Finally, javelina photos! The Tayassu tajacu, or collared peccaries, had evaded my camera for years. A night vision search produced a Bushnell Equinox Z combination night scope monocle and camera for $239.99 on Amazon.
Writing a product review was optional.
Whoa. Let’s back up just a bit, shall we? It might help the reader to know a bit of background.
My first night vision scope was a Gen 1 monocle affixed to a headgear harness, purchased in 1994 to facilitate my spelunking hobby in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I love exploring underground, always have. It turned out the unit was worthless for that purpose, being strictly a starlight scope with no IR (infrared) illuminator included. It was better than nothing if there was any kind of moon out, though, so I hung onto the little beast until financial reverses sent it to a pawnshop a few years later.
When Pam and I bought our southern Cochise County, Arizona, property in April of 2009, we really should have put night vision high on our priority list. After all, for the first eighteen months we were here, we had a lot of weeks where two to three hundred illegal immigrants trekked across our land. We live one mile north of the Mexican border, off grid with no outside lighting except flashlights; being able to see what was going on would have been a good thing. Beyond that, we had a bit of ongoing curiosity about the collared peccaries; the Tayassu tajacu herds kept bumping into buildings, trying to dig up our septic tank, and other fun activities. Yet we procrastinated. Even after our finances improved in later years, we kept putting it off. Until….
A couple of weeks ago, Pam and I were taking a slow, easy walk, meandering past the burn barrel and toward the distant wellhead. I saw an object lying on the ground near the barrel and asked, “Pam, do you know anything about that?”
“I found it out there,” she said, gesturing to a relatively open area some fifty yards or so distant, “but I don’t know what it is.”
“It’s a night scope,” I told her.
The unit, a Gen 1 monocular with IR illumator included, was made by Night Owl Optics. It had been out in the weather a long time. The battery cover was long gone, though one AA Energizer remained, and the battery contact springs were rusted to the max. Plenty of sun-fade and encrusted dirt included at no extra charge.
Yet once the unit was carefully cleaned, enough rust removed from the springs to make a difference, and a fresh pair of AA Duracells tucked into place, I got a surprise. The scope itself was toast, no surprise there, but the IR illuminator lit up on the first try.
Pondering the discovery, I eventually came to two conclusions:
1. That Night Owl had most likely been roasting in the desert for more than five years. In April of 2010, one sizeable batch of illegals–thirty to forty of them, judging by the tracks–were apparently late getting across the border fence. Instead of being well under cover by the time the sun came up, they were caught out in the open by the Border Patrol and surrounded. Helicopters swooped in, horse mounted officers arrived on the gallop, four wheeled Patrol vehicles converged, and fun was had by all.
So to speak.
Now, no group of invaders from the south moves a muscle without cartel approval and guidance. There would have been at least one coyote leading them. My educated guess is that the man on point, the cartel coyote, was carrying the monocular, using it to find his way north, avoid stepping on Mojave rattlesnakes, and such. But he could not afford to have a Border Patrol officer see him with the night vision equipment; it would instantly identify him as the leader of the pack. So he tossed it…and years later, Pam found it.
2. This meant she and I had, at least on occasion, been under observation by the bad guys on our own land. We’d always known this was the case, but seeing the evidence made a difference. I started researching night vision equipment that same night, thinking that being able to see the javelinas on a pitch black night might be almost as important as being able to see an unfriendly human.
The Bushnell Equinox Z is generally well reviewed on Amazon, but it’s certainly not “perfect”. The model I selected, the 6 x 50, has a very narrow field of vision, so it’s not exactly ideal for scanning the area. Additionally, focus is plenty touchy; to get the image as sharp as possible, it’s necessary to keep one’s left hand (because the right hand interferes with the IR illuminator ray) on or near the focus knob.
But considering the price, I was more than happy to give it a try. Here’s what I’ve found so far.
1. The unit is heavy. I like that a lot because it feels like it’s the real deal, anything but a toy. It’s also wrapped in rubber and pretty well protected from the elements.
2. The manual is simple, easy to understand, and straightforward. Yay, Bushnell!
3. This bugger burns through batteries (four AA’s at a time) like nobody’s business…or does it? Before the first set of Duracells went dead, I’d had it on (in IR mode, which burns a lot more juice than without the IR) for a total of two hours at most. On the other hand, I’d also taken 109 pictures with it. I was going to counter the battery problem with rechargeable batteries, but the Batteries Plus expert told me today that I might as well not bother. Turns out rechargeable AA’s only crank out 1.2 volts per battery (after a quick drop from a fresh charge of 1.4 volts). Multiply that by the four batteries needed to power the Equinox Z and you end up with a total of 4.8 volts of output instead of 6 volts. Well, fooey on that. I did purchase a pack of Lithium batteries. We’ll see how long those last.
4. Unlike Gen 1 technology, the digital arrangement in the Bushnell means that the unit can and does function as a true day-or-night scope. It cannot be harmed by exposure to broad daylight (though pointing it directly at the sun is not recommended).
