Morning’s first gray light had disappeared hours ago as the warming sun hung overhead. Yucca and sagebrush dotted the withered yellow buffalo grass that blanketed the broken country surrounding me. Junipers and cedars filled the draws of the canyon that stretched out in front of me. Energetic mule deer raced about, zipping up and down the surrounding hills, partaking in that most magical time of a hunter’s year; the rut. Not only had I failed to connect on a buck with my bow yet, but with rifle season fast approaching I would lose access to the ranchland I hunt. Determined to seal the deal, I made up my mind that today would be the day, and with so many deer in front of me the odds appeared to be in my favor.
My eyes caught movement on the crest of the canyon in front of me. Soon a nice mule deer buck broke the horizon line and sauntered into view. He was moving left to right down the canyon side, and, with good wind and cover, I knew the buck was unaware of my presence. Once he dipped into a small ravine I rose from my hiding place and the stalk was on. While bird-dogging the buck I soon saw another deer race from the bottom of the draw. A second later, the deer I was pursuing emerged with his head down driving away the smaller buck. With his attention focused elsewhere I took a chance and used the topography to move to a point in front of the aggressive buck, hoping to set up for a successful ambush. Moving quickly, but crouched and quiet, I crested the final rise to my ambush site. What I saw on the other side stopped me in my tracks. Forked antlers bobbed directly toward me at 40 yards and within a second the body of a new buck had appeared, heading straight for me. Trapped out in the open prairie with nowhere to hide I clipped on my release and slowly came to full draw. As the buck continued forward I settled my sight on him, waiting for an ethical shot. At 20 yards the deer unexpectedly turned broadside giving me the chance I had hoped for. The wooden thunk of my bow preceded the flash of carbon that closed the distance between us at over 300 fps. Within minutes I would be standing over my bow-killed deer, celebrating the special accomplishment I had achieved.
Who doesn’t like a good hunting story? I remember as a kid sitting around my dad and uncles while listening to tales of elk hunting glory, monster bucks, and unbelievable shots. Those stories stuck with me and I knew someday I wanted to be part of the action. Of all the stories I remember hearing, most ended with the story about how the hunter was finally able to close the gap and seal the deal. Not that a good story has to end with a dead animal, but successful hunts and those stories tend to remain in our memory longer than most. Getting to that point in the story takes skill, knowledge, perseverance, usually a little luck, and the right gear. One facet of your gear list you can’t overlook is your camouflage. In my story, my camouflage played a huge role in allowing me to remain undetected on the open prairie while the buck unknowingly closed the gap for me. Here are a few tips for choosing the right camo for your next hunting adventure.
Know your area
One of the biggest mistakes hunters make when picking camouflage is not matching their hunting attire to their surroundings. I see this all the time while hunting out west. Guys who are used to hunting the eastern woodlands bring their dark green camo out west and stick out like a sore thumb in our weathered prairie. Prairie hunting, high mountain hunting, and much of the broken canyon country of the west require lighter patterns that utilize whites, yellows, and light greens. Likewise, when ascending a whitetail stand in early September for the archery opener, reach for darker patterns. Dark camo will help you blend in with the dark foliage of the trees you climb. Not to be forgotten are our groundblinds. Lots of guys wear standard camo when preparing for a hunt in a ground blind. While not a huge mistake, wearing black instead will help you blend in with the interior of your blind. Remember, the purpose of camo is to blend in with your surroundings. Do your homework and when you make a camo purchase ensure you are buying a product that will assist you rather than make your challenge more difficult.
Odds n’ Ends
After you’ve made sure the bulk of your gear will match your surroundings, it’s time to think trimming up the edges of your getup. Hats, gloves, boots, facemasks, even ghillie suits, offer options for the modern hunter. In my opinion how deep you go depends on your personality, goals, and budget. Personally on every hunt I don a brown wide brimmed hat, brown leather boots, a camo neck gaiter that doubles as a facemask and sometimes slip on my camouflage gloves. One major area of concern you should be adamant about concealing is your face. Whether you’re hunting out in the open or in a ground blind I would highly recommend face camo of some kind. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, so feel free to learn from my mistakes. Several options should hang on the shelves of your local hunting retailer. The two most common options are facemasks and face paint. Masks offer the benefit of easy sliding on and off and can be used over and over. On the other hand, face painters don’t have an extra piece of clothing to tote along and cumbersome cloth covering their face. Personally I like the versatility a neck gaiter offers, protecting my neck from intense early season sun and quickly doubling as a facemask when the moment of truth approaches.
