Realtree Pro Staff Member Ian Harford uncovers the story behind the world foremost sporting camouflage patterns.
I suppose it’s inevitable really, it’s in our nature. If there’s little or no information out there to tell us any different, after a while we always seem to fill in the blanks to create a story that’s reasonably plausible.
It’s important for us as a species to have an understanding of how, what and why. This gives us closure and no loose ends to irritate us.
It’s not until we happen across someone who possesses the remaining pieces of the puzzle and pieces them together for us that we actually begin to understand.
Then the realisation finally dawns and we achieve that clarity we so desperately desire. Even then we’re still slightly sceptical until we’ve checked it out for ourselves.
This is the shroud of mystery that cloaks the real story behind one of the world’s most iconic brands in field sports and outdoor pursuits.
Still only 26 years young!
Although still a mere 26 years old, Realtree has become the byword for sporting camouflage, and synonymous with the very best equipment available to field sportsmen across the globe.
So what is the enigma that surrounds the brand? Well it’s actually quite straightforward. If you look up and down the aisles at the Midland Game Fair each September you’ll see wall-to-wall camouflage.
Not just on sale, but on the shoulders of a significant percentage of the visitors too – and the vast majority of this is Realtree.
However, if you were to ask 100 of those Realtree clad country sports enthusiasts, who are by and large incredibly experienced and well informed, what Realtree actually make, you’ll probably get a variety of answers.
These would range from caps, T shirts & jackets through to blinds, hides and even lunch boxes. Truth be told, none of these are correct.
Realtree don’t actually make anything…
Realtree don’t actually make anything at all. Realtree own and develop the patterns that adorn the vast array of tools and equipment we employ in pursuit of our quarry – be it fur or feather, paper or scaled.
Some of these items represent the most technologically advanced sporting firearms and optics the world has ever seen, some are simply incidental accessories that we use to ‘finish off’ our kit.
So how do they make their money? Quite simply, Realtree license the worlds leading manufacturers to use their patterns on quality, approved products.
Depending on the amount of material used, the licensee then pays commission to Realtree, and you’d be surprised just how little that commission is per item.
However, as technology has advanced, so we have seen an increase in the types of materials that can be successfully ‘decorated’. Volume is the key to their success.
But it’s not just the sporting community that have difficulty understanding the concept. I was recently at one of Realtree’s own licensees discussing the variety of applications that have been developed to decorate different materials, opening up an even greater portfolio of products.
Despite being in possession of a much sought after Realtree license, and one would assume a broad understanding of their business model, he still asked me “so what else do Realtree make?”
I checked for a touch of sarcasm, or even the hint of a smile, but none came. However, just five minutes later after a quick rundown the realisation washed over his face “oh right, that makes sense!”
Realtree means so much more than camo…
What is becoming increasingly clear is that Realtree is not just a seen as camouflage patterns, but has very much become the ‘uniform’ used by responsible field sportsmen to identify with their peers, and show support for our way of life.
For the longest time, the term ‘camouflage’ in civilian life meant army DPM clad nutters running around the countryside shooting song birds with gat guns, wielding replica assault rifles – and sometimes much worse.
However, sporting camouflage is progressively becoming acceptable to the mainstream, even fashionable.
Without actually realising it, much of the UK’s field sports community has unknowingly fallen in with the very ethos and values that Realtree has tried to engender throughout its brand, and the companies it licenses.
I’m not really one for ‘David Brent style’ pseudo-business speak, but I do think the Realtree ‘Brand Book’ captures it best.
“Our patterns not only allow the outdoor enthusiasts who wear them to be more effective in the woods, they also allow them to show their love of the outdoors in their everyday lives.”
“We developed the Team Realtree logo concept over a decade ago and today literally millions of Team Realtree logos dot the outdoor landscape on everything from game calls to outdoor vehicles.”
“This simple logo speaks volumes about the person displaying it, and has become a badge worn by those who want to express their love of the outdoors.” Bill Jordan – Realtree Founder and President
So how did it all start?
Realtree’s founder Bill Jordan is credited with starting the ‘camouflage revolution’ back in 1986.
The very first Realtree pattern was actually hand drawn by Bill himself, imitating the pattern of the bark and foliage from a tree in his parent’s back yard.
The real problem was trying to find a process that would successfully print the pattern onto fabric, one that took so much time to solve it nearly didn’t happen at all! The first Realtree patterned samples were finished just hours before their official launch.
Bill’s first company was called ‘Spartan Archery Products’. The pattern was initially meant to set his products apart from his competitors.
