If you’re a hunter and have a social media account, you can’t miss it: “kill videos” where hunters use night sights, usually thermal, to “blast” coyotes and wild hogs. You might be intrigued by hunting with night vision equipment and would like to try it. You might be concerned about the ethical side of the deal – can it be called “hunting” at all? Probably both. Here’s what your blog writer thinks about hunting with night sights.
Is Technology OK for Hunting?
The question of how appropriate the use of new technology for hunting is has probably been discussed since the first hominid used the first stick and stone to kill an animal. Lots of people think it is unethical to use night scopes for hunting. But how about high magnification day scopes, laser rangefinders, and tackdriving rifles that make 500+ yard shots possible? Where do you draw the line on what is ‘traditional’ and what is ‘too new to be ethical’? Muzzleloaders? Compound bows and mechanical broadheads? Actually, even a traditional longbow with a flint-tipped arrow is technology. People have been using technology to hunt for about two million years. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.
This said, the use of technology afield can be a bad thing if:
– the harvest becomes unsustainable;
– it makes hunting so easy that it’s no longer fair chase.
Let’s see if this is true for night hunts with thermal and night vision sights.
What Can You Hunt with a Night Sight?
To begin with, you can’t hunt a regular game species, such as a deer, an elk, a moose, or a black bear, with a night vision device of any sort. All American states and Canadian provinces have rules for legal shooting hours. These rules practically forbid night hunts with any equipment, including the most simple one: a powerful lamp. You can only use night vision equipment when hunting invasive species, such as hog, or overpopulated predators, most commonly coyotes. Practically speaking, you can’t kill too many of either.
Some European countries, such as Poland, Belarus, and Russia, allow the use of night scopes for hunting even such game animals as wild boar and roe deer. But there are limits for the use of this technology as well. For example, in Russia you can use a night scope only if you hunt from an elevated stand (no less than 2 meters over ground). More important are other ways of limiting harvest. Typically, in Europe the owner of the hunting rights over a certain territory receives a quota for game that can be taken on this territory, and the quotas often include not only a maximum cap, but also a minimum number that needs to be killed so as the animals not become a threat to agriculture and traffic. From the environmental perspective, it doesn’t matter much what method of harvest is used.
Therefore, the legal ways of hunting with night scopes are sustainable. But are they ethical, or, in other words, does hunting with night scopes get so easy that it’s a slaughter rather than a hunt? To answer this question, let’s get back to what technology makes night hunts possible.
Night Vision Scopes
There are, as you probably already know, two types of night scopes: night vision and thermal. Night vision scopes allow you to see in the dark by amplifying the light. The lens gathers light and sends it to the matrix that releases electrons when exposed to light, and the more light, the more electrons. The electrons then hit the screen that emits light where and when it is hit by an electron. The light is amplified, again and again, until the picture is bright enough for a human eye to see.
Night vision scopes have a number of issues, or should we say limits. Their range, in practice, is limited to about 100 yards. They can’t be used in broad daylight, because the amount of light that hits the matrix will release too many electrons and will destroy itself. This means you can’t sight in your night scope at daytime, and must arrange a night shooting session to do so. When fired, the light from the muzzle blast will be amplified as well, blinding the shooter. A rifle to be used with a night scope should be equipped with a muzzle blast suppressor.
This technology works best in moonlit and starry nights. When there is no light at all, a night vision device is as useless as the naked eye. This problem is solved by adding a source of extra light, that sends rays in the so-called “invisible specter”. That is, light in the wavelength that our human eye does not react to. But the eyes of our prey are designed differently. In practice, hogs and coyotes that have never before been hunted with night vision will ignore the infrared lighting. But they quickly learn to associate it with danger, and scatter in all directions as soon as the light is on.
Thermal imaging scopes work on a dramatically different principle from night vision. Every object has a temperature, and radiates heat; thermal imaging devices capture the rays and convert them into a picture visible to human eye. This offers numerous advantages as compared to Thermal scopes offer longer range. Their operation does not depend on how much light there is. So, on the one hand, thermals don’t need an extra light source at moonless and cloudy nights. On the other hand, they work at daytime just as well as at night time, so they are easier to sight in.
