It is no secret that it is a lot easier to be an excellent marksman or markswoman when the shooting conditions are right. When you are bowhunting, however, those perfect moments are hard to come by. Being prepared for the hunt does not just mean being ready to shoot when the time is right. Being prepared means being ready for things to go wrong. One of the most common and frustrating hurdles to overcome is adverse light conditions.
As you probably know, the times of day during which deer and other big game are most active are at dawn or dusk. These are some of the most challenging times to see. Unfortunately, this means that poor light conditions are inherent to hunting and that bowhunting in low light is just something that must be learned and overcome.
Here we will be taking a look at what it means to shoot in low light, some bowhunting tips for shooting in low light, and some tools that can make it all a little bit easier.
What is Considered to be Low Light and Why Is It so Hard to Deal With?
Although it seems pretty straight-forward, combating low light scenarios at twilight, or even last light is more involved than taking a flashlight with you when it is dark. Total darkness at night is not the most demanding low light scenario. When the sun blasts the world around us with UV light, we are not just looking at different colors. Our minds like to complicate things. We download and uniquely process information. Our brains would be overloaded with useless information if they remembered (‘downloaded’) every single detail that our eyes can see. Instead, we notice or remember things that our brains deem important. We don’t notice grass because it is green, we notice it because it is different from the brown soil, the blue sky, etc.
The important thing here is that humans are trained to notice and retain differences. Imagine a blue sky with blue clouds. We are so accustomed to seeing differences that we might not even notice the clouds, even though they might have shadows and texture, making them visible. They would not be significant enough to be seen or retained.
Well, what is the enemy then?
The real enemy is low contrast. Think about it. When you shine a light at night, the illuminated object is easy to see because it is so different from the darkness around it. Now think about dawn and dusk. It is too dark to see small differences but too bright for a flashlight to make a difference.
All of this is not to say that we only need contrast to see, but that bright light increases contrast, and more contrast means that our brains can process it better. Low light doesn’t just mean darkness; it also means low contrast. That is why it is so hard to see at dawn and dusk, and why shooting in low light is so hard.
How Can I Beat Low Light and Find Contrast While Bowhunting?
Mind and Body
The first order of business in preparing for hunting in low light is to make sure that your mind and body are up to the task. Sleep is essential. Nothing in your body will operate at its full potential if you haven’t gotten enough rest. This includes your eyes. A full night’s sleep will ensure that your eyes are ready to interpret the information that you need to make your hunt successful.
Water lubricates everything. If you are thirsty, your eyes are too. Be sure to drink plenty of water and, yes, go to the bathroom when you need to. It might be inconvenient to take a drink every time you think of it or to take ‘pit stops’ along the way, but water is vital to life… and to seeing correctly. Food also plays a big part. Take care to nourish your body with the vitamins and sustenance that it needs to stay in tip-top shape before and during the hunt.
Certain foods will help you to keep your eyes and mind sharp. B12 vitamins can help fight fatigue and stave off macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in individuals over the age of 60. Carrots are also known to improve eye health. They also have plenty of healthful antioxidants and other vitamins. Lastly, blueberries can be a good idea too. They can lower blood pressure and help improve mental functions like memory. Memory plays a part in the processing and retention of information and reaction time. These foods are not an immediate fix but will help improve your hunting skills over the years.
Just as your eyes are accustomed to high contrast and bright light, with some practice, you can get used to seeing in low contrast and low light situations as well. One of the best ways to practice is to try looking around in low light often. A lot of hunters practice spotting things while riding in the car. Looking out the window is a great way to practice spotting plants, animals, and other things quickly. To practice doing this in low light, try taking rides at dawn or dusk. Practice safety first and always have someone drive for you on these practice runs. If you have a place for target practice at home, you can also practice shooting at home. Just make sure to have things ready to start before daylight or at dusk so that you can get used to shooting in low light. Practice can’t make perfect conditions, but it can make nearly ideal shooting, even in poor visibility.
Tools of the Trade
After you have done everything that you can do to get your brain and body ready to perform at its best, shooting at dusk or dawn might be a little easier. Let’s admit it, though; shooting in low light is still hard to do. Luckily, every hunter feels this way. That is why there are so many tools and gadgets out there to help us with the hard stuff. Here is a look at some of the best devices that can help you on your low light hunting trip:
The first on the list is the Bushnell Night Vision_Equinox Z Monocular.
