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Pulsar Thermion XM38 Thermal Scope Review

Pulsar's Thermion XM38 thermal scope will get a hunter's heart pumping.

Pulsar Thermion XM38 Thermal Scope Review

Hunting at night changes everything. No longer limited to daylight hours, a world of opportunity opens up. However, night hunting requires specialized equipment.

Spotlights and night vision can get the job done, but they pale in comparison to thermal imaging. Thermal scopes are the Holy Grail for predator hunting. Problem is, few can afford a quality unit. The good stuff costs as much as a used truck, and the affordable stuff isn’t good enough to identify an animal at distance. However, there is one scope that may be just right.

Pulsar’s Thermion XM38 thermal imaging scope aims to be just that scope. I’ve been testing a unit almost nightly for three months now. From Texas to Washington to Idaho, it’s been used on hogs, coyotes, nutria and raccoon. Not only is it a superb thermal scope, it’s even more impressive on how attainable it is. With a street price of $3,300, it’s damn close to being classified as “affordable.”

Thermal Desire

Affordable and over $3,000? Sounds ridiculous. It was to me as well at first — then I used it. The XM38 has changed my outlook on thermal optics. No longer do I wonder if I can afford one. Now, I can’t afford to be without one.

I’m no expert on thermal processors. In fact, I don’t know what “12um pixel pitch core” or “320x240 microbolometer resolution” even means. What I know is this: Pulsar’s Thermion XM38 possesses the thermal voodoo for identifying — not detecting — coyotes beyond 200 yards. As for detection, it’s so good that heat signatures are visible over a mile away. It also has a few quirks that require a different approach to use.

The biggest challenge with the XM38 (besides its price, of course) is sighting in. Unlike traditional optics, you don’t look through the XM38; you view an image projected inside the ocular bell. There’s no windage dial (that’s where the power cord attaches) or elevation turret (that houses one of the batteries). Instead, all adjustments are made digitally.

Pulsar Thermion XM38
All adjustments are made electronically using the control pad above the eyepiece.

You’ll also need to improvise targets, as paper alone won’t work. Stick a heat source like a hot nail in a cardboard box or heat a steel target with a blowtorch. With a warm object to aim at, sighting in is simple. Shoot, adjust, confirm. Once zeroed, the fun begins.

Game Time

The first time I saw it in action was in West Texas where we were calling for predators at night. Thirty seconds into our first set, my father scanned with the XM38 atop his Alexander Arms 6.5 Grendel and watched a hog step into the road at 150 yards. One shot anchored it.

“How’d you know that was a hog,” I asked.

“Easy,” he said. “It was a glowing white object with a curly tail and long snout.”

Since then, I’ve logged dozens of hours behind the XM38. Identifying animals is simple. Coyotes look like coyotes, hogs look like hogs and deer...well, you get it. The smaller the animal, the harder it is to identify. Beyond 200 yards, nutria and opossum and raccoons look similar until you study their behavior. Inside 200, identifying them isn’t hard, but locating them sometimes is, especially at close range.

The bulk of our testing has been with a suppressed 16-inch Odin Works 6.5 Grendel. When thermally equipped, the package hammers animals from 25 to 200 yards with ease. With the Thermion XM38’s base magnification of 4X, finding objects closer than 25 yards is challenging due to the narrow field of view and the lack of spacial awareness (remember, it’s dark and your eyes don’t work well).


To combat the close-range issue, one solution is pairing the XM38 with a handheld scanner with a wide field of view, such as Leupold’s LTO-Tracker HD. The handheld thermal detects the animals, and the rifle-mounted thermal IDs them. Works like a charm.

I don’t have space to cover all the features of the XM38, but there’s a ton: Quick start up (maybe three seconds), long battery life (five hours), recoil-rated up to .375 H&H/12 gauge, all-metal housing, video and still image recording and a cool app that allows you to Bluetooth the image to a smartphone or tablet. Overall, the scope is mind-blowing. But I haven’t even scratched the surface of the scope’s features or capabilities.

Worthwhile Investment?

My loan period on the Pulsar Thermion XM38 is coming to a close, so I’ll have to send it back or pony up a stack of cash to keep it. Even though $3,300 is a bunch of money, I’ll probably buy it. Why? Because it works so damn well.

I can hunt at night, watch animals that have no clue I’m there, eliminate pest animals without alerting neighbors and have a helluva good time doing so. Most importantly, the thermal scope allows me to keep my sanity during the long nights of winter.

Instead of dreaming of dawn and dreading sunset, with the Pulsar Thermion XM38, I now look forward to nightfall. How do you put a price on that?

Thermion XM38

  • Type: Thermal-imaging scope
  • Magnification: 4-16X
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Battery: Dual li-ion mini power system
  • Objective: F38/1.2
  • Resolution: 1024x768
  • Adjustments: Digital
  • Reticles: 10+ preloaded
  • Weight: 1 lb., 10.4 oz.
  • Eye Relief: 1.9 in.
  • Recording: Stills and video
  • Price: $3,300
  • Manufacturer: Pulsar;


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