When you spot a deer, study its tail. What you observe will help you make smart hunting decisions. Of course, the deer’s body language is important to watch, too. It goes hand in hand in with what the tail is doing.
But the tail’s actions are a very visible, clear and direct indication of that animal’s intentions. Here’s what to watch for and what it means. We’ll start with tail movements of happy, relaxed deer and then ease into tail behaviors of agitated animals.
Wag or Swish
Casual, gentle and occasional side-to-side tail wagging or swishing is a good sign. These relaxed movements indicate a deer at ease. Some deer wag more than others, and whitetails will swish more at various times of year — for example in summer into early bow season, when there are still lots of pesky bugs around. If you’re hunting and the deer you’re watching is swishing and wagging casually now and again, relax. Everything’s perfect, and you have time to make decisions and prepare for a shot.
Like wags or swishes, occasional sharp twitches of the tail are no cause for alarm. These twitches or switches — much like a cow or horse does with its tail — are common in all ungulates when they are relaxed and unconcerned.
A feeding deer will stop often and lift its head up — often quite abruptly — to look for danger. Did you ever notice that a whitetail’s tail will flick before the animal puts its head back down? If you’re conducting a stalk or on stand waiting for the opportunity to get your gun or bow up, a tail flick might indicate an opportunity to get a little more prepared, because that deer is going to put its head back down. But be ready to freeze when the head randomly pops back up.