Night Stalkers

Texans enjoy almost no restrictions on night-time varmint hunting using artificial light and even firearm silencers, as long as you hunt on private property that you own—or, of course, with permission.

Hunting varmints with predator calls and artificial light has a long tradition in Texas. In the 1950s, Winston and Murry Burnham popularized night-time varmint calling in the Hill Country around their hometown, Marble Falls.

In those days, artificial light usually meant a battery-powered headlamp or a carbide lamp mounted on a miner’s helmet. Since that time, seductive whimpers and screeches from a Burnham Brothers varmint call in the hands of a Texas hunter have enticed countless coyotes, bobcats and other varmints to their doom.

In the last decade or two, Texas hunters have added feral hogs to the list of varmints hunted at night. It’s interesting to note that according to Texas law, feral hogs are not “non-game animals” like coyotes, bobcats, etc. Instead they are considered “exotic livestock,” along with blackbucks, axis deer and the like.

The author’s modified Ruger Scout Rifle uses a WOLF model active infrared NiteSite attached to a Leupold VX-III 1.5-5X riflescope.

However, unlike blackbucks and axis deer, feral hogs do an estimated $52 million in damage annually to the Texas  agriculture industry. As exotic livestock, feral hogs are the property of the landowner, not the citizens of the state (Texas Agricultural Code Section 161.002).

This means landowners and their agents (you) can legally kill feral hogs on the landowners property without a hunting license if the hogs are causing damage. Having said that, you should have a valid Texas hunting license anyway, to alleviate any concern by a game warden that you might be hunting something other than hogs. In fact, TPWD politely asks you to make a courtesy call to your local game warden about your plans before a night hunt.

Today’s feral hog hunters have several high-tech options for night vision including night vision goggles and gun sights using light amplifiers (starlight scopes) or thermal sighting equipment.

Light amplification and thermal night vision are passive devices, meaning they do not emit illumination of any kind. A light amplification device takes in faint ambient light such as moonlight, then processes it through an image intensifier resulting in a visible image viewable through the eyepiece lens.

Thermal night vision detects the differences in the infrared radiation (heat) emitted by all objects, including animals. Warm-blooded animals such as hogs are quite easy to distinguish against the generally cooler background.

Both types of night vision rifle sights are effective for night hunting, but both have certain drawbacks. Light amplification devices must have a certain amount of ambient light. They do not work in total or near-total darkness. Thermal sights are difficult to sight-in properly because they do not use visible light at all. Printed paper targets don’t show contrasting temperatures and appear blank to a thermal sight.

In addition, both types are fairly expensive. A good quality light amplification sight can cost from $1,500 to $3,000 or more for the more sophisticated versions. Thermal sights are even more expensive, ranging from $3,000 to more than $5,000 and up. On top of that, both types are easily damaged beyond repair if the unprotected objective lens is exposed to direct sunlight.

Fortunately Texas hunters have a much less expensive and highly effective way to put feral hogs in their crosshairs at night—Active infrared night vision.

NiteSite, LLC, located in Fort Worth Texas offers three affordable active infrared night vision models to provide crisp and clear images through your existing riflescope. This includes the short-range VIPER, which illuminates targets out to 110 yards, the medium-range WOLF, good to about 330 yards and the long-range EAGLE, which extends illumination to 550 yards or more.

The NiteSite places an infrared camera on the eyepiece lens of your riflescope to look through the scope’s optics. The device uses the existing riflescope reticle to target your quarry. A powerful infrared LED illuminator mounts atop your scope tube. A 3 ½-inch viewing screen on the back of the illuminator module provides your target image.

Depending on the model a NiteSite will cost you about the same as a good quality (but not top-end) riflescope. Unlike other night vision devices, however, the NiteSite converts your existing riflescope to night vision, so there is no need to re-zero. As a bonus, the NiteSite works in daylight, too—even with the infrared emitter turned off.

My NiteSite is the WOLF model, which I have mounted on my slightly modified, left-hand Ruger Scout Rifle in .308 Winchester. I replaced its forward-mounted picatinny rail with an extended rail from XS® Sight Systems (also of Fort Worth, Texas). This rail extends back to the rear receiver ring, replacing the existing rear sight with a rail-mounted aperture sight.

This allows me to use a conventional mounting position for my riflescope, but it still allows a forward-mounted long eye-relief scope as the original scout rifle concept specifies. I also replaced the factory standard flash hider with a silencer adapter/flash hider to attach my SureFire silencer—but that’s a subject for another time.

