Blending with Your Surroundings

Spec Ops Shooting

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A moment ago we touched on the important relationship between color and size; our general rule is, the closer your colors match those around you, the tougher it becomes to visually resolve your shape. But it's more than just coloration.

To match his environment effectively, a sniper must develop a keen appreciation for colors, textures, foliage shapes, density, and depth. Look around you—I mean really look around and take time to notice details. Recognize that a sniper's slice of the woods is mostiy 18 to 24 inches above the ground since that's where you'll low-crawl, shoot prone, or lie in a temporary hide.

Notice what's around you. Pine needles have a different texture and visual depth than do leafy plants. Dried leaves on the forest floor have a distinct pattern and color. Wild grass grows in vertical clumps that average about a foot wide. The dark sides of leaves face the sun while the lighter bottoms face the forest floor.

Like a sore thumb, this team's leafy camouflage sticks out among these pine needles.

Shadows are more stark in pine woods than in a walnut grove.

Each time your surroundings change a bit, you must change your camouflage to match it. The best technique for this is to use a pattern that generally fits your area, then enhance it

An Army sniper adapts his Ghillie suit to the current locale by adding foilage.

Camouflage for Sniping

with bits of distinct natural foliage as you move from one area to the next. While in this treeline, attach oak leaves to your uniform; when you crawl forward into the meadow, replace the leaves with clumps of grass, and so on. The key is updating whenever you enter different surroundings, which reminds me of an incident in the fall of 1971.

I was flying backseat in an OV-IO armed FAC (forward air controller) bird over the Ho Chi Minh Trail when the pilot and I simultaneously noticed a long line of leafy clumps down the middle of a major road. We knew the North Vietnamese trained their soldiers to squat motionlessly if caught in the open by an airplane. We flew past, not hinting we'd seen anything, but in fact we knew we'd just seen a 2-mile line of marching soldiers. Had these men taken one sideward step so their leaves fit the overlapping jungle, they would have been home free.

As it was, we went into orbit just over the horizon and 10 minutes later inserted the first of more than 50 air strikes. We cancelled other CCC/SOG (Command and Control Central/Studies and Observation Group) operations for two days just to keep bombing them, achieving what must have been one of the highest cross-border BDAs (bomb damage assessments) in all of 1971 — and all because their camouflage didn't Fit their surroundings.

When it comes to an imperfect color match, I go along with the advice of Don Helmeke, the designer of today's camouflage nets for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. "I'd rather be dark and be wrong," he told me, "than be light and be wrong." We'll probe this deeper when discussing facial camouflage, but already it should be noted that dark colors appear to recede to human vision and don't attract nearly the attention that bright colors do.

Camouflage for Sniping


Sensitizing yourself to your surroundings includes developing an appreciation for dominant field colors, which are more complex than merely green in summer and white in winter. In the Northern Hemisphere, for example, these are the dominant field colors, by season, which should be the basis for your camouflage.



Early Spring

Brown, black, dark greens

Late Spring

Bright greens, brown


Dark greens, bright greens

Late Summer/ Early Fall

Dark greens, brown


Brown, yellow, black, green

Late Fall/ Early Winter

Brown, black, gray, some white

Early Winter

White, gray, brown


White, some gray, some brown

Late Winter/ Early Spring

Brown, white, some gray

Try this yourself: look at a scene and pick out the darkest object and the brightest object. Without fail, it's faster to find the latter because it's lighter color seems to advance toward you. This natural inconspicuousness of dark shades is why I repeatedly recommend that you exploit shadows.

Movement detection is quite similar. The human mind instantly keys on even tiny movements; you can be wearing the most perfect G-suit, but an enemy observer can detect you when you move. He may not know what you are, but he'll sure know where you are, and that's just as deadlj7.

While you obviously should try to keep some foliage to your front, what's not commonly understood is the usefulness of keeping foliage to your back, too. Provided your coloration is similar to this backdrop, it does wonders for cloaking your presence. During World War I,

World War I American Doughboy snipers in France, attired in "sniper robes."
The author's one-piece Ghillie suit (R), and a two-piece suit from Custom Concealment.

Ghillie suit construction is easier with large carpet The U.S. Army-issue Ghillie suit kit includes four shades needles and even a leather working tool. of burlap in both rolls and cut cloth.


(See illustration, page 369)

UPPER LEFT: Ghillie suit components include a basic garment, 2-inch-square netting, tent screening, and burlap. It's assembled with only a carpeting needle, stout thread, and silicone cement, such as Shoe-Goop. In the military, most often the base garment is mechanic's coveralls; Nomex pilot's coveralls can be used, but they tend to be hotter. You can make a two-piecer from ordinary BDUs.

TOP CENTER: Turn the garment inside out so pockets are inside and still accessible. You may even add pockets or pouches if your one-piece coverall lacks them. Some snipers Shoe-Goop a nylon handgun holster here.

UPPER RIGHT: You can add a pouch at the lower back, while nylon screening is excellent high on the back for maximum ventilation and along the underarms and inside the thighs.

CENTER LEFT: Remove your glove's trigger finger and be sure to camouflage boots elaborately to complement the suit.

CENTER: Burlap strips hang similarly from either one- or two-piece suits.

CENTER RIGHT: Glue inner-tube rubber, heavy canvas, or Naugahyde to the knees and elbows for reinforcement. Put thin sponges underneath for padding.

BOTTOM LEFT: Similarly attach about 15 inches of netting to the hat, tie burlap strips, and create a drape to hang smoothly across your scope. Cut out the hat's center and glue screening for ventilation.

BOTTOM MIDDLE: As Ranger Weber did, you can mount a 2-quart canteen or CamelBak water carrier and sip from it while prone.

BOTTOM RIGHT: The netting covers only the back, with an inch or two of excess. It's sewn on with heavy thread and anchored about every 4 to 5 inches. Cut burlap strips 10 to 12 inches long and 2 inches wide, then tie at least one strip to each square.

capture clever poachers. As the legendary pistolero Jeff Cooper pointed out to me during a visit to his Gunsite Ranch, "Ghillie" in old Scottish means "man"—so a Ghillie suit literally is a Scottish man suit.


A G-suit is a one- or two-piece uniform to which you attach hundreds of dull-colored cloth scrips—usually burlap or jute—and create such subde texture and diffuse coloration chat you can blend completely into outdoor surroundings.

A properly made Ghillie suit so well conceals its wearer that it never fails to impress first-time viewers. As a standard practice, our instructors leisurely lectured about camouflage, then casually introduced a G-suit-attixed sniper, who rose from the ground like some bog monster only a few feet away. Students needed no further convincing.

The front of a Ghillie suit is kept relatively smooth to facilitate low crawling; only the back contains draped burlap. For stowing, I roll my G-suit up with the burlap backing inside for a tight, neat package and secure it with cinch cords.

Since a quality G-suit requires 40 to 60 man-hours of tedious work, commercially made ones are not cheap—at least the ones worth having. I saw a catalog ad for a G-suit that cost S50 and unsurprisingly learned it was an old pair of coveralls with cloth strips glued on it. Sniper purists insist that each sniper must make his own suit, but some people have little time but an adequate budget, so it makes sense to put up 8600 or more for a G-suit, which is what a good one costs. My own G-suit is a one-piece, but I also have a two-piece from Custom Concealment, based in Zanesville, Ohio. They offer a good variety of styles and colors, including weapon covers and chaps, and they're truly well made. Dave Mallery in Portland, Oregon, produces high-quality suits, too, but the last time I checked he had more business than he could handle.

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