Best thermal imagers for airgun hunters

With prime season for after-dark airgun hunting just around the corner, Mat Manning suggests some options for airgun shooters targeting nocturnal pests.

It’s that time of year again; the nights are beginning to draw in, and airgun shooters are starting to turn their attentions towards the matter of after-dark pest control.

Whether they’re targeting rabbits or rats, night-time forays provide a big part of air rifle hunters’ sport, and many of them will be considering splashing out on new gear that will have the impact of improving their chances during the graveyard shift.

Affordability is the main priority for most airgun shooters when choosing night vision and thermal optics. This technology has seen a significant fall in price over recent years, making it far more accessible to the masses.

Digital night vision seems to be the popular choice, but even thermal optics are reaching a price level that can be justified by shooters who are planning to put in big hours thinning out pests after nightfall through the autumn and winter.

Modern night vision and thermal optics may be getting more affordable, but that doesn’t have to mean skimping on quality and features. Some units are packed with extras, including one-touch video and photo recording, ballistic calculators and a wide choice of reticle and viewing options.

Striking the right balance between gizmos, image quality and ease of use is an important consideration for shooters when choosing an optic that fits their budget and meets their needs in the field.

And don’t overlook scope-mounted lamps. Even with today’s raft of technical wizardry at their fingertips, there are plenty of situations when airgunners are better off opting for traditional lamping tactics, which still work as well as they ever did.

Lamplight is a great option not only for shooters who are on a tight budget, but also for those who want to keep things simple and avoid.

ATN X-SIGHT 4K PRO 3-14X

SRP: £1,019.99
www.highlandoutdoors.co.uk

ATN X-SIGHT 4K PRO 3-14X

Although a little heavy at around 940g, the ATN X-Sight Pro is an excellent night vision scope for airgun shooting. It comes supplied with its own illuminator, and even produces a sharp colour image by day.

Features include full HD video recording, one-shot zero, an electronic compass and an excellent on-board USB rechargeable battery that boasts a run time of up to 18 hours.

The screen display shows angle of elevation and whether you are canting the gun, and an integral ballistic calculator can even adjust zero to keep shots dead on target whatever the range.

It can also connect to your phone via Bluetooth, and has the capacity to store numerous different zero profiles if you intend to swap between guns or ammunition.

Despite being rammed with handy extras, the X-Sight is easy to use and robustly constructed, making it very well suited to use in the field and on the farm.

PARD NV007A NIGHT VISION ATTACHMENT

SRP: £432.99
www.sportsmanguncentre.co.uk

PARD NV007A NIGHT VISION ATTACHMENT

Over the last couple of years, Pard has established itself as one of the big players when it comes to meeting airgun shooters’ night vision needs. Affordability and functionality are the attributes that have helped this brand to gain traction, and the new NV007A Night Vision Attachment looks set to build on that.

This clever add-on attaches to the rear of a conventional telescopic sight, fitting a wide variety of eye-bells, to convert it to night vision. This low-cost option means you don’t need a separate gun to set up with NV optics, and all your aim points remain the same as usual, because you’re using your everyday scope.

The NV007A has its own integral illuminator that gives a detection range out to 200m. It’s a shade over 10cm long, weighs just 250g, and has a battery run time of up to eight hours. Features include E-Compass, 3D Giroscope, HD video recording and Wi-Fi connectivity with a phone 

SAIM SCL35 (IRay)

SRP: £2,595
www.opticalsolutions.uk

SAIM SCL35 (IRay)

A couple of years ago I would have compared the prospect of coupling an airgun with a thermal imaging scope with using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The kit was simply too expensive and complicated to use. Units like the Saim SCL35 have changed my opinion.

Costing well over £2,000, this is still going to be a seriously considered purchase for most shooters but it is certainly worth the outlay if it can be justified. Not only does this device create a clear thermal image of your quarry’s heat signature in the dark, it can also be used by day.

Weighing in at around 410g and measuring about 190mm, it is certainly compact. Standard zoom goes up to 4x with a Picture in Picture (PIP) function boosting it to 8x. Image quality is more than good enough for confident quarry identification.

Offering a run time of up to four hours from two CR123 batteries, this easy-to-use thermal scope possesses a stated detection range of up to 1,283m. Some of its features include one-shot zeroing and a choice of reticle designs and colours.

PAO LUMENMAX 900IR SYSTEM

SRP: £119.99
www.shootingparty.uk

PAO LUMENMAX 900IR SYSTEM

This is a great option for shooters who want simplicity. Despite its low price, this has everything airgunners need to target pests by lamplight, and even comes in a foam-lined hard case.

The lamp runs a powerful CREE LED light module, and has an interchangeable head so you can switch to the supplied 850 NM infrared illuminator module for use with night vision units. It’s less than 18cm long and weighs just 230g, so won’t make an airgun combo feel too top-heavy.

Attachment is by means of a mount that fits 25mm and 30mm scope tubes, and the user can choose between the tail switch or a supplied remote pressure switch for on/off and power setting selection.

A rechargeable battery is also included in the kit, and run time varies from 30 hours on the lowest power setting to 80 minutes at full output. Red and green filters are supplied to soften the beam when targeting lamp-shy quarry.

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