Can Deer See Blaze Orange?

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It’s a question as old as blaze-orange vests and caps. Hunters worry that their required safety-orange apparel will give them away to the sharp eyes of deer.

After much research into deer vision capabilities and the physical structure of deer eyes, University of Georgia researchers Dr. Karl V. Miller and Dr. Gino D’Angelo wrote an article in QDMA’s Quality Whitetails magazine on their findings. For the article, Karl and Gino attempted to put on “Deer Goggles.” Taking what they learned about deer and human focal perspectives, fields of view, and color perception, they used photo editing software to create the two views you see above of a hunter in a woodland scene (The image above shows a small part of each image, so be sure to click on the complete comparison in the Gallery below). Though not intended to show you exactly what the world looks like to a deer, the comparison helps explain how deer view the world differently than we do, and it helps answer the question: Can deer see hunter orange?

First, Karl and Gino explained why the human view of the scene looks the way it does:

“With the human eye focused on the hunter’s face, the human optic fovea provides crisp detail, but only in a very small circular area. In the areas of peripheral vision, everything is out of focus and detail suffers. Human vision is capable of perceiving the long-wavelength reds and hunter orange.”

This is easy enough to understand, because we have human eyes. We are predators and are capable of focusing on forward objects. Our binocular overlap (the area that both of our eyes view at the same time) is 140 degrees, allowing us to focus on single points and perceive depth very well. A deer’s binocular overlap, however, is only 60 degrees, giving them relatively poor depth perception.

“Deer must shift their head to gain a three-dimensional perspective of an object by looking at it from several different angles. This is probably the main reason why deer bob their heads when they encounter potential danger.”

Of course, deer have less binocular overlap because their eyes are on the sides of their heads, bringing the advantage of a wider field of view. Without moving their heads, deer can see nearly 300 degrees of their surroundings, leaving only a 60-degree blind spot to the rear. This gives them the ability to detect objects around them in a wide visual strip. Though fine detail is not a deer’s strength, they are very good at detecting outlines and movement in their surroundings.

Now, let’s put on our Deer Goggles and consider the woodland scene again. Karl and Gino altered the scene in part by considering the numbers of rods and cones in a deer’s retina compared to a human’s. Rods are photoreceptors that help in low-light conditions. Cones are photoreceptors that enable color vision and distinguish fine details.

“With substantially fewer cones in their retina compared to humans, everything would appear ‘grainy’ to the deer, like a photograph taken with very high speed film. In the area of the horizontal visual streak centered on the hunter’s face, the deer’s acuity is somewhat enhanced and they gain more detail. Deer would not perceive the longer wavelengths of color, so the oranges and reds have turned to brown or gray. This photograph was taken just before sunset when UV rays are at their peak. To the deer’s visual system, the short wavelength blues are enhanced and are visible on the right side of the trees in the direction of the setting sun. The hunter is wearing a new, unwashed pair of camouflage pants. Also visible to the deer are the UV enhancers glowing from these pants.”

“The human lens and central portion of the retina have yellow pigmentation to absorb and filter out UV light from the sun, which also filters some blues and violets. The lens of deer is perfectly clear, and they lack yellow pigmentation in their retina. Deer, being short-lived as compared to humans, do not need such protection from the sun. The absence of these filters allows them to capitalize on the additional light available from the shorter wavelengths of light. Coincidentally, these colors of light are most abundant when the sun is below the horizon at dawn and dusk when the deer’s ultra-sensitive rods are functioning. This gives them a distinct advantage when they’re moving to and from their bedding areas at these times.”

The answer to our question is: No, deer cannot see blaze orange the same way that humans see it. It likely appears brown or gray to deer. But they are more sensitive to blue wavelengths than humans, and probably to clothing that has been washed in detergent that contains UV brighteners. But what is more important than worrying about your orange vest or other colors is worrying about your silhouette and movement. Notice that the hunter in the Deer Goggles example is standing in the open, on the ground, making no effort at concealment or to break up their outline using natural cover. Even wearing camo, this hunter will be easy for a deer to spot.

