Nowadays, any hunter can improve their hunting experience with some technological innovations, one of which is a thermal scope. Whether you are in the dark or in someplace where seeing an animal in full sight is impossible, a thermal optics device can help you.
Initially used only in military operations and specialized organizations, thermal scopes are now available to any firearm owner out there. Although finding a low-budget thermal scope is not easy, we have managed to create a list of both affordable and more costly thermal imaging scopes.
Want to know more about the best thermal scopes on the market? Check out our list of the products that will get your thermal sight to the next level:
- Sightmark Night Raider 3×60 Riflescope;
- ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Rifle Scope;
- Firefield Nightfall Night Vision Monocular;
- ATN Thor 4 640×480 Thermal Rifle Scope;
- ATN Thor 4 384×288 Thermal Rifle Scope.
For more details about the advantages and disadvantages of each thermal scope, read further. We are going to explain why these exact products are the best for those who want to improve their hunting by adding a thermal sight.
Best Thermal Scopes to Buy
After analyzing plenty of thermal scope reviews and different products on the market, we have created a list of the best devices that detect heat signatures. All of them are good for different reasons, so we recommend reading each description to fully understand what you get with the product.
Depending on your goals and budget, you might want to choose one or another option. However, there is no hit-or-miss, as all of these thermal devices are the best in their category.
If you are just a beginner in the night-hunting game, then Sightmark Night Raider 3×60 Riflescope is a good thermal scope for you. Although it does not work with infrared light, its image quality and night visibility are provided by the IR illuminator.
Moreover, there is a natural light collector that makes the picture clear and lit up for you. This old technique has been widely implemented in this modern device. In combination with improved technology, such design decisions have made the tool extra useful.
The detection range of this thermal optic device is quite good, and you can shoot from short to medium distances. Also, the Sightmark Night Raider functions properly in any weather conditions, whether it is rain or fog, so you can be sure about its durability.
With magnification as big as this thermal scope has, you can hunt for up to 70 hours straight. This thermal weapon sight can increase the picture up to three times using the 60 mm lens. You will not miss any prey with battery life this long and a magnitude this big.
If you are planning to hunt for smaller animals, you can adapt this thermal scope to .30 caliber firearms. This allows you to move around quickly even with some accessories in hand.
It is important to note that the Sightmark Night Raider 3×60 Riflescope has one small disadvantage. Its weight cannot go unnoticed, and after attaching the device to your rifle, you will feel the heaviness it adds. For some hunters, it might cause problems with balancing and getting the shot right.
If you are looking for something that does not have to be switched between day and night modes every time you shoot, ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Rifle Scope is the right thermal hunting scope for this. This device is a combination of all the top-notch technologies that have been developed for many years.
This thermal riflescope can connect to Wi-Fi and stream the picture seen through heat signature imaging technologies on the Internet and any platforms you like. However, that is not it. An option of video recording is also accessible to the owners of this device, as well as other useful features.
A ballistic calculator allows you to pre-calculate where the bullet will shoot, while a rangefinder informs you of the distance between you and your target. For better orientation in the environment, you can use such features of ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Rifle Scope as a 3D gyroscope, compass, and thermometer. Back in the day, traditional scope owners could not even think of such possibilities!
With this thermal scope, you can easily shoot from a 450-yard distance. What is more, after the first shot, the program built inside the device will set the scope to your defined target, so that you can get a better chance of hitting the right way. This one-shot zero technique improves the accuracy a lot.
Before buying this thermal scope model, think about all the features it has. If you are a beginner, you might be good without them, as all those details can overwhelm even an experienced person. However, if you are sure of your abilities, go ahead and purchase the innovative ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Rifle Scope.
As for the more affordable thermal scope alternative, there is Firefield Nightfall Night Vision Monocular. This relatively cheap thermal scope does its job just the same as the pricier options, only the functionality might be limited in some ways. A thermal riflescope like this will be a great purchase for anyone who wants to try out thermal imaging devices or who does not have a lot to spend on hunting accessories.
Gen 1 technology creates clear thermal imaging that allows you to detect prey easily and quickly. Once you are done with the search, you can detach the clip-on thermal optics without much effort and put them back on the next time just as easily.
Made of titanium, this thermal riflescope is safe to carry around even in extreme conditions. You know it will not break or get damaged after a couple of hits. What is more, with good battery life and special coverage, this thermal scope can be used during rain, snow, and fog without any problems.
