Deer Hunting Myths and Misconceptions

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whitetail deer
Deer are very good at picking up shades, so solid colors are bound to spook them.

Lore handed down from generation-to-generation forms the basis for many a deer hunter’s foundation of knowledge. Often fireside sessions contain great wisdom that can help anyone become a more successful hunter. But some of the notions, passed along as fact, are dead wrong. It can take years of field experience to undo a few sentences of misinformation. Here are several of the most commonly held misconceptions and the science that refutes them.

Deer Cannot See Color

It has become accepted that blaze orange is not nearly as visible to deer as it is to humans. Recent research into a deer’s vision has revealed holes in this old myth. Deer may have the ability to see some colors and are at least very good at distinguishing variations in brightness.

In the deer hunting book “Deer” (Stackpole Books, 1994) conclusions were drawn about vision using conditioned responses. It was shown that captive elk have the ability to distinguish between blaze orange food buckets and those of other colors, including white. Captive red deer were trained to push colored levers of certain colors to release food. In this test it was shown that they were able to distinguish between red, orange, yellow and yellow-green.

Microscopic studies of the eye itself suggest that deer have the necessary receptors to see color. Rod and cones are the two forms of photoreceptors found in the eyes of vertebrates. Cones allow the animal to see color. One test showed that deer have 10,000 cones per square millimeter. For comparison, humans have 20,000 cones per square millimeter.

While scrapping the blaze orange vest is not an option in most states, these findings suggest that it is wise to make very good use of brush and natural vegetations to keep completely out of sight when wearing blaze orange.

Deer can Distinguish Human Urine

hunting over deer scrapes
Hunters used to commit days, even whole seasons to hunting over scrapes like this one. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Life in a treestand would be much simpler if scientists knew for a fact that deer aren’t offended by human urine. According to research biologist with the University of Georgia, all animal urines are very complex. Each sample contains hundreds of chemicals depending upon the physiology and diet of the animal from which it came. He attested that there is a chemical difference between the urine of every animal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that human urine contains anything that will spook a deer any faster than fox or coyote urine.

The biologist felt fairly certain that the largest chemical differences in urine occur when going between herbivores, omnivores and carnivores. As a person eats more meat, there is a likelihood that his urine will increasingly take on some of the chemical properties of a carnivore. But Miller was quick to also add that since we can’t get inside a deer’s head, it is impossible for us to fully understand what the deer is sensing. Just because a chemical difference exists, that doesn’t mean a deer can detect this difference.

 It is very important to understand that human urine does not contain human scent in the way that deer have come to recognize it. In other words, human urine doesn’t smell like a person. To a deer it simply smells like urine, possibly predator urine, but certainly not human urine. Predator urine it itself is not enough to elicit fear. “If deer panicked every time they smelled urine from animals other than deer, they would be running all the time,” Karl Miller pointed out.

There is some indication that human urine may not be perceived a whole lot differently from deer urine. Testing done by a scientist from the University of Austin, showed that there was no statistical difference in the number of times a scrape was hit by bucks when it was freshened regularly with any of three substances: buck urine, doe urine or human urine! In fact, several biologists flatly stated that they routinely urinate in scrapes around their stand locations.

It’s time to get back to the subject at hand. There is only one apparent downside to urinating from your tree stands; it may provoke curiosity. A curious deer can be trouble. If deer hang around your treestands, even if they have no clue whatsoever that you’re clinging to the bark only a few feet above, there is the possibility that they will eventually find you or stumble onto actual human scent on the ground or low vegetation from when you approached your stand.

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