By Chris Parkin

Safe shooting is the absolute unarguable must in our sport to maintain safety and the sport’s longevity. The use of night vision and thermal imaging equipment has opened night shooting up for many people, you need less kit and it’s a lot easier to shoot alone without an additional `lamp man` that many of us got used to having along for the ride. Pest control has become slightly simpler and more time efficient, yet that other pair of eyes is often sorely missed when it comes to two minds thinking along the same lines, with an immediate backup second opinion on a safety call is not to be dismissed. I still far prefer to shoot with a friend for this exact reason, four eyes are better than two for safety, as well as spotting quarry and confirming identification.

Familiarisation with your land and environment is as crucial as ever and although it’s great having rangefinders integrated into sights and spotters to open the ease of quarry engagement at range, it’s not as simple as you think. Factors like latency of image transmission through the electronics from the quarry to your eyes comes into account, there is an inherent that split second delay as screens research and this can have significant effect when a shot is already stressed. That split second you reacted up 1/30th or1/50th of a second ago comes into play so think ahead when quarry is not confirmed stationary.

Knowing your backgrounds! Well, you won’t see as much of the terrain and topography with thermal imagers, perhaps a little more with night vision and colour gradients are also far less obvious and reliable. Colour palettes on the equipment are great for highlighting hot spots and new quarry movement but don’t rely too heavily on the colouration from thermal to indicate real colour, it is purely a perception of relative temperature. Night vision will more easily segregate dark and light colours, even entry level equipment can show the black and white stripes of a badger quite clearly whereas with thermal, it is all equally hot and therefore of equally colour. I’d suggest staying with one colour palette for most of your time as your brain gets used to the new world’s eye view you have in the dark. Each to their own, but I tend to like white equals hot on a black background for 95% of the time, only occasionally changing with thermal imaging to offer a further perspective in the alien environment we are becoming accustomed to. This also seems to offer me less visual strain when transferring from thermal spotter to night vision scope, my personal preference when night shooting which I nearly always keep in black and white mode, rarely ever green on digital NV. Image intensifiers that use less transmitted and more ambient IR light are often a green hue.

The strength of IR illuminators used to project light with night vision has a significant effect on image brightness and the range at which quarry can be identified, small inbuilt IR’s generally support airgun and rimfire ranges to 100 metres, depending on backgrounds and intervening reflection. Some Digital units like PARD 007 and 008 benefit strongly from strong IR add-ons and they balance it well with their inherent daylight capability whereas something like a Pulsar Digex has a more sensitive black and white night time sensor, just like human eyes have rods and cones to segregate dolour of black and white/poor light perception. The Digex can be overwhelmed by too strong illumination yet offers slightly superior night time sensitivity at the expense of colour daylight capability on the PARD. Colour does offer far simpler setup and zeroing. Of course, the more sensitive units that may require less additional light will also suffer less from less reflection projected from yourself on the axis which you are also viewing along. Most IR sights and illuminators offer beam divergence and strength adjustability for this very reason, most units can be somewhat balanced for best effect in average use, yet at extremes, more specific items will always show best performance.

Night vision gives an alternate perspective to thermal and since both allow you more time to observe quarry before taking a shot, the ability to check and double check what you are looking at and aiming past, cannot be dismissed. High end thermal has great benefits in terms of the ability to differentiate the tiniest thermal differences on your quarry and background for far greater image quality, yet at significant additional expense. Even low-end night vision will pick up the reflection of barbed wire fences whereas entry level thermal will not, unless it has significant temperature variation, and this will change significantly between daylight and darkness with sun heating darker items rather than just ambient air temperature. The same can be said for trees, foliage, rocks and any other ground debris left lying around. This gives you a great opportunity to notice what you want to MISS, whereas thermal seems to prioritise only what you want to hit. If you have open ground, night vision is fantastic yet the more ground cover and concealment, the better thermal is but you still have to remember what might be there, at ambient temperature that you cannot see as clearly.

Where quarry identification is almost 100% certain before you even leave the house, for example ratting in barns, use of thermal sights takes over from open ground and night vision in my opinion. Rats will hide under and be surrounded by other items of greater size that give problems with reflected IR light on night vision and here, thermal really does take the edge for me in situations where they scurry under containers for example. Night vision scopes will auto-dim to compensate for bright image exposure with strong light reflection, this protects your eyes! That comparatively dark brown/black rat will vanish in front of you when you get your own full beam reflecting back. Thermal sights like the PARD SA19 give awesome short range ratting potential, thermal identification is generally clear using lower magnification at close ranges with little pixilation on quarry that is unlikely to be among animals that mustn’t be shot. Any night vision or thermal using large amounts of digital zoom shows the image pixels far more abruptly so consider the base level magnification, which is more or less optical, rather than just digital maximums. Moving to the opposite end of the spectrum, thermal sights for longer ranges foxing will benefit from the bigger spend, more optical magnification, ;larger objective lens, more eye relief for bigger rifle calibres and greater thermal perception of quarry yet I have fitted Pulsar Thermions to air rifles for ratting and the image detail at 35 metres is unbelievably precise yet is it worth it just for rats, perhaps if your budget allows.

Overall, after using a market wide range of equipment, thermal spotter and night vision rifle scope suit my foxing needs where shots are limited to around 200 metres with likely first identification range at 350-400 metres, but everyone’s land and range requirements can and do differ greatly. Watch your quarry walk, watch it move, know your land, and know the difference of reaction between species. Get used to thermal and night vision without a rifle before you are ever tempted to go straight into it with a chambered round. It’s impossible to go wrong with a thermal spotter but once a rifle gets involved, adrenalin can rapidly creep in for some shooters. The rules still apply about never pointing a gun at something you are not willing to kill.

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  1. A thermal spotter is a great tool for daylight and darkness and can be used without safety risk
  2. Units like this Pulsar Accolade Binocular have improved image quality for identification but not necessarily primary detection and cost significantly more than a monocular
  3. An add-on like the PARD 007A is a great way to get used to night vision as both a monocular and/or night vision sight with your current scope
  4. A fully integrated unit like the PARD 008 combines all into one device yet still benefits from additional IR illumination to extend capability
  5. The ability to use Digital night vision like the PARD 008 in daylight, full colour as well as after dark black and white makes setup simpler and improves control familiarity
  6. Units like the Pulsar Digex require less additional IR intensity although can still benefit in some conditions
  7. Moving to a thermal scope is the biggest and generally most expensive step but look at the objective lens size and native non digital magnification to suit your needs
  8. Items like the Pulsar Thermion offer greatest thermal definition to aid shot placement and back up identification but the rule should still apply of not pointing a loaded rifle at something you are not willing to kill