Can Deer Swim?

The simple answer is yes, deer are capable of swimming. But, as one could guess from looking at deer, they are not exactly built for swimming. They are lean and light and have legs made for running. Then again, those first two things likely help them in the water at least a little bit. So can deer swim well?

Yes again! As it happens, deer are skillful swimmers that can travel in groups across moving bodies of water such as rivers and ponds when they need to. You may find a herd of deer swimming to either escape predators or find food.

The better questions attached to the title one are why would a deer choose to swim and how well can a deer swim when it needs to?

Deer are Built for Speed

Photo of three deer running.

Look at a deer, and one thing becomes immediately clear: Deer are built for speed more than anything else. Their legs are quite thin, their bodies compact, and their overall physique lean and willowy. They exist to eat shrubs and run from predators, and they’re all out of shrubs. 

The main reason adult deer, as well as their baby deer, are seen crossing rivers or lakes in the wild is to reach new foraging and grazing grounds. Deer tend to migrate from area to area, following wherever the best bits of foliage is. It maybe should not be surprising, then, that deer have learned how to traverse bodies of water safely.

But can a swimming deer get away from a predator? Deer are hand-crafted by millions of years of evolution to know exactly how to keep themselves alive, and most of the time, that involves running away from something that probably can move pretty fast itself. 

Sometimes running is not enough to get away safely. Sometimes other measures are necessary to make sure the deer and all of its herd get somewhere safe. At times like this, deer know to paddle across bodies of water to reach safety.

How Fast Can Deer Swim?

Deer have very strong leg muscles for how thin they are and pretty aerodynamic bodies. For this reason, the average swim speed of a deer is roughly 15 miles per hour. For reference, most non-Olympic swimmers clock in at approximately 6 mph. 

This arguably makes sense considering the stakes that deer have to contend with while swimming. If they are fleeing a predator, not swimming means the deer gets eaten. It is both an incentive and a biological limiting factor. Only the deer that are good at swimming live to have babies.

Furthermore, some of the animals that hunt deer are pretty good at swimming too. Some bears can swim at a speed of 6.2mph. Deer do not just have to swim, but they need to swim well enough not to get eaten while swimming.

Add to this how light deer tend to be and how much of their body mass is likely buoyant while they swim, and the 15mph begins to make sense.

Why are Deer So Good at Swimming?

Other than the general reason they will die if they are not, some more specific biological advantages make deer strong swimmers.

Deer can swim long distances if they need to due to their proportionally large heart and lungs, making it easier to keep their muscles and blood oxygenated while moving. They can use their strong leg muscles to propel them and keep their momentum.

All the while, their lean body cuts through the deep water with their head above to gulp in more air and keep the entire process moving smoothly. When a human swims with their head above water, the flat nature of our chest and shoulders creates drag as we swim. The body shape of a deer and the nature of its slick fur means it does not have this problem.

In a word, all of the same things that make deer good at sprinting and jumping make them good at swimming as well.

Which Type of Deer is The Best at Swimming

So deer tend to be good at swimming? Can all deer swim? Are some deer better swimmers than others?

The answer to all of those questions is yes. All known species of deer can swim, and most of them at more than respectable speeds. But some are unquestionably faster in the water than others. There are two different localities of what are known as “water deer.”

Korean are the more common of the two. These water deer are found all over the Korean peninsula. They are smaller than new world deer and tend to reside in marshes around Korea. The reason they are so widespread stems from the fact that they no longer have any natural predators. Both the Korean leopard and Korean tiger are severely endangered, so Korean water deer populations will likely continue to rise.

Chinese water deer, however, have no such luck in their habitat. These water deer can be found in only a few small regions across China. They are similar in appearance to the Korean water deer and are best known for their prominent tusks, which are not used as weapons as one might think. As part of a conservation effort, you can now find Chinese water deer in swamps across the United States and the United Kingdom.


Can deer swim? Yes, they can! Furthermore, male and female deer are brilliant swimmers, considering how much they do not look like natural swimmers.

Most deer swim for completely mundane reasons relating to food and migration, but they can also swim as a way of evading predators or other threats to their survival. While in the water, many deer can reach speeds of 15mph. Their lean bodies and powerful thin legs help them tear through the water at these high speeds.

Aside from common white-tailed deer, deer species are specially adapted for cutting through the water even faster and more efficiently than most. These water deer are primarily native to East Asia but can now be found elsewhere in the world as a conservation effort. 

So now you know deer can swim; use this information well.

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