Dress for Safety and for Deer

By Chuck Hawks

Deer hunting is so popular across the U.S. that, in most areas, you are more likely to see another hunter in the field than a buck. It is nice that our sport is so popular. Another comforting fact is that (despite what the anti-gunners would like you to believe) hunting is an extremely safe sport. Hunting is safer than all water sports (including fishing and boating), safer than all sports involving horses, and safer than ball sports. Hunting is safer than golf, for crying out loud.

However, common sense dictates that while hunting we dress in such a way that other hunters do not mistake us for a game animal. Buckskin clothes and a coonskin cap are probably not a good idea, even though they served Davy Crockett well. On the other hand, we do not want to unnecessarily alert the deer to our presence. There in lies the rub. We want to be highly visible to other humans and nearly invisible to deer.

International (blaze) orange is accepted as the most visible color to other people and it is an excellent choice if being seen is the only consideration. Unfortunately, it has a reflectance like nothing in nature, particularly on nylon type fabrics. Therefore, international orange hats and vests stand out in black and white almost as well as they do in color. You can easily verify that for yourself by taking a black and white photograph of a friend wearing, say, a blaze orange cap standing 100 yards away against a background of trees and/or foliage. That cap will really "pop out" in the picture. You will be astounded by how the blaze orange stands out from foliage, even in black and white, because of its high reflectance.

Deer lack full spectrum color vision. They only have blue and green color receptor cells in their eyes. This means that deer see in shades of blue and green / black and white. Red will likely appear as a shade of green to deer. In other words, deer are red/green color blind. Although they cannot see the color orange, the high reflectance of international orange will stand out to the deer just as it does on black and white film.

So, if you don't want to be visible to deer, blaze orange is best avoided. Or, in jurisdictions where it is required, at least kept to the legal minimum and worn in a less conspicuous location than a hat, since the head and hands are what we human beings move most and the parts of us that a deer are most likely to spot. (International orange underwear would be good.)

Fortunately, red is also a traditional deer hunting color. While quite visible to the human eye, red does not stand out to deer. That is because the reflectance of red is about the same as the reflectance of green to anyone or anything that is red/green color blind. Photograph a red apple among green leaves on black and white film and you will see what I mean.

Even better that a large area of red, like a red jacket, is a large area of red broken up by a black pattern. Thus the popularity of red and black plaid hunting clothes.

Red and black plaid is nearly ideal for our purpose. It is easily visible to other hunters, but not to deer, exactly what we are seeking. It is also easy to find in stores and no more expensive than any other color or pattern. Red and black plaid patterns are commonly found on hats, coats, and shirts suitable for deer hunting. (Examples of all three can be found on the Clothing and Outdoor Wear Page.)

Okay, now that we know what to wear, here is a final comment about what not to wear. It should be obvious that we want to avoid camo pattern hats, shirts and coats. Avoid earth tones like green, gray, brown and tan except for pants and gloves. (Camo or brown pants and gloves are fine.)

Avoid white. You might think that white would be good, as it is visible to other hunters. Unfortunately, deer typically have patches of white beneath their chins and on their neck and certain hunters shoot at those white patches. A white collar (a white anything) is an invitation to disaster. Dress smart; dress safe.

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Copyright 2006, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.