July 22, 2014

THE GHILLIE SUIT AND PAINTBALL

HEY, I GOT A QUESTION ABOUT GHILLIE SUITS AND PAINTBALL...




I get emails about a lot of things on this Blog.  Without doubt, however, the vast majority of questions I receive deal with some aspect of wearing a ghillie suit. Is it really feasible? How is it different that just regular scenario play? Do I really need to wear a ghillie to stay concealed on the field? How do I carry my stuff?  How much stuff do I need to carry? How do you cope with the heat while wearing the thing? If I construct a suit what kinds of features should I build into it?

I have known for a long time that these were important issues to the readers here and that I needed to somehow pull something together to answer all those questions in detail. This article was long overdue, but the thought of writing something thorough enough to have any real value was very daunting. It also just so happened that I was having a new ghillie suit built at about the same time that I decided to resurrect this Blog.

I finally just decided to bite the bullet (so to speak) and do this article and illustrate this piece with my photos of the new suit which is the product of everything I have learned to date. I approached the writing of the article by just pulling together all the emailed questions and let that serve as my general outline.  I sorted questions into topics, and then tried to address all the queries as specifically as I could.

WHAT IS A GHILLIE SUIT?

A ghillie suit is just another type of camouflage, albeit a very good one.  It comes in several forms, but most often a ghillie suit is made using some type of netting that is sewn on the back of camouflage clothing. Jute or burlap is then added to the netting.  For best results, the wearer will then add natural vegetation so he/she most closely matches the terrain they are trying to conceal themselves within.  

The human form is one of the most easily recognized shapes in the woods. Experienced players are constantly scanning for the shape of a mask, shoulders, gun, hoppers, barrels, and boots.  What camouflage is supposed to do is to help conceal the shape of the wearer. The ghillie suit does a better job of that than traditional camouflage.  One thing that must be remembered though is that a ghillie suit does not make you somehow disappear on the field; it just makes your shape harder to pick out by fellow players.

I am going to skip all the historical aspects of the ghillie suit and any step-by-step method on how to make a ghillie suit. If you are interested in either of those things, the information is a couple of clicks away on the internet and there is lots of it. My intent with this article is to tell you about how I use a ghillie suit on a paintball field. Over the years, I have worn a number of different types of suits from full body gizmos to 3d leaf suits and I think I have come to know a little about what features help you when playing the game.

I want to do a couple of things with this blog entry.  First, if you are thinking about whether a ghillie suit would suit your style of play, remember this one thing.  A ghillie suit, regardless of its quality, is only as good as the player wearing it. I enjoy wearing one when the weather permits.  It works for me, but the way you play the game really dictates whether it will work for you. I want to describe how I play in a ghillie suit.  As you are reading this stuff, see if any of it intrigues you.  

The second thing I hope to accomplish here, is to pass on some tips in case you decide that you want to build your own suit.  A ghillie suit can be a very simple thing, but a few extra features can make wearing one in the field a much better experience.

SO WHY WOULD ANYONE WEAR A GHILLIE SUIT?

Ghillie suits are unquestionably good at concealing a player who knows how to move in a stealthy manner. You have all seen the "where's Waldo" type of on-line photos of the guy in the ghillie suit hiding in the woods.



While I am a big believer in their use, there are just some situations where they just aren't practical.  See if you can pick out the guys in ghillie suits in the picture below.  Normally, I might comment on the visibility of the blue jeans worn by the guy (?) on the left, but I just don't think it matters in this kind of "tactical" situation.



Okay, we can now see that they don't work so well in the city as urban camo, but I was actually thinking of other limitations. Ghillie suits are hot, heavy, and can make it difficult to carry gear without ruining the camouflage effect.  In addition, you need to spend about 30 minutes vegging it up before the game and you should also swap out the natural vegetation every 3 - 4 hours on the field because it begins to wilt and lose some of its natural appearance.

Before we ever get to the questions about what features make for a better paintball ghillie suit, you need to ask yourself if you are the type of player that will take advantage of that extra level of camouflage. Do you have the patience and stealth skills to make it work?

This is also a good place to point out something important.  I believe that for about 90% of the time on a scenario field you do not need a ghillie suit to remain hidden. Most people I shoot aren't even paying attention out there.  They are talking and walking with their guns carried loosely in one hand.  Most players hardly ever even study the surrounding vegetation.  I could probably play in blue jeans and white t-shirt and still get lots of kills. The vast majority of the time just wearing something like a concealment vest or a cobra hood over a good camouflage pattern is more than ample.

There are a lot of young, inexperienced paintball players who buy the $49.95 big-foot ghillie suit from Ebay thinking that it will be the equivalent of Harry Potter's invisibility cloak.




A few years ago, I was playing with a partner in a large scenario game.  We were not wearing ghillie suits because the temperature was close to 100 degrees.  We were, however sporting Webtex Concealment Vests that we had covered with natural vegetation and our camouflage was very good.



As we were moving onto the field at the beginning of the game, a young player wearing a big-foot, store-bought ghillie suit asked if he could join us.  The suit itself was of the type that covered both the player's front and back from shoulders to boot.  Unfortunately, the jute was all of one color so it showed up as a big blob on the field. What's more, the color of the jute really was too dark and didn't match the natural vegetation all that well. I marveled at just how hot it had to be to play in that body-length burlap rug. 

Not wanting to offend him, but not entirely trusting his stealth skills, we told him he could proceed ahead of us by a 100 feet or so and we told him where we wanted to set up, so he knew what general direction to take. In this way, we could watch how well he moved through the woods and he would be far enough out front of us that if he wasn't very skilled, our position wouldn't be completely compromised.  

It took less than five minutes for us to realize that our ghillie guy knew nothing about quiet movement or playing in that kind of camouflage.  He stalked upright down the trail, never even bothering to slouch and made no attempt to reduce his silhouette which, because of the huge, dark suit, was impossible to miss.  When he thought he had gotten a glimpse of another player through the trees, he charged the treeline with his rifle firing at full auto and whatever he was using was incredibly loud.  Needless to say, we left him at that point to play his own game.

