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Do You Feel Elk Can See Color?



Messages posted to thread:
ElkNut1 05-Jul-08
squirrel 05-Jul-08
Kurve 05-Jul-08
fishmagician 05-Jul-08
Cactusjumper 05-Jul-08
>>>---WW----> 05-Jul-08
Adventurewriter 05-Jul-08
Yendor 05-Jul-08
Elk Crazy 05-Jul-08
bowfreak 05-Jul-08
heartshotathome 05-Jul-08
ElkNut1 06-Jul-08
overbo 06-Jul-08
Deertick 06-Jul-08
ElkNut1 06-Jul-08
Paul @ the Fort 06-Jul-08
320bull 06-Jul-08
Deertick 06-Jul-08
MuleyFreak 06-Jul-08
bowriter 07-Jul-08
Paul @ the Fort 07-Jul-08
bowriter 07-Jul-08
ElkNut1 07-Jul-08
bowriter 07-Jul-08
Yendor 08-Jul-08
swede 08-Jul-08
No Bark 08-Jul-08
nukedog 08-Jul-08
flybyjohn 10-Jul-08
bowriter 10-Jul-08
elkfulr 10-Jul-08

3d range with my daughter.
by Michigan Hunter

Time at the wallow
by Lone Bugle

Four Young Bulls at Treestand Wallow
by CO_Bowhunter

Destroying the Myth
by shb

Put Your Video Clip Here!

From: ElkNut1 Date: 05-Jul-08

ElkNut1's Supporting Link

Interesting thought to say the least when you stop & consider various comments over time about hunters experiences regarding it! I've done quite a bit of research on this matter & the best conclusion I've come up with including my own findings is Elk are very very limited in what they can recognize & distinguish as far as any real color is concerned! All so called experts in this area conclude as well that elk & deer cannot see any real color, they conclude that forms or shadows of grays or some blues may be the only thing that elk can distinguish. They are unsure about those as well, but if there were any color at all that was different to them those were it?

That being said, how about MT Decoys??? How about the hunter who says he's attracted an elks attention with a brown burlap sack or brown coat of some sort? You hear comments as this now & then, can it really happen? My conclusions say the odds aren't good that they can. Elk can see a form of a representation such as an elk or other animal & make an identity that way for sure or false quick movements can get their attention quickly, but colors, well, is the jury still out on that one? (grin)

Too, I've been in countless encounters with elk wearing various patterns & colors of camo & many times with no camo & if I don't move I've had elk within 10yds many times & not be recognized till I did move or the arrow went flying. So I don't feel colors are their strong points!! (grin)

How about you?


From: squirrel Date: 05-Jul-08
Hey elknut, I read a great article where a captive herd was fed out of multiple food containers whose only difference was color. Their favorite food- I forget what it was was placed in the same color bowl. When the bowls were shuffled they went straight to their favorite even when the wind was wrong for their snoot to detect it.

I've had enough close encounters under full camo vs. orange to have no doubt they see orange- although they usually wait for a secondary stimulus to spook- i.e. movement or smell to confirm their eyes. Deer are either more visually challenged or just dumber, maybe a combination of the two. A couple yrs ago I had the rare priviledge to hunt Wy w/ a bow under winter conditions- 16-20" of snow and donning my goose hunting snow camo was able to have them stare right thru me from 20-40 yards and they seemed to have no ability to pick me out even with small amts of movement. Possibly because of all the wet heavy snow that was constantly falling off the branches masked any white on white movement. It would be fun to do more research on the matter- not because I enjoyed it but only for science's sake- maybe could get a grant- couple million would cover expenses.

From: Kurve Date: 05-Jul-08
In my experience, I think they see and hear everything in September. The other non-hunting months, I've about had to run them over at times while on a Mountain Bike to get their attention. :)

Seriously, the jury is still out as far as I'm concerned. I would wager they can make some color distinction but what that is, I don't have a clue.

I know most close encounters I have with elk are when I am on my knees (praying :)). I often wonder if they are looking over me or through me?

From: fishmagician Date: 05-Jul-08
On several occassions I've walked up on elk bedded in the trees,a nd had them only stand to look in my direction and wonder what was up. We can fool their eyes and ears, but their nose - can't do that..

From: Cactusjumper Date: 05-Jul-08
Great question, keep 'em coming!

I have worn many shades of camo (even some home-made) and there is little difference in an elk's reaction to any of them. I have also worn plaid shirts of different colors (red, green, blue, or black) on top of levis with no indication on the elk's part. Anything that has broken shades of color blends in with the surroundings. I have never had any reason to wear camo orange before, so, I can't speak to that...

Now, when I encounter elk while wearing a white t-shirt and a straw cowboy hat, they pick me up real quick! And, of course, out in the open cienegas the human form is the give-away.

