Best camo for deer hunting: what the science says

Best Camo for Deer Hunting: What the Science Says

To find the best camo for deer hunting, you must start by understanding deer vision and what they can and cannot see. Every hunting clothing company says their camouflage is optimized for deer vision, but understanding what that means is something altogether different.

As a former U.S. Army Green Beret, I spent my military career doing everything to ensure I was camouflaged from the enemy I was facing. We had a saying, “Know your enemy.” I then made it my mission to become an expert on deer behavior, deer vision, and how deer see and react to camouflage.

I now know exactly what camo to wear and when to wear it. This has allowed me to increase my success rate and drastically decrease the number of times I am spotted by deer when hunting.

In this post, I’ll dive into what I’ve learned about the science of deer vision, what camouflage patterns are the best, and why others aren’t optimal. So let’s get started.

*NOTE: All kinds of camouflage and regular clothing can work for deer hunting. But, I want to hunt using the best solution, not the “what can I get away with” solution. That is what this post is about.

How to Select the Right Camouflage

Deer have a wide field of vision and can see the smallest movement even when not looking directly at you. Staying completely still is the best camouflage for deer hunting, but that’s not usually an option. Instead, use the right camo to mask your movement, blend in with your environment, and use a deer’s vision against them.

Here’s how to select the right camouflage for deer hunting:

  1. Match your environment: Choose a camouflage pattern that blends well with the colors, patterns, and foliage where you are hunting.
  2. Adapt to the season: Select camouflage that matches the changing foliage and vegetation throughout the hunting season. Early-season hunts may require more green, while late-season hunts need patterns with more browns and grays. Snowy environments or winter hunts may require snow camouflage patterns.
  3. Understand how deer see: Deer perceive reds, oranges, and some tans and grays as shades of green or gray. Remember this when selecting camouflage. What we perceive as effective might look great to us, but can be very bad for deer hunting.
  4. Minimize blue-spectrum and UV visibility: Since deer are sensitive to blue-spectrum and UV light, avoid clothing and gear treated with UV brighteners. Use UV-free detergents for washing your hunting gear and use UV-blocking sprays. In low light conditions, clothing washed with UV brighteners will stand out even more as deer see the best during this time.

READ: Deer Vision 101: How Deer See Color, Light, and Movement

From the Penn State University Deer Study:

“Deer are less sensitive to light of long wavelengths (orange and red) and rely upon their perception of only 2 colors – yellow and blue. Deer are essentially red-green color blind (like some people). Deer can distinguish blue from red, but not green from red. Red, orange, or green all look the same to a deer.”

Bow hunting in tree and matching camo
A bow hunter wearing “mimicry-style” camouflage.

Types of Camouflage: Making the Right Choice

Mimicry Camo: Blending In or Standing Out?

Mimicry camo, like what is shown in the picture above, is designed to replicate the environment with detailed images of leaves, bark, and other natural elements. This might seem like the perfect choice, however, to a deer’s eyes, these patterns can look like a blurry blob. While it can be effective in certain terrains, it’s not “the best” option for beating a deer’s vision.

While mimicry camo may look great to human eyes, it may not always be the most effective choice when hunting deer. By understanding the limitations of deer vision and the importance of breaking up your outline, you can make an informed decision when choosing your hunting clothes and give yourself the best possible chance of success.

“Mimicry-style” camo is what I grew up wearing and still wear depending on where I am hunting. It is not a bad option by any means, but it isn’t the most optimized solution for deer.

Disruption Camo: Breaking the Pattern

In 2011, Sitka changed everything with a study they conducted with a Professor from the University of Washington and a camouflage expert from the U.S. military. The study found that camo using micro and macro dispersion was more effective against deer vision than the traditional mimicry camo we all are used to.

This began a deer hunting camo revolution.

This study found that disruption camo effectively breaks up the outline of the hunter and creates the illusion of depth using different-sized patterns. This tricks the animal’s eyes into not recognizing the hunter as a single object, which makes it harder for them to perceive you as a threat.

Simply put, disruption camo is designed to trick the deer’s eyes into not seeing anything at all.

Best camo for deer hunting: what the science says
This picture shows how closely macro and micro dispersion-style camo from companies like Sitka and Huntworth look the same by following the same principles of how deer see.

The Best Camo for Deer Hunting

Camouflage shouldn’t be used as a fashion statement or to make you look cool. It’s a crucial tool for success. The best deer hunting camouflage attacks deer vision in two (2) ways.

First, it breaks up your 3-dimensional shape and avoids stimulating the deer’s ambient system. This is achieved through an effective macro pattern. This allows you to remain invisible to deer at longer ranges.

Second, it combines the macro pattern with a corresponding micro pattern. An effective micro pattern can confuse a deer’s vision through texture and depth. This can make it hard for a deer to see you at closer ranges; allowing you to blend in more effectively.

In addition, the camo must blend in with your hunting environment. A deer can see contrast very well. Large blocks of color that stand out from the environment will draw a deer’s attention and make you more likely to get busted.

