Understanding urban camouflage is essential to being a successful hunter.
What does urban camouflage mean to a whitetail deer? The term doesn’t refer to the camouflage multimillion dollar businesses produce every year. Urban camouflage is not something worn on the outside of the body. It’s psychological. How should we behave to make deer consider us non-threatening?
We keep returning to one common idea: the deer as conditioned animal. This means that deer keep a mental log of what is safe and what is not. In urban or suburban settings, humans pose a constant threat to deer. As a result, they have learned to distinguish the difference between threatening and non-threatening human behavior.
A deer comes to believe that a situation is safe after repeatedly experiencing that the situation poses no threat. There are a ton of situations like this. In fact, there are so many situations that provide urban camouflage, we probably shouldn’t list them. Instead, we’ll teach you how to apply urban camouflage to your hunting.
What is Urban Camouflage?
Urban camouflage is the technique of blending in with non-threatening situations involving human behavior in order to appear non-threatening. By blending in with non-threatening behavior, the hunter can seem non-threatening to the deer.
For example, deer are used to smelling hikers and bikers on walking trails. Deer have come to learn that hikers and bikers are non-threatening. Therefore, hunters traveling along walking trails can seem non-threatening. This is a great way to avoid issues of wind direction when entering a tree stand.
How to Identify Urban Camouflage
Thinking less like a hunter and more like an everyday citizen is the first important step in urban camouflage. By distinguishing the behaviors of hunters and non-threatening humans, we can identify situations of urban camouflage. In what situations do non-hunters see deer? Were they walking a trail, raking leaves, driving a car? Were they talking? What were they wearing? What was the time of day? Deer analyze all of this when determining whether a person is threatening or non-threatening.
If a hunter saw the deer when he least expected it, he should analyze what made that moment different. Most hunters talk while walking out of the woods. They get out of hunting mode and talk about the weather, the hunt, or things going on at home. They’re probably walking less like hunters, too. Hikers and speed walkers and kids and bikers all have very different movements from the hunter.
Even the time of day can make these hunters less threatening—like walking from the woods after a morning hunt. Deer are used to human movement in daylight hours and are likely to interpret human movement in the dark and flashlights as threats.
Deer are adaptable creatures. Hunters, on the other hand, tend to be stubborn traditionalists. Many hunters falsely believe that going father into the woods means a better chance at deer. As a result, deer know that they can be safer closer to roads and buildings.
The “least expecting” hunter saw those deer, because he was not acting like a hunter. He exhibited the behaviors of a non-threatening human. His walking, talking, location, and the time of day didn’t make him a threat (in the eyes of the whitetail).
Urban camouflage is the ability to identify, analyze, and use these situations to harvest a whitetail. When you see common human behaviors, ask: how can I make this help me as a hunter?
Threatening and Alerting Behavior
When I say “non-threatening behavior,” I do not mean that the deer ignores everyday humans. Deer are alert animals. When non-threatening humans pass, a whitetail stays on high alert. A whitetail will keep still and allow common humans to go by, ready to react to any change in behavior. Something as simple as halting can very quickly make you go from non-threatening to threatening.
That difference creates adaptable hunting behaviors—like walking while shooting a deer off a walking trail. If you stop the fluid motion, deer go from alert to panic. Keep them in an alert state long enough for you to either harvest them or pass without arousing suspicion that you will be in a nearby stand.
Adapting Urban Camouflage
Urban camouflage could be as simple as using common walking trails for tree stand entry points or as crazy as talking to yourself while walking through the woods. Whitetails, like humans, are constantly evolving. This is why they have had such success at adapting to urban environments.
Deer are not afraid of talking humans. They understand that they use hiking trails and certain movements. Common people do not step off trails in the woods. Hunters do. You can curb the threat of your walk to a hunting spot by keeping a consistent pace. Planning tree-stand locations along walking trails is an advantage over what would commonly be considered poor wind direction entries.
Talking to yourself or calling a friend works. Deer will go on alert, of course, but they will probably think you are a non-hunter. I have heard of many hunters have deer walk in on them after already shooting a deer and talking on their phones. Note that going off man-made walking trails can mess this trick up and throw deer off. You will cause both confusion and curiosity.
As a hunter, you need to constantly evolve and adapt. Although a method of urban camouflage may work for a time, it can lose its effectiveness if a deer population becomes wise to your tricks. Overusing techniques can again change non-threatening behaviors to threatening.
The Trick of Curiosity
Once you have introduced deer to a behavior they are not familiar with, you need to create a stall long enough before harvesting. You can create this stall by making the deer curious. When the deer is curious, they are slow to pass judgment. Making some kind of unusual noise humans normally don’t make is a common method to instill curiosity.
Deer recognize human walking patterns, but you can trick deer by changing that distinct sound. I know hunters who intentionally drag their feet. Others drag a walking stick or a cord from a tree stand. Deer will be very alert to these behaviors, but will be thinking of how to respond. This can help get you to tree stands or past bedding areas and cause massive alert rather than massive panic.
Whatever your methods may be, remember to think of the differences. Take the extra step in the thought process. Ask what you can do to blend into the urban and suburban landscape. This step will give you a serious advantage over many hunters. And, more importantly, over the elusive whitetail. Humans, like whitetail, should adapt themselves for better success in hunting through urban environments.
To find out more, check out the book dedicated to part-time hunters and urban/suburban hunting tactics: The Urban Deer Complex