As a longtime hunter, there are few things that are more interesting to do than hunt pigs and other varmints at night using thermal handheld optics and riflescopes. Everything is different than when hunting during the day. Every move you make is more difficult, and Murphy’s Law seems to creep into the equation at least twice as often. Because of all of this, success is sweeter.
I have friends who have become night hunting lunatics. Because of their day jobs, they often run on about two hours of sleep. They just can’t get the need out of their systems. They also have a much more difficult time explaining hunting expenditures to their wives than “regular” hunters, because the equipment required for a successful night hunting operation is outrageously expensive.
On a recent hunt north of Dallas with my friends from EOTech, I had the opportunity to play with some of their high-end gear. It is pricey but, when compared to their competitors, EOTech is considered by many to be the best quality for the best value. They make dependable and durable equipment more available to the common man than any other company. The bottom line is that the technology that goes into night devices is simply expensive. If they could put a lower price tag on this stuff, they would.
On this most recent hunt, the guys loaned me a Bushmaster rifle chambered in .450 Bushmaster. It was the first time that I had even seen the cartridge. After firing a few shots through the same hole at the 50-yard range just before dark, I was an immediate fan. This setup is my familiar “extension of the body” AR platform, but it spits out a 260-grain .45-caliber bullet at about 2,200 feet per second. For pigs at 200 yards and in, it’s hard to imagine a better arrangement.
The thermal units that made me want some for myself were the Light Weapon Thermal Sight (LWTS) and Model X320 imaging unit. The LWTS was mounted on the Picatinny rail in front of my EOTech sight and G33™ 3x Magnifier. It can also be used as a stand-alone sight, but that is not the way we wanted to do things this night. Another friend who was on the hunt used the LWTS in front of a standard 3x9 riflescope. It made for a really cool, effective setup.
The first time that I looked through the EOTech and magnifier with the LWTS in front, I just had to laugh. I was looking at a group of domestic goats that were next to the rifle range, and I could see every little detail through the sight. It was like watching an old-school video game screen or a black and white cartoon. The red dot reticle of the EOTech was as crisp and prominent as a user would expect through the digital image. This whole package was going to make night hunting as easy as it could possibly be.
While hunting, we used the X320 handheld to scan the fields for hogs. Scanning through a weapons-mounted sight is not safe or practical and should not be done as a general rule. It took some time to get the hang of things. At first it was difficult to distinguish between hogs, cattle, deer, rabbit, skunk or other creatures in the distance. The experienced eyes in my group found these tasks much easier, so I hoped I’d get better by the end of the night.
Of course, absolute certain target identification at night is mandatory. If there is even the slightest suspicion that the image on the screen is anything other than what you are pursuing, it’s time to move closer until all doubt is extinguished. If you are hunting with friends, a shot should not be taken until everyone is in agreement that all is safe.
When we saw the first group of hogs from about 300 yards away, we were fairly certain that they were hogs but had to move closer to be sure. The shape and constant, frantic movement were good signs. As we moved in, it became clear that we were looking at pigs. We stalked within about 100 yards and set up the shooting sticks from a standing position.
There was a deep ravine between the pigs and us, and it had big trees in it. Here is one of the complications with regard to night hunting. There was no way to tell whether my bullet had a branch-free path to the target pig. Using any sort of light would have spooked the pigs, because it was clear that they were already alerted to some looming trouble from our direction (it’s hard to walk silently in total darkness). We had to hope for the best in this one regard.
The biggest pig was looking directly at us, perfectly still. He knew something was going on but couldn’t figure out exactly what. The problem with this was that I didn’t have a good broadside shot, and I needed to wait for him to turn. During the day, this is pretty easy because you can simply shift your eye just above the scope to wait for your shot and then get quickly back on the gun. At night, doing this gets you out of the game because nothing but darkness is visible. You must stare intently at the digital image cast through your optic until you get your chance. This can be challenging and fatiguing.
You must stare intently at the digital image cast through your optic until you get your chance. This can be challenging and fatiguing. After what seemed like many minutes of doing this, my pig finally turned broadside, and my most experienced night hunting buddy beside me told me to shoot. I began to steadily press the heavy trigger on the stock AR platform, waiting for the surprise break, just as any shooting instructor on the planet would suggest. My buddy didn’t know this and began the chant, “shoot … shooooot … shoot … shoooooot.” He evidently thought I was frozen by the suspense. After what was probably only a second or two, the trigger broke and the bullet missed the tangle of branches and found the boar’s boiler room.
I watched the 200-pound swine through the LWTS, and it was evident that a follow-up shot wasn’t going to be necessary. One of the nice things about hunting with thermals is that tracking is a foreign concept except in the densest forests. The heat from the recently-dead game gives away the location from hundreds of yards away.
The whole system, from the gun and cartridge to the two thermal units, could not have worked better. If I had the funds to dedicate to the cause, I can say that I would buy the EOTech LWTS and X320 today. While my night hunting experiences have been limited, I have used enough other night-capable equipment to know that this stuff really gets the job done.
If you are a hunter and have yet to try your hand at a night varmint operation, get it done. Unfortunately some jurisdictions still prohibit the practice, but freedom and reason are only a short drive or flight away for those who reside in the unenlightened locales. I have yet to come across a single individual who has hunted at night and walked away saying, “not for me.” It just doesn’t happen!
LaSorte has been shooting regularly since he was four years old and has grown into a competitive shooter, adventure hunter and NRA Certified Instructor. There is nothing he enjoys more than acquiring and sharing knowledge associated with shooting and self-defense. Empowering others, especially women, through an introduction to what he calls the “beautiful world” of shooting is his passion.