Spotlighting – exchanging experiences

Dear all,

I want to exchange experiences on spotlighting. As one normally has limited nights (and stamina) on exotic trip, it is better to optimize the technique.

– What time of night is the best? I met an opinion that only after midnight. Or that no difference. Any experiences?
– How do you pick the route for spotlighting?
– Spotlighting on foot or by car – which is better?
– I have torch Led Lenser P14. Is it optimal for spotlighting? Do you use stronger/weaker/different ones?
– Any other tips?


Jurek, Germany

PS.  You may consider giving location and species seen in reply.


  • Jon Hall

    Hi Jurek, my thoughts are mainly on my website… see here

    I really don’t think you need to wait until after midnight for anything.. unless its a very busy area with disturbance from people. My only other advice is if at first you don’t success try again and again. Sometimes you can walk one trail and see nothing, and then see a stack of stuff the next night and I’ve no idea why.


  • Alan

    We have spotlighted by vehicle and on foot in Central America. I don’t know if there is a best time since we have had good luck right after dark and have never ventured out too late. Although many of the camera trap photos seem to show mammals more often between midnight and dawn.

    For mammals, by vehicle is probably better since you tend to be able to get closer before they sense you. We have seen less mammals on foot but have seen lots of other critters (reptiles, amphibians, etc).

    You could study up on the different kinds of eye shine based on where you are going to quickly tell the difference between a possible cat and say a Northern Pootoo (which has huge eyeshine).

  • Stefanie Lahaye

    So far we’ve had less success when spotlighting on foot than by car. This is definitely partly caused by the fact that animals that regularly move around public roads are less afraid of cars. Of course you can also cover more ground while driving in a car. Especially in open areas, this allows moving around much faster. As the eye shine is really easy to see, moving faster does not necessarily mean that you’re more likely to miss animals.
    In Belgium we’ve been successful by car, seeing animals such as roe deer, red deer, wild boar, fox, wild cat, badger and hare. Often, after stopping the car, the animals even give you some time to get really good looks before they run off/move on, as long as you keep the spot light on them. On foot I’ve only seen animals quickly run off (roe deer, fox, rabbit, …) unless they are accustomed to people or are animals that usually don’t run off as part of their defence (e.g. hedgehogs). Just before dark, I’ve already managed to get views of animals before they noticed me (fox, roe deer) which allows nice views. In Belgium, I’ve seen mammals at dusk or just after dark (fox, deer, badger…), but also later on (2-3am). Usually we start spotlighting as soon as it’s dark enough until about 1am, but last time we saw a wild cat at around 2-3am, so it might be worthwhile to keep going on. I like to use the time at dusk to wait for mammals to come out of their burrows for example (e.g. badger, beaver) and then start spotlighting when it’s too dark to see without the light. I do think that the more populated an area, the more you should think about staying out long enough, especially in areas where there’s active hunting.
    In South America we did some spotlighting after dark by car. When we didn’t have a car, we would try to do some spotlighting on foot. When we were on foot, we would start walking before dark, in order to already cover some distance, and then walk back after dusk. While walking on foot we saw for example plain’s vizcacha, crab-eating fox and an armadillo.
    We saw the latter two by shining behind us. Hence, keep in mind that it is possible that animals hear you coming and wait till you’ve passed to show out in the open.
    I’ve also done some spotlighting on bicycle. This allows you again to cover more distance but you can reach certain places where you can’t get to by car and if the weather is nice, it’s lovely to cycle at night. The downside is that you have to be quite handy at jumping off the bicycle without making noise. Last week for example my sister and I saw most probably a beech marten crossing a track. It even stayed in the grass next to the track for a little while but unfortunately it had disappeared before I managed to get off the bicycle to look at it properly with my binoculars…

  • Jon Hall

    Thanks Stefanie… I also think it makes a differnce what you are looking for and where … in a forest its often the case that you will hear something before you see it so spotlighting on foot can be the best way to find an armadillo or a possum. THere are strengths and weaknesses with both approaches


  • Jerzy

    How do you spotlight from the car? I found that watching in the headlights misses most of animals. In Germany I driven a small distance, stopped, and took of and shone on the meadows to the side. The result were much more animals (roe and red deer, foxes, badgers). I guess using normal European closed car requires 3 persons – a driver, one shining to the left and one to the right?

