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Deer Colorblind to Orange, But If You Glow...

Deer Colorblind to Orange, But If You Glow...

Another fall hunting season is winding down, and while the sport continues to be very safe, there have been some accidental shootings that could have been prevented.  Not all of those who were involved in the shooting accidents were wearing the proper amount of sometimes-required and always-recommended hunter orange.

kid in hunter orange 150.gifIf hunters think they are reducing the likelihood that deer will see them by forgoing orange safety hats and vests, they are mistaken.  What deer can and cannot see is surprising.

“Deer are somewhat colorblind,” said Cory Morea, deer management program coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). 

"During the day, deer see colors in what we could consider blue to yellow-green,” added Elina Garrison, a biologist with the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.  “Some believe they are completely red-green colorblind, like some humans,” she said.

Wearing orange is a good practice when afield during any hunting season.

“Not properly identifying your target and what is beyond, is the leading cause of hunting fatalities,” according to the FWC’s “2007-08 Florida Hunting Incident Report.”

Although animal vision is often much better than human sight, distinguishing colors in daylight is not a strong point for the white-tailed deer, although detecting UV light is.

Drs. R. Larry Marchinton and Karl V. Miller of the University of Georgia studied what white-tailed deer see in daylight.  Scientists from California and Wisconsin also participated in the 1993 study.

The study showed that white-tailed deer have two classes of cone photoreceptors; humans have three.  Deer have dichromatic (two-color) vision; humans have trichromatic vision.  So what deer don’t see are the oranges and reds that stand out so well to people.  These facts have been echoed by others:

“Idaho law does not require the wearing of hunter orange but it is highly recommended,” according to that state’s hunter-education information.  “It is a color not found in nature, and most game animals cannot see the bright fluorescent color, since they are colorblind.”

{sidebar id=1}The International Hunter Education Association advises, “Wearing highly visible hunter or ‘blaze’ orange clothing makes it much easier for other hunters to see you and increases your safety while hunting.  That’s why the majority of states and provinces recommend or require hunter orange clothing for most kinds of hunting activities.”

Here is the rule in Florida:  “It is unlawful to hunt deer or to accompany another person hunting deer on public lands unless each person is wearing a minimum of 500 square inches of daylight-fluorescent orange material as an outer garment… above the waistline.”

The reasoning is sound, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.  In its report titled “Hunting-associated injuries and wearing ‘hunter’ orange clothing,” the CDC noted that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the N.Y. Department of Health analyzed hunting-associated injuries from 1989 to 1995.  “The findings indicate that most injured hunters in two-party incidents were not wearing hunter orange.”

One caveat: Some hunters are colorblind too and may not detect the orange clothing.  The FWC says, “Colorblind hunters must use extra caution. They may have trouble identifying game and recognizing hunter-fluorescent orange.

“Good vision is the foundation for good shooting and hunting safety. Have your eyes examined on a regular basis.”

A second caveat: A deer’s keen vision includes detecting UV light, according to manufacturers of hunter clothing.  Some cite studies indicating that deer can detect clothing made or washed with UV brighteners.  If so, hunters not only should wear orange; they should be careful what else they wear in the woods to be more effective.  According to “How Game Animals See and Smell,” a book by Kurt von Besser of Atsko/Sno-Seal Inc., most camouflage clothes and laundry detergents contain UV brighteners, which deer can detect.  He says that hunters can avoid brighteners by choosing camouflage outfits that are manufactured free of brighteners and by washing them only with a laundry detergent free of UV brighteners.


This article originally published on February 23, 2009.

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