5. Also unlike Gen 1, the display is not green. Instead, night vision is presented in black and white (which I personally prefer to “Shego Green”) and day vision comes out in living color. Um…sort of living color. It looks less colorful on the screen than it does in a photograph. No clue why. Also, the images are low res, but the whole point of relatively inexpensive night vision equipment is to let you know what’s moving around in your environment, and this model does that very well indeed.
6. The weight of the scope makes holding it to your eye for long periods impractical unless you’re looking to develop your biceps. Fortunately, I stumbled onto a marvelous workaround. With my camera tripod attached, its legs spread but in the lowest setting, I’m able to walk around with my one hand at my waist, the other ready to snap a photo at eye level, for as long as I want without tiring. Awesome.
7. The controls, a panel of buttons on the right side of the scope, are (in my opinion, anyway) remarkably user friendly. I have the following memorized already: Forward square button: Hold down for two seconds to turn either on or off. Next back double buttons: Upper to zoom in, lower to zoom out. (The scope has a digital 3X zoom.) Rearward square button: Press to record. Next forward buttons: Upper to operate the IR illuminator, lower to–oh. I didn’t memorize that one and don’t use it.
8. The unit can record still images or video, provided you buy and insert a separate micro-disk to store the images.
9. Peering “down the tube,” the operator is looking at a “squaring the circle” sort of screen. Some Amazon reviewers griped about that, feeling that it narrowed your vision more than necessary. I rather like it; when you press the Record button to take a picture or video, what you see is what you get.
The real test of night vision equipment, of course, is: Does it increase your safety? That is, can you see possible threats that would escape your notice if you did not have it? Using the camera function, however, can show the reader a great deal. To that end, and with a fair amount of excitement, I set the tripod up last night to see if I could spot a critter or two and hopefully get a few pictures. Nothing huge wandered into range, but I did spot oodles of little kangaroo rats out “on the hunt” for seeds and other edible goodies.
The photos aren’t as clear as the LCD screen is to the naked eye, in part because photos don’t move, but yes. At a range of 90 feet, I could clearly identify a kangaroo rat.
Obviously, if we could spot kangaroo rats on a moonless night, we could certainly identify larger beasties. I wanted more impressive pictures before writing this product review, though…and tonight I got them in spades.
For a while, Pam and I sat quietly in my usual spot, seated on a camper shell topper that hasn’t been mounted on the truck in years. It makes a great bench. We were really hopeful, too, because when we were first walking around, my with my eye to the monocle, I’d spotted a coyote coming through the brush toward us. Our local coyotes (not the Mexican types but the four legged canine types) are our friends, so this was not overly startling, but it certainly was gratifying.
However, that’s the last we saw of the coyote. The wind was such that he could no doubt smell us; he definitely knew we were there.
Eventually, my wife went back inside the house and I shifted over to our currently unused water tower with the empty 500 gallon water storage tank on top. I climbed the ladder, leaned comfortably against the tank–nine feet off the ground, safe and secure against any likely wildlife threat short of a rabid roaming jaguar–and began scanning.
For a time…nothing but more kangaroo rats. Once, I spotted a coyote eye, watching from well back. Unfortunately, our friend could see the little red eye (not a laser dot but still a bit of red visible when the IR illuminator is pointed right at you) and, being a smart coyote, the animal whipped backward at warp speed, out of sight, gone for the night.
Dang. I had the distinct feeling I’d just been rude to a beloved friend. I hate that. Mildly frustrated, I snapped a shot of the burn barrel. It was a nice, big, obvious object, and it wasn’t going anywhere.
Not much later, though, I scanned back across one particular area…a javelina had arrived. Thrilled to have the daytime-elusive animal well within range of the Bushnell’s IR illuminator, I started taking pictures without worrying about fine tuning the focus.
Interestingly enough, “expert” website pages identify javelinas as eaters of small animals (though they prefer roots and seeds and such), yet numerous kangaroo rats treated the Tayassu tajacu like so much furniture. They showed no fear of the pig-that’s-supposedly-not-a-pig (though it grunts and squeals like a pig), and the pig in return showed no interest in eating them. It did turn its head too look at the rats from time to time, but no more than that.
The Bushnell’s batteries were getting way too low before I got around to fine tuning the unit’s focus, but I did get a few final not-quite-so-blurry photos before the juice ran out entirely. Not only that, but as the battery power decreased, the number of javelinas increased, materializing out of the night one by one. By the time the batteries went dead and the scope shut itself off with a final “BUSHNELL” announcement on the screen, I’d counted five peccaries of various sizes, though none of them were babies.
For a time, understandably, I became so engrossed in photographing the javelinas that I didn’t bother to scan anywhere else…but I did eventually lift the Equinox Z a bit, discovering a black tailed jack rabbit just calmly sitting around, doing nothing but being a jack rabbit.
And finally, back to the “less focused” photos one last time. Pam and I had to laugh at this one. Both the javelina and the kangaroo rat are looking straight into the camera, their attention no doubt drawn by that “dim red eye” of the IR illuminator, but it’s the rat that had us in stitches. Check out those perfectly round, cartoonish eyes.
Since almost any night vision is by definition infinitely better than no night vision, I may be a tad biased. Still, I definitely have to give the Bushnell Equinox V a top rating:
It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly doing the job for us.