LED lighting solutions for the hunter and outdoorsman have now reached a level of maturity where they actually deliver all they ever promised a few years ago. Long battery life and never a need to change a globe have been the hallmark of LED lights but in recent times they have come a long way in the performance stakes too. So much so that today's small palm sized LED torch is likely to make your old 4 cell Maglite look like a tired old candle. In fact many hunters are discovering the possibilities of compact, low weight and no-hassle spotlighting using these new generation LED torches. I was discussing this trend with the staff of Elk's Hunting & Fishing in Albury and they kindly made available a range of LED Lenser products for an AHN review. Marty from Sandy Creek Outfitters also came to the party with a Surefire Defender torch and a number of mounting hardware solutions like the VLTOR bracket and TPS ring to Picatinny adapter to round out the review. It is not my intention to present a head to head shootout between the products, sure there will be comparisons but the main purpose is to give an insight into what is available in LED products that I've found useful and may be of interest to other shooters.

From left Led Lenser P7, LED Lenser Tech Focus and Surefire E2D LED Defender

     The three torches supplied were the LED Lenser P7, the Police Tech Focus Accessory set and the Surefire E2D LED Defender. These torches are all quite compact and are representative of the new breed of LED torches. Although similar, they are very different in a number of ways and produce light with different characteristics  as a result. The LED Lenser P7 came with four AAA Alkaline batteries, the Tech Focus with three AAA Alkaline batteries, and the Surefire came with the two 123A Lithium batteries installed. Rechargeable battery options if required are available for all systems at extra cost.
     Using a bush and a light coloured back fence, I experimented with trying to get a good photo of the beam produced by each torch at various ranges and settled on 30m as a reasonable compromise that my camera could handle but still show the different beam produced. The results were interesting and a little surprising.
     The LED Lenser P7 was the most powerful torch on test, rated at 200 Lumens, it threw a broad powerful beam with a little spill light to illuminate the periphery of the target area. The torch features a speed focus system whereby the head of the torch is simply slid with the thumb to achieve a flood or spot beam very quickly with minimal fuss. The tailcap on/off switch features momentary high and high/low power modes and the torch is powered by the included four AAA Alkaline cells. Standard accessories include a quality nylon pouch, lanyard and karabiner. Optional accessories included were a tailcap pressure switch and mounting bracket. This torch threw plenty of strong light to easily illuminate & identify a rabbit at 100m+ with the naked eye. It feels solid in the hand and you get the impression it would easily survive the routine drops and accidents typically encountered in hard outdoors use.

     LED Lenser's Police Tech Focus is rated at 105 Lumens, and although giving away a bit in outright power to the other torches, it makes up for it with a very precise focus system. The twist focus head on the torch concentrates a very nice spot beam with not a lot of spill light and is good enough to positively identify rabbits to 80m with the naked eye. This torch came in a kit that includes everything needed to mount the light on a barrel or scope tube. Included are a figure eight universal quick mount bracket, tailcap pressure switch, quality nylon pouch, lanyard, karabiner and three AAA Alkaline batteries. The tailcap on/off switch has momentary and on/off function only and there is no low/high power mode on this torch. The mounting bracket is a good design and best of all very quick to set up using only one nut in the centre of the bracket to clamp onto scope tube and torch,  all without any tools required. The bracket is made of a synthetic material that won't scratch the finish on your scope, torch or barrel either.

     Surefire's E2D LED Defender is rated at 120 Lumens and is of a fixed focus design. The tailcap on/off switch has momentary high/low and high/low power modes and can be locked to prevent accidental switching on. The torch threw a surprisingly focused intense light given the noticeably greater peripheral light around the target area. I had no trouble seeing a rabbit to 90m with the naked eye and this torch is a Military spec unit built like a tank, to the point where it has fighting teeth built into the head and tailcap of the torch...hence the Defender name. Running on a pair of 123A Lithium batteries, there are a number of optional accessories available including lanyard, pouch, various filters and an accessory module to carry spares and batteries and of course some very nice Milspec mounting hardware. The Surefire was the smallest torch and made for a very low profile & compact mount on a rifle.

