Camouflage is one of the most important tools used by both humans and other animals to both protect themselves and aid in hunting. Most animals have their own ability to generate their camouflage whether through changing the pigment of their skin, the color of their fur, or even the habitat they choose to live in. We as humans have picked up on this ability of other animals to seemingly vanish into a landscape and have tried to learn and emulate it as we do not come built in with our own camouflage. The camouflage industry is huge today with so many different companies, patterns, materials and functions. It amazes me how various companies seem to specialize in a particular niche and pattern based on certain hunting environments. Just a hundred years ago the notion that you would be able to buy such high quality man made camouflage may have seen outlandish, but look at us now. It is intimidating for new hunters to enter into the world of hunting and not be fooled by the marketing and sponsored content creators as to what one does and does not need. Camo is cool and there is plenty of evidence to show it works, but I hope to shed some light on the issue.
The history of human-made camouflage is interesting and I hope to show the evolution of the use of the tool in regards to hunting, the perks of using camo, the cons of using camo, and some alternatives to wearing camo depending on the hunt.
1. Primitive Camouflage
Prior to the creation of modern camouflage, there is evidence and stories of hunter gatherer tribes from Asia depicted on cave paintings (about 8,000 BCE) where they people were drawn hunting animals while wearing the skins of other animals. Blackfeet hunters, among many more were also known to use this same method of using either bison or wolf skins to sneak up and hunt certain animals such as the American bison. Beyond this use of camouflage early hunters also began to use their environment to conceal their efforts and to accompany them based on their chosen method of hunting. It is predicted that many early hunters would use mud, leaves, sticks, etc. to conceal themselves in plain sight, while also using natural blinds and areas of concealment to help aid in their efforts and increase their chances of success.
2. "Old School" Camouflage
Moving on from primitive types of camouflage, what I refer to as “old school” camouflage is that which our great grandparents or great-great grandparents were using prior to the creation of easily available hunting brands that are readily available in big box stores today. Back in the day we would use whatever we had to keep us warm or cool. Prior to World War One no one was really using camo, the uniforms were composed of wool and dyed a solid color usually earth toned. In the hunting world many people wore red wool flannels, which kept the hunter warm, hid his odor, and kept him silent, relatively water resistant, and hidden from deer. Obviously, when hunting birds or turkey this wouldn’t work, but in that case I presume they stuck to the earth tones.
3. Modern Camouflage
Modern camouflage offers so much for the modern hunter. They offer price points that make camo available for the most frugal hunters all the way to those who spend chunk of their annual income on their hobby/lifestyle. Many of these brands market new patterns specified for various different situations like standing corn, snowy branches, forest backgrounds, and many more. A lot of these brands are able to make such patterns affordable as the pieces of clothing are typically composed of some type of polyester blend on the lower end which isn’t as durable, smells after a sweaty day of hiking, does little for insulation, but it works. On the higher end of the spectrum you begin to get things such as clothing items made from merino wool, scent blocking components either intertwined into the material or sprayed on, some degree of waterproofing, better camo patterns, etc. A lot of the brands now at various price points are starting to add insect repellant to their clothing to help hunters avoid biting insects like mosquitos and ticks during hunting trips during early spring turkey hunts and early season archery/muzzleloader hunts. Though, I personally am skeptical at the safety of wearing said chemical on your skin/clothes for long periods of time year after year.
4. The Benefit of Camouflage
The benefits of buying camo patterned clothes has the obvious incentive to those who hunt at close distances, on the ground, and in tree stands, but if you plan on hunting deer from a relatively long distance there is no true incentive to wearing it. If any animal detects your movement or smells your scent, they will be long gone before you can even bring your rifle, bow, or shotgun up to aim. Camo is really important for archery and turkey hunters as you need to usually be within 20-40 yards for the average compound/traditional shooter. For turkey hunters, it is crucial to be as still and as blended in with your environment to ensure a good shot as turkeys are known to have superb eyesight. They see any quick movement and will be sure to get out of an area as soon as they see a face, barrel, or torso swing their way. Lastly, camo helps slow the animal’s rationale if they spot you as it may take them a minute in some instances to fully understand that you are a threat due to the distortion of your frame in respect to the background.
5. The Cons of Camouflage
The cons of buying camo are that camo is typically marketed towards people, not animals. Don’t be fooled when a new line of camo clothing is dropped by a charismatic television outdoors man and he wears it on all his hunts, and seems to always shoot something on every show. The animals don’t relay look at the particular patters. They are more relying on their ears, nose, and close range sight. Most people wear camo for hunts 20 feet in a tree or from a blind 200-300 meters away from a deer bed. In these cases, you should be getting shot opportunity with a deer or other animal before they see you if you are considering things such as blind placement, wind, cover, etc. Camo is expensive, and you don’t really need it with all the information and technology that we have today. If people were successful hundreds and thousands of years ago with the bare minimum, then I assure you that you too can be successful with minimal money invested in camo clothing/gear.
6. Alternatives to Wearing Camouflage
I did mention this concept briefly when mentioning how people used to hunt prior to the invention of modern synthetic camo and gear, but I hope to drive the message deeper. All you really need to wear when hunting any animal are earth toned colors. Don’t go around wearing a bright red or royal blue shirt during turkey season, but you can most definitely get away with it during dear season. I personally wear dark green Carhartt pants, some leather boots, a brown or green shirt, my wool red flannel, or a blaze orange t-shirt/sweater when hunting. So far I have no issue finding and seeing the game I am after. The prep work prior and understanding the behavior/habits of a particular family unit, group, or individual is paramount to the success of the hunt far more than whether you buy camo or not. Camo is almost a clothing statement nowadays as to notify to others that you too hunt and enjoy the outdoors.
Camouflage is great tool picked up by humans through the observations made by humans watching animals. It has helped us gather food in a time where humans were still hunting with stone tools and projectiles using mud or animal skins as their camo gear to the hunters of the 18th and 20th century relying on their simple wool gear, to today where you can go to Walmart and pick up some cheap mossy oak gear to help get the job done when you need it most. You do not need camo gear to be successful, but I am sure that you will experience a time where you spooked a game animal and wished that you had given more time to what you were wearing and how you looked in respect to the environment behind you or next to you. I would be curious to see studies done on the success rates of veteran hunters based on the amount and type of camo gear they wore while big game or turkey hunting. I know there would be a lot of variables, but I think it would be an interesting idea to try, it could maybe help drive up some sales for camo in the hunting industry, but who knows, time will tell.