-By Everett Headley
The Orange Army has become ubiquitous in hunting culture. Every fall hunters don their required amounts of fluorescent clothing and enter the woods. The color itself has many names: blaze orange, fluorescent orange, hunter’s orange, and hunter orange. It has become the international color for danger and caution, as well as search and rescue. The reason is that nothing else is as bright or as hued as fluorescent orange.
What is required in my state?
"In 1961, Massachusetts became the first state to require the use of hunter orange after a study conducted by Jack Woolner."
Over 500 men and 22,000 “sightings” were analyzed to determine the efficacy and visuality of different colors compared to woodland backdrops. Since then, nearly every state (with seven exceptions at last count) have adopted some requirement of hunter orange. Wyoming requires “one garment” of fluorescent orange while Colorado requires “”500 square inches” on an outer garment with a hat and orange camouflage does not satisfy the law. Citations for not meeting the hunter orange requirement are one of the most common for new hunters and hunters in a new state for the first time. It is always prudent to have a copy of the state hunting regulations with you and make certain you have the legal amount of orange before leaving your truck.
Blaze Orange and Hunter Safety
The efficacy of requiring hunter orange has been questioned almost since its inception. It is difficult to find comparisons between studies since local vegetation, species hunted, tactics used, hunter density vary immensely, even within states. New York found that states that had high rates of hunter shooting incidents still tended to have high rates after passing hunter orange laws. However, these incidents have fallen historically across the country. This could partially be attributed to the requirement of wearing orange afield, but it could also be the increased offering of hunter education classes and the depth of their instruction. New York also found that when there is not a required minimum orange use, sportsmen voluntarily wore orange over 80% of the time.
Wearing orange also depends on the type of hunting.
"Show up to a duck blind with anything other than a camo matching the marsh, and you’ll be promptly escorted back to the lodge."
However, if you are asked to walk a field for upland birds like pheasants, you will absolutely want to make sure you have an orange vest, probably a hat, too. Certainly during a modern firearm season and some muzzleloader seasons orange will be required. A recent attempt to require orange in Colorado during archery season failed and nearly all archery seasons (except those that run concurrent to a firearm season) do not require an article of orange clothing.
Can Animals See Hunters Wearing Orange?
The question that most new hunters ask is, “Can deer see me?” The answer is found in how ungulates (deer, elk, antelope, moose) view color. Deer are red-green colorblind, having more rods and less cones and lending their vision to focus on motion. Your figure shows up more as a grainy, gray blob than an HD movie. Movement is almost solely what will cause a deer alarm, not the color of your clothes (with the exception of blue which they can very clearly see). This means that slow, steady movements are key to preventing detection.
The impact of blaze orange on hunting success is difficult to determine. Most hunters would point to other elements of their craft that failed them on a stalk or taking a shot than to their orange vests. Blaze orange is worn during firearm seasons (and a few short range weapon seasons) which introduces a higher level of safety needed. Shots taken with rifles are hundreds of yards from the animal and mistakes can happen when trying to distinguish something that has been designed to blend into its surroundings. An orange vest instantly registers to the brain that the hunter needs to not pull the trigger.
What about Pink? Green?
"A recent trend has been the inclusion of blaze pink as an alternate color to hunter orange."
Introduced first by Michigan, the response has been pretty muted. Giving hunters, mainly women, a different color to wear afield that was still brightly visible was partly an attempt to help recruit new hunters. A national study on the efficacy or preference of bright pink has yet to be completed on its use, but thus far no negative effects have been found. Hunters have largely stayed with the traditional orange. One hunter, a woman who hunts primarily solo, was concerned that it could make her a target. Arkansas also allows “safety green” to be used as an alternative.
Whatever color or gear you choose to wear orange, it's clear it is a sound safety decision. It can quite literally save your life by preventing an accident, while having virtually no negative impact on your hunting. Even when you have the choice to go sans blaze orange, slip on a hat anyway. You can focus on the hunt knowing deer won’t see you, but other hunters will.
About the Author: Everett Headley is an outdoor writer and educator. He was raised hunting and fishing in Montana. He lives in the Bitterroot with his Chesapeake Bay retriever, Cane, and his peregrine falcon, Freyja. You can find more of his work at www.406.life and on Instagram @everettheadley.