There are a lot of very good reasons not to wear a ghillie suit while playing paintball. The only real reason to go to the work and bother of using a ghillie suit is to hunt other snipers or if you are the kind of player who enjoys getting back behind the enemy's front lines and taking that long shot while remaining hidden.  It's those situations that effort becomes worth the trouble you have to go through it order to play in a jute suit.

SO, HOW DO YOU PLAY IN A GHILLIE SUIT? 

How is playing a ghillie suit different than just playing wearing camouflage in a regular scenario paintball?   Most scenario games involve people from two teams moving around on a large, wooded field until they see each other. Then a 50/50 gunfight kind of thing happens.  There is lots of back-and-forth shooting from a distance of around 50-75 feet. All that paint being fired quickly reveals all the individual player locations for both sides. In a situation like that, you know where the enemy is.  Hitting him is the big issue. Playing in a ghillie suit should be nothing like that.  In fact, your game should be exactly opposite of that style of play. One of the things I hope to do with this article is to explain how they are different.

Let's start at the the beginning. When you first walk on a paintball field with a ghillie suit, you will feel a bit awkward and clumsy. That's because you have made the choice to sacrifice some freedom of movement and quickness for the advantage of superior concealment.  You're wearing heavier camouflage and you (should) have lots of natural vegetation sticking out of your back and shoulders. After a few moments of moving around on the field, you quickly come to the realization that running around in a ghillie is just not going to an effective way to play anymore. You are now forced to play an entirely different game.

In most cases, you will also have given up some firepower to obtain more accuracy.  For me, I have taken that to its extreme.  For true sniper work, I normally use a CCM's SR1 which is a single-shot, bolt-action rifle.  Years ago, I gave up using a space gun that shot a gazillion rounds per second to have a weapon that would consistently place paint on a player at 70 yards.  I love my DAM and its 20-round mags, but it lacks the pinpoint accuracy of my SR1.  As good as the DAM is, it still gives up a bit of ground in a 50-foot gunfight when other guys are using 200-round hoppers.

The bottom line here is you just need to learn to avoid those situations.  Your game should begin at around 50 yards.  At those ranges, either of my guns dominates, and if you show a boot, a hopper, or a mask, I will kill you.

STEALTH INVOLVES TECHNIQUE AND PATIENCE

Playing in a ghillie suit makes you harder to see (if it is put together correctly), but movement still draws the human eye more than anything else, so all the stealth rules still apply, just more so because stealth has just become one of your chief weapons.  You are no longer a run-and-gun kind of player.

Stay low and go slow, not just sometimes but always. Stay out of the sun and avoid looking into it if possible so goggle or scope glint doesn't give your position away. Look around objects; do not look over them. Stick to the shadows where your camouflage will best work its magic.  Avoid making noise as you move and remember, you have netting and jute on your back.  In the really thick stuff you are likely to get hung up every once in a while.  If you're not careful, you will snag a branch or other piece of vegetation that will begin moving around above you and effectively announcing to the other team, "Hey, guys I am a sniper crawling around out here. Come shoot me."

When you move, do in 20-foot increments and then stop and take a knee.  Look and listen before you move.  Don't just look at the trees, look deep into the trees. When you move, move slowly. Plan your next 20 feet of movement.  Where are you trying to go?  What is the best, safest, quietest route? Where is the closest cover?

Make no quick, jerky movements.  If something seems out of place or you see movement, stop and go prone. If there is better cover or concealment close by, low craw to it and set up for a shot. Make sure your "better spot" has a back door escape route.  Stay motionless looking and listening until you figure out what bothered you or you decide that there is nothing out there.

DEALING WITH OTHER SNIPERS

If another good sniper hiding out there around you somewhere is the thing that caused you to pause, (snipers and well trained scenario tearms are probably the only real threats you have to contend with if you're careful), then it is important to remember that the first guy to move in that situation is usually the guy who gets shot.  Of course it might not be another sniper or a snugged-down scenario team.  It could just be a beginning player who is afraid to get in the middle of the action and is, as a result, camping in some isolated spot.  If that is who it is, then sooner or later he/she will make some noise or move around and you will have your first kill.

Even when you decide that you are safe and that there is no threat out there, crawl a couple of feet to a slightly different position before coming up to look around.  That's because if it is someone like me out there waiting and watching, my crosshairs are centered on where I last saw you go prone.  My intent will be to shoot you as soon as you come into view.  If you have changed your position, even slightly, I have to recenter the scope.  I will have to move to do that and you might see that motion.  If I shoot too quickly at your new position, I just might miss.

When there is another sniper out there hunting you, everything changes.  This is not some easy-meat speedball player, gun pointing down carried in one hand, walking down a path in his bright blue jersey, daydreaming about the campfire party that is going to happen later that night.  Now there is someone out there whose camouflage is every bit as good, or better, than yours and he/she is paying close attention to every noise and movement you make. You have to do every little thing you can to stay alive because if you get careless or sloppy that sniper's crosshairs will be on you.

Being a sniper is about being patient, however it is not about simply sitting in one place and hoping that some unfortunate player will wander by close enough so that you can shoot him/her.  If you are going to add any value at all to your team you need to move to a position where you can impact the enemy in some way.  How you move and where you go is critical.

TRUST YOUR CAMOUFLAGE

One of the hardest things to learn while wearing a ghillie is to trust your camouflage.  When you are unexpectedly confronted by overwhelming numbers of nearby enemy players, go motionless.  If you have taken the time to match your ghillie colors with that of the terrain and are using lots of natural vegetation in your suit, opposing players just won't see you.  I have been stepped on and I have had opposing players take cover behind the bush that I was hidden under.

DEALING WITH COORDINATED SCENARIO TEAMS

Scenario teams come in all flavors.  Some are just social groups that enjoy getting together at the field with their kids and playing paintball.  There isn't any real organization behind them.  They don't link up with radios, nor do they drill on tactics.  They go to the field together, but they go off and play their own individual games when they get there.  The only thing that marks them as a team is that they wear the same jerseys and camp close together. They operate as teams simply as a fun group of people getting together.  Nothing wrong with that, but that's not the kind of scenario teams that I am going to write about here.

