Mike Powell turns his eye – well, both eyes – to the Pulsar Accolade thermal binocular and its eye strain-reducing capabilities.
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Fox numbers in my area seem to have been high. There are various reasons for that, one of which is the fact the local free range poultry farm has become a real ‘fox magnet’ over the last 12 months.
As I have mentioned before there are a considerable number of foxes living on cliff land near me which is owned by the RSPB, so no shooting is allowed. These foxes, with the rabbits all but gone, are clearly looking for alternative food sources and a free-range chicken farm must seem a good place to start.
As the farm is only a few hundred yards from my home this suits me fine! I can park the truck behind a low hedge from where I can see across most of the farm; as the parking spot is higher than the surrounding ground it makes for an ideal and very comfortable high seat.
Just recently Thomas Jacks sent me the latest offering from night vision giant Pulsar, the Accolade LRF XQ38 night vision binocular which, though pricey, has a great deal to offer the serious night shooter. The test began while the fox mating season was still active, on a piece of land that for as long as I can remember has always held foxes.
It’s in a narrow valley with heavy cover on one side. Recently I learned that a decent sized flock of sheep had been put in there. I have always maintained that stock of any sort draws foxes as for various reasons they can be a good source of a variety of food, so a visit was planned.
Parking the truck, Callum and I walked across the first field that led onto the top of the steep side of the valley. Once there a scan with the thermal revealed a selection of wildlife, a few rabbits, and a couple of badgers, three roe and in the distance, a fox.
Keeping against the top hedge we made our way silently in its direction. It was at the very bottom of the valley in a not ideal position for a shot. A few blasts on the Tenterfield-type caller from Best Fox Call had it heading up the hillside towards us at speed.
Callum set the sticks up and had the Longbow-equipped .223 Sauer ready for action. I warned him that it would appear very close to us as where we were we had limited vision downhill.
At about 60 yards we caught a glimpse of it still coming on, but that was it, it never appeared and must, for some reason or another, have branched off.
Following that a scan with the Accolade revealed another fox about 100 yards away but not in a safe shooting position. We made our way back up to the hedge line and I resumed calling using the same caller. Again the fox approached but all the time maintaining a ‘safe’ position.
Switching from the fox to a scan of the field revealed another fox coming in to the call. Now we had two foxes standing about 20 yards apart, neither one offering a safe shot. Eventually, one peeled off and the other slowly made its way into a position where a shot could be safely taken.
Callum was already on the trigger sticks and a moment later after me giving him the ok, the .223 woke up the valley, the shot followed by the hoped for thud. On collection the fox turned out to be a vixen but showing no signs of being in season. The shot was taken at around 80 yards.
I decided to move to the other end of the village where I knew there should be foxes as it was closer to the cliff land. Parking up the Hilux we settled down to wait. It wasn’t long before a fox was spotted 200 yards away trotting smartly along the lower hedge of the field.
It very half-heartedly moved slightly towards us when I called it but soon resumed its travels after sitting and watching in our direction for a while. Shortly after another fox followed roughly in the same direction as the first one.
Again this one appeared to be on a mission as it just kept going. I suspect there was a vixen somewhere as both of these foxes appeared to be dogs. But again as mentioned earlier there was no calling at all.
Eventually, a fox appeared from the opposite direction, possibly one of the earlier ones, and made its way across the field. The excellent and reliable Accolade rangefinder ranged this one at 187 yards.
I told Callum to let me know when it was in an ideal shooting position and when he did I gave a shout and the fox stopped, again the .223 rattled down the valley and the fox dropped, a really nice shot. Again this one was a vixen but certainly not in season.
All in all it had been a really good evening with in total, probably 10 foxes seen in total. I have no doubt many of these were involved at some stage or another with the mating process. Without a doubt, apart from the two foxes the highlight of the evening’s outing had been the Accolade.
I’m no stranger to thermal imagers for spotting as I have had my old Quantum XD38S for many years now and in that time it has helped me account for a very large number of foxes and has become an invaluable piece of equipment that would be sorely missed.
Using the binoculars as opposed to the monocular was a whole new experience. Using a monocular is quite tiring on the eyes as our brains are used to having the input from two eyes rather than just one.
Most monocular users use the non master eye for spotting to save the master eye for actually shooting as “night blindness” will affect the eye using the monocular. However, when using the binocular I found it not to be at all tiring and eye blindness was nonexistent. The field of view was greatly improved as was the clarity of the picture.
I realise to compare my old Quantum with the latest thermal was a bit unfair and without a doubt when we were using both thermals we could both spot the same items, but the comfort factor was chalk and cheese!
But apart from all of that, the greatest advantage was having the facility of a reliable, accurate after-dark rangefinder. For years, I and probably most other night shooters have struggled with estimating ranges after dark, with the Accolade that is now a thing of the past!
As soon as the Accolade arrived, I checked its rangefinding ability against my tried-and-tested Leica rangefinder and every time they were within a yard of each other. To be able to know exactly how far your quarry is in the dark is a massive step forward for night shooters. Above all it takes the guesswork out of a shot enabling more humane shots to be taken.
Using the Accolade in the dark was easy, facilitated by a well and widely laid out control panel, there was the usual range of facilities on offer, some of which I find more useful than others.
As a fox controller I have no desire to take videos of camera shots of my quarry, but for those who do, the Accolade is simple to operate and the results are excellent. Wifi and streaming are available, again not a lot of use to me.
The colour palette does have its uses, I did find with the binocular the “Black Heat” facility worked extremely well, especially on really cold nights. The picture in picture facility certainly has its uses especially when identifying quarry species.
Detection range was verging on the ridiculous. We were able to see rabbits out to 800 yards and larger objects even further. For someone who was shooting decades before this sort of facility was even dreamed of it really is amazing. But I will say it again the two things that really sold the binocular to me were firstly the rangefinder and secondly the ease of use linked to the lack of eye strain.
There are four models in the Accolade range, the XQ38 and the XP30 costing £2,999.95 and £4,699.95 respectively. These two do not have the rangefinding facility. The other two are the Accolade LRF XQ38 and the Accolade LRF XP50 costing £3,499.95 and £5,199.95 respectively.
Clearly, these are not cheap and I think it would be fair to say that they may be a little over-the-top for someone who only goes out occasionally as there are cheaper options. However, where the LRFXQ38 is concerned, which is the one I have tested, I have nothing but praise for it.
When you take into consideration what (if you could find one) a totally reliable night rangefinder would cost plus the cost of a top-quality thermal spotter it begins to look far more realistic.
Whether the extra cost of the higher-spec LRF XP50 is merited I don’t know, having had no experience of that model. Personally, I doubt I would spend the extra, as the LRFXQ38 did absolutely everything I could imagine I would want it to.
Thermal imaging for all categories of night shooters has come a long way, how much further it has to go only time will tell. Certainly with the Accolade, Pulsar have a winner. Is there a downside to it? Certainly weather conditions will affect any thermal’s performance.
Misty, damp, moisture-laden atmospheres will cut down its performance considerably. Identification is really extremely good but, and I refer here to scopes not spotters, I still think to rely on thermal as a shooting scope system can be a problem.
As far as I’m concerned, my longstanding night vision set up, a Starlight Longbow and Dragonfly laser illuminator backed up with the Accolade is as good as anything I’ve seen. It will be very interesting to see how much farther thermal can go.