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Embracing Digital Camo for Bowhunting?

A review of what we know about our needs as bowhunters, and what Gore's scientific approach claims to offer.

I've read every piece of literature, watched almost every video and clicked on almost every link Gore and Sitka Gear have to offer. I've learned more about the science of deer vision and concealment, and the complicated process of garment creation and design than I ever thought possible. If you're interested in the topic, I suggest you do the same; Gore and its experts do a great job of illustrating their points.

But rather than fire off a lengthy diatribe about the finer scientific points of Gore's Optifade camo, I thought it would be more beneficial to my fellow bowhunters to provide a practical application—a "why this might work for you" effort. Not to mention why it worked for me.

Let's go over what we know about our needs as bowhunters, and what Gore Optifade’s scientific approach claims to offer.

We need to be concealed. Close quarters contact with a big whitetail, muley or any big game animal is a visual cat and mouse game. While it is true that scent control is the most important element to tricking that wily buck or bull, the more freely we can move during an encounter the better. Stalking across the sage covered brush in Wyoming after a keen-eyed antelope or positioning for a shot on a Midwest whitetail that just happened to sneak out of the brush 10 yards behind you can certainly be made easier given the right camo.

Optifade uses perceived color, positive vs. negative space and other visual cues to help hunters fade into the background—hopefully allowing a bowhunter more freedom of movement. No matter if you spot and stalk or sit and shoot, the freedom to draw your bow without fear of being spotted is the ultimate advantage. Fact is, simple yet subtle movement is often the key to outsmarting your quarry.

One (Fairly) Old, One New
Last January Gore announced its Open Country pattern as the first in the Optifade line. The pattern was optimized for spot and stalk hunting in western mountain environments, touting the aforementioned “science of nothing.” Just a few days ago, in an attempt to address conditions unique to treestand hunting in a wooded environment, Gore introduced the new Forest pattern.

This arrangement takes into account circumstances unique to bowhunting, including the elevated angle of attack, the vertical effect of trees (which can make detection of a hunter easier for the prey) and closer engagement distances than those in open-country hunting. Gore claims to have optimized the pattern contrast through shading and colorization to account for how deer see when looking up in the woods. The Forest camo is designed for maximum effectiveness at 16 meters—the average kill distance for Pope & Young whitetails.

With the addition of the Forest pattern, it seems that Gore is providing a well-rounded camo line that should suit the needs of the entire archery crowd. So then why do these patterns seem bogus to some bowhunters?

They look different.

The arrangement of color blocks on the Open Country pattern (pea green, beige, olive gray and black) combines with micro and macro elements to produce a pattern that doesn't quite blend in if you're hunting during the early season. Nor does the new Forest pattern with the brightly highlighted fall foliage. Regardless, this camo is designed according to the animal's vision, not ours. Though these patterns may appear completely random to the human eye, the science of animal vision and concealment suggests adequate camouflage.

“This pattern is designed so deer or other big game won’t recognize what you are,” says Brad Yeoman, one of the key players in Gore’s industry-changing camo push. “They won’t see a moving leaf or tree branch, they’ll see nothing."

The simple fact that these patterns do not intend to mimic the woods in an artistic way but are crafted according a scientific process screams credibility to me. Again, the concept of this camo seems to hold true with the needs of bowhunters—whether you spot and stalk or sit and shoot.

Continue reading for my experience....

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