Quantum Solace: Mark Sutherland assesses the Quantum HD50S thermal imager’s use for a deer manager

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When I looked at the Quantum HD50S thermal imager recently, one of my potential uses for it was as a cull aid during daylight hours. In the area where Mike Dickinson takes me stalking, there have been issues with illegal lamping and poaching. This hasn’t particularly slowed the population increase in red deer, but it has made them wary and Mike’s legal deer control has been made more challenging as a result.

I had a plan that would involve spotting deer at range on hillsides in scrub during the lay-up period, then stalking into them when daylight hours were plentiful, allowing easier potential follow-up and extraction. Mike’s ground here is a steep-sided valley with patchy scrubby gorse, thick deciduous woodland and open fields. Perfect for deer and annoying for the farmers who are keen to protect their grazing and trees.

We parked at the top of one side of the valley and scanned the other side. With a cold, lazy, wind that didn’t bother going round you, I felt confident that the deer would be sheltering in the valley bottom. As usual, Mike is normally closer to the mark than me and had correctly guessed that in scrub they would be comfortable a little higher up, where the view gave better warning of approaching threats. Either way, we spotted several thermal blooms on the hill and then went to binoculars to confirm our sighting. A stag higher up was thrashing his antlers, presumably to be rid of them as the time for casting was approaching. Lower down was a small group of hinds with yearlings in attendance. Even as we watched, the deer started drifting down the hillside.

012We came up with a plan. We didn’t want to stalk with the wind at our rear, potentially swirling and carrying our scent to our quarry. We moved our parking site to the other side of the valley and gathered our gear.

Carrying the thermal imager, as well as all of my other clobber, took a little thought. I didn’t want the imager and binoculars both bumping around my chest on neck straps. Instead, I hitched the thermal imager case across my chest and put the binoculars round my neck in the normal way. This allowed me to have my rifle over one shoulder, my quad sticks in one hand and the thermal imager in the other. If I got a bright spot in the imager it was easy to rest the sticks against my chest and use the freed-up hand to spot with the binos. Though it was a bit of a faff, it meant I could easily get rid of the imager when the time came to deploy sticks and rifle.

We stalked round the shoulder of the valley side, along the top edge of the scrubby gorse. The last thing we wanted was to bump something and warn our quarry, so the imager was very useful in clearing our path ahead. Eventually we came to our chosen vantage point and almost straight away spotted a group of four hinds back on the other side of the valley. They were low and sheltered from the wind, around 230 yards away according to Mike’s rangefinder binoculars. I scanned with the thermal on our side to make sure nothing was in a better place or going to be spooked.

067I love my quad sticks – on reasonably flat ground. On a close to 45-degree slope they are trickier to set up, particularly when you’re trying to point diagonally across the ground. Fortunately, a low-ish growing hawthorne was a short crawl away, so I left the sticks where they were and edged gingerly up to the tree. A couple of horizontal branches were at about the right height. I got comfortable and set up with the rifle. The four hinds were just mooching about on a small grass triangle among trees and scrub. A nibble here and a browse there; they were in no hurry and neither was I. Through my Schmidt & Bender 8×56 I could see that there were small twigs and branches that I would need to be careful of to avoid a deflected shot. After what felt like 10 minutes, but was probably less, a hind was in the clear and well presented for a broadside shot.

I have been testing RWS Evolution Green non-toxic bullets for a little while. They have proved lethal at all ranges up to and around 100 yards, on up to red deer-sized game. Now was the time to see if the claims of longer distance effectiveness were also true…

With my chosen zero of 1.5 inches high at 100 yards, I allowed another inch of elevation for the 230 yard range. I shifted my point of aim to allow for a moderate breeze from the left and with the nice firm branch giving plenty of support I began to squeeze the trigger of my Steyr Mannlicher Pro Hunter .308. With one last mental reminder to follow through on the shot, I took up the final pressure on the trigger.

At close range, shot and bullet strike often blend into one protracted noise that my old ears find hard to separate. At a slightly longer distance, everything was nicely separated and I distinctly heard shot, bullet strike and then a crackle as the beast lurched forward on her death bound. The sound of the strike was good and solid and I felt no alarm as she disappeared out of sight.

We waited for a few comfortable minutes and, seeing nothing but the remaining hinds fleeing the scene, we gathered our stuff and headed down the steep slope to retrieve our catch.

We found a place to cross the busy stream in the valley bottom and then approached the fallen hind. No sign of life remained. Examination revealed a clean heart shot with good entry and exit wounds. As we wanted to keep carcase contamination out of the equation, we elected to bleed and pull the pudding, leaving the rest of the dressing until extraction was complete. We dragged her to a location that gave reasonable access to a quad.

When Mike came to butcher the carcase he made some notable observations. Shot placement had been pretty much textbook and the main slug at the rear of the bullet had passed through, hitting the heart as it went. The nose of the bullet had done exactly as advertised on the box. Within millimetres of strike, it had opened and disintegrated, with sintered tin particles causing massive secondary damage. This is part of the bullet’s great effectiveness in killing swiftly and efficiently.

Image of perfection: Mark gets a hind on the ground and has the Quantum to thank

Image of perfection: Mark gets a hind on the ground and has the Quantum to thank

The meat itself took a lot of damage. Part of the nose had travelled to sever the spine and had affected the loins too. Both shoulders were bruised, and the only real meat in a pristine condition was the haunches. One reason I have found Barnes-tipped TSX bullets to be so good is that they are good at penetration and hardly ever fail to exit. They also expand reliably, but remain intact in almost every case. This leads to far less meat damage than lead core bullets, which I have found do shed a portion of the core, something that can lead to the undesirable ‘jellied dog meat’ effect. Regardless of this, the RWS Evolution Greens are very good at killing, but the company does acknowledge the meat damage in a roundabout way: they have a new bullet in production called the High Impact Technology (HIT) in a 165-grain for .308 Winchester. The claim is that this is the non-toxic bullet to use for greatly reduced meat damage.

Looking at the blurb on the RWS website, they seem to have taken the idea for the Barnes-tipped TSX and developed it for the HIT. The polymer tip for ballistic efficiency and the cavity for rapid expansion into petal shaped front-end devastation are all there. The nose is designed to cut plenty of hair on entry for the ‘pins’ and the bullet is nickel-plated to cut down on fouling in the barrel. Right now, the round doesn’t seem available in the UK other than for special orders. That said, the Barnes bullets don’t seem to have done as well in the UK as they have in the USA. I am a fan, but don’t claim any expertise in the field of bullet performance. I just know they have worked without fail for me.

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