Camouflage

Camouflage with contrasts and both pattern and colors blending with the habitat makes it easier to avoid wary eyes.

I was sitting rather still on a recent evening when a tweety bird — a yellow -throated vireo, I think — did a touch- and-go on my left shoulder.

My own perch was in a tree stand in an over- grown patch of woods. All sorts of small songbirds were taking advantage of the seeds on weed growth that had sprung up in openings there where a selective timber cut had been made more than a year previously.

Dressed in full camouflage that blended well with my surroundings of lush green leaves and oak bark, I had been subdued with my movements and sort of melted into the scenery. Several birds had landed on nearby limbs, sometimes eyeing me curiously, sometimes not even noticing the big lump of greens, grays, earth tones and black accents.

And then there was the one that sailed in, tried to light on my shoulder but pulled off as soon as it felt what must have been unfamiliar texture. The little bird flittered over to a branch about 5 feet away, perched and stared back at the funny thing on which he first attempted to land. I believe he disapproved.

In hunting, warfare and other pursuits of stealth and deceit, men always have longed to be invisible. Failing that, they have settled for being more obscure by covering themselves with something that helped them visually fade into their surroundings.

Nowadays, with various Kentucky hunting seasons under way, camouflage is being practiced commonly to help people obscure themselves to the eyes of game species. Many animals grow their own adaptively developed camouflage with colors and patterns on skin, fur or feathers. Short of extensive tattoos, our own exterior fails miserably at that, so we rely on clothing.

The real goals of camo in our outerwear are to blend with habitat and to obscure the outlines of the wearer to beholders. Something we should keep in mind is what kind of eyes we are trying to fool when we wear this camouflage.

If we are trying to hide in plain sight from other people, the achievements of camouflage are obvious. Wildlife eyes are different, however. Deer, for instance, don’t see colors as we do. To deer, red and orange spectrum colors are more like shades of gray; blues, however, are more readily perceived.

Yet, to turkeys, waterfowl and other birds, color differential is much more acute. Hence, the old traditional red and black plaids of Northeastern deer hunters would make good sense, while red colors on a turkey hunter would be a stroke against concealment from the keen-eyed birds.

When firearms deer seasons are in, some people think it is ludicrous that hunters take to the fields wearing a combination of camouflage (their choice) and (mandatory) solid fluorescent orange. The reality, however, is that deer don’t see the blaze orange nearly as obviously as do people. It appears brighter to them, yes, but it does not register as the explosive orange that people see.

Still, during the archery deer season, I personally would just as soon march through the woods playing a tuba as to wear fluorescent clothing. As I don’t want to make noise, I don’t want to wear anything that makes me stand out visually, even to my own eyes.

There is a variety of effective camouflage patterns available nowadays, and the good ones have common qualities. Contrast is an important factor. There should be light and dark colors in a jumble of patches to both break up outlines and to merge the human form with surroundings.

In most cases, contrast is more important that colors. Too many dark colors close together become a single dark form at a distance. But a mix of darks and lights with stark contrast between the extremes serves to obliterate the form of the camo wearer.

A good pattern has elements large enough to retain visual separation — not appear as a singular blob — at some distance.

A note here pertains to older camo clothing. Faded camouflage patterns lose much of their contrast after countless washings. So goes some of the camouflaging qualities of that attire.

But new camo wear might work against you, too. Some clothing makers put chemical brighteners in their fabrics (because they are manufacturers, not hunters) that are seen better by wildlife eyes than humans. Hunters should be wary of camo clothing made by companies not normally associated with hunting gear.

At best, wash camouflage clothing before wearing it in the field. Use one of the relative few detergents that do not have brighteners in it. Any time you wash camo clothing with regular detergent (brighteners added), it is likely to give off a bit of ultra-violet glow in the eyes of deer and other critters.

The extend of camouflage makes a difference. It is dense of one to pull on a short-sleeve camo shirt and pants, then to sit out there with your big old face, arms and hands shining like beacons. Any time you do anything, you are turning your face/head and moving hands and forearms — like giving warning signals to anything from which you hoped to be hiding.

Face masks and gloves are important. Stupid stuff like white T-shirts at the collar and glowing white socks showing below pants cuffs should be eliminated.

The absolute best camo, however, is a lack of motion. Almost all wildlife can overlook you somewhat if you are stock still. Almost nothing will miss you if you are moving.

Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at outdoors@paducahsun.com.