Are Deer Color Blind?

Looking through a deer's eyes!

Are Deer Color Blind?

For years, the conventional wisdom was that Deer are color blind. You’ve probably heard stories about Deer being color blind and how poor a deer’s vision is compared to a human’s. Hunters often try seeing through the eyes of a deer. They wonder how they should dress in the woods to avoid being caught.

Deer have long been the most hunted animals, both for meat and recreation. Deer meat is abundant in protein and has a high nutritional value. Are you a passionate hunter? If yes, you must enjoy deer hunting. For example, suppose you are on your way to hunting deer, and you don’t know well about color vision in this fantastic animal. The answer to this question will decide the success of your hunting expedition. 

We’re here to guide you. So, in this article, we’ll go over some fundamentals of deer vision that every deer hunter should know before going out on the hunt.

Are Deer Color Blind?

The quick answer is no, deer are not colorblind, but they perceive colors differently. Longer and medium wavelengths (browns, greens, oranges, reds, yellows) in the visible color spectrum are difficult for Deer to see. Instead, these colors appear in gray or yellow hues to them. 

They have dichromatic color vision, which means they can see all shades of blue and yellow but are colorblind to red and green. Due to their dichromatic vision, Deer cannot see most hues of color, but this heightens visual sensitivity to movement.

Rods and cones are two types of light-receiving cells found in mammalian eyes. Low-light sensitivity is present in rods, but they do not sense colors. In the daylight, cones take on color. Because humans have more cones in our eyes, we can discriminate colors effectively. However, our night vision is limited because humans have a few rods. Deer can easily travel in the dark because their eyes are heavy on rods and light on cones.

What Colors Can Deer Not See?

Colors Deer Can See
Colors Deer Can See

Although Deer can see a wide range of hues, they are blind to several others. The different wavelengths of the spectrum influence the Deer’s vision. Colors with medium and long wavelengths, such as brown, red, and orange, are less sensitive. The Deer’s vision isn’t good enough to distinguish between red and orange. As a result, Deer likely can distinguish blue from red, but not green from red, or orange from red.

Why Should You Not Wear Blue Jeans in Front of Deer?

Why Should You Not Wear Blue Jeans in Front of Deer?
Why Should You Not Wear Blue Jeans in Front of Deer?

All passionate deer hunters, please leave your blue jeans at home while deer hunting. “If you’re a deer hunter who likes to wear blue jeans to your stand, you might as well hang a cowbell around your neck to let whitetails know you’re in the woods,” a recent study reported, noting the results of a University of Georgia study on whitetail vision. “And if you wear camouflage with many subtle colors, it may be doing you more harm than good.”

According to scientists, deer can sense short-wavelength blue light and moderate-wavelength light that appears to be in between red and green. Dr. Karl Miller of the University of Georgia, whose students did the study, said, “More than anything else, a deer’s eyes detect movement.” 

According to research, deer have an increased sensitivity to ultraviolet light, making blue jeans highly noticeable. So, you will stick out like a sore thumb if you wear blue jeans.

Why Do Hunters Wear Camouflage if Deer are Color Blind?

Hunter wearing camouflage near deer
Hunter wearing camouflage near deer

All that is required from a hunter is something to break up their outline. Camouflage clothing is to make you undetectable to both hunters and Deer. Deer hunters mix in perfectly with their surroundings because of their brown and green coloring.

The primary reason wearing camo patterns is vital is that it will break your silhouette in your surroundings. It’s the camo pattern of break-up that keeps you concealed. However, your silhouette is probably not the top worry when staying undetected. 

To the Deer, one-color clothing, such as orange, will appear as a grey blob. A deer is more likely to notice large blobs of color than a camo pattern. There should be no large “blobs” of any hue. Browns, greens, grays, and other camo patterns will help break up the “blob.”

Moreover, wearing camo patterns is one of the most effective ways to avoid being detected by Deer, but it is not the only one. You can still wear your camo clothing; stay away from blue and ensure it doesn’t include any UV brightened clothing. 

You should also avoid wearing camouflage with a lot of white because white reflects all colors, including blue. It’s also advisable to avoid wearing solid black clothing, if possible. A black outline will stand out in most terrains, and hunters wearing solid-black attire will quickly identify. They appear to be a tiny floating black dot even from afar.

Our suggestion would be to look for a camo with large patterns and high contrasting brown colors. As you get further away, you’ll appear more and more like a blurry object that is not easy for Deer to detect.

Why Do Hunters Wear Orange Camo?

Hunters Wearing Orange Camo
Hunters Wearing Orange Camo

The concept of wearing camouflage and hunter orange may seem paradoxical to those who don’t hunt. Attempting to blend in while standing out may appear as an oxymoron. That’s precisely what hunters are trying to achieve, believe it or not. 

Humans can see blaze orange because it is one of the brightest and most noticeable hues. The most straightforward approach to ensure that other hunters see you and don’t mistake you for game is to wear hunter orange. You will be more apparent to people around you if you wear more orange. Some of the best hunting vests are orange in color.

