Are Deer Color Blind? A Hunter’s Guide

May 06, 2021 3 min read

a red deer between some trees

For decades, many hunters, including some of the most experimented and respected, believed deer are color-blind. Many animals are suspected of having some form of color-blindness, such as dogs, cats and nocturnal birds, which may make you wonder why hunters have to wear camouflage. However, an increasing number of studies on deer eyesight have been conducted in recent years, and it looks like their findings are challenging popular belief. Learn about how deer vision works, whether they are color-blind and whether the colors and camouflage patterns you wear matter on the field.

The Basics on Deer Vision

Deer can see colors just as we do. However, deer eyes cannot perceive the same range of colors as human eyes, and the reason lies in the composition of the retina. Inside the retina are dense arrays of cones and rods; cones perceive colors, whereas rods perceive light. According to studies conducted on deer vision and eye composition, it turns out that a deer’s eyes have a much higher density of rods than cones, meaning their light perception is much finer than ours, at the cost of color perception.

Deer eyes also lack a UV filter, making their eyes more sensitive to short-wavelength colors (500 nanometers and below), such as violet, purple, indigo, blue and cyan. What that means in the field is that they can see better than us under low-light conditions, such as at night, dusk and dawn, but they can perceive colors about the same as a red-green color-blind person. They can distinguish red from blue, but not red from green. To a deer, shades of green, red, brown, yellow and orange appear to be the same brownish color shades.

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a pair of hunters walking toward a blind

Colors and Camouflage

From the perspective of colors and what to wear, using the latest realistic camouflage patterns doesn’t make you significantly less visible to the deer than plain olive drab or even blaze orange.

Several states legally require hunters to wear blaze orange, and most states still strongly encourage it, even if it isn’t mandated. Blaze orange is a safety requirement because it allows hunters to see each other without alerting the deer to your presence.

In contrast, if you’re wearing blue clothes, such as blue jeans, the deer will spot you quicker. As the studies discovered, blue is one of the colors deer can see exceptionally well. Be careful with the detergents you use to wash your clothes as well. If your laundry detergent contains UV brighteners, do not use it on your hunting clothes. If you wear UV-brightened clothes on the field, the deer will perceive you brightly to the point of glowing, and they will get spooked the second you’re in the area. You may have noticed that you can purchase camo-patterned safety orange clothes. The point of using camo patterns when hunting is the same as in a military context: breaking up your silhouette and helping you blend into your environment.

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a hunter aiming from a blind window

Avoiding Detection

However, the silhouette-breaking benefits of camo only work if you’re adequately hidden and brushed in. A hunter’s adage says “deer can see you blink,” referencing the deer’s exceptional ability to detect movement. The high rod density in the deer’s eyes not only allows them to perceive more light than we do, but also lets them perceive movement with more ease. This excellent movement perception works in tandem with the orientation of their eyes, giving them a field of view of approximately 300° to 310°.

The only way to avoid being seen by a deer is to hide as well as possible. Using additional distractions, such as deer protein feed or a drinking point, may also work to your advantage.

Sitting inside a properly brushed-in DIY deer blind allows you to avoid detection through two critical factors: the brushing-in emits the same scent as the rest of the forest, preventing detection by scent, and the shadows inside the blind allow you to hide from the deer’s eyes. Deer are not color-blind, so remember these five facts:

  • Don’t wear blue.
  • Avoid UV-brightened clothes.
  • Blaze orange does not make you more visible to the deer.
  • Camouflage patterns help break your silhouette.
  • A high-quality deer blind and scent control techniques help hide you even more.

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