The West Texas Proving Grounds: Trijicon’s New Thermal Optics and Missing on Tom Turkeys

I came, I saw and I tried.

And failed.

To take a Rio Grande tom with my Springfield Armory XD-M 10MM OSP semi-auto, that is, even with the very handy Trijicon SRO reflex optic I mounted on the handgun.

Thank God for feral hogs, AR’s and new thermal optics from Trijicon!

I had plans to do a turkey hunt this past Spring in West Texas with Hargrove Hunts near Rotan. I’d hunted there previously, took a tom on my last Rio Grande turkey hunt, and knew there were plenty of birds. But, frankly, the whole idea of shotgunning a turkey at 25 yards seemed a little boring to me. I needed a challenge and then it came to me: take a turkey with a handgun but make it a head shot.

At 20 and 25 yards, the Springfield XD-M and the Trijicon SRO were more than ready to make the all-important head shot.

My Springfield Armory XD-M was the optics-ready version of the XD-M line that came with the rear deck cut for an optic, plus an adapter for a Trijicon SRO (or RMR) reflex sight.

The XD-M featured a 5.3-inch match grade barrel, ambidextrous push-button magazine release, three interchangeable backstraps, and two 15-round magazines. Yes, plenty of 10MM firepower.

The SRO was my personal optic, and I’d used it on several different handguns and shotguns, at the range and for hunts, and I knew it was a workhorse. The SRO has the same footprint as Trijicon’s popular RMR reflex sight, but presents a larger field of view than the RMR. The adjustments are precise and the 2.5 MOA red dot pops nicely. 

I mounted my SRO onto the pistol and headed to the range. Zeroing the pistol was easy enough, seven shots at ten yards shooting from a rest.

McCombie in the field ready for a Rio tom.

For ammunition, I decided to use Hornady Custom 10MM launching Hornady’s 180-grain XTP bullet at over 1,200 feet per second at the muzzle. Which was way more than I’d need for a turkey. But the Hargrove Ranch is also home to a large population of wild hogs and I wanted to be ready for some pork, too, should the situation arise.

For my practice, I used the Birchwood Casey Pre-Game Splattering turkey targets. I started at 15 yards, sitting just off the ground on an ALPS OutdoorZ Turkey Chair MC, and resting the XD-M on my knees and with the help of a Primos Trigger Stick Gen2.

At 15 yards, I fairly obliterated the head on the Pre-Game Splattering Target and later easily made kill shots at both 20 and 25 yards. In fact, I was pretty damned impressed with my shooting, my thoughtful preparation, and myself in general!

Turkey decoys in place, and the calling and waiting begins.

Then I got to the 40,000-acre Hargrove Ranch and proceeded to miss three times on turkeys over the next three days. One was a Rio jake 15 yards away, who launched straight up when I shot, and I was sure he was done. Then he hit the ground and sprinted away between the brush and tall grasses like an Olympic runner. Miss Number Two was on a Rio tom, a good-sized boyo who wasn’t 20 yards away, and I whiffed completely.

Same thing on Tom Number Three…though he was five to six yards closer.

I was certain the SRO was out of whack on that last miss, so afterward I set up a plastic water bottle at 15 yards and shot. Perfect center punch.

Nope, misses were not the fault of the pistol or the optic…

My second morning I also found myself on the receiving end of an attack, when swarm after swarm of nasty little gnats decided to feast upon me—and I’d left my bug spray back at the lodge.

Bug spray would’ve helped…

The Score: Turkeys 3, Gnats Dozens, Brian Less Than Zero.

Hunting redemption came in the form of the thermal optics provided by Trijicon, upgraded versions of the REAP-IR® and IR-HUNTER® line of thermal imaging systems Trijicon introduced several years ago.

These were pre-production versions of the thermals and Trijicon was still in the process of finalizing various features and making sure everything worked as planned. My hunt, in fact, was part of the testing process and Trijicon staff was on hand to help with the thermal set up and in the field use.

The newly upgraded Trijicon IR-HUNTER 35mm Thermal Optic.

The big upgrades to these thermals, I was told, were new and improved system controls for faster system response and reduced lag, plus a new manual focus adjustment for 60mm versions to provide improved image quality at all distances.

Trijicon’s upgraded REAP-IR thermal optic is offered in three models, including this one with a 60mm objective.

The units also featured a new USB-C connector to allow the use of external battery packs for an extended time in the field. This, it turned out, was very needed as my REAP-IR 60mm unit had some sort of electric glitch and kept burning through sets of new CR123 batteries in about seven minutes.

So, we hooked up an external battery pack to my REAP-IR with a 60mm objective lens, which was mounted on a Primary Weapons System MK216 chambered in .308 Win. The AR was outfitted with a GemTech One Suppressor.

Trijicon’s thermals can now run on external battery packs for extended use times in the field.

