If you’re a deer hunter who likes to wear blue jeans to your stand, you might as well hang a cowbell around your neck to let whitetails know you’re in the woods. And if you wear camouflage with many subtle colors, it may be doing you more harm than good.
At the recent QDMA conference, researchers from the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources presented findings from a new study on whitetail vision.
Before getting into that work, to understand what deer see and how their vision is different from ours, it’s important to revisit what we learned about vision in high school science class.
Eyes contain specialized nerves called rods and cones. Different photopigments (or photoreceptors) in cones give animals and humans color vision. Rods contain only one type of light-sensitive pigment and allow us to see in low light, such as at dawn and dusk.
Anatomical studies of deer eyes have found that deer have far more rods in their eyes than humans do. Deer also have a reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum that gives deer the “eye shine” you see in nighttime photos. It also reflects light back over the rods and cones again, giving deer the ability to see far better in low light than we can.