As much as I enjoy using night vision hunting gear, it’s not something I relish quite so much during the summer months. With darkness closing in at 10pm or later, nocturnal pest control makes for late, tiring work until the evenings begin to draw in much later in the year.
But there’s no denying what a difference after-dark sessions can make to your bag size. And so it is that I still find myself reaching for the NV kit and venturing out on summertime forays that stretch into the small hours of morning!
Actually, once I’m out there I find it very rewarding – it’s not just a question of making the effort because my shooting permissions depend on me putting in the hours to deliver the expected results.
Some of my most recent graveyard shifts have been spent on a mixed farm that’s overrun with rabbits. As is the case on so many holdings, the ravenous rodents are causing a nuisance by munching their way through pastures where the rich grass is cultivated to sustain cattle, not hordes of grass-gobbling bunnies.
The rabbits are especially unwelcome on this farm because some of the fields are used as pony paddocks, and the last thing any horse or pony owner wants is their cherished, and often very expensive, filly breaking a leg when a misplaced foot ends up in a rabbit burrow. Therefore, my latest visit saw me digging in to ambush the rabbits that have taken up residence in the paddock.
It was a still, windless night – the sort of dead calm conditions in which sound seems to carry for miles. The lack of any ambient noise to mask my approach suggested to me that stalking tactics would be a dead loss, so I set up on a bank that gave me a good view of the facing hillside as it rose up and away from me towards a hedgerow some 30 metres away.
My gun choice for the evening was a Daystate Huntsman Regal in .177 calibre. As a fan of the smaller bore for non-FAC work, I really rate .177 when using night vision gear because its flat trajectory helps to counter the difficulty of accurately estimating range when presented with a ‘flat’ NV image. I coupled the Regal with the Pitch Black Field Master; a highly effective little NV unit with a surprisingly modest price tag.
The £385 Field Master comes with a variable infrared (IR) illuminator, which provides ‘invisible’ light to create the NV image displayed on the screen if there isn’t enough ambient light from the sky. You can’t see this IR beam with the naked eye; any glare you can see in the lens in some of my photographs is purely a reflected highlight from the flash used on the photographer’s camera.
The Pitch Black unit also comes with a very useful, exceptionally powerful torch. This made easy work of loading the Regal’s 10-shot magazine when set on ‘flood’. Actually, it’s all too easy to forget to take a light source with you when hunting with NV gear, but it’s an absolute must for little tasks like loading up, not to mention picking up shot quarry and safely navigating your way around the fields. So, well done Pitch Black – the Field Master’s supplied flashlight rules out the chance of forgetting this night-time essential.
Once I’d zeroed on the practice range and saved my customised crosshair settings on the Field Master’s memory, all I had to do was flick the on/off switch at the back of the device and I was in action – total simplicity!
With a large moon behind a thin veil of cloud, there was actually enough ambient light for me to scan the fields out to well over 100 metres without using the IR illuminator for the early stages of the session, which is testament to Field Master’s impressive performance.
My only small gripe with the Field Master is that the standard positioning of the viewing screen is on the left of its casing. This means that right-handers have to drift their head away from the cheekpiece to achieve decent eye alignment, and that does compromise hold – not that it makes much difference if you shoot off your lap or from a bipod.
Nonetheless, I reckon that placing the screen on the opposite side would enable right-handed shooters to have their master-eye much better aligned with the screen by leaning right into the cheekpiece, which ought to make for a far more comfortable and stable hold. Nic Wenham, the man behind Pitch Black, tells me he’s happy to build units with screens on the right if customers request them, which could be worth considering if you fancy one of these ingenious bits of NV kit.
Regardless of the positioning of its screen, my Field Master soon proved its worth when I picked up not one, but three rabbits out feeding close to a pile of branches. One moment there were none there… and when I scanned back over the same patch, a trio of bunnies had trundled out to nibble!
At 40 metres, it was what I regard as a long shot with NV but, in flat-calm conditions and after plenty of practice, I took it confidently. A little holdover resulted in a direct hit to the head, sending the unsuspecting rabbit into a cartwheel as its mates scarpered at the sound of lead connecting with bone.
It’s surprising how quickly rabbits will venture back out under the cover of darkness, and I had another one in my sights no more than five minutes after I’d returned the safety catch and cycled the Regal’s bolt to re-cock and reload.
This one was somewhat closer, and the shot was a mere formality from my steady sitting position. As with the first, the strike of the pellet was signalled by a ringing crack, which flipped the second bunny of the evening into the tussocks.
The next chance came in what appeared to be the same area as the first, though it must have been slightly closer. I gave the same amount of holdover but, instead of crumpling the rabbit with a wallop to the head, the shot passed harmlessly over the top of my target and slapped into the sloping bank behind, sending the startled bunny running for cover.
Frustrated by the miss, I made a mental note to leave any more long-range rabbits and stick to the ones that were closer to the fence line in front of me, where I could use the posts to gauge the distance between muzzle and target.
It was a warm night, which made it comfortable for me sitting on the hillside, and certainly seemed to suit the rabbits, as a steady succession crept out to feed over the next couple of hours.
Despite a regular flow of shots to keep me occupied, the call of my pillow eventually became too much to resist, and I decided to pick up shortly after midnight – a task that was made a whole lot easier by that handy torch on the Field Master, which also provided a handy light source for paunching duties.
My self-enforced range limit meant several rabbits further down the hedgerow had been left for another day – or night – but the shots I did take resulted in bunnies in the bag, and I’d managed to account for 11 by close of play. In my books, that’s a pretty good tally from a single shooting position, and I’m convinced that the still conditions would have made a mobile approach a dead loss, even under the cover of darkness.
I was certainly pleased with the outcome and, by employing the right kit at the right time, I’d not only done a welcome service for the landowner, I was also heading home with some prime meat for the freezer. Plus it can’t have been that much of a chore – I’m already looking forward to my next late-night foray!
CAPTURE THE ACTION
The Yukon MPR Mobile Player/Recorder is a clever little gadget that enables you to capture video or still images through night vision devices including the Pitch Black Field Master. The compact recorder weighs just 60 grams, and its single-touch record feature makes for quick and easy operation in the dark.
You can see live action and watch what you’ve recorded via the 2.5-inch LCD screen. When you get home, you can connect the MPR to the television or upload AVI and JPEG files to your computer. It has 180Mb of built-in memory, or you can use an SD card for as much as 32Gb of storage.
The recorder comes with a rechargeable Li-ion battery, which gives up to 140 minutes’ continuous recording time. Capture resolution and frame rate are adjustable, and there’s a motion detection feature that enables recording to be triggered by movement.