The Art of Camouflage

Stay hidden from all of a buck's senses - sight, smell and sound.

Matt Adcock | November 3, 2014

What is your definition of the word “camouflage?” There is no right or wrong answer, but what if one of those definitions could make you a better hunter? Meriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines camouflage as a noun, a verb and an adjective. As it pertains to hunting as a noun, the definition would be a way of hiding something by painting it or covering it with leaves or branches to make it harder to see. As an adjective, the definition of camouflage would be to describe colors or a pattern. It is my belief that the definition as a verb is the most important. That definition is to hide by covering up or making it harder to see. This is an action, and when this action is done correctly, it can make you a better hunter.

I divide the art of camouflage into three parts: Visual, auditory and olfactory.

Visual Camouflage

I sometimes go overboard when it comes to visual camouflage, but I always err to the side of caution. This has derived from many years of bowhunting and being seen while in a tree stand. So how do you keep from getting busted? I use two principles to minimize getting detected. Those principles are the same whether you are hunting on the ground or sitting in a tree stand. They are to break up your outline and to get small.

Breaking up your outline is self explanatory, but there are always methods to improve your setup. I always try to wear a leafy, camouflage jacket, and I can’t tell you how many times this has saved a hunt. I have used many different leafy jackets over the years, and I have not used one that can compare to the Red Head 3D hunting jacket in the Realtree Max-1 pattern. This is a thin, lightweight leafy jacket that I wear over a T-shirt when it’s hot or over my big jacket late in the season when it’s cold. The Max-1 pattern is a light-colored, western camouflage pattern, but don’t let that fool you. I’ve worn it for five years now, and I can’t remember a deer seeing me in a tree stand when I wasn’t moving. Many deer have looked, but they just can’t seem to make out what I am. An example of how this pattern works occurred a couple of years ago while turkey hunting.

I had been calling on a small food plot surrounded by dog fennel and decided it was time to move. As I was about five steps toward my decoy, a hen stepped out of the weeds not 20 yards from me. I was standing in knee-high grass with nothing around me. She looked right at me but didn’t pay me any attention. She went into the plot and started feeding not 15 yards from me. The wind was blowing slightly, and my leaves moved with the wind, but I was still astonished. If you can beat a turkey’s eyes, a deer’s eyes are a piece of cake.

This camouflage was reinforced late last season when a bachelor group of four bucks came down the trail that I had set up on just down wind. The first buck appeared to be a 3 1/2-year-old 8-point with a 16-inch spread. I was only 17 feet high in my Lone Wolf climber and didn’t have any cover between us. The buck looked right at me when he was 20 yards out. He saw me but didn’t see me as too unusual or perceive me as a threat. He eventually came to within 8 yards and worked a licking branch. He wasn’t what I was after, but he certainly gave me an opportunity to shoot.

The second principle I like to use to remain undetected is what I call “getting small.” When a deer sees you in a tree, they often don’t know what you are, but they don’t like to see big dark blobs up in the tree. This is why I started my “Get Small Principle.” I’d rather a deer see a small blob in the tree than a big blob, so I started mismatching my camouflage. I wear a light background jacket and dark background pants. This has worked great, and when a deer has seen me move, they often don’t go ballistic and run to the next county.

I’ve had an idea for a few years now on a camouflage line of clothing that I would call “Inverted Forrest.” I would use the same camouflage pattern for the shirt as I would the pants, but they would have opposite background colors. It’s kind of like looking at the negative of a picture; the shirt and pants would be exact opposites. The shirt would have a light gray background with a brown/green camouflage pattern, and the pants would have a brown background with a gray/green camouflage pattern. If a deer did see you wearing this, my thoughts are that they would only see half of you. This is what I try to do with my current camouflage clothing.

Another aspect of the Getting Small Principle relates to reducing the area of your outline. I have modified the way I attach my fanny pack to my climber so that I have less of an outline when seen from below. How you stand in your climber is also a help in breaking up your outline. Standing close to the tree verses on the edge of your platform can help you to get small, as well. These may not seem like much, but every little trick helps when you have a mature buck in bow range.

Auditory Camouflage

I’ve written previously about using a turkey diaphragm while walking through leaves going to your stand in an attempt to fool the deer into thinking you are a turkey. I’ve also written about using your voice to make an owl call when you’ve been busted by a deer while in the stand. I have successfully used both of these tactics multiple times in the past, and I utilize them whenever necessary.

Sound camouflage can also be simply trying not to sound like a human being. Walking to your stand or climbing in a climber, the cadence of the noise is what gives you away as being human. Think about climbing with your climber. You ratchet yourself up until you get to your preferred height in one rhythmic fashion. If a deer hears this, it’s unnatural to them. Instead, you should pause while climbing. Go up a few feet and rest for 25-30 seconds before continuing up.

Break up the cadence of climbing and walking, and you could fool a deer into coming in to investigate. This happened to me several years ago, and I had just sat down in my seat when a 7-pointer came to investigate the noise. That buck was looking hard for what he thought was another buck rubbing his antlers lightly on a tree. The key to this is that I didn’t sound like a person climbing the tree in a climbing stand.

Another form of sound camouflage has to do with the absence of sound. The best example comes from a friend in my hunting club some years ago. He looked up and a huge buck was standing 30 yards away and looking in the other direction. He quickly raised his gun up to shoot, and the Velcro on his glove caught on his pants. The faint sound of Velcro pulling was enough to send that buck into orbit. You must proof your current gear for noise. Your bow must be silent when you draw, your stand can’t creak when you shift your weight, and if you hunt in a climbing stand, you must get attached and up a tree with very little noise. This is not a Lone Wolf infomercial, but I can unpack and attach my Lone Wolf climbing stand to the tree with you standing 10 yards away, and you can not hear me. That is a huge advantage for a hunter and is often the difference between killing a deer and not even seeing one.

Olfactory Camouflage

I wrote “Hunting the Wrong Wind” in the October 2013 issue of GON and talked about using Bowhunter’s Fatal Obsession as a cover scent. This is just one of the many cover scents available to help mask human odor. In my opinion, cover scents need to be pungent like BowHunter’s Set Up from Scrape Juice or you need to use large amounts of scent to mask your human odor. There are earth scents, acorn scents, pine cover scents, and I’ve even still got some Cow Pattie cover scent that Scrape Juice used to make. That Cow Pattie worked great around pastures, but I will have to admit, my wife wasn’t too fond of that one. Maybe that’s why I still have some.

You can buy your cover scent, or you can make your own. Use an old blender or food processor, and take some muscadines and blend them up really good. Strain them through cheese cloth into a small squirt bottle, and you have an instant cover or attractant scent. Refrigerate it, and it will last longer. The same can be done with black berries, wild plums or crab apples.

While walking to my stand, I often break off green pine branches and twist the needles real good. I’ll rub them up and down my pants and jacket as I walk. I do the same if hunting close to dog fennels and other odoriferous plants. Combine this with the proper scent control techniques, and you can win many more encounters than you will lose.

These are just a few examples of camouflage and how we hunters can utilize it. Nothing beats good, old fashioned woodsmanship, but having a few extra tricks up your sleeve will do nothing but improve the odds of bagging that buck of a lifetime. Remember, if you start defining the word camouflage as a verb instead of a noun, it may help you somewhere down the road, and not just in English class.

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