Night Vision AAR – How Thermal, IR, and Visible Light Options Stacked Up

For most of recorded history, darkness has provided concealment to the hunted.  Fugitive, escaping hero and prey – all shared the same advantages and disadvantages of the night.  More recently, military night vision (NV) and thermal technology has given the edge to troops equipped accordingly.  Today, the commercial market is seeing an explosion in availability and innovation of this type of gear.  This has opened the door to some serious game changers in Special Hog Weapons And Tactics™ hunts.

Night Vision GearHogs have been effectively hunted every hour of the day, but the night is becoming the time of choice for many hunters.  Without the right gear, however, success is a roll of the dice at best. Add some specialized gear so you can see in the dark to some sound tactics, and things can get really exciting.  Not only do your odds of a successful hunt escalate, the pure thrill of a well-equipped night game comes into play.  We’re talking about a whole new game when you can see in the dark.

If you read East Texas Nights, you know that we recently had the opportunity to test drive some night hunting gear at the Wild Hog Roundup put on by Wulf Outdoor Sports in East Texas. Hogs are smart, and we saw none in the daylight on that trip. But with the right gear, we were successful at night.  Some of that gear is easily affordable and readily available. Some could be traded for a couple of used Jeep Wranglers.

During that hunt we were privileged to use most of $30,000 in tactical hog hunting tools.  Our kit started with from regular white lights mounted on our guns and culminated with a cyborg worthy thermal weapon sight.  The variety of gear was great, as it allowed us test pieces from across the budget spectrum.  As you read on, you’ll get a better idea of what’s available at various price points, and some of the pros and cons.  But this is just an introduction.  We’ll bring you in depth analysis of various pieces in time, but it pays to get acquainted with some of the options in broad strokes.  So put yourself in East Texas with us, with tall pines, sandy logging roads, and moonless nights. 

It was the middle of April East Texas, not far from Center.  Cool nights and warm days, much like Colorado in summer, but a lot more humid.  

EOTech M6X

The trees were tall and there was no moon or city lights around.  In other words it was really dark.  Dark enough that you never quite got used to it.  All this gear was going to make the night shorter for some hogs, and better for some hunters.

Let’s start with our basic white light.  We had Insight MX6 Laser Tactical Illuminator mounted at the six o’clock position on our rails. The tape switches worked well, whether attached to vertical grips or rails.  These lights are bright at limited range in the outdoors. They light up a hog well, but also will give away your position and spook the hogs when activated.  The best use for these is after a hog has been engaged but hasn’t been neutralized.

A slight variation on the weapon mounted white light is the Nite Hunter that costs a mere $150.  Essentially, it’s a standard weapon mounted LED flashlight, but puts out a green light instead of white.  

Nite Hunter

When used properly, the green light does not spook hogs, but effectively illuminates them well when paired with a quality optic.  SHWAT™ Team member and writer, Brian McCombie scored the first kill of the hunt using this light.  Its biggest limitations are range and it’s inability to penetrate brush/foliage. 

Next we’ll move to the Laser Genetics ND3 provided to us by Wulf Outdoor Sports.  These start around $270.  This is a green visible laser.  There are multiple models of these, one of which is specially designed for hunting in temps around freezing and below. Similar to a green flashlight, it has an adjustable beam that requires no other specialized gear to see it.  

ND3

However, its adjustable beam is far more focused than a flashlight, even at its broadest setting.  The benefits are more light down range with no loss of light “spilling” into the periphery, coupled with dramatically longer range.  It is at it’s best when the beam pattern is set wide enough.  Even though green light generally doesn’t bother hogs, if the beam is focused too tightly, they will notice that something isn’t right and may spook.  Limitations with this device are similar to those of a green flashlight but the effective range is substantially extended.  Keep in mind that this is a focused, laser based target illuminator, not a flashlight.  Navigation is not what it’s designed for.

PVS-24Now we move into the high dollar gear.  We’re talking Gen 3 Night Vision along the lines of what the military uses.  We had the opportunity to use an L3 PVS-24 from Nitehog.  With an MSPR of $8,426.00, you know we’ve moved to a game changing set of capabilities.  The PVS-24 family of NV tubes are a weapon mountable units designed to go in front of your existing optic with no shift in your zero.  This is great because it is compatible with a large variety of optics and you won’t have to have a separate rifle or upper for night hunting. 

We used it with both an Eotech EXPS-3.0 + 3x magnifier and a Trijicon ACOG.  Moving it from gun to gun was as simple as flipping the lever on the LaRue mount that comes on it.  It amplifies ambient IR light, so on very dark nights an IR illuminator is needed.  Without an illuminator, I was marginally able to navigate roads and determine if there were hogs dangerously close. 

