67 Do you re­ally need camo to be a suc­cess­ful hunter? Jim de­bates

Jim Chap­man tack­les the tricky prob­lem of what hunters should wear

Air Gunner - - Contents -

Sev­eral years ago, when I started hunt­ing in South Africa, I found that I’d usu­ally be the only hunter in the group wear­ing camo. There was some good-na­tured rib­bing about the camo- clad Amer­i­can red­neck, but my lo­cal friends would tell me that if you worked the wind and shad­ows prop­erly it wasn’t nec­es­sary. As time went on, I started dress­ing in more tra­di­tional khaki hunt­ing clothes, used the nat­u­ral cover to my favour, and had good re­sults in the field. Iron­i­cally, on a re­cent trip, al­most ev­ery­one else was wear­ing camo and I was the odd man out! It gave me a chuckle, but also got me think­ing about ‘ if and when’ camo made a dif­fer­ence.

I think that whilst hunt­ing with a cen­tre­fire on the Eastern Cape of South Africa for plains game, where shots are gen­er­ally over 100 yards and there is plenty nat­u­ral cover, work­ing the wind and stay­ing in the shad­ows is more im­por­tant than cloth­ing. That is so long as com­mon sense pre­vails and you’re not march­ing about in colours or shades that make you stand out as a mov­ing mass with a ri­fle, but for this par­tic­u­lar type of quarry and hunt­ing ap­pli­ca­tion, us­ing the wind to your ad­van­tage has a far greater im­pact, in my ex­pe­ri­ence.


The state­ment above does not hold true when the rules of en­gage­ment change; when the hunter is in­tent on get­ting in very close to their quarry, for in­stance. This is the name of the game when it comes to airgun hunt­ing, which like bow hunt­ing, is all about get­ting into 40/50-yard range. For me, the no­tion of hunt­ing with an airgun is pred­i­cated on field craft, get­ting into the right po­si­tion at the right dis­tance and se­lect­ing the right shot. Much of the quarry we hunt as air­gun­ners does not have a well- de­vel­oped sense of smell, but re­lies on ex­cel­lent vi­sion and the abil­ity to de­tect even slight mo­tion, and with ev­ery­thing in the for­est out to eat these smaller an­i­mals, sur­vivors stay on high alert, re­ly­ing on that out­stand­ing vis­ual acu­ity to avoid be­com­ing a menu item.

The short an­swer to the ques­tion I opened with, ‘does wear­ing camo im­prove an airgun hunter’s re­sults?’ is that I be­lieve it does. At least, it does for cer­tain game and in cer­tain con­di­tions. When squir­rel hunt­ing, for in­stance, the quarry is of­ten sit­ting in the trees with a clear line of sight from above. A hunter sit­ting at the base of a tree wait­ing for a squir­rel to come out, will be busted if un­able to meld into his sur­round­ings. Even mi­nor move­ment will be en­hanced and eas­ier to de­tect if the hunter’s out­line is not bro­ken up. Not

only should camo cloth­ing be worn in this set­ting, but gloves and face mask as well. From a tree- dwelling squir­rel’s per­spec­tive, a hunter’s face star­ing up from be­low is like a warn­ing flag, no mat­ter how much body cam­ou­flage is be­ing worn, and con­sider that the parts of the body that typ­i­cally move the most are the head and hands. It stands to rea­son then, that cov­er­ing these body parts will re­sult in bet­ter con­ceal­ment.


I’ve used many dif­fer­ent camo pat­terns over the years, as I’ve hunted deserts, plains, moun­tains, trop­i­cal swamps and jun­gle, and waist- deep snow fields. I’m not sure an ex­act match be­tween the camo pat­tern and the nat­u­ral sur­round­ings is re­quired, but blend­ing in helps. This is the most ob­vi­ous when hunt­ing in snow. If there are no branches or grass show­ing through the snow drifts, a pure white cov­er­ing will make you al­most in­vis­i­ble. If grass and/or branches are show­ing through, hav­ing the white camo pat­tern bro­ken up with a branch pat­tern is even bet­ter, and this is the crux of it; once the colour of the camo is roughly matched, it much more im­por­tant that the pat­tern serves to break up your out­line. One of the best ex­am­ples of this is when a hunter wears a ghillie suit with branches, vines, and leaves stuck into it to break up their con­tour fur­ther, which al­lows the camo pat­tern op­ti­mally to do its job.

