The view 20 yards infront of me sitting in a stand...not a lot of cover, but enough!
It has happened to me more than once. One brilliantly beautiful autumn evening, I was tucked in on the fringe between a thick tangled wood of willow and a freshly swathed hayfield. My position was overlooking a draw that cut across the landscape, draining into the nearby elbow river. The wind was blowing steadily in my face, and the dying rabbit call reached out to blanket the landscape. Less than 2 minutes into my calling repertoire, a coyote broke out of the bush on the opposite side of the draw and began trotting towards the cries of a dying cottontail. I whined a bit on the call for further enticement, and her radar (eyes, ears, and nose) snapped sharply onto my exact location. Paralyzed, she froze in her tracks…gazing directly at me.
I sat motionless with my rifle on my lap, experience telling me that if I was still enough, she would resume her approach, albeit possibly at a more cautious pace. This was not to be the case. She let go a vocalization that to this day haunts my memory as laughter. Continuing to chuckle, she vanished down into the draw. I was excited as she dropped into the draw, as I was certain she was still under the spell of the call and would re-appear. I slowly brought my rifle to a shooting position and waited with mounting anxiety. I never saw her again.
Leaving my backpack behind 45 minutes later, I left my stand and walked over to where I had seen the coyote break out of the bush for the first time. Looking back the 350 meters towards the stand location I was shocked to see my backpack glowing in the evening sun. Despite a perfect position relative to the wind and adhering to some of the fundamentals (ie: cover behind me to break up my outline and remaining motionless while the coyote was in sight), there is now no doubt in my mind that coyote made me with her eyes. I was going to have to learn about camouflage.
As I set out on this educational endeavor, I learned that on the subject of camouflage there was a lot of controversy in the predator hunting community. Some guys took a pretty casual approach to the whole subject (and still killed a lot of coyotes) while others camouflaged everything they owned, including their $2000 rifles and optics! One thing was for certain…a trip to the local hunting/outfitter store quickly convinced me that there was a lot of money spent each year on camouflage.
An appropriately camouflaged stand setup...this was the view from the coyote's perspective, 250 yards downrange. The only piece of camouflage clothing I am wearing is a boonie hat.
From 50 yards, this is what it looked like. Other than movements I might make, the contrast of my pink face against the darker background is the most likely vehicle to detection. If I sit still and the wind cooperates, the odds are in my favor.
This was the view from the stand...the coyote broke out of the brush into the field on the right hand side of the ravine.
Looking around the Internet, most of the knowledge I now consider to be of significance came from the archives of the US military. Two field guides were of particular importance: FM 5-20-44 (Camouflage) and FM 23-10 (Sniper Training). I was surprised by what I learned.
Camouflage is not a human invention. It is a natural adaptive strategy practiced by many different animals, helping them to evade detection by blending in with their natural environment. There are several basic principles of camouflage that we are going to talk about here, but other than movement, no one principle is more important than others. It is the cumulative effect of them all that makes for effective visual deception.
My classroom (internet) education began with some introductory concepts relating to the topic of camouflage. What follows is a brief overture:
Form is the overall shape that an object creates. Many animals (humans included) have a highly developed situational learning capacity. For many predator and prey species (for the most part possessing an acute sense of vision), form plays an integral part in the development of these patterns. Many animals are instantly able to identify the shape of a predator, their very survival intrinsic to this fundamental ability. This is especially true when it comes to their detection capacity for human beings. A human being is universally recognized as a mega-threat by just about every wild species on the planet. They know what a human looks like, and they know that they seriously want to avoid these things. By breaking up your form, you can start the process of deception required to call a predator into close range. This is not limited to the garments you wear...I find it especially effective in my selection of calling locations to place a bit of cover both infront and behind me such that when a predator focuses it's radar directly on my calling location, it does not get a visual blast of human shape.
Shadows are particularly noticeable, especially the long ones that are present during the prime hunting times of early morning and early evening. They can often reveal an object's form in better detail than direct observation of that object's form itself. Shadows also amplify movement, a key element that almost every predator that walks the earth is tuned to detect even in small amounts. I tend to try and stick to the shadows both when moving from one stand to another, and with the selection of the stand itself. I certainly find it harder to exactly what that strange shape is lurking in the shadows, and it has been my experience that many animals are not much different.
For the purposes of camouflage, texture is defined as the degree of roughness of a surface. Rough surfaces, such as grass, bush, trees, etc., have the intrinsic capacity to cast shadows within themselves. Smooth surfaces, such as barren rocky surfaces with no vegetation, cast no shadows and reflect much more light. As a result, a surface that is more textured will appear darker than a smoother surface, even if they are identical in color. This is important....as just about everything in our hunting environments carries considerably more texture than the fabrics of the garments we wear.
My mother made me this fleece jacket in an improvised winter pattern. It functions particularly well in breaking up form and varying texture, tone, and contrast. None of this is worth anything though if you are, as I am, standing out in the open like this! NOTHING is quite as recognizable to many animals as the human form. Remembering that camouflage is much more than just a garment, I am heading down to the small line of scrub to tuck myself into the shadows, calling a bowl on the backside of the brush.
At close range, color differences distinguish one object from another, however most animals are color blind. Color is less important for our purposes, as most animals lack the physiological hardware to see things in color. But color is indirectly relevent vis a vis the concept of tone and contrast.
When compared with the background, brightness is a very strong initial detection cue for many visually orientated animals. The tone and contrast of a camouflaged position cannot be different than that of the surrounding environment. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to "blend in" relying solely on 2 dimentional dyed fabrics. While they might be similar with respect to color, in the multitude of varying lighting conditions, it is next to impossible to match contrast with your surrounding environment without employing some of the other principles of camouflage.