I have been hidden in thick cover and busted elk 100 yards across an open cienega with my scent. Other times, I have been inside an elk herd with no alarm, because there was no wind. Once, my buddy called three bulls in to us from different directions in open timber. We were trapped for 3-4 minutes standing out in the open, with a small 5x5 about eight yards in front of us, yet they still kept coming. Standing still, we blended in...when we moved, they left!

My conclusion? Shape, movement and smell are the big give-aways to elk, not color.

Good luck,


From: >>>---WW----> Date: 05-Jul-08
Without getting into the rods and cones in the eye thing, lets just say they can only see in black and white. OK, if you watch a black and white movie or TV, you still are able to see things pretty darn well. Right? You see things in black,white, and several verious shades of gray.

I think the same goes with elk. They may not be able to see color as we see it. But, brown or red or what ever is still a distinct color to them even if it may be in different shades of white, black, or gray.

Hope this makes a little sence. LOL!

From: Adventurewriter Date: 05-Jul-08
I don't know but here is a different angle. I wonder if they see in different sheens...Like if you see a guy a mile away with a new floursent jacket on its like he glows. Or if you see an elk pariculary with some direct light on them they almost at times have a certian sheen on them and stand out more than that thier surroundings...does that make sense???? Or maybe they see like a really old faded color photo....just throwing out food for thought. Or it might be just like and old black and white TV show or blues or half greys.

I have had similar experinces to those above. But what we know about animals....or what scientist thought they knew about animals changes all the time...the way they it all works for them

From: Yendor Date: 05-Jul-08
Actuall, Elk and Deer can see more colors than just black and white. They have two cones, where humans have three. So they are basically Red and Green color blind. Much like my hunting buddy (hell to track blood signs with). So they also see blues, but cannot tell between reds orange and greens. They also do not have a UV filter like humans, so they see much better in the UV specturm. They also have a much larger pupil, which allows them to see in low light situations. Lastly they have many more rods than we do, which again lets them see much better in low light situations. So deer and elk would should be able to pick out your blue jeans much better thatn balze orange camo.

From: Elk Crazy Date: 05-Jul-08
I had some cabelas arrows a few years ago with, an almost flourescent yellow and orange fletch. They deffinately, garnered more attention from deer, elk and caribou. I don't know if it was the sheen or what but they readily picked them out. I have some kill shots of caribou that as the light faded more and more the arrow stood out more and more. Ever look at the fletching on Chuck Adams arrows? All RED, so I switched to all red fletch too and it seems to help.I don't have to use a fletching cover any more. -> -> -> Elk Crazy

From: bowfreak Date: 05-Jul-08
Alright fellas heres one for you ,I have a good friend that has always been color blind he sees everything in blacknwhite, and shades of various grayes. It is absolutely amazing just how well he can animals/ people in the woods. something about the varying shades of gray, that certain colors mixed with light produce that he says makes the deer/elk,and other game stand out fairly well.We've been on elk,and deer hunts together where he's seen the animals well before I have,and I by far am no slouch.So think about that if a human with color blindness can see that good/ how about those fine tuned eyes.

From: heartshotathome Date: 05-Jul-08
I dont think it is a matter of color. It is a matter of "break up" in other word, If a guy were to go out in an all brown suit he would be picked out before a guy with pattern on his suit.

From: ElkNut1 Date: 06-Jul-08

ElkNut1's Supporting Link

Lots of thoughts there for sure!! (grin)

Squirrel, I read that same article as well, their conclusion was still up in the air as why the elk went to certain bowls, but they did! I never go on just one thing when coming to an answer so to speak. Everything must fit together in all aspects trying to figure out what they do see & don't see or able to identify?

So maybe I can re-phrase my thoughts in this way? I see there are many thoughts & ideas as to camo or the blob look. Too, can elk pick out the human figure standing or kneeling, identify it as a threat & bolt off as if you saw an intruder in your home & you re-acted quickly to it? Do elk see orange or any color & immediately bolt from it? From my experience elk cannot see colors to the extent they are alarmed at its sight & run, no matter what the color is. We've been in blue,red,black,greens,tans,browns & many solid colors of various shades with no recognition of flight on the elks part. We've never worn just a white T-Shirt! This tells us though that basic colors hunters use is irrelevant. We've personally worn lots of different combinations. My son used to wear a solid green heavy army type shirt with no camo or breakup, he just like the shirt, he took at least 6 bulls with that shirt on which most were all very close encounters. I too have been in similar situations over the years where elk were no more than 5' to 10yds out & never picked me or us out & bolted, sure they stare in your direction to try & figure out if you're a threat or not but never has there been a solid identification & be gone, in most every case they would settle down & continue feeding or whatever they were doing, if I moved then they were outa there.

