Should you add night vision to your hunting kit?
PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 March 2021
Airgun hunter, Phil Siddell, mulls over the possibility of adding night-vision equipment to his kit list
I wonder what it was like for the indigenous hunters of the American, African and Australian continents when they first encountered firearms in the hands of Europeans. The gap between the capabilities of their own tools and even the earliest guns must have seemed vast. This new technology would have been at once desirable and terrifying. I suspect some would have even perceived in these rifles the beginning of the end for their own rich hunting traditions and techniques. Step changes such as this are rare in field sports; I’m speaking of innovations that endow us with sudden and dramatic advantages over the natural wiles of our quarry. Night-vision and thermal-imaging equipment is one such advance, and one that personally, I have more or less ignored until lately. However, within the last few years, this high-tech gear has become ever more ‘affordable’ and is now within reach of mere mortals like me.
The recent increased affordability of NV scopes has caused me to mull over seriously whether or not it’s time for me to empty the piggy bank and invest. All the hunting I do is on a shoe-string budget, it’s part of the reason I love airguns, and so ‘affordable’ for me, is a relative term! With an entry price tag of around £500, NV equipment would empty that aforementioned piggy bank – and then some. I note, too, that many NV users purchase an additional rifle to avoid scope swapping, something I’d struggle to countenance as a one-rifle guy. However, there is always the option of quick-release scope mounts, which would solve the problem without breaking the bank. Alternatively, there are systems that piggyback a standard scope, so there are certainly ways and means to keep the spend sensible.
If I were to bite the bullet (or perhaps, pellet), I’d want to be clear on what exactly I was going to get in return for the outlay, what quantum leap I was making in terms of hunting efficacy. To this end, I’ve paid particular attention, when the opportunity has arisen, to observing others using thermal gear, and to have a go myself. Let me be clear; my experience tells me that it is a ruthlessly efficient tool. In deer stalking, I’ve been amazed when the animals found were otherwise so completely camouflaged as to be essentially invisible to the human hunter, who relies almost solely on sight to discover game. In terms of small game like rabbits, NV allows us to enter their world under cover of darkness when they are most active, and greatly increase bag size. I would caution, though, that judging range at night is next to impossible, so unless one can stretch to a unit with an integral rangefinder, it’s critical to establish reference points during daylight hours.
If I have little doubt in regard to the prowess of NV gear, you might ask what is still giving me pause. In part, I’m conscious of what a NV scope would replace, and I’m talking about that geriatric technology, the gun lamp. When I first started lamping with an airgun, the batteries we all had to tote about weighed as much as a small child and their charge capacity was severely limited. Lamps were big, too, and so a night’s lamping was generally a two-person job; one to lamp, one to shoot.
The diminutive Logun Gunlamp with its ‘lightweight’ battery was a mini-revolution in itself. Lamping is still a powerful tactic, particularly on inexperienced prey, and delivers much bigger bags than daytime forays – it isn’t easy, though. The hunter needs to work with the moon and the weather needs to be bad enough to cover the sounds of you tramping around, but not so blustery that it affects pellet flight. In short, lamping requires fieldcraft and practice; in other words, the acquisition of skill.
It’s a shame for advocates of lamping, like me, that the development of pocket-sized Lithium-ion batteries for LED lamps came just as NV gear was really taking off. It’s a story similar to the advances in gas-ram technology for springers that came along just as PCPs took over the airgun scene. All that said, I’d still heartedly recommend lamping as an alternative to using NV gear because it’s great fun, cheap and keeps you moving on the coldest of nights.
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I have come to think of NV and thermal equipment as powerful tools in what I’d term as ‘urgent’ pest control scenarios. Those situations in which the rabbit or rat population is out of control and needs to be culled quickly. I have a suspicion that, personally, an NV scope could make me a little lazy and allow hard-won fieldcraft to begin to erode if I used it a lot. In truth, I think the fact that I haven’t yet splashed out has much to do with the manageable-to-small pest populations currently resident on my permissions.
With my preference for management over eradication I’ve so far struggled to justify the need to change my Luddite ways. The other justification I could fall back on for an expensive acquisition is that my family relies on my hunting for meat. Shouldn’t I put their needs first and be the most proficient hunter I can? This train of thought leads me to ponder the role of the Sharps rifle in the persecution of the buffalo in the American West; technology can be misused.
My personal wranglings on whether or not to adopt NV technology will obviously have no impact on the basic fact that this equipment is here to stay, and is becoming ever-more affordable. Just like new air rifles with on-board electronics, there will be early adopters and those who shun it entirely at first. However, the trickle-down effect will disseminate these innovations across an ever-broader spectrum of hunting equipment until they are in the hands of most of us.
CHOOSE HOW TO USE
As with all technology, our role is to choose how best to use it, both practically and ethically. I am glad that night-vision has come along after I’d learned my fieldcraft and got to grips with lamping because this has surely made me a better hunter, but if and when I acquire a nicely overrun rabbit permission, I suspect I’ll be leaning further than ever toward the purchase of a nice new space-age-looking, night-vision scope.