Blaze Orange: Answering the Question of What Deer Can and Cannot See

With plenty of hunter blaze orange regulations, each hunting season an age-old question always seems to surface: Can deer see the bright safety orange color? For the answer, look no further than Dr. James Kroll, known far and wide as 'North American Whitetail's' Dr. Deer

Blaze Orange: Answering the Question of What Deer Can and Cannot See
Blaze orange hunting-clothing requirements aren't in place to hinder deer harvest success; they are there to help keep you safe and prevent tragedies. (Lynn Burkhead photo)

It’s a topic that gets almost endless debate and discussion from deer hunters, the subject of how and what deer see, particularly when it comes to the bright hues of florescent orange.

Known as blaze orange, hunter orange and safety orange, regulations across the U.S. vary from the strong suggestion that hunters wear blaze orange (Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont according to the International Hunter Education Association website) to actual laws on the books that legally require the use of hunter orange while in the field.

In the rest of the states across the U.S., some sort of legal requirement exists for wearing blaze orange when out hunting. In general, those regulations require some sort of use of the safety orange color for big game and/or deer hunting (keep in mind that in many states, spring turkey hunters and waterfowl hunters are often the exception to a state’s blaze orange rule).

As you might expect, the amount of blaze orange worn varies from state to state with some locations requiring as little as 144 square inches and others requiring as much as 500 square inches. In a few states, certain clothing articles – headcover, top and bottom – are required and there are even color standards for brightness and visibility.


In other places, like Texas and New Mexico for instance, the requirement for using blaze orange is tied to certain locations according to IHEA.


Down in the Lone Star State, hunters and those accompanying hunters are required to wear a minimum of 144 square inches of hunter orange on both the chest and back, plus a cap or hat if they are hunting on National Forest and/or National Grassland locations.

Over in New Mexico, anyone hunting on the White Sands Missile Range is required to wear at least 244 square inches of blaze orange. On the state’s Fort Bliss / McGregor military reservations, a blaze orange hat and hunting vest are required.

Editor’s Note: For a complete listing of hunter orange requirements in all 50 U.S. states and in the various Canadian provinces, visit the IHEA website at www.ihea.com/hunting-and-shooting/requirements/hunter-orange-requirements

At the end of the day, there seems to be little doubt the use of hunter blaze orange helps to save the lives of hunters out in the field by making them much more visible to the human eye.


But don’t take my word for it. Instead, take Dr. Deer’s word for it, the authoritative voice of Dr. James Kroll,

You probably know Kroll as a well-liked member of Sportsman Channel’s North American Whitetail television program crew, specifically the man who hosts Dr. Deer’s Whitetail World segment.

In addition to his hunting and educational segments on the show, Kroll also has been a longtime writer and columnist for the North American Whitetail magazine itself, a publication headed for many years by Editor-in-chief Gordon Whittington.


But to get to the point where Dr. Deer (www.drdeer.com) is a virtual household name in the whitetail hunting industry, Kroll has earned plenty of sheepskins to go on the wall, rising to the top of the wildlife management world in a number of education circles.

After gaining Bachelor of Science, Master of Science and doctoral degrees from Baylor University and Texas A&M University respectively, Kroll has served as a professor of wildlife management at Stephen F. Austin State University since the early 1980s.

Today, Kroll continues at SFA in the role of professor emeritus for forest wildlife management along with being the director of the Institute for White-tailed Deer Management and Research among other things.

What’s the bottom line here? That given his amazing amount of editorial talent and his voluminous education on all things concerning the white-tailed deer, if Dr. Deer opines on a subject concerning hunters, then you can most likely take his answer to the proverbial bank.

This includes his answer concerning the question of whether or not deer actually see blaze orange worn by a hunter, and if so, whether they are affected by the sight of the bright orange color.

Looking over work and videos Dr. Deer has done in the past, here’s what he has to say on the subject matter.

“No one can argue against the fact that blaze orange has saved a lot of lives over the years in hunting,” Kroll said in a NAW video segment on the topic.

After that opening statement, Kroll turns to the question of whether or not deer can see blaze orange.

“Well, what we know about deer vision is this: Deer basically are red-green color blind,” he said. “They basically can see blue. They also see ultraviolet.”

To help viewers gain an understanding of what he is speaking of, Kroll dons a blaze orange jacket in the segment. The video is then manipulated to help hunters gain an understanding of what deer are actually seeing out in the woods.

“Deer can’t see orange but I’m still very obvious because this is a plain solid pattern,” said Kroll in the NAW video. “So if you wear blaze orange and you want to not be seen by deer, you need to wear a coat or a vest that has a camouflage pattern to it, a dark pattern that breaks up this blaze orange.

“If you do that, I guarantee that the deer are not going to pay attention to blaze orange.”

Editor’s Note: Keep in mind the use of blaze orange camouflage jackets, vests, garments and hats is not allowed everywhere. See specific state and provincial regulations for full legal requirements and details.

The bottom line for Dr. Deer on this subject matter seems to be there really isn’t much solid reasoning for a hunter to be concerned about deer and the use of hunter blaze orange clothing and accessories.

“I would never tell someone not to wear blaze orange because it will save your life,” said Kroll. “But if you’re going to wear blaze orange and it is required where you hunt, then [where legal] use a camo pattern blended with blaze orange.”

As Kroll likes to say in closing out his NAW video segments, this is his world, the one he lives in, works in and has been educated in over the years.

And when Dr. Deer opines on a topic relating to deer hunting – like what deer actually see when it comes to the color blaze orange – you can generally take his answer straight to the bank.

No matter what your hunting buddy says around the deer camp campfire.

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