When I refer to scenario teams in this article I am talking about teams that really play scenario paintball as a team.  They are experienced players who drill together a lot, use radios for communication, and work hard on moving quietly through the woods in formation.  Their camouflage is usually superb.  I came from a team like that and I know a bit about how they play.  Because of that, I have a great deal of respect for how deadly teams like that can be on the field.


I have a great deal of respect for well-trained, coordinated scenario teams.  They are the deadliest force on a scenario field. Your best defense against these kinds of teams is staying hidden until you shoot and keeping lots of distance between your muzzle and all of theirs.  You can also use their own training and playing styles against them.  Teams almost always use a leapfrog style of field movement.  The point man moves ahead while his teammates cover him from a wedge formation. Any activity stirred up by the point guy provokes an immediate and aggressive response forward and to the flanks.

The point man is usually their stealthiest and quickest player.  His job is to get shot at but to not get hit. In other words, he is supposed to draw fire and give the team someone to hunt down. Think wolves in a pack.

If the point guy is straight down field and moving toward you, you will spot him pretty quickly no matter how well he moves because you're looking for him and movement defeats camouflage every time. Just make sure, though, that what you are looking at is actually the point man.  What you are looking at might actually be a player on one edge of their formation. If they are far enough down field, then take your shot and start moving away. This is when your exit plan becomes really important because they will start moving toward you in a quick, aggressive manner.

In situations like this, I like to do what is called "j-hooking."  I will crawl backward until I am out of sight of the people I just shot at, and then I move quickly, directly back and away from them for about 150 feet. I hook either left or right about 75-100 feet depending on the terrain.  What I am trying to do is change up my position while maintaining a view of my old one.  I am counting on the fact that since the opposing team didn't know exactly where I was when I took out their player, that they will move forward in the general direction I shot from while also sending out flankers.  I want to shoot the flankers who will be 30 feet or so out (depending on terrain) to the edges of the formation. Many teams never practice anything else other than assaulting straight ahead while sending flankers out in an attempt to get an angle on the shooter.  That keeps training simple and makes their members quick to react. Massive, coordinated firepower makes that an effective strategy, but it also makes predicting what they will do pretty easy.

Once I shoot at the flanker, I j-hook once again. If the terrain doesn't favor j-hooking, I just continue my withdrawal and stay hidden hoping that they pass me by at a safe einough distance so that I might get one more shot at them from the rear. Remember, try hard to keep that 50-yard margin of safety.  A fast moving team will close with you at frightening speed.  A sniper being chased full speed through the woods by seven gun-toting scenario team members is just not a dignified scene.

Let all of the team members move away. Put the maxium distance between you and the last player in their formation.  Always know that you are playing with fire here. The really good teams use a drag man to cover the team's six.  His whole job is to make sure the team does not get shot up from the rear.  The exact thing you are about to try to do.

Watch the last man. Is his attention focused toward the front and the guys ahead of him in the formation, or is he paying more attention to what is going on behind the team? Even if he is a drag man carefully doing his job, sooner or later he will turn to start moving to catch up with his team once he thinks all is secure. When he turns to move forward, shoot him in the back.  Then, it's time to get out of Dodge.

Unfortunately, the far nastier situation is more likely.  Good, experienced players know ambush spots when they see them so they avoid using the roads and paths we snipers like to set up on.  Too often, the point man first shows up as a flicker of movement in the corner of your eye and is coming off your flank only 50 feet or so away.  That's because he is quietly moving his team just inside the tree line too. He hasn't seen you yet because if he had, he would either have shot you or, in the alternative, would be shouting, "Contact," and shooting in your general direction to let his team know you where you are. From there, the situation gets very nasty, very fast as the cover fire kicks in and the flankers go out. In addition to moving in a stealthy manner, scenarios teams take great pride in how fast and aggressively they react to opposing players once the shooting starts. Even with a good exit strategy, if you caught in that strategy and are discovered, you are probably toast.

It is much, much more likely that you will not have been seen.  Stop moving and for God's sake don't shoot the point man.  Let them move past you and trust your camouflage.  Yes, you will feel sweat trickle down between your shoulder blades as the formation walks all around you.  Better sweat than welts from an overwhelming series of close-range hits.  Teams like that don't usually intentionally overshoot you, but they are very enthusiastic about paintball and each of the team members does pull the trigger, a lot.  In my experience, players at that level are usually pretty good at those up-close-and-personal gun fights in the woods.  In a ghillie suit, that is not your game.  Your best defense is to just stay concealed and let them move by.

SMALL GROUPS OR SOLO OPPOSING PLAYERS

The solo player or small groups of players are much, much easier to deal with.  When you first start playing as a sniper in a ghillie, you will get tunnel vision when you see your first enemy player.  You will see only that guy because you intend to shoot that guy.  Make yourself refocus and take in a wider field of view.  Is he really a solo player?  A lot of people team up using that leapfrog style of play even if they don't have all the training of a full-bore scenario team.  Shooting the guy you see may lead to getting shot by the guy you didn't see.  Always try to figure out how many people you are facing and where they are.  Take your best target and always shoot when he/she is not looking.  Patience.

OFFERING SURRENDERS

As a ghillied sniper you need to get used to the idea of giving opposing players a chance to take the hit and surrender because they are going to walk right past you, step on you, or take cover directly in front of you only a few feet away. When wearing a ghillie, I always carry a pistol because bringing my rifle to bear on a really close target is a lot of moving mass and it could, at those short distances, draw attention.  A pistol, on the other hand, can be be brought to bear quietly with very little movement.

One word of advice.  I have taken, or tried to take a lot of surrenders.  Increasingly, I see players not taking advantage of what I offer.  They don't even know exactly where I am, but they try some spinning, goofy "Bruce Lee" kind of move while shooting in every direction in an attempt to kill me.  In addition, some way-too-serious scenario teams have adopted a macho rule forbidding their members from surrendering.

I remember having my pistol just over a foot away from the head of one of these guys and he didn't do anything when I asked him to take the hit.  He froze, but he didn't throw his hand up or call himself out. I really didn't want to shoot him with a first strike in the head at that distance and gave him a second warning. Eventually, reluctantly he called himself out, but he made me promise not to tell anyone that he had surrendered.  He said that if his teammates found out he would be thrown off the team.  I haven't and I won't say who he was or who the team is, but that is madness.