But, if people can see blaze orange, can’t the Deer you’re hunting see it, too? No! Deer are essentially red-green colorblind because of their dichromatic nature. Fluorescent orange appears to Deer as a shade of brown, grey, or green, similar to your camouflage. You don’t have to worry about your camouflage patterns’ fine details because Deer has poor visual acuity and lack correct depth perception.

Can Deer See at Night?

Can Deer see at night?
Can Deer see at night?

Yes, they can. We may never know the entire extent of their ability to detect forms and motions, but they can detect your exit from the field after the last light has passed. Scientists link the increased number of rods with a whitetail’s ability to see at night. A whitetail’s eye lets more light in, which is made possible by a low cone/high rod count. 

However, humans have a higher cone count, which allows us to distinguish between colors more efficiently. For example, have you ever noticed how a deer’s eye glows in headlights and trail cam photos? Because the back of a deer’s eye reflects light, they can use the same light again.

This reflective substance on the back of deer eyes is called the tapetum lucidum. This reflective substance contributes to the bouncing and reflecting of light back and forth between the eye and the retina. It’s why some deer can see fifty times better at night than a human.

When it comes to whitetail vision, everything about the animals’ eyes is built to help them identify and flee predators. Begin with the position of the eyes. The eyes of a whitetail deer are located on the sides of its head, giving it a field of view (FOV) of around 310 degrees. This suggests that a deer’s blind area is approximately 50 degrees wide, or less than a third of ours. However, humans with two healthy eyes have a 180-degree field of vision.

Visual Acuity – Humans Vs. Deer

What we see vs what deer see
What we see vs what deer see

Humans only have a focus of 120 degrees. When it comes to vision, however, a deer’s vision is poor at only 20/100 vision. For example, normal human vision is 20/20. This means that a person reading an eye chart sees the same letters at 20 feet that people with normal vision will see at 20 feet. At the same time, 20/40 vision means the person being tested sees letters at 20 feet that people with normal vision see at 40 feet. 

University of Georgia research showed that Deer have 80 percent less visual acuity than we do. Although Deer may sense something around them, they cannot focus on it unless their nose is pointed up for their eyes to see.

Slow movements are harder for Deer to notice since they have limited visual acuity, and wearing camo helps. Even while wearing camo, movement can attract a deer’s attention. That is something we are all aware of. Even if you’re wearing camo, flipping up your arm increases your chances of being spotted by a deer, even if it’s not staring directly at you. Movement kills a hunter, and camo allows you to move and get away with it.

Bradly Cohen, Ph.D., a research scientist at the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, trained seven whitetail doe to associate light wavelengths with a food reward to test how well Deer can see. 

Cohen and his associates gave Deer a choice of two empty food troughs, but they would only receive a food reward when they tried feeding from the trough where an LED light stimulus illuminated. After being trained, Cohen tested Deer on six different light wavelengths and various light intensities to determine which colors of light they could see.

Cohen discovered Deer saw colors in the blue-spectrum best and those in the red-spectrum the worst. He also validated anatomical tests that showed Deer could detect greens, yellows, and UV light, but they don’t sense color hues to the same degree as people. Cohen pointed out that a deer’s vision is ideal for their lifestyle.

“It’s no coincidence that deer are most active between dawn and twilight when the most light is in the blue spectrum,” Cohen explained. “When they move around the most, they’re most adapted to the wavelength of light that is most available.”

In low light, the Deer’s visual system works best. Rods are 20 times more abundant in the Deer’s retina than cones. Rods dominate the Deer’s eyesight in low-light or dark settings, limiting its capacity to discern colors.

How Good is Deers’ UV Vision?

It’s debatable how effectively Deer detect UV light. UV brighteners, chemicals integrated into some fabrics, and detergents found in clothing, ostensibly making the clothes appear brighter. According to one idea, hunters’ apparel causes Deer’s eyes to shine in the dark. 

To prove this, a firm that created UV-killing detergent produced a movie showing hunters strolling around after dark, wearing UV-brightened or non-UV camouflage. The former shone brightly under a black light, whereas the latter faded almost completely.

This apparent reliable evidence has flaws. Human eyes and video cameras do not see as Deer do, and hunters do not hunt at night under black lights. For years, hunters have unintentionally worn UV-brightened fabric. No one reported spooking a deer unless they moved. From this empirical evidence, we can say that the UV sensitivity of a whitetail’s eyes is pretty low. Still, if you are one of those who does not want to leave anything to chance, buy UV-free clothing and detergents.

Final Words

The takeaway from all of this is that hunters should respect a deer’s eyes and ears, but not to the point of going crazy. Instead, slow down, reduce the movement and noise you create, and try to blend in as much as possible in the surroundings. Taking these precautions could mean the difference between seeing the white of a big buck’s tail and putting your tag to it.

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