Roots intern Gifford Walsh, 19, of Shrewsbury, Vt. is camouflaged using mud, clay, sand and dirt as part of a demonstration on tracking animals through the woods Thursday, May 28, 2009 during the Roots School core skills I wilderness survival course in East Calais, Vt. The week-long course teaches students how to survive in nature without the aid of modern tools.[/caption]
In the modern day camouflage has become a multi-million dollar industry. Hunters, naturalists, and militaries have a vast array of camouflages for every conceivable terrain and variation. Everything from flashlights and lingerie, to your basic hunting needs are available in camouflage colors and patterns.  Some of these pattern work well, and some are gimmicks to be avoided. Some are printed on synthetic materials that reflect sheens of light regardless of the colors or patterns, and some colors of simple plaid wool shirts make incredible camouflage. But what did people do before they had endless options of camouflage to buy? What do you do if you are stuck in the woods without your camouflage and you need to hunt to feed yourself? What if you want to fine tune your own camouflage to match a specific locale?

            For ages untold people have been camouflaging themselves to hunt for food. Indigenous people lived and died by their hunting skills and had a rich understanding of the principles behind remaining invisible in the forest. From their wisdom and a whole lot of experimentation I have learned a lot about using the natural world to provide for your camouflage needs.

It needs to start with a basic understanding of dead space. Dead space is any place where a person or an animal will not naturally look, or expect a person to be hiding. Try standing and watching a busy street full of pedestrians for a moment and try to notice where people are not looking. If you casually go and stand there, and you have picked your spot just right, you will notice yourself completely unseen by all the people passing.

In the forest there are several tricks to dead space. Having something bigger than you, behind you, will break your silhouette and dramatically cut down how visible you are. From there, having a little cover between you and where you expect the animal to be helps to break up your outline further. When hunting, cats keep to the shadows at every chance they get and I highly recommend the same, stay in the shadows as they will help to conceal movement. Wherever you pick to sit or stand, try and lean into a natural object, try to blend your outline to its. Finally, many people and animals do not look up, but beware, with all the tree stand hunting going on these days the deer are definitely wise to it, I have seen many deer move through the forest in hunting season watching the trees as much or more than the horizon.

The preceding tricks can go a long way in helping to hide you no matter what you are wearing. However, to bring it up a notch, several natural materials can be utilized to help you completely melt into your surroundings.

Start with your skin or basic earth toned clothing. Avoid black. Our skin and hair’s oils are shiny and reflect a lot of light, as well as clothing and gear. Start by dulling these with white wood ash from a campfire, dust, or dry dirt. Be careful not to collect white wood ash when wet as in high concentration it can make a lye solution and give you a chemical burn. Do not worry about having wood ash on and sweating, or it raining, it is only dangerous in high concentration. Dulling is something I do to all of my hunting gear every fall.

Once you are all dulled down, you are ready to further break your outline by applying patterns. Using mud, clay, and ground charcoal (from a campfire, not a grill) create patterns all over yourself. Be careful not to make any areas one solid color. The ground charcoal has the added bonus of being a powerful descenting agent.  Try layering it and highlighting it with different colors and avoid making anything symmetrical. You can add color to clays by adding charcoal, or dried and ground up bark or moss. Asses the area you are going to be hunting from and try to match its textures and patterns and colors. Often times I will look at the area and squint until all the details blur and I will make my camo to match that. You can even get fancy and use leaves, ferns, grasses, or needles to apply patterns or stencil. Don’t forget behind your ears, under your chin, under your arms, and other areas will be exposed as you move and your clothing moves with you.

After I have applied the broken patterns I blend most of the sharp edges in color. This blending helps to further conceal you in your background and breaks harsh lines that might give you away.

The final step is to cover yourself in the debris that is on the forest floor of the place where you want to be concealed. I like to roll in the debris and take some and crush it in my hands a little and put it all over my body and in my hair and beard. This gives you a whole different texture and adds loft reflecting light erratically in all directions and further breaking the sharp lines where you end and the world begins. Remember, nothing will match the forest floor better than the forest floor.

Aside from saving your butt in a survival situation, allowing you to custom camouflage your gear, and being the cheapest way to hide yourself, natural camouflage is fun. Let go and get dirty; I promise, it will wash off. Don’t believe me, ask a child, I have rarely met one who did not relish in an opportunity to get impossibly dirty.  Once your natural camouflage is on, try stalking very slowly through the forest, or taking a position of stillness in a busy part of the forest, and see how well it works. Don’t be surprised either when you find yourself closer than ever before to the animals and birds in the forest.