Don’t be fooled
Finally, don’t be fooled by advertisements when purchasing your duds for the upcoming season. Camo has come a long way since the 1960’s, but some of the modern stuff looks better in the magazine than it does in the real world. To be a successful hunter you’ll need to think critically about the time of year you are going to hunt, your surroundings, and the vision of your quarry. The buck of a lifetime might require a bit more concealment than a yearling requires. Finally when choosing camouflage, like all gear, use what you believe will work. The last thing you want to be doing is second-guessing your gear in the field. Confidence in your gear will carry over to success in the field. Whatever you decide, make sure it fits your surroundings, your goals, and your budget. Follow these simple steps and you’ll have no trouble blending in.
- But do you need camouflage to hunt or not?
- How should you select your camouflage?
- What’s the final word on camo?
- Blend in by concealing your movement as well!
But do you need camouflage to hunt or not?
Let’s be honest: we have been hunting thousands and thousands of animals without wearing any camouflage. I am pretty sure that many harvested their game while wearing blue jeans and bright-colored shirts. Having said that, I do have to admit that it will be easier for us to hunt some animals when wearing camouflage. It’s not a guarantee that you’ll get your game, but as a hunter, you learn early that you’re open to trying whatever helps you get the game down.
I don’t know if you all know this, but there’s science behind camouflage as animals’ vision and perception are different from ours. Without going into many details, I will highlight that our eyes have cells that are sensitive to light. Once the light gets to our eyes, these cells will be active and send light messages to our brains—then we make an idea about what we see. We see colors thanks to these cells and each of them is sensitive to a specific group of color. There are only three color-sensor cells: those that pick up red light (and similar), those that pick up green-yellow light, and cells that pick up blue hues. They all work together to see orange, aqua, purple, etc. It’s why we have trichromatic (tri=three)vision.
Let’s see what’s the vision like for games we harvest out there:
Deer and Other Ungulates
Since deer and many other game animals have just two color cells, they have dichromatic vision (di=two). Deer, elk, antelope, goats, sheep, and pigs will only pickup green-yellow and blue hues. Therefore, they cannot see orange, purple, red, and pink. It makes perfect sense now to wear orange as a safety color when hunting deer, right? I know that orange isn’t the most fierce color to don when hunting, but again, we all try to stay alive out there! As for your deer, it will see your orange vest like a dull and difficult-to-spot yellowish-gray thing.
One thing that also works for our advantage when hunting deer is that they cannot pick up shades of the colors they do see. Don’t jump to conclusions and think that deer’s vision is inferior to yours. Even if that’s not entirely faux, I should highlight that deer are more sensitive to UV light than humans. Therefore, our human eye will stop ultraviolet rays from getting to the light-sensitive color cells, while deer eyes don’t have these filters.
Humans have better visual acuity than deer; the crisp details we see will seem blurry to deer. Forget about deer seeing a driver’s license—they will never pick up that. However, they trump us when it comes to motion detectors. Their visual field is more comprehensive than ours (after all, their eyes are on the sides of the head). A deer will spot you when you move insight, but that’s not even an issue. Many ungulates, deer included, rely on hearing and smell to perceive their surroundings. Unlike humans, vision isn’t their top sense.
Do you need camo or not?
Now the big question: do you need camo to hunt deer? If you use a rifle, you probably don’t need to wear camo to get your deer. As long as you don’t wear any colors, they can pick up (blue) and stick to browns and grays, and deer won’t spot you. Sitting entirely still with the proper backdrop is key to not being seen by deer, whether you wear camouflage or not. The funny part is that even the best camo won’t be able to keep you invisible to deer if you move your body against a light background (like the sky).
I am not here to tell you never to buy camo for deer hunting. Truth be told, you won’t throw your money out the window for camo because it will help you get your deer. Good camo can be crucial when you hunt with a bow and do some spot and stalk hunting. Even if the animal spots you, it won’t tell what you are because of your camo. The deer will get suspicious and curious at most, but it won’t get scared. Let’s not forget the wind—make sure it stays in your favor so that the deer don’t smell you.
