A whole different world wakes up when the sun sets. Once the exclusive domain of the military, night vision optics are helping hunters, where it's legal, to see and shoot certain predators and feral animals that stir in the dark. This past winter I hunted feral hogs in Texas with the folks from Sellmark Corporation, which sells thermal imager and digital riflescopes and thermal monoculars under its Pulsar and Sightmark brands. Outside of Cameron, Texas, Sellmark's optics certainly gave us a leg up shooting hogs in the dark, but it was no slam dunk, as night vision presents its own set of limitations.
The Pulsar Apex XD38A thermal scopes mounted on various rifles were sighted in beforehand by Sellmark's Eric Mathes and Jeff Murray, but Sellmark's Sightmark Photon digital scopes can be used during the day and night, so these were sighted in on a blaze orange steel plate at 50 yards. At first, the view was washed out by bright light to the point I could not see the plate, I began to think about the Pulsar Apex thermal price...
Closing the objective lens cap so only the light coming through a tiny hole in the middle of the cap reached the objective significantly reduced the light, but the reticles were clear enough to shoot at 50 and 100 yards. The view, however, was not nearly as clear and sharp as the view through a traditional scope, but the Photon's versatility for day or night use is a bargain, with a retail price of the three Photon models ranging from $599.99 to $839.99.
The Photon showed its worth that evening when Murray and I sat in a box blind 100 yards from a corn feeder at the edge of a creek bottom thicket. The feeder went off at sundown and spread corn across the ground. That should bring them in, I thought. I poked the AR rifle, a .300 AAC Blackout with a suppressor, out the blind window in anticipation.
LEFT & MIDDLE : The Pulsar Quantum XD50S Thermal Monocular is expensive, but it provided extremely sharp images of hogs in the night
RIGHT : This is the view of a hog in the dark through a Pulsar Apex XD38A thermal scope.
As the light faded, the scope was powered up with a push of a button. I slightly turned the scope's focus ring to bring trees and the barrel on the feeder into focus. The scope's graphic display resolution is 640x480 pixels, which Sellmark states provides ". . . optimal brightness and vivid detailing up to 200 yards." A light push on the power button turned off the screen to save the AA batteries, and I waited. A heavy cover of clouds had turned the night as dark as the inside of a black cat. Murray was scanning the area with a Pulsar Quantum XD50S Thermal Monocular. After a time he said, "Here they come."
I tapped the Photon's power button, and the screen lit up; the rifle was aimed in the direction of the feeder. Only the reticle was visible, but then the brilliant white silhouettes of pigs ran into the view. At least 20 pigs bunched underneath the feeder, and there was no shot. Finally one stepped away from the bunch, and the white reticle settled on its shoulder. The pig collapsed at the shot, and the others flushed like a flock of birds.
That's when I crossed over to the dark side of the autoloading rifle and its 20-round magazine. I aimed somewhat, but mostly just pulled the trigger again and again. Empty cases flew out of the rifle like angered hornets. Murray and I walked down and checked, but the only fatality was the first pig.
We climbed back into the blind and Murray went back to scanning through the dark with his Quantum monocular. He had a spare, and I turned it on and did the same. The view through the Quantum was spectacular. Its basic magnification is 2.8x, although a menu has a digital zoom feature that increases that power two or four times.
The thermal image can be turned to seven different colors. I scrolled through the colors, and the contrasting blue, orange, red and white colors indicating the heat signature from the trees and cacti was striking, a type of psychedelic hippie art.
The viewing mode can be changed from a heat signature showing "white hot" with a black background to "black hot" with a white background. The lump of the dead pig lying in the grass showed up a glaring white with the thermal imager.
With the monocular lowered, I could barely see out of the eye I had used. I thought it was the dark playing tricks, but the bright light coming through the monocular's ocular lens had contracted my pupil. It took about five minutes for it to dilate and my vision to return to normal.
"There's another pig," Murray said, "and he's going to smell that dead one in a second." Shouldering the rifle, the Pulsar thermal scope's reticle settled on the white shape with its noticeable snout. The pig turned just as I shot, and the bullet hit it.
I hit it again as it limped toward the trees. The pig stood inside the trees, with brush blocking a chance for a shot, then it finally disappeared. Murray had been watching through his monocular and said a splash of white off the pig showed the first bullet had hit it in the hindquarters and the second in the front of the shoulder.
"Nito Mortem mounted the Pulsar Apex thermal scope on his .300 Blackout for tersting"
We went down to look for the pig, but the only light we had was from Murray's cell phone. Murray realized the monocular in his hand was as fine a game-recovery tool as a blood-trailing hound. He scanned the brush for a few seconds and spotted a white bump on the ground. "There it is," he said. The pig was lying 30 yards into the brush.
