The slim white shard slipped behind a cloud. The night got truly black. But a soft luminescence behind the ceiling proved enough for the ATN PS-22 sight. Actually, the PS-22 is not a sight but a light collector.
A catadioptric lens sucks ambient light from near darkness and funnels it to an image-intensifier-tube photocathode. The tube amplifies brightness and delivers a viewable image to the primary optical sight (your scope) behind it. You can aim effectively at night. The ATN PS-22 helps you see in bright, sharp detail the targets you couldn’t see at all without it. Last night, with the moon covered, I pointed my Rock River .308 at a tool shed 150 yards away. I saw not only the shed but inside the open bay, which is so dark that even in daylight the tractor inside isn’t easily visible with the naked eye. The PS-22, paired with a Trijicon ACOG sight, made aiming easy.
Like other night-vision optics, ATN’s depend on battery power. A CR 123 lithium drives the PS-22 and the PS-40, a similar device engineered for bigger scopes. I like the compact model with the ACOG because both can share the receiver rail of an AR. A full-size scope makes the combination so long that you need a rail extension (you can also mount the PS-series optics on the front-end rail of a carbine). Distance between scope and night-vision lens is not critical, and ATN provides bellows-type connectors that block stray light that can impair the image. It is important that you mount both optics on the same axis –at least, within 3mm. The PS-22 comes with a remote switch for easy operation. Like the ACOG and other high-quality optics, it is nitrogen-filled and sealed to prevent fogging. It’s submersible (to 10 meters for as long as 30 minutes) and works in temperatures from -20 to +50 C.
Earlier night-vision glass I’ve used has delivered grainy images. I’m impressed by the crisp, sharp image edges in the PS-22 and PS-40. ATN points out that image quality deteriorates as light diminishes. Indeed, graininess did increase as last night the sky became very black. Optional equipment includes a platform ring with short top rail that accommodates the company’s IR auxiliary light, the IR450.
You might ask what business this pound-and-a-half contraption has on a modern sporting rifle. I did. Unlike some in the industry, I can’t warm to the notion that AR-style rifles define the modern sporter. And I don’t hunt deer at night. “But hog hunting at night is really a hit in some southern states,” insists a colleague. “And raccoon hunting and some varmint hunting are at their best after dark.” “Besides,” another pal reminds me, “night vision is cool.”
They have a point. Further, the optical technology that yields bright images in dim light can benefit traditionalists, too. We all want to see clearly and aim accurately at dawn and dusk, when daylight fades. In the old days the solution was bigger glass. Boost the size of a scope’s objective lens and you enlarge the exit pupil, the diameter of that bundle of light transmitted through the sight to your eye. But big scopes add weight and bulk to rifles we might carry many hours in tough country.
The discovery more than 70 years ago of magnesium-fluoride lens coatings gave glass of any size the ability to transmit more light. It reduced reflection and refraction on the lens, losses that could account for up to 4 percent of incident light at each surface. As scopes incorporate several lenses, each with two air-to-glass surfaces, total light loss with uncoated lenses could be huge. Look into dense shadow through a prewar scope and you’ll wonder how deer hunters found their targets on dark days in thickets.
In the ensuing decades, magnesium fluoride has been joined by many other “rare earths” in very thin layers. They’re on all lens surfaces, internal and external, in fully multicoated scopes. Claims of almost 100 percent light transmission have followed. These are, alas, largely inflated. Even the brightest scopes by Zeiss, Swarovski and Schmidt & Bender-and now by Leupold, Nikon, Leica and Trijicon-can’t deliver all the light they receive. Still, they’re incredibly bright and great leaps ahead of the scopes of my youth.
The resolution of such optics matters just as much as their light transmission, of course. Most companies that go to the trouble of wringing out more light from their glass also pay considerable attention to image sharpness.
Lighted reticles are becoming more popular. Schmidt & Bender’s Flash Dot and the Zeiss Victory Varipoint top my picks in battery-powered sights. Nikon and Leupold illuminated scopes are best-sellers. I’m fond of Trijicon sights because tritium in the reticle and a fiber optic window adjustable for brightness eliminate the need for a battery. A brilliant reticle shows plainly in bright daylight, but shut the window and you’ll banish the glare that can impair aim in dim conditions.
Red-dot sights have proliferated since the first Aimpoint issued from Sweden decades ago. The current Aimpoint CompC3 snugs neatly onto AR carbines, its parallax-free two-minute dot affording instant aim. Reflex-style and multiple-lens tube-type red-dot sights are now listed by most other scope makers. The Burris FastFire II and Trijicon RMR appeal to me. The Zeiss Z-Point is not only excellent optically, but quick to mount, with a spring clamp that secures it instantly to any rail. Dot brightness adjusts itself automatically for any light. Trijicon’s Reflex sight, like its scopes, uses both tritium and fiber optics to illuminate its dot or delta reticle. Sightron markets an Electronic Sighting Device in a compact tube with automatic brightness control. Nikon’s Monarch Dot Sight has a variable-size dot. You can select different dot colors from Truglo’s sights, some of which now offer tritium/fiber optic illumination.
Leupold has several sights designed for AR rifles: the CQLT 1-3×14 scope, a 1×14 Prismatic sight and new DeltaPoint reflex red-dot sight with magnesium housing.
A motion sensor switches on that sight. Leupold has pioneered reticle illumination not only in hunting scopes, but in sights for tactical use.
Another Oregon firm that helps you aim in dim light is Crimson Trace. Unlike optical sights, its grip-mounted lasers project a dot onto the target. Simply hold the dot where you want to hit. Now an extremely popular option on handguns, which incorporate the CT device in their grips, laser sighting was easier to imagine than to achieve. Beginning in 1994, Lew Danielson and 16 employees at his engineering company spent their weekends on the project. After two years, mostly without pay, they came up with switches, circuitry and diodes small and reliable enough to manufacture. Aside from fitting more than 40 popular handguns, Crimson Trace lasers appear on AR-style rifles, with the switch in the front grip where it is most convenient. A short-range laser might have limited utility on a sporting rifle, but a field-worthy AR can also help with home defense. A Crimson Trace sight adds virtually nothing to its weight and bulk.
Sometimes a bright reticle or even an illuminated aiming point isn’t enough. When you need an auxiliary light and night-vision gear is impractical, a flashlight still makes sense. But modern flashlights for shooters have little in common with the plastic D-battery tubes common in camp kits and kitchen drawers. Surefire has established itself as the premier maker of lights for hunters and tactical shooters. Some are meant for mounting on rifles, others are so powerful I’ve used them to shoot groups at 200 yards on a moonless night.
But if you never shine a flashlight on a target, you’re still smart to include a Surefire with your hunting gear. One saved me from a rough night on the mountain, when in Alaska a storm closed in and erased all light from the cliffs below. We’d not have been able to descend without that torch.
Shooting in the dark may be cool; moving in the dark may be necessary.