Using the Leupold LTO Tracker for Personal Defense

posted on June 16, 2017

My career, in its entirety, has been in the private sector. I've never carried a badge, and I've never been in the military. Instead, I've spent the last 20 years solving problems for clients all over the world. Save for a two-year stint in doing executive protection in corporate America at the turn of the century and going into partnership with a former Army counter-intelligence agent to form a private intelligence firm two years ago, I have otherwise worked alone. When you spend years working in high-risk situations, you have some very near misses that can cost you in any number of ways. Some make you laugh at your own stupidity. Others have you laying awake at night wondering how much luck you can possibly have left at the current rate of use. That's why the new Leupold LTO Tracker is a great tool for my line of work.

Here's an example of how the Leupold LTO Tracker could have helped in the past. A number of years ago, I was trying to resolve a stalker situation for a client. She had a restraining order. The police did what they could do but, ask any cop or stalking victim, and it is quickly apparent just how little can be done until something happens. In this circumstance, the client lived in an upper suburban area on about an acre of property with a surrounding tree line. The center of the yard was open for the most part but landscaped with various shrubs, boulders and a fish pond complete with waterfall. The stalker, would routinely show up in the middle of the night and, would either terrorize the client from the outside or make sure that the client knew the next morning that he had been there. This went on for the better part of a year, until I was brought in to resolve the issue.

After two consecutive nights of not seeing or having any interaction with the stalker, I knew something would happen on the third night. I had concealed myself inside of a large lilac bush near the rear of the home just after 10 p.m. and began the wait. Around two in the morning, I heard a car's engine shut off nearby, followed by a car door opening and closing. Very briefly, there was a rustling sound of movement but, it was difficult to discern over the pump on the fish pond's waterfall. Flipping on the Gen II night vision monocular I owned at the time, I started scanning the property for a good 10 minutes. Nothing.

Part of my brain knew he was there. The problem was the other part of my brain could not find him. For 45 tense minutes, I heard solid movement. Through the eerie green glow of the night-vision monocular,  I saw a person, hunched over, running towards the house. After a rather short-lived and intense confrontation, it ended with him, dressed head-to-toe in camouflage, being arrested and taken off in a police car (along with the largest butcher knife I have ever seen).

The takeaway lesson from that night long ago was while night vision is truly wonderful, it is not foolproof.

We can all agree that, replacing a night vision scope with the Leupold LTO Tracker thermal imager, the stalker's heat signature would have immediately announced his precise location, because there is no mistaking a human's heat signature for anything else. Had that situation occurred today, there would have been time and distance to react in a more proactive manner versus the reactive one I faced when he made his run towards the house. 

When the Leupold LTO Tracker, marketed as a "thermal observations and game-recovery tool", popped up on my radar, I immediately wanted one. I'm not a tech kind of guy, and I'm not an impulse buyer. Simply coming out with something new does not, by default, grab and hold my attention in such a manner to open my wallet. However, create something that is flat out practical and you have me.

Coupled with the fact that it will fit in a jacket pocket, let alone any bag I carry, and unlike any handgun, this can literally go anywhere with me. That allows me to adapt, overcome and avoid. Lest we forget, the best gunfight or physical altercation is the one you never have to get into, and the Leupold LTO Tracker could help you avoid a dangerous encounter before it starts. Given its size it does so discreetly.  

I was fortunate enough to thoroughly test the Leupold LTO Tracker over the course of a few months and test it under a variety of scenarios, including one severe snowstorm and no less than a dozen major thunderstorms. It worked flawlessly. Living on two acres in a suburban area, I get a lot of nighttime visitors. During the snow storm, at around 2 a.m., I was able to readily identify three does moving together and one lone rabbit. Through the downpour from the massive thunderstorms we experienced in the Midwest this spring, I could see the heat signature of a neighbor who made a mad-dash run to his car or another standing on the porch, smoking a cigarette. Both were easily 100 yards away.

