Night vision scopes on trial
PUBLISHED: 11:03 15 December 2014 | UPDATED: 11:04 15 December 2014
Charlie McFee field tests some exciting new digital night vision scopes
Last month I received the brand new Yukon Photon XT digital night vision (NV) scope. I’d tried the earlier model and been deeply impressed with the performance, especially in view of the very modest £399 price tag. The XT version promises even more performance yet hasn’t gone up one penny. A very quick look shows you that this scope is unlike any other on the market. The body tube and ocular bell are just like any day scope, but at the front the fist-size digital NV is straight out of a Star Wars movie. The most noticeable different between this and the older model is that the central saddle which housed the windage and elevation adjusters has been eliminated. All zeroing is now done inside the electronics. This worried me a little bit because the old system was the same as pretty much any day scope and therefore dead easy to understand.
Reading badly worded manuals to learn a new way of doing things didn’t appeal to me, but I needn’t have worried. Zeroing is actually very easy. I read the instructions twice then simply had a go and in minutes the rifle was spot on. At the palatial Air Gunner Towers we still had the Air Arms S410F TDR from last month’s review which I thought would make a good test gun. Selecting my favoured Sportsmatch medium height, 30mm, double bolt mounts, I fitted the Photon in no time, but not without some challenges. With the front mount forward of the magazine, the scope was way too far away in terms of eye relief. I then put it behind the mag’ but the NV unit body clashed with the mag’ leaving the scope a little too far forward still, but I thought that wouldn’t matter. I was wrong. I could have tried higher mounts, but they would have compromised my aim at close range, increasing the need for hold over at the shortest targets.
The lightweight TDR with its pistol-grip stock was handy when moving around the stables on my friend’s land. The ground was wet and slippery and there was equipment everywhere, so being able to grip the rifle one-handed with confidence really helped. The rats were on the move and I scanned for long periods, hoping that one would stop in a safe position for me to make the kill. The new Photon sensor was bright and clear as promised, but with the scope too far forward and the longer than average length of pull on the TDR I began to tire quickly. Straining my neck soon became uncomfortable which made me lower the rifle for a rest more often than I’d have liked. However, with six fat rats in the bag I was pleased with a short night’s work.
I mentioned this mounting difficulty to Scott Country who told me that a new mount is on its way to me to overcome this challenge, so I look forward to trying it. An immediate fix was to fit the scope to my BSA R-10 MK2. This has a number of advantages, the most important being that the scope rail has no cut-out for the magazine, which allowed me to put the scope anywhere I chose. It also has more conventional ergonomics than the TDR, making shouldering it and staying on aim for long periods far more comfortable. On the downside, it’s somewhat heavier, tiring the arms sooner. My R-10 is in .22 which is most people’s first choice for rats, which was another bonus.
I learned a few other things about the Photon XT on that shoot that are worth sharing. Firstly, the built-in illuminator has plenty of power for ratting up to 30 yards, saving the cost of an add-on unit. At longer range, such as when searching for rabbits in big fields, it might be necessary, but I saw no need for one on the job I was doing. It has a choice of brightness settings and I changed them frequently as I moved about. At full power bright surfaces can cause glare, so it’s wise to turn it down, but at longer range or on dark areas, such as mud, the full power setting it ideal. The second thing I learned was that the image has a very shallow depth of field and I needed to refocus again and again. This was when my shooting partner came up with a great idea. He fitted a fishing ‘coaster’ that allowed me to focus with the thumb of my leading hand while on aim, making it quick and simple. They’re cheap to buy, so I recommend this mod’ to anybody.
With the BSA all set to go I’m looking forward to round two of our encounter and I’ll report back on how the new set-up worked for me in my role as rat eliminator.