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By Craig Braack

In The Outdoors: AI comes to the deer woods 

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“….new apps are rolling out now as this is being read”

By Oak Duke

     Predicting deer movement, especially trying to pattern specific whitetails, has been for the most part a failure.

     And it’s not just me whining.

     Deer hunting has grown exponentially in the last three quarters of a century, mirroring the explosive growth of the whitetail population. 

     But our success rate, measured in tags filled per hunter is still surprisingly low.

     In 1948, according to NYSDEC historical stats, 25,233 bucks were tagged statewide in New York State. Seventy-five years later, last season in 2022, hunters were estimated to have tagged 116,425, with an overall success rate of 39.5% (including does and fawns.)

     But for an antlered buck, the figure last season was about 20% success rate.

     So one out of five deer hunters got a buck last year.

     Or four out of five got skunked.

     One might think that with all the money, time, effort, equipment, and knowledge, the success rate would be higher.

     But it is very difficult to tag a buck, year after year.

     Sure, lightning strikes and a hunter gets one, but it usually takes years to repeat, in the aggregate.

     A few dedicated hunters do get a buck each year.

     But statistically it is quite rare.

     Enter technology.

     Can an upgrade in equipment help?

     The marketing forces tell us yes, but alas, the whitetail’s unpredictable nature seems to outplay and finesse our best inventions and efforts.

     Human beings like predictability.

     No, we love predictability.

     We crave the regular, the sensible, the mathematical formula that two plus two equals four.

     Sure, we may flirt with the wild side, the irregular, the different, the quirky…but we, as typical humans, feel best when existence is clockwork.

     Might not want to admit it.


     Deer are literally wild, unpredictable.

     And though some of us try our best, spend money on agricultural equipment, manicuring our properties, creating food plots to, in a way, domesticate deer, success is surprisingly limited.

     Despite our best efforts, the whitetail has not only remained unpredictable, but maybe has become even more so.


     Whitetails are amazingly adaptive.

     What other large animal, about our size…could thrive in woods and fields, especially when considering the fact that deer are hunted hard for 25% of the year?

     They have adapted a method of growing and shedding different coats for the change in seasons.

     Whitetails have evolved a sense of smell that not only protects them, but also has morphed into an elaborate pheromonal communication system. Other senses of sight and hearing are amazing too, comparable to any other animal.

     And their gastronomic system has evolved to a point where, like goats…deer can thrive on just about any vegetative matter.

     But I would like to posit the notion that a whitetail’s best secret weapon is their unpredictability.

     As we have tried our best to pattern them, and I mean “We” as predators, we have culled out and continue, to surprisingly degree, pare out the regular, the pattern-able, the systematical, the consistent individual deer.

     In a way, we have made whitetails frustratingly unpredictable.

     We are not hunting our grandfather’s deer.

     But for full disclosure, my grandfathers never hunted deer because there were no deer to hunt… the last one here in Western New York was extirpated in 1881 in the Town of Independence. Deer didn’t reappear here until the 1930’s, slowly migrating up from North-central Pa.

     But you know what I mean.

     The deer of the 1960s through the 1970s were easier to figure out.

     Whitetails now are more difficult to hunt precisely because they are more unpredictable and we have made them that way.

     But now a new threat, a technological invention proposes to solve the problem of our inability to pattern deer.


     Yep, there it is, new apps are rolling out now as this is being read. 

     Artificial Intelligence…the simulation of human intelligence in a predatory manner is coming to your mobile phone soon…well maybe not YOUR phone. But we will be hearing about it.

     Is using AI to pattern deer fair?

     I’ve seen and heard tsunamis of outcries down through the years from compound bow in the 1970s to crossbows in the 1990s… new technology threatening to “wipe out the deer herd.”

     All have in common one thing…greatly exaggerating the demise of the whitetail deer.

     And I’d bet on the deer vs. the AI assault.

     Others are much more qualified than I in taking a deep dive into this new technology’s algorithms.

     But evidently, deer have been observed and environmental stats recorded, relating to behavior, such as: moon phases, temperature, barometric pressure, time of day, wind speed, wind direction, dew point, and on and on…

     So, armed with AI app on the phone, hunters once again will have in their arsenal a new technological advantage, promising to solve the age old problem of the whitetail’s unpredictable nature.  

Oak Duke/Wellsville, NY/ October 2023   

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