Formal dictionary characterizations typically refer to camouflage in terms of cloaking military personnel, equipment or positions. To the contemporary bowhunter, camouflage — or simply camo — typically indicates attire donned for the chase. Yet it all begins with disguising patterns, carefully crafted and configured components printed on flat material then tailored into our favorite bowhunting garb. It’s the pattern, after all, that allows bowhunters to melt into diverse landscapes. And being invisible is what bowhunting success is largely about.
Like squabbling over Ford verses Dodge hunting rigs, camouflage brand and pattern loyalties typically reflect regional surroundings. There are dark-hued, deep-woods patterns, those as busy as a Southern swamp or Eastern river bottom, or as open and drab as a Western desert or timberline ridgeline. Some patterns prove photo realistic, others as abstract as modern art. And while most camouflage patterns intermingle with a surprising array of habitats — the All Purpose of Realtree’s AP, for instance — there are certainly habitats where particular patterns prove most at home.
That’s what Petersen’s BOWHUNTING set out to determine; which patterns blend best in the sundry habitats of the game we pursue. Breaking North America into the simplistic regions of North, South, East and West (for the sake of space), we chose patterns we felt give you the edge in fooling available bowhunting quarry under the conditions most often found in those regions.
Certainly, you may disagree with some of our decisions, but these are only suggestions, not rules etched in stone.
Alder and willow swamp, fir and poplar hummocks, patchy snow; these are my involuntary images of “North” — whether guarding bait for Saskatchewan spring bear or a big-woods whitetail scrape in northern Wisconsin or Minnesota. This is proverbial treestand country, bowhunting in the literal thick of it. You need a pattern that disappears into thronged vegetation, something conceived to help you disappear while bowhunting on high.
Scent-Lok’s (www.scentlok.com) revolutionary new Vertigo Grey and Vertigo Tan patterns, featuring a proven arrangement of large areas of opposing light and dark swatches, help fragment the human outline when viewed from ground-level, looking up through trees, foliage and overcast sky. Vertigo’s scattering effect adopts photo-realistic features for up-close viewing while maintaining its macro effect when viewed from more than 20 yards for maximum visual confusion in any treestand or skyline scenario.
Mathews (www.mathews.com)Lost Camo has a distinctive horizontal motif designed to get lost in any elevated, hardwoods position. The colors in Lost Camo are natural and convincing, with a multi-layered construct that adds depth confusion in any light. Its overall canvas is also larger than most patterns (Lost Camo’s 40×60 inches opposed to a 25×25-inch industry average), meaning it doesn’t blob when viewed from a distance.
The North spells treestands — long vigils in wait of that elusive trophy whitetail buck, or simply an eating-fat doe for the family larder. Every bowhunter understands the drill: long hours in freezing temperatures, inhospitable weather and icy wind all spell hypothermia for those who aren’t properly prepared, togged in the latest high-tech insulating duds.
Scent-Lok’s Full Season Convertible Parka, Bibs and Pant ($180 parka, $170 bibs, $140 pant, $10 charge for 2XL and 3XL; www.scentlok.com), in Vertigo Grey, include a stealthy, micro-brushed outer and comfy micro-fleece. The parka features a zip-out liner, allowing adjustment for prevailing weather. Outer shells battle the elements and include spacious pockets, storm flaps and articulated elbows/knees. And because it’s Scent-Lok, activated carbons keeps odors at bay.
The Mathews Collection by Gamehide Monster Fleece Jacket and Bibs ($170 jacket and $160 bibs; www.gamehide.com), in Mathews Lost Camo, has it all: silent fleece shell, complete waterproofing, breathability and warmth. Insulated with Heat Tech material, this is a go-to garment when temperatures dip. Freedom Sleeve jacket design assures freedom of movement, while full-length leg zippers on the Bibs make them quick and easy to take on and off.
Recalling turkey, whitetail and wild boar forays to the hospitable South sparks immediate memories of intermittent layers of brambles, saw palmetto, sugar pines and genuine mossy oaks bearded with spooky Spanish moss. Yes, disappearing here means merging into a variety of lush habitats. From hardwood forests or pine plantations to busy second growth, the South has an amazing variety of jungle-like environments to challenge bowhunters. Blending effectively is about mimicking the dense, deeply-layered cover you’ll haunt for success.
Mossy Oak’s (www.mossyoak.com) all-new Break-Up Infinity takes one of bowhunting’s all-time favorite patterns to the next level with improved depth, detail and contrast. Ultra-realistic, digitally photographed elements provide astonishing detail, dimension and accurate color tones, helping you better blend with heavily-wooded surroundings. Layered leaf, limb, acorn and branch elements are carefully arranged to destroy the bowhunter’s silhouette on stand or while stalking terra firma.
Cabela’s (www.cabelas.com) proven Seclusion 3D includes varying degrees of focus and contrast in three distinct layers distilled into a true-to-lif
e illusion of shadowed depth. The outermost layer features photo-realistic vegetation detail to blend with any forested habitat. The secondary layer includes six separate focal distances of varying clarity to accurately feign depth. Add in background elements of dissolved shading and highlights and you get three layers carefully combined to create silhouette-shattering contrast.
