The marvel of deer vision

Posted on: June 3, 2016 | Bob Frye | Comments

Blog--Deer vision 2Is that deer you’re watching able to see you? Chances are greater than not the answer is yes.

It’s a gag that’s been used in everything from Scooby Doo cartoons to Three Stooges shorts to campy horror flicks.

Someone walks by a portrait on the wall. As they do, the eyes in the painting follow them.

Creepy, right?

Well, if you’re a deer hunter, you experience the exact same thing more than you might expect.

Hunters have learned a lot about deer vision over time. Science tells us they see better at night than human predators, and are really good at picking out movement.

Some research published last fall offers more insight.

According to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, deer can see 300 degrees at any one time. By comparison, humans have a 180-degree field of vision.

That means deer can – if not see not directly what’s behind them – come pretty darn close.
Here’s what’s really interesting, though.

The eyes of deer – like those in sheep and horses – can operate independent of each other. While one’s looking one way, the other is looking elsewhere, all while both staying horizontal to the ground.

“If you imagine a line coming out of the center of the animal’s eye, the eye is spinning around that line,” Banks said in an article by the Quality Deer Management Association, which first published the results.

“So when an animal pitches its head down, the left eye has to rotate clockwise and the right eye has to rotate counterclockwise. We think we can see each eye rotating about 50 degrees. One is going 50 degrees and the other is going minus 50 degrees, so the difference is about 100 degrees. It’s a pretty remarkable ability.”

Called cyclovergence, that ability allows a deer to maintain its 300-degree field of vision no matter the position of its head, be it up in the air or down close to the ground, she added. Its pupils stay horizontal to the ground no matter whether its head is pointed up, level or pointed down.

A video explaining cyclovergence can be found here.

What’s it all mean for the hunter?

If a deer is looking at you, it’s got you in its sights. The same may be true if it turns its head.

You’ve got to be sure to remain still until you’re sure the whitetail appears relaxed. Otherwise, you’re busted.

Blog--Deer vision

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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Bob Frye is a storyteller with a passion for all things outdoors. He hunts, he fishes, he hikes, he camps, he paddles, backpacks and snowshoes depending on the season. If he’s not an expert at anything, it’s because he’s passionate to try a little bit of everything.