I know you’re here just to see Dad in his snicker-inducing ghillie suit I told you about last week. Yep. He really does look like a cross between Sasquatch, the Swamp Thing and a fuzzy, wuzzy bear all rolled into one. You’ll need to keep reading all about Dad’s other wildlife camouflage set-ups before you get to see that photo.
The suit’s coming soon, but first Dad had to learn that just because you use camouflage doesn’t mean you’ll be successful.
Dad took the lessons he learned with the camo kayak and floating duck blind from last week and decided to try his hand at shooting hawk photos. He thought a pop-up camouflage tent would provide all the covering he needed to catch ospreys in flight.
Dad knew that like the wily great blue heron, all hawks have amazing eyesight and are very cagey about humans. He needed a something to draw the ospreys into his shooting area. So Dad used the hawk’s competitor to lure it to a brushy area near the lake. He built and set up an owl decoy in the field. (You can watch our “how-to” video on the owl decoy here. )
Dad thought the tent would completely cover him and most of his gear during the hawk shoot, thus foiling the bird. He thought it would also allow him to sit comfortably on a stool in the tent and keep his extra gear close. However, something about the tent must have tipped the hawks off. Nothing happened. He sat there for hours shivering in the cold. When it was clear nothing was going to happen, Dad went back to the drawing board, very disappointed and a bit frozen.
After doing a bit more research he concluded the blind must have looked out of place in the brush-filled field. In future shoots, Dad would use the pop-up tent with additional tree limbs and grasses piled on and around it to give the tent a more natural look.
But while researching the tent technique, Dad had stumbled upon the snicker-inducing ghillie suit. Hunters use ghillie suits all of the time to help them blend in with trees and grasses. Dad was doing a different sort of hunting, but he thought the suit might just do the trick with the hawks. He was eager to test it out. So he ordered the suit and some lightweight camouflage gloves from www.allpredatorcalls.com .
Dad found the suit was perfect for this type of shooting. It allowed him to quickly change locations, work with his camera gear and camouflaged him so well you could walk by and miss him completely. In fact, Dad almost couldn’t find my husband, who was also dressed in a ghillie suit, while on this photo shoot. The amazing part was Dad knew where my husband was supposed to be in the field and he still had trouble locating Jonathan.
The ghillie suit disguise when combined with his hidden pop-up tent worked very well. Dad kept his extra gear that he might need during the shoot in the tent. That left him free to move around outside in the ghillie suit. Having extra gear on hand stopped Dad from having to leave his position to return to the van and possibly alerting the hawks he was in the area.
Despite loosing his camouflaged son-in-law, the suit/tent combo worked! Dad soon had an osprey circling the owl decoy and it didn’t notice him at all. He rapidly fired off shots. And an amazing thing happened. The osprey lost interest in the owl and came straight toward the clicking noise (i.e. Dad). It actually heard the camera’s shutter advancing and accurately pinpointed the noise’s origin. That’s when Dad shot “Osprey in Full Flight”, a major victory for him in stealthy bird photography.
So far Dad had discovered three things that will tip off wildlife even if you’re wearing camouflage: things (like a tent) that look out of place, sudden movement and unusual noises.
But his next adventure would prove that under the right circumstances animals could be conditioned to accept all three of these things. Dad discovered at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in Texas massive numbers of snow geese, ducks, herons and egrets are so used to seeing cars they no longer spook when one passes them. Dad used a van as a rolling blind to get shots of these wild, winged characters.
It’s a simple concept really; someone drives you slowly along fields or the lakeshore where the birds are located. The side door to the van remains open so you can shoot out the door. As long as no one exits the vehicle the birds seem to remain calm. Dad used this technique to shoot “Snow Geese Symphony”.
The key to the rolling blind is finding a driver who doesn’t mind creeping along at less than 5 miles an hour all day long while you shoot. You might need bribe your driver with a free lunch or possibly a lot of gas money. I’m not saying that actually happened, but it’s a good idea.
So there you have it, five types of camouflage that can help bring your wildlife shooting to the next level. We promise not to laugh at your ghillie suit. (Fine. We might snicker a bit.) We know, however, you’ll have the last laugh when you start getting stellar shots simply because the animals don’t know you’re there.
If you decide to try camouflage on your next trip, we have a few tips to make your adventure more successful.
- Break up patterns: Animals are less likely to notice you if you break up patterns. For example, cover your hands with camouflage gloves so the wildlife doesn’t see a glaring patch of skin jumping out of the brush. Use netting to break up the pattern of your face. Cover your hair with a camouflage hat.
- Take off all shiny objects: Remove anything that could attract attention. Belt buckles, earrings, watches, and necklaces can catch the light and alert your subjects to your presence.
- Match colors: Choose camouflage that blends with the terrain. You wouldn’t want to choose a snow patterned tent if you’ll be shooting in a grassland in summer. Remember those sharp-eyed hawks. If anything looks out of place, they’ll skedaddle.
- Know your subject and use camo appropriately. Some animals like the birds at Hagerman are used to people and don’t require extensive camouflage. Other animals like the great blue heron and osprey will test your commitment to getting the photo. You must be invisible. Know not only the animal you hope to photograph, but also the environment in which they are comfortable.
- Arrive early and let the wildlife acclimate to the “new” thing. If possible, put up your blind several days before your shoot. The longer the animal has to get used to the new object without your presence, the more relaxed it’ll be when you are shooting. If you can’t place your blind several days ahead of the shoot, try to get settled before sunrise and the animals arrive.
- Limit your movements: Movement is a dead give away. Try to stay as still as possible when the animals are around.
- Stay quiet: It seems obvious, but silence those cell phones. Don’t rustle around grabbing camera gear. Certainly don’t talk to anyone.
Best of luck on your own wildlife adventure! We’d love to hear about your successful camouflage discoveries. Drop us a line and tell us all about it.