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Pulsar Axion Thermal Scope Review – More Than Just a Hunting Tool

The new Pulsar Axion monocular scopes place the power of thermal imaging in the palm of your hand.

Pulsar Axion Thermal Scope Review – More Than Just a Hunting Tool

Thermal imaging devices have become more than just a luxury for hunters and shooters — they’re a necessity. And the compact Pulsar Axion handheld provides high-quality thermal imaging at a price that everyone can afford.

A few decades ago, thermal imaging devices were so large and expensive that they were of limited value to civilians, but that’s changed as technology has improved. There are currently four different Axion handheld models from which to choose: the Key XM22, Key XM30, XM30 and the XM38, all of which weigh between 8.8 and 9.5 ounces and measure between 5.6 and 5.8 inches long. Key XM models are equipped with LCOS displays while the XM models feature AMOLED displays, and even with their class-leading 320x240 pixel microbolometer uncooled detectors with 12 um pixel pitch all four Axion models measure just 1.6-inches wide—small enough to fit in the palm of your hand or in a pocket.

And what hunters, shooters, and everyone else is quickly learning is that having that kind of thermal technology close at hand is not just a convenience—it might save your life or the lives of those around you.

Pulsar Axion Thermal Scope

A Cry in the Dark

After an evening of bowhunting in Nebraska Marcus Dryak was driving home on a deserted backroad with the windows down in his pickup truck. From the darkness off to the side of the road Marcus thought that he heard a faint voice call, “Help me!” Stopping his vehicle, Marcus scanned the area with his Trail XP50 thermal scope and, hidden in the brush, he saw the twisted and smashed remains of a Ram truck that had crashed into a cottonwood tree. The thermal also allowed Marcus to see that there were three inhabitants trapped in the vehicle.

Marcus dialed 911. Once rescue teams arrived, it took 45 minutes to extract the victims from the mangled pickup truck, after which they were then transported to the nearest hospital. Emergency room workers told Marcus that if it hadn’t been for his quick thinking and his thermal at least one of those passengers would have died.

The events that unfolded that night in Nebraska are just one example of the capabilities of Pulsar’s thermal optics and one more reason every hunter, shooter, and homeowner needs to own a quality thermal.

The Most Versatile Tool in Your Hunting Kit

Thermal imaging cameras have forever changed the way we pursue big game. Where legal, thermal cameras like the Axion allow us to scout deer like never before, but the value of thermals isn’t limited to scouting. Thermals offer biologists a window into the secret life of whitetails that is improving our understanding of the species. I’m currently involved in a research project to determine how hunting dog activity effects deer movements, and the primary tool I’m using is a thermal camera because it allows me to watch animal behavior in real time. The Axion XM38’s high-quality sensor, HD AMOLED 1024x768 pixel display and top-quality lenses allow me to monitor whitetail movements up to 1,800 yards away, and research like this is made possible by quality, affordable thermal optic technology from Pulsar.

Pulsar Axion Thermal Scope

But that’s just one example of what the Axion can do for hunters. There’s simply no better tool to locate downed game than a Pulsar thermal, especially in the dark. The Pulsar Axion is so sensitive that it quickly detects blood trails and even heat signatures left on brush and grass by passing game, and thermal devices are the most efficient way to find downed animals, especially in brushy areas at night. What’s more, thermals like the Axion are an absolute must-have item in bear country. The recent spike in grizzly attacks on hunters is clear evidence that we aren’t the only (or top) predator in the woods and having a thermal in your pack or in your camp at night is one of the greatest tools for avoiding a potentially dangerous encounter.

Endless Possibilities

Each year thousands of hunters purchase thermal cameras, but hunting is just one use for products like the Pulsar Axion. It’s well-documented that firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement officers and other first responders have relied on thermal technology for years for everything from entering burning buildings to search and rescue operations, and military units have employed thermal technology to defend our nation for decades. Even boat captains use thermal scopes to identify objects in the water and find passengers who have fallen overboard. But affordable, easy-to-use products like the Axion make it possible for those outside these fields to take advantage of the benefits of thermal technology.

Pulsar Axion Thermal Scope

Since I began using thermal cameras, I doubt a single day passes that I don’t use a thermal in some manner, and I’m not alone. Homeowners across the country have learned that handheld thermals are critical for personal defense. Thermals like the Axion allow you to quite literally see in the dark, so you can quickly assess the situation without exposing yourself to would be attackers by turning on a flashlight. By simply powering-up the Axion I can scan my entire property and identify trespassers, and since it’s so compact and lightweight the Axion will fit in my pocket and I can take it with me when I travel. What’s more, the Pulsar’s rugged design allows it to withstand submersion in water to three feet for 30 minutes (so I never have to worry about weather conditions), and with an operating range from -13 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit the Axion functions in most any climate. The unit is powered by quick-change B-Pack APS3 lithium ion rechargeable batteries which last four hours, and the dual-base battery charger allows you to charge one battery pack while the other is in use. A 5V external power supply allows the unit to run even without batteries. When you need to protect your family the Axion will be ready to perform. That may just be a raccoon that knocked over your garbage can, but with the Axion you’ll know for certain.

Pulsar Axion Thermal Scope

Personal defense is just one of the tasks for which the Axion is perfectly suited. Homeowners can also use the Axion to determine points of heat loss on the exterior of their homes to improve efficiency, and thermals are a valuable tool for boaters, skiers, hikers, campers or anyone else who spends time outdoors because they offer a full view of the surrounding terrain day or night (I’ve even used a thermal to navigate when my flashlight died). My veterinarian uses a thermal device to detect hot spots and diagnose lameness in horses, so they’re great for ranchers and livestock owners, too. There seems to be no end to what the Axion can accomplish, and once you purchase an Axion you’ll likely find other practical ways to use this camera—or you can simply enjoy looking at the world through a new set of eyes.

High-End Features, User-Friendly Tech at a Low Price

Pulsar Axion Thermal Scope

The Axion may be one of the smallest thermals on the market, but it has a long list of user-friendly features, all of which can be accessed using just four simple buttons (Up, Down, Power, and Menu). Using these controls, you can select from eight separate color palettes, activate picture-in-picture display, utilize the built-in 4x zoom and the XM30 and XM38 models also allow you to record video and still images. The internal 16 GB memory in both of those XM models stores .mp4 video and .jpeg still images, and those images can be uploaded to other devices via the Axion’s USB port. The Stream Vision app on your tablet or other smart device makes the Axion Wi-fi compatible and you can not only view images on your connected device, but you can also use that device as a remote to control the Axion itself. That’s a ton of technology for such a compact thermal camera, and the XM38 model I tested carries an MSRP of $2,859.99, making the Pulsar Axion one of the best bargains in handheld thermal cameras.


Thermal cameras are no longer a luxury but a necessity, and once you realize how much the Axion has to offer you’ll never want to be without a Pulsar again. Will your thermal camera help you save a life as it did for Marcus Dryak? Maybe not, but once you own an Axion your eyes will be opened to a world you never knew existed.

Pulsar Axion XM38 Thermal Imaging Monocular Scope Specs:

  • Sensor: 320x240 pixels at 12um uncooled
  • Focal Length: 38mm
  • Objective Lens: 32mm
  • Magnification: 5.5-22
  • Detection Range: 1,800 yards
  • Frame Rate: 50 Hz
  • Display: HD AMOLED 1024x768
  • Operating Temperature Range: -13 degrees to 104 degrees (F)
  • Dimensions (LxWxH): 5.8 x 1.6 x 2.75 inches
  • Weight: 9.5 Ounces
  • MSRP: $2,859.99
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