Deer Vision. WHat can deer see when to comes to color, light, and movement?

Deer Vision 101: How Deer See Color, Light, and Movement

When we’re out there in the woods, bow in hand, it’s not just about what we see. It’s about understanding how deer see the world around them. Their vision is a game-changer for us hunters. It influences everything from the camo we wear to how we approach our stands.

Today, we’re diving into the science of deer vision—how they perceive colors, their sensitivity to light, and their knack for detecting movement. This isn’t just academic; it’s practical knowledge that can make or break your hunt.

So, whether you’re a seasoned hunter or just starting, understanding deer vision is crucial. It’s not about changing the way we hunt overnight but refining our tactics, bit by bit, to become more effective in the field. Let’s get into it and see how a little knowledge about deer vision can go a long way in our hunting adventures.

What the Science Says About Deer Vision

The landmark study conducted in 1992 to investigate the vision capabilities of deer utilized a sophisticated computer system that analyzed electrical signals generated by the eye. This advanced system interpreted these signals to provide a scientific estimation of the visual abilities of deer.

A team of renowned deer researchers and vision scientists, comprising experts like Drs. R. Larry Marchinton, Karl V. Miller, Gerald H. Jacobs, Jess Degan, and Jay Neitz, collaborated on this study.

The research findings confirmed that deer possess two types of cone photopigments, allowing them limited color vision. It was noted that deer don’t have the cone sensitive to long wavelength colors, such as red. Furthermore, the study revealed a unique aspect of deer vision compared to humans: the absence of a UV filter in deer’s eyes. This absence of a UV filter enables deer to see more effectively in the UV spectrum, but it comes at the cost of reduced ability to perceive fine details.

Color Perception

  1. Dichromatic vision: Deer are dichromats, meaning they possess two types of color receptor cells (cone cells) in their eyes. These cells are sensitive to blue and green wavelengths, allowing deer to see these colors effectively. However, deer lack cone cells sensitive to red and orange hues, which are present in trichromatic humans. Consequently, deer perceive reds, oranges, and even some tans and grays as shades of green or gray, depending on the hue and brightness.
  2. How Deer See: Deer see the world primarily in shades of blue and green-yellow, with reds and oranges appearing more like muted greens or grays. This is because their cones are most sensitive to wavelengths around 535 nm (green) and 460 nm (blue). They are less sensitive to longer wavelengths, such as red and orange, which to them may appear as different shades of green or gray.
  3. Contrast: Deer are particularly sensitive to contrast, which can make them more likely to detect colors that are not common to the area or hunters who are not camouflaged properly.
  4. Blurred vision: Deer have a reduced level of detail and clarity in their vision compared to humans, which means they see a slightly blurry image like they need glasses. However, they can identify potential threats based on outlines and shapes. They are hardwired to recognize harsh outlines of objects and symmetry in these outlines, which can set off a warning signal to the deer. Therefore, when thinking about camouflaging ourselves from deer, it is important to focus on our outline rather than the detail and realism of the camo pattern.
Deer have poor depth perception but see contrast very well. How deer see is very different from humans. This is deer vision 101.

Implications for hunters:

  • Wearing blaze orange or other bright red colors can make you visible to fellow hunters without alarming deer. However, bear in mind that deer can still detect motion and contrast, so it’s crucial to remain still and blend into your surroundings.
  • Be cautious when selecting camouflage patterns. Some patterns may appear effective to human eyes but could stand out to deer due to their unique color perception.
  • Hunters should choose camouflaged clothing and gear that blends in with the natural surroundings and reduces the contrast of their silhouette. Additionally, hunters should be mindful of their position and movements, avoiding silhouetting themselves against the sky or other high-contrast backgrounds.

READ: Solid Colors vs. Camo: Which is Better for Deer Hunting?

Blue-Spectrum and UV Light

  1. Blue-spectrum light: Deer are particularly sensitive to blue-spectrum light, as their eyes possess cone cells that efficiently detect this wavelength. This heightened sensitivity allows them to perceive even subtle variations in blue hues, which can help them detect potential threats or camouflage patterns that don’t blend well with their environment.
  2. UV light: Unlike humans, deer can see ultraviolet (UV) light. This ability can have a significant impact on their perception of certain materials and colors. For example, clothing or gear treated with brighteners may appear unnaturally bright or reflective to deer, potentially alerting them to the presence of a hunter.

Implications for hunters:

  • Be cautious when selecting camouflage patterns. Some patterns may appear effective to human eyes but could stand out to deer due to their unique sensitivity to blue and UV light.
  • Avoid using laundry products containing brighteners, as these can make your clothing and gear more visible to deer. Instead, use UV-free detergents for washing your hunting gear.
  • Consider using UV-blocking sprays on your clothing and equipment to minimize the chances of being detected by deer.
Deer see best just before dark.

Light Sensitivity

  1. Night vision: Deer have more rod cells in their eyes than humans, enabling them to see better in low-light conditions. Their large pupils also allow more light to enter their eyes, further enhancing their night vision.
  2. Dawn and dusk: Deer are crepuscular animals, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk. Their heightened sensitivity to light allows them to detect movement and potential threats during these low-light periods.
  3. Depth perception: Deer do not have good depth perception or visual acuity, making it difficult for them to see fine details even at close range.

Implications for hunters:

  • Plan your hunts around dawn and dusk when deer are most active. Their increased activity combined with their excellent low-light vision makes these periods ideal for hunting.
  • Ensure that you’re well-concealed and minimize movement during these low-light periods, as deer are more likely to detect any disturbances.
Deer have 310 degrees of vision and can sense movement extremely well.

READ: Best Camo for Deer Hunting: What the Science Says

Movement Detection

  1. Wide field of view: Whitetail deer have a visual field of about 280-300 degrees, which is slightly less than the 310 degrees of some other ungulates like sheep and goats. However, deer have a wider binocular field of view (60-80 degrees) than most other ungulates, which helps with depth perception and locating objects in their environment. This wide field of view allows deer to scan their surroundings for motion without moving their head.
  2. Motion sensitivity: Deer rely heavily on detecting movement to identify potential threats. Even the slightest movement can alert a deer to your presence, making it crucial to remain still and quiet while hunting.

Implications for hunters:

  • Practice remaining still and quiet during your hunts. Even when wearing camouflage, deer can still detect motion and may be alerted to your presence.
  • Use slow, deliberate movements when you must move, and avoid making sudden or jerky motions.

READ: Bow Hunting Clothes: Optimizing Camo, Scent, and Stealth

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Frequently Asked Questions


Understanding deer vision is essential for the average bow hunter looking to improve their hunting success. By learning how deer perceive colors, how their sensitivity to light affects their behavior, how their keen ability to detect movement can impact your hunt, and their unique response to blue-spectrum and UV light, you can refine your hunting strategies accordingly.

In our follow-up post, we’ll discuss how to apply this knowledge to select the best camouflage for different hunting environments and seasons, further enhancing your concealment and increasing your chances of a successful hunt. Stay tuned for more insights on deer vision and how to use it to your advantage in the field.

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