If you ever tried hunting at night, you probably experienced the challenges that come with it. Unlike many animals, our eyes are not adopted for extremely low light conditions so the darkness works against us. Many animals prefer feeding at night because they are able to use nighttime to hide from predators (including us-humans). So what can you do to prepare for a successful hunt?
You probably have heard of night vision and seen it in the movies(those green images) where it is used for military purposes. The same technology has been adopted by hunters and now is a must have tool if you ever plan on hunting at night.
Night vision is the ability to see in low or no light conditions.There are two different technologies that are currently used to enable night vision: night vision and thermal imaging. There are major differences between the two technologies as well as strength and weaknesses. Know the differences and types of environments/conditions where each is best suited will help you make the best choice between night vision vs thermal.
Night vision devices (also called NVDs) amplify visible light and some near-infrared light allowing you to see in dark environments. While night vision has been around since the time of World War 2 there have been several improvements as newer, cheaper, and better technology has lead to continued image improvement
Inside every NVD (GEN2, most popular currently on the market) there is an image- intensifier tube that collects and intensifies visible and infrared light. The process involves a photocathode (negatively charged electrode) that converts the photons of light energy into electrons. When electrons pass through the tube, they are enhanced using a microchannel plate with similar electrons that are released from atoms inside the tube. The end of the tube has a screen that is coated with phosphors. When electrons hit the screen, the phosphors release photons creating the green image we are familiar with.
GEN3 has further improvements to this process providing sharper images, lower noise levels and longer life expectancy.
GENERATION 1 is the least expensive,its usable range is about 75 yards and are typically limited to 1500 operational hours. Prices can be as low $120.
Digital Night Vision is a newer development that has overtaken GEN1 and is getting close to GEN2 and GEN2+ quality. Digital night vision uses a CCD(much like a digital camera) to amplify the light instead of a photo-tube. Thisleads to many advantages such as being able to use it day or night with no fear of damaging the photo-tube, lower cost,the ability to record video and images easily and probably most important for hunting; animals cannot detect the IR iluminators that digital night vision uses and recoil from larger caliber guns won't damage a digital night vision scope.While digital night vision does have some drawbacks those mainly being increased power use and lower quality than GEN3 night vision the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
GENERATION 2 is big step up from GEN1 and provides a nice balance between cost and performance.The images are much brighter and a lot less distorted.Its usable range is about 200 yards and the device can last up to 5000 operational hours.Prices start at around $550.
GENERATION 3 is where you can find some of the best night vision devices.Used by military, they provide excellent image quality, outstanding low light performance, further reduction of blooming effect and effective range of around 300 yards.Life expectancy has been increased to over 10,000 hours. If you are looking for GEN3 night vision binoculars or monoculars, be prepared to pay $2,500+.
GENERATION4 is the latest technology utilizing film less tube.GEN4 devices provide excellent low ambient light as well as bright light performance. There are quite a few GEN4 night vision products on the market with price point starting at about S4,500.
A thermal imaging device detects thermal-IR light that objects radiate and shows the difference in temperature variations in different colors. The thermal IR wavelength ranges between 3 and 30 microns. Technically, anything above absolute zero emits infrared radiation. The greater the temperature of an object the more radiation it creates, therefore thermal imagers display only variations in temperature. Modern thermal cameras can detect objects between -20°C and 2,000°C range within 0.2°C margin error.
Thermal sensor is the crucial part of any thermal device. The higher the resolution, the clearer the displayed image. Choosing a thermal scope or monocular with higher resolution will cost more money, but will result in a better picture.
Refresh rate varies from9Hz and can go up to 60 Hz.A high refresh rate is going to be much better for hunting so that you wont have to deal with slow frame rates trying to detect a fast moving animal.
Thermal scopes can be used during the day and they work in complete darkness.
Night Vision vs Thermal - What's better at detecting game?
Night vision devices amplify the ambient light whereas thermal optics detect radiation or thermal heat and show the differences in temperature as an image. If you will be hunting in little to no light then a thermal imaging scope will be your best choice. If you will be hunting in a variety of light situations from daylight to night a thermal imaging scope will also be your best choice as a night vision scope can be damaged by bright light.
A thermal imaging scope or monocular will allow you to spot the game much easier and faster due to the nature of the technology. The downside of thermal imagers can be lack of sharpness. Unless you buy a high resolution scope(640x480 or similar), images might look grainy. If your budget is limited,you should get a thermal monocular for spotting and night vision scope (GEN2 or better)for taking a shot.
What Kind Of Environment Will You Be Hunting In?
Depending upon the environment that you will be in a thermal imaging scope may make more sense than a night vision scope and vice versa.Extreme cold or a rainy environment can make a thermal imaging scope not function properly;additionaly if you are in a shelter to stay out of the cold,you will not be able to use your thermal imagers through the glass you will need to go outside of your shelter.Anight vision scope makes the most sense if you will be hunting in an extremely cold or rainy environment
Do you need to be able to identify your game?
This ties into the above point about thermal scopes not producing the clearest images; if you are simply hunting nuisance animals such as feral hogs or prairie dogs then you may not need to explicitly identify your intended target. You must be able to identify your target though if you are hunting a deer or other animals that have strict parameters. If you need to be able to clearly identify your target before shooting then a night vision scope (GEN2+) will be your best bet.
Night Vision vs Thermal - Let's talk about budget
While we would all like to be able to buy both a thermal imaging scope and night vision scope along with the rifle for each however most of us do not have the budget to enable us to do that.Thermal scopes are usually more costly than night vision scopes; excluding some of the latest generation 3 military grade night scopes.
The newer 12μm pixel pitch sensors found in the latest thermal scopes reduced price tags by having smaller optics.Expect to pay around $2,000 fora quality thermal scope.
You should note that some people especially, those on a budget, will sometimes purchase a night vision scope,as they are usually cheaper, and a thermal imaging monocular for spotting.This is mainly due to the increased effectiveness of the thermal monocular being able to see animals behind the tree lines as well as not needing any illumination whatsoever unlike the night vision scopes.
Night vision and thermal imaging each have their own strengths/weaknesses and with this setup you have the best of both worlds. A night vision scope for taking your shots and a thermal monocular for spotting your targets.