So, I’m about to head out of the office for a weekend hunting trip. I’m heading to a North Texas ranch where the local feral hog population has gotten too large. We’re going to be hunting mostly at night when the hogs are the most active.
Hunting at night presents some unique challenges. The most obvious challenge is the lack of light. The darkness means that iron sights are mostly useless. Even if you have your target lit up, your rifle is still unlit and a black front sight post is difficult to find against a dark background. The same goes for scopes: that fine black crosshair is not easy to pick out at night. Tritium sights help enormously in this respect. Red dot sights and illuminated reticles that have adjustable intensity are even better. When choosing a scope, remember that a low power scope with a large objective (50mm or bigger) does the best job of gathering light. If you have a variable power scope, keep it set on the lowest setting. Zooming in magnifies the image but reduces the brightness of your image.
Still, even with a good scope or tritium night sights, actually seeing your target is more difficult. Shadows tend to blend together in the absence of direct light, and even with a spotlight or flashlight you may not be able to see all of your target. Sometimes only the reflection of the eyes are the only indication you have that a critter is there at all. Naturally, this makes proper target identification more difficult. If you are hunting with others, make sure that you have a plan and procedure to keep everyone out of the firing area.
Spotlighting hogs does work. Once. The problem is that hogs are very smart, and after being shot at once while being spotlighted, they learn to associate the light with death and will panic and run the next time they are spotlighted. That means you’re stuck hunting in the dark. If you’re going to try spotlighting, try using a red or green filter. Hogs are less sensitive to red and green light, and are less likely to panic when it is used. Aim your spotlight up into the air when turning it on, and then slowly lower it until the bottom edge of the beam starts to begin to illuminate your quarry. This indirect light is far less noticeable to hogs and most other night time prey.
When hunting at night, follow these tips.
1) Keep the wind in your face: Pay attention to wind direction. Nocturnal animals do not rely on their eyesight as a primary sense. Their sense of smell is very acute, and can detect humans up wind very easily. With the wind in your face, your scent is blown away from your prey instead of towards it. Also pay close attention when approaching your stand so that you don’t pollute your target area with your scent.
2) Move Silently: Like scent, noise can easily give your presence away. Nocturnal animals have keen hearing in addition to their sharp sense of smell. Dry brush or crunchy snow on the ground will belie your presence, so plan a silent path in, or move slowly and purposefully to minimize noise.
3) Ranges: Know them. Plan your hunt before setting up and know your distances to specific landmarks. Draw up a range card or small map with the landmarks you’ve measured from your shooting position and the distances to all of them. Know your rifle‘s zero and the drop at various ranges. I’ve pasted a small piece of paper on the inside of my scope cover with the drop in MOA and inches for ranges from 50 to 600 yards.
4) Plan the Date Your Hunt: Like knowing your ranges, planning the date of your hunt helps to ensure success. Hunting under the light of a full moon is much easier than on an overcast night, so try to plan your hunt around the moon and the weather.
5) Shoot and Move: Once you or your group have fired on a group of hogs, be ready to move to a new location. Hogs will not return to that location that night.