A few weeks back I talked about applying scents as an active method to beat the whitetail’s keen senses. Far more important are the passive methods.

White-tailed deer use three of their five senses (some hunters think they have six) to avoid danger. finding ways to overcome them, hunters can sometimes gain a slight edge.


After three and a half decades of deer hunting, I’ve gotten so I can sometimes distinguish whether rustling footfalls on dry oak leaves are a deer, a squirrel or a turkey. Sometimes.

Deer spend every moment of every day of their lives in the woods listening intently for the sound of approaching danger, and I feel quite certain their sense of hearing is far more finely attuned than my own.

For starters, they have bigger ears, which they can twist and turn like large, radar dishes to detect sounds from different directions. Sound is funneled into highly sensitive sound detection organs, which then transmit messages to the brain, where they are deciphered.

Instinct and experience tell the deer whether to flee or forget what they’ve just heard.

The stationary hunter has an advantage in overcoming this sense. Sitting still, whether on a stump or an elevated stand doesn’t create much noise. But it doesn’t take much. A cough, the clink of a zipper against your metal treestand or the swooshing of noisy fabric could send an unseen deer fleeing.

Wearing quiet clothing like wool or fleece is a good idea. That goes double for the mobile hunter. Moving creates noise, but you can minimize it by wearing soft fabric.

You should also move slowly, carefully pressing your feet down, feeling for sticks underfoot before you transfer all of your weight. If it’s breezy, move only when the wind blows.

Avoid a regular pace. Deer seem able to recognize the rhythmic, bipedal pace of humans. Move slowly, take a few steps then stop for several minutes. You can even take a few quick hops, much like a squirrel might. You may feel a little silly doing it; but I’ve used the technique more than once to slip within range of a deer.


Deer have fairly keen vision as well, and it’s particularly sensitive to movement. They do, however, have a couple Achilles’ heels. Rather than being round, their pupils are oblong. Thus, their visual acuity is sharpest along a narrow band. Above and below it, things become blurry, which is one reason hunting from an elevated platform offers an advantage.

However, by tilting their head up or down they can gain a clearer view. It may be my imagination, but it seems more and more that deer are learning to look up for danger.

You can also beat them by blending into your environment. The primary purpose of camouflage is to break up the human outline. Color is far less important than shape, especially when it comes to deer.

Deer have poor sensitivity to middle- to long-wavelength light (yellow-green, green, yellow, orange and red). They see red and orange, including blaze orange, as shades of gray. But a solid orange vest appears as a large, gray squarish (foreign) object. Where legal, you can break up that outline with blaze orange camo.

What deer lack in visual acuity at one end of the spectrum, they more than make up for at the other. According to research conducted at the University of Georgia, their vision is most sensitive to short-wavelength (blue-violet) light. What’s worse, that’s precisely the wavelength emitted by clothing that has been treated by fabric brighteners. That includes most of the clothes you buy, and anything you wash in conventional laundry detergents, which all contain brighteners.

If you want to see what you look like to a deer, go into a dark room and illuminate your clothing with a blacklight. If you’re glowing like a neon sign, you might want to spray your clothes with U-V-Killer. One treatment will nullify the fabric brighteners. And never wash your hunting clothes in standard laundry detergent.

Incidentally, the makers of U-V-Killer also have a new camo blaze orange vest that takes advantage of deer vision. Humans see it as solid blaze orange. But when viewed under U-V light, or by a deer, it shows a camo pattern that breaks up the human form.

Next week: Beating the whitetail’s nose.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer, Registered Maine Guide and certified wildlife biologist. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]