Heat of the Night – Pulsar’s Helion XP50 and Trail thermal imaging optics
“When equipped with thermal imaging scopes such as the new Helion XP50 Thermal Monocular and Trail XP50 Thermal Imaging Sight from Pulsar, it’s the hunter who now has the advantage.”
It was a legitimate fear that feral hogs would eventually move north of the southern states. They did. Though northerners now contend with invasive hogs (even Wisconsin for example), we have never been more capable of defending against them given the lower cost, higher quality and widespread availability of Pulsar thermal riflescopes, monoculars and binoculars. When equipped with premium thermal imaging scopes such as the new Helion XP50 Thermal Monocular and Trail XP50 Thermal Riflescope, it’s the hunter who now has the advantage.
There was a time when we hunted only during the day. When I first began hunting hogs in 2004, to be successful was much more challenging and often defined by taking one or two animals. Night vision was useful when you knew where the hogs were (and it still is), but given that its technology depends on amplifying ambient light, we only benefit from night vision devices (NVDs) in darkness. Even when hunting hogs with night vision, there are limitations such as optical range when comparing the use of NVDs to using thermals.
But here’s the takeaway: Thermals are not night vision.
Thermals generate an image featuring a graduated contrast between objects of different temperature. Where night vision doesn’t penetrate through environmental conditions such as fog or smoke, thermals enable us to see through such interference to better spot and locate hogs at much farther distances. The biggest benefit is that thermals can be used during the day and night. I emphasize the word “day” because many people don’t realize that thermals are not sensitive to light; they operate by discriminating between temperature variations.
CHOOSING AN XP50
Pulsar is a brand to become familiar with. They are on vertical trajectory in both manufacturing quality thermals that work in rugged environments and by offering the average hunter and land owner practical, easy-to-use models. When compared to similar thermals, they’re also more affordable and feature rich. Consider the Helion XP50 and Trail XP50 sight.
The Helion XP50 zooms between 2.5X and 20X, and it can detect big game (such as deer) out to 1,969 yards. The Trail XP50 is a sight that quickly secures to the optic rail and offers the same smooth zoom between 1.6X and 12.8X. Further, the Trail has the ability to store three firearm/ammunition zeroing profiles in its memory (for different loads or suppressed/unsuppressed fire) at up to five distances each. There are also 15 reticles with options to illuminate at different intensity levels with colors such as red for ideal contrast depending on your eyesight and preferences.
Where most thermals offer the traditional white-hot or black-hot contrast options, the Helion XP50 Therml Monocular features eight different colors to best suit the user. Where white-hot is generally the most popular mode to identify potential targets, a green screen may not tire your eyes as much if scanning for hogs all night. The Trail XP50 Thermal Riflescope stays true to white hot and black hot modes as the overwhelming choice (and most practical for target acquisition) for the lion’s share of experienced hunters.
When it’s time to observe a potential target or take a shot, the Trail XP50 offers a picture-in-picture (PiP) view that functions like an extra zoomed image above the reticle — Pulsar’s PiP is designed to help you to make more precise shots. PiP consumes 1/10th of the image display, which means that it doesn’t interfere with situational awareness if there are other hogs to be scanned and considered. And if that were not incredible enough, the Trail XP50 incorporates an internal gyroscope and accelerometer that saves battery when carried more vertically than 70 degrees of angle, compensates for a shooter’s movement and improves accuracy. This technology also offers a visual display to illustrate cant and angle when greater than 5 degrees.
Inside the Helion XP50 and Trail XP50 is Wi-Fi, which means that you can sync the scope with a smartphone to stream and share the experience with others–they see what you see. To go along with the video, the XP50 also offers the ability to record sound. Videos can be stored on the device and transferred using Wi-Fi or through a USB cable later. And when you play back the hunt on a computer, device or TV, you’ll appreciate the fact that it will be in 640×480-pixel resolution.
Pulsar also offers excellent image definition. A drawback with older thermal technology, for example, was discerning between feeding livestock and foraging hogs at distance. They all looked the same. Pulsar’s image quality makes this less of a concern.
Another issue with older technology was a slow refresh rate, which resulted in a choppy, lagging image that required the hunter to slow down. Pulsar’s image not only looks sharp, it stays sharp; a 50Hz refresh rate translates to smoother scanning and more opportunities.
