Hunting the Iowan Song Dog: Ben Blood's Passion for Coyote Hunting with Thermal Technology

Hunting the Iowan Song Dog: Ben Blood's Passion for Coyote Hunting with Thermal Technology

Ben Blood first ventured into the world of thermal optics in January 2018 when he acquired a Pulsar Trail XP38, but he has since added an Axion 2 LRF XG35 to his thermal collection. Living near a relatively large city in Iowa, Ben noticed that coyotes, accustomed to frequent human interaction, had become mostly nocturnal. Thanks to the year-round hunting season for coyotes in Iowa, unrestricted by shooting hours, he knew he could both help local farmers and have fun doing it in the cool of the night. Additionally, with two kids involved in sports, his weekends are often occupied. Thermal optics allow him to fulfill his family responsibilities during the day and hunt at night.

When asked about the advantages of thermal optics, Ben highlighted two primary benefits. First, the ability to hunt at night when animals are more active significantly enhances his chances of success. Second, the ease of spotting animals through their thermal signatures, compared to other low light solutions like night vision, offers a clear advantage, especially since thermal vision has longer detection ranges and a clearer contrast between the target and its environment. The digital features of modern thermal scopes such as internal rangefinders and ballistic calculators further augment their utility by making thermal optics deadly accurate with precise holdovers and accurate range estimations.

In total darkness, where ordinary night vision would fail, Ben can spot coyotes hunting for food or approaching his call across farm fields and grass patches. He also uses thermal technology to locate raccoons in trees, a task that would be challenging with traditional optics.

Choosing his first thermal optic involved meticulous consideration.

“I really analyzed a lot of factors when I chose my first thermal,” he says. “The first thing I wanted was the widest field of view I could get. I understood the device was going to be expensive, so I needed the device to scan to see the animals coming and also to make the shot. I wanted a good resolution so that I could make sure I was identifying the animal I was about to harvest correctly. And the one thing that I especially wanted to put some thought into was the processor power or refresh rate of the optic. This really drew me to Pulsar as they advertised a 50hz processor while the majority of the competition at the time had a 30hz or something less than what Pulsar offered.”

 Ben needed as wide a field of view as possible for both scanning and shooting. He also emphasized the importance of a good resolution for accurate animal identification and the processor power or refresh rate of the optic. The 50Hz processor of the Pulsar Trail XP38, compared to the 30Hz offered by most competitors at the time, proved to be the deciding factor.

Like any intelligent hunter, Ben likes to test his new equipment before he uses it on a living thing. Before heading into the field, he does his best to familiarize himself with the thermal unit during daylight, learning the button locations and their functions. He sets up the device according to his preferences, checking the zoom and picture-in-picture functionality while also ensuring that he knows how to turn on the audio and video recording functions when the time comes. All his settings are fine-tuned at the range in a live-fire environment, which is also beneficial to see how the device holds up under recoil. In the field, he adjusts the brightness and contrast of the optics to optimize the view. He prefers to scan with a monocular, keeping the weapon sight in sleep mode until he confirms a target. Identifying animals by their movement patterns is crucial. The last thing a thermal hunter wants to do is shoot at something he can’t identify.

“After spending so much time watching animals through thermal optics,” he says, “I feel like I can identify an animal better by the way it moves. Coyotes, as an example are generally hyper, constantly moving whereas a deer usually is standing in one spot or if they are moving it is very slowly in comparison to a coyote. Foxes tend to bound a lot more and they hold their tail differently than a coyote. Once I have confirmed my target in the monocular, I switch to the weapon sight by waking it up out of sleep mode and making the shot.”

For hunters new to thermal optics, Ben advises patience and thorough familiarization with the device. He recommends experimenting with settings in the dark, adjusting contrast, brightness, and color palettes, and practicing button locations for quick adjustments.

“When it comes to the shooting part, take your time and focus on making a good shot. Use the record function and watch the video back. Slow it down at the time of the shot and see what happens. I have found a lot of guys miss way more than they think they will when they first get a thermal and you don't realize how far off a bullet can be with the slightest twitch or pull of the gun right at the moment of firing the round. Watching the video back in slow motion has taught me a lot over the years and I believe overall has made me a better shooter.”

Like any sport, hunting has its purists, and some hunters believe that using military technology like thermal vision against dumb animals is essentially cheating and takes the “thrill” out of the hunt. Ben poses a thought-provoking counterargument:

“Is hunting supposed to be hard? Are we supposed to be making hunting harder? What is the right level of easiness or hardness for hunting and who gets to make that decision? In my state of Iowa, we can only hunt a few things at night because the state has regulated shooting hours on most animals. These animals that don't have any regulated shooting hours, which allow us to hunt them at night with thermal optics, have no bag limits, meaning we can harvest as many as we want. They are so overpopulated the system is trying to set it up for us to significantly reduce the population in a hurry. We should be doing everything we can to make it easier to harvest them.

“Specifically talking about coyotes, I have heard the US Government has spent over a billion dollars since the 1950's or 1960's trying to eradicate them. With that in mind, why would any state regulate the hunting of coyotes in any fashion? I bring that up because I see a lot of states around me creating thermal seasons where you can only hunt at night for a few months out of the year. The government spends taxpayers’ dollars to have them trapped and poisoned but my friends in Kansas can't hunt them at night in October. Doesn't make any sense to me. At the end of the day, I have more questions than people have answers for when it comes to this subject. Even considering other animals on the hunting list in most states they generally have a bag limit of one. If I can only shoot one, why does it matter when I harvest the animal? Do the majority of the shooting hour regulations have to do with the identification of the animal? What if we can identify them just as good at night now with thermal? Are we living with our grandfather's rules because it’s too hard to get them changed? I have heard that our national average of hunting licenses sold is on the decline. If we could make hunting easier would that change?”

When asked about his most memorable experiences, Ben had this to say:

“I have had so many memorable experiences using thermal optics it is hard to even narrow it down to one or two but a couple that stick out in my mind are when I harvested my first bobcat and when I found three coyotes in a cornfield. Seeing a bobcat through a thermal and the way it stalks the call is such an amazing experience. As for the coyotes, I remember when I was calling a large wide open picked cornfield, I had three coyotes come out and as they were coming across the field to me they spooked some small birds out of the corn stalk debris on the ground. This distracted them and they began chasing the birds, flushing them and trying to catch them out of the air. Sometimes leaping way off the ground. It was so cool to see them in their natural environment doing what they do best, hunt.”

Through his journey with thermal technology, Ben Blood continues to deepen his passion for coyote hunting, embracing the advantages and addressing the challenges that come with it.

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