I was walking the clothing aisles at Denver’s Bass Pro Shops. I was relaxed, unwinding after giving a seminar about public-land turkey hunting. I had a good crowd. The seminar went well. Heck, even my video performed without a glitch. I wasn’t really looking at the apparel as much as I was reflecting on my stage time. That all changed when I overheard a conversation between what seemed to be a veteran bowhunter and his newbie partner.
“Just pick one, man,” said the self-proclaimed veteran to the rookie. “I’ve told you a hundred times that the pattern doesn’t make one bit of difference. To kill deer with a bow — from east to west from north to south — the type of camouflage pattern you cover yourself in doesn’t matter.”
At first I wanted to yell two one-syllable words. The first was “bull” and I’ll let you take an educated guess as to the second. But then I thought to myself, “Does this man have a point?” In the years B.C. (Before Camo), throngs of bowhunters killed deer wearing red-and-black-checkered flannel shirts.
Personally, I’m a camo nut and do my darndest to blend into my surroundings, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the man was right. My brain was abuzz with activity, and the three-hour drive to my home flew by. The minute I walked in the door, I locked myself in my office and went into research mode. Here’s what I discovered:
It’s agreed upon by many of the top whitetail researchers in the country that deer have two types of cone cells in their eyes and function with two-color vision (humans function with three). It is also widely agreed that deer can sense mostly blue and some yellow hues; everything in between these two hues appears to them in terms of luminosity. Deer lack the “red” cone, or the one sensitive to long wavelength colors such as red or orange.
Dr. Bradley Cohen, a wildlife biologist working at the University of Georgia’s Deer Lab, noted that studies prove that deer see blue almost 20 times better than humans. Studies done by the lab also show that it’s blue and UVs that are most prevalent at sunrise and sunset — a big reason why deer see so well during these periods of low light.
In a recent study, Cohen trained does to associate light wavelengths with a food reward. The does were given a choice of two food troughs, both void of any actual groceries, but would receive a food reward when they chose to eat from the food bunk where an LED light stimulus was illuminated. After a period of training, the does were tested on six different light wavelengths at various intensities to determine what colors of light they could actually see.
The results: Deer see blue colors the best and red colors the worst. Cohen and his colleagues also discovered deer can see shades of green, yellow and UV light. Compared to humans, deer have greater amounts of rod cells (more effective in low-light conditions). Additional rod cells mean more image data being transmitted to the brain.
Deer also have larger eyes and pupils. The pupil of a deer can dilate from 3 mm to 12 mm. In comparison, humans can dilate an average of 7 mm and a maximum of 8 mm. The more a pupil dilates, the brighter an image will be due to the amount of light filtering into the eye.
What’s this all mean for you? How can you take your spin on the importance of camo and mix it with science? I took my research and blended it with my own experiences in the woods. Heed these suggestions and stay “blended” in 2015.
When the foliage is every color of green imaginable and not a bush or shrub is showcasing the color-changing effects of fall, opt for, well, a green pattern. Yes, it has been proven that deer see shades of green, but everything in the woods is green. Remember, the goal is to blend in. Sit in a tree or on the ground in a “too dark” pattern consisting of deep browns, blacks, greens and grays, and you’ll no doubt appear to the deer as a dark, shouldn’t-be-there blob. You will get that side-to-side head bob that deer do as they dilate their pupils to better identify the danger.
I’ve had great early-season concealment success with Mossy Oak’s Obsession — a standard green turkey pattern that boasts a digitally enhanced lighter background, more green elements and carefully selected spring tones. Realtree’s Xtra Green is also a great choice. The pattern combines leaves, colors, open areas and extreme contrast in a multidirectional design that blends well with green landscapes.
As the barometer begins to drop and north winds peel leaves off the trees, your early-season green duds gotta go. Why? No, not because green patterns hold some mysterious blue and yellow fabrics that will now stand out to the deer, but rather because you will now stand out as “too bright” to the eye of a deer. Unless you’re perched in an evergreen tree, nothing in the woods is green anymore. In addition, because the trees are being stripped of their spring and summer dresses, you run a greater risk of silhouetting yourself, especially during periods of low light when the rod cells in the eye of a deer allow them to see at a heightened level. You don’t want to appear as a blob in a tree, but rather part of the tree itself.
Top fall patterns include: Sitka’s new Elevated II pattern, Mossy Oak Treestand and Realtree’s Xtra camo.
The good news: You can save some greenbacks and use your fall pattern right through the late season — unless, of course, it snows. A fresh snow mixed with a peekaboo sun makes very, very bright. Recent research indicates that deer see very well after a snow, and if you want to blend into your surroundings avoid wearing solid, unbroken patterns. According to research, cloaking yourself in all white won’t do the job. Rather, opt for a broken pattern like Realtree’s Snow AP or Sitka’s Open Country.
- How you go about the camo game is your business, but it’s my hope that this combination of science and in-the-field advice will boost your 2015 success. In conclusion, here are a few more tips to keep in mind:
- The University of Georgia’s Dr. Karl Miller says, “More than anything, a deer’s eyes are designed to detect movement.” Follow the Golden Rule of hunting and stay still, even when hunting from an elevated positon.
- Deer see everything in equal focus, and it’s across 310 degrees of their head. Deer are focused on survival and don’t miss much.
- Camouflage clothing should never be washed in laundry detergents containing UV brightening agents. Brightening agents absorb light in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum. Always read the label before purchasing.