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Hidden & Camouflaged Enemy Detection

When you are moving through a danger area and are scanning for enemies which may be laying in ambush for you, there are some specific observation techniques the military has taught us that will increase your ability to detect hidden and camouflaged enemies...

This article contains content mostly taken from the Paintball Warrior Tactics book (Chapter 3, Paintball Warrior Skills, Hidden and Camouflaged Enemy Detection).

Hidden & Camouflaged Enemy Detection

When you are moving through a danger area and are scanning for enemies which may be laying in ambush for you, there are some specific observation techniques the military has taught us that will increase your ability to detect hidden and camouflaged enemies.

"If your attack is going too well, you have walked into an ambush"
- US Infantry Journal.


As you move through a danger area, take short pauses in locations that afford some cover or concealment, and scan the area in front of you. Don’t stop in the middle of the trail to do this. As always, try to stay behind cover. Even partial concealment is better than nothing.

These pauses are especially important as you come upon terrain that has an open area or a longer distance to travel to your next cover. The reason it is especially important to pause here and perform a quick (but detailed) scan are that

  • you will be very exposed as you move across or through the area and
  • it is a good place for an ambush
  • you will have a somewhat longer FOV and simply have more terrain features to inspect (for hidden enemies).


When you choose to perform a quick scan of an area for threats, do the following procedure:

  1. Find cover if possible. Use concealment if necessary.
    If neither is available, get on your belly.
  2. Take a mental “snapshot” of the entire FOV. Look for anything obvious and act if necessary.
  3. Do a “quick scan” of the entire area. Pay special attention to and note any areas in your FOV where enemies could easily be hiding completely out of sight such as a ditch, trench, bunker, etc. If you see anything, act. Otherwise proceed with a slow scan.


  1. Mentally divide your FOV into three sections: “foreground”, “middle ground” and “back ground”. Always scan the foreground first, middle ground second and background last.
  2. Scan the foreground first from right to left. It is very important that you scan from right to left. Scan the foreground once or twice.

    Why Right To Left? You are trained to read books from left to right. As a result, when moving your eyes from left to right, they move smoothly and quickly. This is bad. This is not what we want. Instead, we want your brain to think harder. That is why we scan from right to left. By scanning from right to left, you disrupt this training and force your brain to actually look at the data from your eyes more carefully. When you get to the end of your scan on the far left side of your FOV, switch back to the far right side and start again – scanning from right to left. Do not scan in both directions. Only scan from right to left.

  3. Scan the middle ground second from right to left. Again note the direction of the scan.
  4. Scan the back ground last from right to left. Always scanning right to left increases the chances you will spot an enemy.
  5. If you see anything, act. Otherwise, if you are suspicious of any area or feature (especially previously identified dead ground) proceed with a detailed scan. If you are confident of your safety, signal your squad and continue moving.


The detailed scan is performed in the exact same manner as the slow scan (front to back and right to left) except you pause and carefully scrutinize any and all features which are suspicious.

There are three advanced techniques you can learn to enhance your detailed scans:

Off Center Vision: In low light conditions or where there is lots of tree canopy causing many shadows, use the off-centre vision method to enhance your detailed scan ability. As you perform your detailed scan, don’t look directly at the feature or area of interest.

Instead, move your eyes so that they are looking just barely off to the side of the feature by one or two degrees.

You do this because the exact centre of your vision (in your eye) has less light receptors than your immediate peripheral vision.

To prove it to yourself, try this experiment at home: in a completely darkened room, look directly at your hand about 18” away from your face. The room should be dark enough so you cannot see your hand immediately. Now stare just off to the right or left of your hand. As your eyes adjust, you will begin to see your hand’s edge. Now, again look directly at your hand – the edge will disappear. This is because your off-centre vision is better at seeing light (and hence edges). The same principle applies when doing a detailed scan of an area in low light or even in the shadows – scan around it, not directly at it.

Head Cocking: As you perform a detailed scan of the foreground, especially in dense bush where vision is limited to less than 20 yards, move your neck and head left and right by 8-12” by craning your neck.(Note that the effectiveness of this technique is drastically reduced at long distances.) You can also try simply cocking your head left and right by 45 degrees or more for a similar effect.

You do this to increase your brains ability to form a depth perception picture of your FOV. You have two eyes because humans have something called stereoscopic vision. The two eyes see a slightly different picture from each other and the brain combines these two pictures to determine the distance to objects. This is why with one eye closed we have no depth perception.

By moving the head back and forth (or cocking it to the side) while scanning an area, we add more points of view, and in turn, the brains ability to form a depth perception model of the FOV is enhanced. This helps us to identify objects in the FOV that would otherwise blend into the background.  

Sound silly? A few million years of evolution can’t be wrong. In nature, many prey animals use this behavior to look for predators. Increased depth perception will allow you to pick out camouflaged enemies more easily.

Eye Darting: Use the eye darting technique as you perform your detailed scans to prevent “object fade-out” and enhance your ability to examine objects.

Move your eyes in short, abrupt, irregular movements as you scan an object or area. Pause a few seconds at each likely target area to detect any movement. If a possible target is detected, then use your off-center vision to observe it.

When we focus on an object (or area) the receptor cells in our eyes immediately begin to fatigue. The clarity and edges of the objects in that area become less defined and brighter areas “burn” themselves into our retinas, causing slight distortion. This all leads to a phenomenon known as “object fade out”. Even when the effect is minimal in normal sunlight conditions, eye darting can improve our ability to detect hidden enemies.


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