On a camping trip, several of us were camped out in hammocks and a few more in tents. While you couldn't see a definitive "human" heat signature from the hammocks or the tents, you could easily tell which ones were occupied and which ones were not, and it was evident who had gotten up in the middle of the night to answer the call of nature. You could watch these individuals walk back into camp and even tell who it was within 25 yards. This is a tool every back-country camper, especially those who trek into bear country, would find simply invaluable. 

In one test, I held my hand flat against an interior wall for 30 seconds and was able to get a heat-signature reading for 5 minutes. I know because I timed it. The Leupold LTO Tracker will pick up footprints on hardwood floor. A bare foot registered longer than a heavily soled boot, but that is something to think about with regards to wondering if someone is in your house in the middle of the night.

Perhaps the most interesting thing discovered was that I could tell which outlets in my house were "hotter" than the others, especially when they have something plugged into them. The LTO Tracker is readily capable of locating a "hot spot" behind a wall or answering that "Do you smell plastic burning?" question that leaves you wondering if there is something smoldering behind the wall, possibly preventing a house fire.

It was also run through actual field use by our private intelligence firm. When we used it on surveillance, it allowed us to judge just how long a vehicle had been parked, based on the heat coming off of the brakes and the engine. The brakes would cool down first, usually glowing less and less within a half hour, while an engine would stay hot for a couple of hours. Metal that has cooled down completely, especially well after dark, gives off a negative heat signature. 

While the Leupold LTO Tracker is a monocular, it's also an extended eye-relief device, which means you don't press it to your eye to see out of it. I hear the tactical gods crying already "Now your face is backlit, and the bad guy can see you!" Well, not really. My business partner and I gave that particular issue the once-over one night on a two-man surveillance. Sitting in my vehicle and he in his, he could not see any discernible back-lighting issues from across the street. Even if one of the color palettes available on the device did appear to give too much of a backlighting issue, there are more to choose from. We found that the White Highlight setting gave off the most backlighting, the Red setting gave off none. In total there are six color palettes to choose from, ranging from White Hot, Black Highlight, Green, Red, Black Hot, and White Highlight. Not one of them was altogether superior, though I found Green to be the setting I used most, while the White Highlight setting was my least preferred.

There is also a 6x zoom that, on some occasions, didn't seem to do much for me, but in other situations was nice to be able to zoom in, despite its pixelation when doing so. With a stated turn on time of three seconds (slightly less in my experience), I could get the Leupold LTO Tracker on and at-the-ready quicker than most cameras I use in the field. It can be turned off and gotten out of the way even quicker. Since its arrival in my possession in mid-January, it has gone everywhere with me in one of three daily carry bags, fitting perfectly in an old zippered Luminox watch case.

What about shooting and using? Since the LTO can see in pitch dark, regardless of any heat signature, I was able to do some modified one-handed shooting by pushing the pistol in front of the LTO and aligning my eyes with the LTO then, with the sights to get solid center-mass hits on target with my 1911 and an airweight snubnose revolver. Though it did not pick up any signature from pistols or long guns with night sights, I did figure out that you could "cheat" the front sight by resting your thumb against it for a couple of dozen seconds to give it a heat signature. That said, if you are having ideas of putting together an optics mount for your rifle, don't. The Leupold LTO Tracker is a digital thermal imager, and it was designed to help a hunter find downed game, not kick in doors. 

To address some of the limitations, it doesn't see through walls (or through glass, for that matter), but neither can anything else that is readily affordable on the open market. The LTO, like all things in life has limits, but its advantages outweigh those limits.

Unfortunately, we live in an age where we expect technology to do what we think it should do instead of being amazed by what it actually can do. The Leupold LTO Tracker can see through complete darkness and identify potential threats before anything can happen. It's a reliable thermal imager that fits in your pocket for well under a thousand dollars and runs off of a single CR123A battery. Those are great qualities that give any user a considerable advantage.


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