That's the point though, color meant nothing as well as the human figure no matter the position. Elk have not run at the sight of certain colors or shapes from us. Not saying they don't see certain shades of this & that but I am saying they are not alarmed what so ever if you do not move. The blob effect doesn't concern them either, there are plenty of rocks, stumps, tree trunks & so forth that look the same to them.

So why do some say elk are alarmed at certain things & others say they are not alarmed at the same things? It's because someone moved in my opinion on the basis of my experience & findings! We've taken at least a doz elk inside 10yds, in most cases there were 2 hunters together, several times we've been caught out in the open with absolutely nothing around & have elk walk to within yds from us, we'd get a look but that's about it. As long as you have the wind in your favor you can pull off the unexpected!! I'm sure many here have the same findings as us!!


From: overbo Date: 06-Jul-08
I think it has more to do w/ reflective light.Some colors and materials reflect light more than others.A camo PVC poncho will have a certian amount of sheen that reflects light more when compared to wool w/ the same pattern. Also,I beleive elk/deer see outline in a much greater detail than we can ever imagine.Background then becomes the concern to help break this outline. For me,color I don't know we'll ever beable to say for sure.

From: Deertick Date: 06-Jul-08
Yendor is on it ... the answer is in anatomy, not anecdotes. If they've got the parts, they've got 'em for a reason.

That said, I think overbo has a great point ... reflectivity. There's more to sight than color. There's intensity, and then there is the interpretation, i.e. "that doesn't belong here," which is the main tool of any prey animal, whether they see color or not.

Personally, I don't know. They wind me long before they see me!

From: ElkNut1 Date: 06-Jul-08

ElkNut1's Supporting Link

It isn't that elk don't see outlines & shapes, it's the fact that ours does not alarm them. Background is not needed as well, I've proven this countless times under many different conditions & encounters. I assure you elk will not run because you're sitting, kneeling, or standing in an opening or next to a small bush or sapling. They may notice something but as long as the wind holds up & you do not move they will continue on with their business.

I'm not referring to you moving or walking & you come upon them & then you stop or freeze, that's too late you are busted!!! I'm talking about elk either walking by on their own or you've called them to your position, don't move or get winded & they will not ever notice you to the point that they run off, I absolutely guarantee it!!!


From: Paul @ the Fort Date: 06-Jul-08
Yendor, it is my understand that elk or any of the deer family, have no cones, not even the two you stated. Most animals don't. Most animals have only rods, the more numerous kinds of light seeing nerves, cones, as in our eyes.

As other, yes, black and white "color" and all of the shades in between.

I quote from an article, " It would be more accurate to say that elk/deer don't see color as we do. They somehow see it as we do in black and white photographs.

I agree about the movement issue.

From: 320bull Date: 06-Jul-08
Dont forget your eyes. I think they are one of the hardest to hide inside of 20 yards. I would almost say they can feel your stare. 320

From: Deertick Date: 06-Jul-08
Like I said, if they got the parts, they got the function ... ("function follows form" was too easy much to the point.)

I don't know if they've got cones or not, but someone does, and without them, they can't see color. With them, they can. End of story.

Color, though, is a small part of what we/they see. I'd bet (speculation alert) that color really doesn't matter. I'd also bet that anyone's anecdote about being seen/not seen by an elk would be very unclear as to just what the elk "saw" ... color, reflection, shape, movement, eyes, who knows? Better yet, who can tell?

From: MuleyFreak Date: 06-Jul-08
I agree with cactusjumper. Smell, movement, reflection and shape are the big ones. Of corse a solid color gives away shape more than a mixed pattern. Talked to a Oregon Elk hunter last year who said he could get real close to elk in a red and black flanel shirt. These guys that think animals can see orange, my question to them is were they wearing straight orange, or did their orange have some break up to it?

From: bowriter Date: 07-Jul-08
Of course they can see color. They just don't see it the same way we do.

Well, maybe blue...they may see blue the same way.

From: Paul @ the Fort Date: 07-Jul-08
bowwriter, is that the blue in the sky? Blue jeans? Or the "blue" after we just missed a close shot? I usually see red when that happens.

From: bowriter Date: 07-Jul-08
Paul, I have no idea. But from the volumes of research I have seen, it appears that members of the deer family, for the most part, actually see the color blue as blue. Most, if not all other colors are various shades of light and dark.

Now if we examine wildlife colorization, keeping two things in mind, it becomes a tad more understandable. #1-The animals who use protective colorization to either hunt or hide are all basically three colors. Those colors being tan, brown, black and white. White being an absence of color, not a color. So the animals they are hiding from or stalking have trouble seeing those colors clearly.

Now. On the other hand, #2-the animals that do see true colors often are more brightly colored. A turkey being a perfect example. Birds are especially brightly colored and most often the male more so than female because color is often an attractor during mating.