I’ve certainly been cold in the South, but more often bowhunting the Land of Dixie means temperate weather, humidity and even biting insects. Hanging mid-day or early-season stands, or run-and-gun affairs involving spring gobblers or stalking off-season swamp hogs, can turn into sweaty, sticky affairs. There are certainly those days when you’ll want insulated goods, but day in and day out something that breathes freely and wicks away moisture is the ticket for southern bowhunting comfort.
Sporting Mossy Oak’s new Break-Up Infinity camouflage, central to Rocky’s Broadhead apparel ($140 jacket and $120 pant; www.rockyboots.com) design are compression zippers located on the chest, wrists and underneath the arms of the jacket for optional gathering and a snug fit, assuring your bowhunting togs won’t interfere with an important shot. Jacket and pants also include SIQ Atomic scent-control system, stealthy SilentHunter micro-suede fabric, Thinsulate insulation and a water-repellent finish built around multiple pockets. Ideal for treestand hunting, the jacket features a safety harness slit so users can wear their harness underneath.
Cabela’s Hunt Tech attire ($35-$40 henley and $40-$45 pants; www.cabelas.com) in Seclusion 3D proves lightweight and breathable by including technology used in competitive sportswear. The soft, 100-percent polyester material allows cool breezes through and pulls moisture away from your skin where it can dry quickly. The Hunt Tech line also includes antimicrobial-impregnated fibers to retard odor-causing bacteria. Look for it in classic Six-Pocket Pants and Long-Sleeve Henley.
The term East really has elastic limits, stretching from the New Jersey Pine Barrens and Virginia oak thickets to Maryland or Ohio farmlands to Iowa or Illinois woodlots to Kansas or Nebraska cottonwood creek bottoms. The word diversity fits; sitting open field edges one day, dense white oak thickets the next, gloomy river bottoms a few days after. You need a pattern that can do it all, from the darkest timber to sun-drenched meadows.
Realtree’s (www.realtree.com)newest incarnation, AP HD, signifies All Purpose High Definition, which should be enough said. The neutral, open, contrasty and realistic pattern includes three layers for effective depth deception, including a soft background of neutral tones and just-perceivable tree elements and a middle zone showing blurred oak trunk and leaves, all superimposed with tack-sharp, photo-realistic oak trunk, branches, leaves and pine ingredients. While developing the company’s razor-sharp Realtree HD printing process, designers also took into account the inevitable ravages of Mother Nature and washing, drafting AP to better hold its contrast over time.
One of the newest patterns in 2010, Gore’s Optifade Forest (www.optifade.com) was engineered by military camouflage experts and animal scientists specifically to help confuse deer’s sight in treestand settings. The combination of scientifically rendered micro and macro patterns and hues found in Gore’s original Optifade Open Country were altered to break up the human outline and help you blend while occupying an elevated angle of attack, successfully counterbalancing the vertical effect of trees and accommodating the intimate ranges most often encountered while treestand hunting.
Forecast, highly variable. This has been my experience while chasing Eastern whitetails or spring turkeys. You have to be ready for anything Mother Nature has in store, from warm, sunny days to cold drizzle to outright nasty days of blowing snow and sleet (when deer seem to move best). So, no single outfit serves the Eastern whitetail hunter for the duration. Mid-weight to heavily insulated attire made to repel the elements are made to order, keeping you on stand and in the game no matter the forecast.
Under Armour’s Derecho Fleece Jacket and Pants ($200 each; www.underarmour.com), in Realtree AP HD, includes a three-layer design of poly-fleece face, PU windproof membrane and plush fleece backing, stretch ventilation in pit zones also bolstering breathability. Raglan sleeve design allows free range of motion, while also eliminating abrasion points. Pants include knee-high zippers.
Sitka Gear’s Incinerator Jacket and Bibs ($599 jacket, $469 bibs; www.sitkagear.com), in Gore Optifade Forest, is made for the coldest, nastiest days on stand. Through a combination of down and quiet, 2.5-layer Gore-Tex fabric, this bowhunting outfit will see you through any weather and the coldest late seasons. It’s designed to fit an individual’s body, fully articulated to allow free range of movement and includes a silent brushed shell and a multitude of useful pockets and features.
The West is a study in contrasts — from the rainforests and black timber of the Pacific Northwest and Rockies to the drab deserts of the Southwest and Great Basin. Yet, when the bowhunter outfits for the West, he thinks in terms of alpine meadow or timberline haunts, sage or cactus deserts, pronghorn prairie or muley badlands. These are sun-drenched habitats with hues as subdued as the average state trooper’s sense of humor. Western patterns are created accordingly, muted shades and open elements blending in these austere terrains.