Tech Focus Accessory Kit - Everything needed to mount torch on scope or barrel

    There are a number of solutions to mounting the various torches to a rifle or shotgun and the most common one I've seen is the lightweight alloy figure 8 bracket with anything up to 8 small socket head screws that are required to be fastened. Whilst this system is certainly workable and secure enough, it does mean the torch is more or less semi-permanently attached to the rifle and if you need to remove it, out in the paddock at midnight is a bad place to be fumbling with small screws and cold fingers. I think LED Lenser's take on the figure 8 bracket is a better one, with only one large nylon coated, easy to turn nut requiring to be done up without the need for any tools. The bracket will self centre to a fair degree on two slightly different diameter tubes such as a torch and scope. It also has a rubber wrap insert with the bracket for use when attaching to a slender barrel for example. I prefer to mount on the scope tube and not have the possibility of a shifting point of impact that a barrel mount may introduce.
     I mounted the Tech Focus Kit on my CZ 452 American and it went on the 1" tubed Leupold VX-II without any problems. The light was well aligned with the sight picture through the scope and certainly provided plenty of illumination for typical .22 rimfire ranges on the bunnies. Walking around spotlighting rabbits with barely any noticeable change in weight or handling of the rifle really rammed home the advantages of an LED torch system over the traditional spotlight and sealed lead acid battery in the backpack routine. Over three hours or so of spotlighting, I did not notice any reduction in light output and the batteries still had plenty of sting for a subsequent session a few days later. Rabbits between 60-75m were seen and shot easily and a shy fox out at around 120m could be positively identified through the scope though not by naked eye. A little ambitious at that range with a .22 so he lived to tell the tale, though I could easily see his eye reflection at that range with the naked eye.

The LED Lenser Tech Focus Kit mounted on my CZ 452 .American

Surefire mounted to my Ruger custom HMR using VLTOR/TPS mounts

     I mounted the Surefire Defender to my customised  Ruger HMR using the supplied VLTOR bracket and TPS Picatinny ring to rail adapter. This is a very professional and strong solution, as you'd expect from a military specification. The whole installation is very sleek, compact and low over the scope, giving perfect beam alignment onto the target. The other feature I really liked is you undo one thumb screw and the bracket is released from the Picatinny rail and the torch is released from the bracket ready to go back into it's pouch. Once again, no tools required and the only permanent attachment left on the rifle is a very well finished Picatinny ring to rail adapter that weighs nothing. The Picatinny adapter is of course compatible with any Weaver cross slot type ring mount as well but a Weaver base is not compatible with a Picatinny mount as the Weaver cross slot is narrower than the Picatinny. This is a good reason to choose a Picatinny rail and then you can use either Picatinny or Weaver type rings/mounts.
     The Surefire worked well on the HMR and is such a compact mount you almost don't notice it's there. I took shots out to 100m or so on rabbits as the torch supplied plenty of light for the VX-II scope to work with. The extra light spill on the Surefire helped spot fidgety rabbits off to either side of the focused beam and I nailed a few using this technique. Now I don't expect anyone to throw away their Lightforce 240 Blitz in favour of one of these LED torch setups, but we are not talking about shooting across a 300m stubble paddock. The LED torch option is however very well suited to rimfire ranges and I predict equally well suited to after dark action on pigs and such in the thick stuff or along creek beds. The beauty of the lightweight torch setup is that for the sake of a few grams, you can have it in your daypack or pocket and be in business once you've finished that late afternoon fox whistling or bunny busting session. And for the man on the land, a ready mounted lightweight torch in either the ute or farmhouse is just the thing for opportunistic ferals sneaking around after dark.

VLTOR bracket & TPS ring to rail Picatinny adapter

LED Lenser P7 mounted using Leupold 30mm QRW ring - perfect!

     The VLTOR bracket quickly proved to be my favourite torch mount, however they only make them to suit the Surefire range of torches which are around the 1" diameter in the body and the LED Lenser P7 is 29.5mm diameter in the body. So with the quick attach/detach without tools theme in mind, I decided to mount the LED Lenser P7 using a Leupold QRW ring straight onto the TPS ring to rail adapter. Two wraps of electrical tape is all that was required to ensure the 30mm rings had a good hold on the torch and I was in business. The P7 certainly didn't disappoint and gave all the light and range needed for most any shot you'd want to take with a HMR. The slightly higher mount proved perfect in giving a bit more clearance over the scope saddle and beam alignment with the scope was excellent. I would rate this setup as the perfect after dark companion to any .17 HMR or .22 WMR. The wider more powerful beam would also be right at home on a fast handling lever action centrefire.
     The P7 also came with a couple of optional accessories including a tailcap pressure switch and a torch mounting bracket specifically made for the P7. The bracket is an interesting one that was designed for mounting the torch on bicycle handlebars and can be set to be pointing at any angle and of course straight ahead. It is made of an industrial nylon synthetic material and comes with two clamp screws of different length to provide a neat protrusion free mount on large or small diameter tubes. As it turns out, they are a perfect fit for a  1" or 30mm scope tube and a length of rubber strip is also provided to give a snug fit on thinner mounts such as rifle barrels. No tools are required to mount the bracket or torch and the mount works very well with a nice low profile and good beam alignment. The torch can be removed from the bracket & put in it's pouch, leaving the lightweight bracket in place on the rifle or quickly removed by undoing the thumbscrew.