This is why wearing combinations of light and dark colors that match your hunting environment can add to the deer’s visual confusion and is very effective when blended with the micro and macro dispersion elements discussed above.

The best camo for deer hunting follows all these guidelines and will allow you to blend in and beat deer vision consistently and in some cases, be nearly invisible to them.

Now, let’s look at camouflage patterns that work well in different locations and environments.

READ: Bow Hunting Clothes: Optimizing Camo, Scent, and Stealth

Best All-Season Camouflage for Deer Hunting

  • TrueTimber’s Strata: A universal pattern effective in different habitats and seasons and one of the most advanced deer-specific camouflages available. See their exclusively licensed VSX option used in the Cabelas Instinct line here.
  • Huntworth’s Disruption®: A digital pattern that uses visual disruption to conceal hunters in multiple environments. It is an extremely versatile camo.
  • Kuiu Verde: An excellent all-around choice for hunters who hunt in environments with a large amount of green vegetation all season long.
  • Kryptek’s Obskura Transitional: A versatile camouflage pattern designed for hunters who hunt in different types of environments and need a camo that can adapt to changing terrains and vegetation.

Best Camo for Treestand Hunting

The best camouflage for treestand hunting starts with patterns that use the backdrop to its advantage. When hunting from a tree you can have everything from branches and varying colors of trees to changing colors of the skyline and horizon around you.

Camouflage that uses these potential backdrops and blends in well with the vertical lines of trees can be very effective when deer are viewing you from below. This helps to break up your outline and keep you from being spotted.

Here are the best camo options for treestand hunting:

  • SITKA Gear’s OPTIFADE Elevated II: The first camouflage made for treestand hunters, utilizing vertical patterns and colors that mimic the forest canopy and the skyline.
  • Asio Gear’s Raptor: Made for hunters in dense, deciduous forests, this pattern is optimized for concealment from above and below, making it ideal for tree stand hunting in the eastern hardwoods and similar environments.
  • First Lite’s Specter: Advanced patterns designed for vertical environments, making it perfect for treestand hunting.
  • Kryptek’s Obskura Skyfall: Skyfall’s strength lies in its ability to be used in multiple environments and with its hues of white it is perfect for tree stand hunting.
SItka Ambient Hoody Review (me saddle hunting in the rain in early October) and wearing the Elevated II camo for treestand hunting.
I am wearing a combination of the Sitka Ambient Hoody in Elevated II camo with a Huntworth Disruption camo mask.

Additional Regional Considerations

Best Camo for the Eastern Hardwoods

In the East Coast hardwoods, you’ll find a combination of deciduous trees, underbrush, and shades of browns, grays, and greens throughout the seasons.

Here are the best camo patterns for this specific environment:

  • First Lite’s Specter: Specter blends effortlessly with the eastern hardwoods and can be used hunting almost any game. It is one of my favorites for deer and turkey.
  • Asio Gear’s Raptor: Made for bow hunters who hunt from trees, it matches well with any wooded environment but works especially well in the east.
  • TrueTimber’s Strata: An all-around great pattern that blends well with the natural elements found in hardwood forests, making it very effective for both ground and elevated hunting.
  • Forloh’s Deep Cover: Specifically designed for dense environments, Deep Cover is meant to make you invisible to deer at ranges of 40 yards or less on the ground or in a tree. It was built for ungulate eyes, not humans, but works very well because of it.
Deep Cover Camo by Forloh for close range camouflage
Forloh’s Deep Cover camo was specifically designed for deer vision for bow hunter camouflage at 40 yards or less. It was not made for the human eye.

[cp_popup display=”inline” style_id=”8425″ step_id = “1”][/cp_popup]

Best Camo for the Southeast

Hunting in the Southeast involves a lot of different environments, from dense pine forests and swampy areas to mixed hardwoods and ag fields. The region’s climate can also vary a lot, with warmer and more humid conditions for much of the hunting season. Camouflage patterns for the Southeast need to offer good concealment in both green-rich environments and more subdued, autumnal terrains.

Here are the best camo patterns for hunting in the Southeast:

  • Duck Camp Woodland: Offers great concealment in the dense forests and swamps of the Southeast and the forests of the Eastern U.S.
  • Kuiu Verde: Versatile for the varied terrains of the Southeast, from pine forests to swamp edges.
  • First Lite’s Cipher: Features green hues and a detailed pattern that matches the spring and early fall foliage common in the Southeast.
  • Forloh’s Deep Cover: This camo pattern excels in environments where the hunter needs to remain undetected at closer ranges when whitetail deer hunting in heavy cover.
  • SITKA Gear’s OPTIFADE Timber: Specifically optimized for engagement distances of 10 to 20 yards in the darker environments of flooded timber. Sitka’s Timber is ideal for hunters in the Southeast.

Best Camo for the Midwest

For the Midwest, camouflage needs to adapt to the mix of dense woodlands, ag fields, and grasslands. The seasonal changes bring about changes in colors and backgrounds, from thick greens in the spring and summer to tans and browns in the fall and snow-covered landscapes in the winter.

