For the ever-increasing number of shooters who are out after the sun sets, there seems to be an equally mounting number of items to aid them in their quest.
Gone are the days when a battery and handheld lamp were the only items required to see what was out on a dark winter night. Still held by many to be the best way of dealing with foxes and rabbits, even these have become more sophisticated: lithium ion batteries are light and long-lasting, and have for some time replaced the old style lead acid types, while LEDs have largely replaced filament bulbs.
One of the latest lamps to emerge is the scope-mounted Tracer Sportlight 170 from Deben. This has upgraded wiring and is available as a scope-mounted model or a conventional handheld version. I had the opportunity to field test this lamp before it went into production and was very impressed. Capable of throwing a beam to 600 metres, it is lightweight and does everything you would want from this type of equipment. Employing one of Deben’s lithium ion batteries, it should also give many seasons of good service.
The other scope-mounted lights that have really transformed the rifle/lamp combo are the torch type. Compact and self-contained with their own batteries, they really are the answer to the rabbit and fox shooter’s prayers. There is a vast array of this type of lamp to choose from. All are similar in appearance, and one would suspect many come from the same manufacturer. Having said this, quality ranges greatly, particularly where the reflector is concerned – this component is vital to the quality of the light thrown, concentration of the beam and overall range. As I said, there are masses to choose from, but I have picked out some that do the job well for me. The first is Starlight’s M3X and the second is Jetbeam’s BC40.
The M3X is 750 lumen-rated with a Cree LED. It throws an intense, concentrated beam out to 350 yards, possibly more in ideal conditions, and this makes it ideal for fox use. I find the BC40, rated at 830 lumens, ideal for rabbit shooting out to 100 yards. The beam, although concentrated and extremely bright, has a wider spread. When shooting from a vehicle where the rabbits tend to move towards and along the hedge line, it is much better for picking them up again when they move out of the beam. The Jetbeam again has a Cree LED. Both of these lamps are made well and have withstood a lot of hard use over the time I have had them. Battery life from the rechargeables in each of these lamps is in excess of 10 hours.
This type of light is extremely handy as the torch can be carried in a pocket during the evening. As the light fades, it takes a moment to mount it on the rifle. For those looking for an all-round hand lamp to use when out at night, either to shoot with or for picking up, you need look no further than Cluson’s excellent Clu-Briter lamp. With a Cree LED and built-in rechargeable battery, it throws a beam out to over 200 yards – more than enough for rabbit work. If used on high beam it will last for about three hours, but on the low beam it’s good for anything up to 20 hours. With a strobe facility, this is a practical and useful addition to anyone’s night gear. In addition, Cluson is now supplying coloured filters for this lamp, Also their new pistol light is both compact and very powerful, I like this latest torch from Cluson a lot. Finally the Night Master range of lamps from TacLight is really taking the night shooting market by storm. Both available in IR and conventional white light they also have a red light torch, no filter is involved the light is produced by a red LED. Very efficient and certainly one of the best available.
That collection is my more conventional form of night shooting lighting equipment. Now I move on to my more ‘technical’ stuff. Night vision has revolutionised shooting after dark, and there are more units available than ever before – do try to test them before you buy. It is useful to speak to someone who has tried a few as well; there can be huge gulfs in quality between different units, and it is easy to spend a lot of money on something that turns out to be a disappointment. I am fortunate in that I get to try quite a few, and the ones I have for my own use have proved themselves excellent for the fox and rabbit control that takes up most of my time.
My preferred NV unit for foxing is the Longbow dedicated night sight. Able to convert from day to night use and pick out rabbits up to 400 yards away, it is a brilliant unit. The downside of course is the price, but as is often (but not always) the case, you get what you pay for. Being able to change from day to night use, it has the advantage of being able to stay on your chosen rifle.
From the ever-increasing range of ‘add-on’ NV units, my own personal favourite is the Archer: usable as either a handheld spotting monocular or readily attached to the rear of your day scope, these units are practical and efficient. Thomas Jacks, importer and distributor of an array of NV units, has a front-mounted unit from Pulsar. This is one of the better options on the market. Again, it is a matter of personal choice as to which way you go. I will be testing one of these in the future, but would say this type of NV does have certain advantages over the rear scope-mounted type.
Moving into the digital world, Pulsar’s DigiSight N550 has proved extremely popular, opening up a whole new world to many first-time NV users. In early darkness its performance is brilliant, and with practice it can give excellent results in near full darkness. Although still available the N550 has been superseded by the N750, in appearance it appears the same as its predecessor but it has been upgraded in many areas and without a doubt is a leader in it class.
