Whitetail Vocalizations

Through research we know that whitetail deer uses different sounds: to keep in contact with each other (contact); to express alarm and distress (alarm/distress); to solicit attention from and respond to does (maternal) and fawns(neonatal); to express dominance/threaten other deer (agonistic). Deer also make sounds associated with courtship and breeding behavior (mating).

Alarm/Distress
The Snort is an intense blowing sound produced by expelling air through the nostrils, best described as a loud whew, or whew-whew-whew. Deer that see or hear a disturbance but cannot smell the source often use repeated low snorts, foot stomping, head bobbing and tail flipping, possibly to alert other deer of danger. The head bobbing and foot stomping may be used to startle a predator into moving and giving itself away. A deer's sense of smell is thought to be independent of conscious discrimination, and deer that smell danger usually snort, then flee while flagging the tail.

The Bawl is an intense call used by deer in distress, often when caught by a predator or trapped. The sound is a loud baa. Does often respond to the call by running in, presumably out of maternal instinct.

Agonistic
The Grunt is used in three different forms to express dominance or to threaten another deer. It is also used to locate other deer, which causes them to respond by coming to the call, or by announcing their location by returning the call.

The Low Grunt is used by both does and bucks throughout the year. The call sounds like a soft guttural err. This is the first level of aggression, used to displace lesser deer. If the lesser animal does not move it is usually rushed and may be kicked with a forefoot by the dominant.

The Grunt-Snort is used most often by bucks during the breeding season in more intense situations. One or more snorts are added to a grunt; err-whew.

The Grunt-Snort-Wheeze is the most intense form of an aggressive call. It consists of a grunt-snort followed by a drawn out wheeze through pinched nostrils. The wheeze may sound like a whistle.

Social Contact
The Social Contact Grunt is often performed by members of a doe group when they become separated, and it may help deer stay in contact when they can't see each other. In one study only females performed this call. This call is longer than the low grunt and can be heard by humans as far as 100 meters. It may attract bucks during the breeding season.

Maternal/Neonatal
The Maternal Grunt is a low, quick grunt performed at short intervals when a doe approaches the fawn's bedding site. The fawn generally leaves its bed and joins the doe. It is audible to humans for only a few meters.

The Mew is used by the fawn when it wants attention, or is given in response to the maternal grunt of the doe.

The Bleat is the fawn version of the bawl, it is given by the fawn when it wants urgent attention, is hungry, or wants care, and may be heard as far as 100 meters by humans.

The Nursing Whine occurs while the fawn is nursing or searching for a nipple.

Mating
The Tending Grunt is a low grunt used by bucks when pursuing an estrus doe. It may consist of a single short grunt, several grunts or a long drawn out grunt. It is probably given to alert other deer of the presence of a dominant in order to keep them away; and to attract does.

The Tending Click is a clicking sound bucks may make when looking for of following estrus does. It sounds like someone slowly running a fingernail across the teeth of a comb. It appears to be a slow, drawn-out version of the Tending Grunt.

The Flehmen Sniff is a low sound produced during the lip curl, when air is inhaled to bring urine in contact with the nose or vomeronasal organ, allowing the buck to determine the breeding readiness of the doe.

Although several call manufacturers, writers and speakers claim there is an Estrus Doe Bleat or Doe Mating Call, no call of this nature was noted in the scientific studies I have read. These people may be referring to the social grunt. Because security is essential to doe survival, does probably do not use a loud call that might alert nearby predators.

The statistics on whitetail vocalizations are based on studies by Dr. Larry Marchinton. The duration of the calls is approximate. The tone of the call usually depends on the deer. Larger deer, especially bucks, tend to make deeper sounds.

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Call Duration (sec.) Pitch Tone Volume

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Alarm/Distress
Snort .25 high low or high high
Bawl 1.00 low-high-low moderate high

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Agonistic
Low Grunt .25 level low low
Grunt-Snort .50 low-high low moderate
Grunt-Snort-Wheeze 2.50 low-high-low high low

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Contact
Social Grunt 1.00 low-high-low-high-low moderate moderate

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Maternal/Neonatal
Maternal Grunt .25 rising low low
Fawn Mew .50 low-high-low low low
Fawn Bleat .50 low-medium-low low-medium low-moderate
Nursing Whine .50 low-high-low low low

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Mating
Tending Grunt .25-4.00 low low moderate
Tending Click .10-1.00 staccato low moderate
Flehmen Sniff .50-1.00 low low low

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