Can You See Me Now? Measuring the Color Range and UV Brightness in Camouflage

Avid hunters understand that concealing one’s sound, smell, and appearance are all important traits of a good hunter. Camouflage is designed to help a hunter blend in with the surroundings. However, many camouflage materials fall into a color range that is non-visible to humans, yet appear clearly to deer and other wildlife. This area of color falls into the UV (ultra-violet) range and helps animals detect objects with little light.

Much of the clothing that we purchase utilizes UV brighteners in their fabrics to create a strong color appearance and many laundry detergents also contain these brighteners to help maintain the color quality of fabric. For a hunter, it is important that your camouflage gear and detergent does not contain these brightening agents so that you can remain undetectable to your prey. Spectrophotometers can be used to measure color range from the visible spectrum and into the UV region, helping manufacturers guarantee the effectiveness of their hunting products.

camouflage tile color range
Camouflage is specifically designed to conceal the hunter from the prey. However, it takes more than blending in with the surroundings. Clothing and detergent for hunters must be developed with the visual perception on the animal in mind first.
Image Source: Flickr user Simon Strandgaard

 A difference in visual discrimination

The human eye has substantially more color range-sensing cones than a deer and is designed to filter out UV light from the sun. This allows humans to see with more accuracy and detail than a deer when light is present. Although a deer’s eye is less sensitive to color range changes and cannot see fine details, it can detect color in the UV region, a color range which is completely invisible to the human eye. Therefore, the new camouflage pants you just purchased may seem like a perfect match the forest foliage, but thanks to UV enhancers, it is perfectly visible to the very animals from which you are trying to conceal yourself.

How do we know for sure what a deer actually sees? Many scientists have conducted numerous experiments to compare the rod and cone similarities and differences of deer and humans eyes, and have inferred that deer do in fact see color, but that their color range is significantly different from ours. Deer tend to show color-blindness toward reddish hues while bluish tones tend to stand out, and color that was in the UV spectrum was also clearly visible to these animals. The video below shows a study in which deer were trained to associate various wavelengths of light with a food reward. This experiment helped to confirm the color range that deer can identify most clearly.

Using science in clothing and detergent manufacturing

These studies confirm that certain colors are more identifiable to deer and will alert them to human presence. Using this scientific-based information, product developers are able to design their camouflage gear to provide the best performance results. Using UV spectrophotometric technology, hunting gear can be carefully designed to conceal the color range that deer respond to the most. Even when developing safety gear, such as “hunter orange,” it is important to use color measurement instrumentation to carefully evaluate the presence of UV reflective materials that may cause excess brightness.

The reflective value in clothing plays a significant role in visibility when it comes to deer and other wildlife. As Brian Murphy of Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) explains, “the ultra-violet radiance of clothing can ‘give it away’ in a deer’s eye, even if color does not. It’s too simplistic to say that wearing orange will not impact your hunting success.” Murphy goes on to clarify that, “there is color, [and] then there is the UV radiance off that color, no matter what the color. [A] deer’s ability to see well in the short-wavelength ‘blue’ light of night also enables deer to ‘pick out’ ultra-violet emissions from hunters’ clothing. Similarly, a highly reflective material such as a slick raincoat is likely obvious to a deer’s eyes, regardless of color.” Although, “bright sunlight, for instance, overwhelms UV reflection, making it appear visually neutral, [we need to remember] that most hunter-deer encounters happen when deer are most active — at dusk and dawn — so precautions against UV radiance are probably warranted by serious hunters.”

mule deer color range
The peak of UV color visibility occurs at dawn and dusk, when animals are most active.
Image Source: Flickr user USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Spectrophotometers provide an easy tool for measuring and monitoring the color range of both clothing and detergents. It is normal for many detergents to contain UV enhancers to help brighten the appearance of clothing and keep it looking new, so every time you wash, they deposit these additives on your clothing. However, for detergents specifically designed for hunting apparel, it is important that the surfactants are UV-free. Color technology allows manufacturers to confidently make those allegations and back up their claims.

Spectrophotometric technology

Spectrophotometers offer the latest technology in color range evaluation and quantification. This advanced instrumentation is surprisingly easy and simple to use and is available in a range of sizes for in-line product inspection or portable color monitoring. Spectral technology is also adaptable to the various mediums that require color range technology and measurement. From solid, opaque, and textured material such as fabrics and clothing, to translucent, liquid samples such as detergents which require a significantly different method of evaluation, spectrophotometers are designed to handle nearly any sample material. At HunterLab, we specialize in color measurement within the UV/VIS range and our instrumentation is design specifically to measure the variations in samples. For more information on color range measurement or spectrophotometric technology, please contact HunterLab today.

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