67 Do you really need camo to be a successful hunter? Jim debates
Jim Chapman tackles the tricky problem of what hunters should wear
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.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
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.
WHAT A MESH!
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.
IT’S WHAT I CHOOSE
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