Camouflage clothing and hunting must be synonymous because I don’t think you can purchase hunting clothes that don’t have some type of pattern of concealment on them.
Some hunters are so fussy about the pattern, that only one particular pattern will suffice, and then everything in the ensemble must match, lest you look improper.
After all the costs, both time and money, to get a fully matching camouflage hunting outfit, from the boots to the backpack, we then put a blaze orange vest and hat over the top of it all, in order to comply with the law.
Bow hunters, of course, are excluded, so they can feel smug in their matching outfit. We do all of this so we can be invisible to the deer, elk, and other game species; or are we?
There are three different types of color blindness. Most common is the red-green color blindness, followed by the blue-yellow color blindness. The rarest is the complete color blindness, where the subject sees the world in black and white, much like the old television programs and movies I watched when I was a kid.
Color blindness is when the eye is unable to distinguish different wavelengths of light (colors). The eye senses light through two types of cells located in the rear of the eye in the retina.
These two cell types are called rods and cones. Rods are for low-light situations, like nighttime, and cones are for bright light situations and for distinguishing different colors.
Deer, for example, are not completely color blind. I have sat still, in a wide-open space while wearing a blaze orange vest, and had a mule deer walk right past me, within a few feet. He never noticed me, and I assumed he was either color blind or had his mind on something else, causing him to daydream. Lucky for him he was a small buck.
We as humans, have three types of cones in our eye that allows us to see red, green and blue. Deer, on the other hand only have two cones. Having one less cone, deer are unable to distinguish between green and red, but they can see blue very well. If you want to be stealthy around deer, leave the blue jeans at home.
Having only the two cones, the blaze orange vest appears as a neutral gray to the deer. If color were the only visual clue with no movement, the gray might blend in well with the natural backgrounds, which explains why the deer I encountered never saw me.
Pronghorn, deer, elk, sheep, goats and pigs all share the same deficiency in seeing colors. They are unable to see purple, red, pink, or orange. The inability to see orange and pink are why the game departments around the country adopted those colors for safety vests.
Before you start feeling sorry for those poor color blind game animals, know that their eyes, while lacking a cone, are packed full of rod cells that allow them to see very well in low light, and even near black dark conditions. They sacrifice broad color vision, in exchange for acute sight at night, dusk and dawn.
Humans have a filter in their eye that protects the eye from ultra-violet light and helps us to see objects in fine detail. Deer, elk, and the other big game animals do not have such a filter. They do have the ability to see the wavelength blue, especially during low light conditions, and it enables them to pick out the ultra-violet emissions from a hunter’s clothing. Similarly, a reflective material, like a raincoat, is obvious to their eyes regardless of the color.
Dogs are considered to be color blind because they can’t see certain colors. Dogs can’t tell the difference between red, orange or green as they appear more yellow or blue to them. The only colors a dog can see are yellow, blue and violet. Cats can distinguish between blues and greens but can’t see anything red.
Generally, birds see colors very well. The brighter colored the bird is, the less likely it’s color blind. For example, a parrot’s eyesight is his most acute sense. He will see all the colors that humans see, but with a much greater vividness and a starker differentiation between similar colors. Parrots can see colors in the ultra-violet spectrum that humans cannot, very similar to a human using a black light in a dark room.
Nocturnal birds, such as owls, are the only type of birds that are color blind. They have a reflector in the back of the retina that reflects light. Since owls generally sleep all day, and only become active at night, I doubt being color blind is much of a handicap.
Most fish species are not color blind, as they have vision fairly comparable to that of humans. The amount of color a fish can see depends on how much light is available. Some colors, under various light conditions, are more easily seen, which makes color a critical factor for some fish.
The rods and cones in a trout’s retina are arranged in such a way that color is perceived first and light after. During the night, the position of the rods and cones change, and light is perceived first, meaning that trout respond to light and not color, and darkness approaches.
This means that during low light conditions, dawn, dusk, and nighttime, or when the waters are muddy, black may be the best color lures to fish with.
Understanding the color perception of animals helps us hunters, fisher persons, and game watchers. It’s a good thing we don’t have to wear blaze blue safety vest when we hunt deer and elk. I have enough trouble finding them.
Mark Rackay is a columnist for the Montrose Daily Press, Delta County Independent, and several other newspapers, as well as a feature writer for several saltwater fishing magazines. He is an avid hunter and world class saltwater angler, who travels around the world in search of adventure and serves as a director and public information officer for the Montrose County Sheriff’s Posse. For information about the posse call 970-252-4033 (leave a message) or email email@example.com