Digital Night Vision vs. Thermal

We finally got opportunity to go hog hunting a few days ago and test out the Photon RT Digital Night Vision (DNV) scope I bought myself for my birthday (along with an AR-10). I also had the opportunity to try out a Thermal scope from ATN that belonged to a buddy of my son in law. I learned a lot and thought I would share my observations.

The first part of the evening I was sitting in a blind about 30 yards from a feeder. I didn’t see any hogs but I had a chance to play with the DNV scope “in the wild” so to speak. DNV works on the same principle as a digital camera but using a wavelength of light that is invisible to most animals including hogs and humans. You are not looking through a glass optic. Instead you are looking at a small screen built into the scope. To ensure that there is enough light, in the right wavelength these scopes use an infrared illuminator (think of it an a flashlight that emits light we can’t see). This is basically like hunting with a light except that the pigs can’t see it and it has many of the same drawbacks as a flashlight in the dark. The light reflects back off of things like brush or even grass. If there is something like that between you and the hogs you won’t see them. For example, I could see the fence and the brush growing along the fence line clearly but I was just as blind past that as I would have been without the DNV scope. So, even though the feeder was only 30 yards away I couldn’t see it. I was aware that this was a potential issue but I discounted it when making the purchase.

Later in the evening we moved out into some open fields looking for hogs (none showed up at my blind) and that is where the other challenge with DNV comes into play. I was constantly having to adjust the beam intensity and focus the optic depending on how far away the hogs were. Scanning the field for them was tough. If I knew where they were I could, eventually get everything worked out but it took a little bit. If I was just hunting over a feeder and in a clear field it would be a non-issue but in the brush or open fields where they might be anywhere is was a tough.

What finally convinced me that this was not the equipment I wanted to use long term happened in one of the first fields we hunted. I was able to scope the pig and see him very clearly. More clearly than with the thermal scope. I was just about to take a shot when Moose’s buddy stopped me. What I didn’t see was a whole herd of cows about 50-75 yards behind the pig…that could have been an expensive mistake. Landowners are OK with people getting rid of pigs that tear up their property and kill calves but to drop a cow because you didn’t see it would NOT make them happy. Worse yet, what if that was another hunter or someone else on the other end of the field?

Don’t take this the wrong way. DNV is significantly less expensive than thermal and a viable option within its limitations. It would be great on our annual hunt in North Texas for example because we can shoot from known distances over feeders from elevated blinds that provide a clear field of view. Perfect scenario for DNV.

With the thermal scope we were using we could see everything from rabbits on up to cows scattered throughout the fields. We couldn’t see them as clearly as with the DNV but we could see them well enough to distinguish between them easily and clearly enough to take accurate shots.

The other advantage of the thermal was after the shot. With the DNV a dropped pig could disappear into the grass or brush making it a chore to find. With the thermal we were still able to spot them for quite a time until they cooled to ambient temperature.

Based on my experience that night, I returned by DNV scope to the store where I bought it and got my money back. I will wait and save until I can afford a thermal…maybe.

We really don’t hunt enough to justify the $1500-2000 price tag of a good thermal scope. The ability to hunt small game like rabbits would be nice but still not enough to justify the cost. There is one other intriguing use, some folks use thermal scopes during the day as well. Game may be well camouflaged to the naked eye but not much hides their heat signature which can really help for an old hunter whose eyes are starting to go south on him.

Will I buy a thermal scope? Maybe.

For now it is back to green lights and my new buddy’s thermal.

Take care and God bless.

2 thoughts on “Digital Night Vision vs. Thermal

  1. Good write up. I’ll just stick to Gen one technology.
    Plus mine is VERY old school i.e. fixed focus.

    Lately I’ve been working on farms and have adapted two battery powered PIR lights by changing the bulbs to IR Emitting diodes. It is just like turning a searchlight on the target through the scope when something triggers them. Saving me money in batteries for a high power IR emitter.
    At 70 meters I can easily pick out a bunny upwards but it’s not triggering well on rats which I guess are just too small..

    Liked by 1 person

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