How Well Can Deer See In The Dark? Night Vision & Colors

By: Mario

You find yourself deep inside the forest in the dead of night. You look around, what can you see? Probably not a lot, right?

If you give your eyes a minute to adjust, maybe you’ll see the outline of a couple of trees and perhaps a few of your immediate surroundings. If you’re lucky.

Enough to be safe, though? Doubtful. With our weak and feeble eyes, it’s probably a good job that we have the luxury of a warm and cozy home to retreat to during the dark of the night.

Deer don’t quite have that luxury. There’s no comfy bed and warm comforter to wrap themselves up in.

There are no locks to doors to keep them safe from the predators that roam their habitat. So it’s probably quite fortunate that their eyesight is far better than ours.

This heightened sight allows them to navigate through the dense forestry easily and effortlessly.

So, yes, deer can see in the dark! But how? How do their impressive night vision eyes work? What can they see? And how far does their field of vision reach? Let’s find out.

How Do The Eyes Of Deer Work?

For understandable reasons, deers eyes work quite differently from yours and mine. So, let’s strip things back to the basics and take a look at how these incredible creatures’ eyes actually work.

When it comes to eyes, any eyes, there are two main parts that are responsible for your ability to see.

You have rods and cones. The purpose of the cones in your eyes is to see color whereas rods allow you to see light.

You and I have tons of cones in our eyes which is why we can see so many beautiful different colors. What we don’t have all that much of is rods which is why deep in the dark of the forest we can’t see very much.

For deer, it’s pretty much the exact opposite. They don’t have many cones but they do have an abundance of rods.

So while they may not be able to appreciate the stunning color of wildflowers growing in their habitat, they can see a lot more light.

And this means that they can see any approaching figures in the dark. And let’s face it, that’s a lot more useful for them.

What Can Deer See At Night?

Okay, so now that we’ve got the basics down, we know that deer can’t see many colors but they can see lots of light.

But what does that actually mean? What do they see in the hours when the sun has said its goodbyes behind the horizon?

Well, it’ll depend on what light is available for their eyes to see. But basically, if the light is good enough, they’ll see exactly what you or I could see in the light, just with less color.

However, this is where things get a little more advanced, and a whole lot cooler. Deer have an uncanny ability to see motion.

While they do see much better in the dark than humans, deer still don’t have what could be described as the best eyesight.

Let’s put it this way, if we had the vision of deer, we’d probably book a trip to the opticians since it’s pretty blurry. To make up for the blur, deer compensate with a heightened sense of motion.

This ability to clearly detect motion means that they can easily detect predators. And should a deer sense an obvious motion, it’s likely that they’ll set off into a sprint almost immediately.

So essentially, a deer in a dark forest will be able to see a blurrier colorless version of what you and I would see in the daylight, but despite this, they could also immediately hone in on a bird rustling in a nearby bush. Pretty cool, right?

How Far Can Deer See In The Dark?

So, we know that deer can see in the dark, and we’ve also learned about what it is they see. But what about how far that vision of sight expands? Let’s take a closer look. 

If you ask a hunter the answer to this question, you’ll be told all sorts of answers. There are hunters that’ll claim that a deer has spotted them from hundreds upon hundreds of yards away.

Others? They’ll say they must be blind because they got so close undetected that they could reach their hand out and touch them. 

Obviously, both of these answers can’t be true. So which is it? Are their eyes like binoculars or are they as blind as bats? I’d say it’s somewhere in between.

Deer See as far as 100 to 150 Yards Away

Each of these hunters has exaggerated their stories slightly.

Generally speaking, a deer will be able to see as far as 100 to 150 yards away.

Then there is also the matter of light. The more light there is, the further away they can see. So on a bright and light full moon, they could see as far as 200 yards away. 

Really, though, it’s not so much their eyesight but the placement of their eyes that are responsible for their expansive field of vision.

Because they have eyes on either side of their face, unlike you and I, they can see from both directions.

This means that they can typically see around 300 degrees. Pretty impressive in comparison to your ability to see 180 degrees at any one time! 

Final Thoughts

We’ve learned some pretty impressive facts about deers together today, haven’t we? And how amazing are deers? They have the ability to see things that we humans would dream of.

Of course, this stems from an evolutionary process where they have adapted to be able to sense threats that you and I would never really have to worry about. As long as we’re not prone to the nightly deep-forest wander. 

But yes, deer can see during the dead of night. Their vision may not be quite as crystal clear as it is for you and me, and they don’t have the benefit of being able to see all the colors in a rainbow.

But what they do have is the amazing ability to sense motion, detect light, and see a whopping 300 degrees in their field of vision.