For these reasons, the best camouflage patterns for hunting in the Midwest are ones that can be used across these unique locations.

Here are the top camo patterns for the Midwest:

  • Sitka’s Optifade Subalpine: Designed for stalking and ambushing in vegetated terrain, Optifade Subalpine is versatile enough for the mixed terrains of the Midwest, especially in areas with dense underbrush or along the edges of ag fields.
  • KUIU’s Valo: Its adaptability makes it awesome for the changing environments of the Midwest, from early to late season. One of the best all-season options for the Midwest.
  • Duck Camp Midland: Just an incredible pattern that fits the Midwest perfectly. I love Duck Camp’s camo.
  • First Lite Fusion: Fusion blends macro and micro patterns to create depth, making it effective in a variety of environments. This pattern works well in the Midwest.

Best Camo for Western Mountains and Open Country

Hunting in the Western US mountains and open country requires camouflage that blends well with the rugged terrain, different elevations, and the different colors of the region.

Here are the top camo patterns suited for hunting in the Western mountains and open country:

  • KUIU’s Valo: Ideal for blending into a variety of terrain, from early green to late-season brown in open country.
  • SITKA Gear’s OPTIFADE Open Country: Specifically designed for long-range hunting in open and rocky terrain. One of Sitka’s first deer/elk vision optimized offerings.
  • Kryptek’s Highlander: Built for high mountain elevations with a strong micro and macro pattern for those areas.
  • Kuiu’s Vias: Excels in open, arid, and rocky terrain where its macro pattern can mimic the natural textures and shadows found in open and rocky environments.
  • Forloh Exposed: Made for open environments, its pattern is effective for hunters moving through open country and light vegetation. It is optimized for encounters farther than 40 yards.

Specialized Environments: Snow

Spot and Stalk and Still Hunting

Spot and stalk hunting, as well as still hunting, require camo that effectively breaks up your outline and blends into different terrains. You need camouflage patterns that allow you to get close without being detected.

These patterns work great for spot and stalk and still hunting:

Best for Spot and Stalk Hunting

Best for Still Hunting

Huntworth Disruption camouflage shown blending into the fall foliage.
Huntworth Disruption camo blending into the fall foliage (and optimized for deer vision).

Solid Colors vs. Camouflage: What Works Best for Deer Hunting?

A common question among hunters is whether solid colors are just as effective as camouflage when hunting deer. To answer this, let’s consider deer vision once again. Deer don’t see colors the same way we do; they’re more sensitive to certain colors and patterns.

While solid colors, especially those that blend with the environment, can sometimes be great for different hunting situations and locations, camouflage in most cases is the best solution.

Solid colors contrast with the environment and make you stand out against almost any backdrop. Deer can spot this contrast quickly and while they might not see you perfectly, they will be alert after seeing you. Remember, it’s not about what you can get away with. It’s about maximizing your advantage.

READ: Solid Colors vs. Camo Which is Better for Deer Hunting?

Scientific Evidence and Case Studies: The Proof Is in the Pudding

Understanding what the science says about deer vision and camouflage is crucial for any serious bow hunter. As hunters, we want to reduce our visibility to deer and increase our chances of a successful hunt. Thanks to several scientific studies, we now understand what camo patterns work best and why.

Several scientific studies support the effectiveness or lack of different camo patterns. For example, a study conducted by the University of Georgia found that hunters wearing mimicry-style camouflage were less visible to deer than those wearing non-naturalistic patterns or solid colors.

Here are some additional resources and studies that can provide more scientific insight into deer vision and how it relates to the camouflage you wear when hunting:

Key Points on Effective Camo Colors for Deer Hunting

  1. Browns and Grays: These colors are effective in most environments, especially in late-season hunts when foliage is sparse.
  2. Greens: Essential for early-season hunts when environments are lush and green.
  3. Avoiding Blues and UV Brightness: Deer can perceive UV light and are sensitive to blue colors, so avoid these in your camo selections.
  4. Pattern vs Color: While color is important, the pattern of the camo is just as important. Disruptive patterns that break up the human outline are highly effective.
  5. Environment Matching: Colors that match and mimic your hunting environment will always be the best choice.

In summary, while the perfect color combination can vary depending on specific hunting conditions, a mix of browns, greens, and grays in a disruptive pattern generally provides the best results for deer hunting camouflage.

Conclusion

The best camo for deer hunting is one that maximizes your ability to confuse a deer into thinking you are supposed to be there and not a threat. Any additional seconds gained by wearing this camo can be the difference between success and failure.

Understanding how deer see and process information is critical. While a lot of camouflage patterns use pictures of natural foliage and trees to blend in, ungulates (deer) do not see this fine detail the same way we do. This is important to understand and will help you as you move forward.

There are a lot of camo patterns on the market that are as good or better than what I have listed here, but this will get you on track to optimizing your chances. Now you can take this information and decide what camo to buy the next time you are shopping for bow hunting clothes.

Thanks and good luck!

Scroll to Top