At just £350, the new Pitch Black Hunter sight brings ‘proper’ night-vision within reach of most shooters’ pockets – and having Mat Manning extolling its virtues after trialling it for just a few short hours, I was immediately on the phone to the British manufacturer to sort one out for myself.
Designed by Nic Wenham, with support from Richard Bingham of Best Fittings fame, the Pitch Black Hunter is quite an eye-catching, futuristic-looking piece of hardware.
It resembles an old cine-camera – though its high-tech innards evolve around something not too dissimilar to a modern-day video camera sensor. The one fitted to the Pitch Black unit, however, is a bit special. It’s super sensitive, capable of rendering an image at 1/100th of a lux – a unit of light equivalent to one lumen’s brightness per square metre. In other words, extremely dim!
The PB Hunter’s design marries this state-of-the-art camera technology with a special infra-red array of micro LEDs which emit light in a wavelength way above what the human eye can detect.
As if by magic, this ‘invisible’ light illuminates the area in front of the camera, allowing that ultra-sensitive sensor to effectively see in the dark – and by some very clever electronic wizardry, the signal is converted back into an image that can be viewed on a swing-out monitor with the naked eye.
Put simply, what you’ve got is a night-vision video camera that doesn’t so much ‘record’ what it sees, but ‘displays’ it – and Nic has than taken all its facets and developed it into a high-performance rifle sight.
I say high performance for a reason, too. Having now been out on numerous nights with the PB Hunter, I can honestly say that it’s entirely changed my views on NV hunting which I’ve hitherto thought too expensive, too cumbersome, and too poor a sight picture. The added bonus is the PB Hunter can also be used in daylight.
It weighs in at 1.06 kilos – a little heavier than a conventional daytime scope, but lighter than most big-rig lamping set-ups, and the ex-military NV stuff. Because it’s so compact, however, all that weight feels really quite ‘neutral’ when it’s married to your rifle’s receiver. It’s anything but cumbersome, and because it’s relatively compact, it doesn’t make your rifle feel ‘top heavy’, either – something many other NV devices have a tendency to do.
It fits via a 70mm-long one-piece mount with standard, 11mm dovetails. This provides for 18mm clearance between the rifle’s receiver and the unit’s main chassis – but Pitch Black offers an additional adapter should you need it to clear any protruding magazine. I’ve so far tested the PB Hunter on two of my Daystates, where it clears the (low profile style) magazine – and Mat’s trial was with a Weihrauch HW100.
These are recoilless PCPs, of course, and the manufacturer is currently stating that the unit hasn’t been tested on gas-ram- and spring-powered airguns – though the fact it’s passed the rimfire test makes me think they’re just covering themselves to be on the safe side.
Although ‘opening up’ the unit will invalidate the 12-month guarantee, Pitch Black has engineered the innards very precisely, incorporating a number of shock-absorbing mounts to ensure the longevity of a product which is, after all, designed to be used in the outdoors.
All the circuitry is solid state, too, so the chances of anything being vulnerable to breakage is minimised. The unit’s also showerproof – though, as with most electronic things, you really shouldn’t contemplate using it in the driving rain if you want to avoid water ingress.
The PB Hunter’s power source is internal – a Li-ion battery which, once conditioned with a few charge cycles, provides enough juice to power things for five hours’ continuous usage.
To get that kind of performance out of a big lamp, you need a separate, heavy battery – but all I needed to guarantee a decent night-hunting session was a 12-hour trickle charge from the supplied AC adapter. It just plugs into the rear of the unit, and when the green light starts blinking on the adapter, you’re good to go.
In use, the PB Hunter is quite simple – all that’s really needed is to switch it on via the rear-mounted rocker switch, swing-open the LCD monitor… and point your rifle.
However, it’s all driven by some sophisticated firmware, and while the Pitch Black manual recommends you leave the majority of these settings well alone, I think it’s worth getting to grips with a few more of the menu settings which are available, other than those referred to in the owner’s manual.
If you can operate a video camera, then I’d say you’ll be able to ‘customise’ the PB Hunter to specifically suit your own night-hunting needs – whether that’s in the fields, or around the farmyard.
All you must remember is don’t touch the ‘Reset’ option, as that renders the unit unusable – and it’ll have to go back to the manufacturer to be reprogrammed!
There are three buttons on the outer side of the LCD monitor to let you adjust the levels of brightness, contrast, saturation and language – the middle one cycles through the modes, while the top and bottom buttons increase or decrease the values.
But you’ll need to access the unit’s main menu system to zero up and change things like the reticle colour, opacity and shape.
Menus are accessed using the joystick button on the very simple, rear control panel. You cycle through the options by clicking the joystick either up, down, right or left, while pushing it ‘sets’ things – and there’s a forced ‘save’ option so that you keep any new settings that you’ve chosen.
After around five minutes familiarising myself with the menus, it became second nature to accomplish on-screen tasks like altering the colour, opacity, position and shape of the reticle.
Although I’ve used lots of reticle ‘types’ so far, I’ve found I favour yellow and green for night-hunting, with the lines at 50 per cent opacity. I change this to black or white for daytime and twilight use – though there are eight colours in all – normally with the lines at 100 per cent opacity.
In the daytime, the sight picture is rendered in colour; this changes to monochromatic in the pitch dark.