A front was moving in, and the winds just screamed at our little group of hog hunters that night, blowing dust and chaff in our faces as we maneuvered over winter wheat fields that has gone dry from a lack of rain. We soon spotted a group of a half dozen hogs several hundred yards away and made for them, trying not to stumble in the dark, our only light a scattershot of stars above.

We got on the hogs and opened fire at maybe 60 yards, the wind providing good cover from sound and blowing our scent away from the sharp-nosed feral hogs. We managed to drop three of the hogs before the other three made it to the fence line and disappeared behind the high brush.

It was 30 minutes later that we spotted another group of hogs, that sounded maybe a quarter-mile distant. It seemed like we walked and walked, half-blind in the dark, but we couldn’t get closer. Though unaware of us, the hogs were moving steadily in the opposite direction, noses to the ground in search of forage.

Finally, the sounder found what it was looking for, halted, and we made up ground fast.

I was breathing hard and sweating despite the wind and the dropping temperatures. We got into a line, me at the right end. The hogs glowed bright through my REAP-IR, and I picked out one on the far right. Our guide counted off, “One, two, three,” and we opened fire.

Three good-sized hogs hit the ground immediately; my other two hunting companions took more shots as the remaining hogs scurried away into the dark and hilly landscape.

I had dropped a pretty good hog and watched through my REAP-IR as one of his mates ran straight away into the field, my only shot at his rear end—a shot I prefer not to take.  

I was on one knee, my right forearm and rifle being steadied on my left knee, tracking and watching the hog in my thermal. The hog disappeared into a low spot, came up, and continued on and on, always heading straight away.

I noticed the shooting to my left had stopped.

At about 250 yards I guesstimate, the running hog slowed, and turned broadside. I spun the thermal’s manual focus and the hog’s profile became sharp edged. He kept moving but was no longer in a scared hurry, seemed to think he was safe. I let out a breath, put the REAP-IR’s reticle just ahead of his nose and fired.

And missed. 

But the REAP-IR picked up the splash of the soil right behind the hog; my lead was too short. I swung the reticle further ahead and squeezed off a shot, and the hog cart-wheeled into the air and dropped to the ground. I watched him kick a few times, his body lit bright white by the thermal, and then he lay still.

West Texas boar thought he was safe, but the REAP-IR thermal proved otherwise.

That was one of the furthest shots I’ve even made with a thermal optic, at night, on a hog. My guide and fellow hunters were cheering my shot, and I certainly felt good about it. But I also knew the REAP-IR made the shot possible.

The next night I dropped two hogs using an IR-HUNTER featuring a 35mm objective lens. Shots were close, within 75 yards, the HUNTER images sharp and clear. I saw the breath coming out of some of the hogs, and even saw splashes of blood as the bullets hit home.

Unlike previous models, these new Trijicon thermals sported housings made from forged 7075 aluminum and featured updated top-loading internal battery compartments for faster access, a slimmer profile, and increased durability. The new quick release mounting system incorporates Trijicon® Q-LOC™ Technology to provide multiple mounting locations and the ability to affix the scope rapidly and reliably in the dark. This feature also decreases sight-in time and rounds fired with “return to zero” repeatability.

REAP-IR and IR-HUNTER thermals now feature improved reticle choices for instant adaptation to any scenario with today’s most popular chamberings. User-selectable reticle choices include MRAD, MOA, .223 BDC, .308 BDC, and 300BLK BDC options.

The IR-HUNTER provided amazingly sharp and detailed images.

All Trijicon Electro Optics thermal scopes feature 640×480 resolution and 12-micron thermal sensors with 60 Hz frame rates, are engineered, machined, and assembled in the United States, and are tested to MIL-STD 810-G. 

The new production models were recently announced, and I have not had a chance to use them. Yet. But if they work as well as the pre-production models I used earlier this year? Trijicon has hit another home run.

Yes, it’s an expensive home run with prices running essentially between $6,000 and $9,000, depending on the model and features. But high-quality high tech isn’t cheap and Trijicon thermals are among the very best available to the civilian market.

Just ask the West Texas boar who hauled ass 250 yards into the dark, and thought he was safe from a group of annoying hunters!

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About the author: Brian McCombie writes about hunting and firearms, people and places, for a variety of publications including American Hunter, Shooting Illustrated, and SHOT Business. He loves hog hunting, 1911’s chambered in 10MM and .45 ACP, and the Chicago Bears.

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  • Steve April 5, 2022, 8:02 am

    Don’t beat yourself up over missing the heads of turkeys.

    Unless they are walking dead-away from you, smacking their undulating head bob is more a function of timing than zero. I shoot ’em in the head at up to 35 yards with a scoped .22 Ruger Charger.

    I shoot from my porch during the season. There’s more lead in the ground than in birds, but I’d rather miss than do body shots. I hate body shots on birds. It makes cleaning them a messy, stinky affair.

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