March 04, 2015
By Chris Christian
New camouflage patterns and lightweight fabrics fill out the special year-round needs of Florida hunters.
Scrub oak habitat is common in Central Florida, and this rifle hunter on a private lease blends right in.
The art of avoiding detection has has been highly refined over the years, and few have studied it as thoroughly as military organizations. Their studies have concluded that the keys to becoming invisible are “The Three Ss”—Shape, Silhouette and Shine.
Those who fail to understand them will be seen. Those who master them can melt into the background.
Shape: The eye of any mammal is geared to focus quickly on any shape that is different from its surroundings, no matter how small that difference may be. Here's a simple test: Stand with your back to a green lawn and have a friend scatter a dozen golf balls and one baseball behind you, without your looking. Then turn around and look. Your eye will home in quickly on that one baseball. It will stand out because, even though it is round and white like the others, it's the one that has a “different” shape.
Silhouette: You don't have to be standing atop a ridge, or in front of a setting sun to be silhouetted and quickly spotted. It can happen if you're wearing a color that stands out sharply from your surroundings.
Stand in a field of waist high dry brown grass wearing a dark green camo pattern, and you're silhouetted. Walk along a green pine tree line wearing a light brown marsh grass camo pattern and you're busted. Hang your tree stand on a gray bark oak, while wearing a light green or marsh/brown camo pattern, and you're busted again. If your camo pattern does not match the general colors of your surroundings it is not effective camo, and you are silhouetted.
Shine: Bright spots draw the eye, and it doesn't take much to make a bright spot. It could be nothing more innocuous than a stray beam of light reflecting off of eyeglasses or a rifle scope; a bright face; or a shiny stainless steel or brightly blued gun barrel. Those who wear glasses are well-advised to have a hat to shield them, and dulling the finish on firearms is also a good thing. In some cases, gloves are a major plus. An exposed hand moving across a camo background can quickly catch the eye.
Even with these steps, taking a position in direct sunlight can also make you bright. Sticking with shaded areas whenever possible is a smart thing. Mammalian eyes looking from bright sun into shadows often don't see what is hidden in that shadow.
Understanding the Three Ss, and incorporating them into your field craft can start one on the road to invisibility. But, just buying a suit of camo isn't necessarily going to help complete the process.
Effective camo needs to blend with the surrounding terrain and be comfortable in the field. Given the variety of seasons we enjoy in Florida, that's hard to achieve with just one outfit, or just one pattern.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options, and most hunters won't need more than a small selection of them.
For some hunters the “season” begins with archery in September and is followed closely by muzzleloader in October.
Although the calender says that is fall, it's not in Florida. It's still summer, and the rainy season is still in full bloom, not to mention the odd hurricane or tropical depression that might wander through. It's hot, humid and wet, and just about every mosquito and yellow fly in Florida is loving every minute of it. It's also aseason when the vegetation is going to be as maximum green as it will get. For those who choose to stalk on foot, a green-based camo outfit is a major plus. Those who hunt from a tree stand, as many bowhunters do, might want to reconsider.
A hunter elevated from the greenery on the ground, with his back to an oak, pine or palm tree would stand out in a silhouette with a bright green camo pattern.
A better choice would be a gray/brown/green pattern like Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity or Obsession, or a Realtree oak pattern.
One option for hot weather hunting is the Robinson Outdoors XLT Early Season line that was introduced in 2011. It's designed for hot climates and features scent-blocking technology, comfort stretch construction, in a breathable lightweight pant and jacket set. Designed for bowhunters, it even features a removable/adjustable arm guard to fit right or left arm. It's available in Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity that works well for tree stand hunters.
If the heat and humidity are real high, and bugs a major problem, the Boyt Harness Bug-Out Pack is another option. Constructed from a lightweight bug-proof mesh (the suit includes pants, jacket and head net that weigh only 7 ounces), it is available in a brown/tree pattern or Realtree Hardwoods Green. It can be slipped over lighter pants and a tee-shirt to provide both camo, and protection from any biting flying
bug that Florida has to offer.
Mesh head net for concealment.
General Gun Season
Camo is an asset when General Gun season opens in November, but not all hunters can take advantage of it.
Any hunter pursuing deer on a public WMA is required to wear 500 square inches of blaze orange.
This can be done via a vest, jacket, or in combination with a hat. Veteran Fish and Wildlife Commission officers have told me that there is no blaze orange camo pattern that they are aware of that meets the 500-square-inch rule.
Camo is out for deer hunters on public WMAs. But, it only applies to deer hunters, so those pursuing wild hogs or small game are exempt from the blaze orange rule.
For those, and for hunters on private land, the early portions of General Gun are little different than Archery season. There is still a lot of greenery to contend with and the same patterns work well.
As the first winter storms and freezes arrive around Thanksgiving the hardwoods shed their leaves and ground greenery dies off to be replaced with a gray, brown, orange and black landscape.
Shifting from a green based outfit to one matching the terrain is a good idea and Mossy Oak Infinity Break-Up or Realtree AP is a good bet for those hunting hardwood bottom lands.
If you're hunting the sandhill scrub country of the Florida Ridge, Mossy Oak Obsession is an excellent choice, the subtle indistinct blend of black, gray, tan, light green and orange highlights seems to melt into the scrub country terrain.
If pine/palmetto flats are your environment the background is different from hardwood and scrub oak country. Longleaf A/T GREEN was specifically designed for this and can be very effective.
Camo needs change considerably for Florida duck hunting. If your blind is constructed
from cut, dry brown, marsh grasses, the dark, deep woods patterns that worked so well during archery and General Gun season will silhouette you as a dark spot on a maze of light colors.
Consider where, and from what type of blind, you will be hunting. Matching that general color will boost your odds.
At the same time, consider the weight of the camo you are buying. Of the many “marsh grass” patterns available, many are made for hunters in northern climates where chill weather, ice, sleet and light snow are a normal part of a day pursuing waterfowl. That's not something we normally encounter in Florida and if the camo is of the heavily-insulated type your day may be done by the time you have negotiated the swamp to get to your blind. On those mornings with frost, many experienced hunters simply add a set of thermal underwear under their lightweight camo. It can quickly be shed when the day warms.
Spring Turkey Season
The arrival of spring brings the Florida weather cycle to full circle. Heat, humidity and bugs again enter the picture and can rival that of archery season. Lightweight breathable camo is an asset. The difference is that things haven't really greened up during the early portions of turkey season.
Spring gobbler hunters face a similar background to that of late season deer hunters, but with a twist. Instead of being perched in a tree stand, they are right down on the forest floor on a carpet of brown/orange/black leaves amidst a maze of bare gray limbs and tree trunks, with a sprinkling of green plants tossed in here and there. It's a different background situation, and one experienced hunter solves it in a rather innovative way. He mixes his camo. The upper garment is a gray/brown oak pattern, while the pants are an orange, brown, black, tan leaf forest floor pattern.
He has gotten some odd looks at a few hunting camps (including a few good natured jibes about not being able to afford a matched camo outfit) but his logic is solid. He knows he will be spending the critical portions of the day with his rear end planted on the dead leaf covered ground, with his back against the rough bark of a tree—and hopefully under the keen gaze of a mature turkey gobbler.
His lower body melts into the forest floor while his upper body becomes one with the tree. The Three Ss are conquered.
There is no doubt that effective camo can greatly boost a hunter's chances of success. And, when it comes to selecting effective Florida camouflage, hunters have never had it so good. There are a wealth of patterns on the market. But, given the wide variety of hunting seasons we enjoy in Florida, it's doubtful that one pattern can do it all. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman Sept. 2012