Hunting on Open Ground with a Spotlight
Night hunting on open lands requires some extra consideration if it is to be successful. Unlike hunting in heavy brush or wooded areas, a more powerful spotlight is required since the ranges you’ll be working with will be greater. While you won’t be simply trying to illuminate the entire area, you will need to take advantage of the increased range offered by open country to compensate for the lack of useful cover. While it’s true the animals being hunted will have less places to hide, it is also true the hunter will be easier for an animal to spot.
Another benefit of open country is that it also provides less chance for light to be reflected off of nearby obstructions like trees and boulders, revealing a hunters position and spooking an animal that may be approaching. Clear lands also offer more opportunities for working from a vehicle where this is legal, allowing hunters to have better access to power sources for operating their spotlighting equipment.
Using a spotlight in open country is similar to using it in areas filled with obstructions like trees. The movement of the spotlight is still done in a 360 degree manner and kept as steady and near the horizon as reasonable. The usual way this is done is by first choosing a position to start from. This is most commonly a position to the rear of where you will be facing. The spotlight is then aimed for the horizon and switched on. Whoever is directing the light then begins slowly turning in a circle while keeping the beam aimed for the horizon. It’s important to keep the beam as steady as possible and to avoid moving the light up or down. Movements like this can increase the wariness of any approaching animals and potentially cause some light to inadvertently illuminate the hunters and reveal their presence.
The object here is to steadily and methodically work the light evenly in a circle, much the way you see a lighthouse operate. The bulk of the spotlights beam will project off into the horizon, but what you want to use is the peripheral edges of the light beam anyways. Even a spotlight like Larson Electronics’s 15 Million Candlepower Handheld Spotlight that has a very tightly focused beam and little spillage will have enough peripheral light to illuminate an approaching animal’s eyes and produce eye-shine. It takes very little light to produce eye-shine, and once you have located an animal in this manner it is very important that you maintain control of the light to keep their eyes illuminated, yet avoid the temptation to full on illuminate the animal.
Once you’ve gotten a hit with your light and you’ve detected the eye-shine of an approaching animal it is critical that you remain poised and in control of the spotlight. The shooter is depending upon you to keep track of the animal’s movement, so it is up to you to keep the light in a position that keeps the bulk of the beam off of the animal yet still illuminates its eyes well enough to track it. With luck, the animal will continue to move closer to your position and you’ll be able to keep track of its movement. Once the animal is in range and presents a clear target, and the shooter indicates they are ready to take the shot, it is then time to move the spotlight beam directly onto the animal for full illumination. Although most nocturnal animals have a very poor ability to discern colors other than grey, yellow, and blue, humans are not hampered by any such problems. The full on illumination from a good spotlight with a red lens will be more than enough light to provide an excellent outline for targeting.
Once you’ve illuminated an animal with a spotlight, how it behaves depends greatly on its species. Hogs have been known to simply look up for a moment, and then resume whatever they were doing. Coyote’s on the other hand, which are known for their skittishness, may immediately retreat. This underscores the need for careful and methodical use of the light when seeking any animal in the darkness. You must avoid jerky or uneven movements, practice a slow and methodical sweep of the area, and pay particular attention to avoiding any accidental illumination of yourself or the shooter. Once you move the light fully onto the animal it is important that you have brought it into as close a range as possible because once the light is on him, you will likely only have a couple of seconds to take the shot.
In some cases the animal is going to make things difficult and will approach slowly while keeping small obstacles like stumps or rocks between the light and him. He’ll also probably be constantly scanning the area and checking all directions randomly as he approaches. In cases like this you will likely experience what most hunters refer to as “blinking.” Blinking is basically just the way the animal’s eye-shine seems to cut in and out as the animal moves or yes, blinks, and the light intermittently illuminates its eyes. When this happens you must avoid the temptation to begin scanning around with the spotlight and actively trying to reacquire the animal’s position. The only effect this will have is to alert the animal to your presence and spook him into leaving the area.
The best thing to do if you encounter a lot of blinking is to continue methodically scanning until you pick up the animals position again. This way, you avoid the excessive spotlight light movement and illumination of yourself that can cause an animal to retreat.
Just as important as how you operate your spotlight is communication between the person operating the light and the shooter. First and foremost you must work out some signals beforehand for working together in the darkness of night. Since you will be trying to lure animals into much closer range than you normally would during daylight hours it is vital that you remain as quiet as possible. Hand signals, a tap on the shoulder, or a brief noise can all be enough to indicate that an animal has been spotted, the shooter is ready to take a shot, or that the animal has retreated.
The most important aspect of night hunting however is safety. Hunting in the darkness presents a great deal of difficulty in identifying objects outside the shooting area and it is vital that hunters have the area well mapped out beforehand. Additionally, hunters must know the location of each member in their party at all times. If there is any confusion about the location of anyone in the party then there is no shooting opportunity until that member is accounted for.
Hunting in open country can be very rewarding. Use a good spotlight with a red lens, practice your scanning technique, plan with your partner beforehand how you’ll handle working together in the dark, and above all else remember that the need for caution and safety is doubled. Keep these facts in mind and you’ll be enjoying the benefits of night hunting on open land in no time at all.