Front-mounted NV units have come of age, finds Mike Powell as he tests the Pulsar Forward F455.
Thanks to Scott Country for the loan of the F455. Contact: 01556 503587, scottcountry.co.uk
Apart from the occasional foray after pigeons, most of my shooting takes place after dark, involving my fox and rabbit control business – though the second of those has tailed off recently owing to the incessant attack on the rabbits in this area from disease.
Last year they did stage a comeback, and there are certainly more around this winter than last, but their numbers are a sad reflection of what they were a few years ago.
I and my shooting companion Callum have a variety of rifles for differing circumstances, and with them come several different night vision items. Not long ago I added a .204 Ruger calibre rifle to my collection and put my Swarovski Z6i scope on it.
I had to think long and hard as to what night vision I could use with it, as the illuminated reticle controls on the optical eyepiece preclude any rear-mounted night vision being fitted. Clearly, front-mounted had to be the way to go.
I have tried several of these types of unit in the past, and while they all worked, I didn’t end up falling in love with any of them. A lot of this was down to the fact that for many years my go-to night vision device has been the Starlight Longbow.
This may not be the very highest-spec scope on the market, but together with its laser IR unit it produces results that I have yet to be seen bettered in its class. This of course comes at a price, and digital NV has improved dramatically in both price and performance over the last five years or so.
A year or so ago I tried the Pulsar F155 front-mounted night vision add-on. Though it showed potential, it didn’t seem to be the finished package. Now, the F455 has appeared and it appears to deliver on the potential its predecessor showed. I have been using it on virtually a nightly basis for a couple of months and it has been a really interesting process.
Fitting the unit on to the scope is a doddle. Once you quote the external measurements of the scope that will be involved, the appropriate bayonet-type collar is supplied together with a range of rings, and the manual gives a chart as to which of the rings is used with the collar to give the perfect fit.
The fitting slides over the optical lens housing and is held in place by a lever. The adjustment of the lever is simple and allows for the perfect tension to be made. Once in position (or before fitting), the F455 unit can be fitted into the collar. All very simple.
The unit itself is straightforward to operate. It comes with its own 940nm (invisible to animals) IR unit, which for relatively close work – say a bit in excess of 100 yards – gives a good, clear picture. For use farther out, it certainly pays to replace the provided unit (it’s simple to remove) with an IR torch of your choosing.
The Amoled display is clear, and the picture is one of the best I’ve seen on a digital device with good resolution and a clean picture.
The F455 has the Sumlight feature, which can be useful in really low light conditions, removing the need for IR until real darkness closes in. For those needing it, Stream Vision is available. There are the usual digital controls allowing video and still pictures to be taken and stored in the built-in memory.
There are the usual brightness/clarity controls, time adjustment and so on, but for my purposes, overall the unit was simple and straightforward to operate and not burdened with masses of (to me) unnecessary facilities. The specifications on offer are practical, which is ideal.
I find when I’m out after specific foxes, I just don’t have time to fiddle with controls – more often than not, foxes, particularly at relatively close ranges, don’t hang about that long, and I cannot afford to waste opportunities when they are presented.
Incidentally, the focus control, given that this is a forward-mounted unit, is reachable. This may sound obvious, but I have tested front-mounted equipment with controls that can be the very devil to reach – not so with the F455.
The provided IR is operated by a rear button that, when pressed, momentarily changes the intensity. One final point that pleased me was the speed with which the device comes on when the appropriate button is pressed – it was virtually instantaneous.
That’s a brief look at the F455 itself. Now to the most important part: How did it work in the field? For much of the time I’d been using it, the weather had been atrocious, with rain day after day and generally very unpleasant conditions.
Had I had the choice, I would probably have stayed home most of the time, but when you have clients losing stock you have to ‘bite the bullet’ and get out there.
Even my good old Pulsar Quantum thermal spotter struggled to give a decent picture most nights, but I have to say that while the conditions were far from ideal, the F455 performed extremely well. Clearly, rain affects all night vision, but overall this one performed really well.
As mentioned earlier, the IR source, as with all night vision, is critical and can make the difference between success and failure, and in this respect the F455 was no exception. I am fortunate in having a selection of IR torches that I have gathered over the years.
To be honest some of the older ones just don’t cut it anymore, and as with most things, there have been improvements as time has passed. I always say that if you get a new night vision device you should really spend time playing around with it to become totally familiar with not only its controls but also which IR works best with it.
I have heard of a couple of people who haven’t rated the F455 and sent it back – I suspect that they didn’t spend time really getting their heads round how best to use it.
When getting the IR right, much depends upon what the situation you are actually shooting from is. There is a tendency, particularly when a high power laser/IR is used, for white-out to occur. This is caused by reflection back from foliage.
Something I have experienced is that when you direct your scope downhill, unless you have an unimpeded view, you will get IR ‘bounceback’ off the ground in front of you. The answer to this is to have a torch with a power control system so the power can be turned down – this will help reduce the white-out. This problem is common to most digital NV units.
I found that usually a decent IR torch stretched the range of the F455 considerably. I have one place on a poultry farm where I have an uninterrupted field of view for a considerable distance, and there the F455 will identify a fox out to 300 yards – more than enough for my work, as I seldom shoot beyond 200 yards at night (I really do need to get reliable results and foxes are not very large targets!) The torch I found to be the most versatile was the Wicked Lights A51iR.
This is a 3-in-1 torch offering two levels of infra-red (very useful in some circumstances) as well as a red LED. This worked extremely well with the F455. It also has a power level.
Taking everything into consideration and having tested the Pulsar F455 in conditions ranging from excellent to diabolical, I have to say that it is the best front-mounted night vision device I have tested to date. As I said earlier, when getting night vision equipment I do spend some time getting to know it before using it in the field.
It is all too easy to rush out with it and then be disappointed with the results. I spent quite a bit of time getting to know the F455, and I’m happy to say it paid dividends. I was so pleased with it, I bought one for myself.