Thermal imaging for airgunners – testing out some options
Mat Manning takes a look at some of the gear available to airgun shooters planning to take the plunge with thermal-imaging optics
It wasn’t long ago that basic infrared night-vision optics were regarded as being too expensive, too complicated and too bulky to be a worthwhile proposition for airgun shooters. Just a few years later and thermal imaging for airgunners has become standard equipment for anyone who carries out regular after-dark pest control. Advances in design and technology have made infrared optics much more affordable and easier to use, and you can now pick up a very dependable unit brand new for less than a week’s wages.
Thermal-imaging gear is following a similar path after emerging as the new kid on the night-vision block and, like its predecessor, is doing so despite a barrage of scepticism from technophobic naysayers. I was one of them but, after really getting to grips with this kit over the past year or so, can honestly say that I would struggle to get by without it now.
Of course, you can still shoot rabbits and rats with lamping gear or infrared optics, but the extra vision and stealth provided by thermal-imaging kit is huge. The difference is that I am now probably shooting 30 or 40 rats on nights when I would have shot about 20 with infrared and very likely half that with a lamp. It is a considered purchase, and anyone thinking about investing in thermal-imaging gear needs to make sure they can comfortably afford the outlay, but there certainly are gains to be had by those who can justify it.
The choice of thermal kit available to airgun shooters is huge. Here is some of the thermal imaging for airgunners gear that has worked well for me.
One of the more affordable thermal riflescopes, this little unit retails at under £1,200. At less than 20cm long and weighing under 400g, it is also very compact, so it won’t make your airgun feel top heavy. The SCP19 comes supplied with an excellent Picatinny-type quick- release gun mount and is powered by two CR123A batteries. It is power-hungry and though runtime is stated as eight hours, three hours is a more realistic expectation.
This unit is extremely simple to operate, and you can adjust magnification and shift through different image colour schemes as well as reticle designs and colours without having to navigate complex menus. Zeroing is also fairly straightforward and is done by adjusting the reticle through the X and Y axis in the zeroing mode. Delve deeper into the menus and you can take advantage of features including picture-in-picture to give magnification a further boost and ultra-clear mode for improved viewing in fog and rain.
Image quality is impressive considering this thermal sight’s price point. Detection range is over 900m for large objects and it is possible to identify rabbits and rats clearly out to considerable distances. Remove the mount and this little unit also serves very well as a pocket-sized spotter.
This is a serious thermal riflescope and, retailing for around £2,700, it costs serious money. You get what you pay for, though, and there is no denying that anyone who buys a Pulsar Thermion will get their money’s worth.
One of my favourite things about this scope is that it looks and mounts the same as a conventional 30mm telescopic sight, so it feels familiar from the outset. Weighing around 900g and measuring 39cm, its proportions are also in line with what most of us are accustomed to.
Image quality is very good. Stated detection range for deer-sized quarry is 1,350m and airgunners will have no problem spotting and identifying rabbits at extreme distances. Optical zoom is 2.5x, which can be boosted to 5x and 10x with the digital zoom, and there is a picture-in-picture mode. Controls are extremely intuitive with simple buttons for power on/off, zoom and video recording direct to the 16GB internal memory.
The main menu offers lots of other features including eight colour palettes and a wide choice of reticle designs and colours. Zero mode is the standard one-shot system by which you take a shot, move the cursor to where the pellet struck then save the settings to shift the point of impact. You can save five zero profiles for different guns as well as 10 distance coordinates for each profile.
Other features include different viewing modes for varying terrain, Wi-Fi connectivity and a gyroscope to alert you if you are canting your gun. Stated runtime for the onboard battery is five hours, which is a long night’s shooting for the average airgunner, and it can be extended by using additional rechargeable cells, which are housed in the top turret.
If you have money to spend on a quality thermal spotter for use by night and day, this one comes highly recommended. Priced at around £1,700, it isn’t cheap, but it is extremely well made and, at less than 18cm long and weighing around 420g, it’s certainly small enough to keep in a jacket pocket. And you don’t have to use a thermal riflescope to take advantage of the Eye’s insight; it can also be used for spotting when using an infrared sight or even a scope-mounted lamp.
Operation is simply a matter of switching on and using the front focusing ring to achieve a pin-sharp image. The InfiRay Eye can be switched into sleep mode to save power and I have yet to completely empty the rechargeable onboard battery, which has a stated runtime of three hours continuously.
Image quality is extremely good in all five colour palettes and standard magnification can be set at 1x, 2x and 4x. Features include Wi-Fi connectivity, hotspot tracking, picture-in-picture function for increased magnification and a stadiametric rangefinder. One of this thermal monocular’s most useful features is the ability to record video and still images at the press of a button. Boasting a detection range of 1,300m for larger objects, this thermal imager makes easy work of spotting and clearly identifying rabbits out to well over 700m.
A non-shooting farmer friend tried this unit and immediately decided to buy one for keeping tabs on livestock and poachers.
One of the downsides with a lot of thermal riflescopes is that they really munch through power — especially if you are using advanced features and connecting to other devices. One way to stop this cutting a hunting session short is to plug in an external power source, and this battery pack has been made especially for the job.
This power bank retails at around £90, measures 14x7cm and weighs about 250g. Most significantly, the 10,000mAh capacity of its rechargeable lithium-polymer battery will extend nocturnal pest control trips by hours.
Being light and compact makes this an excellent choice for shooters who want to carry extra power for their thermal riflescope.
It’s worth noting that the Sightmark QD has another trick up its sleeve. Its casing incorporates a quick-release mechanism that ensures it quickly snaps on and off a Picatinny-type accessory rail. This clever feature means you can fasten it either to your gun or scope rather than having to stick it in your pocket and walk around trailing long wires.