There's nothing like a restful night of sleep before a hunting expedition, but you are not the only one in need of a little shuteye. Whitetail deer also need to catch some zzz's from time to time, although not in the same manner that we do. Since they are a prey animal, they cannot simply lay down and close their eyes for eight hours, as this goes against their rules of survival. Deer need to stay alert, which rules out extended periods of periods of deep sleep in favor of something more akin to cat naps during which they snooze briefly, become alert once more, then snooze again.
Sleep is necessary to all living creatures in order to maintain good health. During sleep, a recovery process takes place as the body is able to regenerate itself after strenuous activities. Without sleep, we become weak and unable to maintain continued performance at an optimum level and much the same can be said for deer and other animals.
Photo: Kimball Stock
If you rack your brain and try to remember the last time you saw a sleeping deer, you may come up empty-handed. Although it is possible to find areas where deer bed down, it is a lot less likely to find deer actually bedded down in those areas. Walking up on a sleeping deer is extremely rare due to the level of alertness they must maintain to survive predation, which would call attention to your presence before you got too close. If you observe from afar or while up in a stand, you might get a glance of the elusive sleeping deer, but even then you may not want to get your hopes up. If you have your heart set on seeing a deer at rest, a game camera may be your best bet.
As it stands there is little information readily available about the sleeping habits of deer. Few people, be they hunters, researchers, or others, have managed to witness a wild deer in sleep mode. Those that have stumbled upon a sleeping deer are rarely in its presence for long before the animal awakens and darts off in search of safety. Although this is rare, it has happened, likely due to wind and weather conditions that are just so to enable a hunter to tiptoe up to a sleeping whitetail without being heard.
Sleep behaviors in deer include sometimes sleeping alone but group sleeping is possible as well with the dominant buck having first pick amongst the best sleeping locations. Deer will often bed down in the same area at the same time of day repetitively over time. When they are in a sleep state, their eyes may or may not be open, which may explain why some hunters cannot say they've seen a sleeping deer; when eyes are open, it is tough to ascertain whether or not the animal is engaged in sleep or not.
Another behavior that may guide you in determining whether or not a deer is sleeping is head position. During cold weather, deer can be seen tucking their noses between their legs during sleep. They may also sleep with their chin on the ground in front of them or even with heads suspended; it is then that you may notice a bit of a head bob as the deer nods off, much like a relaxed human's head would move. Also possible are heads over their shoulder or against their side. Ears will not be lowered, instead staying in a position to where the sound of an approaching predator remains audible.
Now that a little insight into deer sleep habits has become available, the question that remains is what dreams do Missouri whitetails keep? Perhaps they are dreaming of another Cardinals win. Have you ever seen a sleeping deer? If so, tell us about it in the comments.