The past 15 to 20 years have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of technology being used to help hunters. Optics, scent elimination products, and weapons have all undergone their own revolutions. All for the purpose of tilting the advantage in favor of the hunter. But are these products actually helping us in the field or just giving us a false sense of security.
The most obvious product revolution in hunting is the camo clothing that we wear. The detail and realism of today’s camouflage makes it seem like you will be invisible when you enter the woods, but is it really any better than the surplus army camo hunters used to wear. In the next few paragraphs we will take a look at a whitetails vision and try to understand what a deer sees.
How a Whitetail’s Eye Differs From Ours
So what makes a whitetail’s eye different from a humans? Well, it all starts with what’s inside the eye. The retina in a deer’s eye contains two types of specialized, light sensitive cells called rods and cones. The rods are more sensitive to light, therefore, they help with nighttime vision, but the down side is that they don’t see color. The cones are less sensitive to light, but allow us to see colors. One main difference between the eyes of deer and humans can be seen when we compare the number of rods and cones. Deer have more rods, but a lower number of cones. This means that there nighttime vision is better than ours, but they have poorer daylight and color vision. Studies have found that deer possess only two types of cones rather than the three that humans have. So what is the significance of lacking a certain type of cone? It affects what colors a deer can see.
A Whitetail’s Color Spectrum
Humans have three types of cones. One that is sensitive to short, medium, and long wavelengths. This allows us to see blues, greens, and reds. Deer, however, lack the red cone. Deer are, simply put, color blind. This means deer can distinguish blue from red, but not green from red, or orange from red. Although it may seem like humans have an advantage when it comes to sight, deer can see wavelengths of light that hunters can’t. Deer sense colors better towards the violet end of the spectrum, which allows them to see blues and ultraviolet better than humans can. In conclusion, shades of reds and greens appear to deer as different shades of gray. The color deer see best is blue and they can also see yellows and UV light.
Deer and UV Light
The theory is that UV brighteners in clothing and detergents make a hunter stand out more to a deer. Humans can’t see UV light because we possess a UV filter that helps protect our eyes. Deer do not have this UV filter. This allows them to see UV light, but it still makes it hard for deer to see fine detail. Since they lack this filter, it would be highly likely that deer see UV light better than we do. To what degree we stand out is still fairly unknown. It is theorized that deer might see a slight blue tint in our clothes when they look at us.
Predator versus Prey
Almost everyone knows that prey animals, like deer, have their eyes positioned on the side of their heads. This allows them to have a 300 degree field of view, compared to about 120 degrees for humans. An increased field of view is not the only advantage a deer has because of the position of their eyes.
The wide position of the eye creates the need for a pupil that is more rectangular and horizontal than a humans is. This allows more light to filter in, helping with low light conditions. There is also something called a tappet lucidum. This is a reflective layer that gives deer “eye shine”. It also reflects light back over the rods and cones again, giving deer a second chance at using light they didn’t use the first time. Essentially, they are using the same light twice.
Another advantage to having a more horizontal pupil is that it gives deer greater detail along a horizontal swath in the middle of their field of vision. This means that an object a deer is looking at straight on is equally in focus as something out to the side. Our view is different from deer because we have a fairly small area of focus that we move around very quickly. This allows us to see things in great focus as long as we are centered on it, otherwise our peripheral vision is very blurry. While the pupil may give the deer a wide range of vision, it is limited in both depth perception and height. Deer can only see what’s at a horizontal level in the middle of their view. So objects up high and down low are out of focus for deer, which might be one reason why tree stands are so effective for hunter concealment. Their depth perception is also limited to that same horizontal view. They only have depth perception for a 60-degree area where their vision overlaps in the front of them. So a deer can’t tell how far away you are unless their nose is pointed in your direction.
A deer’s eyes also have the ability to rotate independently. This is called cyclovergence and it is done to maintain the pupil’s alignment with the horizon. This allows the deer to keep its pupils horizontal and maintain a panoramic view of its surroundings when it is eating.
What Does This Mean For Hunters
So how does this affect you as a hunter? First, avoid wearing the color blue. This shouldn’t be too hard as many of us don’t enter the woods unless we are covered in camo. It becomes a little trickier when you look at which camo you should wear. Wearing camo with a lot of white in it is a bad thing because white colors will reflect all wavelengths, including the ones deer can see. Also, all the detail that the human eye can pick up in the camo that we wear may actually make you stick out more to the deer. A camo pattern that has many subtle shades of greens and browns (to create depth) will just look like one color because deer can’t differentiate between the different colors and details like we can.
In the end camo is made to be attractive to us, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t where it. One important thing that camo does, is to break up your pattern. A deer’s vision in daylight hours is very average. So having a pattern that breaks up your outline and blends into the surroundings is very important to staying hidden.
Ultimately a deer’s vision is based off movement. It determines its threats by being familiar with its surroundings and picking out new things and determining if an object is moving or stationary. So limiting your movements is the best thing you can do to remain hidden.
Personally, I like wearing camo. It is kind of like the saying “If you look good. You play good.” If you are comfortable and confident when you are in the stand you will perform better when the moment of truth arrives.