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Camouflage, It's Not Like in the Movies
Submitted By: © 2004 Gary L. Benton on 10/14/2004

Camouflage is rarely understood by most hunters and sadly some may even consider themselves experts on the subject. Part of our misunderstanding of camouflage is the result of watching too many "war" movies. We have all seen the movies, where the hero has a specially designed camouflaged uniform, as well as a very detailed and uniquely applied face pattern (Remember Rambo?) of paint. While all of that adds for a good movie, it is hardly reality for most hunters or military members. So, what exactly is camouflage, why is it used, and how can you use it affectively in most situations?

Camouflage is the natural art of becoming one with your natural surroundings, thus giving you the ability to remain unnoticed (this is especially important for turkey hunters, bow hunters and those folks who hunt fowl). Sounds easy, but it is not that simple to maintain good camouflage. "And, why not?" You may be asking. Your first consideration is determining what you want to remain concealed from and why you want to remain unseen. If it is an animal, determine first if it is colorblind. It is easier to camouflage from an animal that is colorblind and you can actually use international orange, red, and other bright colors without any loss of concealment. This may be an important safety factor if you wish to use camouflage patterns, and yet remain seen by other hunters. In most states you may not have a choice in wearing a vest or hat of international orange, during certain hunting seasons. But, what if you are camouflaging against animals, or perhaps humans (law enforcement and military personnel do it every day) that are not colorblind?

Your concern in this case is making sure your camouflage matches your surroundings well enough that you remain completely unnoticed (you become part of the environment). It would, for instance, not be to your advantage to use desert camo in a woodlands environment (unless your game is colorblind perhaps). Also, if you attach plants or bushes to yourself for camo, make sure they match the area you may be in. Nothing will grab the eye more than the wrong color or type of plant in the wrong place, unless it would be when that object is moving. Your goal with camouflage is to blend in and thus become one with your natural surroundings (I have been on the ground and had deer look at me, right in the eye or so I thought, and not see me). This is type of detailed camouflage is done most effectively by simply breaking up the shape of the human form, with help from the local environment and through the use of camouflage paint (makeup).

Additionally, take a look around you as you move with your camouflage (situational awareness the military calls it). If you have bushes attached to you and you are moving over a field with no bushes, you will quickly be noticed. Additionally, any plant life you use as part of your concealment should fit the area. By that I mean, if the area has only pine trees and you are wearing oak or long grasses as part of your camouflage, you will stand out. Many military members will stop when they enter a new area and apply fresh camo to match the area. Keep in mind also, your greenery will die after a short period and start to droop. You will have to cut and attach fresh camouflage at that point. You want to look natural, not like you have been ill. Remember do NOT draw attention to yourself in any way (that is what affective camouflage is in a nutshell) just become part of your surroundings.

One area that many people, including the military overlook is the proper use of camouflage paint, or makeup. We have all seen the movie star smear a few streaks of paint on his face, call it done, and then rescue a whole village. This mistake is common, but isn't effective use of camouflage. No, I am suggesting you spent hours putting on your "makeup," rather I am saying it should be applied properly. Poorly applied camo can actually draw attention to you and can hurt your concealment efforts.

As you apply the camouflage makeup, make sure the high boned features of your face (especially your nose, forehead, cheeks and chin) are covered well. It is usually a good idea to apply a light layer of baby oil or a lotion to your skin prior to applying the camouflage makeup. This tip will make it much easier to remove the camo when you need to take it off (usually it will come right off with soap and water if you use an oil base first). Also, you can use either a blotch or slash-pattern design of camouflage as you put it on. I prefer to cover high points of my face in black or dark brown. Additionally, it may be a good idea to cover your eyelids as well (but don't forget to wash it off, I did that once, and then took my wife out for dinner). I have seen a perfectly concealed individual with his eyes closed located easily at night through the use of a high-powered light. His eyelids actually shined when the light hit them. Don't forget to cover your ears, both front and back, as well as your neck.

