Robert King behind the cash register in Monster Camo’s new Ephraim store.

Passion for hunting, outdoors

leads man to becoming

‘fixture’ in camo industry

 

By Max Higbee

Staff writer

Nov. 9, 2017

 

EPHRAIM—For generations, hunters have used camouflage wear to conceal themselves from the game they hope to harvest.

In fact, going back to the earliest days of humans chasing antelope on the plains of Africa, hunters concealed their faces with mud, local foliage, and clothing to match the environment and hide them from the game they were pursuing.

But it wasn’t until the 1980s that camouflage started to become what we know it to be today: sport-oriented clothing made of durable fabric, thick and warm in the winter, breathable and light in the summer, printed with vegetation or splotches of variegated shades of the same color.

And it was in the 1990s Ephraim resident Robert King began a journey that would make him a fixture in the camo industry. In 1995, he founded King’s Camo, which at first simply published King’s now-famous style of calendars featuring striking photos of mule deer and other game in gorgeous mountain vistas.

Then, in late 1997, he created one of the first widely affordable pieces of mapping software to be used by hunters, called Map Word.

But it was in 1999, when King set out to make a line of hunting gear with camouflage specifically designed for the American West, that he made his most memorable mark on the industry with a now massively popular line of clothing.

In recent years, and after some changes in ownership, however, relations cooled between Robert King and the company he founded. He distanced himself from the clothing line and worked solely on the company’s calendars.

In January 2016, King severed all ties to his former company, he says, “to pursue something even greater.”

The 2017 calendar, for the first time, carried the name of a new company to create new hunting gear and publish King’s calendars: Monster, based in Ephraim.

Robert King was born in California but was raised in Orem. His love for outdoorsmanship is rooted in his Utah upbringing: “Hunting and motorsports have always been an integral part of my life…The outdoors was more than just a part of my early days. It was what I lived for.”

Growing up along the Wasatch Front, King had what he calls “a very motorsport-oriented family” who had “yearly family hunting trips and cabin stays.”

He describes how, in the summer, he particularly loved waterskiing at Southern Utah and Northern Arizona’s Lake Powell, and how “when the heat turned to ice cold white snow, I revved up the snowmobiles and started to high mark any hill I could find.”

But it was hunting that really drew King’s attention as he grew up. “I will never forget the autumn smells, falling leaves, the crisp mornings and Rocky Mountain weather during hunting season,” he says.

Almost a year after graduating from Orem High School in 1986, King married his childhood sweetheart Sheri. Forgoing a scholarship from Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University) to start a business and provide for his new family, he opened his own woodworking shop in 1988 called House of Cabinets.

It was around this time that he met Dennis Wintch, who became a mentor and close friend. 20 years King’s senior and an experienced deer hunter, Wintch became King’s habitual hunting partner, usually during the mule deer hunt in southern Utah.

“He was a simple kind of man,” King said about Wintch. “Nothing about him was fancy. But it was his basic hunting clothing that got me started into thinking how much the hunting apparel was behind the times. It seemed that hunting attire was whatever you had left over from the week.”

But, he related how despite the ugliness of Wintch’s polyester pants, they served a valuable practical purpose that gave them an advantage over blue jeans: when they got wet on winter hikes, for example, they dried before they froze. Not so with the cotton and wool used in denim.

However, there was a real drawback to those pants. King says “the purpose of camouflage is to break up space, to break up the human form. You’re trying to create an atmosphere in the wild that an animal doesn’t spot.”

“So, if I wear a pair of blue jeans, that shows a lot more than something with patterns. What an animal sees and what a human eye sees is different. You’ll get people who wear solid khakis because the colors are similar, but because there’s no pattern to break up the shape, the animal can see the shape.”

By now, King had bought the computer that would become his toolkit for designing calendars and camo: “A Mac Plus with a 12-inch black-and-white screen and a single floppy drive. I had the deluxe drive so I could fit about one megabyte on a disk. After about a year, I upgraded to the first color monitor, scanner, external hard drive—a 300 megabyte beauty that cost $1,500. I had over $20,000 invested into my first “graphic design” station.”

It was then that the software company Adobe, for the first time, released its revolutionary Photoshop graphic-design program. With it, anybody with a computer and the will and dedication to deciphering the new and cryptic controls had the power to produce professional-grade visuals from the comfort of their home office.

