Red Spotlights: More Game, More Opportunity|
With some states beginning to relax restrictions on the use of spotlights while hunting, and certain non game and nuisance animals being added to lists of those that can be hunted with lights, night hunting has greatly increased in popularity in the last few years. This increased popularity has led to the formation of several groups dedicated to offering night hunting services, increased interest in literature that details the specific new challenges that hunting at night presents, and a greater emphasis on the type of equipment necessary.
The most obvious difference between hunting during the day and hunting at night is of course the lack of light once the sun goes down. Darkness adds an entirely new dimension to hunting and presents challenges that require an added attention to detail not normally needed for hunting during daylight hours. Certainly it goes without saying that without light vision is severely limited, so the need to compensate for this reduction in vision is going to obviously be at the forefront of any discussion about night hunting.
While it’s been well known for many years that spotlights can be an effective tool for night hunting, it is equally well known that there are some basic facts regarding animals and how they react to spotlights that must be taken into consideration. It is not enough to simply carry a powerful spotlight and expect that all you’ll have to worry about is holding the light on an animal while lining up your shot. In the real world, animals in the wild are not so willing to hold a pose while something unnatural is taking place around them. There is little that is more unnatural to a nocturnal animal than a bright light suddenly appearing out of the depths of total darkness. The more likely scenario in that case involves switching on a powerful spotlight and getting the benefit of being able to watch as an animal makes a hasty retreat from the area.
So, how is a hunter to make good use of a spotlight while hunting? The answer to this question is twofold and requires understanding not only the hunting methods behind using a spotlight, but also physiological and behavioral reactions in animals to artificial lighting.
Most nocturnal animals are considered to be color blind to some extent. Many common hunting targets like coyotes, bobcats, and other nocturnal animals are considered to have good night vision, but to have poor color perception. Most of them perceive colors in the grey, yellow, and blue end of the light spectrum. Scientists have determined that these animals lack the necessary cones within their eyes that normally allow other animals to resolve colors. This means that colors like red are going to appear greatly subdued and most likely grayish to their vision. What this means for hunters is that any lights they use should take advantage of the animals inability to fully resolve the full end of the visible light spectrum.
For instance, hunters have realized that a bright white light tends to produce skittishness and wariness in coyotes and raccoons, whereas red light tends to be less alarming and thus the animals are more inclined to approach at closer ranges. This is most likely because the regular white light produced by spotlights contains the full spectrum of visible light and therefore appears quite brilliant to a nocturnal animal. Red light on the other has much less of an effect on the vision of nocturnal animals and so appears duller, less intense, and likely less threatening. As any hunter can attest, it usually doesn’t take a great deal to produce alarm and wariness in a wild animal. A bright white spotlight appearing suddenly out of the darkness would seem great cause for alarm indeed, which explains why nocturnal animals tend to shy away or even flee when encountering a bright spotlight.
Understanding why red light is preferable is not enough, however, as it is still visible to the nocturnal animal and can still produce wariness if not used properly. As mentioned, it is still an unnatural condition which has been added to their surroundings, only it is less obtrusive than a bright white light. It’s also important to understand how to use the light as well.
Almost as important as the color of the light used is the way it is used. Since humans can perceive the entire visible colors of the visible light spectrum, red light is sufficient for illuminating objects in low light conditions. However, the idea behind hunting with spotlights is not to simply illuminate an animal, but to locate it and track its movement through eye-shine. If you have ever shined a flashlight on a raccoon or cat in the dark, you know just how brilliant the light reflected from their eyes is. This is yet another nuance of hunting with spotlights for hunters to take advantage of that allows them to be as unobtrusive as possible, and thus less alarming to a wary animal.
The usual practice is to take an effective and powerful light and equip it with a red lens to filter out the unwanted light colors and leave only the red. Spotlights like the Larson Electronics 15 Million Candlepower Handheld Spotlight - Red Hunting Lens- Spot/Flood Combo not only provide a powerful light source, but also integrate a red lens into the assembly that acts to filter the white light produced and allow only the red end of the spectrum to be emitted. After locating a desirable hunting area and setting up, the light is switched on by a helper and directed at a point just at the horizon and panned in a circle. This is usually done in conjunction with the use of the appropriate calls and other techniques intended to lure an animal into range.
As the light is panned, the hunter scans the area peripherally illuminated just below the direct light beam and watches for the light to create eye-shine on any approaching animals it may illuminate. This method is preferable because it keeps the light from directly shining into the animals eyes and is then less prone to producing wariness, and yet it still clearly reveals their position and movements. Once an animal is spotted the light is kept just out of the animal’s direct line of sight, but close enough to maintain eye-shine. Once the animal has moved into a desirable position for the shot, the light can then be shifted to fully illuminate it and thus provide a clear profile for aiming and making a clean kill.
As you can see, this is in truth not a very complicated procedure and really only requires some basic hunting skills and a little bit of knowledge of how animals perceive and react to colors and light. By taking advantage of some basic knowledge and the increased opportunities provided by relaxed hunting laws, you can open up a whole new realm of hunting opportunities regardless of whether the sun is shining or not.