The versatile P7 mount

     I initially set up the torches with the tailcap pressure switches with a bit of Velcro holding the switch to the side of the stock or pistol grip and these arrangements work just fine. This I thought was a good way of activating the light to have a quick look, locate a bunny and then get set before activating the light again & shooting. What happened in the field was I found it tiring to search with the rifle mounted light and threw on my LED Lenser H7 head torch which I initially bought along with the idea of providing hands free lighting for cleaning rabbit chores. It quickly dawned on me just how badly I underestimate this pocket rocket of a head torch! The H7 performs out of all proportion to it's small size and I ended up using it as the main source of light in locating targets and then switching to the rifle mounted light for the shot. It is a great system and you can poke around in comfort with the rifle slung on the shoulder and use the H7 head torch to simply look as it follows your head and eyes without thinking about it.

     A quick look at the specifications helps explain why the H7 is such a good performer. Rated at 140 Lumens it is no slouch and runs off three AAA Alkaline batteries. The top of the light assembly has a push button on/off switch whilst the bottom of the lens housing has a fast focus lever arrangement that takes it from flood to spot in an instant, and the spot beam is very well focused indeed. Then there is a built in dimmer switch on the battery box to give you infinite control of the light output and tailor the light to match exactly what is required at the time. The whole lens assembly can also be tilted down or up to provide close in light to your lap if required, or flattened out against you forehead for distance work so that the light follows your eyes. The whole thing then folds up into a tiny little neoprene bag that is smaller than a pack of smokes.  I rate the H7 head torch as the best product to come along in years.

LED Lenser H7 Headfire - simply brilliant!

Primus Super Nova - a must have in every camp

     I'd almost finished this review when  on an impulse buy I purchased an LED powered camping lantern. I like things light weight, compact and efficient so wasn't looking for a fire extinguisher sized unit, just a general area light to cook by or relax around on overnight camps. The Primus Super Nova lantern certainly fits the bill in the compact and lightweight department. At around the size of a Coke can, I was dubious as to whether it could generate enough area light as I've been bitterly disappointed in this regard with earlier LED lanterns. This was not the case with the Super Nova though, switching it on in a small darkened store room at the shop gave a nice even light, something akin in overall brightness to what you'd expect with a 40 watt conventional globe but only a whiter cast to the light from the LED. Needless to say I handed over the cash without question.

     The Super Nova is rated at 136 Lumens, runs on three AA Alkaline batteries (supplied) and is packaged with a couple of hanger clips and a karabiner. The unit is of a sturdy alloy and lexcan construction with non slip rubber end caps on top & bottom. The top cap can be unscrewed and the lantern hung inverted overhead to provide a nice down light. The on/off switch has a high/low setting as well as a signal strobe mode. When switched off, a small green LED just below the on/off switch pulses every couple of seconds to allow you to locate the lantern in total darkness. The beauty of this lantern is it will run for days on a set of batteries and be fire safe inside a tent. Besides being an excellent camping lantern, I think they make a very good general purpose emergency light source around the house or farm as well. The signal/strobe mode also makes the lantern a useful tool for signalling your position to search parties if lost or even act as a safety warning beacon by the roadside during a vehicle breakdown or crash.
     After a few weeks of using these LED products I must say I was very impressed with all of them and it would be difficult to recommend one over the other as the intended end use should govern the decision. A case in point being the torches, they all produced a nicely focused even beam with no black spots and enough spill light to give peripheral illumination of the target area. The LED Lenser P7 was clearly the most powerful torch, easily giving enough illumination at 100m and beyond to identify a rabbit with the naked eye. And yet, the Tech Focus has that super precise focus mechanism and the versatility of a universal mount, and tailcap pressure switch that would suit the shooter wanting a one stop solution for his rimfire, shotgun or lever action thumper. The Surefire Defender on the other hand is sleek, tough and all business with mounting systems that are state of the art. Add to the above mix, the LED Lenser products and Super Nova lantern  run on the common and available everywhere AAA & AA batteries whilst the Surefire uses the more powerful 123A Lithium cells. If you like a common power cell amongst your outdoor equipment such as GPS, head torch, UHF radio and digital camera to name a few, then the AAA & AA battery platform has a lot to recommend it. I must say the one product that really blew me away is the LED Lenser H7 head torch. For such a tiny package, the features and performance of this unit place it at the top of the heap in it's class and I predict once you try one you will ask yourself how you ever coped without one.

     The field testing phase proved challenging to say the least due to some seriously wild weather lately, and on several occasions I was forced to beat a hasty retreat and cut the night's testing short. The lousy weather did however provide the opportunity to get everything thoroughly wet several times and I'm happy to say all the products survived without a glitch and I'm confident if given a moderate level of care they will have a long working life.

Australian Hunting Net 2009