It took me a bit longer than the advertised 60 seconds to attach the NiteSite to my Leupold VX-III 1.5-5X riflescope, but hey—it was my first time, and I had to do some head-scratching here and there. If I need to do it again, I could probably come close to the 60 second mark.

Fully set up with its stock-mounted lithium ion battery pack, the NiteSite adds a pound and a couple of ounces to the Scout Rifle. It is fairly bulky, but that is an acceptable trade-off for the night vision capability.

I haven’t had the opportunity to test the illuminator out to 330 yards, but everything seems to work as advertised. A small quirk I’ll have to get accustomed to, is shooting without my normal cheek weld. Instead, I must position my head upright to see the forward-mounted view screen.

From a shooting bench or through the window of a hunting blind, it’s not too difficult, but I need some practice time with various field positions. By the way, it does work well in full daylight.

I can hardly wait for the opportunity to try out my new rig on a night ambush for feral hogs. I have no doubt it will contribute to a significant reduction in the local hog population—and a significant up-tick in my freezer’s inventory.





Make mine a Nine

The ideal self-defense caliber debate will likely never end, and this editorial is not to attempt such. However my purpose is to explain why the 9mm is my cartridge of choice. 

The Black Hills .45ACP, .40S&W and 9mm hollowpoints were within hundredths of an inch of expansion

Ballistics has many variables, but many gun owners simply look at size. Like the age old saying goes: “Why do you carry a .45?”

“Because they don’t make a .46.”

Before the era of dependable expanding hollow point bullets this argument had its place. Even the U.S. military which usually observes the 1899 Hague Convention by utilizing non-expanding rounds, finds itself lacking power when using pistol cartridges loaded with full metal jacket bullets.

But we aren’t limited to non-expanding rounds, so we don’t have to just rely on raw size of the projectile. We can look at muzzle velocity, bullet weight, and transferred energy in an effort to calculate a perfect defense round that will stop threats in the least amount of time.

The problem is that stopping a threat isn’t that specific. You can have a round that transfers 100 percent of its energy and expands 100 percent to tear the most tissue and create shock in a threat, but if the bullet isn’t placed where it needs to be it won’t be effective.

And that’s how I made my choice for 9mm. I used to carry a .40 S&W for defense mimicking the leading law enforcement choice. But once I started shooting more competition, I wanted to shoot the most affordable caliber in an effort to be able to train with more rounds per my budget.

But I also recommend 9mm to new shooters as well. One reason is the softer recoil of a quality pistol that fits your hand well (not tiny guns!). But the other reason is you can purchase twice the ammunition because of 9mm’s more effective economies of scale. So, you can practice shooting twice as much. If you can become twice as proficient with your handgun, then you will be more likely to place your rounds where they are needed in a defensive situation.

Also, the industry as a whole seems to be cutting ties with the .40 S&W. The .40 is a higher-pressure cartridge, with a little more recoil and snap than a 9mm and even the softer shooting .45 ACP.

High round count training facilities have reported more pistols breaking with the .40 S&W. And even now, the FBI, which was instrumental in creating the .40 S&W from the powerful 10mm is converting back to the 9mm—and we can’t overlook the higher magazine capacity of a 9mm as well.

But size still means something, right? Sure it does. Larger holes leave more damage. But when you look at the hard numbers, there is hardly a difference in just hole size.

I recently shot six of Black Hills Ammunition most popular defense rounds into ballistic gel to compare results. Although the .380 lacked much penetration with only 9 inches depth and 0.48 inches expansion, the 9mm, .45, .38 special all penetrated within two inches of each other in depths of 14.75 to 16 inches with expansions of 0.63 to 0.69 inches.

The .40 S&W with Barnes Tac-XP bullets expanded the most at 0.7 inches but also lacked depth with 11.25 inches. The .357 Magnum fired into the second block of gel expanded to .53 inches with 18 inches depth.

But even then the expansion difference of the .40 S&W’s impressive 0.7 inches compared to the tiny .380’s 0.48 inches only leaves a difference of 0.22 inches. Think about how tiny of a difference less than a quarter of an inch makes. And we argue over calibers because of 0.22 inches? 

Instead of arguing over the size of the hole, why not train more to put the hole closer to the bulls eye? And that’s my entire position. Train with the most affordable caliber, and develop your skills to put that hole where you need it regardless of size.

—by Dustin Ellermann



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