“Because of the deer’s limited acuity and poor depth perception, you need not be overly concerned with the fine details of camouflage patterns. Instead, set up with a sufficient background of cover similar to your attire. Focus on breaking up your human form by playing on the major visual themes common in most natural scenes – muted colors and large visually distinct elements. Most importantly, move wisely. Deer are especially well adapted to detect movement. If you can see a deer’s eyes, they are sure to capture any movements you may make.”

Study the comparison in the image below, showing a human’s perspective in the top compared to what a deer likely sees in the bottom, based on what we know about the structure of the whitetail eye.

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  • Sick of idiots!

    Ever notice how deer blend into their surroundings?? And not one speck of green on them.

  • Bret #Hunters for Youth

    I do somewhat agree with Blaze on the camo industry catering to the hunter instead of the prey aspect of their designs. Most all of the places I have hunted in are brown during the main time of hunting season for deer (oct-jan). The only things still green are the cedar trees, and there are few camo patterns that try to reproduce that.

    I dare say there have been plenty of deer shot with hunters wearing old school red and black plaid. The thing is, your camo pattern will not determine your success or failure in the woods. Movement, scent, and abnormal sounds are what will get you busted.

    But, just like the scent control industry, the camo industry has us convinced that we have to have the perfect pattern, or perfect spray, or perfect gear to be successful. Each of these things may help in your hunt, but they cannot take the place of good hunting practices that worked long before any of these things existed. Move slow and use the wind will make more of a difference than anything you can buy in a store.

    This article isn’t a fix all for the deer seeing you problem. It does give us a better understanding of another small piece that is the world of hunting and conservation and how we interact with nature and how it interacts with us.

  • It is still a mystery to me how the camo industry is able to market camo that has geen in it. When was the last time you saw a green deer!

    • Getting tired of this sh!t

      I’m sure the green in camo has to do with blending in with leaves, grasses and pine needles.

      • Sure, I get that green will help you blend and hide from humans (color vision), but not deer (! black and white).
        If green helped hide animals from animals, you would have animals with green fur!

        • Kaitlynn Gokey
          • Hmm, I think those links support my comment?

            “Most predators are red-green colour blind, and so there is no advantage to being green over brown, because they are seen the same. Green is also a very rare pigment in nature, suggesting that the chances of an animal evolving such a pigment is very low.”

            Essentially, there has been no evolutionary pressure for animals to have green fur because predators are color blind to it…..

          • Kaitlynn Gokey

            You’re right in that mammal color-blindness contributes to the lack of green fur, but you’re over-simplifying it, man. Its not that green wouldn’t *work at all*. Its that green doesn’t work *better than brown*. If brown works, and green is seen as brown by predators, then green would be effective camo (and IS effective camo for animals that can fascimilate it, like reptiles, amphibians, insects, fish, birds…). But green is difficult to impossible to produce in fur, so evolution favors the easier option. For animals that can readily produce temporary green coverings, like humans with green and brown camo, the green isn’t going to hurt anything at all, and might be an advantage when hunting animals like birds.

          • Yes, you are right, but in this context I don’t think it’s an over simplification. The core starting place is why is there so much green in the camouflage industry. I would argue it is much much more to do with marketing, to be seen to be effective to the HUMAN eye, i.e. the purchaser, rather than any underlying effectiveness to deer. Camo that takes a research, rather than marketing approach, like ASAT uses browns and tans, not greens.


About Lindsay Thomas Jr.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. is the editor of Quality Whitetails magazine, the journal of QDMA, and he is QDMA's Director of Communications. He has been a member of the QDMA staff since 2003. Prior to joining the staff of QDMA, Lindsay was an editor at a Georgia hunting and fishing news magazine for nine years. Throughout his career as an editor, he has written and published numerous articles on deer management and hunting. He earned his journalism degree at the University of Georgia.