For such a reasonable price point, you get a great thermal scope that creates an ambient light picture, whose brightness can be adjusted, by the way, with a big absorption of light. This product also has scratch-resistant lenses that are covered in several coats of protection. Thus, you can safely use the thermal imaging device even in places with a lot of branches and other scratching objects.
There is no one-shot zero in here, however, the reticle options are regulated automatically. So as soon as you clip on thermal optics, they are set to zero level. Such a device is perfect for hog hunting and other small animal prey.
Although this cheap thermal scope is the best one for beginners and amateurs, shooters with more experience might not like it as much. As with most thermal scopes of such a price level, this one does not have too wide of a range. Therefore, if you want to practice shooting with thermal imaging technology from a longer distance, this thermal scope might not be the best option.
One of the most popular and the best thermal scopes one can purchase is ATN Thor 4 640×480 Thermal Rifle Scope. This high-quality thermal scope allows you to receive a crystal-clear image of your target in any condition. Doesn’t matter, if it is raining, snowing, or foggy outside — the thermal sensor will produce good image quality, and you will be able to see where an animal hides.
The high detection range and big light absorption make this model the best thermal scope on the market. It is hard to find something more advanced and functional than this thermal imaging scope. Even if it is pitch black outside or the lighting changes from time to time, ATN Thor 4 640×480 Thermal Rifle Scope will show you a good quality picture.
This high-end thermal scope is provided with a computer system that most thermal optics do not have. Here, the ballistic calculator, GPS, and automatic calibration are included for more convenient and successful hunting. With both your and your target’s locations indicated on a map, you can think about your next move or follow the animal if it starts to escape.
A durable thermal core combined with a strong body of the device itself will make the scope last for many years. There is no way you can scratch it or break it accidentally. This thermal scope can give you good service on many different occasions.
Last but not least, another model that deserves the title of the best thermal scope is ATN Thor 4 384×288 Thermal Rifle Scope. This is another version of the previous thermal scope, and it is the more improved one. Its functionality is better and some features are more advanced in comparison to the ATN Thor 4 640×480 version.
ATN ThOR 4 384×288 Thermal Rifle Scope is much more sensitive to heat signatures. It can detect even the smallest heat radiation that varies from the environment’s overall temperature level. The lack of light is no problem for this device, so it is the right thermal scope for any type of night hunting.
Great optical magnification, high shutter speed, and high-quality thermal imaging make this product one of the perfect night vision optics for hunting both bigger and smaller animals. The increased resolution makes you see the target on the screen almost in the same way as you see it in real life.
Just as the previously mentioned thermal rifle scope, this version has a ballistic calculator and environment checking functions, like a thermometer and humidity indicator. Moreover, if you are a hunting video enthusiast, you can record the process with the video recording function and have it saved straight to a memory card attached or your mobile phone.
Not only those who want to post their thermal scope hunting can record it. If you are looking forward to improvements in your performance, you can rewatch the recording and analyze your mistakes. This way you will be prepared for the next time and be more successful in catching prey.
Some people mention a small disadvantage of ATN ThOR 4 384×288 Thermal Rifle Scope. However, we would not say that this is a flow of the model itself, but the company producing night vision scopes. The manufacturer takes a long time to answer some complaints or messages from the customers. So, if you happen to get some problems with the thermal scopes of this producer, it might take time.
What Thermal Scopes Do
A thermal scope is based on the mechanism of infrared radiation, which is caught by the device itself. To speak in simple words, this device allows you to see how rays of heat are distributed in space. If there is a source of heat, a thermal scope will identify it and highlight it from the background.
Night hunting can become extremely convenient, once you start using this device. Even if an animal is not seen in the dark, it can still be recognized by its warmth, as all mammals are exothermic. It means their bodies radiate warmth, and the rays of it are visible to the thermal rifle scopes.
Just like we cannot see the Sun’s radiation, but we know it is there, we cannot observe just with our eyes the radiation of bodies. Thermal imaging applies different light vision which enables us to see the heat rays. That is why thermal energy has completely transformed night hunting.
Thermal vision works both day and night, however, there is one limitation. Because an animal is identified due to the difference in its body temperature and the environment it is in, it would be impossible to see your target, if it is hot outside. The temperatures would be the same, no heat rays would be radiating, and the thermal imaging scope would be useless.
Ways to Use a Thermal Scope
The most obvious way of using a thermal optic device is for hunting. You just point your rifle to the side where an animal might hide and wait for the picture to indicate your target. This is useful not only at night, but also when the weather conditions are poor, or there are some physical obstacles, like branches or bushes. Such target identification is extremely helpful, especially in cases when you need to hide from the animal (for instance, during hog hunting).