The op­tions for camo are quite var­ied, es­pe­cially here in the States where you can walk into a big-box dis­count depart­ment store and find a range of camo that matches lo­cal con­di­tions fairly well. You can walk in and get a pair of matched camo jeans, shirt, gloves, face mask and a hat for a few bucks. It isn’t tech­ni­cal qual­ity cloth­ing, it won’t last for­ever, but it works. On the other end, you can walk into any sport­ing goods store and be faced with a huge ar­ray of ex­pen­sive tech­ni­cal camo gear that is more com­fort­able and han­dles the el­e­ments bet­ter, al­though I don’t think it has vastly im­proved ef­fi­cacy with re­spect to mak­ing the hunter blend in bet­ter.


There are other ap­proaches to cov­er­ing up. I have many sets of light mesh camo made for sum­mer and spring hunt­ing – pur­chased a size larger, so they can be worn over my street clothes. We were hunt­ing in Texas last week and walked into a restau­rant for lunch, and ev­ery per­son in the es­tab­lish­ment was clad in camo. How­ever, in some ar­eas where we are jump­ing from prop­erty to prop­erty in less camo-friendly en­vi­rons, be­ing able to slip full camo on or off over a pair of jeans and a T-shirt is ad­van­ta­geous.

An­other sim­i­lar ap­proach is a large 3D leafy- camo pon­cho that is a cross be­tween a wear­able blind (hide to you Brits) and a ghillie suit. This is a large, square camo net­ting with ar­ti­fi­cial leaves and grass af­fixed, with a cen­tre open­ing and hood

that al­lows it to be draped over the hunter’s shoul­ders. The ad­van­tage of this sys­tem over a con­ven­tional fixed blind is that it al­lows mo­bil­ity, and a cer­tain amount of move­ment with­out giv­ing away your po­si­tion. The down­side is that if you are mov­ing through thick­ets or thorn bush, you can get pinned in place!

If my in­ten­tion is to go deep in camo, be­sides my cloth­ing, gloves, face cover, hat, boots and socks, I cam­ou­flage my ri­fle. A few of my ri­fles have been painted or dipped in var­i­ous pat­terns, whilst oth­ers are sim­ply wrapped in cam­ou­flage tape. The cloth tape I use comes in a va­ri­ety of colours and pat­terns, and can be re­moved with­out leav­ing a residue. The ad­van­tage of this ap­proach is that it can be changed as I travel to dif­fer­ent hunt­ing grounds. I’ve used the same ri­fle in grass­lands, for­est, and snow sim­ply by switch­ing out the tape. Of­ten, I’ll only tape the bar­rel and fore­stock, which gives enough cov­er­age and is eas­ier to re­move.


Typ­i­cally, I wear camo when airgun hunt­ing be­cause I can’t think of a time when break­ing up your pat­tern is go­ing to be a bad thing, and there are hunt­ing ap­pli­ca­tions, such as squir­rels, crows, turkey, where it has a huge im­pact on suc­cess. There are other ap­pli­ca­tions – night hunt­ing, pest con­trol in cer­tain in­dus­trial or agri­cul­tural set­tings, for ex­am­ple – where it is less rel­e­vant. How­ever, in any sit­u­a­tion where camo is called for, cov­er­ing your face and hands with camo face mask and gloves will pay off in the re­sults you achieve, and it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that re­gard­less of what you are wear­ing, the suc­cess­ful hunter will move slowly, re­frain from ex­tra­ne­ous move­ment, and use nat­u­ral cover, the shad­ows, and the wind to their ad­van­tage. Noth­ing you wear will be as im­por­tant as hon­ing your field craft, but to­gether they will al­low you to up your game.

When hunt­ing with­out camo, I wear sub­dued coloured clothes, but more im­por­tantly, use cover to the max

I have gone the ex­tra step of giv­ing some of my guns a camo paint job

Cover your face and hands be­cause these tend to move a lot and are an ob­vi­ous warn­ing sign to your quarry

This squir­rel al­most ran over my leg with­out notic­ing me Un­less ev­ery­thing is com­pletely covered in snow, I pre­fer a pat­tern to help break up my out­line

In farm set­tings, pest birds are ac­cli­ma­tised to peo­ple mov­ing around

I had the wind in my favour and called this racoon in­side of 30 yards be­fore drop­ping it with a head­shot

In dap­pled early morn­ing sun­light, I al­most faded into the land­scape

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