Why Do Deer Run in Circles: Understanding the Behavior and Potential Reasons Behind It

by Derrick | Last Updated: July 12, 2023

Deer running in circles is a strange and fascinating behavior that has puzzled many people, especially hunters and wildlife enthusiasts. This behavior has been observed in various species of deer, including white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, and reindeer. While it may look amusing or even comical, there are several reasons why deer may run in circles.

One reason for this behavior is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a contagious and deadly neurological disease that affects deer and other members of the Cervidae family. When deer are infected with CWD, they may exhibit symptoms such as circling, drooling, staggering, emaciation, or a lack of fear of people. Another reason for deer running in circles is when they are threatened by predators. In this case, deer will begin to stampede in a circle, making it difficult for predators to target an individual deer.

Understanding Deer Behavior

Deer are fascinating animals with unique behavioral patterns. Understanding their behavior can be helpful when hunting, observing, or interacting with them. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

In summary, understanding deer behavior can be helpful when interacting with these animals. Knowing their movement patterns, gender differences, and unique behaviors such as circling can help hunters, observers, and researchers better understand these fascinating animals.

Chronic Wasting Disease


Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a neurodegenerative disease that affects cervids, such as deer, elk, and moose. The disease is caused by an abnormal protein called a prion that creates lesions or holes in the brain, leading to sponge-like changes in the cerebellum and cortex. The symptoms of CWD include drooling, staggering, emaciation, tremors, and chronic weight loss. The animals may also exhibit confused behavior and abnormal posture.


CWD is highly contagious and is transmitted through direct contact with infected animals or contaminated environments. The prions can be found in saliva, urine, feces, and blood of infected animals. The disease can also be transmitted indirectly through contaminated food, water, or soil. The incubation period of CWD can range from months to years, and infected animals can spread the disease even before showing any symptoms.

Impact on Deer Populations

CWD has a significant impact on deer populations. Infected animals have a reduced lifespan and reproductive success, leading to a decline in population numbers. The disease is also a concern for hunters, as infected animals are not safe for human consumption. The spread of CWD can also have economic impacts on local communities that rely on hunting and wildlife tourism.

In conclusion, Chronic Wasting Disease is a serious threat to cervid populations and the ecosystem as a whole. It is essential to take measures to prevent the spread of the disease, such as avoiding contact with infected animals and properly disposing of carcasses.

Deer Species and Their Habitats

Deer are members of the Cervidae family, which includes species such as white-tailed deer, moose, mule deer, and elk. These animals are found all over the world, from North America to Europe and Asia.

Each species of deer has its own unique habitat preferences, but there are some commonalities. Deer typically prefer forested areas with ample cover to hide from predators and hunters. They also require sufficient food sources to maintain their health and energy levels.

White-tailed deer, for example, are found throughout North America, from southern Canada to South America. They prefer forested areas with a mix of open fields and dense cover. They are also known to inhabit suburban and urban areas, where natural species barriers have been disrupted by human development.

Moose, on the other hand, are found in northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. They prefer forested areas near bodies of water, such as lakes and rivers. They require a lot of food to maintain their large size and are known to consume up to 70 pounds of vegetation per day.

Mule deer are found in western North America, from Mexico to Canada. They prefer arid regions with scrub brush and sagebrush. They are known for their large ears and impressive antlers, which are used for both defense and attracting mates.

Elk, also known as wapiti, are found throughout North America and Asia. They prefer forested areas with open meadows and grasslands. They are the second-largest deer species, after moose, and are known for their distinctive bugling calls during mating season.

Deer typically live in herds , which provide safety in numbers. Herds can range in size from just a few individuals to several dozen. In some cases, herds may consist of a single family group, while in other cases, they may be more loosely organized.

In summary, deer species have unique habitat preferences, but all require ample cover and food sources to survive. They are found all over the world, from suburban areas to remote wilderness regions. Understanding their habitat preferences is key to successful hunting and conservation efforts.

Human Interactions with Deer

Human interactions with white-tailed deer are complex and varied. In some cases, humans provide food to deer, which can lead to habituation and an increased risk of deer-vehicle collisions. In other cases, humans hunt deer for meat, sport, or population control. Scientists and wildlife officials study and manage human-deer interactions to balance the needs of both humans and deer.

During the winter months, some people provide feed to deer to help them survive when food is scarce. However, this practice can lead to habituation and an increased risk of deer-vehicle collisions. In December 2021, a video of a deer jumping over a car went viral on Facebook, highlighting the dangers of deer on the road.

Deer hunting is a popular activity in many parts of the United States. According to the USDA, an estimated 6 million white-tailed deer are harvested by hunters in the United States every year. In some areas, hunting is used as a population control measure to prevent deer from causing damage to crops or other vegetation.

In addition to hunting, scientists and wildlife officials use a variety of methods to manage human-deer interactions. These methods include fencing, repellents, and relocation. However, these methods have varying degrees of efficacy and may not be effective or accepted in every situation.

Overall, human interactions with deer are complex and require careful management to balance the needs of both humans and deer. Scientists, wildlife officials, and the public all have a role to play in ensuring that these interactions are sustainable and beneficial for both species.

Other Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies

In addition to chronic wasting disease (CWD), there are other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) that affect animals and humans. These diseases are caused by misfolded proteins called prions which can cause damage to the brain and nervous system. Here are some of the most well-known TSEs:

Scrapie in Sheep

Scrapie is a TSE that affects sheep and goats. It is characterized by weight loss, behavioral changes, and a lack of coordination. The disease is transmitted through contact with infected animals or contaminated feed. While scrapie is not believed to be transmissible to humans, it is a serious concern for the sheep industry.

Mad Cow Disease in Cattle

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, is a TSE that affects cattle. The disease is believed to have originated from the practice of feeding cattle with protein supplements made from the remains of other animals, including infected cattle. BSE is transmissible to humans and can cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a fatal brain disorder.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in Humans

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a TSE that affects humans. It is characterized by rapidly progressive dementia, muscle stiffness, and involuntary movements. CJD can be transmitted through contaminated surgical instruments, corneal transplants, and other medical procedures. There are several forms of CJD, including sporadic, familial, and acquired.

Other TSEs

Other TSEs include kuru, a disease that was once common among the Fore people of Papua New Guinea and was transmitted through cannibalism, and fatal familial insomnia, a rare genetic disorder that causes progressive insomnia and other neurological symptoms.

In conclusion, TSEs are a group of rare degenerative brain disorders that affect both animals and humans. While some TSEs are transmissible to humans, the risk of transmission can be minimized through proper food safety practices and infection control measures.

Precautions and Safety Measures

When hunting deer, it is important to take precautions and follow safety measures to ensure the safety of both the hunter and the animal . Here are some tips to keep in mind:

It is also important to follow any regulations set by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regarding hunting seasons, bag limits, and other rules. By following these precautions and safety measures, hunters can enjoy a successful and safe hunting experience while also respecting and preserving the natural environment.