Mick Garvey goes to America and back to bring us the third phase of his night-hunting hardware series
Mick’s in the USA with his brother and a Pulsar XQ50F - night hunting.
This final part of the night shooting series sees me looking both forward and back. It all started back in the summer after chatting with Scott Country International about the subject, and that led to a phone conversation with an American company, Sellmark, who are in close contact with Scott Country International. Sellmark were keen to hear what we had planned, and even more so when they found out that I was to be travelling to the States with a view to thinning down the grey squirrel population in Virginia. I had been talking with James, Kevin and Blake, from Sellmark, and they ever so kindly offered me the loan of a Pulsar XQ50F Helion thermal spotter, which I used in conjunction with the Air Arms .25 Galahad that I bought with my brother Richard, with whom I was shooting.
Richard has never forgotten his roots and he was adamant that he’d like to buy a British-made airgun, so with my preference for bullpups, the Galahad was an easy choice. The order was placed with the lovely Claire, at Air Arms, and the Sir G, as it was to become known, was dispatched from Pyramid Air in the States, to Richard. The Galahad was obviously going to be full power, being supplied in the States, which fitted in nicely with my FAC shooting here in the UK, and the ‘pup was going to be topped off with a Hawke Airmax 3-12 x 50SF which made a great combination.
EXCITEMENT HAS ITS LIMITS
I have to say what a pleasure it was dealing with the guys from Sellmark. They were available to chat and answer any questions we had, and they were very interested in what we had planned. I have kept in touch with them all and I am already looking forward to meeting up with them in Las Vegas for the SHOT Show early next year.
We’d planned the trip to coincide with the start of the squirrel season in Virginia, and once everything was with in place, including
the promise of 200 acres of prime shooting land, I was more than just excited – I was ecstatic. The squirrel season also has another twist, a two-squirrel bag limit! Now, you have to realise that hunting in the USA is different to here in the UK, and there’s an outrageous number of hunters, so if there was no bag limit there would soon be no squirrels – and possibly nothing else – so in a way, it is understandable.
At the first opportunity, Richard and I were out zeroing the Galahad, and once happy it was time to check out the land for our chosen target. There were plenty of signs of the grey menace, but no actual sightings even with the thermal. We did spot quite a large head of deer on the land, which had been causing havoc with the crops, and Ken, the landowner even offered me an invitation to return, to help him out in thinning them down a bit.
So, with no sign of the greys, we decided upon an early morning attack and I managed to buy a purpose-made squirrel feeder from one of the many hardware stores over there. I have to say, right here and now, that this XQ50F takes thermal imaging to another level. My Quantum XQ38 is good, very good, but this is a totally different animal with much better imaging, and the record/photo facility is an excellent addition. The week I had with the XQ50F made me realise that I needed my own thermal scope to complement my thermal spotter, and I’d be giving it some serious thought over the coming weeks.
We managed to get out and in position,
“this XQ50F takes thermal imaging to another level”
“laughing to myself at the thought of the best part of £5000 being used for rats”
overlooking the feeder I had positioned a couple of days earlier, and hoped that had been long enough for the greys to locate the feed station. The wildlife at this time of day was something to behold. The temperature rises to the high 90s during the day, so the activity is high at the start and the end of the day, with nothing in between. Richard was beside me when I spotted a fox through the Pulsar. I called it in to within 25 yards and I was lucky enough to capture the whole thing. After staring at us for a minute or so, it trotted off into the undergrowth, leaving us to continue with our pursuit of the native grey squirrels.
Richard was on the gun, so I was on spotting duties and it wasn’t long before the first tree rat showed itself, quite a way out, but definitely looking like it was heading our way. With the feeder full of peanuts, I was confident that they wouldn’t be able to resist, and true enough, a minute or so later we had the squirrel in front of us under the feeder. Richard made sure the first shot in anger from the Galahad dropped our first squirrel – high fives all round. We managed another before the temperature got too much, and we’d reached our bag limit, so I decided to take as many images as possible with the XQ50F.
