Archery stores sell scores of camouflage clothing options. Shelves hold turtlenecks, and long-sleeve and short-sleeve shirts, while racks are packed with scent-locking, breathable and textured camouflage clothes.
It’s enough to make your head spin. How do bowhunters use all that camo, and how do you know which clothes are right for you and the hunts you’re planning?
We’re here to help!
What is Camouflage?
“Camouflage” stems from the French word “camoufler,” which means “to disguise.” It’s a defense strategy – or tactic – many species use to disguise their appearance. Some use camouflage to avoid predators and detection (think deer, rabbits and octopi), while others use it to hide in ambush or stalk their prey (like owls, humans and bobcats.)
Animals often employ camouflage, also called “cryptic coloration.” But not until post-World War II did hunters often adapt these sneaky systems into their clothing, typically using military surplus gear developed for warfare. The hunting industry didn’t start designing its own camo patterns until the late 1970s. For that we can thank an avid Virginia bowhunter named Jim Crumley, who used a permanent marker to create the camouflage pattern he later patented as “Trebark.”
Since then, camouflage patterns of all shapes, colors and patterns have been created to match nearly every habitat and hunting situation imaginable. Why? Because hunters love them. All that camo is jumping off the racks and shelves and onto the bodies of deer hunters, duck hunters and dove hunters everywhere.
Does Camo Matter?
Wearing camouflage and blending into the environment helps bowhunters stay hidden so unsuspecting game comes within range. Realize, however, that animals see the world differently than we do.
Take white-tailed deer, for example. Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences studied the whitetail’s vision. The researchers noted that a deer’s retina has much higher densities of rods than cones. Why is that important? Because rods are photoreceptors and, therefore, more sensitive to light. However, they’re not sensitive to color. Cones, though sensitive to color and high-resolution vision, are less numerous than rods. A deer’s eye also lacks a UV-filter.
In other words, because the whitetail’s eyes have more rods, it sees better in low-light conditions. And because its eyes have fewer cones, it perceive colors differently than humans. Researchers believe deer likely see blues better than humans can, but they can’t distinguish reds, oranges and greens, such as those found in blaze-orange and brown/green camo patterns.
In addition, a Quality Deer Management Association article cited research by Marty Banks, a professor of optometry and vision science at the University of California-Berkeley, that found deer can see much of their surrounding world, even when eating.
Deer have horizontally elongated pupils, while humans have circular pupils. This difference, combined with the deer’s side-oriented eyes, gives them a much wider field of view than what humans see – 300 degrees, to be exact. Human vision extends a mere 180 degrees, including our peripheral vision!
Those eye characteristics contribute to sight differences between deer and humans, giving us more reasons to cover up in camo.
Which Camo Works Best?
Dick’s Sporting Goods reports that most hunters wear four typical (popular) camouflage patterns:
- Woodland patterns help hunters disappear in wooded areas. These patterns range from trees laden with green leaves for early-season hunts, to branches left brown and bare for late-fall and early-spring hunts.
- Brush patterns help hunters blend into open areas of dirt, grass and low-growing brush.
- Marsh patterns help waterfowl hunters look like reeds, cattails, tall grasses and other elements you’d find in swampy areas.
- Snow/winter patterns help hunters hide in the late season’s white backgrounds. These white patterns mix with dark colors and tree branches to help hunters to blend in.
Consider your geographic region, too. The Wadinglab website published a comprehensive article about hunting’s best camo patterns for the North, South, East and West. And if you want even more in-depth information, right down to the type of maple trees on your property, check out Cabela’s Camo Pattern Buyer’s Guide. You can sift through 90 patterns made by multiple brands. After that, maintain your cover with these camo tips.
Many other camouflage patterns are available, but most aren’t designed for hunting. Look at these distinctive patterns in David Shuck’s article, “Understanding Camo: The 13 Patterns to Know.”
Many camo companies offer clothing with technologies that trap odors or absorb them. Are these clothes effective? Such questions are hard for researchers to test. However, this much is certain: Hunters must be as odorless as possible when hunting whitetails and other big game. Their sense of smell is of superpower strength.
It’s impossible to eliminate all human odors, but following good scent-management practices helps. Hunters should bathe or shower with scent-free soaps and shampoos, and wash their clothes in scent-free detergents before hanging them outdoors to air-dry. Another option is drying your hunting clothes in a dryer with earth-scented dryer cloths.
Is Layering Important?
Yes. No matter which camo pattern you choose, dress in layers beneath it. Bowhunting often involves vigorous, sweat-pumping activity followed by long stretches of wet, chilly waits in harsh elements. Layering helps you stay comfortable by removing layers when active, and adding layers when still.
Should Bowhunters Wear Orange?
Safety first! Most states require all hunters, except waterfowlers, to wear blaze orange during big-game hunting seasons because humans easily see this color. Meanwhile, deer and other big game struggle seeing colors, so err on the side of safety.