Joe Miles grew up in a hunting family. Every weekend during deer season he would find his father, mother, brother and sister with him in the woods hunting whitetail deer. Over the years, he learned quite a bit. At the age of 15, he put down his rifle in favor of the bow. “The challenge of bowhunting is it requires you to get a lot closer than you do with a rifle,” says Joe. “It requires you to be a much better hunter.”
While attending Wofford College, Joe began to think about how he could expand his favorite hobby into a career. He started by attending the prestigious Gerhard Steenkamp professional hunting school in Africa, then apprenticed under professional hunters in Africa for several years, finally earning his Professional Hunter’s license. Joe went on to lead hunting expeditions all over the world, in many different climates. This varied experience would prove useful to him in the future.
Back in the United States, Joe continued hunting and studying whitetail deer. One October day in 2019, he made a remarkable discovery. As he walked through the woods, he saw two owls scuffling in the trees. One flew away to a different tree and, as Joe watched, the owl disappeared. Joe walked closer to the tree in a vain attempt to locate the owl. It then flew from the tree to a different one and disappeared again. This encounter got Joe thinking: camouflage. Owls, like whitetail deer bowhunters, hunt from trees. Joe wondered about the eyesight of owls’ prey, such as rabbits, and squirrels. Do these animals see the same way as whitetail deer? Does this help the owl capture its prey? Moreover, could this same principle help whitetail deer hunters be more successful?
Joe turned to Dr. Jonathan Suber, veterinarian and owner of Capital Animal Hospital. Dr. Suber conducted research and concluded that Joe was right. Deer, rabbits, and squirrels all share dichromatic vision; they see only green and blue. Learning this, Joe’s suspicions were confirmed: the owl’s feather pattern is nature’s perfect camouflage.
“Humans have overthought camouflage,” says Joe of the patterns found in big box store hunting sections. “Many patterns don’t make sense and hinder you as a hunter. Why wouldn’t we want to mimic owls, one of the best predators in nature?” Joe’s goal was to create a line of hunting clothing geared specifically to the whitetail deer bowhunter. He wanted to create the best whitetail hunting camouflage to help hunters be in the stand longer, and ultimately be more confident, efficient, and effective bowhunters.
Joe worked with a graphic artist to recreate the owl feather pattern. “Once we got a sample, took it out into the woods, and wrapped it around a tree, we knew we had something,” he says. The next challenge was sourcing the right clothing materials. “We wanted materials that were quiet, because whitetails have excellent hearing. Bowhunters also need stretch and dexterity in their clothing,” says Joe. Additionally, he wanted to provide the best quality materials for any climate. Hunting in as many different environments as he has in his lifetime, he knew the material must guard against the elements, no matter what. “We needed material that keeps you cool in hot climates, dry in wet climates, and warm in cold climates.” The best part about the gear is that it renders the whitetail bowhunter virtually invisible.
In July 2020, Joe launched his new company called ASIO Gear, pronounced AH-zee-oh, after the genus name of owls, using their uniquely designed ASIO RAPTOR CAMO pattern. ASIO Gear is a consumer-direct company; it cannot be found in stores. “Cutting out the middle man allows us to provide the best quality gear for a lower price,” says Joe. ASIO Gear makes gear selection easy by dividing it into Early Season for lightweight gear, Mid-Season for fall temperatures, and Late Season for cold climate hunting. “With other companies, you can’t tell if their gear is for South Carolina or Antarctica. We wanted to take the guesswork out of it,” Joe says. Because ASIO Gear is a consumer-direct company, he also wanted to make trying the apparel as easy as possible. To that end, shipping is free both ways in the United States.
For anyone interested, ASIO Gear can be viewed in person. “We have a little showroom at our offices on Shop Road,” Joe says. The address is 1601 Shop Road, Suite I, in Columbia. “We’ve had hunters drive in from Florida to see our gear in person. We love that. We encourage it. We love talking to other whitetail bowhunters about their experiences.”
Whitetail deer hunting is the largest hunting community in North America. Of the approximately 12 million hunters, eight million of those have a connection to whitetail deer hunting. Understandably, supplying those hunters is a very competitive business. “I enjoy the challenge of competing against the giants,” says Joe. “As we gain traction, we see guys who have switched from big name brands to ASIO Gear. It’s super rewarding.”
One year after it began, ASIO Gear already has more than 3,000 customers and hundreds of five-star reviews. It also receives lots of requests for new products over Facebook and Instagram. The enthusiasm is certainly appreciated, but ASIO Gear is developing into much more than that. “We’ve created more than just a brand,” Joe says. “It’s turning into a community of the most dedicated whitetail deer hunters in the United States: people with the same passion and dedication to the sport we love.”
The most notable thing about the journey from owl to ASIO Gear, to Joe, is how great ideas can come from just being in nature. “The fact that I could watch two owls flying above me and have that moment turn into an idea that turns into a real company is really special,” he says.