Dont be afraid of the dark! Richard Saunders stays up past his bedtime to test four night vision scopes
Initially costing many thousands of pounds, night vision equipment has been realistically out of reach for most airgunners for many years. But like many other technologies, NV prices have tumbled in recent years. While some night vision kit still costs several times more than even the most expensive rifle, more affordable options are increasingly available.
Broadly speaking, the options fall into two categories: attachments that fix onto your day scope, and digital scopes that work in both the daylight and in the dark. Some enthusiasts have built their own night vision rigs, but while they no doubt do a fine job, the Heath Robinson approach is not for everyone.
Make the investment, however, and a whole new world of airgunning is revealed. As every airgun hunter knows, rabbits and rats are more active at night. For years, lamping has been the accepted method for hunting after dark; while it still has its fans, quarry can learn to associate flashing lights with danger. Potentially there is the added inconvenience of concerned passers-by calling the police or landowner.
One of the attractions of airgun hunting is the ability and requirement to blend into our surroundings. There are no 200-metre shots across open valleys for us. At night, this sense of being an unobtrusive part of the landscape is accentuated, be it creeping around hedgerows for rabbits, or waiting in the corner of a farm building for the rats to appear.
At this time of the year, shorter days restrict our ability to get out during the daylight. If you haven’t taken the plunge to invest in some night vision gear, now may well be the time.
In this group test, we have selected four solutions that all cost less than £1,250. The newly released Pulsar Forward F155 from Thomas Jacks and the NiteSite Wolf RTEK system both attach to day scopes, so there’s no need to re-zero: just attach the kit and off you go.
We’ve also selected a couple of options that replace your regular scope and operate both day and night – the Pulsar Digisight Ultra N355 and the Yukon Photon RT 6×50 S, also available from Thomas Jacks.
NiteSite Wolf RTEK
The NiteSite Wolf RTEK is the first of our test products that attach to your day scope. It has an SRP of £799, though a version without audio/video recording capability is £200 less. Sitting between the company’s Viper and Eagle products, the Wolf RTEK gives an in-the-dark range of 300 metres – very useful for spotting rabbits and planning to stalk them.
The Wolf RTEK comes in a hard plastic case. Cosseted by foam, the components consist of a combined infrared beamer and 3.5-inch viewing screen, a camera/recording unit, a couple of rubber tubes and plastic attachments, and a battery and charger. A 4GB micro SD card and an SD card reader are also included.
Set-up only takes a minute or two. The IR beamer/screen is attached on top of the scope with one of the plastic ring attachments, and the camera/recording unit fixes to the ocular lens with one of the two rubber tubes. The battery is held in place with a Velcro strap, and a couple of leads connect everything up.
Unlike the other products on test, the Wolf RTEK requires a heads-up shooting position and some kind of support, be it your lap, a bipod or sticks. It sounds awkward, but soon feels natural. Once you have wiggled the camera on the back of your scope for a perfectly aligned picture through the large viewing screen, the image, even in darkness, is crisp up to mid-magnification levels.
A dial on top of the camera brings your reticle into focus. The micro SD card fits into a slot beside the on/off switch. Just above that is a red button. Press it once and it flashes to let you know it is recording. Another press switches it off.
I used the Wolf RTEK with a Primos Trigger Stick on a night-time rabbiting session. With a sling I didn’t notice the additional 747g of weight and the 300-metre spotting capacity was more than enough to help me find some bunnies.
“The Wolf RTEK is the most user-friendly NV solution here. It may not have as many recording options as the others, but it gives you everything you need to hunt at night.”
Pulsar Digisight Ultra N355
The Digisight Ultra N355 is the most expensive night vision solution in our test, and the first that is as capable in daylight as it is at night. Included is a Weaver mount, which screws into the base of the unit and provides a rock-steady attachment to your rifle. There is also a 940nm interchangeable infrared beamer and a lithium-ion battery which gives up to eight hours of use. At 314mm long and just over a kilo, the Digisight Ultra N355 is shorter than most conventional scopes, but heavier.
In daylight, the image is very clear, albeit slightly washed-out. At night the image is pin-sharp at airgun ranges and beyond, with a maximum range of 500 metres. Magnification is 3.5-14.
The menu and sub-menus provide seemingly endless options to choose from, many of them also accessible via a remote control. Pulsar has thought of just about everything you can imagine you’d need on a day/night scope, and a great deal more besides. That said, the menu is relatively easy to follow, especially with the instruction book at your elbow.
Within minutes I was able to work out how to select my preferred night vision image colour and adjust the brightness and contrast. With a bit more application, the menu soon revealed how I could change the reticle style, colour and brightness, as well as how to zero the scope for up to 15 different distances.
Judging range accurately at night is almost impossible, so the integrated rangefinder is a particularly nice feature – although it is clearly intended for much bigger game at longer distances than the rabbits at 20 metres I tested the Digisight Ultra over.
Like the Pulsar Forward F155, the Digisight offers plenty of choice when it comes to recording, photographing and broadcasting your hunting expeditions thanks to integrated Wi-Fi connectivity and the Stream Vision app.
