The Sixth Sense, Part II: A Deer Hunter’s Intuition

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

Dive inside the mind of the hunter to discover why we might have an unseen advantage

It's that feeling when you know a big buck is right behind you. Image by Bill Konway

No sound is made. No sight is seen. No smell is sniffed. But hairs stand at attention anyway, and you know. You know there’s a big buck standing just out of sight, and a slight turn of the head proves your intuition true. 

Discussions of the whitetail’s sixth sense have been beaten to a pulp, but the hunter’s sixth sense has not. Few people talk about what we all have felt — a nagging sensation that something is behind us, if only we would turn to look.

It’s that moment you know something is there, but you haven’t seen, heard, or smelled anything. Is this phenomenon of a sixth sense fact-filled reality or a trumped-up concept made for horror movies? According to experts, you might actually have one. Here are some possibilities.

(Don't Miss: The Sixth Sense, Part I: A Whitetail’s Secret Weapon)

1. Echolocation

Take Popular Science, for example. Recently, it reported that humans can potentially develop and use a sixth sense — echolocation. Other media outlets, such as the New York Post, have, too. Although the concept is relatively new to science, some experts have realized that humans have minute echolocation abilities, making it easier to “hear” what’s occurring around you. Humans seem to have the ability to recognize three-dimensional acoustic patterns. It’s like blind people “clicking” to understand two-dimensional objects around them.

Hunting relevance: This won’t likely help deer hunters. It remains a cool concept and not a viable hunting skill. However, it could be useful if you must walk during low light.

2. Proprioception

According to Live Science, humans have a sixth sense. It’s the ability to understand body presence within space, and it’s called proprioception. Simply, it’s your mind’s conscious ability to know where you are in relation to everything around you. It’s a form of perception that doesn’t rely on sight or even hearing. Proprioception is its own sense but is most closely related to touch. Interestingly, according to research, some people have the genetic ability to use it much better than others.

Hunting relevance: Although not useful for detecting game, this is important for balance, moving quietly in the dark, traversing challenging terrain, and staying safe while in elevated positions.

3. Magnetism 

Animals and bugs have been using Earth’s magnetic field since the beginning of time. Studies have proven that deer often orient their bodies along magnetic field lines when grazing. Science recently reported that the California Institute of Technology is testing to see if humans have magnetic detection abilities, too. The findings show that we still have vestiges of magnetoreceptors. Studies have shown that humans are very good at pointing themselves toward home when lost.

Hunting relevance: Irrelevant for detecting game, with proper training, this might help with navigation, especially in survival situations.

4. Spidey Sense

According to Time magazine, in 2014, the Office of Naval Research spent almost $4 million researching premonition, intuition, and the all-out “spidey sense.” This is commonly referred to as the gut feeling, and Navy scientists insist it isn’t superstition. According to the Pentagon, there have already been sporadic examples of soldiers using it in the field. Now, the Defense Department is training soldiers how to understand and implement it. The agency's research has determined this skill is weak in some people but strong in others.

Hunting relevance: Of course, the military is hoping to understand this for wartime use, but can hunters benefit from it? Perhaps. Formal training on how to use it isn’t likely, but if gut feelings tend to be true, at least consider listening to them. It’s possible this is the explanation for suspecting a deer is there before actually knowing it, but it’s still not 100%.

5. Subtle Sensory

Although spidey sense or gut feelings might be the answer, another logical explanation for our sixth sense is subtle sensory cues. For example, you see, hear or smell something so subtle that you don’t consciously perceive it, but your mind subconsciously does, sparking a feeling of something’s presence. This is a likely reason for knowing something is there and turning to see it is what your mind expects.

Hunting relevance: Subtle sensory perception is perhaps the most likely explanation for knowing an animal is there before seeing or hearing it.

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