Night Vision Scope or Red Hunting Light: Which is Better?

Night Vision Scope or Red Hunting Light: Which is Better?

Night vision scopes and red hunting lights both have their advantages and disadvantages, but we're here to determine which one is best for night hunting. You may wonder why we're not talking about green hunting lights. We've already discussed this topic in the science behind choosing a red or green light for night hunting

This topic is frequently discussed because high quality red hunting lights and low quality night vision scopes and monoculars are relatively similar in price. The discrepancy comes because people can see red lights, but they can't see the IR light that night vision scopes use for illumination. This article was written for night hunters. 

Background on Night Vision in humans and animals

Why is this important? because placental mammals (which includes hogs, dogs, cats, coons, varmints, predators and more) have dichromacy, while humans have trichromacy. Dichromatic vision refers to having two independent channels for conveying color information, while trichromatic vision refers to having three independent channels. The extra channel humans have allows them to see red, while the dichromatic vision animals are not able to see red wavelengths. The wavelength of the IR light used for night vision is beyond the visual spectrum of both humans and animals, so humans have to use a night vision scope or monocular to convert what's ahead to a digital screen.

That being said, both animals and humans can sense the light if a focused IR beam is shining at their eyes. I can only imagine this is due to the high concentration of the long wavelength light. Regardless of the option you choose, we recommend either dimming the beam at short ranges or utilizing the halo around the beam to locate animals while night hunting. 

Facts: Night Vision Scope and Monocular

Night vision scopes and monoculars work by using optoelectronic image enhancement. This basically means the sensors on the scope or monocular detect the infrared (IR) light reflecting off of the target, and then convert the reflection to a digital screen which displays the results in shades of green. Why is night vision green? Well, the makers of night vision experimented with many different colors and determined that green did the best job at presenting a clear image. 

Quick Facts 

  • Night vision scopes and monoculars work best in low light conditions
  • An infrared (IR) emitter is used in conjunction with night vision to increase visibility on dark or cloudy nights.
  • Without an IR emitter, night vision will not work in total darkness
  • Infrared Light ranges in wavelength from 700 nm to 1,000 nm

Facts: Red Hunting Lights

Red hunting lights are commonly used for night hunting because most humans can see the color red, while most animals are not able to see the color. The best red hunting lights do not use filters, they are red from the LED chip source. Humans that are color blind to red may not be able to see the color, similar to how most animals are not able to see the color.

Cheap red lights may be closer to the color orange, which is near 620 nm wavelength, and have lower quality lenses and reflectors which make it difficult to see at long ranges. High quality red hunting lights are a deep red color near 650-660 nm wavelength, and are well-engineered with quality lenses and reflectors for maximizing the shining distance.

Quick Facts

  • Wavelength of red light is 620 nm to 750 nm on the color spectrum
  • Most target animals for night hunting have protanopia dichromacy, which means they are not able to see red light
  • Red hunting lights are known for providing better eye shine for locating animals than any other color.
  • A focused red beam at short distances can still spook animals. Similar to focused IR emitters, it is best to dim the light or use the halo around the center of the beam when preparing for a shot. 

The Best Option for Night Hunting

We've discussed the facts, so now we'll discuss how this applies to night hunting animals. Our comparison between the two is based on similarly priced items. The highest quality red hunting lights and the lower quality night vision we are referring to are in the $400-$600 price range. This level of night vision is referred to as "Gen 1" night vision. 

An Intense Beam Will Spook Animals

Regardless of the option you choose, they both rely on wavelengths of light to illuminate the target. They are also both wavelengths that are not visible to most animals that are being targeted. However, the animals can still sense a high intensity beam aimed for their eyes similarly to how humans can feel an IR beam aimed at their eyes although they can't see the beam otherwise. A red hunting light and the IR light used for night vision are pretty equal here, since they are both wavelengths within the color blind range of most target animals (placental mammals).

Night Vision is Digital

Delayed Feedback in Night Vision Scopes and Monoculars

The general concept of night vision is very similar to aiming with a digital camera. There can be a delayed feedback, especially in the lower quality night vision models. Common feedback we've received from night vision users is the problem with "frozen pixels" which is due to the digital camera not updating the live stream properly. This can pose serious problems for hunters who are scanning the horizon at night, or are preparing their shot on a moving target.