“The Digisight Ultra N355 is an extremely impressive package, and it’s hard to see what else you could want. If you need everything the Digisight offers, you’ll have a whale of a time.”
Pulsar Forward F155
Only just on the market, the Pulsar Forward F155 attaches to the front of a regular day scope. It retails at £990, although you will have to pay an additional £100 for the metal cover ring adapter that connects the unit to the objective lens on your scope. With the help of the adapter and a plastic collar to ensure a snug fit in place, the Forward F155 snaps onto the scope with four lug connectors.
The F155 comes with a 940-nanometre infrared beamer which attaches to the right side of the unit, and is interchangeable with other Pulsar units, as well as aftermarket products. The lithium-ion battery, which claims eight hours of operation, latches securely on the left.
The unit measures 155mm long, hence the name, and weighs 536 grams. But with the cover ring adapter, battery and IR beamer added, that increases to 187mm and 930g. The weight isn’t an issue, as you will likely be shooting from a rest, but the length makes it hard to reach the operational buttons without taking your eye off the target.
The engineering quality on the Pulsar Forward F155 is immediately apparent. I spent several hours ratting on a pitch-black night. An extremely clear image leapt out of the gloom and, with the brightness and contrast options on the menu, I was able to improve it still further. As the F155 is a digital attachment, the reticle you see is the one on your scope and, of course, there is no need to adjust your zero.
The F155 has a wide array of options when it comes to recording your shooting sessions, and the instruction book is very helpful. The ability to overlay a virtual reticle on your recordings is a nice addition. You can also take still photographs, and with Wi-Fi connectivity, you can link to your laptop or smartphone and live-stream your action in real time after downloading the Stream Vision app.
“The F155 is a fine piece of engineering. We like the simplicity of use. With all the audio/video, live-streaming and still picture capabilities, you’ll be able to relive your shooting sessions.”
Yukon Photon RT 6×50 S
Fans of night-time hunting have admired Yukon products for many years. The company’s products have been a firm favourite for those who want a scope that gives them everything they need when the sun goes down, but works just as well when it comes up again. The Photon RT 6×50 S retails for £600. Although it is the cheapest of the products on test, it is perfectly capable of doing almost everything its more expensive rivals can.
Unlike the other products, the Yukon doesn’t have a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Instead it uses four AA batteries, which will last three-and-a-half hours. At some point you are going to run out of juice in the field, so carrying a spare set is a must.
Other than that disappointment, the Yukon stands up well against the competition. Its menu has plenty of options, including a choice of six different reticles in three different colours. It also has an on-board video recording capability with 8GB internal memory, as well as live-streaming, wireless connectivity and remote-control capabilities. Somewhat confusingly given the product’s name, the Yukon RT 6×50 S offers magnification from 6x up to 12x.
At 280 metres, the detection range is shorter than the other products on test, but in reality that’s more than adequate for everyday airgun use. In daylight, the colour image is crisp enough. At night the 850nm infrared beamer can be adjusted via a dial on the top of the scope; and although it is not as powerful as the others, it is, once again, more than adequate for the task at hand and delivers an excellent level of image clarity.
In the field, the Yukon RT 6×50 S is a little longer than most scopes at 458mm, and about a third heavier at 930 grams. It’s nicely balanced, though, and you hardly notice the weight, making it highly usable in all sorts of situations, even when you’re taking free-standing shots.
“Everything the Yukon RT 6×50 S does and has, the other solutions do or have more of. Given the practical limitations of airgun hunting, though, it delivers everything you need.”
Leader of the pack
he capabilities of most night vision systems you can buy today exceed the needs of most airgunners, with many features designed for centrefire or rimfire use. Given this reality, it’s important to ask yourself what you need night vision for. In most situations, you are going to be shooting rats at short range, or hunting rabbits with stalking or ambush tactics.
We don’t shoot foxes, boar or deer over hundreds of metres, so bear in mind that many of the features you might pay for in a given night vision scope may end up being obsolete when applied to the airgunning world.
For some people, of course, owning technology simply because of what it can do rather than what it is needed to do is enjoyment enough. And many airgunners also shoot rimfire and centrefire rifles. If you fall into either of those categories, then the Pulsar Digisight Ultra N355 is well worth a look. But for purely airgun applications, it’s probably too much technology. The Yukon Photon RT 6×50 S delivers much of the same functionality, but in a ‘lite’ package that is more relevant to the airgun hunter, and half the price of its rival.
When it comes to night vision attachments to day scopes, the Pulsar F155 really is the gold standard. It is well-engineered with excellent build quality. The NiteSite Wolf RTEK is cheaper, and although it’s not as sturdy as the F155, it is certainly well-made and will give you many years of strong, reliable service.
“I’m torn between the NiteSite Wolf RTEK and the Yukon RT 6×50 S. I wouldn’t use many of the additional features of the two Pulsar products. With the choice narrowed to two, it comes down to whether I want to replace my day scope or augment it at night. As good as the Yukon is in daylight, it’s not like a conventional scope. So the Wolf RTEK is the narrow winner.”