You use the menus – specifically the ‘PRIVACY’ menu – to zero the PB Hunter, a job that’s nothing like you’ll have ever done on a rifle sight before (see ‘ZEROING’ below)!
Once you’ve got a zero, I’d also recommend adding extra lines to the standard crosshair that the unit ships with.
There are an additional six lines which you can place wherever you want – vertically or horizontally, as thick or thin as you like.
Although it’s a little complicated to explain and undertake for the first time, once you understand the method, the sky’s the limit when it comes to creating your own reticle.
For me, this was a real boon, because as well as the primary zero point, I then worked out some other POIs at closer and further points, adding lines to suit my combo’s trajectory. I even added a windage reference point in the form of a thick bar.
The reason why I particularly like this facility is because unlike most NV kit I’ve used in the past, the PB Hunter’s sight picture is so well rendered that you get a much better idea of the depth of field. This makes range-finding in the dead of night far easier than it normally is on the two-dimensional image of, say, a conventional GEN2 device.
While the camera sensor plays a big part in providing this sight picture, so too does the always-on IR array. Sitting above the camera lens, it emits a beam of infra-red light that’s set to a wavelength of 850 Nanometres (Nm) – a good 100Nm beyond the range the human eye can detect.
While assisting in the camera’s ability to render an image, it’s totally invisible to us… and pretty much invisible to quarry like rats and rabbits.
While it’s thought these creatures are just about able to register light up to 940Nm, you’d need a battery the size of a bag of sugar to drive an IR beam in that particular spectrum!
So Pitch Black has picked a trade-off between performance and detection. In his field trial, Mat told me he felt the rabbits ‘sensed’ there was something, but he couldn’t be sure if it was the IR light, or his footfall. In my tests, though, I haven’t noticed any skittishness of the rabbit population when I’m pointing the PB Hunter in their direction.
What I am noticing, though… is the rabbits! Even at 120 metres, the unit picks up eye-shine very easily – and by the time I’ve stalked into range, I can pretty much pick out their whiskers in the LCD panel. It’s that good an image.
I’ve kept the anti-flare tube over the IR emitter as a matter of course – apparently it avoids any spill of light reflecting off the end of your barrel and/or silencer, which can hotspot the sight picture.
The impressive thing for me, however, is the fact that you can shoot your rifle with the PB Hunter fitted with your head still on the stock.
Many ex-military NV equipment sits so high on the receiver that your head’s way off the comb – and the same applies when you use the NiteSite system. This can seem a little alien for some shooters, for whom the PB Hunter will feel far more ‘natural’.
Okay, you have to roll your cheekbone slightly to one side so your eyes look at the screen, but it’s not uncomfortable, and you can shoot from most stances without much change to your normal head position.
Incidentally, Pitch Black can make a left-hand version to special order, where the LCD swings out to the right.
Although there are so many positives with the PB Hunter, there are a couple of drawbacks I’ve noticed.
Firstly, in a farmyard environment, you may need to play around with the inner menu settings to dull down the gain as very close objects have a tendency to cause glare. But, like I said earlier, if you have a play with the firmware, it’s not too difficult to tailor the PB Hunter’s sight picture to your specific needs of the task in hand.
Secondly, I don’t have a gunbag – nor case – deep enough to take a rifle/PB Hunter combo! But it’s not the end of the world, because providing you position the simple mount identically to your rifle’s receiver each time, the unit can be removed and refitted with no loss of zero.
And just to make the job a little easier, Pitch Black has even incorporated the mount’s hex key into the monitor.
I really cannot sing the praises of the Pitch Black Hunter highly enough.
For the money, it’s an absolute steal, and will I’m sure win many more airgunners over to NV than just me.
For the first time, we’ve got a NV scope option that offers both high quality and affordability. And best of all, it’s British designed and built.
Best done from a rest, you fire a group and then move the two lines of the crosshair to bisect it.
These are lines one and two of the eight available, and they’re positioned within the LCD screen via the menu system. As such, it’s not an ‘image moving’ sight picture as on most scopes, but a ‘reticle moving’ one – so you will probably find the crosshair ends up slightly off-centre.
However, Pitch Black ‘trues’ the unit before shipping, so it won’t be wildly out – and my MK4/PB/Sovereign combo was practically spot-on for 22 metres!
There are no windage and elevation turrets as on a conventional scope. Instead, you have to adjust the co-ordinates of the reticle lines to position them in the frame.
Each co-ordinate point is equivalent to a 1/2MOA. In other words, it’ll move the POI around 3mm at 25 yards, so you’ll get an accurate enough zero.
Each line is effectively a rectangular bar, which you make taller or shorter, wider or narrower according to the co-ordinates you set for the top, bottom, left and right elements of the rectangle.
This is all done with the joystick and, while very different at first, the task soon becomes ‘logical’ – though zeroing-up on a rest is, I’d say, pretty essential to the operation.
For the thinnest line, you’ll need to set a difference of ‘1’ between its corresponding co-ordinates; if you want a thicker bar, just increase the differential value.
I’d also recommend you zero your combo first with just a plain cross (lines 1 and 2) . Once you’ve got that, you can then start customising with thicker bars, square ‘dots’ and the like with the remaining six lines available to you .
But as complicated as it might sound in print, it really is quite easy – and not at all difficult to set downrange markers for a crosshair that’s truly customised to your rifle/pellet combo.
Just remember to click the ‘SAVE ALL’ command before you leave the menu!