How does a whitetail’s eyeballs compare to their other senses?
Success and failure in the world of whitetail hunting many times comes down to ninja like stealth. Those that are consistently successful on the most wary game animal have learned to pay close attention to little details that make all the difference. Our last two blogs looked at the other two senses whitetail use to bust hunters, smell and hearing, and how minimizing both of these is vital to a hunter’s success. If you have not, you can view our regimens to help with being scent free and sound free HERE: No Scent Regimen, and No Sound Regimen. In this discussion we will consider sight, the third leg of the stool holding up a whitetail’s defenses, and how important it really is. So let’s look at the science according to numerous studies conducted at the University of Georgia’s Deer Lab, as well as weak points that hunters can use to their advantage.
Science Fact #1: Whitetail deer have horizontal eye slits. This allows them to see everything in equal focus, with a wide 300 degree field of view. A 60 degree or so cone behind them is all they cannot see, but their eye shape enables them to see things along a wide line of horizon equally well without moving their eye or head. A humans eye is very different. We focus on certain objects, making those around them blurry (why it’s so hard to run through the woods without hitting or tripping over things). Deer do not have to track objects as they move because of this, and are very well adept at detecting movement, and seeing on many things at once in a wide angle. This horizontal slit, however, makes them very vulnerable to attacks from above, where they cannot see well without moving their head.
Hunter Takeaway: By getting up in the air a bit, as we know, hunters can effectively get out of their line of sight where even movement is not detected by the whitetail’s keen eyes. Treestands, saddles, and elevated blinds can pretty much negate this advantage of deer.
Science Fact #2: Deer can see 18X better than humans in low light. Due to the size of their horizontal pupil being 3X larger than a humans, this mathematically allows 9 times the light to enter their eye and access their retina (remember the inverse square law in physics class? By doubling the size, you quadruple ( 22 = 4) and by tripling you get 9X (32 = 9)). This makes them able to move and see well in low light and at night, when they choose to move most due to predation. On top of this, the reflective tapetum of their eye passes this light past the rods and cones a second time, doubling this to achieve 18X the vision capability of humans.
Hunter Takeaway: Again, just get up in the air and don’t move!
Science Fact #3: Deer only see 2 main colors. Not black and white, but not 3 like humans (we see red, green, and blue). Lacking the red end of the spectrum, deer see reds as grays, but see blues especially bright (20X greater than humans) and even see into the UV frequency which is above blue. Also, they see white very well, making camo patterns with whites and grays very suspect in my opinion (check your camo - many modern patterns incorporate a lot of white and gray).
Hunter Takeaway: The only color frequencies you really need to worry about are whites, grays, blue, and UV. Since we cannot see UV wavelengths, but many are added to fabric softeners, make sure you use those without UV brighteners. Carefully consider whether you want hunting camo colors and patterns with a lot of whites and light gray before you buy them. After all, a whitetail has a white tail for a reason.
Science Fact #4: Deer eyes do not focus very clearly. The purpose of a whitetails vision is to see clearly enough but over a very wide horizon so to stay wary of predators. So, they see a lot and motion very well, but do not see details well. If we were able to see through deer eyes, scientists think it would look a bit hazy to us, blurry, and we would not be able to focus on fine details like print or patterns.
Hunter Takeaway: Since whitetail 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.
Science Fact #5: The Hearing - Vision link. A vital discovery about sight that has been foolishly overlooked, and (to my knowledge) never publicised to hunters until an article I wrote for North American Whitetail in 2017, 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 - the trigger sense) 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.
Hunter Takeaway: Be extra cautious about any sound you make when coming, going, during hunting, and when setting stands. These noises travel far, and are the trigger for them to engage their eyeballs for further scrutiny. Once this happens, it’s usually over. However, on the flipside, by being ultra quiet you can effectively deactivate their eyes, even getting away with movements while deer are looking right at you, since you did not activate the trigger sense of hearing.
Conclusion: It appears the whitetail’s sense of sight is the least helpful of the 3 (sight, smell, hearing), and one that hunters can get away most with. Is expensive camouflage, or a strict regimen necessary? The science would suggest not, and common sense strategies of somehow breaking up your form with a variety of methods, and not moving, is enough to get past this sense. Hunter’s should be much more concerned with eluding the whitetail’s sense of hearing, and smell when hitting the woods.
LIKE THIS ARTICLE? TRY THESE!
NO SOUND REGIMENT - KEY TO HUNTING STEALTH
NO SCENT REGIMENT - KEY TO HUNTING STEALTH