After several hours of tromping the fields in search of upland birds I took a short respite, sat down on a stone wall and was pulling out my water bottle when I spied several deer bounding across the marsh in my direction. They slowed to a trot, then a walk but it was not until the first was well within bow range that it stopped and stared at my stationary form, curious more than alarmed. The others halted as well, looking alternately at me and the other deer as if waiting for some signal.

It took all the composure I could muster not to move, but I froze in place, curious to see how the deer would react. They seemed nervous, but not frightened, and almost curious when the lead deer took two more steps in my direction. Then she glanced back over her shoulder, perhaps toward what had initially sent them running, and trotted away, her followers in tow.

It seemed a bit puzzling, that they weren’t overly alarmed by the figure of a human sitting on a stone wall, especially as I was wearing a blaze orange vest and cap. Perhaps they thought I was a stump or a post. Regardless, they didn’t see me as a threat, and certainly didn’t seem to recognize the color of my apparel.

That was a long time ago and we’ve learned a lot more about deer vision since then. Blaze or “hunter” orange apparel wasn’t – and in some cases still isn’t – a popular choice among hunters, but there’s no question it saves lives. The data prove it. That’s because it stands out like a beacon to the human eye. It doesn’t to the deer’s eye, which has also been proven by research.

A lot of research has been done on deer vision, most notably by the University of Georgia. What they’ve found is that deer see colors in the middle of the visible spectrum – green and yellow – about the same as we do. They see light reflected in longer wavelengths – red and orange – very poorly and it probably appears as gray. That makes hunter orange a great choice for deer hunters. However, deer see color in the low end – blue and violet – very well, which likely has something to do with their exceptional vision in low light conditions, when higher wavelength light is filtered out.

What does that mean for the hunter? As noted, deer don’t see orange, at least not the way we do. However, the solid form of a hunter might still stand out, though it didn’t seem to happen in my aforementioned encounter. Fortunately, you can break up the human form simply by wearing some camo orange. Before the hunting apparel industry provided it, we used to draw tree branch patterns on our orange vests with black markers.

It also means you shouldn’t wear blue jeans when deer hunting, especially if they’ve been washed with conventional laundry detergent. Those claims that they make whites whiter are not without merit. Most household detergents contain fabric brighteners that do enhance reflectance in the shorter wavelengths.

It’s not just detergents that do that, either. Many apparel companies include brighteners in their dyes, so that even new camouflage hunting apparel might glow in the eyes of a deer. You may never realize it, unless you illuminate your apparel with a blacklight or a ultraviolet light. If you can find one, it’s worth investigating, especially for bowhunters. Fortunately, there are solutions like U-V Killer that will counteract those brighteners and make your hunting clothes – and you – less visible to a deer’s eye.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.