You’ve spent hours working your way quietly through the woods following the tracks of a big deer. You’ve got the right clothes, gear and have perfected that quiet approach, but then it happens. Your target suddenly appears right in front of you and you aren’t ready to take it down. That big buck raises its head and in an instant flashes its tail and disappears in a hurried rush to escape. A very normal reaction is to try to take off in flight after it, but do you have any idea how fast a deer can run?
Any hunter or wildlife photographer will attest that deer can and will run much faster than any human could ever dream of, especially in the wild areas they live in. Anyone considering tracking down a deer, whether it be for food, photographs, or data collection could waste a lot of time and energy if not properly prepared ahead of time with the right information. Of course the initial calculation of a deer’s speed begins with exactly what type of deer you’re interested in. Fact is there are over sixty different species of deer spread across the world. We can simplify this vast number when we understand that all those deer can be divided into five major categories:
- Mule Deer
- White Tailed Deer
This herding animal can be found throughout the Northern latitudes of Asia, Europe, Greenland, and North America. Mature animals can grow up to a height of about five feet at the shoulder and weigh as much as 700 pounds.
They can reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour and if plan to pursue this animal you better have on a good pair of shoes. During their annual migration period Caribou can be known to range up to 600 miles.
Although the Elk grows to about the same height of Caribou, they can put on far more weight and can max out at up to 1,100 pounds. Herds of elk don’t migrate like the caribou and can typically be found ranging in remote areas of western North America.
These animals don’t spend much of their time running, but when provoked can reach speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. With such a large animal reaching such a high speed, hopefully it will be running away from you, but angry bulls have been known to charge straight ahead.
A full-sized moose is not an animal anyone would want to tangle with. Standing tall at up to over fix feet at the shoulders, this large species can weigh in at nearly 2,000 pounds.
As you can imagine, with that much weight to carry they are considerably slower than their other cousins, but with a max running speed of up to 35 miles an hour they can hold their own against most pursuers.
Mule deer are often confused with their White Tail cousins, but a knowledgeable hunter can recognize the Mule Deer by its much larger ears and black tail. Like other deer, these animals are most abundant in the Western United States, but can be found in Northern Mexico and in certain areas of Canada.
These are the shortest deer growing up to a little more than three feet tall and are the lightest at a maximum of just under 300 pounds. Although mule deer can run up to 35 miles per hour, they typically don’t run straight away like other deer, but instead will spring into the air and bound up to fifteen feet with each leap.
White Tail Deer
The White Tail is another tall member of the family growing up to heights of six to nearly eight feet. Fortunately for most hunters having to pack out the meat of their kill, the White Tail weighs far less than other deer with a maximum of just over 300 pounds.
The surprising part of this combination is that despite their more agile form, this species typically cannot run more than 30 miles per hour. But don’t be deceived into thinking smaller means easier to chase down and catch.
These deer are extremely nimble and have been known to jump fences nine or ten feet tall. Even though the chances of losing a single prized White Tail, their population is among the highest among the deer species and can be found from South America all the way north into Canada.
Deer and the Human Equation
Regardless of the species, you need to understand that deer aren’t just some other dumb animal waiting around to be caught by any random passer-by. While they may be naturally curious, they are equipped with a natural instinct to plan their escape route in advance. When they are in an area they frequent, deer will become familiar with the area and form for themselves a trail full of twists, turns, and obstacles that they will use to confuse and delay chasing predators.
In contrast, a highly trained and skilled human Olympian can run a very short distance in the area of 20 miles per hour. Unfortunately even the most finely tuned human can’t keep up this pace for more than a few hundred feet. In the most extreme cases, human runners can maintain speeds of only around 10 miles per hour over an extended period.
Too add, these kinds of speed are only accomplished is wide open areas with a minimum of clothing to impede them. Those tracking animals in the wild will more likely be encumbered with much heavier clothing and heavy, bulky equipment. A more realistic speed to be expected by a person in such a circumstance would be more like two to three miles per hour.
With such a vast difference between the speed of deer and human it’s no wonder there are so many stories of “the one that got away.” A wise hunter will familiarize themselves with an area ahead of time and become familiar with these escape trails. That way when a deer does escape, the chance of coming across it again at a later time is much more likely. Of course there’s the old trick of setting out food for wildlife and then sitting quietly in waiting for the deer to come to you. This may seem unsporting for some people, but to the hungry hunter no animal can outrun a speeding bullet.