Now to examine further, we might hypothesize that because we humans do see in full color, we do not recognize the protective colorization of amy animals. The reason obviously being, we see those colors differently than the animals see it.

Class over, quiz next week :)

From: ElkNut1 Date: 07-Jul-08

ElkNut1's Supporting Link

bowriter, as always your info is appreciated & enjoyable to read & consider! I too have done a bit of research & have read everything I can, mostly googled stuff, but there's a bit of info out there for sure! There's much discrepancy amongst the so called experts. I've read about the blues, grays, bright color stuff & there's nothing concrete about what elk actually see or don't see well ???

I also have to enter into the equation our personal experiences along with what I'm reading. My personal opinion is they don't see much of anything to the extent of alarming them. Kinda like you turn a corner in a shaded alley way & there's a guy there pointing a gun at you, you have that immediate fright & just want outa there. I've not found there's any color or human figure where Elk display such a reaction? In other words they show no fear unless that object moves, if it's camoed or not, standing or kneeling doesn't matter. I was curious as to others experiences without getting scientific! (grin) Most scientists aren't hunters, I trust mine & yours findings over a book!


From: bowriter Date: 07-Jul-08
ElkNut-You are dead on. Color, in terms of the animal spectrum, is not high on the list camoflage secrets.

What we found (we being some guys with lots of letters after their names and dumb ass me)is that some colors blend with any background, some stand out. Now this is in terms of animal reaction. But the defining factor was movement.

Some colors, when moved, elicited a quicker repsonse than others. Surprisingly, the two "hot" colors were blue and grey.

Then, when they did spectrographic analysis, the muted tones of tan, brown and surprisingly, black, gave back the least tonal bounce. Now what does that mean?

I have no idea. Where legal, I wear a camo pattern that is the same colors as the animals I hunt. I have nothing more to add. Except this:

Ever watched a TV show where the hunter is in full camo and guide, standing right to him, has on blaze orange hat and vest.

I know for a certain fact, you can go stark raving crazy trying to understand all this BS and find the right camo and the right scent etc. etc.. The rest of us are going to go hunt.

From: Yendor Date: 08-Jul-08

Yendor's Supporting Link

Paul @ the Fort Yes deer and elk have two classes of cones. The first one contains a photopigment maximally sensitive in the middle wavelengths which is the green and yellows. The other cone class has a sensitivity peak in the short wavelengths, which is the blue and violet colors. They do not have the cone for long wavelengths which is wher the red and oranges come from.

From: swede Date: 08-Jul-08
I certainly believe elk can see some color and recognize shapes. I have had mixed results with decoys, but the elk recognize them. My decoys don't move. The deer and elk react almost immediately when they see the decoy. Some are freightened by it, while others will walk up and sniff them over several times. Often it is funny to watch. I don't know for certain, about the color part. It could be shades and patterns they recognize, but what Bowriter and Yendor say makes sense. I have had many of the experiences Paul has written about too. Go figure.

From: No Bark Date: 08-Jul-08
So bowriter, does that mean my predator grey camo is really a flag to the elk?

another reason to go buy more camo I guess.

From: nukedog Date: 08-Jul-08
I disagree on greys. I have found in the field, that greys added to a camo pattern have been the most effective for me. It is my number one choice. I have used it in many different terrains throughout the western states. I have too many different camo patterns and use them all, but when I want to get "real close" I choose grey, whether it be turkey, deer, elk, etc. So what does this mean, I guess like everything else we pick for our equipment, "each to his own". I do agree that any wrong movement and it is "game over time" I have read stories/research on blue colors also, but use to hunt in blue jeans without any problems, hmmmm?

From: flybyjohn Date: 10-Jul-08
I layed down in front of some feeding cows in the middle of summer and one of the cows headed my direction came within 10ft of me before becoming alert. She looked for about a minute then started chewing again and feed right by me, until another cow got down wind and ran off. The cow near me became alert again and just walked away in the direction of the spooked cow. I was looking directly at the cow that fed near me and my eyes didn't mean much to her, she was waiting for some movement and after a minute of no movement she went about her buisness.

The fact here is that she did pick out my shape or color laying on the ground with my head propped up on my arm. I did not move a muscle. I was wearing blue jeans and a solid shirt of a color I do not remember.

From: bowriter Date: 10-Jul-08
Grey Guys...and Gals... I have no idea. I don't know jack. I just reported what the study showed. I know, in closely examining grey wildlife (deer, coyotes etc,) they all have some under-layer that is usually tan or brown.

But I don't know jack about colorization, I'm just guessing.

From: elkfulr Date: 10-Jul-08
There seems to be a lot of documentation regarding ungulates seeing in shades of grey. What about UV effects from detergents, etc. causing a brightening of ones favorite camo?

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Subject: RE: Do You Feel Elk Can See Color?

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