it’s one thing to see a coyote during the daytime. But to identify them during nighttime predator hunting? That’s a challenge.
Night vision and thermal imaging scopes and lights for nighttime predator hunting?
That’s apparently too much.
Pennsylvania Game Commissioners are expected to legalize the use of several electronic devices for hunting when they meet on Sept. 25-26 in Lebanon County. They are electronic spinning wing decoys for waterfowl and doves, heated scent dispensers for deer hunting and ozone devices for removing scent from clothes.
But night vision and thermal imaging?
Both kinds of devices are illegal in Pennsylvania currently. Changing that might require legislative action.
Randy Shoup, director of the commission’s bureau of wildlife protection, said he and his don’t want to pursue that, for a variety of reasons.
One, he said, is officer safety. He noted that a U.S. Forest Service officer was killed in Georgia in 2010 by a hunter using night vision. That hunter “saw eyes” and fired, killing the man.
Another issue, Shoup said, is that night vision and thermal devices don’t allow hunters to see what’s beyond their target.
Commissioner Jim Daley of Butler County, a long-time hunter education instructor, said that worries him, too.
“I think that second issue is maybe the more important one in a way. Because who knows what you’re shooting at?” Daley said.
There’s also the question of poaching.
Shoup said 34 states allow the use of night vision and/or thermal imaging to take predators at night.
He asked counterparts there whether the equipment accounts for problems with illegal activity. Nineteen responded. None of them believe the tools are responsible for poaching on a level that’s threatening wildlife populations, Shoup reported.
All, though, admitted such poaching does occur.
That left Shoup wondering if they really know how common it is. A night vision or thermal imaging scope attached to a rimfire rifle or crossbow would be effective without being loud, he suggested.
“In my mind, it begged the question, has it not been an issue because it’s undetectable? Because of the way it’s conducted?” he asked.
“I don’t know the answer to that.”
Commission president Brian Hoover of Chester County said it’s important to separate poaching from the issue of whether a certain device is legal or not, though.
“Legalization of this product has nothing to do with whether it’s going to be utilized for poaching,” he said.
“The guy who’s going to go out and poach with this, he’s not going to be effected by that. He’s going to poach on his own whether you give him permission to utilize this or not.”
That’s true, Shoup conceded. But he worries that legalizing the products will lead to a “proliferation of these devices across the landscape.”
“And their availability then, because there is a legitimate use for them for hunting purposes, is going to potentially increase their other uses,” Shoup said.
Pros and cons
Whether night vision and thermal imaging are even worth the expense for nighttime predator hunting – they’re often much more expensive that regular lights – is something debated among hunters.
Abner Druckenmiller of Mifflin County, a pro staffer with FoxPro and host of the television show Furtakers, is a fan.
“Simply put it’s a game changer. It’s a game changer for coyotes,” he said. “If you can use thermal and night vision for coyotes, you’ll take 65 to 70 percent more hunting at night.”
Mike Huff of Lehigh County, a predator guide and pro staffer at CoyoteLight, is not.
Thermal lights work by picking up body heat. It doesn’t work terribly well looking through trees, he said.
“The trouble with that is, you don’t see that coyote right away. It’s going to get a lot closer to you, on average, than if you’re scanning with a light,” Huff said.
Too often, he added, that leads to them spotting the hunter first and getting away.
Commissioners left unsaid whether they will pursue a change in the law.