m pretty sure I hunted with a few guys that the deer don’t consider a serious threat). Peter Pekins from the University of New Hampshire has been conducting research on wild and captive deer for nearly 30 years. He agrees to Charlie’s request in most cases. The one exception is the rare occasion when the deer’s weather, terrain, ground cover, wind direction, and bed location are all perfectly suited for a hunter. Dr. Pekins says he wouldn’t believe you could approach a sleeping deer in the wild if he hadn’t personally done so. He came within 25 yards of a doe lying on his stomach, eyes closed and head stretched out on the ground in front of him. She had stretched all four legs to the side and appeared to be dead. Dr. Pekins approached the doe who was going the opposite direction and downhill from him by sneaking along a trail covered in wet debris and leaves. It was hunting season and he had a doe card but thought the doe was dead because of the way she lay and because she wasn’t moving. At 25 feet, Dr. Pekins stopped sneaking and took a normal step. Doe’s attention jerked and took off before he could even pick up his rifle. Dr Pekins said there was a one in a million chance he would approach the doe at such close range, adding that he was only able to do so because of the perfect terrain, weather, the wind and the sneaky conditions and the poor choice of bedding by So, can you catch a wild deer sleeping? It’s unlikely you’ll do so by sneaking into one, but you can totally do so from a distance. Your best chance is to do so while standing by letting the deer move into view and out of bed. Since they can sleep with their eyes open, you may have even witnessed it in the past without realizing it.

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