I bought my first piece of camouflage clothing back in the 1970s. It was an army surplus camouflage jacket which I used to wear when I was duck hunting. I still have it but these days we use it to cover the garbage at the end of the driveway to prevent the crows for getting into it.
That early camouflage coat was in what today we would call woodland pattern and it looks like an antique when compared to what is on the market today. These days I own camouflage boots, waders, jackets, hats, gloves and T-shirts. The variety of camouflage that is out there is amazing and every year it becomes more and more realistic.
Camouflage was originally designed to allow early hunters to get closer to prey by blending into their surroundings. They were limited to spears and arrows so getting close to their prey was essential if they were going to eat. Later it was used by the military to gain an advantage over their opponents.
Nature was the original source of knowledge on the advantages of camouflage and naturalists from Aristotle to Darwin noted how animals used colour to improve their survival. We see this around us today as animals such as the snowshoe hare changes colour from summer brown to winter white.
The majority of fish species we are familiar with have a white belly combined with a dark back. This colouration allows them to blend into the surface when a predator is below them, and with the bottom when the predator is above them. Some fish species, such as flounders, have evolved a more complex colouration system where they can modify cells in their skin to take on the colour of the bottom. Birds such as the ruffed grouse have a blend of light and dark feathers which are very effective in allowing them to blend into the background.
The early camouflage jacket I purchased was made up of patches of brown, green and black which helped to break up your outline when you were in a duck blind but it pales in comparison to what is on the market today. Generally speaking the most popular camouflage works by attempting to mimic your natural surroundings so you blend in with the environment. There are camouflage patterns which look like leaves, dry grass, branches and sand.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are camouflage patterns which are designed to confuse through the use of patterns and colours that trick the eye. In nature the zebra is a good example of an animal that uses this disruptive pattern to their advantage.
There is no question that camouflage has come a long way from the cavemen who were hunting for their supper to modern fashion. If you see me wearing a camouflage jacket these days I may be going goose hunting, or to the mall. I’d rather be hunting.
Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.