This monocular can help you to spot and watch your trophy comfortably before you set up your shot. The Bushnell Night Vision_Equinox Z Monocular is a digital monocular that has a 40mm objective lens that has a magnification of 4.5x and a digital zoom that reaches up to 3x. Not only does it have an Infrared Illuminator that can provide night vision at a distance of up to 750ft, but the IR can also be switched off for full-color daytime use. The lenses are also multi-coated for clarity and durability.
This monocular can also capture still images and video so that you can obtain the important sightings on the hunt. It can use a Micro SD card with a capacity of up to 32GB. The optimum viewing range of the Bushnell Equinox Z has a maximum of about 656ft.
This monocular has a water-resistant housing and is made with a built-in tripod mount. It runs on four AA batteries (not included).
An advantage that the monocular has over the binocular is that it is more compact and easier to carry.
Another similar option is a pair of JStoon Night Vision Goggles.
These goggles are great because they have a digital, HD, widescreen for viewing. The screen produces a crystal-clear image that is three inches wide. The lenses used are fully multi-coated for high resolution, contrast, brightness, and durability. The objective lens is 25mm in diameter.
The JStoon Night Vision Goggles have a magnification power of 3x and a 4x digital zoom. Another cool feature of the product is that it, too, can take HD video in the dark. The goggles are compatible with a 32GB Micro SD card as well. Using an 850NM Infrared Illuminator, the goggles can take a video at 1280×960 pixels. There is also an option to record video at that resolution at 30FPS. This means that clarity is optimum without any lag or choppiness. The videos can be uploaded to your computer via USB cable.
The viewing range of the JStoon Goggles is 984ft in complete darkness. They can also be adjusted to accommodate different low light scenarios with a seven-gear infrared adjustment function. The runtime for the JStoon Goggles is six hours with the IR on and 17 hours if it is turned off. The JStoon Goggles use six AA batteries (not included). The goggles are durable and water-resistant, easily mounted to a tripod, and come with a neckstrap.
Don’t forget you will need a good sight for your bow.
Okay, so you are doing your best to see in the dark, you have your monocular or goggles, and you have spotted your target. You are down to the critical moment, but can you see your scope? Having an unobtrusive scope making it easy to see, can mean the difference between a missed shot and a successful hunt.
The HHA Optimizer Lite King XL 5519 Sight is an excellent option.
In this particular application, the essential features of this sight are those that improve the ease of use in low light situations. The HHA Optimizer has an excellent sight ring that is easy to see and maintain a visual upon so that you are not continually trying to locate ‘what is what’ while sighting-in your target. The bubble level is also very easy to see in low light.
This is a single pin sight. This means that there is next to nothing that could obstruct or confuse your view. The easy to read sight tape and sight tape magnifier allow you to make adjustments to the ¼ yard.
The rack and pinion of the HHA Optimizer are made of Precision Machined brass and are made in such a way as to provide seamless operation and smooth adjustments. The interchangeable wheels are also a useful function. Fast changes can be made between draw weight combinations or multiple arrows.
What makes the HHA Optimizer an excellent choice for low light scenarios is the fact that it is simple, clean, and not overloaded with functions and accessories that can confuse or impede your vision and reaction time. There is nothing worse than when gear that is supposed to make your life easier, actually gets in the way of a successful shot.
Twilight and last light are hard to deal with, but with preparation and practice, you can become proficient at bowhunting despite any shooting conditions. Staying healthy and caught up on sleep can make a substantial difference. Think of hinting like a test at school. You have got to be well fed and rested to perform at your best. Don’t forget your vitamins. There are plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables that can, over time, improve your performance on the hunt.
There is no point at which practice is unnecessary. That holds for more than just bowhunting or shooting. Muscle memory must be maintained, but precise muscle memory especially must be maintained. The human mind and body are amazing things. It is incredible to think that we can retrain ourselves to walk, move, shoot, and even see in different ways. The important thing to remember is that those things take time and repetition.
When it comes time to put your boots on and hit the woods, don’t forget to bring the equipment that can help you to level your odds for success. Even at our peak performance, there are situations over which we have no control. There are always limitations, and there will always be big game just beyond those limitations. With the right gear, you can buttress yourself against the unforgiving darkness that stands between you and your next kill.