I tell you all that to tell you this. I try, at every opportunity to give an opposing player a fair chance to take the hit and call himself out. As of late, I don't wait very long before pulling the trigger. What's more, if there is more than one player in front of me I shoot them both, immediately.  No surrenders are offered. With two players there is just too much of a chance for things to go sideways.  Two players spinning away exposes me to unnecessary risks. Could I hit them both before they could get a shoot off? Probably, but I won't risk it.  That's just the way I play it.

MOVING AFTER SHOOTING

Unless you're tasked with protecting a certain choke point or tactical position and there is just no other way to deploy on it, you should be moving after every shot or two that you fire. Even with the best camouflage, the opposing team will get a general idea of where you are.  You don't want that to happen.

Trust me on this one thing.  No matter how good your position is, if you stay in it too long you are going to get taken out. Sometimes the mission requires that you maintain control over some position on the field and there may just be no other place to shoot from that lets you hold that spot. I understand the situation, but sooner or later another player will figure out a way to flank you, or a low-crawling sniper like me will coming looking for you.  The hardest part of killing another sniper is figuring out exactly where he/she is hiding.  Once I have that information, if the sniper doesn't move it is just a matter of waiting to get the right shot and I am very patient guy.

BLEEDING THE OTHER TEAM

If you are a run-and gun paintball player, I don't want to play your game. As a sniper, I want you to play my game.  You will want to engage me at anywhere from 50-100 feet.  I will want to engage you at a distance of 50-75 yards. You will want to shoot strings of paint and maintain an ongoing gun fight. I will want to shoot one or two accurate rounds at a time and then move quietly away from you. You will achieve your  accuracy by putting 200 rounds on a target. I will achieve my accuracy with a scope and one round.

My goal as a sniper on a paintball field, unless I am given some other mission, is to bleed the other team, one man at a time.

For example, I love to set up behind an enemy's lines at some point between the tactical position currently being fought over and the nearest flag station that enemy players have to go to in order to tag back back into the game. Usually, they come dribbling back toward the battle lines in ones and twos. Done right, I can slow down the enemy's ability to put players back in the game by shooting the returnees. No one expects it. No one ever guards those routes and returning players feel safe coming back using them until they get close to the sound of the shooting.

This strategy is especially effective when the game calls for giving points to whichever team holds a given place or position at a specific time.  Normally, those types of battles become pitched in the last 10 minutes or so before the time deadline. That's when I can cause the most disruption.  I have found that many, many players hate snipers.  If I shoot one in a group, with luck, I can draw the rest of those intended  reinforcements to chase me.  That means fewer enemy players are available  to either attack or hold the position that is the true goal for my team. If we get the points, its worth taking a few hits.

If you haven't yet figured it out, you will spend a lot of time on your belly.  That's where all that jute, burlap, and natural vegetation on your topside works best at hiding you. Taking a knee is better than standing because there is less of your body showing.  For all the same reasons, prone is better than kneeling, and crawling better than walking. I have played with players who hated going prone and who would never consider low crawling.  If that is you, steer clear of a ghillie suit and get something like a Web-Tex Concealment vest that covers your upper arms and shoulders.

BUNKERS AND SNIPER HIDES

When wearing a ghillie suit stay out of bunkers and man-made hiding places.  Notice, I didn't say stay away from them.  On the contrary, one good sniper tactic is to find a bunker that has tactical importance to the other side and then set up on it.  I am not referring to just some random bunker or hard point in the middle of the woods. It's the kind of position that, if occupied by the enemy, can make taking the nearby, ultimate objective really hard because it supports it so well. I like to take a position 50-60 yards from the back of that kind of bunker and wait.

As the battle for the ultimate position begins to heat up, enemy players will occupy the bunker I am set up on.  Intense firefights will begin as they shoot at my other teammates who are out front of the bunker and assaulting it. Tunnel vision kicks in for both sides.  Their whole world narrows down to just that player who is the other half of their gunfight. They stop seeing what is around them and often can't even hear me shooting at them over all the noise of the other guns that are being fired. After all, I am much, much farther away. Consequently, they never quite figure out how they got hit in the back because when they turn around it seems to them like no one is there. Situations like that are why I play sniper.


(PHOTO COURTESY OF DJ MATT)

When you look for a final firing position, what you are trying to find is something that resembles a natural type of bunker that overlooks some target-rich environment. Ideally, your position should be from just inside a tree line overlooking some open ground.  Opposing players really hate to charge a hidden position across open ground.  Generally, they retreat backwards and away from you.

Another good choice is to set up back in the tree line on the curve of a long road or trail.  You would be amazed at just how many players in a scenario game will walk right down the center of a path.   That's especially true if they are situated behind their own lines.

Similarly, choosing a location that is uphill from your target also gives you a tactical advantage.  Your field of view will generally be better and any opposing players shooting back will have diminished range because they are shooting uphill. In addition, leaving locations where you have the high ground can be much easier.  Just low-crawl backwards over the top of the ridge and you are out of sight.  Be careful in those situations not to skylight yourself by standing up and outlining your form against the sky.  

Lots of vegetation with a small hole in it large enough to see and shoot through makes for a perfect hide.  Make sure that whatever veg is in your suit when you enter the hide matches what is around you. Look at the foliage in front of you, behind you and to either side.  Are you going to stand out against whatever is behind you? If the veg in your suit doesn't match your surroundings pull out the clippers and start adding foliage to your suit. If the position is otherwise perfect but lacks a shooting hole, use your clippers and make one.

I hear lots of players talk about using a long barrel so they can stick it through the vegetation.  Don't stick your gun barrel through the hole. Do the opposite. Move back and shoot through it. No hide is worth staying in if it doesn't have a back door exit.  Take a second before the shooting starts and plan out how you will exit out of your hide and where you will go if leaving quickly becomes necessary. What will you do is someone just happens on your hide from the rear?  When that branch unexpectedly snaps behind you is not the time to be putting together a bug-out strategy.


Keeping looking.  The sniper is in there.  Notice that there is no gun barrel poking out of the vegetation.