Another area we frequently forget to camouflage is our hands and fingers. Your skin color will stand out on your hands, if the rest of you is well camouflaged. If you can, I suggest the use a pair of flight gloves or any glove made of natural colors. But, at the same time consider the temperature and if you can afford the potential loss of dexterity a glove may cause (a very import consideration for law enforcement or military personnel). If you continue to use make up, take the time to cover your hands well, including the skin between your fingers (the webbed area). If you are wearing a short-sleeved shirt, do not forget to completely cover the arms as well. Have another hunter or member of your team check you closely for exposed skin once you have applied your camo (a person well camouflaged will show no natural skin coloring at any point, expect perhaps the lips and that is due to licking them).

Keep in mind that camouflage does not make you invisible, especially when you are moving. Not at all, it just makes you harder to see. In other words, it breaks up the natural form of the human body so your shape is lost in the background. If you must move while wearing camo, make your movements very slowly and do not skyline yourself (be seen against a sky background. Keep this in mind during day and at night as well). Usually, it is a good idea to stay to low lying areas and to move only in the shadows (so, this means you have to keep the suns position in mind at all times too). This type of movement will make you much harder to see. If you are hunting game, and near your target, move only when the animal is feeding (and has its head down) or when it is looking away from you. Be prepared to freeze at any second, especially if your are hunting deer and its tail moves even a twitch. If you freeze instantly even when in completely clear view (if you are well camouflaged), you may not be spotted. Movement is what attracts the most attention when you are attempting to remain unseen. Move only when you must and then very slowly. Often in survival school in the military the instructors would simply yell into the woods, "Come on in, I see you!"…and students would stand up, never realizing they had NOT BEEN SEEN. Never assume you have been spotted and give your position away or rush a shot at any game.

Other considerations with camouflage, is making sure you have nothing exposed that can reflect sunlight or shine at night. Remember that eyeglasses, necklaces, bracelets, and watches can shine and give your position away. Even at night, a light shined on you may result in a shine from one of these items. And flashes from these items can be seen for a very long way.

When you must move and remain unseen, as I said earlier, use shadows, but remember the sun is constantly moving so the shadows will be changing as well. Be aware of your natural surrounding and use rock formations, trees, and brush to assist in your concealment efforts. Move as little as possible, or as I stated earlier, move slowly when you do move. Remember to break up the "V" of all crotch areas, between the legs and your arms. Make any observations you have to do in the prone position and peek; don't lift your head up high. Once again, remember, if you think you are seen, simply freeze. Most of the time you will not be seen for what you are, because you are blending into the background.

One last area of camouflage we often forget is scent. Humans, as well as most game, will smell us way before they ever see us. Make sure you do not use perfumed soaps, shampoos, shaving creams or shaving lotions (and we are very much a smell good society). Also, gum, candy, or the use of tobacco may give your position away. One aspect of scents we rarely think of is smoke (both from cigarettes and campfires). I once knew a hunter that would purposefully stand in the smoke of a campfire prior to going hunting. He claimed it masked his odor. He also claimed it was an old trick he had learned from a Native American.

Well, he was correct in one aspect of this view, it would cover his odor, but he failed to realize any critter in the woods would smell the smoke way before it ever saw him. And, animals, just like humans, associate the scent of smoke with man. Use caution when around smoke from your campfire or when around smokers to avoid absorbing the smell. Oh, by the way, I never knew that man to ever bag any large game.

In the military they taught us the acronym BLISS when considering camouflage. BLISS stands for, Blend, (keep a) Low silhouette, (keep a) Irregular shape, (stay) Small, and keep to Secluded areas. Essentially, BLISS along with good camouflage makeup, situational awareness, moving as little as possible, and scent control, will do the job of assisting you in your concealment efforts.

Camouflage is simple to understand and use, but few of us use it properly. By remembering what I have suggested in this short article you too can blend into the background. Camouflage is BLISS.

Take care and stay safe in the woods. I will see you, or perhaps I won't, on America's trails.

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