I remember my first week of stealth training. (And when I say “stealth” I mean tactical camouflage, paintball camouflage, airsoft camouflage, hunting camouflage, whatever. If you need to remain undetected, no matter whether predator or prey, the skills are the same.) We were given a demonstration of what highly effective camouflage can do, when used properly. We were asked to scan an area approximately 200 yards across, in an arc of about 120 degrees. When the 1 minute allotment of time had passed, the targets revealed themselves. Several were within just a couple of yards of 75 pairs of eyes. The rest were no further than 30 yards away and completely out in the open. No conventional ghillie, no digital camouflage BDU’s. What kept them hidden in plain sight was their complete mastery of these four elements.
If any of these four indicators are present, you have seriously compromised your position. And the longer the indicator remains, the greater your exposure. As a tactical paintball sniper, you must understand these indicators and eliminate them. Not only that, you need to become an expert at spotting them and using them to expose your opponents.
1. Master sound.
* As night settles, sound becomes more obvious. The din of the day dies down and what’s left are the more subtle night sounds and the not-so-subtle sounds of creatures that don’t belong in the night. This, of course, only applies to you if you play or work in the dark hours. If that’s your setting, you need to become one of the creatures that belong in the dark and minimize your sound accordingly.
* As great as the latest gear may be, the more you pack along, the more discipline you need to apply to silencing it. Tape up or remove zipper tabs. Change velcro to buttons where practical. Magnetic closures are even better. Fill or empty canteens or hydration bladders. Cover metallic parts with latex rubber tool-dip or a soft fabric like ghillie or felt. Take a stroll in full gear, just a regular walk and make a note of every noise coming from your equipment. Silence it or drop it.
* You can get away with small noises both in the day and at night. Clicks, pops, scratches or snaps are not unnatural, but they have a context. The human voice has no context. It is unnatural. Use sign language whereever possible. When you need to talk, get all the voices low to the ground and use only the volume needed to hear.
2. Master movement.
* The number one rookie stealth mistake is moving too quickly. It is entirely possible to stand upright in a wooded area with muted colors on and move unnoticed if the movement is smooth and slow. Jerks and twitchy motions draw the natural tendency of the eye to spot motion. If you think you’re going slow enough, slow down by another 1/2 and you’ll be getting close. Get low and go slow.
* The periphery (edge) of human vision is primarily made up of motion-sensing visual cells called “rods”. The density of rods is greater at the edges of vision and is responsible for picking up motion. From an evolutionary standpoint, peripheral vision is the visual alarm system, warning of threats that we aren’t looking at. As such, those jerky and twitchy movements are more easily detected when your target isn’t even looking at you.
3. Master camouflage.
* The simplest part of camouflage is the most obvious, that is, the pattern. But the devil is in the details. What kind of fabric is your camouflage printed on? Nylon blends, popular now with the advent of “performance garments” are much shinier than cottons or wools. That shine is brutally obvious in the wrong kind of light. Even brand new camouflage fatigues have a shine to them that doesn’t disappear until after about ten washes.
* Breaking up the outline is critical. Many tactical paintball snipers put on a ghillie suit like Harry Potter dons his cloak of invisibility. It doesn’t work that way. Frankly, most paintball ghillie suits just make you look like a green Sasquatch. In 3D camouflage, less is more. It takes very little to break up the human silhouette. Do it, but don’t go overboard.
* That new suit of woodland digital camouflage is great. In fact, very effective. But put it in front of a wooden bunker or the bark of a lightly colored tree and you will stand out. It’s not a magic potion. Stick to the shadows, stay low and don’t forget you aren’t invisible….yet.
4. Master the masters – the local wildlife.
* Each natural area, even your local paintball or airsoft range, has a baseline of activity. The birds behave a certain way. The deer stick to certain areas. Even the insects have patterns. A foreigner to these environments sends a ripple through the area. Insects are silenced. Birds and deer flee. All of these are clues. Even a rudimentary understanding can aid in detection of a threat from several hundred yards.
* Each of the above factors, when ignored, will set off these natural alarms. Just as stated above, stay low, go slow, blend in.
Camouflage in the recreational sports of paintball and airsoft is treated largely as a novelty. In the law enforcement and military community, it’s a way of life, a survival concern, a science and an art. To excel in the arena of the tactical paintball sniper, camouflage and stealth must be mastered. You have to be willing to do what it takes. Abandon the “fashion show” mentality. Get dirty. Get the elimination.