Inevitably, batteries need to be changed. Helion XP50 and Trail XP50 devices feature a quick-detach battery pack (B-Pack). With the Trail XP50, the B-Pack can be changed without compromising your zero. Plus, B-Pack power units can be configured to operate from Pulsar’s rechargeable battery, a case of CR123A batteries or widely-available AA batteries. If you have a limited ability to recharge, the battery cases are an excellent backup.
Unique to several Pulsar thermal devices is the on-board, stadiametric rangefinder. Based on estimated heights of observed objects (including hogs), a segmented square stadiametric box with animal icon makes it easy to quickly identify the distance in order to make a precise and ethical shot. This feature reduces misses. Of course, an improvement was also unveiled at the 2018 SHOT Show—later in the year, a next-generation model of the Trail XP50 is expected to feature a laser rangefinder.
Incredibly, Pulsar’s thermals are distinguished by their performance in temperatures ranging from negative 13-degrees to 122-degrees Fahrenheit. And the XP50 is rated waterproof. That means snow or torrential downpours won’t damage or disable a Pulsar thermal. I’m told that these optics can even be submerged in 3 feet of water for 30 minutes.
When not in use, the screen can be programmed to go to sleep after a prescribed amount of time. Pick your Pulsar-equipped rifle up or simply level the muzzle and the display turns on. This mode extends the unit’s battery life and reboots almost instantly.
Service and support doesn’t stop after purchasing a Pulsar thermal. In fact, there’s an app available for Apple and Android devices that pairs with the XP50’s streaming function. This means the software will never goes out of date and will continue to be supported by the manufacturer.
Following the 2018 NRA Annual Meetings in Dallas, Texas, I drove south to Mansfield to visit the Sellmark Corporation and tour the facility ahead of a one-night hog hunt. I grew an intense appreciation for the quality and customer service that Pulsar applies to its thermals during that visit. The Helion XP50 and Trail thermals are not the sensitive pieces of gear I thought they were. Most impressive was witnessing a Trail XQ30 attached to a hydraulic hammer fixture for recoil testing. I watched in awe as the machine relentlessly simulated the recoil of a .308 fired by the shoulder of a 250-pound shooter. The Trail XQ30 never failed to operate or lose its zero.
I then met James Sellers, president of Sellmark. He’s a self-starting entrepreneur who formed his company nearly 20 years ago — at only 27 years of age. Sellers is quite the inspiration, and after meeting him I can see why Pulsar hasn’t stopped innovating for customers like you and me. It’s because he and his team are just like you and I — real gun people.
LONE STAR FIELD TEST
The largest population of pigs can be found in Texas. Thousands of hunters already invest big money in the Lone Star State for the chance to load up and make a difference. Hunters who don’t already have their own thermals expect their outfitter to have them, and guides need equipment that works. Hog hunting has become such a popular excursion that companies such as Three Curls Outfitters (threecurl.com) are doing well by adding night-time hog hunts on leased property. For hunters who show up without their own gear, guides with Three Curl gladly loan out Helion XP50 and Trail XP50 thermals.
After a late afternoon zero check at the range, I selected a .308-caliber AR-10 fitted with a Trail XP50. My hunting partners included North American Whitetail’s editor, Haynes Shelton, a fun-loving guy with a hard, southern drawl and an incredible education.
After loading up in a lifted Ford Excursion diesel that our guide had affectionally nicknamed the “Pig Rig” (it was his vanity plate, too), we headed out to survey several thousand acres of farm country. When we approached a field, he skillfully stood on his running board with his left foot, worked the gas with his right, steered with one hand and looked over the windshield with his Helion XP50 thermals until he spotted the white-hot signature of pigs rooting in the distance. He was all cowboy, and I managed to trust him.
Due to the wet weather, the hogs were difficult to locate, and the disc rows of corn were nothing but fields of boot-high mud. Still, we managed to trudge through and get on a group of hogs after spotting them in the thermals. We had to trek a few hundred yards, but we managed to close in less than a football field away. Shelton and I were shooting from sticks and synchronized our shots at the guide’s command. Instantly, two pigs fell while a smaller pig took off to the right in a panic. Before losing it in the tree line, I managed to smack it dead with one shot using the ranging function in the Trail XP50. During recovery, that pig was confirmed to have been shot at near 200 yards while on the run.
Only one other boar fell to another hunter that night, and we never saw another pig to stalk before dawn. Still, I’m always grateful for these experiences to witness technology prove itself as it becomes more affordable and easy to use. None of the hogs we took down would have been detected had it not been for the use of our Pulsar thermals. These products testified that night that hogs never have to flourish in the fields of the flyover nation.
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