Just because coyotes and foxes are predators doesn’t mean their vision is better than the ungulates’. As a matter of fact, fox and coyote see the same way your deer sees. Coyotes have some UV sensitivity, but more research needs to be done. As for the visual acuity, predators do better than the ungulates, but still not as good as humans.
The data changes when we talk about cats (cougar and bobcat) that seem to have trichromatic vision. Even so, it appears that the three cells in cats don’t cover a wide range as human cells do. Even if cats see blue, they won’t be able to spot red. Visual acuity in cats is similar to coyotes’, and we all know that cats see a lot sharper than we do. They’re great at seeing details in poor light conditions.
Do you need camo or not?
It’s vital to wear camo when going after predators like bobcats and coyotes, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot get your shot without wearing camo. You need to do with predators to improve your hunting methods (using sounds similar to prey in distress) to conceal your presence. A called coyote will try to find the source of the noise and any movement and shape will give you away.
What I have learned as a hunter is that you need to consider many factors and camo clothing is just one of them. To be honest, you can get your game by keeping your scent away, being quiet, and staying still—you can skip wearing camo if you do all of these things. At the same time, make sure not to wear any dark colors and blues because the predator will spot you from a distance. Look for camo with light colors to break up your outline when hunting coyotes.
I don’t know if you ever tried bird hunting, but it’s another story, and that’s for many reasons. Birds’ vision and perception put humans and other animals to shame. First of all, birds have tetrachromatic (tetra=four) and even pentachromatic (penta=five) color vision. It basically means that most birds have more kinds of color receptor cells in their eyes than we do. Not only do birds see all the colors in the rainbow, but they will also see colors that we cannot see. Birds are so great at colors that they can even differentiate between really similar shades of color. On top of everything else, birds have color cells that are highly sensitive to UV spectrum light.
How will all these facts affect your hunting? For one, birds will notice details in your outfit that you’re not even aware of. They will see blaze orange the same way we see it. Tricking is the key to success when hunting turkey and waterfowl. You will need to fool the birds with decors and use calls to lure them in. Skip the orange hat when you go bird hunting.
Wait, because there’s more! Birds are incredible at spotting the most delicate details, and they are also excellent at visual acuity. You will have difficulty getting something if you focus on escaping birds’ optical detection.
Do you need camo or not?
If you plan to catch your bird by hiding behind your decoys or if you lure them to you, wearing camo will help. Blending in the environment is key to success with bird hunting. On the other hand, if you’re a big fan of ambush (use your dog to find and flush birds in the bush), you may very well skip camouflage.
How should you select your camouflage?
I’ve learned with hunting that I need to be patient and not hurry when buying my clothing and gear. I learned to pick everything I wear and carry when hunting carefully. I like to do due diligence and get all the information I can before placing my order. If this is the first time you’re buying camo, you might get a bit dizzy with all the options you see on shelves.
Terrain Matching ‘Mimicry’ Patterns
It’s common for camo patterns to resemble particular terrains or habitats. When we think of camo, the one resembling a tree (green leaves, twigs, and maybe some bark patterns) pops up the most. There are also patterns resembling snow or marsh-covered plain. The primary colors will match the ground for which they’re made to be used. You might have heard of the famous RealTreeXtra by now.
The best part about the mimicry patterns is that they can help you blend into your surroundings—as long as they match the terrain. The not-so-good part about this camo is that it’s not the most versatile option. While it may work excellently in the fall when everything is still relatively green, it won’t be as great when brown and white snow takes over in the winter. The best solution is to buy several camo outfits for various seasons and locations—I hope you have a thick wallet!
Another downside of the mimicry patterns is that they may not hide your outline well enough. Remember the part about ungulates and even some predators not differentiating similar shades and spot details? Have you noticed how mimicry patterns clothing has so many details? Even though you might like all the small branches on your hunting jacket, all the details may turn you into a big uniform blob of drab color—the game won’t catch the details! Fancy to learn a new word? “Isoluminance” is when something becomes a blob at a distance.
If your drab blob is near some grasses and bushes or even against a large tree, you will probably blend it. However, if your background has a different texture or a different color, your game will most likely spot you. Our silhouette is unique and most game animals associate it with danger (for an excellent reason). Even if you wear the color of tree bark, you still look like a human.
