Short answer: Yes
Researchers have proven that whitetail deer can see color, including colors in the long wave length range like Orange and Red during the daytime. There are a number of papers on this topic, all refuting the previous assumption that deer can only see in black and white. This paper from the University of Nebraska includes both Physiological Measurements (are their eyes capable of seeing color) as well as studies of captive Deer populations testing specifically for their color vision, which of course they found that Whitetail Deer do see color.
Instead of having three sets of color processing cones in their eyes, Deer only have two. The first is used for Blue / Green, and the second covers the lower wavelength Reds. Their vision in this second set though, is less strong than ours. That means that the hunter orange color, although bright, is not as bright as we see it. Their Blue / Green color detection though, is much stronger than ours, meaning that if you are wearing Bluejeans, it’s almost like wearing hunter orange is to us. The blue jeans will be reflecting blue light (thats how colors work) and the Deer’s eyes are much more sensitive to Blue, so that light will have more of an impact in their vision.
What does that mean for Hunters?
Well, most likely, you are required by law to wear a certain amount of Hunter Orange while you are hunting (at least during firearms season) and you probably don’t want to not wear the Hunter Orange for your own safety. However that does mean that in addition to all the noise, and scent that can be giving you away when you are hunting in the woods, your blaze orange vest is probably also giving you away. I know how easy it is to spot another hunter out in the woods, even as the blaze orange flickers between the trees when the other hunter is hundreds of yards away. Chances are, the deer in your area are also just as aware of your presence.
For me, this year, I’m going to try out a Camo orange patterned vest, hoping that the breakup of the solid orange will help to make me less visible in my tree-stand, or when i’m slow-hunting.
Whitetail Vision Weaknesses
Horizontal vision: Because of the elongated nature of the Deer’s pupil, their eyesight is taylored for viewing 310 degrees horizontally, and for Night vision. However because of this, they are not as well suited for viewing things above them. The Tree-stand provides an opportunity here, where your movement will be less apt to be noticed by them.
Movement: Deer are also better at detecting movement than they are at perceiving things in their environment, because they can’t focus on individual items. Instead their eyes see everything in focus, rather than how our eyes work where we focus on individual items. Their ability to see movement outweighs their abilities to see color.