However at the pattern’s launch at the SHOT Show in 1986, Wally Switzer of US retail giant Wal Mart could clearly see Bills passion and determination.
Between them they found a volume manufacturer and established a distribution network for Bill’s products, and thus Realtree was born.
The global market leader…
Realtree now employs 80 people at its head office in Columbus, Georgia, and has over 1,500 licensees worldwide, manufacturing over 10,000 different products, with everything from rifles and sports optics to bedspreads and curtains.
Realtree has come a long way from its first hand sketched pattern. Today’s designs are created with sophisticated computer aided design, digital cameras and photo-realistic printing.
Realtree continually invest in discovering new and innovative ways to apply their patterns to every product, fabric and material imaginable.
Do you know your Realtree patterns?
Camo is camo right? Well that’s true to some extent, but Realtree has developed a range of high definition camouflage patterns to suit all hunting scenarios, the world over.
There are ‘general patterns’ suitable for a wide range of applications, along with more specialist patterns for specific environments.
Here’s a rundown of the current patterns in the Realtree portfolio, and how you might choose to use them.
Realtree AP – All Purpose. Realtree’s flagship pattern, which they describe as “neutral, open, contrasty, and realistic”.
This is my favourite pattern, and the one I’ve found has the widest range of applications. Most of my gear is in this pattern, including my Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian, which was vinyl wrapped by vehicle branding specialists Raccoon.
I find this is perfect for English woodlands, the Forests of North Idaho and the thick jungle bush of West Africa. If I had to pick one pattern, Realtree AP would be it.
Realtree APG – Based on Realtree’s flagship AP pattern, APG or ‘All Purpose Green’ uses the same background, but with additional leaves and olive accents, making it more suitable for more heavily foliaged areas.
The extra green makes this an excellent pattern for elevated positions such as high seats and tree stands, and allows you to sink further into the canopy, perfect for Spring and Summer stalking.
Personally, I’ll be using Realtree APG in the thick evergreen forests of Idaho and Newfoundland for my 2011 spring bear hunts. It’s ideal in this environment for both ‘spot and stalk’ and tree stand.
Realtree AP Snow – Rarely seen in the UK, ‘AP Snow’ is very much as the name suggests – a pattern designed for use in heavily snowed environments, using the outlines and accents of the branches as seen in Realtree AP.
Popular in the mountains of North America and Scandinavia, Realtree AP Snow is unlikely to catch on in the UK as we rarely have the appropriate conditions to get the best out of the pattern.
However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t have a place in your wardrobe. Even if you use it just a handful of times a year, it’s definately worth having the option available.
Late November and Early December 2010 were great examples of how a thick blanket of snow can put a squeeze on your hunting if you’ve not got the right patterns.
Realtree AP Blaze – Another pattern based upon Realtree AP, ‘Blaze’ is a must for anyone hunting in open or public land where you need make other hunters aware of your location.
Although most hunting in the UK takes place on private land, Realtree AP Blaze is pretty much standard uniform for deer and elk hunters during the open season in North America.
I wasn’t really a believer until my recent bear hunt with Bryce Well in Idaho. I was hunting for bear, but once elk season opened, the mountains were alive with other hunters!
With so many hunters in a very small area, I was relieved to have the visibility offered by my Realtree AP Blaze hat and vest.
Realtree AP Colours – Confirmation that Realtree has hit the mainstream. Available in a wide range of colours from subtle pinks to bright purples, Realtree APC is set to open camouflage to the casual and fashion markets.
This development is going to have male hunters the world over sighing in desperation as they open their wallets for Christmas!
With more women getting out there and getting involved with hunting, it was only a matter of time before Realtree hit the catwalks. What country girl could resist!
Realtree Max-4 – Although billed in the US as their wildfowling pattern, Realtree Max-4 is actually a great match for headlands and late season cover crops such as maize.
It is from these woodland margins that airgun hunters and pigeon shooters often conceal themselves.
I’m a hug fan of Realtree Max-4, and feel its an extremely versatile and highly underrated pattern, particularly over in the UK.
Realtree Max-1 – Not often seen in the UK, but one of my personal favourites. Max-1 is an ‘open pattern’ and perfect for environments where there is sparse cover, and is equally good in arctic tundra, sage brush or the bracken which skirts the Scottish Highlands.
US clothing giants Rivers West are introducing a complete range of technical and fashion clothing items in Realtree Max-1 in 2011, so its one to look out for.
So there you have it. When it comes to sporting camouflage patterns, it’s impossible to look beyond Realtree. However, what makes Realtree different are the values underpinning the brand. There really is so much more than meets the eye.
For more information on Realtree visit www.realtree.com.