Blaze Orange Makes Safety Sense

hese hunters, with orange hats and vests, were safe and successful. Photo by author

While it’s natural to assume animals see, hear and have other senses identical to humans, they don’t. Try eating an acorn from a black oak, pin oak or most other oak trees. Acorns are rich in tannins which to humans gives them a powerful, astringent, bitter flavor and they contain a chemical that makes them indigestible. Squirrels, deer and other animals love to feast on acorns and thrive on them. The sense of taste is different in humans and animals.

Dogs and other animals can hear noises far outside the normal range of sounds humans can hear. Dog whistles, sound only like air being blown through a straw to people, but sound like – well, no one really knows since we can’t hear it. It’s probably just a high-pitched tweet. On the other end of the hearing scale are elephants and other species which can hear ultra-low frequencies no human could detect. The sense of hearing is different in humans and animals.
Most outdoorsmen understand these things. It’s just common sense trivia most people learn at one point or another.

So why are hunters in general and deer hunters in particular so baffled by, and somewhat reluctant to wearing, hunter orange garments? The perception about whether or not deer can see hunter (sometimes called blaze) orange is as settled scientifically as dog whistles and realistically as biting acorns.

The fact raw acorns make horrible food for humans didn’t take science to figure out, it only took experience. The fact is most states require hunter orange garments be worn while deer hunting with a gun and since those laws were enacted, most states have recorded record high deer harvests. If blaze orange was as easy for deer to see as it is for humans to see, deer hunter success would suffer, not increase.

Concerns that deer are scared by hunter orange are unfounded. A deer’s vision is based on movement, patterns and color variations. Unlike humans, deer do not have multiple color receptors in their eyes. They can see color, but their spectrum is limited. This means deer must rely heavily on their ability to detect movement instead of the ability to interpret color variations and patterns.

Indiana requires one outer garment (hat, coat or vest) of solid hunter-orange in color be worn and visible at all times when deer hunting with firearms. That is a minimum requirement. A hat and coat is better than a hat only. Hunter orange pants or gloves aren’t required, but they are a great idea.

Mike Schoonveld
Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest. Mike can be reached through his website or visit Mike's Outdoor World Blog at


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