Another, less common way of implementing a thermal scope in your life is for self-defense. If you are in the midst of a home invasion, you would not want to turn all the lights on to see the intruder and to expose yourself while doing it. Thermal technology can help you to indicate the position of another person and hide from them or tell the police about them.
How to Purchase the Best Thermal Scope
Choosing the best thermal scope on the market might seem like an impossible task. There are so many options and all of them have their good and bad sides. However, if you have decided to search for thermal cores of the best quality, there are some criteria that you might want to search for.
The cost of a product is probably the first thing that the majority of people think about when buying something new. When it comes to thermal scopes, it is better to keep in mind that you need at least $1,000 for a decent thermal scope.
Do not opt for cheaper versions as they would simply not be of any use due to poor quality. Many affordable thermal scopes work well enough for beginners to train. But if you need a thermal riflescope that is more advanced, you will have to spend several thousands of dollars on that, so be prepared.
Some thermal scopes offer the variable magnification option, while others don’t. It allows you to zoom in on the picture and take a closer look at your targets. This function is especially useful for those who are planning to shoot from long distances. The best thermal rifle scopes can make the picture 16 times bigger.
Magnification can be of two types. The first one, digital magnification, enlarges the picture using the software. Digital zoom is not as clear, although it works properly on shorter distances.
The second option is optical magnification. Unlike the digital zoom, here the lens itself moves and zooms in on the picture. The image quality for this zoom is usually much better, even if you shoot from longer distances at maximum zoom.
Resolution is the crucial thing when it comes to choosing a proper thermal scope. It is the way you see the picture and how clear it is. As all the thermal imaging works just for you to see where the prey is, it is important to have the picture as clear as possible.
Cheaper options of thermal scopes might come with very poor resolution. Do not waste your money on them, because it is useless to buy thermal optics with no visible result. It is better to spend a little bit more than to be disappointed in the purchase later.
4. Detection Range
Thermal scopes with a good detection range can find even the smallest and the farthest heat signatures. The better your device is, the more precise the findings will be.
Before buying a thermal scope, make sure that your firearm’s detection range is much bigger than those of the scope. Otherwise, you will be able to see the target, but you will not be able to shoot it at such a long distance.
5. Refresh Rate
Another important factor that one should consider before buying thermal optics is the refresh rate. It shows how fast the picture on the screen changes, and it is important for timely target detection. The bigger the refresh rate is, the better.
For different scopes, a refresh rate might differ from 30 to 60 Hz. Usually, the highest refresh rate gives you a perfect picture without any lags and blurriness.
6. Reticle Options
If you need something to aid you with aiming before shooting, you should buy a thermal device that comes with a reticle. It is a grid made of lines and dots that help you to make the shot more precise.
Reticles can be of different styles. Each one is used for specific types of shooting. Whether you shoot at night or are always on the move, there is a certain reticle suitable for each activity. Although, it is not necessary to buy a thermal optic with a grid, especially if you are sure of your aiming abilities.
There are even thermal imaging products that can combine several reticle options. They can change automatically, depending on the conditions of your shooting process. Just keep in mind that such advanced devices might cost much more than the average scopes.
The picture that you receive from the thermal scopes might come in different color palettes. Each device has its own, predetermined one. However, some models allow you to switch between different ones.
Usually, when we think of some device with a thermal sensor, we immediately imagine a multi-colored picture with the hottest points being indicated by red and the coldest ones by blue. The same thing with thermal rifle scopes. Many of them show this exact color palette. Also, there are many gray-toned and black-and-white ones.
Sometimes, a bright-colored display might be inconvenient to use, especially in the dark. Your eyes will take much time to get used to the brightness after looking in the dark for so long, and they might even hurt after that as well. That is why many people opt for more neutral color options instead.
There are some models that allow you to choose the color palette yourself. Depending on the situation, you might want to turn on one or another. However, such devices are usually on the more expensive side.
When choosing a new thermoscopic device, pay close attention to its size and weight. You don’t want something extremely heavy and big(even if it is very advanced) if you are planning to run around the forest and walk a lot.
Moreover, if your firearm is already big and heavy, there is no need to make it even bigger and heavier. Instead, go for something compact and light. This way you would make it easy for yourself not only to carry the rifle around but also to stabilize the rifle better while shooting.