When you are in your hide, scan the field and figure out where your shooting opportunities are going to occur.  What are the likely spots that another player will appear and what are the ranges to those spots? What about overhanging branches between you and the target?  Even though you can clearly see your target in the crosshairs doesn't mean your round will travel in a nice straight line right to it. While first strikes have a much flatter trajectory than regular paint, they still have a substantial arc as they move down range.  Don't waste a good hide shooting overhead tree branches.

How will the enemy approach your hide?  What will be his/her likely path? If there is a path or a road then things get easy.  But what if it is just open woods in front of you?  Where will they go then?  Look carefully at the field.  Even without a well-used route laid out there are going to be obstacles and terrain characteristics that will funnel players in certain ways.  Think about how you would cross that area.

Players will, if everything else is equal, walk around obstacles on the same side as their strong hand. In other words, a right-handed player (and the vast majority are) will, when approaching something like a down tree that is too big to step over, go around the right end of the tree.  That's true as long as there isn't some other factor that changes his/her mind, like mud or thick bushes on one end. That same player will most likely, when peering from behind a tree or bunker, come out on the right side to look down field. That's because it's much easier to be on that side of an object and have your rifle in a ready position in your strong hand. Watch to see how your opponent carries his rifle so you know whether he is left or right-handed.

Plan your shot.  Anticipate as much as you can. Reduce your last-minute movement. Be on the scope waiting for your target to step into it. If possible, let him look away. Try to pull the trigger when you know he won't see it coming and, more importantly, won't see where the shot came from.

GLOVES AND RIFLE CAMOUFLAGE

I hope this goes without saying, but just wearing a ghillie doesn't end your camouflage concerns. I am always amazed by people who wear expensive camo patterns but don't wear gloves.  A pair of hands out in the woods holding a rifle just jumps out at you.  Go back a few pictures and take another look at the guy standing up in the Ebay ghillie suit holding a rifle.  Look at how much the skin of his hands stands out.

Similarly, a black rifle is very easy to spot. Unfortunately, a black rifle, no matter how nice it looks off the field, just stands out in the woods. All those straight lines make it easy to spot.  Shadows don't look like that. All my guns are camo painted, even my pistol. Remember, every time I am out there prone my pistol is out and lying next to me.  When a group of enemy players are walking by nearly stepping on me, I don't want something  big and black lying on the ground catching their eye. "Hey look, somebody dropped a pistol. Oh wait, there is something else here."



My rifle has a few of those black, pony-tail rubber bands attached to it and I have found that just sticking natural vegetation through them along with placing some around my scope does a good job of hiding my weapon.  I used to use a rifle rag but it was constantly getting in the way of my gun's action or getting caught in my bipod, plus I don't think the concealment was as good as just using a camo-painted rifle with natural vegetation on it.  

INTELLIGENCE GATHERING

Also give thought to another aspect of ghillie play, one that involves never pulling the trigger.  Scenario games, and the generals who run them, are all very different. Some are strategists running missions and trying their best to figure out what the other team is doing.  That can be really difficult because they are usually somewhere to the rear and out of touch with what is going on the field.  Occasionally, players report back to them about what's going on but in most instances the information they receive is slim and generally out of date by the time they get it. You as a sniper with a radio, hidden close to the front lines, or even behind them, can transmit lots of real-time information back to your team leader.

HEAT IS THE ENEMY OF ANYONE IN A GHILLIE SUIT UNLESS THERE IS SNOW ON THE GROUND

I think the greatest drawback to wearing a ghillie (as I have said over and over) is how hot it is to wear. With that in mind, there are two important considerations to keep in mind.  The first rule is to remember your hydration. The second rule is to never forget the first rule.

Wearing a ghillie suit and crawling through the woods is hard work and you are going to sweat - a lot. You are not going to want to be screwing around with a water bottle. All the motion involved in retrieving the thing, unscrewing the top, and tipping it up to drink out of it is going to make you hesitate to drink as much as you should. Don't be forced to choose between giving up your concealment or your hydration.  Carry a hydration system with a tube. When I settle in to a hide, I get comfortable, throw a little ground vegetation over the top of me to help my camouflage, flip down my bipod, lay my pistol out near my left hand, make sure my hydration mouthpiece is in my mouth, establish the ranges to my probable target areas, and then rotate my boonie around to get under its sniper veil.  After all that is done, I go motionless and I stay that way.

The second consideration is that because you are retaining all kinds of heat because of the stuff on your back, your body is going to heat up quickly.  Without taking some kind of steps to prevent it from happening, your mask is going to fog up very quickly or, at the very least, you will have so much condensation on the inside of your mask lens that you feel like your are playing in a rain storm.  If you wear glasses under your mask (like I do) then you will have twice the problems.  Remember, unlike the run-and-gun player you are not running around on the field pushing air through your mask.  You are often lying prone on the ground, out of the wind, often in a hide with lots of vegetation around you and the moisture that goes with all that.

I believe that fogging is more a reflection of the individual player's body characteristics than it is of masks.  The plain truth is that some people never seem to fog. Other players, wearing the same mask, fog five minutes after stepping on the field.  Without taking precautions, I fog consistently and always no matter what mask I wear (and I have tried lots of them) and regardless of whether I am using a coated single-pane or thermal-pane lens. Over the years I have developed a series of steps that I religiously follow when wearing a ghillie on the field so that I can keep fogging under control and stay out there playing.

1. I apply an anti-fog to my lenses at the beginning of the day (in my case that's Fogtech) and I reapply it every time I come off the field.



2. I wear a thick, absorbent head bead to keep sweat from my forehead and hair from trickling down into my mask and I change the headband often.



3. I have lots of fans in my mask (one fan pulling out air on the top of the mask and two more fans pulling air into the mask near my mouth).  Yes, fans do make noise.  These are pretty quiet though.  If I take the mask and forget to turn them off, I will often run the fan batteries down because I can't hear the fans running if the mask is sitting on a table next to me.  I often run them on low unless fogging really starts to kick in.


