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Night Vision Hunting: Lessons in Landscapes

I learned the benefit of feral hog hunting at night quickly, and early in my bacon-making experience. Honestly, even before I undertook post-sunset pursuits. Any hunter would agree the best time to hunt any species is when it is most active and, for hogs, nighttime is hands-down the best time—hogs are largely nocturnal. The same can be said of many other species, especially predatory animals and varmints.

For years, I hunted under the cloak of night with all manner of intense colored-light systems, including filtered and color-LED types. Even as a nighttime bowhunter, I used high-intensity, focused, color LED (generally red or green) illumination from the likes of a tactical-style flashlight installed in my stabilizer hole, complete with a remote pressure switch mounted on the face of my bow’s riser. I can’t begin to tell you how many feral hogs I have killed with this setup, but I’m also a rifle hunter. For rifles, like my bow setups, I used intense colored illuminators, and then laser illuminators, before falling into the jaw-dropping world of night vision.

With respect to night vision, my intro actually came much earlier. As a young Marine, I had limited experience with PVS-7 devices, but the technology has come a long way since—the most obvious use difference is the presence of digital night vision technology capable of daytime also, without risk of damage. In stark contrast, traditional night vision using image intensifying tubes (ITT) can be destroyed quickly via daylight operation.

Going a step further with today’s technology, the array of firearm-mountable night vision optics now available is quite diverse. Digital night vision, as an example, is offered with robust, experience-enhancing features and Gen 1+ to Gen 3 imaging performance. Even better, now we are seeing true 24-hour purposed digital optics. The Sightmark Wraith, as an example, boasts full-color 1080 HD imaging during daylight hours and with the quick push of a button, converts instantly to digital night vision.

Of course, digital night vision can be challenging, too, considering landscapes. Unlike thermal imagers (thermal is not night vision,) for example, that create a field-of-view image solely based on varying degrees of detected temperatures (infrared radiation), night vision, including digital systems, depend on environmental illumination and often manufactured infrared lighting as well. This means while thermal detects and draws infrared radiation into the device to be processed, night vision must either pull in available existing illumination or throw light forward in order to then draw in more light-particles.

Casting light out presents another issue specific to landscapes, shadows. Thermal imaging’s minor setback is, again, related to weather elements and the inability to see eyes glowing as they do with when hit with visual or infrared illumination. It’s a fair trade, though, considering the entire heat signature glows with thermal. The problem again is two-fold. First, in inclement weather, night vision is a better choice for higher quality imaging. Second, this article isn’t about thermal anyway. So, let’s discuss night vision experiences in the two most notable hunting landscapes—dense and open environments.

Dense Landscapes

From up in wooded high-mountain, black-timber lots to flat, low-elevation woods and forests thick with any manner of vegetation, night vision works exceptionally well, save shadows. As your field of view is illuminated, most often, by an IR illuminator, the light casts shadows. The dynamic at play in your field of view exposes some of the dark’s secrets and further hides others—some of those secrets may be exposed wildlife or cloaked dangers like trip hazards or even ankle-breaking burrows. On a good note here, a dense landscape can and often does cloak another dangerous yet beneficial secret—you!

When hunting in dense landscape, movement and light-shine rule the roost. Although your field of view is largely muted on a night vision display—often grayscale for digital and green for traditional—wildlife hidden by shadows are easy to pick out when they’re on the move, and hopefully, if they stop to present shots, they aren’t in other shadows. Light-shine is also effective even in shadows if some amount of light enters their eyes and reflects back. Like the glow of a heat signature through thermal, when IR light hits the eyes of wildlife, the glow is unmistakable and shot opportunities, pretty simple.

Open Landscapes

The ability to see better in open environments isn’t some Earth-shattering secret—it’s common sense. Of course, it works both ways and depending on moonlight and other factors, shadows can also be present. Heck, a shadow on you can certainly blow your hunt and it happens often, especially from the likes of a full moon. That said, and consideration of casting your own shadow taken into account, open landscapes leave little left to hide. Your greatest hindrances to success, then are improper distancing and the same muted field of view present in dense landscapes—it’s simply the nature of the night vision beast.

While a device’s detection range may be reported in its product specifications, it certainly can perform better or worse. In dense landscapes, detection range is obviously compromised. In open landscapes, you can see much farther; however, the effectiveness of the IR illuminator and existing light, say from full moon (brightest) to new moon (darkest) does impact detection range. All this variance helps keep you guessing about distance and if you’re wrong, you miss at best or injure at worst. The best way to mitigate failures in this regard is to know your hunting property or at least hunt with someone in the know. Depending on illumination and specified detection ranges to determine distance to a target is a common problem in open landscape and has ruined the nights of countless hunters.

Sure, imaging is better in an open landscape but the potential for errors also increases exponentially. While making sure of your target in both landscapes is paramount, better shot placement actually does occur more often in dense landscapes where shot opportunities are closer. A major exception would be close-range shot opportunities on open landscapes—well now, that’s the perfect storm for a nighttime hunter—undetected, close-range, sure of your target and what’s behind it, nothing crowding your field of view… lights out.

Choosing the Right Night Vision Optic for Both Landscapes

A great all-around digital night vision riflescope capable of handling close- to long-range shooting in both landscapes is the Pulsar Digisight Ultra N455. The Digisight Ultra N455 does boast a CMOS microbolometer sensor and detection range up to 550 yards with the help of a high-powered LED IR illuminator in an open landscape and also illuminates dense landscapes more effectively to reduce shadows and make shooting at those closer distances easier. The N455 also boasts a high sensor resolution of 1280×720 and 1024×768 HD-resolution AMOLED display. For longer shots, the N455 features 4.5-18x magnification and digital zoom of 2x/4x stepped and 1-4x continuous. Other notable Digisight Ultra N455 features include a Weaver/Picatinny rail mount, .375 H&H recoil rating, 72-MOA range of windage and elevation adjustment, nitrogen-purged IP67 waterproof construction, over 10 reticle options in white or black with red or green aiming dots, rechargeable B-pack battery supply for up to 4 hours of continuous operation and onboard video to stockpile self-contained, transferrable .mp4 format hunting memories so they can be relived with friends.

Click here to learn more about the Pulsar Digisight.

Do you have questions about thermal or night vision optics? Leave them in the comment section and we will do our best to help answer them!
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