Night vision scopes are a useful technology that has been growing in popularity in the past couple of decades. These scopes are perfect for shooting in lowlight conditions. While some areas restrict recreational hunting at night for elk, deer, and bear, there are other game that are typically allowed to be hunted at night, such as hogs.
One of the most important factors to using a scope is to zero in and align the scope with your gun. Before we learn how to do this let’s learn more about the night vision and scopes.
Night vision, or NV, is readily used by military and police but can be useful for civilians as well. Hunters, both professional and recreational, are among other groups of people that utilize night vision. Night vision scopes are perfectly legal in the United States, but be sure to research your local laws pertaining to hunting or shooting at night.
Night vision scopes and other devices electronically enhance the optics provided by lenses to allow you to see in the dark. No matter how dark it is, the night vision gives a clear visual in a monochromatic green tint. These devices are relatively simple to use, but it is always recommended that you learn as much as you can before using these devices. While this technology is effective, if a target is moving the night vision may not provide a clear image unless the scope is highly advanced, such as military-grade scopes.
Night vision scopes may come built into some guns, but many people upgrade the guns they own by purchasing a scope separately and mounting them to their gun. Let’s discuss the technology and how it works to get a better understanding of night vision.
How Night Vision Devices Work
NV devices may be easy to use but the technology itself is quite complicated. These devices work by amplifying any available light, even the slightest bit of light is greatly amplified. Most available light at night comes in the form of starlight and moonlight directly or reflecting of solid things around you.
As the light is amplified through the device’s lens, then this light is focused on an intensifier. The intensifier houses a photocathode, a negatively charged electrode where electrons enter and then emit causing an electrical current. The electrons connect to a phosphor screen which in turn presents the image. The accelerated electrons provide gain, another term for clarity and brightness. These mechanisms are typically housed within a water-resistant and shatterproof casing to ensure the sensitive components are not easily damaged.
This technology has been used for many other reasons besides scopes. Binoculars, cameras and other surveillance machines also utilize this technology. Some navigation technology uses night vision as well.
You may often read online or hear people discuss the generations of night vision technology. These generations refer to the quality and complexity of the technology used in night vision devices. Generations are determined predominantly by the intensifier technology. Generation I night vision devices are the most commonly purchased and manufactured, they are the least expensive and use technology similar to the description above. The Generation I technology is similar to a television, using the intensifier to amplify light and striking a phosphor surface.
Generation II and III technologies are very expensive to the average buyer, but the quality of the images and gain is well beyond generation I technology. Generation II night vision uses similar specifications as generation I only with an added Micro-Channel plate which adds more electrons, multiplying them before they reach the phosphor screen. This small added feature increases the gain exponentially.
Generation III night vision has an added Gallium Arsenide photocathode which again adds more electrons, even more so then generation II. While these added features to offer more clarity and gain, generation I night vision are more than adequate enough to be used by the recreational shooter.
Zeroing the Scope
Each scope will have its own design, while each gun has its own design. The number of combinations and customizations are almost endless. Many scopes have other features and designs that are unique to them so be sure you know exactly what you’re buying before you pay. Reading the instructions is very important and cannot be stressed enough. Use this guide to check off that you have considered all the important factors that come along with purchasing a scope. Here are some basic steps for zeroing.
Step 1: Start Reading
Instruction manuals are written for a reason; you don’t have to figure it all out yourself. Before you try to figure your scope out, read the manual. There is no better way to learn about your scope than from the people responsible for building it.
Even if you have owned a similar scope in the past, you should still read the manual. Each scope will have its own set of instructions and features, and you never know what might have been added to your new scope.
Step 2: Surf the Web
If you purchased a second-hand scope, there is a chance that you may not have received an instruction manual. Or maybe you still have questions that your instruction manual didn’t cover. One of the best resources you can find is the manufacturer’s website. It might have some background information not found in a manual.
If the manufacturer’s website doesn’t have the information, head to YouTube or Google to find information on your specific scope. It is a safe bet that you will be able to find videos, reviews, and more information somewhere on the web.
Step 3: Take Advantage of the Daylight
Although you’re not supposed to use your night vision scope in the daylight, many scopes come with a lens cover that has a tiny pinhole in it. Use this pin hole in the daytime and aim at a target. Make sure that you can accurately view where the shots are landing.
Practice lining up shots using the pinhole as a reference. Adjust your scope accordingly until it is zeroed in. The shadows and the silhouette of the pinhole may enable you to better calibrate your scope.
