Mat Manning swaps his usual infrared night vision for a thermal setup and has a busy night on the scaly tails
Although I am willing to embrace new technology if I think it is justified by the improvement it brings to my results in the field, I am not a fan of newfangled kit that’s complicated to use and ultimately makes for a less enjoyable shooting experience. For this reason, I have been slow to jump on the thermal night vision bandwagon, preferring to stick with my trusty infrared setups instead.
Testing the Saim SCP19 thermal riflescope
I have dipped a toe, though, and I had pretty good results using an InfiRay Saim model I was sent for review last year. Therefore, I was quite excited when Highland Outdoors asked if I would like to give the Saim SCP19 thermal riflescope a try. I accepted the offer and the unit duly arrived, along with an InfiRay Eye E3 V2 thermal spotter.
As a self-confessed technophobe, it seemed like a lot of tech for me to set up and familiarise myself with in one go, but I set aside a couple of hours for experimentation and soon felt pretty competent with both units – a glowing testament to how easy they are to use. The full ins and outs of these two thermal imagers are best saved for detailed reviews, and I want to keep this piece focused on the hunting trip I had with them, but I will spin through their main attributes very quickly.
The Saim SCP19 is a compact and lightweight thermal riflescope which comes supplied with an excellent Picatinny-type quick-release gun mount. It runs on two CR123A batteries and is very straightforward to use, as you can zoom in and out, and shift through viewing options and different reticle designs without having to navigate complex menus. Image quality is impressive considering that this unit retails for less than £1,200, which places it firmly at the affordable end of thermal optics, and I managed to get it zeroed very quickly.
Moving on to the Eye E3 V2, this thermal monocular costs about £1,700 and is even easier to use than the riflescope. Powered by an integral rechargeable battery, it is packed with clever features including e-compass and onboard photo and video capture, but the truth is that once you have set the ocular focus to suit your eye, you only need to use the main front focus dial to keep the image sharp once you’re up and running. It has a zoom feature, which is handy, and there’s a choice of colour schemes, but the thing I liked best was its small size (it’s only about 18cm long), which meant that I was able to stow it in a jacket pocket.
With my Weihrauch HW100 BP and the SCP19 churning out some decent groups, I decided to venture out on a hunting trip. My first choice of quarry to really put this gear through its paces would have been rabbits, but the bunnies are very thin on the ground on most of my permissions at present. That wasn’t going to stop me getting out though, as one of the farms where I shoot is suffering a late influx of rats; a situation that would enable me to put the new kit to the test while doing the farmer a favour.
Having a proper look around the farm can really pay dividends, both in terms of safety and pest control results, so I arrived on the holding about an hour before nightfall. That gave me plenty of time to scout around before the rats became active at dusk, and the reconnaissance proved to be very useful. Apart from reacquainting myself with the layout of the farm and noting any potentially hazardous areas (a very important job, as it’s not always easy to see what’s behind your target when you’re looking through a thermal scope), I was also able to earmark the places where the rats appeared to be most active.
Recent rainfall had left the farm quite muddy and, apart from causing me to slip and slide all over the place as I plodded around the yard, the stodgy conditions made it very easy to spot rats’ footprints. Busy thoroughfares could be seen passing through and around a calf pen and also along the bank of a ditch. I also spotted several burrows along the edges of an old, crumbling wall as well as a smattering of dark, slug-shaped droppings. Although the signs didn’t seem to suggest that the farm was absolutely overrun with scaly-tails, they certainly confirmed that there were a few about.
Back at the car, I loaded up a couple of magazines with Rangemaster Sovereign pellets and got the rest of my kit together. One very useful item that I remembered to grab was a head lamp. Thermal-imaging gear is great for stealthy hunting, but it’s not so good for making your way around the farm in the dark, so it’s still important to have a conventional light source with you.
Based on what I had seen during my walkabout, I decided to start off by targeting the area around the cattle pen. There appeared to be a rat run along a concrete wall that would serve as a safe backstop, and I could also cover some burrows along a bank, which would also stop any pellets in their tracks. I expected shots to come at between 10m and 20m; very comfortable ranges for ratting and what I expected to be easy shooting from a sitting position with the gun supported on Trigger Sticks.
I decided not to set out any baits at this stage. The rats on this particular farm are usually quite bold, so it seemed unlikely that I would have to put out any offerings to make them linger. And it just happened that the rats’ confidence was soon confirmed when one trundled out along the bank before darkness had even closed in.
Of course thermal night vision scopes still work whether it is dark or not, and I was soon looking at the rodent’s heat signature through the Saim SCP19. I favour the Red Hot viewing mode as the crimson glow of hot areas really stands out. In this case the hotspot was the rat’s head, and the crosshairs quickly came to rest on the mark. I touched off the Weihrauch’s trigger and the unsuspecting rat flopped over with barely a twitch.
No more rats ventured out over the next 20 minutes or so, but things soon got back on track as night fell. I was actually peering through the spotter when I spied the next one – I wouldn’t have clocked it so quickly with infrared night vision, but the InfiRay Eye easily picked up its warm glow as it clambered back and forth among a tangle of nettle stems. With the Weihrauch back in my shoulder, I kept my aim trained on the edge of the nettles and nailed the unsuspecting rodent as it finally poked its head out from among the undergrowth.
After spotting more rats through the thermal monocular, I moved just a few metres to get a better angle on the main area of activity and managed to account for about 25 rats over the next couple of hours. My main tactic was to use the spotter on its 1x setting as the wide field of view enabled me to scan very thoroughly. After locating rats through the Eye E3 V2, I would then take advantage of the magnified sight picture on the Saim SCP19 to deliver precise shots. The image quality through the Eye E3 V2 really is remarkable, and I was not only able to see the heat signatures of rats but also those of their fresh droppings.
The main gates to this farm are locked at 10pm, which meant that I needed to be away before then, and all too soon it was time to conclude the session by collecting the shot rats for disposal on the fire site. The hi-tech thermal kit had helped me to make the most of the evening’s opportunities, but the more conventional headlamp was also invaluable for this final task.
Reflecting on how the thermal kit performed, I can only say that I was very impressed. Although more affordable than some of their counterparts, these two units still aren’t cheap, but for those who can afford the outlay, they certainly do the job. Thermal night vision gear can be very power-hungry, so I particularly liked the fact that both these imagers can be switched to standby mode, which helps to prolong battery life while keeping them ready for rapid deployment.
In all fairness, my ratting session didn’t really stretch their capabilities, and I think that both units would be well up to the task of after-dark rabbiting, which can be far more testing. The Eye E3 V2 is quite capable of picking up small pests at distance and could even serve as a very handy spotter for daytime squirrel control, as I’m sure it would make easy work of pinpointing elusive bushy-tails in their treetop hiding places.