I am interested in investing in some sort of night vision for scouting purposes. I have absolutely no need to mount it to a weapon, or record video, or connect to wifi, or any of that fancy stuff. I have used some other folk's expensive equipment in the past, and the only thing I really found a lot of value in for my uses was a simple handheld thermal monocular made by FLIR. I'm not sure what model it was, but you could ride around in a blacked out truck and spot hogs out in the field with alarming efficiency. 10x better than the ole Q-beam method that I grew up on. All I need to do is find animals in the darkness and ID them as "not cows" at a couple hundred yards and closer. what is the best option for this? Under a thousand would be great... not sure if that's possible though. Should I just get the nicest FLIR I can afford, or is there other options?
Finally, is it possible to have it mounted for hands free operation? I would love to be able to drive or walk to the stand without having to hold it up to my face.
Just remember you can't see through glass with a thermal, you can with NV. We ride in my Pioneer with only a half windshield. I wouldn't spend any money on a NV device vs Thermal for spotting.
Most of the under $5k thermal monoculars I can think of by default are not helmet mountable. There are some engineers on eBay that have created helmet mounts for the FLIR's you're likely referencing and the Pulsar HD19/38 and one of their newer ones that uses the same style housing. (Someone has a Pulsar thermal in the classified section now.)
Armasight/FLIR will have a new thermal one pretty soon that's supposed to be helmet mountable. $2k range last I saw.
My ATN OTS isn't supposed to be, but it works just fine. IMHO, nothing beats a monocular on a helmet for spotting.
Right now the Pulsar Helion monoculars are very popular but they all have wifi, video recording etc and while that is definitely one of the draws to them, it also adds to the cost. They start at $2,500.
FLIR has some newly discounted pricing on some of their thermal monoculars but the least expensive unit that will meet your needs is going to be $1,995. In my opinion, for ID'ing "not cows" at 200 yards or less, no frills and a really good price, you should look at the Pulsar Quantum Lite XQ23V. It's $1,699 and that is the least expensive quality thermal monocular you are going to find. FLIR discounted a couple down to $1,399 but the resolution is only 240x180 which just isn't enough pixels to consistently get good ID's at 200 yards in my opinion. The XQ23V IS 384X288, 50Hz refresh rate, 17 microns and has an AMOLED display. For the money, I don't see how you beat it right now.
Here is a good video review on the Quantum Lite XQ23V. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions.
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It is just too easy to ride around and scan fields with a thermal. I saw the NV stuff pretty much as the same capability as a good ole fashioned $30 spotlight, good for a couple hundred yards at a time as long as there wasn't anything obstructing your line of sight. If there's tall grass, forget it. With the thermal, you can detect life forms that you would have missed otherwise. Just scan every once in a while. Once they're located, all I needed was to play the wind and make a stalk. Get within 30 yards of a group of pigs and a $100 weapon mounted light on a AR does the rest.