Turning up the heat

Pic01_Edan and benVenturing to the west coast with hunting friend Edan Annand, Byron Pace tests the latest in thermal imaging and night vision equipment.

With heavy, dark bags under my eyes and a half-glazed look, anyone would be forgiven for thinking I was an insomniac stoner. The previous four weeks had been hectic, despite having very little to show for it, and a night with sleep was becoming a pure luxury. I knew I was coming to the end of being able to keep this up, and with a trip to Africa in a few short days I wanted to arrive in a fit state to hunt. My mission had been to get some good daytime footage of foxes and shoot a few cubs on film. This was causing me a major headache.

Up where I live, hunting foxes is no mean feat. Readers in England may snigger at that comment, but then most places over the border are never far from a major city, and the spill over of urban foxes means bagging half a dozen in a night is not unusual. This makes for relatively easy shooting by comparison, and there will invariably be more foxes seen than shot. If I was to go out every night for a week, we would be lucky to shoot two. Bagging the footage I was in search of was proving difficult to say the least.

Pic05_photon 2The ground around me is heavily keepered, which makes life uncomfortable for Charlie, and this year very few dens showed any activity at all. But eventually I did get the call I was waiting for. A friend not too far from me had seen a cub earlier that day and asked if I wanted to join him that night. This I duly did, and with very little effort a few squeaks along a beach-wood strip pulled in a cub. Sitting on the other side of a log just 60 yards away it sat there for the taking. With the film rolling, my mate took aim under the cub’s chin with his .223 Rem Tikka T3, unleashing his shot to absolutely zero effect. Scampering off like a scolded cat, the unscathed cub was now likely to be one of those wily foxes that refuse to come into a call. Zeroed an inch high at 100 yards, my shooting companion had sent his 55-grain bullet between the fox’s ears, underestimating just how small the cub was.

Pic06_photon adjustment turretsI still had no daytime kill shots of foxes, but help was soon to be at hand. A call from Paul  at Scott Country had me organise a quick trip to the west coast to test some thermal imaging and a new night vision unit from Yukon. I dragged along my usual hunting point man Edan to do the shooting, and we soon had our schedule planned out.

Our first task was to zero the NV before darkness descended. This was remarkably straightforward with the Yukon Photon, whose set-up is identical to a standard riflescope. It was the easiest digital NV I have used to date, and soon we had a suitable group on paper. Returning the turret caps, I had a good look over the Photon. Although I had yet to see it working at night, it seemed incredible that this unit was available for under £400 – far cheaper than a NiteSite, and more compact and unobtrusive. One disadvantage of the Photon is that you will have to dedicate a rifle solely to NV, as it cannot be fitted to a day scope. That said, having used a couple of NV units designed to be fitted to day scopes, I am yet to be completely satisfied with the results and would rather have a dedicated NV unit on a rifle.

After a quick fiddle with the Pulsar Quantum Thermal Imaging Camera we set out on the hunt. Despite picking up two foxes in the thermal we were unable to get a shot off – but thankfully there was one more night to go.

Next evening we headed south to meet up with Saul Patterson and his underkeeper Ben. They run a commercial pheasant shoot over a vast tract of land – foxy-looking countryside if ever I saw it. This was serious business, and as every pheasant lost was money out of their pocket, Charlie boy was enemy number one. Ben had begun picking up a few cubs along their boundaries and across some new ground recently taken on, and I was optimistic we would bump into something.

Pic08_Thermal with

We were making good use of the thermal imager here, with a generous elevation allowing us to spy over hundreds of acres. The Pulsar was very straightforward to use, operating in either black or white heat. Although I had used thermal on a number of occasions before, this was a step up from the big, boat-commander-type old military spec I had operated previously. The definition was very good, with the unit picking up heat sources at more than 2km away. Useful distance was about 1,000m, and at 400m and less you could easily identify a roe deer. Fitted with an external rechargeable battery pack from Pulsar, we could freely use the unit all night without any trouble, although I was unable to test the full run time. Compact enough to fit in a large pocket, the only criticism I had of it was the need to calibrate the thermal every time it was turned on and off. This only took a few seconds, but became frustrating after a while.

