Thermal imaging gear from Pulsar field tested
Richard Saunders goes on a rabbit pest control session and puts some thermal imaging gear from Pulsar through its paces in this latest field test
I doubt very much that rabbits appreciate it, but there is a subtle difference between pest control and hunting. I’m sure others will have a view, but for me, hunting is the challenge and art of fieldcraft, whereas pest control is all about the removal of certain species because they interfere with man’s plans.
Of course, there is a large grey area between the two, but at the end of the day the result is the same – fewer rabbits, squirrels and rats. I suppose it depends on your perspective. Some farmers are happy for you to hunt on their land on the basis that any reduction in the number of pests is going to help. Others see you as a free pest control service and demand visible results. Sometimes, in the pursuit of shooting permissions, what starts out as the desire to hunt morphs into a requirement to remove pests.
My fruit farm permission covers hundreds of acres and is run by a large multinational conglomerate. It didn’t take long for me to realise that what for me was an opportunity to hunt a few rabbits was to them an expectation that I’d deal with a rampant rabbit problem.
As a result, although I love nothing more than stalking a few bunnies along the hedgerows and polytunnels with a 12 ft-lb rifle, most of my time is spent carrying out pest control, and that means using the best equipment and tactics available. I hold a Firearm Certificate (FAC) and have enough of the right permissions to warrant the purchase of a .22 LR or .17 HMR. However, I like air rifles, so instead I use a 95 ft-lb FX Impact MkII, and because the best time to pest control rabbits is at night, I mainly shoot in the dark with a Pard NV008 LRF day/night scope.
In terms of tactics, the farm is so large that covering it on foot just isn’t practical, so I drive around in my truck. The rabbits are used to vehicles and engine noise, so pay them little attention. Using a thermal spotter to locate rabbits, I shoot them through the open window and bags of 20 or more are a regular occurrence.
As a tactic, it’s heavily reliant on technology. The FX Impact and Pard combination allows me to shoot out to 70 metres with confidence. But it’s the thermal spotter that makes the difference, allowing me to trundle along the lanes and peer down the rows of fruit plants.
The elephant in the room with thermal tech is of course the price. But there’s no denying that it is a game changer. I’ve been using a Pulsar Helion for several years, but just recently had the chance to field test a newer model – the Pulsar Axion 2 XG35 LRF, which retails for £2,629.95.
Before you purse your lips and suck in hard, consider the fact that in complete darkness you’ll be able to spot prey hundreds of metres away.
The image is of course monochrome, but anything with a pulse that generates the slightest heat will shine like a beacon, even if tucked away behind long grass. It’s quite something to look across a field and spot bugs and bats you had no idea were flying around.
Now, if a thermal spotter is a game changer, I figured using a thermal scope must be doubly so. Enter the Pulsar Talion XQ38, which like the Axion 2, is distributed by night vision specialist Thomas Jacks. Priced at £1,949.95, the Talion qualifies as entry-level and has the added benefit of looking something like a regular scope. (Read here for more on the best airgun scopes).
Fitted to my FX Impact it felt like one too, and weighing just 700g there was no impairment to the rifle’s balance.
The test example was fitted with a QR mount that is clearly designed to handle heavy-recoiling rifles and enabled perfect eye alignment.
Zeroing on the range was straightforward. The menu and sub-menu options are intuitive and the controls were precise. In fact, the Talion being a thermal scope, it took me longer to think of something warm I could aim at.
I settled on a drawing pin and lighter and within a few shots had settled on a 30m zero and worked out my aim points for 40 and 50m. However, unless I’d be able to accurately assess distances, it wouldn’t matter how good the Talion XQ38 was or what distance I’d zeroed it at.
Fortunately, the Pulsar Axion 2 XG35 LRF had an integrated laser rangefinder. A simple press of a button meant I’d never have to guess again.
Feeling like a shooter from the future, I set out to give the Pulsar duo a field test and arrived at the fruit farm an hour before sundown – just long enough to get myself sorted in the yard. I use an old bean bag seat as a gun rest and secure it to the open window with a couple of bungee cords. Ensuring the interior lights wouldn’t come on and clipping in my seat belt so it wouldn’t ping completed my preparation.
The hunt is on
At last, it was dark enough and I set off with the unloaded Impact across my lap and the Axion 2 in hand. Shooting the fruit farm in late summer and early autumn is always productive. Many of the kits are fully grown and will usually sit still, even as the truck pulls up and I prepare for a shot. Rabbits that run off are usually a year or two old and have learned what to expect.
And so it proved again. I had the palm-sized Axion 2 set on white hot, one of eight colour palette selections, and set the magnification at the bottom end of the 2.5-20x magnification range (8x digital zoom) with the picture-in-picture mode activated to maximise field of view.
Thanks to the 640×480 12 µm thermal imaging sensor, the image was incredibly crisp and clear, allowing me to pick out features of the landscape with ease. I’d only been on the move for a few minutes when the ghostly image of a rabbit stood out in stark white against the grey background.
A press of the rangefinder button indicated 37m, and as I swapped over to the Impact and Talion combination I knew from my time on the range that I wouldn’t need any holdover compensation.
Getting into a comfortable shooting position meant I’d have to open the door. I did so slowly and quietly, and as I peered through the Talion I regained the image of the rabbit, which hadn’t moved and had started to nibble at the grass.
I squeaked to get its attention – not even Pulsar has that feature in its inventory – and the bunny sat up straight. The image was so clear I could see it still chewing as I squeezed the trigger. The impact of the 44.75gr .30 pellet travelling at nearly 1,000ft/sec was definitive and the rabbit lay on its side without a twitch.
Over the course of the evening, the Talion/Axion 2/FX Impact combination accounted for another 15 rabbits, with shots varying in distance from 18 to 58m.
I’ve said before that thousands of years of evolution has equipped rabbits and other prey species with an array of super senses as a defence against predators. Technology like Pulsar’s Talion XQ38 and Axion 2 XG35 LRF bridges the gap and then some.
It’s not lost on me that I had the best part of £6,500 at my shoulder just to shoot a few rabbits. Some will argue that a springer and a lamp work just as well. Well, maybe. But if we all took that view, innovation would grind to a halt. Yes, thermal tech is expensive. But boy, is it good. If effective pest control is a requirement to keeping your permission, you may want to start saving