At last, the ed­i­tor gets out in the win­ter woods with a ther­mal spot­ter

Air Gunner - - Contents -

Phill Price goes out in per­sis­tent rain with the Pul­sar He­lion ther­mal spot­ter and finds it very much fit for pur­pose

Win­ter squir­rel hunt­ing is the cream of my shoot­ing year, of­fer­ing a chal­lenge that has so many fas­ci­nat­ing facets whilst ce­ment­ing my place on the pheas­ant shoot all year round. Some­body I know who con­trols grey squir­rels at a pro­fes­sional level tried us­ing a ther­mal-imag­ing spot­ter during day­light and told me that it trans­formed his work, al­low­ing him to cover three times as much for­est in a day, com­pared to when he used binoc­u­lars. He was never to go back.

Be­cause of this, I’ve been aching to try the tech­nique for my­self and now the lovely peo­ple at Scott Coun­try have loaned me the in­cred­i­ble Pul­sar He­lion XQ19F ther­mal spot­ter. Of course, Mother Na­ture de­cided to counter that good for­tune with nearly con­tin­u­ous rain, but I noted on the Pul­sar web­site that this de­vice was de­signed for those ex­act con­di­tions. Things were look­ing up, lit­er­ally!


Af­ter a quick check with the es­tate man­ager that I was clear to visit, I set off full of ex­cite­ment, fi­nally to get my chance. The sky was leaden and I was greeted by steady rain, but I’d had the fore­sight to take a few clean, dry lens cloths along, sure that wip­ing lenses would be a sig­nif­i­cant part of my day.

Ther­mal im­agers are quite dif­fer­ent from light-in­ten­si­fy­ing, night-vi­sion de­vices. Put sim­ply, they ‘see’ heat and if some­thing, such as an an­i­mal, is warmer than the soil be­hind, it will stand out bril­liantly, so it’s quick to scan big ar­eas be­cause any­thing warm will pop out of the cold back­ground. My squir­rel-hunt­ing friend told me that a squir­rel in the cold, bare win­ter wood­land would glow like a 100-watt light bulb, catch­ing your eye in a sec­ond. Now was my chance to see that for my­self.

I went to the big­gest wood where I’ve had lit­tle suc­cess this year. I’d hit the other woods very hard, so I ex­pected the squir­rel pop­u­la­tion still to be high in this one. There are two pheas­ant pens in this area and the game­keeper was up­set about the huge dam­age the ro­dents were caus­ing there.

The XQ19F is sur­pris­ingly com­pact and lightweight, so much so that it fit­ted into the cargo pocket of my shoot­ing coat with ease. I’ll tell the truth and say I’m not a huge fan of overly com­pli­cated de­vices, so I was pleased to find out that I was able to set it up with min­i­mal has­sle, and only a quick trip to the man­ual for help. It was mostly quite in­tu­itive to use once I had the ba­sics in my head. I want to hunt rather than read com­plex man­u­als.


I stepped into the wood and be­gan to scan the area in front me­thod­i­cally, whilst try­ing out the three mag­ni­fi­ca­tion steps, 1.6, 3.2 and 6.4x. It was im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous to me that for short-range work the low­est mag’ was the choice be­cause it gave the widest field of view. Soon enough, I was be­ing drawn to heat sources; blue tits, tree creep­ers, deer, rab­bits and yes – at last, a squir­rel, or rather two squir­rels play­ing race-and- chase in a large oak. I was sur­prised at just how far away I’d spot­ted them and be­gan to close the range in the hope of get­ting a shot. By the time I ar­rived

within shoot­ing dis­tance, they’d moved on, but no mat­ter – I was im­pressed.

I know this wood well and moved slowly from hot spot to hot spot, not­ing all the wildlife along the way. The blue­bells were al­ready tall so even though I saw sev­eral squir­rels on the ground, I wasn’t able to get the sights on them. How­ever, I looked across a small val­ley, saw a squir­rel for­ag­ing in leaf lit­ter and be­gan to close the gap. I think it saw me be­cause it bolted up a large tree and I lost sight of it. I be­gan to scan with the ther­mal and sure enough I quickly found it, swapped to the ri­fle and sent it crash­ing to the ground. Per­haps I’d have found it by search­ing slowly with the binoc­u­lars, but the ther­mal found it in sec­onds. This was the first of seven squir­rels that fell to the ther­mal’s tal­ents that morn­ing.


Per­haps it’s the speed with which you can find quarry that’s the XQ19F’s big­gest ad­van­tage over binoc­u­lars. You can sweep big ar­eas very quickly be­cause the an­i­mals and birds stand out like a sore thumb, so you don’t waste time. With print dead­lines be­ing what they are, I only had time to scratch the sur­face of this op­tic’s tal­ents and I’m sure that there’s more per­for­mance to be had by tun­ing all the set­tings to suit your own eye, and the con­di­tions of the day, or night for that mat­ter.

Us­ing it was a tan­ta­lis­ing look through the win­dow of an­other world of tech­nol­ogy and the per­for­mance it can de­liver that only whet­ted my ap­petite for more. Of course, th­ese things are not cheap, although Scott Coun­try has this one dis­counted from £1899.95 to £1399.95 at time of writ­ing. Just a few years ago, this kind of per­for­mance cost £ 5000, so rel­a­tively speak­ing it’s very good value for money. Hunt­ing with a ther­mal im­ager is surely the way our sport will go and one that I’m keen to learn more about, so watch th­ese pages to fol­low my jour­ney to the fu­ture.

I liked the fact that the XQ19F is so small and light

All the con­trols are along the top sur­face

My first ther­mal squir­rel opened my eyes to this tech­nol­ogy

The bat­tery is a chunky mod­ule that comes free from the body for charg­ing

This metal heat sink keeps the unit cool

A built-in lens cover is a neat fea­ture

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