Proper camouflage is a crucial contributor to a deer hunter’s success. However, due to safety regulations, hunters are often required to wear orange safety gear.
This is done to alert other people of their whereabouts and prevent any untoward accidents at the hands of other hunters.
Despite sporting the shocking orange color, deer still seem to have trouble placing hunters, because of their inability to see orange.
Can Deer See The Color Orange?
Deer have trouble seeing orange in addition to other colors with long wavelengths, such as red. This is primarily due to their dichromatic vision. In humans, this condition would be characterized as essentially red-green colorblind.
This condition of the deer means they often confuse orange, red, and similar hues for shades of green or gray.
Thankfully, it is also this condition that is ultimately why the bright orange gear of hunters often slips undetected by these prey.
Why Can’t Deer See The Color Orange?
Colors with longer wavelengths such as orange and red cannot be detected by deer eyes mainly because of the lack of cone cells — the photoreceptors in the eyes responsible for the detection of color.
It can also be attributed to this animal’s large dependence on rod cells — the photoreceptors responsible for low-light vision.
Lack of Photoreceptor for Color Orange
Orange and red aren’t distinguishable by the deer due to the limited amount of cone cells present in their eyes. These cone cells are photoreceptors in the eyes responsible for the detection of color.
The cone cells, simply referred to as cones, react to light in different wavelengths. Each wavelength is then visualized as a different color.
Visible colors from the longest to the shortest wavelength follow the order of the typical rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.
Humans possess all three types of cone cells: red, green, and blue. As a result, they have the ability to see a greater variety of colors.
However, deer only possess two kinds of cones: green and blue, which allow them to see colors of short to middle wavelength with no problem.
These would be colors with a wavelength of 590 nanometers to 380 nanometers (and possibly below).
On the other hand, the lack of the red cone renders them unable to see the colors red and orange because of their longer wavelengths. This condition is often referred to as protanopia.
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Greater Number of Rod Cells
Deer tend to be active during the twilight hours when little light is available. In fact, the most abundant source of light during this time is blue light and other light of short wavelengths.
As a result, deer have evolved to see the light of short wavelengths better thus reducing sensitivity towards long wavelength light like orange.
One such adaptation is the increased number and scattered orientation of their eye’s rod cells or cells that are responsible for vision in dark settings as opposed to cone cells.
While this is great for detecting movement, it doesn’t fare well for color detection as rod cells hold no function in color perception. Instead, all images seen through rod cells are interpreted as gray and dull.
This cell is largely why humans tend to see in shades of gray or black and white when placed in dark settings such as nighttime or power outages.
What Colors Do Deer See In Place of Orange?
There are many theories and studies that dictate what colors deer see when faced with the color orange. Some examples of these are green, yellow, brown, and gray.
Green is often the color deer see when faced with colors that possess even longer wavelengths, such as orange and red.
This is attributed to its middle wavelengths of around 490 to 570 nanometers, making it one of the colors with the longest wavelengths that deer can perceive.
However, since it is one of the colors with middle wavelengths, it was initially thought of as one color that deer cannot see.
Earlier research suggested that because deer had a limited scope of light wavelengths and color, these animals viewed green, yellow, orange, and red as gray.
Recent studies have long disproved this theory and have now established that deer have green cones. This gives them the ability to detect middle wavelength colors green and yellow. Just not as well as humans can.
Yellow and Brown
In addition to green, yellow is also among the colors the deer sees when looking at red or orange objects. Still, they only have limited sensitivity towards this color as this is near the edge of the deer’s scope of visible light.
Yellow and similar colors such as tan, brown, and the like are said to be the color with the longest wavelength visible to the deer’s eyes. These colors have wavelengths of around 570 to 590 nanometers.
Orange has a wavelength of around 590 to 600 nanometers. Because it has a wavelength that is too high to be detected by deer eyes, some sources have stated deer see it as a gray or dull white.
Grey, unlike other colors, does not have its own wavelength. Instead, it is interpreted as white, the expression of more than one if not all wavelengths around the range of 400 to 700 nanometers, in dull form.
This can also be attributed to the fact that rod cell photoreceptors greatly outnumber cone cells. Images viewed through rod cells usually come out gray as this cell cannot detect color.
In addition to all of this, some sources say that they perceive red and orange as different colors entirely unknown to humans.
Deer cannot perceive the color orange because their eyes do not have photoreceptors that detect colors of this wavelength. So, hunters don’t have to worry about giving away their location with mandatory blaze orange hunting gear.
In truth, the use of the color orange mixed in with camouflage print is an excellent choice of color when hunting deer for two reasons: it alerts other hunters and officers of your whereabouts and allows you to slip undetected by your prey.