InfiRay Unique: a thermal advantage worth paying for?
Mat Manning takes the InfiRay Unique thermal spotter out on his rounds to examine the role of hi-tech optics in airgun pest control
InfiRay Unique UH50
Price as reviewed: £3,000
Testing the InfiRay Unique
A lot of modern electronic gadgets, especially thermal and infrared optics, can bring a huge boost to results when carrying out pest control with airguns. If you can afford them I think it makes sense to use them, especially if you are being paid to do an effective job or want to hang on to a shooting permission that a farmer may well pass on to someone else if you fail to make a worthwhile impression on the unwelcome guests.
For the above reasons, I almost always use a digital night-vision scope when tackling rats and rabbits after dark. I also frequently use thermal spotters for nocturnal pest control but, until recently, I hadn’t used them much by daylight. That could change, though, as they could have a valuable role to play in the control of grey squirrels.
I recently wrote about the fact that the feeding stations I usually employ to draw grey squirrels down from their leafy hiding places had lost their appeal. It appeared that a heavy crop of beechmast was more of a lure than my peanuts and, although I managed to nail a few squirrels around the beeches, it was hard work spotting them up in the early autumn foliage.
The beechmast season is now almost over, but the feast it provided has been replaced by ripening acorns, which are still outranking my offerings. Strolling among the oaks with my airgun has enabled me to keep the cull ticking over but the leafy cover is still very dense, and bags are small because I simply can’t see the squirrels up in the trees.
Frustrated by my meagre results, my thoughts turned to a thermal spotter that Highland Outdoors had sent me to try out. The InfiRay Unique UH50 is a seriously good piece of kit, and so it should be for £2,999.99. Features include InfiRay’s OEM 12μm detector, a 1440×1080 HD amoled display and 50Hz frame rate, making for very clear viewing on the few occasions that I have used it for after-dark rat and rabbit shooting, and I also imagine it would be an extremely useful tool for anyone tasked with fox control.
That’s all well and good, but I was suddenly more interested in how it might fare against squirrels in daylight. So, the next time I ventured into the woods in pursuit of bushy-tailed bark-strippers, it was with the InfiRay Unique swinging from my neck. It was late afternoon on what had been the first chilly day of the year, and I hoped that the conditions might enable me to spot the heat signatures of unsuspecting squirrels before they had a chance to clock me and scarper.
Sure enough, staring up into the treetops revealed little more than leaves, leaves and more leaves to the naked eye, but the view through the thermal spotter was quite a revelation. The first few scans didn’t reveal any squirrels, but I saw plenty of small birds that I hadn’t previously noticed.
I made my way on through the woods, stopping from time to time so I could scour the trees around me for any sign of my quarry. Even on a relatively cool day, there was still enough heat in the leaves and branches to create misleading images through the spotter, but I eventually found what I was looking for: the clear glowing outline of a grey squirrel going about its business.
Some 25 yards ahead of me and comfortably within striking distance, the squirrel was blissfully unaware of my presence, so I shouldered my Daystate Huntsman and lined up for the shot. The fidgety rodent refused to linger long enough to offer me a clear shot, but the usual trick of clicking my tongue against the roof of my mouth had the desired effect and the noise was enough to make it freeze. I quickly steadied the crosshairs on its head and felled it with a clean smack to the skull. Success number one to the thermal approach.
Change of tactics
After bagging the squirrel, I continued through the woods, doing my best to keep to the woodland rides as it is easier to spot and shoot squirrels around these more open areas. Despite my best efforts, I failed to get another sighting through the Unique. Thermal spotters can usually detect heat signatures through light cover but the dense foliage was just too much, so I decided on a change of tactics.
With squirrels proving elusive, I felt that a sit-and-wait approach would be more productive. Setting up beneath a stand of mature oak trees with plenty of open boughs to peer up into, I tucked myself against the trunk of a gnarled field maple.
Typical of modern thermal spotters, the InfiRay Unique UH50 is easy to use. It has a basic menu, which you use to change basic settings such as colour palette and contrast, and a more detailed menu that controls wi-fi connectivity, image hue, Ultra Clear mode and much more — both menus are easy to navigate. The soft-touch buttons give instant access to zoom and picture-in-picture controls without having to access the menus, and you can even record photos and video to the onboard memory at the press of a button. The USB rechargeable battery gives a runtime of up to 10 hours, and can quickly be swapped out for a spare if you’re planning a marathon session.
Another squirrel spot
The truth is that you don’t really need to use any controls other than the focusing dial around the 50mm objective lens once you’ve got the Unique set up. I usually keep my spotters on their lowest zoom setting as it makes for a very wide field of view and a clear picture. It is certainly the way to go when scanning for squirrels at close quarters, and it appeared to be working on this occasion as I soon spotted another one through the Unique.
This one was only 20 yards away and hunched in the cleft of a forked branch with only its head poking over the top. I really don’t think I would have noticed it without the spotter — either way, it didn’t notice me and ended up on the deck after another clean head shot.
Although the going was slow, I added a third squirrel to the tally before it was time to head for home. The last job of the evening was to cut the tails off the squirrels so I could hand them over to the estate owner, who is a keen trout angler and uses the fibres to tie fly hooks. Apart from being happy to give him some useful material for his imitation insects, I was also glad to be able to demonstrate that I was still bringing a few squirrels to book.
To return to my initial point about fieldcraft and clever gadgets, I really don’t believe that a thermal spotter would be much use at all to anyone without a reasonable understanding of the countryside and their quarry. I was targeting the right areas because I knew the squirrels were feeding on acorns, and the Unique enabled me to spot them up in the shadows.
I would also say that the best part of £3,000 is a heck of a lot of money to spend on a piece of kit that might help you to shoot a few squirrels. If, however, you carry out a lot of pest control, and also turn your hand to nocturnal fox, rabbit and rat shooting, a thermal spotter like the InfiRay Unique could turn out to be worth every penny.
The InfiRay Unique UH50 is a seriously good piece of kit, and so it should be for £2,999.99