Another recent addition to the night vision equipment range is the Photon from Pulsar. Once the initial supply problems had been ironed out and you were able to get one it turned out the wait was worthwhile. It’s an excellent entry into the world of night vision, neat and as easy to fit and zero as a conventional day scope. Being digital like the N550 and N750, it can be used in daylight; although to be honest they work far better as the light starts to fade. All night vision units require an infra red light source and although the majority of them have their own without exception they will benefit enormously from additional IR. The Night Master 800 is the market leader with its three settings it will transform any NV equipment. Scott Country has brought out its Foxfire T20 IR illuminator and, while I would say it does not quite measure up to the NM800, it still represents very good value for money.
Next, a word on trail cameras. I like these a lot – not only are they highly enjoyable to use, they are invaluable for letting you know where and when your quarry species are about. The two types that I have found do the job well under all conditions are the Minox and the Spypoint. There is little to choose between them and anyone investing in a trail cam will certainly not be disappointed. Knowing the movements of the quarry species on your land not only leads to more successful hunts, but it is extremely good fun checking the camera to find what has been out and about at night. You could be in for a few surprises. There are now a bewildering number of trail cameras available, the vast majority of which do a good job
One piece of equipment I find I am using more and more is the digital caller. I have reviewed most of these in the past and at present I am giving the Mini Colibri a fair bit of work. Not only does it have an excellent range of usable calls, it is also very compact – a big advantage as in this age there seems to be more and more gear to cart around. Again there are more of these appearing, the Fox Pro range has been with us a while, I use one of their products and like the Mini Colibri find it works well, like most callers they never guarantee results but nevertheless on their day they can be lethal.
An instrument I never go shooting without is my Leica rangefinder. Although most of the available rangefinders do the job equally well, the red illuminated readout on the Leica makes it ideal for low light and darkness. Again, not the cheapest, but for dedicated fox shooters it has proved ideal.
Despite the array of gear on the market, I never forget that I started with a homemade lamp set-up and a cheap rifle and shotgun. I shot a considerable number of foxes, and I guess that the items that pass through my hands have not added vastly to the number of foxes I account for (though they do allow me to come to terms more easily with specific foxes, night vision in particular). What they have done is given me far more enjoyment in my work, and for the newcomer they will probably make life that little bit easier.
At this time of year, when at last the fields are opening up, the stubbles are clean and the new season’s crop of cubs are out hunting, many of the items I have mentioned will make your sport more enjoyable. There is no substitute, however, for getting to know your quarry. As I have said before, spend time studying the animal and undoubtedly your success rate will rise.
One example of how technology can benefit the fox shooter came when a customer asked me for some help. His pride and joy – his ducks – had been vanishing at a rate of two a day, causing him some distress. He had seen no signs of attack, which is not too unusual with tight-feathered birds like ducks. After looking around I set up a couple of cameras: one on the stream and one in the steep field behind. I didn’t have to wait long for a result – examining the cameras next morning, I spotted a rangy dog fox walking up the stream and leaving by the field behind the house. Finding the run was quite easy. I picked a good spot to wait and ranged various distances with the Leica.
Armed with this information, I set up an hour before dark and started the wait. Since the raid, a radio had been left playing in the hope of scaring off the fox, and not long after dark the owner came along and started to chat, at the same time lighting a cigarette. I gently pointed out that perhaps it would be better if he and his roll-up went indoors,
and perhaps the radio could be turned
down a bit. As he was leaving, I scanned the field with the Longbow and, despite the smells and noise, not 50 yards away was Charlie, sitting up like a collie and surveying the scene.
By the time I had moved to get a better shot, he had mooched up the field. A quick squeak stopped him for a moment, long enough for the .223 to drop him.
The Leica registered 110 yards and I climbed up the field to collect him. The old boy was delighted and came round a couple of days later to inform me that no more ducks had been taken.
I am sure I would have eventually got the fox using a lamp and rifle, but this can be a long drawn-out process: technology had given me the edge and finished the job quickly. Be it open stubble or overgrown hillsides, all of the items above will help you in your search and control of the fox.
A last word: this is not an exhaustive list of all the equipment on the market, and the latest piece of technology that is quickly becoming a “must have” is the thermal imager. I have tried three of these, the Flir, the Guide and Yukon’s HD38.
All do the job well, but for the purposes I need one for I settled on the HD38. The huge advantage with thermal imagers is that you will see everything that has a heat signature, unlike conventional NV, which no matter how good it may be will always miss something if it is partially hidden or has its back to you. Thermal has revolutionised the spotting of creatures by night (and also in daylight) I would be lost without mine, and a further revolution seems inevitable as thermal scopes look set to take off, too. Mike Powell