Mat Manning puts the HIKMICRO TE19C Thunder through its paces to find out if this versatile and surprisingly affordable thermal imager is set to go down a storm
More airgun shooters are switching to thermal optics for after-dark pest control. The reason for this is the fact that it is impossible to fail to notice the glow of a quarry animal’s heat signature when viewed through these devices. And because thermal imagers don’t use a light source there is no beam to betray your presence – you can carry out your observations and shooting with total stealth from the cover of complete darkness.
Not everyone is making the change, and one of the main reasons for that is cost.
Decent thermal technology doesn’t usually come cheap and it isn’t easy to justify spending two or three months’ wages on a new optic for a bit of pest control.
HIKMICRO could just offer a solution to that problem; its TE19C Thunder unit isn’t exactly cheap, but with prices starting at just over a grand for a riflescope that doubles as a spotter, it is far less expensive than a lot of its market competitors.
Also, because of the extensive research and development that has been carried out by the tech giant behind the brand, this gear tends to punch above its weight when it comes to performance.
There are several variants of the Thunder thermal unit, including high-spec 35mm and 50mm lens versions. I have been testing the more affordable 19mm model.
Prices start at £1,099 for the riflescope version, which doubles as a spotter, or for £1,299 you can go for the Ultimate Thunder kit which gets you the same riflescope/spotter plus the ability to switch it to a front-mounted add-on that will convert your daytime setup to thermal.
HIKMICRO TE19C Thunder – key specs
MANUFACTURER: HIKMICRO (hikmicrotech.com)
SUPPLIED BY: Elite Optical (eliteoptical.co.uk)
MODEL: TE19C Thunder
PRICE: From £1,099
LENGTH: 120mm (base unit)
WEIGHT: 350g (base unit)
MAGNIFICATION: 2.4x (optical) 1-8x (digital)
DETECTION RANGE: Up to 900m
FEATURES: Video and photo capture, five reticle designs, four colour palettes, picture-in-picture, one-shot zeroing, hot spot tracking, wifi connectivity, spotter, gunsight and clip-on capability
Features and function
The basic Thunder 19mm thermal module is very compact. It’s about 12cm long and weighs around 350g before you start adding mounts. Build quality feels solid, it is waterproof and can stand up to use on recoiling guns.
Powered by two CR123A batteries, which come supplied, it’ll give a runtime of up to about four hours using basic features or, for really long outings using the more power-hungry features, you can plug a power bank into its USB port and run it right through the night.
Thanks to a decent 256×192 thermal sensor, image quality is extremely impressive for this unit’s price point. Detection range is stated as 900m for large objects, but this spotter really shines at airgun ranges, even on small quarry like rats.
Detail was more than sufficient for quarry identification over typical airgun shooting distances, and I was able to not only distinguish rats’ heads but also which part of the head I was aiming at – you don’t get that kind of clarity of viewing with all affordable thermal kit.
The HIKMICRO TE19C is packed with features including video and photo capture direct to a 16gb onboard memory. It also boasts hot spot tracking and numerous image-enhancing features.
Despite all the onboard tech, it is easy to operate. The rear dial focuses the display for your eye (a job you only need to do once), the front dial focuses on whatever you are looking at and everything else is operated via the five soft-touch buttons on the control console on top of the unit.
The main menu (accessed by pressing and holding the middle button) is easy to navigate but most of the features that shooters use in the field are operated by the single press of a button. That includes photo, video capture and zoom. Optical magnification is 2.4x but digital magnification goes from 1x to 8x, allowing you to shift from a wide field of view to close-up viewing.
Another quick-access control is the colour palette change (left button), enabling the user to switch between Red Hot, White Hot, Black Hot and Fusion colour schemes. I found White Hot and Black Hot best for the spotting and shooting I did during the test period.
The Thunder also boasts wifi connectivity and you can connect it to your phone for viewing, controlling, recording and sharing via the free HIKMICRO SIGHT app.
Bearing in mind its price, plenty of shooters could probably justify buying the TE19C to use solely as a compact and effective spotter for use with either lamping gear or infrared optics.
I often choose the latter option, using a spotter on low magnification to give a wide field of view for quickly scanning large areas and swapping to the sharp detail and higher magnification of my infrared scope when shots present themselves.
This thermal scope is capable of much more than just spotting though. Attach its Picatinny scope mount and it can be fixed to your airgun and used as a thermal sight. For this task it has quick and easy one-shot zeroing and a choice of five different reticle designs displayed in either white, green or red.
All the other handy features are still there, including a picture-in-picture function, which doubles the magnification for precise shot placement while still exploiting the wider field of view in the main image for spotting. Being so small and light, it felt very nicely balanced when mounted up on my Weihrauch HW100 BP.
More clever tricks
Versatility is a big theme with the TE19C, which still has another trick up its sleeve.
Choose the Ultimate Thunder kit or buy the required extras separately and attach it to the front of your normal daytime telescopic sight and convert that to thermal.
To switch to front-mounting, you need to unscrew the spotter/gunsight eyepiece and swap it for the clip-on lens system. When the new lens is screwed in, the unit is able to recognise the change and automatically optimises its functionality for the different task.
The lens for the clip-on system incorporates a bayonet attachment with an additional screw fixture that connects very securely to an adaptor that mounts to the front of your telescopic sight. There are different sized quick-release adaptors to fit different scopes, and they come supplied with a selection of rubber shims in a variety of thicknesses.
These sticky-backed shims fit inside the adaptor to achieve a perfect fit and soft contact with your scope. Once it’s set up (which only took me a couple of minutes) the quick-release attachment means the thermal unit can be fitted and removed extremely quickly.
I paired the Thunder with an MTC King Cobra scope and a Brocock Concept XR air rifle. You need a scope that is adjustable for parallax and I found it best to have the Cobra’s sidewheel set to infinity and use the Thunder’s front dial to focus in on the target. Being such a light add-on, it didn’t make the gun feel too front-heavy when fitted.
One thing I really like about using the Thunder in this way is that you don’t have the usual hassle of zeroing a thermal scope – all your aim points remain the same as ever for your day scope so there’s no messing around trying to set up zeroing targets with a heat source to aim at.
Although there are higher-spec 35mm and 50mm versions of the HIKMICRO Thunder thermal imager, I think that most airgun shooters will lean towards the less expensive 19mm model.
While it still isn’t a cheap piece of kit, it does offer very good value for money for anyone who wants to incorporate thermal technology in their approach to after-dark pest control. You can’t expect it to compete with units costing three or four times the price when it comes to image quality, but it’s a great performer at its price point and lends itself well to targeting nocturnal rats and rabbits with an air rifle.
It even comes with the added reassurance of a three-year warranty and a service centre in the UK. There is a lot to like about this very versatile, competitively priced and extremely easy to use thermal imager, and I can see a lot of shooters warming to it.