Even a well-worn old friend can benefit from a camo makeover.
By Ralph M. Lermayer
Those of us who can remember when the uniform of most deer hunters was the “Pennsylvania Tuxedo” (a Woolrich red plaid jacket) are a bit astounded at today’s universal acceptance of camo pattern clothing and gear.
Even more mind boggling is the application of camo patterns to the likes of knives, binoculars, GPS and cell phones, as well as boots. Having to crawl on my hands and knees many times looking for an uncamouflaged knife I dropped in the grass while skinning, I’m not real sure about the wisdom of camouflaging life-saving gear like radios, GPS and such. I would hate to go looking for a camouflaged radio or compass if I was in a tight spot, but there is one situation where full camo can mean the difference between success and failure — critters coming to the call.
When it comes to calling predators, decoying ducks in close, calling turkeys to in-your-face range or rattling white-tailed bucks, it’s a close-quarters game. Under those conditions, a shiny gun that stands out from its surroundings is often a dead giveaway. The act of swinging to aim can leave you with nothing left to aim at.
More and more rifles and shotguns are being offered either partially or totally camouflaged. That’s a good move, but what about the countless numbers of favorite rifles and shotguns still in use that aren’t close-cover friendly?
Outfits are springing up that can completely cover your favorite shooter, including scope and rings, with a camouflage finish that not only makes old guns stealthy, but also protects them from the elements.
We’re not talking about a fast coverup or a temporary covering with camo tape covering. We’ve all tried those. For a fast fix, they can work. The new option strips down the components, preps all the surfaces and applies a hard permanent covering that’s far tougher than the original finish.
Before you send off your rifle or shotgun for this treatment, you’d better be sure, because once it’s on, it’s not coming off!
In preparation for this article, I interviewed and secured samples from four sources. I sent them rifles or parts in every condition, from brand new to well-worn, from solid walnut to laminate and composite.
Metal went the gamut from blued to stainless and included smooth scope bodies and knurled flashlight housings. Everything came back looking as new as the day it rolled off the assembly line.
One supplier even sent me a beer can he applied a camo finish to and defied me to scratch it off. Knifework managed to scratch it, but it wasn’t easy. In every case, I was thrilled and a bit amazed with the results.
Here’s how it happens.
The technique from all the sources is very similar. Each adds his own tricks of the trade in a certain order to get what they feel is a better result. But for the most part, the process is similar for rifles, shotguns or accessories.
Send the product completely assembled to the finisher. They all prefer to disassemble items in house so they can mark and keep track of all components.
Include a statement of what you don’t want camouflaged. Emblems, serial numbers or special markings must be masked off. Communicate this clearly with your chosen shop.
Metal is bead-blasted, bluing is removed and stainless is etched. Wood surfaces are roughed up. Solvents are then applied to remove oil and prepare the surface for coating.
The barrel is plugged, and any areas that are not to be treated are covered. Jerry at Active Camo Products uses a special urethane plug to protect scope areas, including the nitrogen fill ports.
Applying the base or primer coating is a crucial element to the finished product. This step can make or break the result. Detailed preparation is vital.
The material sprayed on is an industrial-grade primer designed to adhere to the product as well as chemically bond with the final camo coating. Base colors can vary from a cream, brown or peach to give the final product a unique look. Once sprayed, the product is allowed to cure for a minimum of 24 hours.
Then the Dip
A film containing the camo pattern is floating in solution. This film is purchased in rolls, and a royalty must be paid to the source (Realtree, Mossy Oak, NatGear, etc.) for each product. Some have lower-cost in-house patterns for those who don’t need a name camo.
The product is submerged in the fluid and then brought up through the film where the pattern is applied. This step is crucial, as one smear or glitch can ruin the whole job.
Afterward, the film is rinsed off, and only the colors remain on the product. These chemically bond to the base coat.
The product is hung and allowed to dry for at least 24 hours. Some let it dry for seven days to ensure a cure.
A clear, hard spray as tough as auto paint is applied. This spray penetrates all the way to the base coat to lock all the coatings together. According to Active Camo, a total cure can take up to 45 days, but the product is usable after 72 hours.
Maintenance of the finished product is simply a damp cloth and normal oil on the exposed metal. Normal gun solvents won’t hurt it, but all manufacturers warn that insecticides containing DEET will mar the finish. No surprise there; there’s not much DEET won’t attack.
As to which is best, in all honesty, I could not tell. Every job was superbly done and the durability is obvious.
If you’ve got a favorite gun that’s showing its age, or a pet rifle and scope that needs a new dress-up for close-cover work, get it done. You won’t be sorry.
Reprinted from the November 2007 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.