I have been watching some bow hunting videos on youtube. When hunting with a bow, the hunter needs to get really close to the animal, sometimes less than 10 meters.

It seems to me implicitly, and some hunters even say explicitly, that the animals (deer/elk/moose/buffalo) only see the hunters when they move. As long as the hunter has reasonably camouflaged clothes and is not smelled by the animal, they can stand in plain sight and the animal does notice them.

Do these game animals (deer/elk/moose/buffalo) really have such poor eyesight?

here are some videos as examples:





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    $\begingroup$ Their eyesight is not poor, it is just adapted to seeing moving predators. It is actually incredibly keen in that respect. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ @MattDMo - if deer have acute eyesight, why don't they notice the hunter then (and the even more conspicuous cameraman). Besides, if deer are only capable of seeing moving predators, would not the predators evolve to take advantage of it ? $\endgroup$ Commented May 23, 2016 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ You are comparing deer to humans, which is a bad idea. Deer (and many other prey animals) evolved this type of eyesight as it protects them from their natural predators. Wolves don't have guns or bows, and so need to move to attack their prey, and deer can detect this type of movement very easily. Humans have not been using projectile weapons for that long, evolutionarily speaking, and deer have not evolved to address this new threat. Camouflage also helps the hunter blend into the surroundings. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 14:47

1 Answer 1


These species likely don't see you as a predator, or if they do they don't know if you've seen them yet.

A study indicated that the vision of the White-tailed deer was good;

As expected for a crepuscularly active prey species, the visual system of white-tailed deer is specialized for sensitivity in low-light conditions and detection of predators.

The observation that many prey species only notice movement may relate to behavioural adaptations that increase their chances against natural predator species. Staying still while monitoring your surrounds decreases the chance of the predator seeing you. I'll quote D'Angelo et al again;

The visual streak of deer in combination with their wide-set eyes likely provides them with enhanced ability to monitor the horizon and to detect movement with a wide field of view while keeping their head stationary.

Visual specialization of an herbivore prey species, the white-tailed deer. G. J. D’Angelo, A. Glasser, M. Wendt, G. A. Williams, D. A. Osborn, G. R. Gallagher, R. J. Warren, K. V. Miller, M. T. Pardue Canadian Journal of Zoology, 2008, 86:735-743, 10.1139/Z08-050


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