On a trip to Washington DC, there were thousands of squirrels running riot around the memorial grounds. I took hundreds of images of them, but all the time I was thinking of the huge bags you could achieve, if you were allowed. I also got some interesting images from Arlington cemetery, including the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and from the JFK memorial flame. Rain set in for a large part of the holiday so our shooting was cut short, and before I knew it, it was time to head back to the UK, but I had plans. Once again, I was excited about the forthcoming shooting, and this time it would be at night.
Back home, I emailed the guys at Sellmark to thank them again for everything, and made arrangements for Vegas. Paul, at Scott Country, who was responsible for setting me up with Sellmark, was keen to find out how we had fared on the other side of the pond, and it was only a matter of minutes before the conversation turned to the loan thermal that he had offered. I’d had my appetite whetted and I was ready for more. Paul told me that the Pulsar Apex LRF would soon be heading my way, but only for a short period because the demand from other field testers/journalists is very high, so I had to get my finger out and get some shooting done.
My first outing was on the rats and with the Apex fixed on top of the FX Impact, I found myself laughing to myself at the thought of the best part of £5000 being used for rat shooting. As usual, I arrived in plenty of time to set up and check the lie of the land, and before it got anywhere near dark I had taken two pigeons and a magpie, all easily spotted with the Apex and without a chance of mistaking them for anything else such as blackbirds, or the like. I have heard people say that there’s not enough definition to identify certain quarry safely, but the only time I would struggle would be between red and grey squirrels. Fortunately – or not – there are no reds in my neck of the woods. Knowing your target, and knowing how it moves and its shape, is essential for thermal hunting and most of us have that ability, but those who don’t should think twice before pulling that trigger – then decline the shot if they’re not sure.
The rats started to show, but not in big numbers and I found myself moving between ratting and checking for rabbits. Now, this is when another reason came along to help me to decide on which thermal to go for – in the shape of foxes. Yes, foxes – six of them to be exact. The Apex picked them out from over 400 yards away and, once again, I managed to call one to within 30 yards before it got suspicious and legged it. This also highlighted the only downside of the Apex; there is no direct recording, only to an MPR, but I guess the built-in laser rangefinder compensates for it, although I prefer to know my distances.
I headed home with only four rats, two pigeons and a magpie. No rabbits showed on this area, but I stopped off to check out another field with the Quantum Spotter, and was taken aback by the number of conies in the field. I’d be back later in the week to knock a few of these off, but not too many because they’re only just making a comeback after being hit hard with myxi over the last few years.
Time was running out for the Apex, so I was out the very next day and pulled up on a private road, in a lay-by overlooking the field where I’d seen the feeding rabbits. I flicked the Quantum Spotter on and started to scan. I’d only covered the area straight in front of me, and clear as day, there sat a good-sized rabbit, completely oblivious to my presence – that’s the beauty of the thermal imagers. In a single, swift motion I had the Impact shouldered. The Apex fired up once the ‘welcome’ screen had disappeared and the rabbit was placed square in the cross hairs. I estimated it to be around 50 yards, a straight headshot and the coney fell forward without the slightest of kicks.
I made my way round to the gate and back to where I’d shot from and then paced the shot at 49 paces – happy, happy, happy! I did a single tour of the field, and took another three, but my elation was short-lived because the last rabbit had myxi, and I was gutted; three for the freezer and one for the fire. I did notice that the rapeseed field opposite was full of rabbits, and a call to the farmer the following day got me permission to start clearing them because they were causing huge damage to the fringes of the field.
This mini-series is now complete, so all that’s left to do is give you my final thoughts and analysis of the three disciplines, and maybe some surprising thoughts. See you next month.
Here they come. Get ready. It took time, but my plan worked.
In the dark; Impact, Apex, and me.
Arlington, my favourite place in the USA.
This beauty disappeared into the brush, but the thermal got him.
The fox whisperer at work. The video was much better.
Two for the Apex before dusk.
A very comprehensive kit, complete with battery pack.