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Will Surplus Military Camouflage BDU’s Work For Hunting?

You might be wondering if your old BDU from your mid-90s army enlistment or the fatigues that you found at a US Army surplus store will work for your next duck hunt. Or, for your best chance for success, should you buy new hunting gear? This article will answer this question, and do the following:

• Describe the various types of hunting camo, with an emphasis on deer hunting and duck hunting camouflage

• An overview of US Military Camo from the early 80s to the present.

And answer whether military camo can be a proper substitute for hunting camouflage.

Hunting Camo

There are two common styles of Hunting camouflage-Digital (AKA-Break Up) and Mimicry. Digital, hunting camouflage is comparable to the military Universal Camouflage Pattern (“UCP”). It is not designed to resemble outdoor surroundings. Instead, digital is made to blend into the surrounding. Under Armor and Sitka are two companies that currently use this form of camo. The UCP or digital style of camo will be examined more, in the military section of this article.

Both styles of camouflage are designed to break up a hunter’s outline and not hide the hunter.

Since deer and duck hunting are among the popular types of hunting in the US, they will specifically be examined in this article. However, most of this information is applicable to other wild game. I.E., Elk, Quail, Pheasants, etc.

Mimicry Camo

Mimicry Camouflage attempts to copy the outdoor surroundings. As an example, the coat below from Mossy Rock uses has a camouflage pattern that depicts twigs and leaves.

Mossy Oak Womens Hunting Jacket, Camo Jacket for Women, Sherpa Apparel

Mossy Oak -Pioneer Of Mimicry Camo

Mossy Oak was founded in 1986 when its founder, Toxy Haas, was inspired to make camouflage clothing resemble the dirt, leaves, and sticks of his Native Mississippi. Mossy Oak camouflage is designed for its wearers to blend into their hunting environment along with their body outline becoming invisible. Mossy Oak is well respected as they have formed partnerships with organizations ranging from Ducks Unlimited to the National Rifle Association.

Deer and Duck Hunting Camo

Deer Hunting

Deer hunting camouflage is based upon both safety/legal concerns and is also influenced by a deer’s poor vision. Deer have extremely poor vision. As an example, a deer’s perfect vision is 20-200, while a human’s perfect vision is 20-20. This means that mimicry or digital-based camo is largely unnecessary when deer hunting.

A deer also has red-color blindness, which makes the red and green colors look quite similar. The red-color blindness is also the reason why deer, at long distances, are not scared off by bright orange clothing. The above reasons, and for safety is why the vast majority of US states require blaze, orange, clothing for deer hunting, and other large game animals.

Bow Hunting’s Blaze Orange Exception

SITKA Gear Ballistic Vest Blaze Orange Medium

As stated, before, a deer’s vision and color perception are quite poor. This means that a deer, at long distances, will not perceive or recognize a hunter wearing a loud hunter’s orange vest.

However, to assure a successful and humane kill, bow hunting requires you to get up very close to the deer. At shorter distances though a deer may recognize blaze orange hunting gear. As a result, there is a blaze orange clothing exception for bow hunting.

Duck Hunting

Birds, unlike deer, have excellent vision, and they can see more colors than the human eye. As a result, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you wear a loud blaze orange hunter’s orange vest while in a duck hunting blind. Because of this, if you want to have a chance of a successful hunt, proper camo is necessary for any type of bird hunting.

Military Camouflage

In 1981 the US Army introducing woodland camo, which replaced the plain olive drab uniform that was used in World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam war. Woodland Camouflage lasted until 2004 until it was replaced by the Universal Camouflage Pattern or UCP.

In 2019, UCP was replaced by Operational Camouflage Pattern. (“OCP”) OCP will only be mentioned here as you are unlikely to see any UCP, Army BDUs, anytime soon in your local military surplus store.

Woodland Camouflage

Woodland Camoflage Pattern

Woodland Camoflage Pattern

Woodland Camo, with its four colors (green, brown, sand-color, and black) is designed to blend in with wooded environments. However, unlike Mossy Oak, or Real Tree, Military Woodland camouflage patterns have a uniform color and do not resemble twigs, leaves, etc. As Woodland Camo was used by US Military forces for approximately 23 years years, it is the camo that you will most likely see in Military surplus stores.

