Camo Conspiracy

The Camo Conspiracy

From politics to the X-Files it seems we constantly face situations so absurd that they could not have developed by chance. The scope, subtlety, and unlikeness seem to suggest predetermined intervention. A grand plan so flawless it would be undetectable if I hadn't witnessed it myself.

Would you believe that all hunters are actually expected to go into the field bearing prominent identifiers, so they can easily be avoided by deer and other game animals? Yes, you sigh. This sounds like the logical endgame of a politically correct effort to give the quarry an even chance against the resources of the modern hunter. And it's true we could be persuaded to carry a little handicap to make the sport more sporting. The fact is, Black Powder, Archery, and especially Primitive Archery are all chosen for this and other valid reasons.

Now try to imagine the handicap has been imposed without our consent or knowledge. Certainly this could not be. No one could possibly trick us into sacrificing the stealth we work so hard to maintain. We would not be foolish enough to carry markers that would signal our presence to the eyes and nose of the deer. This would drastically reduce our enjoyment of the sport by decreasing our chance of seeing an animal. It's one thing to impede our harvest; but quite another to spook them off unseen.

IN ANY CASE, SUCH HANDICAPPING COULD NEVER BE IMPOSED WITHOUT OUR KNOWLEDGE. It's not technically possible to fool all of us all the time. We are some of the most resourceful humans on the planet. We spend our lives studying the outdoor environment, especially the ecology and habits of deer and the game animals we seek.

Even if such deception was possible, who could impose it and how could they secretly gain the cooperation of the manufacturers, distributors, retailers, writers, and other professionals who would surely stumble upon the truth? How could you possibly buy their silence, especially the outdoor media? Would not the revealing of such a conspiracy be the biggest story in the hunting industry? Who could possibly keep this secret? Who would want to? The truth is out there!


Perhaps this is a simple mystery to solve? Let us just follow the money, the greed, and the pride. Assume for the moment that deer do not have a rich and powerful political action committee with resources to push an agenda protecting themselves by forcing hunters to carry markers for easy identification. The deer are then simply fortunate beneficiaries of the conspiracy. Certainly grateful for its existence, they can do little more than protect it by their silence.

Indeed, the arrogance and profits of men and their institutions are the more likely perpetrators of this conspiracy. While the genesis may be murky, it's clear that once in place, pride and profit would likely be lost if it were exposed.

Animals have certainly used camouflage since the evolution of vision. In the 20th century the military developed camouflage to hide form other humans. Soon, entrepreneurs began offering camouflage to hunters who happily assumed that deer certainly could not see anything not seen by the most magnificent of God’s creatures. If you were less visible to your buddy…..surely you were less visible to a deer.

The modern hunting camouflage industry was born. In no time there were hundreds of different patterns that could make you less visible to humans when viewed against different backgrounds. Patterns came and went. New patterns were claimed to work in wide ranges of conditions. Elements of different patterns were combined with each other. (A clever way to justify multiple royalties). Today you can perfectly match flora, terrain, and season in places that don't even have deer. All this wonderful camouflage (did I mention faithful reproductions of some of the prettiest dead leaves you ever saw?) makes it possible to hide from human sight anywhere you choose.

Paintball enthusiasts have an endless array of camouflage to choose from because every single pattern is designed to help hide you from human vision. Unfortunately for hunters, hardly a piece exists that will reduce your visibility to animals. Quite the contrary, it's all stunningly alike to the visual system of the white tailed deer! IT ALL GLOWS! Every piece is painted with a color humans can't see. This very same color just happens to match the peak of visual sensitivity of the white tailed deer.

But this essay isn't about technical details. You can get that whole story from a booklet called "How Game Animals See and Smell." No, I'm exploring the conspiracy. Dozens of companies and experts of every stripe committing themselves to the concept of choosing camouflage based upon how it appears to humans. It is easy to recognize, and to differentiate, easy to sell, easy to "understand" and easy to build a system of royalties and personal endorsements to provide financial incentive for everyone involved. (Except for the deer and I already explained why they won't talk.) The media are doubly blessed. They have sold millions of pages of stories about the effectiveness of different patterns of what I like to call "paintball" camouflage. Bigger photos are needed because the reader has to see the successful pattern well enough to judge for himself how well it hides the successful hunter. But the biggest windfall is the advertising. How many times have you searched a beautiful four-color process gravure quality photo for one more hunter who blends perfectly into a complex background when viewed by a human? The marketer swells with pride as he signs the space contract to run a picture so perfect he himself cannot spot the hunter.

But alas, the best conspiracy can fall apart if exposed. In 1984 it almost happened. (Here comes my obligatory reference to "big brother".) The U.S. Army research facility at Nadick Mass. finished a comprehensive study of camouflage. Since the military is primarily concerned with hiding from humans perhaps the secret would be safe. Perhaps they would simply add a few new patterns to this years "paintball" collection.

As it turns out, the military was clever enough to figure out that if we use Ultraviolet (UV) and Infrared (IR) vision systems and often take dogs to the field for their superior senses, our enemies might do the same. Their new requirement addresses, among other things, visibility to machines and animals that can see shorter wavelengths (UV) than humans do. The new rules state UV optical brightening dyes can not be present in military camouflage.

Surely the game was up. The new specs went directly to the manufacturers of military camouflage, many of whom also printed camouflage for hunters. Any one of them could have begun making hunting camouflage that did not glow to game animals. Camouflage without the fluorescent glow, just as required for our soldiers by the government specs

Thankfully for the deer, no one caught on. The "paint ball" camouflage continued to proliferate with its unmistakable bright glow warning animals of danger. The marketers were so obsessed with the virtues of their copyright protected patterns that they never even considered how their camouflage might look to a non-human. (This is as close as I'm going to get to aliens.) "What difference could it possibly make? We're selling these patterns to hunters, not to deer."

