Is Night Vision Legal In California?

Byword, night vision is the ability to see in dark conditions. In technology it means, night vision is an optical device that provides a spectral range and gives images by utilizing two kinds of light technologies: active and passive. Shooters or hunters usually use the NVDs to reach the target even at total darkness levels. This is the simple basics of night vision, but its use is not that simple.

Using night vision is extremely fun and helpful, but it is essential to stay within the legal boundaries. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay an unpleasant penalty. So, I recommend using it in a zone where it is not prohibited. In some states like California, some laws limit the use of night vision. So, in this article, we will have this discussion about “Is night vision legal in California?”.

Is Night Vision Legal In California?

The answer should be straightforward, but it is not. Night vision and other thermal devices are legal in the United States, except California. The state government of California has laws that claim that the possession of night vision or any other similar devices which allow users to locate and identify the objects at nighttime is illegal. But, there are certain conditions in which you can use a night vision device legally. Now, that’s a discussion opener here!

The night vision devices which are based on passive light sources are legal. The night vision devices which possess infrared light technology are called active NVDs, and these are illegal. On the other hand, the passive devices, also called starlight scopes, amplify starlight to function, are legal in California. In simple words, the law states that “it is illegal to possess IR technology for NVDs including binoculars and scopes.”

You can check this law under the California state Penal Code: Section 486. Still, if you’re wondering whether you are legally performing hunting or fishing or not, then learn more from the Fishing and Hunting Regulations given by the Department of Fish and Wildlife California. It is always better to check the laws than to pay fines.


It depends on different parameters. You cannot use lights while hunting, fishing, or shooting at night when deer season is on. On the other hand, you can hunt fur mammals or nongame mammals by using light from the vehicle, but make sure that the motor is off.

Night hunting is not possible without a lightning device that provides visibility in dark conditions. A night vision device (NVD) allows better vision at night and prevents human errors while hunting. But, it is essential to learn how to use this device effectively and quietly to reach your target.

The life expectancy of a Gen-2 device is around 5K hours of application. The gen-3 device is the best NVD in today’s market, which provides improved resolution, bright images, excellent reliability, and exceptional durability. I found Gen-3 great for night hunting.


Undoubtedly, hunting or fishing are fun outdoor activities, but it can be unpleasant to perform these unlawfully. Thus, it is essential to know your boundaries and limits to avoid bad experiences such as penalties, fines, etc. In this way, people are usually concerned about the use of night vision devices in California. So I hope after reading this article, all your confusion will fade away.

Additional Questions

Are night vision devices legal in every state in the U.S.?

Yes, night vision equipment is legal to use in all U.S states. However, California has certain restrictions and you are allowed to use the night vision devices only if they are approved. Over the years, I have been selling night vision equipment to customers in all states, and I’ve noted the use is permissible under federal law. The only exceptions are specific regulatory nuances in California that require attention.

Can a regular citizen own a night vision device?

Definitely. If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, there’s absolutely no restriction on owning or using night vision or thermal optics devices. However, I must stress that taking these devices out of the country is a violation of the law unless the U.S. State Department grants you specific approval with relevant licensing. During my time working with night vision optics, I’ve advised countless customers on the legal usage of these devices, ensuring they stay within the confines of the law.

Is night vision legal in all 50 states?

With the exception of some restrictions in California, I can confirm that night vision equipment is legal in all 50 states of the United States. In my years of selling night vision equipment, I can tell you that this is a common question, and the legality of these devices is indeed widespread across all states, barring certain limitations in California.

Why is it illegal to hunt with night vision?

Night vision devices that include an IR illuminator, either inbuilt or detachable, are viewed as a form of artificial light. Consequently, hunting with this form of artificial light is deemed as illegal. However, thermal devices are legal, as these don’t emit any light. This is a crucial distinction that I often elaborate on while educating my customers about hunting with night vision devices.

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