Inventor of NiteSite Dave Craven talks to Ian Harford about the creation of the NS200 and what inspired this breakthrough in night hunting technology
Every now and then you stumble across a new innovation that’s not actually that revolutionary in terms of advanced technology, but has the potential to transform your life. It’s the sort of thing that you look at and contemplate, “Why didn’t I think of that?” One such innovation is the NiteSite NS200. Infrared camera technology has been around for years but nobody had thought to put a package together specifically to mount onto a rifle using the existing day scope. I spoke to NiteSite’s inventor and hunting enthusiast Dave Craven to ask how it all came about.
“Well, it was almost by accident really. I was looking through YouTube at some videos of homemade night vision gear that other hunters were using – one of which was simply a Sony camcorder with infrared recording ability. It was the same model as one I had at home, so I thought I’d see if it worked. Being an engineer, I fashioned an adapter to fit the camera to my scope, but the initial forays were not very successful as I couldn’t see very far.
“Next, I bought an external illuminator to boost the amount of infrared light. I visited a friend’s farm that had a grain silo with a rat problem. I positioned the illuminator 10 yards from the silo and retreated a further 25 yards. The transformation was incredible, and within minutes I could see eyes scurrying around all over the place and had accounted for half a dozen rats. I knew then that the concept could be made to work, but we needed to think through how it could be built into a compact user-friendly system.
“Luckily, my bother Phil is an electrical genius. He also has the ability to look at things in a slightly different way. Phil suggested that we didn’t actually need the camcorder, just the camera, screen and illuminator – which made perfect sense. We started trying different components, but the problem was always the power of the illuminators. Our first tries only gave us 30 yards of visibility, but by working closely with our partners we’ve managed to create a highly focused infrared beam that delivers over 200 yards of visibility – and so the NiteSite NS200 was born.”
I’ve dabbled with attaching camcorders to scopes myself and found them to be unwieldy, pushing your head back off the stock and causing the centre of balance to be thrown too far forward. Where the NiteSite system differs is that the screen sits on top of your scope, meaning the balance remains similar, but you shoot in the ‘heads up position’. While this can initially seem a little strange, once you’ve adapted your shooting position, you can create a stable shooting platform, allowing accurate shooting at much longer distances than you’d thought possible.
“Some people just don’t see how it can work, but sooner or later intrigue gets the better of them,” Dave smiled. “Initially they dismiss it as a gimmick, but after a while they gravitate back and give it a try. We describe the NiteSite system as ‘unconventional by design’. You have to re-learn many of the ingrained shooting habits and get used to doing things a little differently. Once you’ve embraced change, it will revolutionise your night vision hunting experiences. One of the benefits of the system is that it allows a great deal of social interaction when shooting. For example, if you’re shooting foxes from a truck, everyone inside can be part of the experience. Not only can everyone see what’s going on, but they can all be part of the decision-making process.”
This is one of the NiteSite’s most attractive features for me. I shoot a lot with my pals Steve Wild and Keith Anderson. We take it in turns driving and invariably if it’s your turn behind the wheel it can be a dull night. However, with the NiteSite everyone in the car is part of the adventure. You can also connect a solid-state recording device and capture the action for posterity, or indeed your YouTube channel.
But where the NiteSite really shines is versatility. There are no other systems on the market that will allow you to switch from rifle to rifle in a matter of seconds. With the NiteSite NS200, every rifle in your cabinet, gunroom or armoury is now night vision capable – provided it’s fitted with a scope. But don’t let the budget price tag fool you. I’ve fitted the NiteSite NS200 to a variety of fullbore hunting rifles including un-moderated .30-06 and .300 Win Mags. Not only did the unit stand up to recoil, but the rifle grouped almost identically with and without the unit fitted.
For a bit of fun we have also fitted the NiteSite NS200 to my Ruger Compact Magnum in .338 RCM and Ruger No.1 in .450/400 Nitro Express. While the illuminator/screen unit managed to stand up to the recoil, the camera unit was a little loose in the adapter and kept hitting Steve in the mouth. A bit of insulation tape and I think the problem would be solved. But that really is an extreme test of its abilities – one that is decidedly unlikely to be put to the test in a real hunting scenario.
There are a growing number of videos on YouTube showing the NiteSite being used effectively at ranges up to and beyond 200 yards, including some of ours. There’s no doubt that the system works perfectly at average hunting ranges and at under £600 there’s little, if any, genuine competition. With a new handheld spotter and further technological developments in the pipeline, you could say the future is bright for NiteSite.
Next month, I’ll be taking the NiteSite NS200 out in the field.