I know that installment two of the squirrel hunting piece is owed, but I’m going to take a little side trip before wrapping that topic up. I’ve been getting a lot of emails asking about lights and lighting systems used for night hunting, which isn’t as common in the States, but is used by airgun hunters in many locales.
For most Americans hunting is typically a daytime activity, and as a matter of fact, with respect to game animals it is the only legal time to hunt. However, when it comes to nongame pest species and predators, night time is back on the table and is most often the most productive time to be out with your airgun. Where allowed, rabbits, raccoons, fox, ringtail, bobcats, coyotes, and hogs make great night time quarry. This is when these animals are out, actively feeding and moving about, which also means it’s the most likely time to get a shot at them.
In the UK, hunters have long worked the fields and pastures with their air rifles, lamping for rabbits. When they are out for true pest control duties, this is the preferred method as the bags can be very large. I don’t hunt rabbits at night so often here, because if I’m going to give up a night’s sleep I want to spend the time after predators. As in the UK, there are two basic approaches employed for night hunting; you either drive and shoot from a vehicle or you can get out on foot and hike. When taking off on foot you can either work as a team with one person on the lights and the other on the trigger (which is the most effective), or if out by yourself you can get a gun mounted light.
Lights for the hunter on foot come in a wide variety of styles: some are large with a high power beam that require a separate battery pack to power. These lights can either be hand held, though some have a clip that allows them to be mounted atop the scope. Others are smaller self contained units, which as LED lights get more powerful and battery life longer, becomes an attractive alternative. The lights we use for night hunting out of a truck are often very large, very bright, and run off of the trucks electrical system. In the trucks we use for calling predators down in Texas, which uses a seat mounted on a turret the rotates in a complete 360 degree arc. On these rigs the lights are mounted and rotate with the seat as the hunters sweep the area.
Whether you are calling or randomly sweeping an area, when you spot an animal the eyes will light up. Some animals, and those that have a lot of night time hunting pressure will often be spooked by white light, and one trick is to halo the area; that is to say hold the light over the area being searched and let the lower intensity light from the diffused beam intercept the quarry. Another option is to use a red or yellow filter, as even pressured animals seem less bothered by the colored lights. I have friends that absolutely swear by the necessity of filtered lights, and others that say it doesn’t matter. My opinion is that bright lights will spook many animals, less intense light (white or colored) not so much. I do find it easier to pick up animals under white light, and if animals are not spooking and are giving me time to shoot, I prefer white light and haloing.
As I stated earlier, some of the new generation of flashlights are extremely bright, small and compact, and have a long battery life. I use and LED that has a 1″ tube that fits right into a scope mount affixes to an extra Picatinny rail on some of my guns. Some lights are equipped with a pressure switch which makes it much easier to switch on the beam only when needed. You can get a piece of red transparent plastic to make a filter pretty easily. I find that when using a light while out on foot for rabbits, this is my favorite set up because I shoot at closer ranges and the beam intensity from the smaller lights is just about perfect.
I’ve also been using a collimated laser light from BSA called the Laser genetics, which gives a very sharp beam with little attenuation that allows the beam to light up quarry hundreds of yards out. A side benefit of this light is that it doesn’t seem to spook most animals. I have both the scope mounted and hand held models and have success with both of them.
Shooting from a vehicle is probably the most effective method and if your out to stack them up, either for pest control or to get fur in the truck, this is the way to go. You cover a lot more territory, and the more miles you put in the more shots you’ll get. Hunting in Texas for coyote, fox, bobcats, and raccoons we’ll drive a mile, call while sweeping the area for 15-20 minutes, then drive a mile further and repeat. Big, powerful, spotlights that run off the trucks power system are used almost exclusively on these hunts. It’s good to have a back up, as it’s not unheard of for the lights to burn out in the middle of a run.
I like to use lower power scopes with a large aperture for night hunting, as most shots are inside of 60 yards, and the light transmission characteristics at higher magnifications usually isn’t so great. I find an illuminated reticle a nice feature that allows you to line up your shots faster and with a higher degree of confidence.
Going out at night is a different type of hunting, and sometimes when I’m out by myself on a pitch black night it’s a bit freaky. You could argue that it’s not true hunting when your lighting up an area and have your quarries eyes glowing back at you. And it’s probably a fair argument, which is the reason it’s not legal for game. However it is a highly effective means of reducing pest species or putting fur in the truck ….. and any way you look at it, it’s a lot of fun!