My Foray into Thermal Vision - By Luke Dane, Hunter and Vermin Controller

My Foray Into Thermal Vision

Thermal imaging has been around for a few years now and started out where only those with large bank balances could afford and was far from the reach of a lowly pest controller like myself. Over the years like most forms of technology it has become increasingly affordable and I was lucky enough to have a look through a friends unit a year or so ago. From that point on I was hooked and have had many happy and successful trips out with friends who have greater means than I. 

My first impression on looking through a thermal spotting scope, a Pulsar Quantum from Scott Country International, was how different the image was compared to the Nitesite and other night vision equipment I was used to using. I was so used to seeing the clearly defined outlines of buildings and fields and so used to looking for eye shine that at first it seemed like the investment wouldn’t be worth it. It was only when I noticed white blobs that I started to realise how ground breaking thermal vision is! These white blobs as I got closer I realised where the heat signatures of the rabbits 200 yds in front of me. Once I was aware of what I was looking at and indeed looking for it all became clear. The rabbits heads could clearly be seen glowing hotter than the bodies and animals identified by their movement characteristics. So the challenge no longer was to intently study a field with night vision hoping something would look at you and give you eye shine or be moving while you looked so you knew it was there, now all I had to do was scan the field quickly a few times looking for white blobs!

After numerous trips out I was determined I had to have one of these for myself. My lucky day finally came in January when knowing I had some commission coming in to eek out my lowly pest controllers wage I spoke to Paul Stewart at Scott Country International to see if there was a unit within my price range.

The Gods must have been smiling on me that day as to my luck they had a reconditioned unit in that a customer had traded against a new model that they had not got round to advertising yet.

So my Pulsar Quantum was duly packaged up and sent out and arrived the next day. Faultless service for which I shall always be grateful. (I am an impatient Yorkshireman after all)

The Unit duly arrived with a 4 pack of rechargeable batteries and charger to go with it the next day. The batteries went straight on charge while I read the instructions. The HD38s is an older model with a detection range of a man sized target at 950m. After having a play I can pick out the heat signature of a fox at about 600 yards. The great thing is you can then call and watch how it reacts and tell if it’s a fox by its reaction and all being well watch it come in in complete darkness before either changing to night vision or flicking on the lamp to take the shot.

My first trip out with my new Pulsar HD38s other than having a scan round local fields to try it out was with a friend of mine and we went over to a small pig and sheep farm that he does the fox control on. Historically we usually see the odd fox on here and our best bag to date has only been two.

We approached the farm itself down two fields of grass with woodland down one side, scanning with the thermal as we went, there were two hares about 150 yards away as we walked down the hedge line who paid no attention to us. As we turned into the farmyard there was a heat signature in the first yard by the hedge easily identifiable as a fox but it showed no interest to my hand squeak as I watched it through the thermal and we had to be happy to let it duck through the hedge and disappear as there were sheep in the field behind. We quietly worked our way through the farmyard towards our normal bale stack to set up the caller and noticed two blobs at the far end of the barns 300 yards away, so we watched and we could see it was two foxes but again no interest in a squeak they both ducked out of site and we decided to try and get closer.

As we worked along the hedge and behind a trailer the  foxes settled down with one lying in the field and the other slowly mousing across it quartering away from us. I got to the muck hill ready to take a shot but the steam from the muck hill reflected the IR back and I couldn’t get a shot.

I set the caller going playing vixen on heat to wait and see what would happen as my mate tried to get a better angle on the fox still laying up in the field. I could see his boots protruding from the hedge through the thermal and occasionally see the heat of the top of the foxes head as it looked round. I kept scanning the fields around for any more activity and all of a sudden a fox appeared about 75 yards away but directly behind my mate!! 

AAAgghhhh no safe shot there then, I had to watch the fox that I thought was going to fall over my mates boots as it came closer then turned and went through the hedge that my mate was lying in and cross into the field the other fox was in, after waiting an age for the fox to move to what I thought was directly in front of my mate it spooked and trotted back the way it had come. I ran to ask him why he hadn’t fired! He hadn’t seen it. “What fox he said?” “That one!” I said passing him the thermal. It was now just over 100 yards away behind us, my mate passed me the thermal and switched on the Nitesite Eagle and shot it just in time before it went through the next hedge. 

