If you saw an armed man creeping around the woods in surplus Vietnam-era military fatigues, the first word that came to mind wouldn't be "sportsman."
But before Virginian Jim Crumley's Trebark camouflage launched in the late 1970s, that's what outdoorsmen were wearing.
King George, Va., resident Johnny Buck spotted the very first ad for that Trebark camo in Bowhunter magazine and promptly phoned in an order, making him among the first to buy a commercially camouflaged outfit designed specifically for hunting.
Trebark was the commercial top dog for a good run, although cheap, surplus battle dress uniforms in the woodland camo pattern also covered many hunters in the 1980s.
The big game-changers arrived with Georgian Bill Jordan's first Realtree camo patterns and Mississippian Toxey Haas' Mossy Oak designs. These two companies have been the 500-pound gorillas of the commercial camo world for nearly 20 years, and they're constantly releasing new designs.
Now regional companies and startups are testing the camouflage market with innovative, ultrarealistic patterns and surprising themes.
And in this new millennium, camouflage is sometimes designed to make you stand out as much as to blend in. No longer restrained to hunting habitats and battlefields, camo clothing has found favor in fashions from T-shirts to lingerie and swimwear.
Some of these relative newcomers are gaining production and distribution momentum; others are looking for their first break.
Grouse Wing Camo
Carlos Gonzales of Lander, Wyo., patented Grouse Wing Camo in 2006. He's still working to get the product fully launched, but pants, jackets and hats are available now.
"A lot of people want it. It's just a matter of working to get the money to get it made," Gonzales says.
His pattern uses mostly shades of brown patterned on the feathers of the grouse, a bird that does an exceptional job of hiding itself. There is also a winter pattern that has a white background.
Have you ever noticed a moth on a tree or even a door? Except for sharp-eyed detection of some faint edge of a wing, they can be tough to spot.
Mothwing Camo is an innovative camouflage concept merging the biological patterns and visual deceptions of moths with leaves, tree branches and terrain features using computer technology.
Mothwing's Reid Phillips says this concept's originator, Steve Johnson, began marketing his idea a decade ago. Mothwing Camo Technologies Inc. was formed in 2004, and, across an ownership change in 2008, several patterns were designed, each based on a species of moth.
Spring Mimicry derives from the Pholophora Iris moth, native to the eastern U.S. It blends with dense spring foliage and underlying bark.
"Mountain Mimicry is our most popular pattern, sales or otherwise," Phillips says. "It was created for highland areas of California and Utah as a niche pattern for those hunters who hunt in the high elevations, but tree-stand hunters took a liking to it based on the fact that the pattern was light and a good alternative to what was on the market."
More Mothwing patterns are Spring Mimicry, Fall Mimicry and Canyon Mimicry.
This Utah company began developing its "Shadow" patterns nearly a decade ago. Since then, Desert Shadow, Mountain Shadow, Snow Shadow, Woodland Shadow and Field Shadow patterns have been launched.
The high-definition foreground of the Mountain Shadow is so crisp it looks as though you could feel the evergreen's needles. The foreground bark on the woodland pattern looks real enough to peel. The desert pattern seems an obvious choice for sagebrush-dotted western hills and plains.
"Most of our sales are in the West," says the company's Scott Tycksen. "We are growing in the Midwest and are gaining a strong presence in South Africa, Australia and Europe."
Like many of the companies, King's Camo branches out to meet consumer demand for all things camo: accessories, kid's clothing, casual wear, baby jumpers, and even slinky pajamas for women in Snow Shadow, Desert Shadow and Pink Shadow patterns.
This Mississippi company has been around for a half-dozen years. Its patterns are based on the longleaf pine trees of the southeastern U.S.
Radale Reed, the company's chief operating officer, says sales efforts used to be focused in the Southeast, but the brand is expanding into New England and the upper Midwest, with sales up 380 percent over the past year.
The Longleaf A/T Brown pattern, the biggest seller, incorporates hardwood leaves and earthy colors, while the A/T Green is heavy on pine and lighter-green spring colors. New is a Fatal Flight pattern that has an incredibly high-definition look of dense cornfield stubble along with Johnson grass.
Outdoor Identities Fishouflage
Camouflage, of sorts, has also made its way into fishing gear. Last year, a rod-and-reel combo sporting a "Fishouflage" pattern was judged one the top new products at the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades show. It paired an Ardent reel with a Lamiglas rod in the Outdoor Identities Fishouflage pattern.
No one needs a camouflaged fishing reel to catch fish, but it does make a fashion statement.
The brand owners call Fishouflage "the first 3-D camouflage pattern pulled from your local lake." The four patterns depict aquatic, game-fish habitat settings with vegetation, woody structure and other bottom features. Of course, fish are incorporated into the environments.
The redfish pattern has a mix of tans, greens and browns, while bass are tucked into a pattern with green reeds and busted logs over a tan background. Promotional materials note that this design "emulates a spring turkey hunting pattern."
Other patterns feature walleye, crappie and musky. The musky pattern appears to work well in many bird-hunting scenarios with its gold, tan and olive colors.
Moon Shine Attitude Attire
Some new camo patterns aren't designed to conceal but rather to stand out and say something about the wearer. Take, for example, the avant-garde Moon Shine designs.
"Camouflage is worn to express a lifestyle," says Moon Shine general manager John Hummel. "We wanted to create patterns that allowed people to do this without having to use the standard camouflage designed for concealment. We wanted our camouflage patterns to be bold and aggressive, allowing outdoorsmen to show off their lifestyle."
The provocatively named Muddy Girl Camouflage "is quickly gaining popularity in the market," Hummel says. "The number of women showing an interest in the outdoors is growing fast, and the need for pink camouflage patterns is growing. Most of what we saw available seemed too ‘pink' for us. We added some other colors to our pattern to help it really stand out."