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I See You, Two: More About Night Vision

If you haven’t read Part One yet, I suggest you start there. If you have read the first entry, then I’m guessing you see some merit to night vision and perhaps my suggestion that digital NV is a cost-effective option that just might get you into seeing in the dark. Now let’s talk about how to best use your new gear.

You begin by simply holding a NV device to your eye, like a monocular. That option works for short scans.  It’s not a bad option; but it’s far from the best way to employ night vision. However you use your NV, remember that you are looking at a light in an otherwise dark night. Using electronic NV causes your pupils to constrict and disrupts your natural night vision. When you remove the NV, you have to wait for your eye to become dark adapted again. Think of the process like having a camera flash in your face. Your other eye is less affected by the process as long as it wasn’t also exposed to bright light. When you’re done looking through NV, close the viewing eye for a few seconds to let it start readjusting and then move on.

Mounting Options

A much better option is wearing the NV on a helmet or headset/skull cap. If you opt for the helmet, which is probably the best way to use NV, then you can use a full ballistic grade helmet or a lighter “BUMP” helmet

Bump helmets got their start in the Special Ops community with early “skateboard” helmets. Now they are pretty common and can be found for under $100, although the best are more costly. 

The “skull cap” is a soft headband with mounts for the NV gear. There are places for all three (Ballistic helmet, Bump helmet, and Skull cap) designs, and if you’re like me, you’ll probably find you “need” them all.

Now you need to make some decisions. Most professionals suggest using the NV on your NON shooting eye. That leaves your dominant eye unaffected by the light coming from the NV.  It means you can continue the look and shoot as normal in dark environments.

Holding the NV is old school. It can be done; but a head mount of some sort is better. I remember training while holding the NV with my left hand and shooting a pistol with my right.  It’s “do-able,” but a head mount is so much better. It means you can use two hands to shoot, it also means you can shoot a rifle instead of just a pistol.

Night Vision and Optics

So let’s say you’ve opted for the cheap helmet on ebay.  Fear not, you are getting started and cost does matter at this point; that’s why you began with digital NV. The next question is are you using an optic on your weapon that can have its illumination set dim enough for NV use. A typical Red Dot is usually too bright for NV use. So if your optic is NV capable, you can try what is known as “passive” aiming. Passive aiming means using your NV to look through the weapon sight.

This type of aiming “works” but it takes some practice (another reason to use digital devices because they can be used in daylight for practice). Passive aiming also usually means you will a higher mounted optic on your weapon. You may be able to “scrunch down” behind your optic if you practice; but you’ll appreciate a higher mount [Addition from Matt: This is also an argument for piggybacked mini red dots on top of magnified optics]. Passive aiming does not work well with a magnified optic.

A much better option than Passive aiming is to use a laser. A infrared (IR) laser is the best; but a red, green, or blue laser will work fine. The benefit of an IR laser is that it will not be seen by anyone without their own NV device. If they do, however, the laser also leads them directly back to you.

If you opt for the laser (visible or IR), then you can use your NV on your non dominant eye, since you don’t need to look through the weapon scope.  That means your dominant eye has full natural vision.  It also allows your dominant eye to naturally adjust to changing lighting conditions, (streetlight, clouds etc).  

Once you opt for a laser, remember to be sure it is zeroed with your weapon.  You may want to zero your IR laser for a shorter range, since it will be used only at night.  Many lasers offer dual IR and visible lasers.  The visible laser can be zeroed for use at longer ranges.

Range Considerations

Night Vision is a short range tool- typically it’s limited to 100 yards. YES, you can see past 100 yards; but even with the best gear, image quality will not be clear. You can still see movement and that should be a potential target indicator.  Mounting the laser on top of your weapon is preferred for better alignment with your sights.  Also don’t forget a white light is still a valuable tool. Use the white light when you are close to a threat.  The bright light will distract/blind anyone having it flashed in their eyes.

Remember in Part one we discussed digital NV requires a IR light source, much like a flashlight works without NV devices. You can/should occasionally use your NV without your IR light.  This will allow you to search for other NV and IR sources which may be threats.

What About Your Gear?

Check your gear with your NV.  The camo that looks great in daylight may shine under IR. Also get used to adjusting your NV gear, both how to focus it and the mechanics of moving it on your headset. Know how to turn your IR light on and off AND practice so you do not have a white light flash, unless you want it.

If you’ve gotten this far, remember when you fire your weapon will have a bright flash.  Shorter barrels will mean a brighter flash. A good flash hider is necessary, a suppressor is even better.

Once you’ve committed to a NV device, you’ll find you want a set of dual devices (binoculars). Duals are great; but they are not necessary for you to benefit from NV. Be careful, once you get duals you’ll want QUADS….and if you’re even thinking about duals; you’ve probably thought about thermal. Thermal is the future; but it’s not here yet at least not in the affordable realm.  If you really want thermal, then I’d suggest you pair it with a conventional NV device.

Just a reminder, military grade NV is the best if you can afford it. Digital NV is certainly adequate for civilian Scenario X use.  A digital set up with a bump helmet can be had for well under $500 if you shop around.  So consider your options, trusting your issued eyeballs to see in the dark or skipping a couple of lunches to really see and see who’s seeing you.

One More Thing…

Someone is saying, “But what about a NV scope?”  OK NV scopes are options; but they have limited use in a tactical role.  A NV rifle scope means you can only see in the dark when you hold the rifle to your face.  That’s fine; but remember once you take it down, your shooting eye is night blind and you go back to darkness.  NV scopes are great if you are hunting; but not so much for a tactical role.  If you insist that you have NV mounted on your rifle, then consider a NV device that mounts in front of your day scope, so you can use your rifle with and without NV.  Many of the digital NV devices can be set up that way; but be sure they can handle the recoil.  A head mount still seems the better option.

As always your mileage may vary


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I've been in one uniform or another for most of my adult life. I started in the Army as a MP. I was an instructor at the MP School for a while, then worked a Protective Assignment (Bodyguard) for the Commanding General in the Middle East. My war footing started in the 80s, waiting for the Soviets to come crashing through the Fulda Gap. After the Army I worked as a Bodyguard for business executives before becoming a Police Officer for another 20 years. During that time I became a paramedic and studied for the Bar Exam, because I got bored on the midnight shift. My family dates back to the earliest settlers in South Africa. I've lived and worked in the US, Europe, and Africa.

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