Whitetail 101: Whitetail Deer Vision

Section #3: What Can A Whitetail Deer See?


While the vision of a whitetail deer doesn’t get nearly the space in magazines or TV shows as the other senses, it actually plays a large role in your hunting success and a deer’s survival.  Similar to most prey species, a whitetail deer has eyes that are set on the side of head.  This allows the whitetail deer a wider field of view.  Comparatively most predator type species have eyes that are set more on the front of the head.  With that being said, everyone wants to know the answer to two questions in relation to a whitetail deers vision. Are deer color blind and can deer see orange?

Grunt, Snort-Wheeze, and Rattle this to your buddies!


WHITETAIL 101: WHITETAIL DEER VISION, are deer color blind, can deer see orange

In addition to where the eyes set, the physical structure of the eye itself has evolved to aid the deer in maximizing its field of view.  The cornea and pupil are horizontally oval along with other adaptations to the retina.  This is not important to know for the whitetail deer hunter, but what is important is that whitetail deer can use these adaptations to see and distinguish objects both near and far on a 310-degree field of view without ever moving their head.

Think about that for a moment.  Unless the deer is walking straight away from you, it can see you or your movement.  That is the key take away for me.  This is one reason treestands and ground blinds have proven to be so effective at harvesting mature bucks.

Now, with that wide field of view how clear can they see?  An average whitetail deer doesn’t possess 20/20 vision like a human.  Meaning, we can make out details with our vision that a whitetail deer can’t and wouldn’t need to base on survival.  It is important to keep in mind all of the adaptations of the whitetail deer are based on survival.  They are a prey animal who has adapted over the years to survive and thrive.


Are Deer Color Blind?

This is the question everyone wants to know.  Are Deer Color Blind?  Or better yet, can a whitetail discriminate between Realtree and Mossy Oak?  Is Sitka more effective? On and on these questions go.  I will save you the history lesson, but science has changed since the first studies were done in the mid 1970’s.  In the 1970’s, scientist believed that whitetail deer could not differentiate colors.  We now know, or at least believe based on current scientific understanding, that a whitetail deer has dichromatic color vision.  This means they possess two classes of cone pigments allowing them to differentiate some colors.  Scientist believe they are more sensitive to the blue to blue-green portions of the light spectrum.

What Does All That Mean?

What does any of this mean for you when hunting?  If I am analyzing the data and coupling that with my experience.  I believe at distance, that many of the camos on the market today which are printed photo realistic patterns, turn you into a single solid color blob to deer.  Which to me is no different than wearing a solid color.  Do I believe that camo is important, not especially?  Don’t get me wrong, I love camouflage, but I find it less and less important to harvesting animals.

What I do consider important, is movement.  Getting into and out of my stand without deer seeing or smelling me is far more important that the camouflage pattern I pick.  Your money and time are far better spent understanding how you can get into and out of your stand sites without being detected and with as little scent impact as possible. Couple that with spending those extra Sitka bucks on additional stands to allow you multiple options depending on the wind will result in more mature deer down than that new kit of fancy camo.


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