I recently had the opportunity to visit the W.L. Gore and Associates headquarters in Newark, Delaware. I went because I was interested in the new GORE OPTIFADE® Forest concealment pattern.
This was the first camouflage pattern scientifically designed based on the vision of deer. I have always known that deer did not have the same vision capabilities of humans but never understood exactly how they do see the world. OPTIFADE is a digital camouflage pattern not unlike what our Military uses. It is a totally new concept in hunting camouflage and I wanted to learn more about it.
W.L. Gore, best known worldwide as the makers of the waterproof, breathable GORE-TEX® fabric, put together the following team of experts to provide the advanced scientific principles used in the development of their OPTIFADE® concealment patterns:
~ Dr. Jay Neitz, an animal vision expert at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle
~ Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Tim O'Neill, Ph.D., widely regarded as the “Father of Digital Camouflage”
~ Guy Cramer, founder and CEO of HyperStealth® Biotechnology Corp., designers of digital camouflage patterns
I learned that a deer's vision is limited to about 20/40, only slightly blurrier than the 20/20 vision of humans. They also have an extremely wide field of view, approximately 280ï‚° while ours is limited to approximately 120ï‚°. However, their color spectrum is limited to shades of grey, yellow, and blue. A deer's eyes are also designed to perceive things better along the horizontal plain than things elevated above the horizon. I believe when deer do look up it's because they have either perceived movement or have been threatened from above so many times that they have learned to do so.
The team of experts specifically designed the OPTIFADE® Forest pattern for tree stand hunters in wooded environments. They use a Macro-pattern (large fragmented shapes) to break up the shape of the human body in combination with a Micro-pattern (smaller fragmented shapes) used to make you appear to fade into the background. The patterns are manipulated into a vertical orientation to blend with an elevated wooded environment. The resulting new camouflage pattern makes tree stand hunters undetectable in the eyes of their prey. If you are interested in more in-depth details and videos on exactly how this works visit the OPTIFADE® website.
W.L. Gore and Associates teamed with Sitka Gear Inc. to introduce their OPTIFADE® camouflage patterns. Both companies pride themselves on using the best science available to improve on their products. Sitka uses the best technology, fabrics, designs, construction and partners to produce the best products available in the hunting market. Sitka's gear is based on a system of clothing that is adaptable for any conditions allowing the hunter to remain comfortable on-stand no matter what the weather. The Sitka System uses the tried-and-true layering system. This system revolves around base, insulation, and outerwear with a very simple goal: moisture management. The concept is straight forward; base layers move moisture away from your skin keeping you warm when it's cold, and cool and when it's hot. This is the foundation. Insulation and outerwear are your control pieces that are adjusted in response to weather and activity levels that continue the process of moisture management.
These same principles apply to the elk hunter in Montana, the sheep hunter in Alaska, and the whitetail hunter in Missouri. The systems are more specific for each hunter and each trip, but the same principles always apply. If you are comfortable, you spend more time on-stand which equates to more opportunities for success.
I have used Sitka's system in the field on several occasions and I am impressed by the functionality of the layering system. The first two layers I use are the Core Zip T and Traverse Zip T; both are pullover style shirts with extra long zippers for controlling heat. I have a rather lengthy walk to my stand, so on cold mornings I start with everything zipped up. As I walk it's just a matter of unzipping my jacket and then the T-shirts to keep my core body temperature from overheating. Once on-stand I just zip up one layer at a time as I cool back down. I never have to put on or take off anything. I have remained warm and dry all the while. One of the first things I look for when purchasing hunting garments is pockets and Sitka has plenty throughout their layering system. They even have a pocket on the sleeve of the base layer, but I haven't figured out what I can use it for yet.
Is the concealment aspect of this camouflage pattern better than that of the conventional form of camo? That's much harder to evaluate. I have had several deer directly under my tree, and I have had deer look up directly at me from very close range without becoming alarmed, but I’ve done that with conventional camouflage also. The best evidence I have that this pattern is more effective so far comes from a friend. He was bow hunting from the ground wearing the Forest pattern; a 10 point buck walked to within 5 yards before his head went behind a tree allowing my friend to draw his bow. The deer never knew he was there until it was too late.
Both Gore and Sitka have put a tremendous effort into the research, design and testing of their products. W.L. Gore guarantees all their products, so while at the headquarters I toured their many testing facilities. They test for waterproofing, comfort, breathability, warmth, wicking and durability. They have walking in water simulators, and I counted approximately 200 washing machines in one room used to test the durability of the various fabrics used with their GORE-TEX® and WINDSTOPPER® membranes. After witnessing the astonishing number of tests run on their products I’m certain my Sitka gear will outlast any other hunting apparel I own.
As a serious bow hunter that spends many days in the field, the comfort and performance of my hunting apparel is just as important as the performance of my bow. I see myself using the Sitka layering system throughout the entire hunting season. I’ll have to do more of my own field testing on the effectiveness of the digital concealment pattern, but after seeing the scientific effort put into its design I am confident it is not just another camo pattern, but the future of hunting camouflage.