A perfect chest shot freehand. A good start then, turning round the other fox had sat up but was still in the first field. I lay down in the hedge to get steady and held on aim and squeezed, the fox got up and started running away to my right I quickly reloaded. I had Clean missed! The fox presented me with a second chance at about 230 yards and I could see it clearly through the Nitesite eagle on my Nightforce NXS on my .243 after the bang, a pause and a satisfying thump. Number two down. What a great night, we picked the two up and took them through the next field to the midden but as we crossed the hedge between the fields a quick scan showed another fox crossing towards the caller still shouting away by the muck heap. 

A quick flick and my Nitesite was on and a bullet in and a quick OI! Stopped it in its tracks but not long enough to squeeze the trigger! My mate followed it with the thermal as I preceded to do this three times before it stopped that split second long enough to get the nice clean kill it deserved. 

Three down in less than an hour! This was unheard of on this land. We decided as our luck appeared to be in to sit up on our favourite bale stack and leave the caller running. We climbed up onto our bales and settled for a wait. We could see hares moving in the rape about 500 yards away eventually a fox came into another field on the far side of the farm but had a sniff and retreated the way it came. Its so unreal looking across a piece of land with thermal as apposed to Infra Red Illuminated Night Vision. 

You can see so much more that you would never guess was there before. You may not be able to identify it straight away but with practice and knowing your ground it can be quite easy to identify different heat sources. Bare in mind that the newer units have a greater clarity and detection range also.

All of a sudden whilst gazing about another fox came into the grass to our right on my mates side of the bales, he flicked the Nitesite on and from his bipod on the bales made the shot a formality at 130 yards. 

Four down our best night ever on this ground, we were truly buzzing by this point thinking how pleased the farmer would be.

The last fox of the night came in just like the fourth with it being my turn I got the Nitesite Eagle on it and dealt it a swift dispatch with a 60 grain varmint at 132 yards right next to the previous one. All 5 were dog foxes and it just goes to show how efficient a Thermal spotter can be when coupled either with a lamp on the rifle or a Nitesite add on NV or a dedicated thermal rifle scope.

My thoughts turned to the effectiveness of thermal last week when I got a call from another friend asking if I would pop up to a farm with him as he hadn’t had chance to zero his rifle after changing. I’m not one to let a friend down and arrived just on 8.30 that night. We popped down to the farm and headed toward the silage bales next to chicken hut where one of the hens had gone missing the night before. As we turned the corner glowing under the chicken hut were four white hot dots, as I looked through the thermal I realised it was feet glowing under the shed and the body of the animal was inside. As I switched to the Nitesite on my rifle the animal popped out and with heart racing I shouldered the rifle to find a black and white cat staring back at me! At that point I had a feeling we had found the culprit of our missing chickens but my friend assured me we would still see a fox so I put the caller out and climbed to our vantage point on top of the silage bales.

 I started the caller with red fox cub distress and played it intermittently for a while. After about half an hour a fox could be seen to our left at the top of the field, with only a thin fence and on the crest of the field there was no safe shot. As I watched through the Quantum my mate picked up another heat signature in the filed on the far side, I changed the call to young rat distress and the nearest fox appeared to go through the fence scanning round for the second fox which showed no interest. I was lucky enough to see the glow of the top of the first foxes head as it dashed down the dip in the middle of the field, I’m sure I would never have seen it with standard NV alone. I changed to the rifle and Nitesite in time to pick him up about 90 yards away and he kindly came in and stopped for a front on chest shot at 80 yards. One down. Hopefully if the cat wasn’t the chicken killer then this big dog fox was. As it was only early we decided to stay put and see if there were anymore foxes in the vicinity.

After trying a few different calls another fox could be seen on the far side of the adjacent field. I changed the caller to rat distress again and swapped to the scope mounted Nitesite eagle on the rifle. I could clearly see the fox at 200 or so yards away but it showed no interest in the caller and started jogging off, when it turned to look back I took the shot and dropped it at 209 yards. A barren vixen in poor condition but further proof that when it comes to vermin control its best to use the best tools you can to carry out the job safely and humanely. 

With this in mind, I do like that thermal can detect a man sized object in excess of 1000m and some of the new models up to nearly 2000yards as this is great for checking your fall out zone is clear of unintended targets and promotes safe shooting.

I do believe that Thermal Imaging is a game changer in terms of vermin and pest control and also for security for monitoring the landscape unseen by others. I know a number of keepers and farmers who have been able to use it to follow poachers and been able to the alert authorities to the their presence.

The other thing about thermal is once you have one its amazing what uses you will find for it, from findings lost dogs on a night to detecting rats harbouring under containers or in my mates case telling how angry his wife is after he has been out lamping three nights in a row by telling how hot her face is!

Until next time, shoot straight and stay safe.

Luke Dane