Step 4: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
It is not an ideal option, but you can zero your gun at night. It’s a last resort, but if you can’t find the answers on the manufacturer’s website, or your lens cap doesn’t have a pinhole, it can be accomplished.
The main problem with lining up shots at night is that you need to be able to see where the shots are landing so you can gauge the scope’s accuracy. You can set up systems that allow the target to stay illuminated in the dark and leave visible marks you can see through the scope.
When it comes to finding out the exact steps to be able to calibrate your scope at night, once again, the internet will be your friend. Even if you can’t find systems that are specific to your scope, you should be able to find ones that will be accurate enough.
Step 5: Patience is a Virtue
Regardless of whether you are using the manual, the pinhole, or nighttime systems to calibrate, you are going to need time to make sure you are doing everything accurately. Don’t expect it to be perfect after one try. Have some patience; it may take a couple of days to get the scope calibrated to 100% accuracy.
Keep adjusting and retrying until it’s exactly right. Once your scope is accurately hitting the target where you are aimed, then it’s finally zeroed in! Honestly, zeroing in a scope is straightforward. A new scope may be easier, but even a second-hand scope should be easy to calibrate. If you want accuracy, be willing to put in the time. You will be glad you did.
Mounting the Scope
So if you’ve settled for a mountable scope you are probably wondering about how difficult it is to mount your new night vision technology. Any scope you purchase is going to come with specific instructions for mounting the scope, but there is more to consider.
Along with the considerations above, there is gun specific variable as well. Make sure you’re buying a scope that fits your gun. Not all scopes fit all guns, certain scopes are manufactured for specific gun shapes and brands. Do your research for your specific gun.
There are many ways a scope can be attached as well. Some scopes clip on using super secure mechanisms. These are designed to be easily removed and switched. Other scopes actually screw on when mounted to the gun. These are more difficult to remove since they require tools. Read the specs on your potential purchases to see which one suits your needs.
Once you’re ready to mount your scope be sure to be safe. Do not mount your scope while the gun is loaded. Also, read the instructions very well when attaching the scope. By following the manufacturer’s instructions you ensure that your scope will be mounted and zeroed in correctly, saving you from any troubles down the road.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are many questions that come to mind about night vision that cannot be answered using the complex jargon about the nature of light and electrons. Here we will explain a little about the basics of night vision and touch on common questions about the technology.
Q: Why is night vision always seen through green tint?
A: Answering this question in full detail requires a lot of complex science about the light spectrum and how it interacts with our eyes. For a basic answer, you can say that the color green is right in the middle of the spectrum of light that the human eye can see. This makes green more sensitive the human eye, therefore more easily detectable.
Another reason you see the green tint is because the light gets altered as it goes through the process of being intensified. The light cannot retain its original nature and subsequently is bounced onto a phosphor screen giving it a green tint.
Q: Are there other color tints available in scopes?
Green is the main color that you will find for most scope manufacturers and brands. Although there is new technology known as White Phosphor Technology. This technology is predominantly found in expensive generation III scopes, these high-end scopes have a superior image that boasts more detail and clearer lines.
Q: How far can I see using a night vision scope?
A: There are a lot of variables to factor in when attempting to answer this question. As mentioned above the scope will amplify the available light in the area surrounding you. So depending on how dark it is you may be able to see further. The generation of night vision technology you are using will affect this as well. It is safe to say that on even a dark night a generation three scope may be able to spot an animal from a few hundred yards away, but you may not be able to see the Specific details of the creature.
So to answer this question bluntly, it depends. The quality scope and available light will greatly affect the actual distance you can see. Don’t expect to use a generation I scope and see distinct details of a target within one hundred yards.
Q: Do I need an IR illuminator?
A: IR illuminators emit infrared light on a target. This may help get a clear view when there isn’t sufficient available light in the surrounding area. These illuminators come built into many scopes, even generation I. If your scope doesn’t have an IR illuminator you can have on mounted onto a gun separately.
Q: Should I get an autogated scope?
A: If you can afford a generation III scope you have access to many other technologically advanced features. Autogated night vision scopes have the ability to adjust to changing available light. This automatic adjustment can come in handy on overcast days or other situations that require changing brightness.
Scopes that are not gated can potentially give you a distorted image. Blurring and halos can occur when there I sufficient light already available. Some scopes that are not gated can even be ruined by bright light.
Q: What is SNR and how does it work?