ABOVE : The Quantum monocular's thermal image can he turned to seven different colors, as shown by (his hog showing up red. Right, a hunter is aiming at a hog in the dark
The night was still young. Murray and I hooked up with Eric Mathes, and in the dark after midnight, we drove ranch roads over-looking big fields. Every so often we stopped and used the Quantum monoculars to scan the fields.
Rabbits, raccoon, skunks and possums were everywhere. We spotted a few pigs mixed in with cows, but that was a recipe for ruin, and we drove on. The Quantum can detect a human-size object out to 1,300 yards.
"Pulsar Apex XD75 Thermal Scope & Pulsar Quantum XD 70S Thermal Monocular - quality, military grade night vision at affordable prices"
Way across a field, the monocular showed the brilliant white silhouettes of six hogs. We parked and started in their direction with the wind in our facc, stumbling through the dark across ruts and holes. A dim light shined through the ocular of the monocular, and I pointed it at the ground in front of me to at least faintly light my way.
I had no idea of the distance to the hogs, but Jeff whispered we were in range. I steadied the .300 Blackout on shooting sticks. Eric was to the right of me,so I put my hand on his shoulder to determine exactly where he was and to let him know where I was, then aligned the Photon reticle on a pig. Jeff shot, and we all shot. The pigs started running - right toward us. Eric shot just as I was going to shoot again.
A pig let out an awful squeal right behind me. When we finally turned on our headlamps, Eric's dead pig was not much more than 20 yards away. I still do not know how far away the pigs were - probably a lot closer than I thought.
The Photon has various red/ green/white digital reticle options available with a push of a button. Four are intended for crossbows shooting bolts at various speeds, two duplex reticles, a German-style reticle with horizontal wires and bottom vertical post. The mil-dot reticle with various sized and spaced hash marks along the vertical and horizontal wires certainly would have helped me establish distance in the dark. Murray said later the Pulsar Photon provides enough resolution to accurately shoot out to 150 yards.
Before hunting the next evening, I thought about my poor performance of excessive shooting and lack of aim with the .300 Blackout. To lessen that susceptibility, I switched to a Remington Model 700 SPS Tactical AAC bolt-action .308 Winchester. The Pulsar Apex XD75 on the rifle was Sellmark's top of the line thermal scope. The XD75 3-6x 52mm has a digital zoom that doubles magnification.
Its "picture in a picture" feature displays the base magnification for a wide field of view and a magnified picture of the reticle's aiming point at the top of the screen.
The one-shot sight in function freezes an image of a target with a bullet hole in it, then allows moving the crosshairs to the hole. Ten reticles are available with a push of a button. The scope has manual, automatic and semiautomatic calibration modes. In the automatic mode you can hear the scope continually refreshing the view. It records video, but in that mode, it quickly drains two CR123 batteries that normally last five hours. A rechargeable battery pack helps. The scope can detect human-size objects out to 1,750 yards.
Murray and I sat in the blind as night fell. He said thermal vision has its limitations. Rain tends to wash out the view. The larger the difference in temperature between the air and the target the more detailed the images. "Hunting hogs during the August heat in Texas is a challenge," he said.
Right on schedule a dozen hogs ran to the feeder through the dark. The view through the scope was bright. The scope was set on "black hot" so the heat from the pigs showed black against a white background. The white reticle glowed against the shoulder of a pig. Murray and I told each other what pig we were going to shoot.
We fired at the same time, and of course, we shot the same pig. The suppressors on our rifles reduced muzzle blast to a crack from the supersonic bullets, and the pigs milled long enough for me to shove a second cartridge into the rifle. The second bullet turned another pig into pork.
Murray and I pulled the pigs from beneath the feeder for easy loading into the pickup. Both weighed about 80 pounds - just right for eating.
The chatter of continual text messages on Murray's cell phone revealed the three other hunters in our group had also shot pigs. By the time everyone was rounded up, there was a pickup box full of pigs destined for the meat pole. Everyone then headed back out through the brush and live oaks to what our guide called the "pig honey hole." We parked, then walked a ways in the dark.
I stumbled along and walked into others who had stopped. A few hunters turned off the trail and disappeared into the brush, then they came back with a report of pigs spread all through the brush ahead. Everyone sneaked closer, and sure enough the Quantum monocular showed at least 30 pigs in the brush. The plan had been for everyone to spread out in an even line if we were going to shool, but a blink of light from a monocular from a person ahead of the rest, and movement of a silhouette over to the left showed the plan had gone south. I dared not look at the pigs through the riflescope. The pigs finally figured out something was out to do them harm and trotted away on their tiny hooves. There was collective sigh of relief.
I looked at my watch on the walk back to the truck. Sunrise was in a few hours and the night would rest, only to wake again with the imminent night - get yours today - we have the best Pulsar Apex thermal price online.