Luckily for us hunters, most recent mimicry patterns tend to break up our human outline, which helps us blend it better.
I am grateful for manufacturers who made their primary goal to break up the human outline. The breakup patterns are made to disguise somewhat and not conceal us. With a mimicry pattern, you will try (and hopefully succeed) to blend in, whereas, with a breakup pattern, you will no longer look like a human.
When your wear a breakup pattern, you will no longer blend in with the background but resemble a log or a rock. Your game will spot you, but it will think you’re anything but human. Most animals won’t get scared by rocks, so the idea of breakup patterns works most of the time.
If breakup patterns sound appealing to you, you will notice a lot of “micro” and “macro” associated with this camo. Micropatterns are small designs supposed to break up our human shape from a close distance (twenty to forty yards). On the other hand, macro patterns use large blocks of color to break our humane outline from distances higher than a hundred yards. The best in this category is the camos that combine both micro and macro patterns so that you disguise them in both small and big distances.
Should you plan a hunt in open country, breakup patterns will probably work better than mimicry patterns. If you ask me, don’t check into detail the breakup patterns since they have high contrast colors. They don’t resemble anything in nature, so simply take the manufacturer’s word when buying.
Let’s be honest: we all get interested when we hear “3D”, no matter the context. I admit that manufacturers have taken camo to a whole new level with this 3D type. A 3D camo adds texture to regular clothing so that you look like a harmless brush. There are many 3D options to try, so take your time picking one.
3D suits will break up your outline incredibly. As with everything in life, 3D camo isn’t perfect and the main downside I’ve noticed is the rather cumbersome profile. Even if a 3D camo makes your human outline disappear, you will probably get caught on cactus spines and twigs because of the frills and profile. Forget about a 3D camo if you intend to walk for miles after your game—you will get too tired carrying the suit for so many hours. At the same time, I cannot think of a better option for stationary hunting than the 3D camo. Of course, you can always do your hunting spot in your regular clothing and put on your 3D camo when you get to your hunting stand. Being creative will get far with hunting!
What’s the final word on camo?
As long as you pick the proper camo, camouflage will give you an extra advantage. However, never buy your camo depending on how you see it; you need to think of how your game sees it! Also, consider how the camo will look from small and large distances.
You don’t need to be the most experienced hunter to know that your skin will pop out when hunting. Even if you conceal your body with camo, you won’t cover your face and hands most of the time. If you decide to wear camo, give it all in and get camo gloves and camo face covering as well. Have some fun and try face paint once—make sure that the colors blend with your camo clothing and breaks up your face’s symmetrical features.
If you’re not the artsy type (it’s not really an art to paint your face for hunting, though), take a look at the balaclavas and neck gaiters out there. Needless to say, make sure that the one you buy is similar to your clothes. One great thing about gaiters is that they can also work as sun shields. Plus, you don’t need to wipe your face and paint yourself all over again your face early in the morning.
For the entry-level hunters out there! If you check out the great market of hunting-specific clothing, you might get appalled by the price tags. You will most definitely empty your pockets with a complete system. Don’t throw all your money on a whole system, but by just one layer of full camouflage to wear on top of your non-camo clothing. Hunting is something that you build in time, so you might want to focus on buying the proper hunting gear until you get the 3D camo system, top to bottom.
Last but not least, always be careful when washing your hunting clothing. Even though you might appreciate your detergent for keeping your regular clothes bright and clean, the same detergent might contain brighteners that will ruin your hunting clothes. You don’t want your hunting clothing to be too optimistic because your game will spot you easier, especially birds. Even der, coyote, and other mammals will be sensitive to UV light, despite lacking UV receptors.
Some companies do make laundry detergents without optical brighteners and remember to get a soap that is both scent and brightener free. To make it even easier for us hunters, some manufacturers actually market detergents specific to us hunters. If that seems like too much stretch for you, you may very well buy a non-hunting product that is safe for your hunting clothing.
One last word on camo
If you ask me, camouflage definitely plays its part when hunting, but it won’t put the game into your bag. For instance, you can skip camo for upland bird hunting, but you should consider it when you go rifle hunting deer. I advise spending the extra buck for good camo when you go bowhunting ungulates and predators alike. Camouflage is also crucial when hunting turkey and waterfowl.
Blend in by concealing your movement as well!