A: Signal to noise ratio, also known as SNR, is the measurement of how much ‘noise’ gets in the way of the night vision’s ability to amplify the available light. A higher signal to noise ratio has better detail, clarity, and overall better gain. The level of the signal to noise ratio is a very important factor when it comes to finding a good quality night vision scope. Luckily signal to noise ratios are standardized across the market. This ensures the quality and effectiveness of your scope. If you’re questioning a potential scope just make sure it has a minimum signal to noise ratio of 21.
Q: How different are digital night vision scopes?
A: Digital night vision is a fairly recent addition to the night vision industry. They essentially do the same thing as other scopes, allowing the user to be able to see in the dark. The difference being that the digital scopes use a built-in chip and always have an IR illuminator. These scopes often have the ability to record video of what is being seen through the scope. Other features include providing data about your shots and range. These digital scopes can also be used in the daytime.
Q: Are night vision and thermal vision the same?
A: These technologies are quite different. We have discussed how night vision scopes work above. Thermal vision detects radiation and heat. The higher the temperature the more detailed an image. Thermal optics do not require light in the surrounding area to provide an image, whereas night vision requires some available light. Thermal scopes are much more expensive than night vision scopes.
Q: What types of scope varieties are available?
A: There are three main varieties of scopes used for shooting. Scopes mounted to the gun can be mounted on the rear or front of the gun, these two types of scopes are usually gun specific. There are also standalone scopes that you can set up next to use using a tripod.
What to Consider Before Buying
If you are considering a night vision scope then you’ve probably come into the problem of not being able to see at night. While there may not be a ton of hunting to be done at night in some areas, other reasons for a night vision scope may be present as well.
Having a night vision scope, whether stand-alone or mounted, will help you immensely when trying to see into the night. When choosing what scope is right for you there is a lot of variables to consider. Do I need night vision on my gun? Is it worth it to mount a night vision scope? Should I use a mounted scope? Let’s discuss these variables.
If you want to mount a scope onto your gun consider that the night vision scope cannot be used n in the daytime. So if you wish to use a scope in the day time as well you will need two scopes, one for day time and one for night time. The only other option is an autogated scope.
This problem of switching scopes is a big one. But if you were to opt for the standalone scope you could easily utilize it for viewing at night without having to switch scopes on your gun, but you will not be able to aim using the scope itself. The standalone scope is handy for short range shots where you have plenty of available light in the surrounding area.
If choosing between a rear-mounted or front mounted scope consider the distance of the scope from your eye. Rear-mounted scopes tend to cause more strain on the eyes. Front mounted scopes will be easier on your eyes and give you a fuller view of the image you’re looking at.
Also while you are considering a rear or front mounted scope you need to be aware of the recoil. Most shooters using night vision are using hunting rifles. The recoil of these larger, more powerful guns can be pretty strong. A rear-mounted scope will be more likely to harm your eyes if the recoil is too strong during shooting.
If you are mounting a scope you need to be sure your scope is in line with your shot. This is called zeroing. Zeroing your scope mean that what you are seeing through your scope is what you are actually aimed at. Any time you add a scope to your gun you need to be sure it is zeroed in, otherwise, you will not have a straight shot at your target.
Another problem that many encounter when they are mounting a scope is the balance of the gun as a whole after the scope is mounted. You need to be sure that the gun is comfortable and balanced once you have the scope mounted. This is mainly a problem facing front mounted scopes, rear-mounted scopes typically do not affect the balance as much since they are mounted closer to the heavy part of the gun.
The price of your scope should be considered as well. As we discussed with the three generations of scope technology, the price difference between generation I and generation II and III is exponential. If you are just shooting or hunting recreationally a generation I scope will suffice. If you have the means and really want the best quality generation II and III scopes are readily available, but often reserved for professional hunters or police and military.
It is also good to keep in mind that just because something is expensive doesn’t mean its high quality. Do your research and read reviews on brands you are considering and be wary if a deal is too good to be true. Buying second hand is not recommended unless form a close family member or friend who is trustworthy.
Buying a night vision scope doesn’t have to be complicated. While the technology is complicated, mounting and using the scope isn’t too terribly difficult. Be meticulous when mounting and zeroing the scope and always use the proper safety precautions.
We are glad that you have read through our guide and hope that it was helpful. We hope that we have narrowed down your options and made your search for a night vision scope a bit easier. Thank you for reading and be safe shooting out there.