    • Jon Hall

      I just plug my light onto the battery and drive along with the spotlight shining out of the window onto the area around the world… its better if you have a passenger to hold the light, and better still if they sit on the bonnet or roof but its much better than relying on the headlights


    • Coke Smith

      My family love car spotlighting. When conditions allow, my wife sits on the hood and my son in the back seat opposite me will spotlight in all directions. We generally have great luck in areas where the critters are. We have a motto, “if there is something there, we WILL see it!” We do walking spotlighting too but we’ve generally had the best luck in vehicles. We’ve had equal luck spotlighting from boats compared to cars, although this is a regional thing of course… Kinabatangan river spotlighting can be outstanding…as are some locations in Thailand…Indonesia, etc.

  • Vladimir Dinets

    There is no single best technique. If you are looking for small mammals, doing it on foot on moonless night is better, but for many large spp. it’s the opposite. Some species are more active just after sunset, others – around midnight or (especially in areas with lots of human disturbance) in pre-down areas. Also, spotlighting in forests is very different from open plains or mountains.

  • Morgan Churchill

    I have a related question. Does anyone know of a good place in the US to order a spotlight, and can they recommend a model?

    • Vladimir Dinets

      Depends on what you are planning to do. Use it at home or take it on trips involving air travel and carrying it in your backpack? Use it exclusively from a car or also on walking trips? Foe some situations, Walmart is the best solution 🙂

  • Jon Hall

    I like the tiablo range if you contact them they can presumably tell you of US stockists

  • tembo10

    I use a rechargeable HID spotlight from which you can either hand carry or plug into a cigarette lighter. It comes with a red filter.

  • Jerzy

    I already see I need a stronger spotlight with a red filter!

    But my 240 lumen torch already lights traffic signs 1-2 km away. In populated Germany, I am afraid of people’s reaction and blinding car drivers in nearby roads. Any opinions?

  • Jerzy

    About the technique, most important I found making zero noise. Best is keeping to asphalt, dirt or sandy side-roads. Or eg. beach, sandy dune or suchlike. Gravel roads are already much worse. Walking on dry leaves or grass makes extremely poor mammal watching. Several times I watched deer from the road at fair distance, and the second I stepped onto dry leaves on the roadside, eyeshine disappeared as it turned and ran away.

    I also religiously avoid clothes which make swishing noises (eg. raincoat), clattering backpack straps, stepping loudly etc. I absolutely never do small talk and also I don’t talk inside the car.

    I made fair amount of observations of mammals in Europe. At night they often see or smell very little, but are extremely sensitive to the tiniest sounds. Roe deer can hear the faint sound of moving finger on the side of binoculars from 30-40m. However, roe deer walked past 2 m away from me when I sat immobile in tall weeds at night. Sometimes it stops and curiously looks and waves its head trying to figure out what it sees.

  • Greg Easton

    I have used a Cyclops Sirius 9 Watt LED 300 Lumens spotlight for several months with success. I don’t know much about lighting, but it cost $70 at Cabela’s. I have used it to spot Puma in Patagonia (by car), an opossum and kinkajou in Guatemala (on foot), and a badger just last night in Idaho (on foot)

  • Rod Cassidy

    In the rainforest spotlighting from Vehicles is far more problematical then on foot…. We have had our best success on foot from the lodge…. Not only do you see small animals with bright eye shine you also hear some which dont have eyeshine… for example. Pangolins and western tree hyrax do not have eyeshine and the best way to see them is to listen for them while walking slowly along. pangolins you listen for the russtle in the leaflitter so it better in the dry season, while Tree hyrax you follow up on their impressive calls.
    Spotlighting from vehicles does turn up a few things when you are in disturbed open areas but is not nearly as good as on foot.
    Spot lighting from the boat along the sangha river is another good option but I still prefer to walk.

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