9. Battery Life
What can be worse than batteries running out exactly at the moment you are doing something important? Imagine if they get out of power right when you have finally found an animal and started aiming. The frustration cannot even be described!
Of course, you can stop for a moment and change the batteries quickly, but the precious seconds might cost a lot. When you buy a cheaper version of thermal rifle scopes, such a situation might happen a lot. In the end, you might spend even more on batteries, than you could have spent on a good-quality scope.
Models with big battery life should be the first choice for you. They will solve all the problems with frequent battery changes and decrease the chance of you missing your target due to no power. Of course, they are not infinite, but you would have to change batteries much less.
10. Extra Features
Nowadays, the technologies have developed so far that you can put many different additions to a device already complicated enough, such as a thermal scope. Not to waste any precious dollars, choose a model that has more extra features when it comes to picking one between two that have a similar price.
Wi-Fi connection, GPS, and video recording might be very useful, especially if you are planning to document your hunting experience and post it online. Meanwhile, those who want to improve their technique can get much use of ballistic calculators and rangefinders.
Thermal Scope or Night Vision Scope?
Many people think that a thermal scope is the same thing as a night vision scope. However, it is not true. The former does not require any external light, as it depends only on registering the invisible to human eye heat rays. The latter uses the light that is present in smaller amounts and distributes it so that a picture could be more clear.
Night vision scopes work by amplifying the light from the outside, while thermal scopes seek temperature changes between the environment and the target. With night vision scopes, you usually see the picture in green. There are no clear definitions of your target, so you have to distinguish it from the background yourself. Thermal scopes, on the other hand, clearly indicate where an animal is located, and all you have to do is to aim properly.
You might want to use a night vision scope at times when the air temperature has high chances of being coincided with the animals’ body temperatures. In these cases, thermal scopes would be simply useless. However, if there is no light at all and you shoot in complete darkness, a night vision scope will not help you as well.
Best Thermal Scope Takeaway
Choosing the best thermal scope might be tricky sometimes. You have to pay special attention to many details, like resolution, magnification, refresh rate, possibility of using a reticle, and many others. Of course, the price should also be rational for the number of features the device of your choice has.
When it comes to choosing the right thermal imaging technology device, think about the conditions you are going to use it in. If you are going to move around a lot, it is better to choose something small and light. If you want to shoot in the dark, pick models that have a good thermal sensor and proper resolution.
Still not sure what to purchase? Go to our list with top-5 thermal scopes for different styles and levels of hunting. All of the products from this compilation have been thoroughly checked and analyzed, so you can be sure you are buying the best product. Good luck with catching your prey!
Frequently Asked Questions — FAQ
What thermal scopes does the military use?
Nowadays, thermal scopes that are made for general sale to the public are no worse than those that are used by the military. Some of the best thermal imaging devices include Sightmark Night Raider 3×60 Riflescope, ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Rifle Scope, Firefield Nightfall Night Vision Monocular, ATN Thor 4 640×480 Thermal Rifle Scope, and ATN Thor 4 384×288 Thermal Rifle Scope.
Which is better: night vision or thermal scope?
Night vision devices are good when there is no temperature distinction between the environment and your target. This might happen on a very hot day, for example. In other cases, night vision might be less useful, as detecting an animal on a gray or green picture is harder, than seeing it highlighted with color or another tone on the thermal scope’s display. Also, thermal optics can be used not only at night, but during the day as well.
How long do thermal scopes last?
The durability of your thermal device depends on the material it is made from. If the thing is properly protected from wet conditions, scratches, and falls, then it is going to last for many years. To get such a result, choose thermal scopes that are made of aluminum, titanium, or carbon fiber. Also, go for the models that have extra protection on the lens and the screen, as those are the most fragile parts of the device.
How far can you shoot with a thermal scope?
The distance of the shooting depends on the quality of your thermal riflescope. If you buy a more advanced and expensive model, you can shoot for very long distances. The maximum length of detection is 1,000 yards. After that, the ability to find a temperature increase might be more difficult. On average, most manufacturers offer thermal scopes with 200 yards range. Make sure that zooming on long distances does not result in poor-quality pictures.
Can I mount a thermal scope on any gun?
Thermal scopes come in different sizes and styles. Therefore, you can mount them on firearms of different sizes. The majority of thermal imaging devices are made to be attached to a rifle. Some smaller options can also be mounted to guns. To check whether your firearm is compatible with some specific model of a thermal scope, read the description of the latter and see what models of guns and rifles are recommended there. If you have some experience, you can also make a decision based on the appearance of both devices.