Pic04_Photon 1For those who have never used thermal before, you may be surprised to find that it can be equally useful in daylight hours as in darkness. As it looks at the difference in temperatures, body heat is still easily picked up amongst the colder surroundings, although obviously the cooler the external environment the more easily you will pick up an animal. As we discovered, certain terrain is more difficult to scan than others. Our first night saw us looking across a boulder-strewn landscape and, given the very warm day, these showed up as a sea of bright heat sources among the cooler grasses and heather. As the night began to cool spotting became easier, until reaching the small hours when picking up body heat only took a few seconds of scanning. For foxing this was an incredible tool, and at just under £4,000, it is an item that estates can seriously think about employing.

An hour passed and only roe and badgers had put in an appearance, but with such a commanding view, it seemed silly to move. Then, looking far to my right along a hedgerow, the slinking faint ginger tones of Charlie drifted down the hillside. Too far away to call, it was time to move.

It took a good 30 minutes to make it over to where we had seen the fox, but by now there was no sign of him. After calling to no avail, we took to the higher ground above us, looking towards a large wood. We hadn’t even decided where to make a stand when, along the forest edge, something caught my eye. We dropped on the spot. We didn’t have to wait long before the cub appeared at the field bottom, wandering along the fence line. Edan was ready behind my Kimber .243 Win armed with 100-grain Sako game heads.

Pic07_night master 800 an tactical

Sitting with the rangefinder, Ben clocked Edan in at 200 yards ready to shoot. The cub was approaching the 100-yard mark, heading towards an open gate, and had yet to hesitate along its route. We’d have one shot: the fox could easily slip away into the next field. Edan didn’t need telling twice. The cub paused, and the Kimber sang its tune of death. With a crack and thud the game was over, sending up a cloud of dust as the bullet exited into the dirt.

Half an hour later darkness had drawn in, and we returned to HQ to sort out our nocturnal kit. The focus of the night, apart from dropping another fox, was to give the new Yukon Photon a proper field run. The first night we had fitted the new Night Master covert IR illuminator, an effective device for its compact size, but tonight we wanted every advantage – it was back to NM 800. With this fitted the Photon showed its true capability. It’s quite astonishing that for £400 (plus the NM800) we had good NV capabilities out to 150 yards. Shooting beyond this was indeed possible, but you begin to reach the limits of what the unit can really offer. When it comes to value for money, this little set-up is the NV to beat.

Pic03_Last light fox

With a 5x mag it was ample for night shooting, and operated just like a day scope. The sole complaint I had was that the brightness wheel was also the on/off switch, and this was a tad too easily switched on by mistake. It would have been better to have a more secure, separate power button. The unit is also fitted with an illuminated dot, but we found this of little use, as the dot was so big it ended up covering too much of the target. Future models could be improved with a slightly finer crosshair, as this too was a bit on the thick side to suit our purposes.

After covering a vast area and bumping two foxes, we finally had a chance to christen the Photon. Picking up an old dog in the NV, Edan honed in and landed a shot at just over 160 yards. Loaded with 56-grain .223 Rem Geco ammo, the returning thud sounded firm as the fox scurled towards the fenceline. Some 50 yards later, the old boy dropped: the shot had been spot on, and Edan retained his impeccable record.

A big thanks to Scott Country, who supplied the kit, and to Saul Patterson for allowing us to test it on his ground. For pheasant shooting on Mutehill Shoot contact Saul on mutehillshoot@yahoo.co.uk.

 

Equipment reviewed by: Byron Pace

Product: PULSAR QUANTUM THERMAL IMAGING CAMERA

Acquired from: Scott Country ■ 01556 503587 ■ www.scottcountry.co.uk

Price: FROM £3,759.99

Comments: Very impressed with this. I have used a few thermal units before, and this represents a lot for the money

 

Product: YUKON PHOTON

Acquired from: Scott Country ■ 01556 503587 ■ www.scottcountry.co.uk

Price: £399.99

Comments: For the money, this is simply the best NV on the market. Truly opened up NV to everyone

 

Product: NIGHT MASTER 800

Acquired from: Scott Country ■ 01556 503587 ■ www.scottcountry.co.uk

Price: £219.99

Comments: An essential addition to get the most from your NV gear

 

Product: NIGHT MASTER COVERT IR ILLUMINATOR

Acquired from: Scott Country ■ 01556 503587 ■ www.scottcountry.co.uk

Price: £219.95

Comments: Much more compact than the NM800, it packs a tremendous amount of power in a little unit

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