How to determine a deer’s mood by its tail

Video do deer wag their tails when happy

Body language can tell you as much as and even more than verbal communication. It can help you determine how people feel when there aren’t words to explain those feelings. It can tip you off when someone is lying. It can even help recognize who’s a friend and who isn’t. Body language is communication beyond words.

Incidentally, body language is a big indicator of animal emotion as well. Although they may not have as broad a spectrum of feelings as human beings, deer use body language to communicate danger to one another. If you’re a hunter, learning to recognize the signs of a nervous deer can help you determine your best course of action before it takes off. One of the easiest ways to do this is by watching a deer’s tail. From at ease to panicked, deer communicate how alarmed they are using their tails.

Wagging tail

A wagging tail is a good sign for hunters. It means the deer is at ease and hasn’t detected your presence. When hunting a deer that’s wagging its tail, you have time to set up a good shot as long as you don’t startle it. A deer wagging its tail will allow its tail to hang as it swings it back and forth. A raised and wagging tail is not a good sign. Some deer wag their tails more than others. Wagging is also a way for deer to keep bugs away.

Half-lifted tail

Lifting its tail halfway, so that it sticks straight out, is the first sign that a deer senses danger. An alert deer may also lift its tail halfway, drop it and raise it halfway again, as it assesses whether or not there’s potential danger lurking. The half-lifted tail is usually accompanied by other body language that indicates the deer is nervous, such as stiffened legs. If you notice this type of behavior while you’re out hunting, sit tight and allow the deer to relax. At this point, the deer senses something might be wrong but hasn’t made up its mind that it’s in danger. Any further movement after a deer has raised its tail halfway could cause the animal to flee.

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Flat tailwhite-tailed deer

When a deer holds its tail flat against its bum, it’s aware of a threat nearby and trying to hide. A deer may also flatten its tail if it senses danger from a distance in order to escape undetected. When its tail is flat, the white fur is covered and only the brown fur on the outside is visible, helping it camouflage itself. If a deer you’re hunting flattens its tail, assume it has already sensed your presence by movements or scent.

Raised tailwhite-tailed deer

Many hunters are familiar with this deer behavior. By raising its tail vertically, also called flagging, a deer exposes the white fur of its tail and backside to alert others in its herd of danger. Note that it may also wag its tail from side to side while flagging. In addition to sending a warning, flagging also helps other members of the herd locate each other. For example, a doe running through brush will use tail flagging to help its fawn stay close. Tail flagging is common when a deer is fleeing danger. Whether you’re hunting or watching deer, seeing a deer raise its tail means you’ve been spotted and it’s getting ready to bolt.


  • ODNR Division of Wildlife
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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>