When deer do their 'disappearing act'

The regular deer season is now almost two weeks old, and to hear a few people, including some hunters, you might get the impression that local deer populations are now approaching the endangered species level, knowing many have been harvested during that span. Admittedly, a fair number of whitetails have been taken, but there's also a very healthy number left, despite the much lower number being seen now. Judging from recent hunter-reported sightings, or lack thereof, that might seem hard to believe. So where do the deer go so as not to be as readily seen? Certainly there are times when it seems the earth has opened up and all the deer have gone underground. With no snow to reveal them or their telltale tracks, a stationary brown deer in a brown habitat can become nearly invisible. Every hunter can attest to that. The proof is when you look to the left and nothing is there. Look back a few seconds later, and a deer is standing there, as though it suddenly sprouted from the ground.

The reason deer are so difficult to spot in late autumn cover has a great deal to do with how nature has equipped them with ideal coloration and shading. If you look closely at a deer that's standing in good light, you'll notice that its coloration consists of four basic shades. Starting at the top of its back, the color is a dark brown, almost black. Then that lightens somewhat as you move down its side, to a medium brown. Then the lower body is a light brown that eventually merges into an all-white underbelly area. So the top-to-bottom shades of color on a deer take full advantage of the sunlight's effect, offsetting the sunlight's higher brightness on the back area while the lighter lower body portion is neutralized by the effects of shade. This natural camouflage is why we often fail to see a deer until it moves.

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