Thermal spotters give pest shooters an unparalleled ability to spot nocturnal quarry in the dark – Mat Manning gives his verdict on four leading models.
More and more airgun shooters are adding thermal spotters to their night hunting armoury.
Whether you’re controlling rats around the farmyard or pursuing rabbits over open ground, being able to see an animal’s heat signature, even when partially obscured by undergrowth, provides a serious edge.
It wasn’t long ago that thermal spotters (also known as thermal cameras, thermal imagers and thermal monoculars), were regarded as expensive niche equipment for specialist applications.
Investing in this tech still amounts to a serious outlay, but prices are coming down and modern thermal cameras combine remarkable image quality and long-range viewing with very easy operation.
The four models featured here cover a range of price points and should meet the needs of all airgun shooters who want to set their sights on nocturnal quarry.
They can even be used by day, when they are especially effective for spotting grey squirrels in their treetop hiding places.
ZEISS DTI 3/25
Zeiss is a world leader in the optics market and, true to form, the DTI 3/25 delivers impressive optical performance.
It has a detection range of up to 880m for a man-sized object and clarity is excellent – I was able not only to spot rabbits at 500m, but also to confidently identify them by their clear outlines.
It focuses down to less than 10m, which makes it great for close-range airgun work such as farmyard ratting.
The DTI’s high-resolution display and 50hz frame rate make for smooth viewing, and the 1-4x zoom range, with distinct 0.5x stops, should meet most shooters’ needs.
Most significantly, this robust unit is compact, measuring 187mm in length and tipping the scales at 410g. That means it is pocket-sized, although it comes supplied with a very comfortable padded neck strap.
Ease of use is another strong point with the DTI; it is simple to operate. The front focus dial and top zoom buttons are probably the only controls that most shooters will need to use in the field, but the intuitive controls make easy work of the more advanced functions.
These include red hot, black hot, white hot and rainbow viewing options, picture-in-picture mode to double the zoom, and hot tracking to highlight heat signatures.
I have dabbled with all the features and functions on my nocturnal rabbiting and ratting rounds and didn’t struggle to navigate the menu – even when using it in total darkness and wearing gloves.
This model also features wifi connectivity via the Zeiss app and can record photos and video to its 15GB onboard memory. Runtime from the integral rechargeable battery is a very generous 10 hours, and you can stretch it further by switching to the quick-start standby mode rather than leaving it running.
INFIRAY EYE II E6 PRO V3
The most expensive thermal spotter in this roundup, this offering from InfiRay is also the top of the crop when it comes to optical quality.
Stated detection range for large objects is a huge 2,597m, and the detail shown on airgun quarry such as rabbits and rats at closer distances has to be seen to be believed – I could see small birds roosting in hedgerows when scanning the fields for rabbits.
Weighing around 520g and at 202mm in length, this model feels quite chunky in the hand, but is no great burden to carry on the supplied neck strap. The onboard rechargeable battery gives a runtime of up to six hours which can be extended significantly by switching to standby mode when not in use.
Viewing is enhanced by a choice of colour palette options: highlight, pseudo colour, black hot, white hot and red hot. They all result in a clear image on the high-resolution display, but I found the latter two the best for pinpointing bunnies and rats in the darkness.
Zoom can be shuffled between 1x, 2x and 4x – I used 1x most because the wide field of view made for extremely fast and effective spotting.
This model boasts hot spot tracking, wifi connectivity, picture-in-picture to double the zoom and an e-compass. It also has a stadiametric rangefinder that can calculate distance by bracketing targets, but this isn’t really appropriate for airgun quarry.
The advanced menu is easy to navigate and activates functions such as the motion sensor, which shows the vertical and horizontal angle to the target on the display.
There is even an ultraclear mode for sharper viewing in rain and fog. For shooters who like to capture and share the action, the Eye can also save photos and video clips to its internal memory bank.
PULSAR AXION KEY XM30
A great choice for shooters who want a small thermal monocular to slip in their coat pocket and forget about it until it’s needed, the Axion Key is 138mm long and weighs just 250g. Despite being minuscule, it is a tough little unit and is waterproofed to withstand a 1m immersion for up to half an hour.
This offering from night vision giant Pulsar is the least expensive unit in this roundup but it still delivers the goods.
It may not be on a par with products twice the price and more when it comes to clarity and detail of its thermal imaging, but optical performance is still good with a smooth 50hz frame rate.
Stated detection range for large objects is 1,200m, and it’s sharp enough to spot and identify rabbits out to beyond 500m and rats at over 100m.
The rechargeable battery gives a runtime of up to four hours. It is removable, which makes it possible to carry spares to keep it powered up for longer sessions. Batteries can be charged in situ or taken out and topped up with the supplied charging kit.
The controls are operated by a simple push-button console. The zoom key scrolls between 2.5x, 5x and 10x magnification, and that can be doubled by using the picture-in-picture function.
Although this model doesn’t have the ability to record photos or video, its useful features include different viewing modes to optimise performance in a range of conditions and eight different colour palettes.
This little Pulsar feels very good in the hand, and the supplied strap, which can be fitted on either side, makes for an excellent grip.
The Axion Key also has the very useful ability to focus down to less than 5m and gave a great account of itself when I used it to pinpoint elusive rats on the farm.
PARD G19 L
This handheld spotter is different from the monoculars in this roundup and there are pros and cons to its configuration.
Some may regard its exposed 5” screen as a disadvantage as there is a risk of quarry being spooked by its shine-back, but on the flipside it doesn’t compromise your natural ability to see in the dark anything like as much as units that are held right up to the eye.
I think the G19 L best lends itself to rabbit shooting on the move, either on foot or from a vehicle, with one person shooting and another operating the spotter.
For those who do opt to use it when creeping around fields at night, it has a simple but ingenious lamp built into its underside. A quick press of a button projects light down towards your feet – very helpful when negotiating difficult terrain.
The G19 L weighs 603g and is 195mm long. A removable rechargeable battery giving a runtime of over three hours is supplied along with a charging kit and a very tough plastic case. Detection range is 700m for a human-sized object and 1,000m for a car. Image quality is good, with an impressive field of view.
Features include an e-compass, hotspot tracking, magnification levels of 1x, 2x and 4x, and five colour palettes, operated by three buttons at the screen’s rear.
The standout gizmo on this unit has to be its laser rangefinder; a quick press of the button at the front of the handle snaps it into action, displaying an accurate range to the target on the screen.