Double Down on Your Thermals—the Pulsar Trail XP38 Thermal Imaging Riflescope and Helion Monocular Review
Written by Brian Magee, Sightmark and Pulsar Pro Staff member.
Most people consider buying a house or vehicle a major purchase. You spend time researching different makes and models that fit your wants and needs, trying things out and talking to others that have made similar purchases. When it comes to hunting gear, what amount of money constitutes a major purchase? Hundreds of dollars? Thousands?
For me, when the time came to pick the perfect thermal imaging device for hunting hogs at night in Oklahoma, it was a major purchase. Spending thousands of dollars on a piece of hunting equipment is cause for doing a fair bit of research on what to buy. After countless hours reading reviews, talking to other hunters and even getting some hands-on time, I have come up with an incredible one-two punch which I believe is not only safer but has made me much more successful. My system consists of a handheld thermal monocular, the Pulsar Helion XQ50, and a thermal riflescope, the Pulsar Trail XP38. This combination has facilitated the demise of many hogs throughout the state of Oklahoma.
Soon after my thermal imaging devices arrived, I pulled onto a hunting property in southwest Oklahoma. I brought everything I needed to mount the scope to the rifle and get it zeroed… well, almost everything! When you are zeroing a thermal scope, it is helpful if you have something, –hot or cold– that produces a heat signature. After searching the cab of the truck and through a heaping pile of hunting gear, I was able to come up with a lost package of hand warmers. I erected a crude range and within minutes had the scope zeroed. Only the long wait for sunset and quick meet-up with a friend remained—my Pulsar XP38’s maiden voyage was going to be a night hunt.
The sun finally dropped below the horizon, leaving the landscape veiled in darkness; only faint moonlight remained. I headed out to meet my good friend and fellow firefighter, Chris Walls. The two of us set off for the hunt with only one rifle topped by the Trail XP38 to share between us—we would have to take turns. The Helion makes scanning the large alfalfa fields extremely easy. Like the Trail, the Helion has built-in video. The non-shooter was not only tasked with leading the stalk, but he was also responsible for capturing Helion video footage of the hunt. The Trail would capture thermal footage of the hunt, too, but with a reticle—great POV footage!
A great deal of our hunting landscape is thick, brushy draws and wide-open winter wheat and alfalfa fields. Significant amounts of time are spent driving ranch roads and looking over these large fields for hogs. The Helion allowed us to quickly scan fields from the truck. We didn’t have to handle the rifles until hogs were located and we were prepared for the stalk. Our rifles stayed safe and secure and we didn’t miss anything hiding in the darkness thanks to the handheld monocular.
In addition to making it easier and safer while searching from vehicles, a thermal monocular like the Helion is also incredibly beneficial when stand-hunting or on spot-and-stalk pursuits. During a stalk, whether hunting with a friend or on a solo trip, the handheld monocular can also be used to keep the hunter constantly informed about hog location, activity and even posturing—observing body language and movement on the fly can let you know the hogs are skittish and about to leave.
If you’re hunting with a buddy, the Helion allows one person to keep track of the hogs while the other controls the rifle in a safe position until ready for the shot. Using a thermal monocular like the Helion also affords the opportunity to capture great thermal still photos and video via the onboard video camera. This is a great feature not only for reliving these exciting hunts; the footage can also aid in game recovery should your animal run off the field. Capturing footage makes it easy to go back and reference landmarks that can help in retrieving your animal.
While stand-hunting, shooters can use a handheld thermal monocular to scan the area around their setup for approaching hogs or predators. The rifle can remain on the tripod or bipod, pointed in a safe direction, until the animal presents a shot. A compact thermal monocular like the Helion or Pulsar’s new Axion can easily be stored in a pocket or shared with your hunting partner to watch everything happen.
Safety is always a top priority when hunting, especially at night. Using the monocular to scan fields and setups is not only safer, but allows you to be faster and more efficient when covering a great deal of ground with vehicles or ATV’s. Doubling down on thermal technology by using a monocular and riflescope truly makes for a deadly one-two punch!
Chris was up first as a trigger-man and we located a single boar feeding in a native grass field along the edge of a creek almost immediately. Using the Helion, we easily navigated past numerous large round bales in a steady north wind. After cutting the distance in half, we reached a position that provided an excellent vantage point for me to film with the Helion and for Chris to get a good shot on the unsuspecting boar. After confirming we were both filming, the 7mm WSM broke the silence and our first hog of the evening was down. The entire hunt was captured from both the perspective of the shooter and the spotter!
Our celebration was short lived, as we quickly found ourselves preparing for the next stalk. Just a few hundred feet away was the entrance to a large alfalfa field. After scanning through several deer and rabbits, we located another lone boar in the very back of the field. This would be a much longer stalk, and although the wind was in our favor, the scattered turnips in the field tested our ability to stay upright through the trip hazards. As we closed the distance, we began to note the unbelievable size of this boar.
We continued to close the distance, stopping to check our position every 15 to 20 steps or so, as the boar slowly fed and moved away from us. We closed to within 100 yards and stopped to set up. The big boar rarely stood still and seemed to take forever to provide a shot opportunity…but eventually he did, and we were ready. Again, the evening calm was disturbed by the Browning 7mm WSM. The boar buckled instantly and fell in the same hoofprints he had just made.
What an incredible night! Despite the wind and brutal cold, we managed to christen our new piece of gear on the very first night out. At home, I usually find myself getting things ready for work or preparing for bed when the sun goes down. I may have just become more of a night owl thanks to a little research, preparation, and Pulsar’s thermal imaging optics. I’m a fan.
Brian is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, but has spent most of his life in the Oklahoma City area. He achieved a life-long goal of becoming a firefighter in 2003 and is now a part of the Oklahoma City Fire Department as a Lieutenant. His love for the outdoors, hunting and fishing began at a very young age thanks to a family who shared those interests. He grew up with a fishing pole in hand and began hunting with his dad around the age of 6. At the age of 14, he received his first hunting bow for Christmas and his love for bow-hunting was born. He has been bow-hunting for over 25 years and has had the privilege of harvesting many animals. While he spends most of his time hunting and fishing, reloading ammunition also ranks high on his list of hobbies. He is married to a very understanding wife and enjoys every minute they spend together.