I like hunting for many things and one is that I need to consider so many factors before I go out there. The preparation, the selection of my hunting gear, of the camo clothing—there are so many big and small details that matter until I shoot my weapon. Once I make sure that I blend in or have my outline broken out by my clothing, I also move as silently and as slowly as possible.
Traveling to/from the stand
I run a screening in process
I don’t consider myself an expert, but many professionals have been covered this topic for years. Whether you plant a screen of trees, annual crops, or warm-season grasses, or get over the top with a large diameter corrugated drainage pipe to crawl right into your blind, using an object/screen to block the deer’s view will always give results. If you do it right, it can conceal your movement to and from the stand nine times out of ten.
I use the ground chain
I find topography amazing because it impacts how we use the land patterns, vegetation types, diversity, and continuity, and they all impact deer utilization and travel. You only need an aerial photo and a basic topographic map to notice broad patterns of deer movement. In all honesty, you will need some experience until you can accurately analyze the resources. However, you will be able in time to “feel” where the deer will be, where he plans on going, and how he will reach his destination. From that point, you only need (easier said than done). You will learn to avoid bumping deer at any cost and remain hidden when entering/exiting the land.
Most of the time, deer travel the path of least resistance, so you will need to do the opposite. Go perpendicular to contour lines and across the grain. Focus on staying hidden by following natural depression and staying low. Take advantage of creek beds and drainage whenever you can—they will help you with scent control since you will walk in water most of the time.
I look for the one-lane road
If a cover blocks your path, you should make a way right through it. Use your deer and topographic knowledge and map the best route. You will also need to reduce disturbance, so make time to open it well before the season starts. Every step you take to your stand must be on silent soft soil. The tricky part about it is that deer may begin to use the same trails; you will definitely need to leave those trails behind and create new ones.
I go around
If you plan to hunt deer, you will have to avoid the places deer plan to be at a specific time. Never go right in their food plot, where they’re feeding, and hope to make a shot in the same spot in the morning. Even if you spend some time getting in and out of your set, you should make an effort to walk 10 minutes in an unusual spot.
While on stand
I box myself in
I am not a big fan of stands, as ground/elevated blinds have walls. I make sure to install the stand a long time before I go hunting, so deer gets comfortable about it. Just because deer’s vision is inferior to ours doesn’t mean they’re stupid. They’re created for survival, so they will get curious every time they notice a new element in their landscape (a hunting blind, for instance). Even if you get a deer like this, most deer will shift their behavior and stop using that area. It will only decrease their harvest possibilities.
I make some fake backing
Hunting demands some ingenuity and I sure know how to conceal my stand with camouflage netting. I will make sure to enclose the entire sitting area of my stand. If I feel like working, I will use some spray paint and plywood to create my very own backdrop.
I look for natural backing
When I look for trees to hang my set, I use natural backing to break up my outline against the skyline. Large-diameter trees, multi-trunked trees, tight groupings of coniferous trees, or tall hardwood trees with coniferous trees (mid-size) are excellent for this. Hardwood trees with a nice branch structure with persistent leaves (beech and oak don’t lose their leaves until the late season) will also work. Try to picture what the stand will look like during the hunting season; you don’t want to stand out for sure.
I also try to set the stand in trees that break up my outline with the leaves and limbs.
I brush it in
This is the part where I put some elbow grease into it. I basically cut several limbs of live branches with persistent leaves or needles and weave them in and out of the side rails, next to my seat, and on the platform. Remember that the main focus is not to be the shape easily to spot against the sky. Here’s one method you should try: place several branches (dozens, that is) with the cut ends lined up and tie them. Take the bunch to the tree’s backside, above sitting height, and use a tough rope to secure it. Fan out the bunch so that it looks like an upside-down turkey tail. You might be amazed by the results!
I always move slowly!
Maybe I should have started with this piece of advice. The most important advice that I can give you is to walk as slowly as possible. Imagine yourself walking in a minefield—it’s how slowly and carefully you should do it! Always be aware of the surroundings and remember that every time you scratch your ear, scan the field, or check out your time—you increase the risk of getting spotted by deer. Make sure that the next move you make is significant. Try to move five times slower than you regularly move when you’re not hunting. Take it from an experienced hunter like me: when you get into position to shoot and grab your weapon, you want to move slower than you ever thought you could!