For years, thermal imaging scopes were horrendously expensive and bulky devices whose capabilities were primarily enjoyed by professional guides and hog-control experts. But, as happens with almost any consumer electronic product, as technology has advanced, prices on thermal scopes have come down to the point that any really serious varmint hunter or hog shooter should be thinking about buying a thermal sight.
You mount a thermal sight like a scope, but modern electronics make it much, much more than a mere sighting device with new models now including photo, video, rangefinding and even remote control capabilities.
Take, for example, the new Pulsar Trail XP50. As part of Pulsar's growing line of hunting products, it's not just some gizmo that lets you shoot in the dark; it's a station that wirelessly broadcasts images to and accepts commands from your Android, iOS smartphone or tablet.
You can set the XP50 thermal scope up in an overwatch position and monitor game movements remotely, saving uncomfortable hours of peering through the scope. If you want to change its settings, you can do it with your phone or by using a handy wireless remote control. When it comes time to shoot, just take a position behind the scope and draw a bead on your quarry. You can stream what you're seeing to YouTube or other sites.
Capturing still images and video is seamless with the built-in video recorder. Image and video content is stored internally and can easily be transferred to your device using a wired connection or Wi-Fi. The XP50 thermal scope has capacity for 10,000 or more still photographs and up to 150 minutes of video. You can even update the XP50's software wirelessly, using the Stream Vision app.
When you're about to open up on a sounder of hogs, you need a fine sight picture of the one you're shooting, while keeping track of the ones who'll flee at the sound of the shot. Just press the down button to activate the picture-in-picture feature.
This uses 10% of the frame above the reticle to provide a magnified image of the reticle center, letting you place your shot accurately. The rest of the frame displays at lower magnification, letting you fire follow-up shots quickly.
When you buy a conventional scope, you'd better like the reticle, because you're stuck with it. The XP50 provides a selection of 10 different reticles, which can be rendered in black hot or white hot at 13 different brightness settings. Whether you want a simple dot or a complex mil-dot setup that helps you instantly compensate for elevation and windage, you can choose it with the press of a button.
If you're the sort of hunter who needs a thermal sight, you probably want to use it on multiple rifles or with different ammunition types. The XP50 can be regulated for three different zeroing profiles that maintain windage and elevation settings and even your chosen reticle. Select up to five zeroing distances out to 900 meters.
The XP50 thermal scope makes it easy to know the distance to your target, too. Place the game between two horizontal lines in the center of the screen and then use the up or down buttons to frame it top and bottom. Pictograms and numbers on the left side of the screen indicate distances for big game (an elk), medium game (a boar) or small game (a rabbit).
Its 640x480 pixel matrix lets it detect big-game animals out to 2,000 yards in utter darkness. The image is refreshed 50 times per second, so your view of moving game is smooth and continuous.
At 21.9 ounces and 11.3 inches long, it's not much bigger or heavier than one of today's powerful optical scopes, it's robust enough to stand up to .375 H&H Mag. recoil, and it's well sealed for use in the toughest weather.
It's powered by a rechargeable 5 amp-hour battery that will keep it running 8 to 10 hours. You can get a larger 10 amp-hour battery that will give you 20 hours of continuous running. You can also power it with an optional pack for AA or C123 batteries or a power bank. When you're first getting familiar with it, you can use the supplied Micro USB cable to plug it right into a laptop or desktop computer, letting you learn its features without running batteries down.
The XP50 helps you conserve that battery power with an auto shutdown feature that cuts power after a predetermined time has elapsed or when the rifle is placed in a non-shooting position. The sensors that give the XP50 that information also warn you if you're canting the rifle, a very useful feature when it's hard to see the horizon in darkness.
While you expect a lot of mechanical controls on a rifle scope, the XP50 is primarily controlled electronically. The exceptions are a knob at the top front that focuses the objective lens, and a ring at the rear that does the same for the ocular lens. When you have these set for your personal vision, you'll rarely need to touch them again. Remember, you aren't looking through the XP50; you're looking at a screen inside it.
Once you've turned the unit on using a button at the right rear, you'll control it with a series of four buttons on the top left. These are positioned so you can control the rifle with the right hand while accessing the XP50's many features with the left.
The most important button is the square one marked with an M that you control with the ring finger. Giving it a quick press brings up the hot menu on the right side of the screen. This contains the functions you're most likely to operate in the field. For example, you can select magnification from 1.6X to 12.8X, or regulate brightness and contrast.
To select the main menu, press and hold the M key for about two seconds. The main menu will appear on the left side of the screen. It contains functions that you more often will set and forget.
You may be used to screwing a scope or red dot on your rifle, sighting in and heading for the woods. That won't work with a thermal sight like the XP50. Its multitude of capabilities have to be set up, regulated and, most importantly, learned. You don't want to be fumbling around in the dark, trying to remember how to make the reticle darker when game emerges from cover.
Black-hot and white-hot settings each have their advantages. Black gives a sharper edge, while white makes the target easier to see behind foliage.
Read the instruction manual, use the controls until you know them instinctively, and spend some time after dark spying on the neighbor's cat. Once you know the XP50 intimately, you'll rule the dark.
Check out all of their products at http://www.pulsarnv.com.