NIGHTLIGHTING: Its Use in Capturing Pheasants, Prairie Chickens, Bobwhites, and Cottontails

NIGHTLIGHTING: Its Use in Capturing Pheasants, Prairie Chickens, Bobwhites, and Cottontails

NIGHTLIGHTING: Its Use in Capturing Pheasants, Prairie Chickens, Bobwhites, and Cottontails – THE IDEA OF USING BRIGHT LIGHTS at night to blind animals temporarily so that they may be captured is certainly not new.

Prehistoric man probably used the light from burning torches in capturing wild animals.

Nightlighting in modern game management was first demonstrated by workers in South Dakota in the 1920’s. Oscar Johnson (Leopold 1931:118) reported that about 22,000 pheasants, Phasianus colchicus, were captured in South Dakota during the winters of 1926— 1927 and 1929-1930 by “shining”’ roosting birds with automobile headlights.

However, night lighting did not become a commonly used technique in wildlife biology until research studies, which proliferated rapidly after the mid-1940’s, necessitated the capture of large numbers of wild birds and mammals.

Night lighting has been used most numerous published accounts, including reports from Idaho (Anonymous 1952), South Dakota (Smith 1954), Nebraska (Anonymous 195),, California (Hart et al. 1956:137), Illinois (Labisky 1959), North Dakota (Oldenburg 1961), Indiana (Ginn 1964), and Towa (Lyon 1965:51)

The pheasant lends itself well to capture by nightlighting  because it principally inhabits agricultural regions and thus roosts in cropland terrain that is traversable by vehicles equipped for nightlighting (Fig. 1).

Nightlighting has been a particularly valuable technique for capturing large numbers of pheasants in states such as Illinois, where bait trapping of pheasants in winter is precluded by an abundant, and usually available supply of waste grains.

Vehicle-borne nightlighting rigs have also been used to capture cottontails, Sylvilagus floridanus, and nongame birds (Labisky 1959), skunks, Mephitis mephitis (Andrews 1963), and bobwhites, Colinus wvirginianus (Bartholomew 1967).

Nightlighting equipment installed various watercraft has been effectively used to capture waterfowl and marsh birds (Leitch 1958; Lindmeier & Jessen 1961; and Cummings & Hewitt 1964).

Batterypowered headlamps or hand-held lights have been used to capture large numbers of woodcocks, Philohela minor (Rieffenberger & Kletzly 1967), and a variety of gulls and shorebirds (Taapken & Mooyman 1961).

Also, generator-equipped, backpack night lighting units have been proven effective for capturing birds and mammals in environments, either aquatic or upland, where other methods of trapping were either inconvenient or unsuccessful (Drewien et al. 1967).

My previous article on nightlighting (Labisky 1959) was concerned primarily with the application of the technique to capturing pheasants.

The purpose of this paper is to list improvements in equipment (and operational design) used in outfitting vehicles for night lighting and to describe techniques for capturing bobwhites; prairie chickens, Tympanuchus Cupido; cottontails; and pheasants.


The basic equipment (Fig. 2) for outfitting a vehicle for night lighting consisted of a floodlight cluster, a power source to operate the floodlights, and a spotlight. A vehicle equipped with 4-wheel drive is recommended, although not essential, for night lighting.

The floodlights have been operated from 110-volt a-c or 12-volt d-c power sources. The power supply for d-c systems was rigged by replacing the vehicle’s factory-installed alternator with a high-amperage alternator

However, d-c systems provided less illumination  than a-c systems because the available d-c lamps had lower candlepower ratings than a-c lamps. Consequently, under ordinary situations, a-c systems were favored for nightlighting work, and thus are given primary consideration in this report.

The a-c floodlight cluster consisted of five 150-watt PAR/FL projector floodlamps. These were held most satisfactorily by Killark Model SLH_~ lampholders mounted in a Killark Model SY wiring trough. The trough was mounted at the top of a modified tripod.

The tripod, depending on its design, was fastened to a sturdy, metal cartop carrier either with bolts or with clevis-type hinges. The clevis hinges permitted the floodlight cluster to be easily folded down for highway traveling or for avoiding low-hanging obstacles.

The lampholders were individually adjustable so that the area illuminated by the lamps could be controlled. The lamps were tilted downward when cruising in cover that absorbed light (e.g., heavy green vegetation) and lifted slightly in cover that reflected light (e.g., snow).

The floodlights ordinarily were adjusted to yield a semicircle of adequate light extending about 10 yards on either side of the vehicle and 30 yards forward; beyond these distances the light was diffuse.

Electrical power for the a-c floodlamps was supplied by a 110-120-volt, 1,250-watt, gasoline-powered generator (Montgomery Ward model) , which could be purchased with or without an electric starting motor.

The 1,250-watt capacity of the generator was sufficient to supply the starting electrical surge for the five, 150-watt floodlamps, which subsequently drew only 750 watts.

This generator was small enough to be mounted, by bolting it to the frame, under the hood of some vehicles. Usually, however, it was mounted on a platform, or angle iron frame, which could be readily clamped to the rear bumper of a vehicle.

The power cable for the electrical system consisted of about 15 feet of neoprene-covered motor cord with 14-gauge, 600-volt wires. A polarized male plug to fit into the receptacle on the generator was attached to one end of the cable.

About 10 feet from the generator an outlet receptacle, inserted in a handy box, was installed in the line 20-ampere cartridge- type fuse (automotive) was installed in this line between the generator and outlet receptacle.

One wire of the power cable was extended through the handy box for about 5 or 6 feet to a single pole, single throw, 25-ampere, 110-volt toggle switch, which was installed in a second handy box equipped with a switch-type cover plate.


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