To conceal yourself from the prying eyes of big game, you simply have to face the facts.
Nothing authenticates you as a member of the dreaded human race more than a glimpse of your face. Legs, arms, trunk -- even the back of your head -- can all look like limbs, rocks, or some other unidentifiable form, but your shiny face is a dead giveaway to any game animal with a little experience. It's a signal to leave -- now!
Can you get by with a bare face from time to time? Sure. Will you get spotted even with your face painted up like a Navy Seal? On occasion. The real dilemma here is that you can't possibly know when a bare face might cost you a shot. It could happen when you draw down on your third doe of the season. Or it could happen just as you come to full draw on the only 7x7 bull elk you'll ever see in your entire life.
So, do you feel lucky?
Obviously the human face shines in direct sunlight, but it also stands out prominently in low light. The light may be subdued on overcast days, or early and late, but your face is still vivid and moving constantly, that is, if you're paying attention to your surroundings. Just the sight of a shiny human face -- with eyes -- can terrify an animal or, at the very least, attract unwanted attention.
You can use two basic methods to make your face invisible -- paint your face or wear a facemask. Each has its place, and most of us prefer one or the other. I use both.
Whenever my boots are on the ground, face paint is my preference, particularly for stalking and other active hunting. Facemasks, even thin ones, are considerably warmer than face paint, and when you're bellycrawling on a bedded muley under a blazing sun, you need all the cooling help you can get. Yes, you can pull a mask up and down as necessary, but getting it positioned just right can be tough. A baggy or loose facemask can obscure your peripheral vision and reduce your ability to hear. That's critical for me, because I've lost some high-frequency hearing range due to shooting guns back in the day.
In contrast, face paint is cooler and presents no obstacles to vision or hearing. Some products can be difficult to remove, but unscented baby wipes get the job done and should be standard equipment in every pack anyway. You can customize the amount of coverage, and if you have a beard or goatee, just paint around it. On a long hunt, you might grow a lot of stubble, so just hit the bare spots. Stubble cuts down the glare, and cleaning face paint out of beard stubble every night is not fun.
I personally apply just enough green, black, and brown to break up the outline of my face. When the hunting gets tough, I write my two grandsons' initials on my face. Once in awhile I forget to write them backwards, but when I get them right the "C" and "E" you see on my face stand for Carson and Easton. It's a superstitious good luck thing that seems to work, and I never argue with luck.
Bear in mind, all face paints are not created equal. Some brands go on hard and come off harder, while others slough off with just a little sweat. My favorite is the formula Larry D. Jones came up with that is now sold by Jones Calls. It goes on easily, covers well, lasts all day, and cleans up nicely. I also like the Camo Compac from Hunter's Specialties. It comes in three, four, or five-color versions and includes a mirror. Primos Hunting Calls also offers a very good face paint compact.
A high-tech option is Carbomask, an activated charcoal gel that is not only odorless but will adsorb odor while masking your shiny face and hands. It goes on easily and has a flat appearance once dry. It's durable for all-day hunts, but because it is water based, it washes off with little effort. This stuff won't clog your pores, and you sweat right through it.
If you don't like paint, try the sections of camouflaged medical tape from Face Away. Or if you prefer a really low-tech option, darken your face with a chunk of burnt cork. In a pinch, even a burnt stick or charcoal can take the shine off.
Whatever type of face paint you choose, use it diligently. You never know when it might be the difference between a story and a shot.
When I'm hunting from a treestand in cool weather, I welcome a facemask. I prefer a fleece facemask in conjunction with a brimmed cap. The brim helps shade my eyes from the low sun and the prying eyes of wary deer. Experience has impressed on me the importance of allowing all nontarget animals to pass by undisturbed. I never draw on a deer for practice or do anything that could draw attention or cause alarm. I certainly don't want them to notice my face.
As mentioned above, a loose facemask can obscure your peripheral vision, especially as you come to full draw, so always practice shooting while wearing your facemask.
If you wear eyeglasses, breath trapped under a facemask can fog your glasses. To prevent that, don't use a facemask with material over the bridge of your nose. That thin strip is what really causes fogging. If your facemask has material over the bridge of your nose, cut it out, but be sure the whole thing won't unravel. A thicker, insulated facemask can even inhibit your ability to hear incoming game. In particular, you often cannot pinpoint which direction the sound is coming from.
When bugs are an issue, I find a facemask the best way to save my hide, and it cuts down on the movement of swatting away gnats or mosquitoes. I prefer a very thin mesh hood or "bag" with no eye holes, and I wear that over a hat with a brim all the way around to hold the mesh away from my head so mosquitoes can't penetrate the mesh and feast on my ears. This type of headnet is a must for spring bear hunts and any other warm-weather outings in northern states and Canadian provinces.
A three-quarter mask that can be pulled up over your nose when necessary works fine as long as you remember to pull it up in the heat of the moment. Again, practice shooting your bow while wearing any kind of facemask so you know if or how it affects your shooting. Even a slight altering of your anchor point can make a difference in shooting accuracy.
Facemasks come in a variety of designs and materials. Warm weather calls for mesh that allows air circulation. Hunter's Specialties, Cabela's, and Redhead carry a variety of such facemasks. As the weather cools you can switch to a stretch-fit hood like the one offered by Under Armour. This mask won't move around, causing vision or anchoring problems. It comes in camouflage or black for g
round blind use. Hunter's Specialties also has a breathable spandex camo facemask that fits snugly, and Primos has a number of styles of facemasks to fit your needs. Medalist and Gamehide also make excellent facemasks.
Once the weather gets really cold, I switch to a fleece facemask or balaclava. These products not only camouflage my face but keep it warm as well. In situations where I'm blowing a mouth call, I like a facemask with a mouth hole. If the mask isn't made with one, I cut a small slit to accept the mouthpiece of the call. Avoid facemasks that make any noise whatsoever. With the material directly against your ears, you won't be able to hear anything -- except the crinkling of the facemask.
Finally, to ensure that you don't negate the value of your face camouflage, always keep your hands fully camoed, too. After all, they're moving and more visible than your face.
In warm weather, I rub face paint on the backs of my hands or wear thin gloves like the ones made by Under Armour. Hand camo is especially important in a ground blind when your bow hand gets close to the shooting hole as you come to full draw. When you're lurking in the shadows of a pop-up ground blind, the best camouflage may be all black on your face, hands, and body.
- Cabela's, 1-800-237-4444, www.cabelas.com
- Carbomask, 1-888-977-2266, www.carbomask.com
- Face Away, (706) 828-7775, www.faceawaycamo.com
- Gamehide, (952) 895-8740, www.gamehide.com
- Hunter's Specialties, (319) 395-0321, www.hunterspec.com
- Jones Calls, 1-800-437-0006, www.jonescalls.com
- Medalist, (610) 373-5300, www.medalist.com
- Primos Hunting Calls, 1-800-523-2395, www.primos.com
- Redhead, 1-800-227-7776, www.basspro.com
- Under Armour, 1-888-727-6687, www.underarmour.com