Light up the dark with night vision optics

Digital night vision, thermal optics give hunters a big edge when it’s time to add hunting by moonlight to your repertoire. Here’s what you need to know.

Hunting at night is quickly catching on across the nation, and Magnolia State sportsmen and women aren’t being left by the wayside. Whether it’s stalking hogs, calling coyotes, still-hunting raccoons or getting after any other legal nuisance animal, opportunities abound for Mississippi hunters, and it’s just plain fun.

If you’re not familiar with digital night vision or thermal-imaging optics, it can be a little overwhelming trying to figure out what a hunter needs to get started chasing legal animals at night. It can also be expensive to get started. Here’s a little info to familiarize hunters with specs and prices so they can get into the night game.

Digital night vision 

DNV is electronic optics that convert what you’re looking at into an electronic signal and places it on a small screen for viewing. It uses available light combined with illuminators (an infrared light) to illuminate the viewed area or objects. Some better-quality DNV scopes can see game on a moonlit night without the use of the illuminator, but identification is much better utilizing the infrared light.

There are scopes, binoculars, and monoculars on the market that utilize the latest DNV technologies. These are only hundreds of dollars, unlike the thousand-plus needed to purchase the Gen 2 or Gen 3 military tube-style night vision, and DNV is generally cheaper than Gen 1 devices.

DNV scopes and other optics will not be damaged if used in the daytime or looking at a lighted area. In fact, most DNV scopes have a daytime mode and a nighttime mode—you’re not limited to night hunting only.

A digital night vision scope mounted to your rifle will quickly get you chasing critters at night. This ATN X-Sight II HD 3-14x is mounted on a Marlin Rem 35.

Thermal optics

TOs are electronic optics that detect heat and place heat images on a small screen inside the optical device for viewing. There are quality scopes, binoculars and monoculars available in many varieties from which hunters may choose.

Everything has a thermal image, whether hot, cold or in between, and thermal optics capture the heat signature of all objects for viewing. Thermal optics do not need any source of light and can be used in total darkness.

TOs are the most popular and sought-after scopes for chasing critters at night. Like their sister optics, DNV, they aren’t limited to nighttime only. Using and hunting with them in daytime or lighted conditions will not damage the optics.

Understand how it works

Understanding how it works is key to making a purchase and getting quality optics that suits your needs. Both DNV and TOs are built and similar to digital camera operations. It’s all about resolution and magnification combined to get a quality image. Hunters need to know the ranges at which their potential optics can detect the quarry and from what range it can positively identify the quarry.

A fox slips in at 50 yards and is easily identified using the ATN X-Sight HD digital night vision scope.

Detection range and ID range depend on the resolution of the core (sensor) working with its native magnification. For instance, a scope with a 640×480 core and a 2X magnification will have a better image than that of the same manufacturer’s scope with a 320×240 core with a 2X magnification. The better resolution optic will also cost more.

“When a customer calls in trying to figure out what they need for their type of hunting, budget is one of the top concerns. Base magnification is right there with budget though,” said Jason Robertson, owner of Outdoor Legacy Gear, a night vision and thermal optics dealer. “Some sound advice for a first-time buyer is to purchase a scope with the lowest magnification you can get away with; this will give you a wider field of view.”

This is typically around 2X for hog hunters and 3X to 4X for coyote hunters.

Manufacturers, prices

“Who makes what?” and “What’s the price?” are questions often asked, especially by someone making a first-time purchase. The market is not overrun with companies producing DNV and TOs for hunting and they are in high demand.

These are considered the companies who are leading the pack in producing quality TOs:

• Trijicon, regarded by many to be the top of the line in thermals, has fantastic image quality and the most-expensive prices. Trinicon is best known for its Reap-IR and IR-Hunter thermal scopes, and it also makes thermal monoculars. Low- end entry price on Trijicon thermal scopes starts at $6,000 and averages around $7,000.

• N-Vision Optics is another top-drawer thermal company producing superb image quality. It is right at the top with Trijicon on quality and price. It’s best known for the N-Vision Halo, which starts at around $6,000. It also manufactures a couple of different thermal binoculars.

• Pulsar is very popular with night hunters and is a company that produces excellent thermal products. It has a lot of different scopes, monoculars and binoculars to choose from at different price levels. Lower-priced, entry-level scopes like their Pulsar Core line start around $1,900. Pulsar is best known for its Trail and Thermion models. The Trails have been discontinued except for the Trail LRF which starts near $4,300; the Thermions start at $2,800 and range to $5,000, depending on resolution and options. Pulsar is coming out with new optics and improvements to existing models in late spring or early summer in 2020.

• ATN is another popular company that produces a lot of good products at some of the best prices on the market. ATN  is well known for its THOR 4 thermal scopes, which start around $1,800 with a 384×288 core and a 1.25 native magnification. It produces many models, and the prices go up with more resolution and magnification. ATN produces several models of thermal monoculars and binoculars, along with some budget-friendly, entry-level scopes starting at close to $1,200 in the THOR LT models (160×120 resolution core). ATN is coming out with many interesting new products at really low prices, adding to their line-up late spring or early summer.

