If you’ve ever tried to remain unseen outside for any length of time you will have discovered that it is very difficult, especially if you are trying to cover distance. There are, of course, various reasons why someone may want to conceal themselves from view, for observing wildlife, stalking or hunting, or when playing games such as manhunt.
As an ex infantryman, I’ve always been very aware of the need to apply camouflage and concealment techniques effectively. In a military scenario, it can be essential in order to keep oneself safe from enemy threat.
The skills of being able to observe someone while remaining unseen can prove very useful, for example, a gamekeeper looking for a poacher, or a photographer attempting to get that fantastic, yet elusive wildlife shot. This article, therefore, aims to identify the key methods that can be adopted to avoid being observed.
The use of camouflage clothing is incredibly widespread in the US and is not restricted to those who are trying to blend in with the natural environment. Possibly the most common camouflage clothing used is the DPM (disruptive pattern material). There is also the more up-to-date MTP (multi-terrain pattern) which was designed for use in Afghanistan but is very suitable for a great variety of settings in the woodland.
There are many other types too, either those developed for use by different nations’ military personnel or those commercially produced for civilian outdoor users. Such clothing is generally ‘two-dimensional’, although there are three-dimensional versions available such as ghillie suits and hats with artificial foliage attached.
Although two-dimensional camouflage is great for blending into a variety of backgrounds, it won’t hide your shape or silhouette and as a result, will very likely alert an observer to your presence more than just about anything else will.
It is therefore important to transform from two-dimensional to three-dimensional camouflage. There are other techniques to reduce our chances of being seen by wildlife or human observers and these are based on the reasons for being seen.
Anyone who has spent time in the army will be familiar with the five S’ and one M mnemonic of why things are seen, i.e. shape, shadow, silhouette, surface, spacing, and movement.
However, our presence is not always detected by sight. These are:
Some things are recognized immediately by their shape – especially when they contrast with their surroundings. These could be pieces of equipment or the shape of a human. The easily distinguished shape of your outline, or part of it, must therefore be disguised.
An excellent way of doing this is by adding grasses and/ or other foliage to your outline – but ensure that it is as similar as possible to the environment in which you need to be concealed. It may be worthwhile sewing elastic, twine or netting to clothing, under which foliage can be secured.
The surface or texture of an object is likely to contrast with its surroundings. The surface of equipment such as binoculars or a camera and skin tones will contrast to a large degree with most backgrounds, so you need to disrupt these to assist in your concealment.
Apply camo cream or mud to exposed skin i.e. face and hands and ensure headwear is covered and scrimmed appropriately. Scrim netting scarves are great for covering and dulling surfaces and are available from many army surplus and outdoor stores.
Shadows are cast in sunlight and moonlight and can give away your presence or be used to help hide it. To remain concealed keep in the shadows of buildings or trees if possible.
It is important to be aware that shadows move as the sun and moon move so be aware of where your shadow is being cast. Even if you are hidden around a corner from the observer your shadow could give away your presence so, again, be aware!
Any object silhouetted against a contrasting background will be clearly visible. This does not just mean if you are on a skyline with a bright moon forming a background. The sky, water, fields, or any other ‘smooth’, flat backgrounds are detrimental to your chances of remaining hidden.
Any object may be silhouetted if it is against the background of another color. For concealment, choose an uneven background such as a hedge, bush, trees, or broken ground to obscure your silhouette.
Avoid moving across the top of a hill or ridge but use its background to hide your silhouette. If you have to travel across an exposed area keep as low as possible to minimize the amount of visible silhouette.
Although this has been partly covered under ‘surface’ e.g. skin or binoculars contrasting with their background or glinting in the sun, there is more to be considered. Inexperience can lead to the inappropriate use of torches at night. White light is a particular draw to an observer.
Avoid using a torch if you need to remain concealed. Alternatively use a colored filter or reduce the amount of torchlight by covering with insulating tape or with your hand, leaving only a very small area for the light to shine through. Better still, allow your eyes to adjust to the dark, and don’t use a torch at all if possible.
How often do we see objects regularly spaced in nature? Not very often, if ever!
Our brain registers regular spacing of objects as being unnatural and therefore this attracts our attention. If in a group, it is vital that the group is irregularly distributed (note that I refrained from using ‘spaced out’!) in dribs and drabs to blend in with natural spacing.
There are plenty of man-made objects such as telegraph poles or fence posts which are regularly spaced. These will draw the eye more than irregularly spaced objects and could, as a result, put you in the observer’s view unintentionally.
For the purpose of concealment, even if the background is that of regularly spaced trees in a plantation, avoid regular spacing of people if you are in a group
The eye is attracted by movement, especially sudden movement whether in direct or peripheral view. To reduce the chances of being seen, your movement should be very cautious in both daylight and at night.
There will be times when movement can be a little faster and times when it needs to be dead slow depending on factors such as your proximity to the observer, or the amount of cover available.
In general, animals have a much greater sense of smell than humans and can detect human presence purely by smell. To put this into perspective: a human nose has 5 to 6 million scent receptors whereas researchers estimate a bloodhound’s nose has 230 million!
Hopefully, you’re not in the situation where you have a pack of bloodhounds on your trail, but a deer that you may be tracking has a fantastic sense of smell too, virtually equal to that of a bloodhound. So unless you wish to cover yourself in the excrement of a non-predatory animal it is best to approach your target from downwind whenever possible.
Whether you are tracking/hunting animals or avoiding the enemy, it is sensible to hide any human-associated scents. This doesn’t just mean the natural smell of humans. It includes the smell of cigarettes, petrol, detergents and a whole range of other aromas.
Strong smelling foods, such as garlic increase body odors so you should avoid them in advance of ‘stalking’. You should also avoid the use of items such as tobacco, sweets, chewing gum, or cosmetics as these also give off an identifiably human-related smell. Wash yourself and your clothes without using soap to remove detergent and body odors.
You could also give a natural scent to yourself by rubbing yourself and your clothes with herbs or plants. To disguise your breath from humans or animals, you could chew on pine needles, mint, or similar aromatic plants.
Standing in smoke from a fire can help mask your scent from animals, but may be a tell-tale sign of your presence to a human observer with a good sense of smell. In most cases where you are trying to avoid being detected by humans, the scent/smell factor will be low on your list of priorities however.
Noise attracts attention immediately, particularly if it is loud or comes as a sequence of noises, such as twigs snapping in succession. Ideally, you should avoid making any noise at all, but this is not realistic.
To avoid making noise when moving around or away from possible threats you should slow down your pace as much as possible. You should also use any background noises such as the sound of running water, wind, vehicles, aircraft, or people talking to cover the sounds produced by your movement.
Rain is great for masking a great deal of movement noise, but when tracking it hinders your ability to detect the noises that you might be listening for. In general, you should consider all of the above factors and apply the techniques discussed depending on what you are trying to do.
Each factor should be treated with common sense and based on the senses of your ‘prey’, how close you need to get to it and the amount of cover you will have. For instance, observing a human from a distance may require very little, if any, consideration for scent/smell, whereas when stalking a deer for a close-up photograph this is an important factor.
It’s important to make sure that you camouflage yourself to blend in with the surroundings, use sensible cover, stay hidden as much as possible, move slowly and quietly and don’t do anything to attract attention to yourself.
Whatever your reason for camouflage and concealment, it can be great fun just working on the different techniques either on your own, with groups of youngsters or adults, and applying them in observation or ‘escape and evasion’ type games.
This article has been written by Paul Saddington for Prepper’s Will.
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