Are you new to deer hunting or maybe just wildlife watching? You probably want to know more about these beautiful animals, including whether they can see color. Are deer color blind? How does their vision work when it comes to color? And what types of hunting apparel do deer have difficulty seeing?
You’ll hear some people insist that deer are completely color-blind.
But the answer is no, deer are not completely color blind. They don’t see all of the colors humans do, but they do see some colors. A deer’s eyes can only perceive differentiation in short and mid-length wavelengths. This means they can only see blue (short wavelength) and some greens (mid-length wavelength) colors, but they cannot see red and orange.
How Deer Vision Works
Deer have evolved so that they can see well in low light and the dark. This is important for prey animals (including deer), as predators are most active during those times of day and night.
The deer’s vision is referred to as dichromatic. Deer eyes have just two kinds of cones. They don’t have one of the cone types that humans have, the one that lets us perceive red, orange, and other long wavelengths.
Humans also have much better visual acuity (ability to see fine detail) than deer. Deer, however, are superior to us in perceiving movement, including slight movement that humans wouldn’t notice.
Deer eyes have a much higher proportion of rods to cones than we do. This gives deer outstanding night vision.
Rods contain pigments that are sensitive to light, enhancing the ability to see in the dark. They’re also key to the quick and accurate motion detection that deer clearly have.
The fact that deer eyes are positioned on the sides of the heads facilitates a field of view spanning 310 degrees.
There is a trade-off here, though. It’s because of all these factors that deer have notably limited depth perception.
Deer pupils are horizontal and slit-shaped. This is different than human eyes, which have round pupils. This is key to the way deer see.
Biologists have noted that the pupils on most herd animals with slit pupils, such as deer, have a horizontal orientation.
Scientists believe that the horizontal pupil shape enhances vision in a way that benefits perception for deer, making it better equipped as a prey animal.
Colors Deer Can and Cannot See Well
As touched on earlier, deer can see blue and green well. They can also perceive ultra-violet wavelengths. Some hunters believe that because deer perceive orange as gray, this is a good color to wear.
This may be true but only if your clothing doesn’t give off any ultra-violet (blue) wavelengths. Clothing with a shiny finish may emit these wavelengths, and deer will be able to see it.
While deer can distinguish red from blue, they cannot tell the difference between orange and red. They also cannot distinguish between green and red.
|Blue (Short Wavelength)
|Yes (much better than human vision)
|Green (Middle Wavelength)
|Usually quite well
|Red (Long Wavelength)
|No (sees as gray)
|Orange (Long Wavelength)
|No (sees as gray)
What Colors to Wear in the Woods
Whether you’re a hunter, nature photographer, or simply a wildlife enthusiast, you should wear clothes that deer have trouble perceiving.
Don’t wear blue, green, or clothing that creates ultra-violet wavelengths if you want to get close to deer in the woods without them running away.
Not only can deer see blue and green, but wearing these colors may create safety issues, especially if there are hunters in the woods. If you blend in too much, your movement could be mistaken for a deer.
That is why bright colors, such as orange, are so popular and useful.
Shiny clothing, such as clothing made of vinyl and nylon, may create ultra-violet wavelengths that deer can perceive. Look for clothing and hats that are soft and don’t have a glossy finish.
Wash Your Clothes the Right Way
Even if your clothes don’t currently create ultra-violet wavelengths, they may develop them if you use the wrong cleaning products.
For example, laundry detergents with phosphates may make your clothes emit ultra-violet wavelengths. Fabric brighteners can do the same thing.
If you think your clothes may have ultraviolet light caused by detergents, look for a new detergent formulated to get rid of ultraviolet light.
As long as it’s not shiny and not giving off ultraviolet wavelengths, deer will perceive the orange as gray and you will likely be camouflaged (except when you move).
And most importantly, other humans are likely to see you and realize you’re a human.
Motion and Deer Vision
As mentioned earlier, deer aren’t able to see detail like we can. But seeing movement is much more important to prey animals.
Deer will usually flee an unknown presence long before they would think about looking for detail. This is one reason why deer vision has evolved to prioritize motion detection. Deer have difficulty focusing on objects.
Deer vision is attuned to perceiving the tiniest movement. Generally, they will see motion before they are able to perceive its cause.
When it comes to the way we measure human vision, deer only have about 20/40 vision. How do they survive? They do it with their quick motion detection and 300-degree field of vision.
They can see the remaining 60 degrees just by turning their heads.
Deer Smell and Hearing Are Superior
While their eyesight may not be a huge advantage, a deer’s sense of smell and acute sense of hearing offer it advantages in the woods.
Let’s take a closer look at how these other senses help deer survive in the wild.
Sense of Smell
A deer’s superior sense of smell is necessary for survival. It’s certainly better than the animal’s overall vision. By combining their sense of smell with the elements of their vision, these cervids are able to avoid many of the dangers that await them in the woods.
A deer’s sense of smell is between 500 and 1,000 times stronger than ours. In fact, this animal may be able to detect your scent as far as half a mile away.
Just as impressive is the fact that deer can sense and differentiate as many as six different smells at once. They can do this because of how many receptors are in their noses.
The incredible cervid sense of smell is why hunters have to think about wind direction. If the wind is heading in the animal’s direction, it will carry your scent to them more quickly.
As soon as they smell you, they will travel in the opposite direction.
Some hunters use scent blocking or eliminating sprays to help conceal themselves when in the woods. These sprays are advertised to stop deer in the area from detecting your scent.
Deer have an excellent sense of hearing that is better than their vision. A deer’s hearing is much more acute than what we have as humans.
Deer ears have evolved to be able to hear extremely faint sounds. Their hearing is so sophisticated that they may even be able to tell the exact distance between themselves and the noise source.
Deer immediately turn their heads in the direction of the sound whenever they hear anything. Their ears themselves will even move in the sound’s direction.
This helps them focus in and better hear. The deer will also check in with its sense of smell, to discern if any scents are accompanying the sound.
Are Deer Color Blind? No, But Their Vision Has Limits
While deer are not color blind, they certainly don’t see the same way people do. Their eyes and vision have evolved to help them avoid predators and survive.
Deer are able to see blue and green colors, as they have short wavelengths. Ultraviolet light contains short wavelengths like blue. This means even if you’re wearing orange or red, if it’s a shiny fabric, the deer may see you.
Cervids cannot perceive long wavelength colors, like orange and red. In fact, they usually see them as gray, meaning if you wear these colors you’ll blend into the forest or fields around you.