• AGM is another company, relatively new, with its founders and owners having deep roots in the night-vision and thermal-optics industry. AGM brings to the table more than 40 years of experience combined, coming from several other seasoned night-vision and thermal companies. AGM offers thermal scopes, binoculars and monoculars. Entry level scopes are the Python line, with the TS35-384 priced around $3,145, and the Secutor line, with the TS25-384 priced around $2,725. What’s interesting about AGM is it’s producing some quality monoculars for spotting and detection at a reasonable price; the ASP line TM-25 comes in around $1,800. It is also producing a budget-friendly ASP-Micro TM160 at an affordable price of slightly less than $500, and though the core is 160×120, reports indicate it provides great detection and identification.

Using the ‘white-hot’ color pallet, this 200-pound hog is in trouble at 80 yards. Nothing can escape undetected even in total darkness using thermal optics.

DNV choices

Three companies seem to be leading the industry in producing DNV scopes. They’re very good quality and will all get the job done.

• Sightmark makes the Wraith HD 4-32×50 DNV scope, priced near $500, and it is coming out with the Wraith 4k late this spring. Sightmark also produces the Photon line, with an entry level price close to $550. The Wraiths and Photons come in different magnifications and can be used night or daytime. Sightmark also sells a DNV monocular.

• ATN is known for producing the X-Sight line of DNV scopes. The X-Sight II HD 3-14 is priced at $599 and is available with more magnification. The X-Sight 4K series starts at $699 and goes up from there with magnification, options and price. ATN also produces some night-vision binoculars, with the BinoX 4K selling for $899. All these by ATN can be used day or night.

• Pulsar produces the Digisight Ultra, priced at around $1,300, and the Digex N450 4-16 at around $1,200. Pulsar also makes a DNV monocular called the Forward FN455. All these can be used day or night and are top quality products that won’t disappoint.

What do you need?

Figuring it all out and educating yourself is vital for hunters, especially first-time buyers of DNV and TOs. Luckily, there is a wealth of information out there to help with learning and thoroughly understating what it’s all about.

This entry level thermal optic is an ATN THOR LT 3-6. It is mounted to a Remington 700 with quick detach mounts. This allows the scope to be taken off and used as a spotting device and remounted and still be dead-on accurate.

One of the best places to learn about all things night vision and thermal is The Late Night Vision Show. It’s a weekly podcast found on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify. It’s also on YouTube for easy viewing. Two of the industry’s leaders are hosts on this show, which already has more than 100 episodes that provide hunters and night-vision enthusiasts a wealth of information on feral hog hunting, along with product news and reviews.

“Talk to a dealer,” Robertson said. “Talk to someone who not only specializes in selling thermal and night vision products, but who uses them as well.”

Buyers of night vision and thermal optics should scrape and dig for information as much as possible. Before making a purchase and spending hard-earned money, educate yourself to get more bang for your buck and a quality scope or spotter with which you will be totally happy.

Always check state and local laws when it comes to nuisance animal hunting and hunting at night.

A budget friendly setup

If you haven’t gotten into the night game and want to try it out without taking out a loan, here’s an idea for a scope and a spotter on the entry level. 

The Sightmark Wraith is priced slightly less than $500; the ATN X-Sight II HD 3-14x is about $100 more. Sometimes these can be found cheaper from time to time or even purchased used. 

Think about an AGM ASP-Micro TM160 monocular as a spotter, for slightly less than $500. You will have a Thermal spotting device that can detect game at 300 yards or more, along with a DNV scope on your weapon that will give you a positive identification of the quarry. You could be night hunting very effectively for around $1,000. Of course, if you have more spare change in your budget, you can upgrade on the scope or spotter; the sky is the limit.

Most quality digital night visions scopes come with some type of infrared illuminator that mounts to the side of the scope, such as the ATN X-Sight HD shown here with its factory provided 850 nm IR light. (Photo by Andy Douglas)

Choosing an optional Digital Night Vision illuminator

Most DNV scopes come with a factory provided IR illuminator producing infrared light that works with the DNV optic to see targeted animals. These usually mount to the DNV via a small rail attachment. 

Factory provided IRs work well and are sufficient, but hunters can take it to the next level and buy alternate and more powerful IR illuminators. Factory IRs are generally in the 850nm (nanometer) range. More-powerful wattage outputs 850nm lights can be purchased. A small, red glow can be seen when looking directly at the 850 nm IR light. This is usually fine and doesn’t spook game. 

Some hunters choose something a little more discrete: IRs in the 940nm range. Lights 940nm and above are invisible to the naked eye and emit very low LED glow. The advantage of IRs in the 850 range are that they provides more illumination than the 940 ranges. The advantage of the 940 is that it’s not going to be detected by game at close ranges. Some companies making very good IR lights are Wicked Hunting Lights, Sniper Hog Lights, and Predator Tactics Coyote Reaper.

About Andy Douglas 51 Articles
Andy Douglas is an outdoor writer and photographer from Brookhaven. A native of Lincoln County, he’s chased deer, turkeys, bass and most anything else the past 35 years. He lives the outdoor lifestyle and is passionate about sharing that with others through stories and photos.

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