If you ask anyone on the street to describe a hunter, odds are their description will include someone wearing camouflage. Over the past several decades, hunters have embraced camouflage and orange as their uniform of choice. It wasn’t always this way. Seventy years ago when recreational hunting saw its largest boom after world war two, the average hunter was wearing wool, jeans, and tin cloth oiled jackets. They certainly had no problem killing deer in these clothes either. The question then, does camouflage actually provide a tangible benefit for a hunter, or is it just a fashion statement. There is of course the whole aspect of technical clothing and apparel which is proven to have many advantages while spending time outdoors. You can read more about it here. I’m only going to address the colors found on the clothing and whether a camouflage Goretex jacket helps you kill more game than a solid green Goretex jacket.
Waterfowl, turkeys, and other game birds have excellent vision. Most of the species we hunt see in 10x compared to human’s vision. Think of it like they are constantly looking through a pair of binoculars. There is a reason why waterfowl and turkey hunters are not required to wear orange. Good camouflage or solid colors that blend well with the local environment can make a big difference when hunting these wary birds. Face masks, sun hats, and even camouflage shotguns can all provide some help too. While the actual amount of assistance provided by camouflage is indeterminate, there is some scientific basis to support its use. There are certainly also folks who hunt these birds in non-camo, so I would say that concealment is a big plus in bird hunting, though that can come in many forms. Camouflage is only one of the available options for concealing one’s self.
Deer hunting can provoke the most fervent debates about the pros or cons of camouflage clothing. Some hunters swear by the latest Sitka whitetail pattern and there are also guys who kill massive bucks each year wearing a Carhartt jacket and an orange ball cap. I believe in most situations, when it comes to deer, camouflage is not necessary to successfully hunt them. There are times it can provide a small advantage. When the trees are bare in winter and less natural cover is available, camouflage can help with concealment. Also, if you are a spot and stalk hunter in the timber of the midwest or east, I would wager that camouflage can provide some small measure of increased cover. However, when it comes to cervids, scent, movement, and cover will play an exponentially larger role in your success than camouflage will. To put it another way, I would rather have the wind on my side and the ability to sit still while hunting deer than to have a $2000 camo suit and the wind blowing the wrong way.
With predators, the benefits of camouflage can vary based on which predator you’re hunting and where. Bear are notorious for having about the same eyesight as humans, which is fairly poor compared to other game animals. Cats and dogs on the other hand tend to see pretty well. Many wolf and coyote hunters rely on camouflage when hunting during the day. Local conditions can come into play here too. With snow on the ground, we tend to stand out a lot more than when the ground and trees are green or brown. This is why you will see predator and waterfowl hunters wearing white during winter hunts.
Hunting out west, you can typically leave the camo at home when rifle hunting. No mammal is going to spot you from 500 yards away unless you are moving or silhouetted on top of a ridge. Archery hunting is different, and you may find some camo helpful when moving in close on foot, but a full camo suit is generally not necessary. Solid-colored pants and a camo top and facemask are about the most I’d wear when hunting in the mountains or desert. The thing to keep in mind is that camouflage can provide some minuscule advantage in certain situations, but don’t let not having camo stop you from hunting. It is far better to spend your limited hunting budget on weapons, optics, travel, concealment (blinds and treestands), range time, calls, tags, and save the camo purchases for when you want that last couple percent advantage and have everything else covered. There’s nothing wrong with camo, and I wear it often while hunting. Just be aware that the advantage it provides is likely more psychological than anything. If a certain camo pattern boosts your confidence when wearing it and that increased confidence helps you kill more deer, that’s not a bad thing. Just be realistic about what it can and can’t do for you. And for god’s sake don’t wrap your truck in Sitka camouflage.