3. I wear a Chilly Pad by Frogg Toggs around my neck.  I love that thing and it replaces my neck cover.  Just get it wet, wrap it around your neck and it keeps you cool for quite awhile. When I can, I rewet it from my hydration hose.



I have just gotten an Artic Heat cooling vest and I am now experimenting with that.  It is small, relatively light and is designed to be frozen and worn next to the skin (brrr!).  It has built-in gel packets that freeze even in the slush of an ice cooler.  The manufacturer (and the reviews) claim that even if your engaging in sports activities in extreme heat it will keep your core temperature down for at least a couple of hours. More on that in future articles.




Yes, I know.  It's very, very blue.  But that's okay because it is worn underneath everything else. Those gray bands are the gel pockets that keep the whole thing cool.

By the way, I don't wear camo hoods.  I think they probably do a good job of camouflaging your head but they hold too much heat around my mask and cut way down on ventilation.  Boonie hats only for me.

HOW HOT IS HOT?

This is a tough question to answer because everyone is different.  I wish I could give a really definite answer to this question.  Something like when the temperature exceeds 82.5 degrees it has become too hot for anyone to wear a ghillie suit.  Not going to happen. Personal preference rules here because my tolerance to heat is different than yours.

My partner DJMATT lives in Sacramento and plays in high heat (near or over 100 degrees) virtually every weekend in the summer months. I live on the coast where a high temperature would be 71 degrees in the dead of summer.  Obviously, he is exposed to the heat every day and can tolerate the heat much better than I can.

For me, when the temperature gets much above 80 degrees I am switching over to my Cobra Vest. He, on the other hand seems to be comfortable wearing his into the 90's.

VEGGING OUT YOUR SUIT


One of the biggest mistakes I see players in ghillie suits make is failing to add natural vegetation.   Why? All of us who wear them know the answer to that question. It is a bother to do and the vegetation has to be refreshed every few hours to keep it looking fresh and natural.  Not adding natural foliage is truly a mistake because the way it should really work is that you have just a bit of jute or burlap tied into your suit and rely primarily on natural vegetation to match the terrain.  Most ghillie suits have far too much artificial stuff on them.  That's because the wearer has designed the suit to hide him/her without natural vegetation so he/she fills it out completely. All that extra burlap and jute actually do is weigh you down, make you a bigger target, and increase the heat inside the suit. A well put together ghillie looks a little bare before it is vegged out because you are going to add the majority of your camouflage at the field.  Just because some of your netting or mesh is exposed doesn't mean your visibility cloak has a hole in it.

Remember the jute has two purposes.  First, it breaks up your outline.  Second, it is used to tie in the natural vegetation. Also remember that the main part of your body that you are trying to break up is your head and shoulders.  Burlap and jute should be thickest there.  So should the natural foliage that you add to your ghillie.   

Because so many ghillie-suite, paintball players don't go to the effort of vegging out their suits, I have gotten pretty good at spotting piles of jute or burlap on the field and recognizing them for what they are.  Believe me, once you know what you are looking for, it is hard to miss.  I go to extremes to blend. When necessary, I spray paint my jute and burlap to better match the field, but if you really want to blend in out there you have to use natural vegetation. I like to have about 50% vegetation and 50 % of the artificial stuff in my ghillie.  Remember this as a sniper in a ghillie suit playing paintball: veg. is your edge.  

Early, before the game begins, grab a mask, clippers, and a garbage bag and go out onto the field. Survey the kind of vegetation that is on, or near, the ground because that is where you will be trying to hide.  Look for what is most abundant.  Put together a pile of usable stuff.  When you are back off the field, tie the veg into your ghillie using rubber bands, the jute on the suit, 550 cord (with the inside cord removed), or the small, elastic ponytail holders sold in most department store.


Keep some elastics tied to the suit and some in your pockets to add extra veg as you play. Just stuff handfuls of veg into the band. Some ghillie suits have stretch elastic bands that let you slide the veg under them.  Once it is secured to the suit, then weave the branches or plants into the webbing of your suit top and bottom.  If there are lots of leaves on the ground, then I suggest stuffing them up inside the netting as well.    

As an aside, I would like to point out that almost every paintball article talking about sniping mentions the spotter or second man on the team as being extremely useful as a look out.  While that is certainly true, what they never point out is that when there are two of you it gets a whole lot easier to add additional veg to each other's suit once the game begins. I think the reason for that is, as I said near the beginning of this section, not many players bother with natural vegetation to start with, so no one gives thought to the difficulty of adding more when you move from one area to another with a slightly different color scheme.

I have spent a lot of time crawling around in the dirt and I have a tip for you.  One of my little known pieces of essential gear is a tiny pair of garden clippers kept in a camo pouch on my belt.  I use them to trim branches when I am vegging up my suit before the game, to cut tangles and snags that occur when I am trying to be quiet and move through thick stuff, to cut shooting holes into the side of hide, and to trim stuff that I am crawling through during the game when the vegetation colors change.  This makes for less movement and sound that yanking stuff out of the ground or breaking branches.



FEATURES TO INCLUDE IN A PAINTBALL GHILLIE SUIT


So what kind of ghillie suit is the best for paintball?  If you have been reading this blog for very long you know that while I have definite opinions on individual pieces of gear, I try never to tell you that something you have won't work or that what I use is the only worthwhile thing you can use. Individual players have their own styles, they play on different fields than I do, and they engage in different types of games. What works for me might not work at all for you. With that in mind, I am going to tell you what I am now using.  Keep anything that you think would work for you and feel free to discard the rest.  

I recently had a new ghillie suit built.  While I specified the features I wanted, I left the actual sewing and implementation to someone who would do a far better job than I ever could.  I built this suit based on my experiences wearing one and some of the prior training.  

TYPES OF SUITS

There is an endless variety of ghillie suit types.  For paintball, the only kind of ghillie that makes sense to me is one that restricts the netting and jute to the shoulders and back of the shirt and pants. Those types of ghillies with netting on the front and back are virtually impossible to crawl in without snagging up. In my opinion, anything on the front just gets in the way and increases the suit's heat retention. I want nothing on my front except some extra cordura that allows me to low crawl more easily.  More on that in a minute.  