Bright Digital screen can ruin your natural night vision

As ironic as it sounds, night vision can kill your natural night vision. The bright green digital screen causes your pupils to contract, which is your eye's way of reducing the amount of light that is received, and the dark will become much darker. It's best if your pupils are more dilated at night, because your eyes are taking in large amounts of low light. In simple terms, your eye works very similar to the way the sensors work on night vision scopes and monoculars. 

Red hunting lights perform very well in this area, because red happens to be one of the best colors for locating animals while maintaining your natural night vision.

Long Range Spotting

Most lower end night vision scopes and monoculars are capable of providing accurate video footage for identifying and locating animals out to about 50 yards. They are commonly rated for up to 100 yards, but we've found it to be very difficult to actually identify something at 100 yards, although you might see enough to tell you an animal may be in the area. It is unlikely you will be able to distinguish the source of the movement or what the animal actually is at 100 yards.

After interviewing a night vision user who spent $600 on his monocular, he told us he was frustrated by the lack of clarity his monocular provides. He said he watched two squirrels run up a tree in his backyard and in the monocular they looked like two dots chasing each other up the tree. He said once his battery started going low, the monocular completely shut down. His recommendation was to spend more money on a higher quality night vision and invest in extra batteries but he said he was going to just switch to a quality red hunting light. 

A similarly priced red hunting light is capable of illuminating animals for identification out to 500+ yards. A prime example is the Predator Cannon Hunting Light, which is capable of providing full body identification beyond 500 yards and eye shine out to 1,000 yards. In addition to long range spotting, it provides a wide red flood for seeing everything infront of you. 

If you're planning to hunt tournaments, night vision is very difficult to scan an entire field with. Red hunting lights do a great job at locating animals due to its ability to reflect off their eyes. Night vision does not have this ability, which can cause animals to be lost in the grass.

One of the winners of the nation's largest predator hunting tournament, the West Texas Big Bobcat Tournament, told us that he will put $10,000 on the line for anyone who thinks they can find more animals with night vision or even thermal compared to him scanning with his red light. "There is no comparison to a red lights ability to pick up eyes in the pasture" he continued on saying "the biggest problem with any type of night vision no matter how expensive it is is it can't penetrate through grass or bushes, red hunting lights can penetrate through and you'll get eye shine if an animal is in the grass or bush. At least you know something is there"

Battery Life

Handheld red hunting lights typically rely on lithium-ion batteries and red hunting light bars typically rely on 12 volt batteries. The higher end red hunting lights typically fair very well in terms of the amount of time they can run on a full charge.  You can expect to get 4-6 hours at maximum intensity on most quality handheld red hunting lights, and 10 hours or more of run time with the light bars hooked up to a car battery. 

Gen 1 night vision is notorious for having poor battery life. One of the most common feedback we received from night vision users was the scope / monocular shutting down after 1-2 hours of use. We found that if the IR light attached to the camera is used, the run time diminishes much faster than if a separate IR light is used. This is because the separate IR light would run on a separate power source. If you do this, you may be able to get 1.5-2 hours of run time. Otherwise, the run time will likely diminish very quickly.  

Number of Active Hunters

One of the biggest downfalls to a night vision scope is that only one person can shoot with it. A red hunting light is going to light up the area ahead, and if there are varmints, predators, hogs, etc. out there, any number of hunters can actively shoot them. If you are a lone hunter, this may not be a problem for you. If you plan to do group hunts, then this can be an important deciding factor. If you plan to hunt tournaments, this can cause problems if all team members do not have night vision. Many night hunting tournaments are adding restrictions to be hunt by light only. 

Is a Night Vision Scope or Red Hunting Light Better?

We've spoken to users who have used both, and the general consensus was that a red hunting light provides more bang for your buck in comparison to a Gen 1 night vision scope or monocular. The animals will not be spooked by a red hunting light that has adjustable intensity and it is best to locate animals by using the halo around the beam rather than center the beam on them. The same goes for the IR light on night vision, it is best to not put the beam directly into the animals eyes. 

If you are set on night vision, the general consensus we learned was to just spend the money on higher end night vision. Otherwise, a red hunting light will outperform Gen 1 night vision by a long shot. Gen 1 night vision is typically under $1,000, while Gen 2 or better is going to be $1,500 or more. The best quality red hunting lights can cost up to $600 or more.  


Thanks for reading along! We wrote this article to address one of the most common concerns related to night hunting. Sign up to learn more about night hunting and become the ultimate outdoorsman in the bottom right corner of this web page.

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