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Can Deer See Red Light? Will Flashlight Spook Deer?

If you are hunting deer at night you know you need some sort of a light. But, which color? Thoughts and preferences on this are all over the place. I guess we should start at what deer can see. Can deer see red light?

If you were not hunting we would prefer white light but it easily messes up your own night vision and it can easily spook deer. The deer will definitely see the white light since it illuminates things just like the sun and will show all of the colors.

Can Deer See Red Light? Quick Answer: The most recent research into deer vision shows that deer can see most colors including red. But, they are mostly color blind so they react to the intensity of the light and red is seen by them as the lowest intensity color which is the same as our eyes but we can distinguish the color.

What about green light can they see it? Check out our article Can Deer See Green Light?

Now that we answered if deer can see red led flashlights at night check out our top hunting light choices for great light options, most of them are RGB (red-green-blue) so you can use them for lots of different things. Check this one you specifically want a headlamp for hunting.

Since deer usually have color blindness most hunters use different colors of light to get closer to game than they would be able to do with white light. Research also shows that deer react a lot to blue light also so stick with green light to yellow light to orange light to red light color spectrum. And this holds for all types of deer like mule deer, whitetail deer, blacktail deer, elk, reindeer, etc.

Nonetheless, hunters have noticed that different kinds of colors tend to elicit mixed reactions in various types of animals.

Before you go nighttime hunting, it is necessary to understand how the game you are after reacts to different kinds of lighting. Understanding this allows you to choose a light color that will give you the highest chances of success. This is also why blaze orange is a color of choice for many hunters.

Each animal is different we will also cover others including predators, hogs, and anything else you might be hunting.

In hunting circles, there is a never-ending debate on the best color of light to use when hunting deer. Red is one of the most discussed colors in this debate. So, is red light good for hunting? Does red light scare deer?

This article will explore available scientific research on this topic to answer that question.

What is Vision?

Before finding out what studies are saying about deer’s sense of sight and how they percieve red light, it is essential to understand how vision works first.

Vision is when wavelengths enter the eye through the pupil and hit specifically designed cells in the back of the eye. These special cells interpret the wavelengths as different things and send signals to the brain. So it makes sense that if the cells in the back of the eyes are different then vision will be percieved differently.

This means that objects do not have any color. They simply reflect the light of a specific wavelength, which is what the brain perceives as color. Because of this white light can be seen by most everything since white light contains all of the different colors of light in it. So the last thing you would want to use if you were trying to be stealth would be one of these super bright lights on our highest lumen list.

Color, therefore, consists of light reflecting along a spectrum ranging from ultraviolet on the short end to infrared light on the long end of the spectrum. Humans are only capable of seeing some colors within this spectrum. For example, we cannot see any color from either end of the spectrum like UV light, x-ray, or infrared.

Next, let us try to understand the general makeup of the eye. In mammals, the primary structures responsible for absorbing light into the eye are rods and cones, which are light-sensitive cells. They located in the retina, at the back of the eye. Rods work in the near absence or total absence of light. They only allow for black and white vision. 

Cones, on the other hand, function in full light conditions, which is why we use them for daytime and color vision. The reason humans can see a wide variety of colors is due to the three types of specialized photoreceptor cells (cone photopigments) in our eyes.

One photopigment is receptive to short wavelengths of light (blue range), another is receptive to middle wavelength light (green range), while the other is receptive long wavelengths of light (red range). This trichromatic or three-color vision is the most advanced type of color vision among mammals.

The Differences between a Human’s Eye and a Deer’s Eye

Studies done on deer eye show that they have a higher concentration of rods than humans do, but a lower concentration of cones. As mentioned, rods facilitate night vision while cones facilitate daytime vision.

This means that deer have a superior nighttime vision to us but cannot see as well as we do during the day. Additionally, deer’s pupils can open up to three times as wide as ours can. This feature allows them to gather much more light into their retina during low light conditions, which further enhances their nighttime vision.

Deer also have a reflective layer at the back of their eye known as a tapetum lucidum, which causes their eyes to ‘shine’ at night. This reflective layer acts as a mirror, reflecting any light that has not been absorbed by receptor cells so that it has a second chance of getting absorbed. Deer can use the same light twice while we only get to use it once.

What Science Says about Deer and Red Light

In August 1992, the University of Georgia assembled a group of vision scientists and leading deer researchers to determine what colors deer can see. The study made use of a highly sophisticated computer system that could interpret the electrical responses made by the eye and translate them into a ‘scientific guess’ of what deer are capable of seeing.

Findings from this study show us that deer only have 2 of the cells that distinguish color and the one that they are missing is the one that covers long light wavelengths, the red section of light. So deer will be less able to distinguish red than any of the other colors. They will still notice that something is different but red will be the lowest intensity even with that.

Just like some humans, are red green colorblind. They see green or red as a shade of grey. However, deer can perceive blue light. As a result, they can distinguish blue from red light, but not red and green.

Should You Use Red Light When Hunting Deer?

If the findings from this study are anything to go by, then it would appear as though red light is one of the best colors to pick when hunting. This is because deer are practically blind to red light.

However, remember that deer to recognize intensity of the things around them and can notice movement really well. So they will still see something with light on it compared to something that does not have light on it and notice if it is moving.

You could also use green light since deer see red and green as almost the same but they will see the green light as more intense just like you do. Check out our article on hunting with red light.

However, the biggest challenge to deer hunting is not the color of your hunting lights; instead, it is movement. Deer can detect the slightest of movements in their vicinity, thanks to having eyes at the side of their heads, which allows them a wide field of view. This will also move onto camo patterns since as we said before vision is just light reflecting off of a surface.

Final Statement

Can deer see red light? Yes, they can sense there is an intensity of light but they can not tell the difference between other colors.

Therefore, consider using it the next time you go deer hunting at night. More importantly, be slow and deliberate in your movements so as not to spook your prey. Good luck on your hunt and enjoy the outdoors this season whether you are doing archery or using a gun.

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