Tyler’s mom thought that there might be some critters taking advantage of her pond late at night. The thing was practically overflowing thanks to the recent rains and attracting all sorts of nocturnal visitors. She wanted to find out if a local group of coyotes were using her pond for a clubhouse and I needed an excuse to try out some night vision monoculars that Optics Planet had sent my way. After asking around for a couple other goodies from some of our favorite gear suppliers, I marched out of the warm farmhouse into the cold and dark Texas night to investigate . . .
We as humans are engineered for daylight hunting. That’s what we’ve evolved to do; go hunt and gather during the day and then crawl into a tree and sleep all night. So when we venture into the darkness, we’re entering an environment for which we weren’t designed to operate. We don’t have the natural night vision required to get the job done, which is where technology steps in to help us out.
I had asked Optics Planet to let me try out some of their night vision tech a while back and in order to properly give me a frame of reference for the difference between the generations they sent a Gen 1 scope (which we will be giving away to some lucky reader shortly) and a Gen 3 PVS-14. The Gen 1 device costs about $300, while the state-of-the-art PVS-14 clocks in at $3,000. The guys at Optics Planet said that it wouldn’t take me long to realize why there was such a difference in price and they were absolutely right.
The night I picked to head out and investigate the pond was perfect. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, a full moon was shining down on the ranch and while the temperature had dropped to a brisk 50 degrees it wasn’t cold enough to keep me away. I’ve experienced plenty of chilly mornings on that ranch, the same place where I’d made my first kills nearly two years ago, and duly learned my lesson.
While 5.11 started me down the path to tacticoolery in my wardrobe, Vertx won my heart. Full disclosure requires me to point out that they’re my sponsors for the year, but after they sent me my complementary two pairs of pants for Team FNH, I loved them so much that I bought four more and one of their pretty awesome looking jackets with my own cash. I’ve worn 5.11 pants every day I was on duty, but Vertx just blows them out of the water.
My feet were similarly kitted out with Danner’s new Rivot TFX Hot Military boots which I was handed at the Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun this year and have been wearing ever since. All told, it was the most comfortable I’ve ever felt when I walked out the front door with my rifle and started down the trail to hunt.
It probably won’t surprise you that things look a lot different at night. Distances appear farther and the shadows are darker. Your situational awareness contracts to a bubble of about 10 yards in any direction and every sound you hear seems amplified somehow. As I walked down the limestone road towards the pond, all I could see was the white rock under my feet. The inky shadows on either side were impenetrable without some artificial light, which was thankfully provided by Surefire.
Surefire is another company whose products I’ve been using and trusting in the field since I first set foot in a fire station, and for good reason: they work every damn time and they work perfectly. When I told my guy at Surefire what I was up to with the night vision stuff, he sent me a care package that included a Surefire M600 Ultra Scout Light, as well as a KM2 replacement head that can be set to either a standard white light or infrared light setting (for use with night vision). As I was walking down the road I had the light set to standard white mode, and would occasionally flash a quick beam at any suspicious looking shadows. At that point I was still out of sight of the pond and was more concerned with being ambushed by a pack of hogs than scaring off my quarry.
A few minutes later I’d gone as far as the road would take me. The pond was still about 200 yards away and there was a nice pile of trees halfway there that I was planning on using as concealment while I watched for any midnight visitors. When I reached the pile I set my rifle against one of the logs and started playing with the night vision gear I had for the night. And yeah, there was a clear winner.
The Gen 1 scope worked, there’s no doubt about it. Especially with the built in infrared illuminator, objects within about 20 yards were clearly identified and beyond that you could make out enough shapes to figure out where you were. But even so, it was incredibly dark. I grabbed my rifle and flipped the beam to the infrared setting, but it didn’t make much of a difference — the thing was damn near useless for hunting past 20 yards even with the assist from Surefire and the full moon bathing the pond in photons.
I set the Gen 1 device down and donned the PVS-14. It came with a head mount for just such an occasion so I strapped it onto my head and clipped the PVS-14 into place before flipping the switch, and then it was like I was seeing the world in broad daylight — albeit more green than usual. The features of the pond showed up in vivid monochrome detail, and I could even see the resident horses frolicking in the fields hundreds of yards away.The difference between the two devices couldn’t be clearer. While the parts of the field that were bathed in moonlight showed up well without any additional assistance, the shadows were still a little dark. Thankfully, the IR setting on the Surefire Scout Light threw a very bright beam of IR light their way and lit those areas up.
Using an infrared flashlight is a strange thing. In one eye, you can see that the light is working and casting a beam into the inky shadows. But in the other eye, it doesn’t look like the thing is working. The flashlight doesn’t have any indication that it’s on when in IR mode, so if you didn’t have a night vision device you couldn’t tell the difference. It’s perfect for soldiers who don’t want to give away their position, and equally good for hunters who want to stay concealed while waiting for the critters of the night.
Having your field of view restricted to such a small circle of green light gets a little claustrophobic after a while. I was sitting on that pile of logs for a good hour, all the while I heard coyotes and other nocturnal predators making their presence known, and I kept having to shine my flashlight around to make sure that there were no unexpected guests creeping up on me. Hunting in the daylight I was king, but hunting at night I was blind and vulnerable.
As the hours ticked by, nothing happened. No hogs or coyotes showed up at the pond for a late night drink so I started back up the road empty handed. But despite not having anything to show for the evening except a nifty photograph, it was still plenty fun. And with deer season only two weeks away, I’d be back to try again.