I’ve received numerous requests for guidance in the past few days from people wanting to beef up their nighttime defensive capabilities. I’ve spent years using various night vision, thermal, and IR designation systems (NODs) in crummy locations. This article is for people just getting started, or without a lot of money to spend on this stuff. I’ll try to be concise. Here goes:
Seeing Versus Engaging
You need to consider the difference between seeing things with night vision, versus successfully engaging them. A simple hand-held or helmet-mounted device is beneficial for situational awareness, but a “stock” daytime firearm just isn’t really compatible with such a device. You have three options to get your gun in the night fight:
- A weapons mounted night vision device (behind or in front of the daytime optic), known as a “clip-on”
- A dedicated weapons-mounted, zero-able night vision optic
- A weapons mounted laser combined with a helmet-mounted NODs
Number 1 “clip on sight” is typically expensive and used for precision rifles. That way, the zero’d sniper scope remains mounted to the rifle both day and night. These are great. They can extend the range of your daytime long gun out to 500+ meters on a nice night. The bad news is that they are expensive, and you either need a helmet mounted NOD or a friend to cover the short range problem.
Number 2 dedicated optics are somewhat immature technology. Some of the best examples of this are the scope series by ATN. The bad thing about them is that they are software reliant, so if the electronics shit the bed you are in trouble. There are non-software options, but they are either very old or very expensive. If you are comfortable with technology, the ATN isn’t too bad for day/night use in the $700 range.
For the new night vision user, I recommend option 3. It’s fairly inexpensive to get a helmet mounted NOD setup and a weapon mounted laser. Your situational awareness is good with this setup. While the range of the laser isn’t great (figure 30m for pistol and 200m for carbine), it’s a lot better than the range of a non-NOD equipped adversary. This setup is a game changer. I’ll give you a few basic rules for what to buy, and then a basic first setup:
- Do not buy any NOD less than Gen 2+. They just aren’t good enough. Gen 3 or 4 tubes are quite good. Gen 2+ tubes will work well with good illumination from the moon or ambient light.
- Make sure you buy the correct mounting parts to get the tube on your helmet, or other “hat.”
- Make sure the weapon laser you buy is IR. Not red, green, or whatever else. Color is IR.
Starter Night Vision Setup
The Night Optical Device
- A single PVS-14 is a good bet. Go to Optics Planet, or Amazon, and search “PVS14”. AGB Global sells a Gen 2+ tube for $1,929.00. Buy the best you can afford.
- To mount it, you need a J-arm and a skullcrusher at a minimum. These two items, at time of writing, are $88.99 and $119.99 respectively.
- Total cost to see at night is $2,137.98.
The mounting scheme here is Head–>Skullcrusher–>J-Arm–>PVS-14. See Below:
If you are using a helmet, or a Crye Nightcap, you will also need a swing-arm and adapter plate or shroud. The benefit to this is that you can easily swing the NOD up and out of your line of sight. Also, the Nightcap and similar products are more comfortable. Search these items on Amazon and OpticsPlanet. There are many options. Make sure that the helmet or Nightcap is compatible with what you select. The mounting scheme is:
Head–>Helmet/Nightcap–>Adapter Shroud–>Swing Arm–>J-Arm–>PVS-14. See Below:
- For pistols, I really like the TLR-2 IR version. It’s $309.49 today. You’ll also need to get a custom holster made to hold the pistol and light. The light is white light, unfortunately. The laser is clearly visible to 50 meters.
- For carbines, I use the Steiner OTAL-C. It’s $498.99. The effective range of this laser is at least 200 meters. I haven’t gotten much time on it, but from what I see so far it’s a good purchase.
You need to zero the laser after mounting it. One way to do it is the old fashioned way: shoot at a zero target, and make corrections. I don’t like this method. The laser is off-center with the weapon, unlike an optic, so you get a crossing of the optic line of sight, laser line of sight, and bore line. This leads to unpredictable zero at greater ranges. This method is painful at night. It’s hard to see the zero target.
The better method is called a “co-witness” zero. Co-witnessing means that you look through your zero’d and confirmed daytime sights with your night vision device. Use the broad side of a building for this exercise, after clearing the weapon. Turn the laser on. Now, adjust the laser over to where you want it in relation to the daytime sight. Think about where the laser is in relation to the bore, and offset it appropriately. For example, my Steiner laser is just to the right of the bore. So, I put the laser dot slightly to the right of my daytime zero point on a 100 meter target. That way, I won’t get the laser crossing to the left at longer ranges. This doesn’t matter as much if you co-witness at 100 or 200 meters, but co-witnessing at 25 meters will require that slight offset to avoid a cross.
A Very Inexpensive NOD Option
For those who really need to pinch pennies, there is another NOD option. It’s the SiOnyx Aurora, for $399.00. This is actually a handheld IR camera, that is about the size of a PVS-14 tube. I have looked through the camera, and used it with my weapons mounted laser. I found it to be nearly as good as the Gen 2+ units, at a much lower price. To make this hands-free, you need several custom adapters.
The mounting scheme is as follows:
All of that stuff totaled up is roughly $1000.