One of my favorite predator hunting venues is Texas, where the variety and the sheer numbers of predators is incredible: coyote, bobcat, fox, and raccoons, and the possibility of a mountain lion always present. I’ve been traveling to the Lone Star State to hunt for about 15 years, and for the first five I only hunted in daylight. While I had fair results, it wasn’t until I started hunting at night that the big numbers started rolling in.
My night time hunts began out in Midland with a gentleman that was a guide and competitive predator hunter, by the name of Cody Brunett. We spent a good deal of time cruising back country access roads, shooting off a high rack equipped with lights that let us spin in circles while calling, and we got on a lot of coyotes with the occasional fox and bobcat.
Then a few years back I started hunting with a trapper and predator hunting pro by the name of Don Steele, it is fair to say that he is one of the best callers and predator hunters I’ve ever met. Don has a Humvee equipped with a rooftop shooting platform, lots of land to call, and he gets on predators virtually every time we hunt. His method is to do a set every half mile, and he works the call and the lights, while the lucky ones get to shoot.
Airgun Hunting by Night
Both Cody and Don hunt the wide-open spaces, cover a lot of ground, and shoot from high racks that are equipped with lights and enough hands to operate them. While there is no doubt predator hunting at night is the way to bump up your numbers, for the guy that hunts small parcels of land by themselves, the logistics can be daunting.
One of my hunting partners down in Indiana, Brian Beck, is the king of Airgun coyote hunters and he spends a lot of time out on his own with an Airgun and lights. When we hunt together, one guy operates the call and lights while the other is on the trigger which works fine, and Brian has his system dialed in for managing all the equipment when he hunts alone. Me on the other hand, not so much. I find myself cluttered in gear, wrapped in cables, holding the wrong gear in my hand at the wrong time. So, over the last few years I’ve been trying to narrow down equipment and refine techniques, to find what works for me when I’m out on my own.
It doesn’t have to be pitch black to use the thermal monocular to search for incoming fox.
Lamping requirements are somewhat different for an airgunner than for a firearms hunter: the animals need to be called in closer, and shot selection a bit more precise. Additionally, airguns let you hunt in more built up areas because of their low sound signature and reduced carrying range, where stealth is advantageous. A lighting system that lets you discreetly hunt on a golf course, the edges of town, or suburbia, will be very useful. In the quest to find a rig that suited my hunting needs, I tried various approaches and found a few that worked quite well for me.
There are many handheld and scope mounted lights that serve the purpose: some use an external battery pack with cables to the light, and some are self-contained. In the past, the self-contained units could not produce the level of intensity those lights with an external battery pack achieved. However, that is no longer the case, especially when it comes to the shorter ranges at which Airguns are used. My preference is a hands-free scope or barrel mounted light powered by internal batteries. A red filter is most commonly used, though I’ve had acceptable results with amber filters or even white light, and the green light put out by the Laser Genetic laser lights doesn’t seem to spook predators either. The down side of scope and barrel mounted lights is that they are not easily swept while calling, and for this reason I generally pack two lights; one mounted on the rifle for shooting and one that is handheld for locating incoming targets. This is the least expensive way to outfit yourself for night hunting, and it works well.
A close-up of the Sellmark Pulsar Thermal Monocular, in my opinion the most useful adjunct to night hunting in years.
The next morning a shot of my night time gear: 30 Caliber Rainstorm air rifle, FoxPro call, Sell Mark Thermal Monocular, and hand held spot light for close range shooting.
The Nite Site is an IR device that is comprised of several components: an IR illuminator module, a viewing screen, a tubular scope sleeve to connect the illuminator to your scope, an attachment for mounting the view screen so that it sits atop the scope, and a battery pack to power it all. This system mounts to almost any standard scope, and does a good job of letting you see your quarry even in exceedingly low light. On the downside: earlier versions throw considerable backlight onto the shooters face from the viewer, but newer models allow you to reduce the intensity. Secondly it forces the shooter into a “heads up” position which takes a little getting used to. On the upside: it works very well in situations with no ambient lighting, it mounts on any scope so you don’t need to switch optics and re-zero between day and night, and it is the most cost effective night vision solution to be found. I like this product, and use it frequently.
The day after one of my night time excursions in Texas.
IR Scopes are probably the single best technology solution for night hunting; you get a normal line of sight from a typical shooting position. I mounted the Sellmark Digisight digital night vision scope on my Evanix Snipper .357 PCP rifle, which is my go to suburban coyote gun, and have been getting outstanding results with it. On the upside, it works very well, is easy to zero, and while larger than a standard scope still feels like I’m shooting a “normal” rifle. I did run down the batteries on a couple of all-nighters, but generally get around this by carrying backups and swapping them when needed. The only real negative for me (outside of a hefty price tag) is when I need to use the same rifle for daytime and nighttime shooting; even though there is a setting which allows the scope to be used in daylight, for clarity and magnification I preferred my regular optics, requiring a swap and usually some readjustment. However, if you are building up a purpose designed night time airgunning rig this approach is hard to beat.
Airgun Hunting by Night_6 : Close up of the Nite Site system mounted on my Evanix .357 Snipper PCP carbine.
Light options (from left to right) scope mounted lights from Optronics with external battery packs, handheld laser Genetics, and under barrel mounted Laser Genetics lights.
A Thermal Monocular, while not technically used during shooting, has become my favorite article of night time hunting gear. Before I tell you why, let’s look at what this device is. I have been using the Sellmark Quantum Thermal Imaging Monocular, which delivers “white hot” and “black hot” target viewing at distances of almost a thousand yards. This device can detect heat signatures and provide images with far greater sensitivity than IR night vision. On the upside, it offers truly spectacular results at picking up incoming predators from a long way off. The only downside (besides price again), is that even when the intensity is turned down, I find my night vison is off for a brief instant when I pull my eye away. But the ability to see and track incoming coyotes is nothing short of mind blowing!
The reason the thermal monocular is my favorite night time hunting tool is based on how I use it on solo hunts: which quite simply is to combine it with a traditional scope mounted light. When calling predators into airgun range, I’ll call as usual while scanning the area with the monocular. My rifle is equipped with either a red filter or green Laser Genetic barrel mounted light, which I leave switched on and pointing towards my call. This allows the incoming predator to be tracked until it gets into range, at which time I drop the monocular and get on target using the scope (set at low power). The reason I like this setup is that it permits me to use the same gun and scope at night that is used during the day, I believe that it is less disruptive than scanning a light all over the field, and it has worked brilliantly for me when hunting alone.
So, I’ve presented a few of my approaches to night time hunting with my airguns, the one I use depends on the type of quarry I’m after (coyote, hogs, rabbits), the gun I have along and whether it is doing shared service (night and day hunts), and how I’m moving from set to set. One thing I know for sure: you have more success when you’re out while your prey is out, so night hunting is something you’re going to want to check out if it’s legal in your neck of the woods!