When you started thinking about hunting at night I bet you wondered which type of light you needed. There are different elements to what makes a good light, but one of the most frequently asked questions regarding the best hunting light has to do with the color. Chances are you’ve heard a lot of mixed answers to color related questions.
So, what color of light is best for hunting at night? The answer can differ depending on exactly what you want the light to do for you. But if you’re looking for the color that will allow you to be the most stealthy, red is the best choice because red light appears less intense than other colors, thereby giving the hunter the least chance of spooking the animal while still being able to see it well enough to make an ethical shot at close range.
Unfortunately, however, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to night hunting lights. This article explains why color even matters and provides some important factors you should consider when choosing the best light for your needs.
Why Color Matters
You may ask why the color of the light even matters – shining a light at an animal will alert the animal regardless of its color; a light is a light, right? In terms of human eyes, that is correct, to an extent.
If you’re standing out in a field and another person shines a light toward you that is bright enough to enable them to see you, you’re going to know exactly what it is regardless of whether it is a white light or a colored light.
But many animals do not see color the way humans do. As a result, many animals do not perceive colored light the same as a white light.
In simple terms, the number of cones in the eye’s retina is what dictates how color is perceived. Humans have three cones which allow them to perceive many different hues of color. However, while humans can perceive various shades of yellow, blue, green, and red, many animals cannot perceive red and green.
While many animals can perceive the color blue, scientists largely agree that many animals such as dogs and cats still have a limited ability to perceive other colors. For example, while they can distinguish the color blue, shades of blue are likely not as vibrant as those humans perceive.
Why can’t many animals perceive green and red? Again, it has to do with the number of cones in their retinas. Where humans have three cones, many animals such as dogs, cats, and hogs, only have two.
So if an animal can’t perceive shades of green and red, what do they see when they look at a green or red object? It’s very similar to a colorblind human. If you’re colorblind or you have spoken to a colorblind person, you know that they see things largely in shades of gray. Some shades of color look like lighter shades of gray while other shades look darker.
However, don’t be mistaken that animals like coyotes cannot see a red or green light simply because they cannot perceive of the colors red and green. The animals can still see the light – that is, they still see something bright shining in the distance.
So, you may ask why it even matters whether you use a colored light over a white light since the animals can still see the light itself? While it’s true that using a green or red light will not completely eliminate the visibility of the light, the green or red light will cause the light to appear much less intense than a white light. The less intense the light is, the less startling it will be to the animal, in theory.
So because these colored lights appear less intense to the animals, it allows the hunter to utilize the light to see the target while minimizing the light intensity to the target, thereby (hopefully) minimizing the startling effect of shining a light.
Lights’ Functions in Night Hunting
Obviously, the primary function of the light is to allow the hunter to see the target. But there are other functions of the light. An important function is one of camouflage. Most of the animals you’ll be hunting at night can see relatively well in the dark.
When shining a light towards an animal, the light beam essentially administers a cloak in front of the hunter – the animal sees the light but not the hunter.
Keeping those two very important functions in mind, it seems that the perfect light would be one that adequately revealed the target to the hunter for proper identification and blocked the animal’s line of sight to the hunter while remaining dim enough to minimize the animal’s anxiety.
A red light seems to be the best color for achieving the proper balance in many situations, but there are situations where red may not be sufficient as discussed below.
Why Red is Better than Green
Even though they may not perceive the color green or red on an object, these animals may still see different shades of gray depending on the object’s color. For example, a red object tends to show up darker than a green one. This even applies to colorblind humans. Colored light also appears dimmer or brighter depending on the color.
The reason different colors appear brighter than others is because of the disparity in frequencies on the visible light spectrum. In simple terms, the way color is perceived, is by the brain translating wavelengths of light into what appears to the perceiver as a color. The longest wavelengths appear to be red, while shortest wavelengths appear violet. Other hues correspond to wavelengths in between those translating to red and violet.
But enough with the technical jargon. To sum it up, for our purposes: between red, green, and white, white appears the brightest, red appears the darkest, with green being in the middle ground. Therefore, a red light will appear less intense to an animal than a green or white light.
Why There is No True “One-Size-Fits-All” Night Hunting Light
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a one-size-fits-all for all your night hunting needs? Well, unfortunately, like most products, there’s really no such thing as a true one-size-fits-all when it comes to night hunting lights.
As stated in the initial answer to the question of what is the best color lights for night hunting, in terms of stealth, red is the best color. This is because, on the visible light spectrum, red appears less bright than green and white.
However, there’s more to the perfect light than stealth. The most important function of the light is to allow the hunter to see the target to adequately identify the target and make an ethical shot. While mitigating the animal’s level of anxiety is important, being able to adequately see the animal is more important.
Therefore, depending on the number of factors, one light may be more advantageous than another in different situations. Regardless of the animal you are hunting, if you are hunting in close quarters and you are adequately experienced, a red light is most likely your best bet if you want to remain as subtle as possible.
However, when you anticipate seeing the animal farther away, you may need a light that shines at a farther distance at a higher intensity. Using a red light may present limitations in terms of this function.
While there is no one-size-fits-all light, there are some “must-haves” in terms of types of lights all night hunters should consider; check out this article where I discuss five types of lights in which I recommend every night hunter invest.
Other Factors to Consider
There are a few other factors to consider that may render one light better than the other in some situations. As mentioned, red allows for the most stealth. This is particularly important when hunting predators like coyotes because they tend to be very fidgety and they can see very well.
However, if you are hunting wild hogs the stealth component may not be as important because hogs tend to be less nervous than some predators and their eyesight is relatively poor. Thus, when hunting hogs, it may not be worth compromising your ability to see by using a very low-level red light because they may not spook any sooner with a green light.
A green light may also help the hunter see dark-colored hogs better because of the way the human eye perceives green light. Green is a good balance between white and red – it allows the hunter to see a bit farther and perceive darker colored objects while still maintaining a higher level of stealth than a white light.
One final thing to keep in mind is that, like humans, animals learn from experience. Where one color light might be more universal than another, if the animals in an area have been exposed to one color more than the other, it might actually be more strategic to use something different than what they are used to.
For example, even though a red light may not be as intense – thus, theoretically, should not cause a coyote to have as much anxiety – if a coyote is used to seeing that type of light, it may associate it with danger sooner than it would a green light.
To sum it all up, if you are trying to remedy your inability to see in the dark while remaining as stealthy as possible, a red light is usually your best bet because it will appear less intense to animals and hopefully keep them calmer. I recomend a red light especially for coyotes. Check out this article for more on hunting coyotes at night.
But as usual, things aren’t always that simple. If you need to make longer range shots, a red light has limitations. White light reaches very far, but it is quite intense which will likely spook your target. Further, white light can cause eye fatigue which will make it harder for you to adjust to the darkness after the light goes out. Green is a good middle ground choice.
Green is also a good choice for those planning to hog hunt exclusively. Hogs are dark colored and harder to see with red light; hogs themselves have poor eyesight, so may not spook as easily as some predators.