Laser Devices SPIRAdding a Laser Devices, Inc. prototype SPIR (Special Purpose Infrared LED Illuminator) made the PVS-24 countless times more useful.  It’s a powerful (600mW), weapon mountable, eye-safe IR spotlight.  This is no toy.  It’s built solidly enough that you could club a hog to death with it, then re-mount to your rifle’s rail with the flip of a lever, and keep going.  With a suggested retail price of under $570, it’s not inexpensive, and does require some piece of NV gear to make use of it.  But given the fact that it can make Gen 1 NV gear act like Gen 2, it can really help you get a lot more mileage out of some entry level NV gear.

In addition to the SPIR, Laser Devices supplied a new DBAL-D2 (Dual Beam Aiming Laser with IR LED Illuminator). The commercially available DBAL-D2 is equipped with three components: Either a 5mW Red or Green visible laser pointer, a 0.7mW infrared laser pointer and a 600mW adjustable focus (2°-30°) infrared LED illuminator.  The illuminator is shared with the SPIR. 

The DBAL D-2 is a truly fantastic piece of equipment.  Its versatility goes far beyond what we can address with this article.  Add to the IR illumination a couple of intensities of IR Laser, and you have a device that can make for quick target identification and acquisition in a broad variety of settings.  DBAL-D2When you sight in the device, you only do it once, and both lasers and the illuminator are zeroed simultaneously.  SHWAT co-founder Jonathan loved it.  The hog didn’t.  Suggested retail on this unit is $1848 when configured with the red visible laser, and $2144 when configured with the green visible laser.

With either the SPIR illuminator or DBAL-D2 illuminator on, the PVS-24 easily opened up 200 yards of darkness, which was as far as the terrain would allow on this hunt.  One thing to keep in mind using this typically green PVS-24 is that you will be looking at a relatively bright screen.  The brightness (or gain) is adjustable, but compared to the dark of night, it’s bright enough that your eye will not be adjusted to the dark after looking through it.  A green flashlight is still a good idea for walking around.  Not to mention that the PVS-24 is mounted on your gun, which should always be pointed in a safe direction. 

I did experience two unique challenges with this unit.  One was “bloom”.  My muzzle break directs some blast upwards creating a situation similar to walking out of a dark theater directly into bright sunlight.  For a second or so, I couldn’t see anything through it after firing a shot.  This cost me a follow up shot and a hog.  A suppressor or even a standard A2 flash hider would have solved this problem.  The other challenge I had is the use of green color typical of NV.  I don’t see green well, which means I didn’t see hogs in certain terrain and ranges.  The PVS-24 can be had with white phosphor instead of green resulting in a black and white image, which would address my problem.

NITE HOG TUSKIRLast on the list is the Nitehog TUSKIR384.  With a $15,700 retail price, you’d better have deep pockets or really want to get rid of some hogs.  But compared to losing $100,000 in crops due to feral hogs, it’s a small investment.  According to Nitehog, it sets the bar for rail-mounted thermal systems. It provides high-resolution thermal performance for a variety of platforms. The TUSKIR384 claims it’s is perfect for border patrols, first responders, advance teams with need for high reliability and high resolution, pro sporting staff, and other discerning professionals.  We should add it can really help ruin a hog’s night out.  It also provides clear images through smoke, fog, dust and snow, all without requiring any ambient light source. It has extended detection and effective ranges of up to 1100m (1200yd) or more. 

This thermal device was the best choice for me on our hunt in East Texas.  I could easily see hogs at any distance that we had to work with.  I even watched a rabbit having a midnight snack through some light brush.  It also made easy work of tracking down the hog I shot after it made it 20 yards into the dense brush and trees.  Jonathan also found it effective as he pulled the trigger, taking down another hog.

Like the weapon mounted PVS-24, a separate device is needed for general navigation on foot.  Also worth noting, thermal units don’t work through glass, so if you are scanning from inside a vehicle, you need to use something else.

This is just the beginning.  If you want to hunt hogs at night, there is a broad range of night vision options available at a variety of price points.  All can contribute to a tactical hog hunt in the dark. The good news is that even if you don’t have fifteen grand to throw around, you can still be effective.  But if you are in a position to get the best, it’s well worth it.  Learning to use your chosen gear effectively and safely will be the subject of future articles and opportunities with SHWAT.com. 

Also on the web:

East Texas Nights

Wulf Outdoor Sports

Insight Technologies

Nite Hunter

Laser Genetics ND3

Nitehog

Laser Devices Inc

Brian McCombie


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