What Does the Deer See?

Posted on June 24, 2014



Dog goes woof, cat goes meow.

Bird goes tweet, and mouse goes squeak.

Cow goes moo. Frog goes croak, and the elephant goes toot.

Ducks say quack and fish go blub, and the seal goes OW OW OW.

But there’s one sound that no one knows…



 ~ Ducks say quack ~ 











                                                                                                                    ~ Seals go OW OW OW ~

Playing off the popular viral hit, The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?) by the Norwegian Ylvis, I inquire, what does the deer see?


Wolf prowls close, cougar perches aloft.

Turkey struts its stuff, and squirrel sits and puffs.

Moose goes slow. Elk goes fast, and sheep just vanish.

Bunnies wiggle nose while owls swoop, and the bear of the woods continues to poop.

But there’s a sight that not many know…

What Does The Deer See?


Monocular Vision

A white-tailed deer possesses five basic senses, all of which are utilized for self-preservation. In terms of defensive importance, a deer’s sight would be secondary, with smell being primary and hearing being least important. Their soft brown eyes are strategically located on the sides of the head providing an estimated 310˚ field-of-view.

It seems important for the hunter to disappear from a deer’s sight, or at least feel like he/she has eluded a whitetail’s vision, thus the constant and continual search for just the right camo pattern. But is this hunt in vain?  We are blitzed with advertisements for hunter set-ups, their clothing promising absolute concealment when used in the prescribed locations. And you know what? These ads are accurate when it comes to what humans see, but not what a deer sees.




After his conclusive study of a whitetail’s visual acuity, Dr. James Kroll wrote,

Most of the large radius of vision in deer is monocular. Therefore, most of the sensory input from their eyes is two dimensional, similar to us looking at a photograph. Relative distances of an object in the foreground to another object in the background is indistinct. There is no depth of field. However, monocular vision is well-suited to detect movement, which usually is by another creature.

Deer can see in binocular vision (3-dimensional) in an arc of about 50˚ in front of their face. Alarmed deer commonly will move their head as far as they can from one side to another while facing the object of interest. This is believed to enhance the dimensional nature of the object in relation to its surroundings. Being able to judge distances makes daily activities such as recognizing potential predators, feeding and avoiding objects possible.”


The Wonderful World of Color


I can still remember watching Disney on Sunday evenings as a boy. The opening would begin in black & white of the magic kingdom. Then, Tinkerbell would wave her wand dropping pixie dust that turned everything on the screen into a wonderful carousel of color; “wonderful, wonderful color” as the lyrics went. Well, there is no pixie dust or magic wand that needs to be waved by a fictitious fairy for deer to see color; they have always had this ability.




For years, a whitetail’s ability to see color has been debated, at least relative to the way humans do. It had long been my belief, unsubstantiated as it was, that God would not have created such a magnificent animal as the whitetail and not provided it with color vision. In 1993 noted deer biologists Dr. Larry Marchinton and Dr. Karl Miller from the University of Georgia conducted research that accurately defined the range of color vision in whitetails. Their findings were: (1) deer should be relatively less sensitive to long wavelength lights than many other mammals (e.g., humans), and (2) white-tailed deer would be expected to have dichromatic color vision.




What does that mean in layman’s terms? Deer, like humans, have two types of photoreceptors: rods and cones. The difference is that they have far more rods than cones, which is responsible for their great vision in low light conditions. Due to the fact that a deer’s eye has no yellow pigment covering the central region of the retina and far less cones, their ability to see in a broad wavelength of color with visual acuity is seriously compromised. They see or are sensitive to violet, blue and some green on the color spectrum, but when it comes to green and shades of red it doesn’t register. Traffic lights would pose quite a problem for a whitetail. Deer have two cones in limited concentration. These give them limited dichromatic color vision similar to a human with protanopia; red-green color blindness. Deer perceive blues and yellows, but are unable to distinguish green, yellow, orange, red, tan, brown, and gray from different shades and intensities of yellow. In simple terms, deer see their world during daylight hours as shades of yellows, except for blue.

According to vision scientist Dr. Jay Neitz’s interpretation of the study:

Human sensitivity is highest in the green-yellow region of the spectrum and for equal intensities; these wavelengths are perceived as brightest. Humans are relatively insensitive throughout the short-wavelengths (blue and violet). Sensitivity also drops off rapidly in the very long wavelengths; we are relatively insensitive to deep reds. Humans can distinguish four basic colors; blue, green, yellow and red. We also distinguish dozens of intermediate colors, e.g., violet, blue-green, yellow-green, orange etc. Humans can make subtle color discriminations across the visible spectrum.



The region of highest sensitivity for the deer is at a shorter wavelength than that of humans. The relative sensitivity of deer to short-wavelength light is dramatically higher than human sensitivity to those wavelengths…Because of the absence of red cones, the drop off in sensitivity at the long-wavelength end of the spectrum occurs at shorter wavelengths for deer. They are less sensitive in the spectral region that appears orange to humans and are virtually insensitive to deep reds.”

Kroll and his associates now believe the colors red, orange, green and brown are seen essentially as yellow by deer.


Will We Ever Know


The secret of the fox

Ancient mystery

Somewhere deep in the woods

I know you’re hiding

What is your sound? Will we ever know? Will always be a mystery, what do you say?


It would seem that the secret of what a deer sees is not necessarily in our attire, unless that wardrobe consists of the color blue. And the real secret in defeating his eyes lays mainly in our movements, or better yet, lack thereof. Miller is quick to reiterate,

Again, their (deer) priority is detecting movement as far away as possible. It’s not even important for deer to see things in fine detail. When you see all these fine detailed camo prints with leaves and twigs, that’s not important to deer. You’d probably do just as well with a blurred camo.”



Or perhaps, none at all.



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Posted in: Whitetail Deer