In 1985 a small manufacturing company created a new detergent, from scratch, specifically for hunters. At the time there were only a couple of laundry products labeled for hunters. The two existing products both contained, among other things, perfume and UV brightener. This new product, Sport-Wash, contained neither and made a point of announcing this special deficiency. This could have destroyed the conspiracy.

Amazingly it went unnoticed or ignored by the marketers of glowing "paint ball" camouflage.

A few years later, U-V-Killer was introduced by the same company. It was engineered to eliminate the UV glow deer see so easily. Trying not to alienate the camouflage manufacturers, they tiptoed gently around the fact that patterns made little or no difference compared to the glow. They foolishly anticipated camouflage manufacturers would recognize the significance of their revelation and begin making all of their patterns without UV brightening dyes.

Millions of hunters treated their "paint ball" camouflage and experienced the thrill of seeing and harvesting more game. Some camouflage manufacturers soon made their patterns without brighteners and used hang tags to advise their customers. This should have been the end of the story, conspiracy dissolved.

Fast forward to 1996. Spot checking the camouflage shelves revealed brighteners had reemerged in the new camouflage. Is it possible that "paintball camouflage" was making a comeback?

1998. More new camouflage has brighteners. Perhaps more people are buying it for paint ball than for hunting.

2001? Almost 100% of all new camouflage has the big bright glow of UV fluorescent dyes. THE CONSPIRACY IS INTACT. Deer can relax knowing they can count on the glow to warn them of danger.

How can this be? Is it so hard for them to admit they've been wrong, that it's easier to persist in the deception. Ignoring the facts won't make them go away. Maybe, like front wheel drive on the 1937 Cord, this technology is still way ahead of its time. Maybe so, but one would expect at least one brave manufacturer to recognize this as an opportunity to gain competitive advantage, even if he couldn't claim it was all his idea. So what keeps this conspiracy together?

And what about the Fourth Estate? How many authors have figured it out? Hunting camouflage should hide hunters from animals, not other hunters!

What is it that keeps this conspiracy together? Best guess? A combination of several minor details.
• Glowing camouflage looks better to humans in stores. If it sells well, you certainly can't fault the marketer for providing what his customer wants.
• Maybe paintball is bigger than hunting. Kids outgrow their camouflage every year and paintball is growing fast. More camouflage is worn to school, work and play than to hunt.
• "Paintball" camouflage is easier to make. No need to check every lot of all ingredients and processes for UV brighteners. They can be in the base-cloth, dyes, durable water repellant, washing, or finishing.
• "Paintball" camouflage is quicker to make. When you get an in season rush order from your biggest customer you grab whatever cloth you can find and start printing. All stock material has optical brighteners. Non-prebrightened material costs no more but won't arrive till after hunting season is over and the order is canceled. (What conspiracy would be complete without the evils of bigness and efficiency?).
• The ego thing. It might blow your credibility to suddenly admit you've been making paintball camouflage all along. What really hurts is that the Ph.D.'s who researched animal vision don't even make camouflage.
• The power thing. If you're one of the top few players your hand might deteriorate when the deck gets reshuffled.

Maybe it's none of the above, just inertia. Newton's law about an object in motion.... It works like this. Mr. Hot New Pattern decides he's going to optimize his product for hunting instead of paintball. He visits the printer and explains all about how animals see differently than people. The boss says "Sure, we can do that". Joey on third shift runs the special bolts of "unprebrightened" material that took 11 weeks to arrive. He uses it to finish a run of table-cloth-plaid and the entire job gets rejected. (The customer says some of it looks a little dull and dingy.) Mr. Hot New Pattern's order is due and the material can't be replaced for 11 weeks. The Boss tells Joey to " just run it on whatever ya got".

Two weeks later Mr. Hot New Pattern is on the phone talking about animal eyes again. "Look, we been printing camouflage for 22 years, it looks great to me, if you don't like it award your itty-bitty job to one of my esteemed competitors."

Two weeks later Mr. Hot New Pattern is on the phone talking about animal eyes again. "Look, we been printing camouflage for 22 years, it looks great to me, if you don't like it award your itty-bitty job to one of my esteemed competitors."

Mr. Hot New Pattern debuts his new product at the SHOT SHOW. The buyers love it. They all agree their customers will have great difficulty seeing it against common hunting backgrounds.

Sales are great and by winter the new pattern is all over the woods.
The deer study the hunters. They expose their teeth a little.
Is that a scent-enhancing behavior?
Deer can't smile .... can they?

So. Is it a conspiracy? Did somebody get to Joey? Or was he preoccupied because he had just called O.S.H.A. to harass his boss who is planning to move the printing operation to Sri Lanka? (What a transparently shameless effort to add a Red-button acronym agency and the threat of foreign takeover.) It's impossible to say for sure and might be libelous anyway. This may be just the tip of the iceberg.

How much longer can this deception be maintained?
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE...... Isn't it?

Just one more point to ponder, If the deer population has tripled, and we now have vastly superior camouflage and weapons, why has the hunting success rate stayed the same?

We may never learn the full extent of the conspiracy, but you can read all the technical facts about animal vision in the booklet "HOW GAME ANIMALS SEE AND SMELL" available for $1 from ATSKO INC. 2664 Russell, Orangeburg, SC 29115. Phone: 803-531-1820 or E-mail

Watch these same postings for the sequel,
A life and death drama that is sure to involve lawyers.
To be included, excluded, or ignored E-mail Dan Gutting c/o