Universal Camouflage Pattern (“UCP)”

US Army Camo Pattern

Unviversal Camoflage Pattern

UCP, which is also known as ACUPAT, or Digicam was implemented in 2004. UCP is recognized by a digital pattern of blended, tan, grey, and green colors that resembles low-resolution digital pixels.

The UCP’s chameleon-like properties, based on sunlight exposure, will look lighter or darker and adapt to the overall environment. It is called Universal, as it is said to work “Universally” with all forms of terrain, and not just wooded areas. i.e., Urban, Jungle, and Desert environments.

UCP, as a by-product, also saves money and increases efficiency. I.E., With UCP camo it is no longer necessary for military service members to be issued new BDUs when they move from Europe to the desert.

The Hated UCP

Please note, all of the above information is based upon theory and military contractors’ marketing. In the real world, the UCP camo pattern was extremely unpopular with enlisted soldiers and the upper brass. The main reason for the hatred of the UCP camo was that it simply did not provide capable, lifesaving, battlefield concealment.

One major problem with UCP is that the UCP camo pattern did not include any black colors. The lack of black in the pattern resulted in the UCP camo clothing appearing flat against the 3D surface, which makes them easier to be seen. According to War History Online, the UCP pattern was actually never even tested under battlefield conditions.

Military Camouflage Vs. Hunting Camouflage

Is Camo Even Necessary For Hunting?

This is the first question that must be asked. And the answer to this question depends upon the type of wild game animals being hunted and to a lesser extent the type of hunting. If you’ve read above, hunting camo requirements differ from large game hunting and bird hunting. So, the need for deer and duck hunting camo will be summarized below.

Deer Hunting

For traditional, rifle, deer hunting, the answer is no. Deer are color-blind and have very poor vision. So, a deer will likely not notice you shooting it when you are 2000 yards away from a prize, five-point buck. So, when hunting a deer with a rifle it is perfectly fine to wear a blaze orange hunting vest. However, as you are required to be closer to your prey, camouflage is necessary, for bow hunting deer.

MOST IMPORTANT SKILL-Deer may have bad color blindness, and overall poor vision. However, they are adept at seeing movement. So, no matter, what camo pattern you wear, you will not have success if you do not stay still.

Duck, Turkey, Pheasants, and Other Type of Upland Bird Hunting

Game birds have excellent vision and superb color acuity. As a result, a game bird will notice anything color that is out of place. So, don’t go hunting ducks with your orange hunting vest! Consequently, it is mandatory to use camouflage clothing for any type of game bird hunting.

Final Thoughts

As deer have such poor vision, a specialized camouflage pattern isn’t necessary. On the other hand, birds hunting does require you to use camouflage as birds have excellent vision.

Specialized, hunting camo, like Mossy Oak, Real Tree, Sitka, etc. has not been proven to be any more effective than the traditional military, woodland, or even the old-school olive drab US Military Uniform. Therefore, for duck and bow hunting, you will likely do fine if you wear your military surplus fatigues while hunting.


Blaze Orange

Blaze Orange (AKA “Hunter’s Orange”) isn’t camouflaged. But, as stated earlier, camouflage for rifle deer hunting is not necessary. For safety reasons, in almost all US states, deer hunters using rifles are required to wear hunter’s orange. The following is a summary of a select state’s law concerning this legal requirement.

Overall, 43 out of 50 US states, require that Deer hunters, wear blaze orange, and in some states, you are allowed to substitute pink for orange.


Hunters are required to wear, a minimum of 500 square inches of the solid, blaze, orange clothing or other material (above the waist) when deer hunting with a rifle. This also is applicable for pronghorn, moose, bear, and other similar big games.

Florida-Any Deer hunter or a hunter’s companion must wear blaze orange when they are hunting on public land. The orange requirement is also, at least 500 square inches of the material above the waist.