Robert King seized on this opportunity. Not only did he become proficient at graphic design through Photoshop, he built his very own program called “The Kitchen Aid,” which allowed him to build digital representations of the kitchens he built in his cabinetry business in order to show them to customers. He later sold the program for $18,000.

At the turn of the 90s, King focused on writing two books about hunting in the western United States, “The Hunting Guide” and “The Hunting Guide to Big Game.” They were stocked full of statistics, draw results, hunting locations, draw odds, info on hunting units, kill shots, clubs, etc.” In the pre-internet days, it was an invaluable resource to the hunter seeking to be informed.

Inspired by another friend of his, taxidermist Jay Ogden, King set out on a sort of digital taxidermy. He bought a photo of a deer with permission to use the body of the deer, if nothing else. He went about Photoshopping the body of the deer out of the background of the original photo and onto a natural forest background from a photo that King himself took.

“I took this photo and showed it to my friend, Dennis Wintch,” remembers King. “He laughed and asked if he could take it with him and show the picture to the guys at the diner during lunch. He told me afterwards how everyone couldn’t believe it. This was the biggest deer photo they had ever seen.”

King knew he wanted to do more of this work, but he knew he couldn’t support himself on commissions of specific deer re-creation photos. It was then that the idea for the calendars was born, and in 1995, the first full re-creation calendar was completed under the imprint of King’s company King’s Outdoor World after 1996.

King’s calendars were immensely successful, and they, alongside King’s Outdoor World’s books and Hunting Illustrated Magazine, formed the basis to launch King’s Camo in 2001.

“It was about that time that we moved down south to Sanpete. We lived in Mt. Pleasant and we ran the business out of our home, and then we had another building down in town for offices and things like that.”

“The banking crisis [in 2008] forced me to bring in an investor, a partner,” remembers King. “He’s the one who came in and built the big building there in Mt. Pleasant. After about 18 months, I realized that that wasn’t my cup of tea, and so I sold my remaining shares in the company, but kept the calendars.”

In January of 2016, he severed ties completely with King’s and started Monster, his new imprint to design camo and calendars.

The 2018 line of Monster Calendars will feature specialized calendars with photos specifically of bull elk, mule deer, bucks and bulls, whitetail deer and Whitetails, and one of general wildlife.

With his new camo designs, King wanted to offer something different from the rest of the market, something to catch the consumer’s eye.

“As I took a look at the current hunting apparel market, I was amazed at the new trend of digital patterns for the hunting world. I knew that I had to create something different, but I also knew I didn’t want to jump on the digital, military patterns bandwagon.”

Monster Camo features designs inspired by modern sportswear. “We wanted to make a camo that would be super effective in the outdoors, but that would still be appealing to the human eye,” he says.

They are dominated by camo patterns, with bands of bright green and black accenting the design.

“If you look really closely, even the light green and the black are full of patterns, because that’s what really matters with animals. If you’re covered in patterns, and not solid blocks of color, then the animals won’t notice you. The different colors of green and brown and black all look almost like grayscale to the animals.”

King describes his new camo hunting gear as “hunt-ready,” which is a lot like the term race-ready, for those familiar with motorsports. For the layperson, King describes it this way: “With racing, whether it’s bikes or cars or four-wheelers, there are the guys who do this all the time, for a living, and then there are the guys who just do it for fun on the weekend. For that first group, you want the gear to be really top-notch, ready to race professionally.”

“We want to cater to that same market of hunters; people who take this really seriously. We’ve got all of the bells and whistles that you could want in your gear.”

“[With the Monster Camo store,] we wanted a place that serves two purposes. One is to have an office for these other guys. Two is so that we have a location so people can see, and physically touch and feel the product. We’ll be in stores starting next year, but so far, we’ve just been direct-to-consumer.”

“We’re here. Our stuff is here. A lot of times, people will ask ‘Why are you different? What makes you different? Why is your stuff better than the rest?’ Because everybody’s going to say these kinds of things, so you’ve got to really believe it, and know what you’ve got, before you say it.”

Monster Camo is located in Ephraim at 35 East 700 North, and online at monstercamo.com.

 

Robert King in about 1991 working at his fi rst graphic design station, a Macintosh computer, designing camoufl age patterns with his son and now-business partner, Colton, on his lap.