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Holy Grail of Hunting?

Hunter's have been searching for it since the beginning of time - the one discovery, piece of knowledge, that if applied or exploited would break through the Whitetail's defenses and allow hunters complete conquest and victory. Not there, right? Well in this week's blog I am sharing an excerpt from my article in the September 2016 issue of North American Whitetail, which discusses this idea, my thoughts on it, and what it means for your hunting success.

I couldn’t believe it! There they were, just 35 yards away, and I hadn’t even seen them. More astonishingly, they hadn’t seen me! I had walked through the woods right toward them and set up my climber, climbed 25 feet up the side of a tall oak, and setup my equipment all within plain view of two does who sat 35 yards away just chewing their cud. Were they blind? What could explain this strange behavior, when normally they would have been off like a bullet at the sight of a human? It was then that it hit me, and then hit me again. The wet conditions and slight wind of that Ohio afternoon had made my entrance completely silent, bypassing their ears, and by doing this I had somehow, unbelievably, bypassed their keen eyes. This was huge!


There’s an abundance of products available for hunters, and differing views about which sense is most important to whitetail deer. Debate aside, if we can fool their eyes, ears, and nose we turn the table on this ghost of the woods, and become one ourselves. This sounds easy, but even novice hunters know getting past all three of a whitetail’s key defenses is at best tough, and many times pretty much impossible. Finding the chink in a whitetail’s armor has been the quest of generations of wise hunters, and still hunters are at a distinct disadvantage every time they set foot in the woods. However, science is now showing us that it’s how a whitetail’s senses are linked, and two senses in particular, that could be the long sought achilles heel of the whitetail deer, and the holy grail of hunters.


First, we need to realize that a whitetail is at its best, and has an almost unfair advantage, when it can fully use all three of its main defenses. When they can see everything around them, have the wind in their favor, and have crisp clean air that allows them to hear every little noise in their environment there is little that fools them. These senses work in tandem, in unison, sending all data to be analyzed to their brain like the control panel of a jumbo jet. When all the data is coming in, the many senses, or sensors, are corroborating what is going on outside giving a very clear picture of present conditions and dangers. However, when one, or more, of those senses (sensors on a jet) are knocked out, there is much less information to verify what is going on. It’s like flying blind, at night, in a big Midwest thunderstorm. When deer can’t cross reference another sense, the information is less clear, and that’s when it can get difficult to know what’s going on around them. That’s when it’s dangerous, that’s when mistakes happen, that’s when a whitetail is vulnerable. Science is now showing that one key sense is a trigger for another sense to check for danger. If it is not tripped, the animal doesn’t know to use the other to even check. Hence, achilles heel. Hence, big advantage for hunters! Those two key senses, as I found out that day in Ohio, are sight and hearing.


The camouflage connoisseurs out there (we know them by their full wardrobe of the latest camouflage attire, and their contempt for anyone who would dare mix and match different camo patterns or brands) might be aghast to hear this, but sight is actually the least valuable sense to whitetail. Here are some vital stats on sight that lay the groundwork for understanding the vital link to hearing, and the great advantage that can be taken by hunters who understand it.

According to numerous studies conducted at the University of Georgia’s Deer Lab, we know whitetail:

  • see everything in equal focus, with a wide 310 degree field of view.

  • have sight that is rather blurry and not very detailed.

  • use sight to determine moving objects vs. non-moving objects primarily.

  • see high frequency light the best, in fact 20 times better (blue, UV, and gray wavelengths)

So with these things being known from science, here’s the main takeaways for hunters about a whitetail’s sight. Since whitetail’s can’t see detail, this means many of us have been duped. Call it the “great camo caper” or the “camo fleecing,” in essence it means just having some form of camo is fine, as deer cannot detect the nuances of our detailed HD camo. The reality is that until now (and maybe even still) most camo was made and marketed to human eyes, not a whitetails. Patterns were made with little to no understanding of how a deer actually sees. So in reality deer do not care if your camo is matching, it doesn’t need to be the latest pattern, it’s more about just adequately breaking up your form. Also, whitetail eyes are wired to be drawn to movement. Think about how hard it is to see a deer in the woods when it isn’t moving. It’s the same for them trying to see us. Their eyes work best in low light, and best see wavelengths at the high end of our visible spectrum. So to fool a whitetail’s eyes just don’t move, break up your form, and stay away from blues and grays which to a whitetail’s eyes glow like a nuclear test facility!

A vital discovery about sight that has been foolishly overlooked, and (to my knowledge) never publicized to hunters until now, is that this eyesight is primarily used as what I call a confirmation sense. This means whitetail typically only use their eyes to scrutinize effectively after a cue from another sense (typically hearing) to scan and confirm sources of sounds and potential threats. This is not true 100% of the time, as sight can act alone, but a large majority of the time this is how it works.

This fall I was scouting a property at midday, and took a shortcut back to my truck through a cutover hay field. There was no cover, I was only wearing half camo (my top half), and am 6 foot 3 inches tall. So I really stood out in the middle the field. As I crested a rise, I noticed a young buck in the field about 80 yards away. I froze. I watched him for ten minutes, and all the while he kept working toward me. I know he saw my form, but I didn’t move. He kept coming. I was downwind (bypassing his nose), not making noise (bypassing his ears), so he had no trigger to cue his eyes to scan for danger. At about 40 yards I started moving toward him. Immediately he jumped and tore off to the safety of nearby brush. His confirmation sense was not triggered until I did something drastic to trip it which put an alarm off in his brain. That’s the reality with a whitetail’s sight most the time, it’s a trigger, not a the main sense used to detect us. It’s not very useful unless accompanied by another key sense. (END PART 1: CHECK OUT NEXT WEEK'S BLOG FOR EXCERPT #2 ~ADAM)

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