Is wearing orange hurting your hunting?

Can dear see orange?

By Michael Newell

It seems a debate often surfaces in the coffee shops near the start of deer season – can deer see the hunter orange clothing that hunters are required to wear during the gun season?

In fact, someone stopped me at church last Sunday and asked that very question, and I remembered a study I had read a couple of years ago about deer eyesight and how much information they take in through vision.

Most outdoorsmen say no, but some hunters swear that the bright orange hunter safety clothing is the reason why that big buck spotted them last year.

A group of leading deer researchers and vision scientists gathered at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens to conduct a landmark study on deer vision. The group of researchers included professionals from UGA, the University of California, and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

This study was made possible due to a highly sophisticated computer system. This system is based on the principle that an electrical response is produced when light enters the eye. The computer interprets these responses and translates them into a “scientific best guess” of what deer can actually see.

The results of the study confirmed that deer possess two (rather than three as in humans) types of cones, allowing limited color vision. The cone that deer lack is the “red” cone, or the one sensitive to long wavelength colors such as red and orange. This suggests that wearing bright colors while hunting does not affect hunting success. This does not mean that these colors are invisible to deer, but rather that they are perceived differently.

Deer are essentially red-green color blind like some humans. Their color vision is limited to the short (blue) and middle (green) wavelength colors.

As a result, deer likely can distinguish blue from red, but not green from red, or orange from red. Therefore, it appears that hunters would be equally suited wearing green, red, or orange clothing but perhaps slightly disadvantaged wearing blue.

The results regarding the UV capabilities of deer were equally fascinating.

Our results confirmed that deer lack a UV filter in their eye and that their vision in the shorter wavelengths was much better than ours. Deer also were found to have a relatively high sensitivity (good vision) in the short wavelengths where UV brighteners and dyes are active.

While not entirely conclusive, this finding suggests that deer are capable of seeing some UV light, and that fabrics containing UV dyes and brighteners may be more visible to deer than to humans.

What do the results of this study mean for hunters? Should you throw away all of your camouflage clothes? Definitely not.

It is important to keep the findings of this study in perspective. There is no question that scent and movement are far more important than the color of your clothing or whether or not it contains UV brighteners.

As far as a deer’s senses are concerned, their daytime and color vision is pretty average. In fact, the actual color of the fabric is relatively unimportant as long as the pattern blends with your surroundings. Therefore, camouflage clothing is still recommended. In contrast, solid unbroken patterns, especially of light colors, are not recommended. Similarly, garments made from vinyl or plastic can alert deer because they reflect light. This works much like the glare from a blued gun barrel. It is not the color of the barrel that alerts the game, but rather the light the barrel reflects.

The best of both worlds would be a product that provides both camouflage for concealment and blaze orange for safety. Such camouflage blaze orange hunting apparel is available and is legal in Oklahoma.

Should hunters be concerned about the UV brightness of their clothes? Perhaps. Keep in mind that this would only be a problem during low-light conditions such as early morning and late evening. However, this is when deer are most active. One option is to stop washing your hunting clothes in laundry products containing “brighteners.” This may prove difficult because most laundry products currently available contain these agents. However, there are products available that eliminate UV light from clothing.

Should you purchase such a product? This is difficult to answer. Hunters have been successfully harvesting deer for hundreds of years without the aid of such products. However, armed with our latest knowledge it remains possible, even likely, that such a product may help. On the other hand, it definitely can’t hurt.

Read more in the November issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.