But there are drawbacks too. Thermal works on the fact that different objects have different temperatures. Therefore, the thermal may focus on the animal standing in thick vegetation and not show you the vegetation itself. It looks like an advantage – look, I can see through grass! – until you realize that the vegetation may be thick enough to deflect your bullet. In a similar vein, once the antlers are out of velvet stage, they are not supplied with blood, and are the same temperature as the environment. Thus, you can’t see them on thermal. If seeing antlers is necessary for correct trophy identification, you’re going to have a night vision device at hand.
Common Issues of Night Vision and Thermal Sights
Both night vision and thermal scopes rely on batteries, and anyone who used anything electric-powered afield knows that batteries are liable to fail when you least expect them to. Then, size matters, and bigger is better, but there’s a price to pay. The more powerful a night scope is, the more bulk and weight it adds to the rifle. Often, after all is said and done, a rifle gets too heavy to be comfortably carried and shot off-hand.
Europeans prefer to resolve this problem by mounting a lighter device on a light sporter rifle, sacrificing performance somewhat, and stalk their prey to short distance. Americans tend to use AR-platform rifles with the most powerful night scopes, and mount their rifles on tripods for stability, thus limiting their mobility. In either case, a gain in one aspect (ability to see in the dark) is balanced by a loss in something else (range and mobility).
Don’t forget also, that night vision technology doesn’t make your body any better adapted to night, while the animals you hunt are perfectly in their element. All game animals are highly adaptable, and porcinis and canines (hogs and coyotes) are more adaptable than most other species.
The bottom line is, no night vision equipment available today really turns night into day. All technology has limits, and night hunting is not like day hunting only at night. It presents a set of unique challenges. Slapping a night vision or thermal scope on your rifle doesn’t make you the commander of all wild beast.
When you’re watching kill videos on YouTube, don’t forget that nobody uploads every minute of every hunt, and while all people make mistakes, most edit them out of their footage. What you see is not representative of an actual hunt, it’s a collection of the most successful hunts by most successful hunters. This makes it look much easier than it actually is. Which brings us to the next point.
Getting Started on Night Hunts
There are hunts that you should experience by yourself, and there are hunts that you are better off being introduced by a mentor. Hunting with night vision equipment is the second kind. To begin with, you will need to buy a whole lot of rather expensive equipment. An average list of what a beginner shoult consider buying looks like this:
– A night sight.
– A hand-held observation device.
– A rifle.
– A tripod rest for the rifle.
– An electronic call.
A few remarks on the list. You will need a hand-held observation device so that you don’t have to lug your rifle about every time you want to have a look at something that appeared to your side or behind your back. It is even more about safety than about convenience – you don’t want to point a loaded rifle in a direction of something that can be a domestic animal or a human. The hand device is also used to verify that what you actually see is what you think you see; for this reason, it’s good to have it in a different technology from what is fixed on your rifle – e.g., a night vision scope and a thermal monocular.
A new rifle is something that you may not actually need. But most people prefer to use a dedicated firing piece for their night hunts. One of the reasons is that scopes don’t always shoot to the same POA after you take them off and put back again, especially heavy scopes like night vision / thermal. And sighting in a night vision scope is a problem – you need to do it in the dark. Therefore, the best way to go is to mount and sight in the night scope and leave it there.
A rest is not required if you’ve got a relatively light rig that you can shoot offhand but becomes pretty much a necessity if you’re working with a .308 class AR-10 or similar rifle. Finally, an electronic call does nothing to boar hunting, but most hunters, even those who are focused on boars, will want to add coyote and other predators to the equation. For these hunts, electronic calls are a necessity.
The bottom line can reach a few thousand dollars, and it would be a big disappointment if you make this investment, go out once or twice, and realize that night hunting is not for you after all. In any case, for a person on an average budget this sum should be invested wisely.
On the other hand, a guided night hunt may cost you as little as $200 or $300 a day, but can actually save you a few thousands in the result. Knowledge helps make better choices, and you’ll learn more in one hunt with a pro than in a year of watching YouTube and surfing night hunting websites. Not to mention that later, when you start hunting on your own, you’ll probably make fewer mistakes but have a much more rewarding hunting experience.