I also want my ghillie to have its burlap and jute attached to netting, not sewn directly into the back of my BDUs.  Normally, my jute and burlap stay pretty much the same and I just augment with natural vegetation (or paint) to better match the terrain I am playing in.  There are times, however, where I might want to add jute of a slightly different color or even remove some that I don't think is going to match.  I am doing that exact thing with my Cobra Vest right now.  I want the ability to make those changes and if it is sewn on then that isn't easily done.  Also, I think netting is a handy place to stuff leaves and small vegetation that I scoop up from the forest floor. I like to weave the vegetation I tie on through the netting.  I think it looks better and stays on much longer.  Finally, and maybe most importantly, I wanted my suit to have the back material cut out and replaced with mesh to increase the suit's ventilation.

CAMOUFLAGE PATTERN SELECTION

I had my ghillie built on a set of BDUs with an ATACS FG pattern.  Why?  A couple of reasons actually.  First of all, I really like that pattern.  It's lighter in color than Multicam and I have come to the conclusion that in most (not all) of the places I play it matches the terrain slightly better.  

Second, the most likely chance I have of playing in a ghillie suit is in the early spring or winter. California gets some rain at those times of year and there is a lot of green in the woods.  It's also the coolest time of the year.



Later on in the summer months, things heat up dramatically inland and usually the temperatures are in the 90's or even warmer.  No ghillie suits for me in that kind of heat. The vegetation gets a little brown and a bit dust coated because there is very little rain.  Multicam works well with lots of tans and browns because of that I switch over to my Cobra Vest. It is a brown mesh with brown and tan jute worked into it.  I wear a pair of brown, mesh 3d leafy wear for pants.  Is it as good at concealing me as my ghillie suit?  Nope, but it is a lot cooler and at least I can play in it without collapsing from heat stroke.



I am in the process of stripping off the jute in my  Cobra Vest and getting it ready for a game next month.  It will be extremely hot and I won't be using a ghillie suit in that game because of the heat. From past experience, I know that the vegetation and grasses will be very brown and covered in a layer of dust.  Browns and tans will rule and those colors are what I am working into the vest over the next couple of weeks.

GHILLIE SHIRT

Lets start with my ghillie top. Because I spend so much time crawling and in the prone position, I had the entire front of the top covered with 100% Cordura (in the same pattern) for durability.  The front pockets are gone, however, I left one smaller pocket on the right arm. That's perfect for carrying small items.  I also had Cordura put on over the arms.

I thought about eliminating the front buttons and using velcro to seal up the front, but, in the end, I kept them because I do unbutton a couple of buttons on the bottom of the shirt to enable me to get to my tactical belt underneath (more on that in a bit). Velcro also makes noise; buttons don't. I had the back of the shirt completely cut away and had patterned mesh sewn in place for ventilation purposes. The two unbuttoned bottom shirt buttons doesn't yield the sharpest look on the field but it does provide the best access to what I need while I am playing.



Inside back of the BDU shirt

And yes, you can see the mesh on my ghillie until it is vegged out.

In addition, I had six elastic stretch bands added on the back. This makes it easy to pull out certain veg and add others while I am in the field.


Snipers do a lot of low crawling.  Thumb loops keep your sleeves from riding way up on your forearms.




There is a lot of sharp or nasty stuff on the ground and I want the Cordura on my arms to protect me from that.  That's why there are thumb loops on the end of the sleeves.

Unfortunately, forward isn't the only way you crawl.  Sometimes you need to crawl backward for a distance, say to get back out of a hide after taking a shot while trying to stay out of sight.  Do that for awhile and your shirt rides halfway up your belly unless you have something in place to hold it down. That is where a beaver tail comes into play.  A beaver tail is just a length of webbing that runs from the front of your shirt, between your legs, and secures to an attachment point at the center of your back. Once that strap is in place, your shirt does not ride up.



Toward the end of this article, I will spend a couple of minutes on the question I get most often, "Where do I carry all my gear when I am wearing a ghillie suit?"  I won't ruin the ghillie's ability to conceal me by carrying anything over the camouflage on my back.  That means everything goes underneath.  That includes a Battle Belt (with hydration) and it could even accommodate a cool vest if I think I need one to stay cool enough to play.  I said all that to say this.  Get your shirt a size larger than you think you need.  Trust me, you will need space underneath it for gear.

Lastly, I had the area under the arm pits on each side removed and replaced with more mesh.



GHILLIE PANTS

Let's move on to the ghillie pants. Just as I did with the ghillie shirt, I had the fabric on the front of pants replaced with Cordura right down to the shins.


I also had boot straps added to the bottom of the pant legs.


Why?  Because it isn't only your shirt that rides up when you crawl backward.  Your pants will be up around your knees if you crawl backward long enough exposing those beautiful sniper legs of yours, and remember, you can't see what you are crawling back into.  No thanks.  I want my Cordura covered in thistles, not my shins.

I also have two more elastic stretch loops on the back of each thigh for adding foliage.

BOONIE HAT WITH SNIPER VEIL

Last, but certainly not least is the ghillie boonie hat.  Nothing too special here.


Vented top, vents around the crown and the typical boonie-hat band for sticking extra veg into.  In addition, I often stuff small bits of fern or grass into the top jute.  The one extra I have is a very good sniper veil.  It's not just extra netting hanging down in back, although there is some of that.  I have a small square of matching camo fabric under the mesh, but the mesh is not sewn directly to it. In this way, I can spin my hat around and tuck the flap up under my hat and use just the mesh.  If I have a spotter covering my position and feel more secure, I can drop the flap and mesh right down over the scope. In that way there is no glint and nothing of my mask showing.  The limitation is that my view is strictly limited to just what can be seen through the scope. The advantage is that, when prone, shooting out of a hide, I am completely covered by my camouflage.

DISTRESSING YOUR GHILLIE SUIT

Getting your suit built is not the last step.  Once you have everything put together you need to do one more thing.  The suit needs to be distressed.  New suits are shiny and clean.  They need to be dirtied up to take off the shine and, in some cases, the smell of all that jute and burlap.  This dirtying-up process is called distressing the ghillie suit or giving it a ghillie suit wash.  