Realtree Max-1 HD from Realtree Outdoors was conceived primarily for open Western terrain where sunshine and lack of cover are part of the hunt. It combines a game-fooling balance of neutral earth tones, prairie grasses, brush, rock, sage and open zones, with just a hint of shadow detail. It’s at home on sage hillsides or mesquite flats, but is also a go-to pattern anywhere bowhunters encounter sun-baked prairies, desert, rocky terrain, cropland or foothill forest
Brush is Mossy Oak’s answer to open rangelands, mountain foothills and desert terrain. It contains a unique background of dead grasses and drab dirt for an effective open-country base, varying sizes and shades of authentic brush and native plants layered atop this muted background to create depth in otherwise featureless terrain. The effect is convincing, a 3-D deception of soft, naturally-occurring shadows found in open landscapes across the West.
Spot-and-stalk, dogging bugling bulls, trekking deep into backcountry to leave the masses behind; this is the stuff of Western bowhunting. The Western bowhunter seldom sits still long, lured by the siren’s song of bugling elk or heeding wanderlust to see what lies beyond distant ridges. Then there’s pronghorn, the decided exception, when sitting inside a pop-up in wait of watering late-summer antelope draws sweat from every pore. All this points to breathable active wear, something to keep you dry when you sweat or during a drizzle, warm in cooling breezes.
Bass Pro Shops’ Micro Lite Shirt and Zip-Off Pants ($30 each; www.basspro.com), in Realtree Max-1 HD, is made for active bowhunters plying warm early seasons. Tapered side mesh panels, vented back flap with mesh lining and moisture-wicking qualities help cool you down by allowing ample air flow. Zip-off pant legs allow further cooling while sitting a sweltering pop-up blind, working around camp or packing meat. The brushed nylon fabric assures bowhunting stealth.
Russell Outdoors’ Scent-Stop Pro Long- Sleeve Shirt and Cargo Pants ($50 each; www.russelloutdoorsgear.com), in Mossy Oak Brush, includes Scent-Stop antimicrobial finish to stop odor-causing bacteria from gaining a foothold during sweaty hunts. Sixty-percent cotton, 40-percent polyester construction makes it cool and highly efficient at moving moisture away from the skin.
Some camo patterns defy pigeon-holing. From a hint of the classic to effectively simplistic to scientifically-driven designs, these patterns blend in nearly any terrain, during nearly any season or lighting conditions. These are wonderful options for the adventurous bowman who might travel West for elk, mule deer or pronghorn one month and bowhunt backyard whitetails the next.
Time-tested by world-class bowhunters such as Randy Ulmer, Cabela’s classic Outfitter Camo features muted greens, browns and grays arranged in larger elements than many other camouflage patterns on the market. The effect is a shadowy appearance that’s just as at home in open country as it is amongst cedar, pine or hardwoods forest; a simple yet effective pattern that gets the job done in nearly any terrain.
ASAT (www.asat.com) stands for All Season All Terrain, which pretty much tells you the tale of this pattern. Developed following 20 years of extensive research, ASAT Camouflage admittedly doesn’t offer eye-grabbing shelf appeal, but it’s deadly effective in the field, where it really counts. The pattern includes a light khaki-tan background overlaid by contrasting, curved striped shapes of black and brown. It works as well in direct sunlight as it does during low-light hours or heavily overcast days. It’s one pattern that does it all, from hardwoods to snow-covered fields.
Gore Optifade Open Country was scientifically designed around animal’s vision, with the aid of animal vision researchers and military camouflage experts. Unlike mimicry approaches to bowhunting subterfuge, Optifade Open Country prevents prey from recognizing you as a predator — even if detected — making you nothing to their eyes. This is accomplished through a combination of mathematically-configured macro and micro patterns that break up body symmetry and outline while creating a fine texture that allows you to fade into any background.
There are bowhunting outfits that seem to go with me on every bowhunt; worn alone during warm, early seasons on stand and cool mornings in the West, or layered when temperatures turn bitter during the whitetail rut. In short, these are outfits welcomed on nearly any bowhunt in one capacity or another.
Cabela’s Microtex wear ($50-$60 shirt, $60-$75 pant; www.cabelas.com) in Outfitter Camo is as soft and quiet as fleece, yet tough as denim but without fading after hard use. The combed polyester material includes low-nap, tight microweave technology to dry quickly, breath and resist wind. Look for it in Six-Pocket Pant and button-front Long-Sleeve Shirt.
Sitka Gear 90 % Jacket and Pants ($249 jacket and $229 pant; www.sitkagear.com), in Optifade Open Country, are built for the active bowhunter with durable, breathable, two-way stretch material that is DWR (durable water repellent) treated and soft. It’s perfect alone during chilly mornings out West, early seasons on a whitetail stand or layered as temperatures dip. Both include Soft Shell polyester face with embossed, brushed micro fleece lining.
First Lite’s merino wool lineup, in ASAT Camouflage, includes several soft shirts ($90-$170; www.firstlite.com) that stand alone during early seasons and create ideal base layers when colder. The Gila Pants ($160) are constructed of 100-percent merino ripstop and are machine dryable. Their thin yet tough design makes it suitable to temperatures up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit while proving ultra breathable and naturally shedding water.