Movement is the single largest visual detection cue. Period. To me, this touches on one of the most interesting sociological aspects associated with people, camouflage, and hunting. Some people spend thousands of dollards on their camouflage, yet it all goes to waste when they go tramling through the bush at human walking speed. Yet I have seen other people with the rattiest looking garments that arn't even matched color-wize to their environment, but are able to crawl up on just about anything in the bush. Movement stands out more than anything else we have talked about thus far. You can go a long way with respect to developing a highly refined and sophisticated camouflage technique merely by taking a good, hard examination on how you move (both inbetween stands and while you are on a stand) and then working hard to develop your movement skills.
Slow and steady beats quick and dirty almost every time in this department. In our section on stand selection, we talked a little bit about scouting activity. This is an excellent time to practice camouflage via movement discipline. When you are moving from one location to another, do so at a much reduced pace, paying acute attention to everything going on around you. Where is the wind from? How does the terrain mask/effect my movement? How does the light touch the land? Am I moving through the shadows? How much noise am I making while I move? These are all questions that run through my mind continually while I am out. They are also things that run through my mind when I am tucked back into my stand getting ready to call. Many times I will take one or two steps, then stop to glass. Two more steps; listen and glass. Crossing a field might take an entire afternoon. This type of movement is extremely diffucult. You'll have to resist the urge to progress at people speed, and fight off the initial boredom that comes with trying to take things at the pace of the forest and plains.
Sitting at the stand, I try to be as still as possible. When I move a call to my mouth, or bring a rifle up to bear on an approaching coyote, I will do so as slowly and purposfully as possible. If I have to shift my position significantly bring the rifle to bear on a coyote that is approaching from an unexpected direction, I will try to wait until the coyote is either masked by terrain, or looking directly away from my location (the latter does not happen very often when using mouth calls!)
Minimizing movement is the most important aspect to your camouflage. Without good disipline in this department, all else is usually for naught.
Camouflage...the sum of all these quotients
Camouflage is a lot more than just putting on some clothing. It is paying acute attention to the terrain, to the light, to the tone, contrast, and texture of your surrounding environment. It is moving slowly and quietly, and developing a greater awarness about your environmental conditions. No matter how you are dressed, negligence in any of the above departments (especially movement), increases an animals' odds of detecting you many orders of magnitude. That being said, let's take a brief look at what seems to have caught and held the interest of most people with respect to camouflage.
Now that we have had our little primer on the principles of camouflage, let's talk a little bit about the large selection of camouflage cloths that are available. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of patterns, etc etc, it is worth mentionning that above all, you should dress for the weather. If you are not confortable on your stand, staying still is going to be a lot more difficult. Pick your clothing for comfort and utility first, then for it's camouflage properties. That being said, one of the easiest, cheapest camouflage garments are found by turning to the US military. These garments are surprisingly (sirprising by what you might have been lead to believe by the different vendors of specialized camouflage clothing) effective. Coined "Battle Dress Uniforms", or BDUs, here is a complete set of camouflage that you can typically get for under $80 dollards canadian (jacket & pants). Typically offering little to no insulation, I usually buy them a size big so I can layer all my extremely function, yet flourescent colored polar fleece underneath. These garments are also extremely functional...they are quiet to move in, and contain a ga-zillion different pockets that I stuff with calls, binoculars, mittens, drag ropes, and other assorted paraphernalia.
The camera does not lie! Take photograps of yourself in all of your different camouflage clothing and then study them. Here I am in a pair of desert BDUs. One thing that is worth noticing is the degree to which my face stands out. I know some guys who swear by the face mask thing, and looking at this photograph I might also start to believe!
There are a ga-zillion different patterns of BDU camouflage available, however I have found that the most applicable patterns for my part of the world are the Vietnam Tiger-Strip pattern and one of the desert patterns. One thing I am still looking for are a white set for use in the dead of winter. The reality of the situation is that even this far north, more than half the calling season is without snow, and everything looks like a desert environment.
Regardless of what type of garments you wind up with for camouflage, do try the following exercise. Take the pattern of clothing you are intending to wear out to the field, place it at the base of a bush, out in the open, or wherever you are intending to call, then go for a walk. Walk around all the areas that have visibility of this location, and look back often to check out how your pattern is performing. What is especially useful here is to get out the camera and start to snap photographs. Color and black & white film are equally important...some things that look like they blend in well on color film stand out like a sore thumb in the black-and-white spectrum of the world.
Secret Weapon...A Ghilli-Suit
Invented by Scottish shepards intent on preventing livestock losses by both wolves and people, the ghilli suit is in my opinion one of the most amazing camouflage garments ever devised. Consisting of primarily shredded burlap, when combined with other good camouflage principles, this suit is so effective that you might walk within inches of someone wearing one and they stand a good chance of going undetected. There are several serious drawbacks to this type of camouflage though. The first is that the burlap strands tend to limit peripherial visibility, something that is important when you are trying to detect the predator before he/she detects you. The second big drawback is that they can tend to get snagged on just about all vegetation you might be trying to move through. I have a feeling that once I spend a little more time in mine and learn some of the nuance associated with moving through the bush wearing a ghilli suit, this serious detriment may lessen. The last downside to the ghilli suit is that any person that sees you wearing one while moving around (ie: walking at people speed) and carrying a gun is likely to call the authorities (ie: sniper!) As a result, I tend to feel a little uncomfortable in my ghilli suit and will keep it in my pack until I am well within my hunting area. When I put it on, it is like entering a different world and I do everything I can to prevent detection by the general population. This means sticking to dense cover, and moving extremely slowly. When dense cover is not available, terrain masking is of extreme importance. On the RARE RARE RARE occasions that I am wearing my ghilli suit and have to cross an open area unmasked by terrain or thicker cover, I'll crawl an inch at a time.