The idea is to get the suit wet then roll it around in the mud and thick foliage until it looses that new look and smell.  The process is not complicated.  Sometimes snipers drag their ghillies behind a car down a dusty dirt road.  Others rub in hard on concrete.  You get the general idea.  

As you may have noticed, mine hasn't yet gone through the distressing process.  I intended to do that at this year's Supergame because there are some really good wet, muddy places on that field. Unfortunately I was unable to get to the field.  After I decided to write this article I decide to keep it clean until the photographs were done so that it was easy to see the features in the suit.  Starting tomorrow, it will go through the distressing process.  

SO WHERE DO I CARRY MY GEAR?


As I said earlier, there is no question that gets asked more than this one. I get it. I really do. When I carried my T9.1 and when I now carry my DAM, I am wearing a tactical vest with four big magazines, remote air, and all the rest.  That approach just won't work with a ghillie suit.  The back of a vest is going to completely disrupt the jute and burlap on your back. 

Let me get this out there right now.  When I am carrying my SR1, I don't carry magazines.  Don't need them.  It's a single-shot bolt action rifle.  CCM (maker of the SR1) has designed something akin to a PEZ dispenser that holds about ten rounds in a spring-loaded tube attached to the side of my rifle. After firing a rifle I can rack the bolt action open, reach forward about 2", pluck off a round, and reload it into the breach.
You can see the first-strike dispenser on the side of the weapon just above the forward grip.

On my right wrist I have a Whiskey 2-4 Gauntlet with extra ten-round tubes, velocity adjustment wrench, and C02 cartridges, (painted OD green).



CONDOR BATTLE BELT AND HARNESS

How about water? And what about a radio pouch?  Yup, you'll need that stuff.  Now I do have the pants pockets and some extras that aren't too bulky or fragile (barrel swab, paint rage, etc.) get stuffed in there.  For the rest I have a Condor Battle Belt and harness.



On one hip is my radio pouch, on the other hip is a small pouch with even more 10-round tubes and Co2 cartridges.


On the back is a small Pantac 1.75 liter hydration vest that attaches to the back of the Battle Belt with molle straps.  How do I get to the ammo pouch.  It's actually very easy.  The shirt pulls up enough on each side to reach either my radio or ammo pouch.  There is nothing on my back except the hydration pouch. I go lightly equipped.  I don't need a range finder because my scope has a built in range finder. If I did need one, I am confident I could find a way to carry one more small pouch.

Not everyone uses a bolt action, single-shot rifle.  What if you have a Milsig, DAM, or Tiberius T9.1? Where do you carry the mags and air supply?  First of all, I did use a 9.1 as my sniper rifle for a couple of years before the SR1 and the DAM, and I suffered through those same issues.  Here are my suggestions. Take them for what they are worth.

I go through maybe 100 rounds with my SR1 in a whole day of play.  Your selection of the equipment you decide you absolutely must have on the field tells you a lot about the kind of sniper you want to be and whether you really need or should to wear a ghillie at all.

If I were equipping the DAM as my sniper rifle, I would add a small 3000 CI air tank on the back of the Battle Belt.  In addition, I would add one Dye mag holder (because it is softer than the FAZ mag holders) and put a ten-round mag in it.  There is room for that on the Battle Belt.  That leaves me with 10 rounds in the gun and 10 rounds in the spare mag.  My ammo pouch would then get converted to hold just 10-round tubes.  I wouldn't need anything more than that and I would still have far, far more firepower at my disposal than with the SR1.  The same thing would work for Milsig or a T9.1

If you read that last paragraph and found yourself thinking, "I'm not walking onto a scenario field with just two 10-round magazines," then maybe you need to think hard and long about whether a ghillie suit is really the right way for you to play.  Maybe a Cobra vest or a Concealment Vest with a tac vest and more mags would suit your style of play better with less hassle.  I love occasionally swapping out the DAM for the SR1, donning my scenario vest loaded with 20-round mags, and mixing it up while moving quickly around the field not being tied down to any particular part of the field. It's fun, but I am also playing a different game.  You can go prone for awhile with all that stuff on the front of your vest but low crawling is tough. You just have to figure out which style you enjoy most.

KNEE PADS

I spend a lot of time on my knees on a scenario field and my knees take a beating even with the Cordura padding on the pants. You can do this one of two ways.  You can wear external pads which I really find are most comfortable and provide the best protection.


They do have webbing that stretch around the backs of your legs but that is not a big concern for me and I don't think it detracts all that much from the ghillie covering at the back of you knees..

Something new that I am trying are pads worn under the ghillie suit.




These particular pads are made by Dye and the verdict isn't in for me yet.


What does all that look like tucked under the ghillie shirt?


Here is the whole arrangement buttoned partially up with knee pads under the ghillie. Gorgeous right? Not exactly, I have everything I need and nothing is on the outside.

Here is what the other teams sees and this is beautiful.



You can just see the beaver tail strap in the center of the photo.



And here is what is under the ghillie shirt.



  STILL WANT TO WEAR A GHILLIE?

WHY I PLAY IN A GHILLIE SUIT

Unless you have played against a good sniper, as a run-and-gun player in a woodsball game, you haven't really ever felt the frustration of taking accurate fire from someone whose location you just can't figure out.  You can't decide whether to move left or right. You may know that other enemy players are moving on your location but you are afraid to stick your head out and shoot because you don't want to take a round to the head. Inexperienced players in situations like that often  just freeze up on the field and get taken out. I have felt that on a paintball field and having felt it, I knew I wanted to create that emotion in others. That's why I wear a ghillie suit and work as a sniper when I can.

CONCLUSION

I know this blog entry is long and packed full of detail, but I set out to answer all your questions as clearly and concisely as I could.  I hope I did that even at the risk of having this be overly long. If I confused you or left something out, don't hesitate to ask me about it.

In closing let me just say that the way I play paintball in a ghillie suit is not the only way, or even the best way for you to play. It's just what works for me and the way I play the game on the fields I compete on. My goal with this article was not to try and tell you how you should approach wearing a ghillie in your own games. I simply wanted to show you that it is possible to play inside a ghillie and have fun.  Hopefully, I have given you some ideas on how to do that in your world.



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