Thermal scopes are specialized tools that use heat signature imaging technologies to help you see targets in low light or nighttime conditions. What was once only available for the most elite military tactical units is now available to hobbyists and night hunters.
In this article, we’ll recommend a few of our favorites and provide some background information to help you make your decision.
Thermal scopes are expensive, but they come at different prices. We’ll show you “affordable” models (keep in mind they still go for about $1,000) as well as high-end units that can cost nearly $10,000.
- What is a Thermal Scope?
- Best Overall Thermal Scope: Pulsar Thermion 2 XQ50
- Best Thermal Scope for Beginners: ATN ThOR 4 384 (1.25-5x) Smart Thermal Rifle Scope
- Best Budget-Friendly Thermal Scope: AGM Global Vision Rattler TS19-256
- Best Thermal Scope for Professionals: Trijicon Optics Snipe-IR
- How Thermal Imaging Works
- Thermal Scope vs. Night Vision Scope
- Top 4 Thermal Scope Brands
- How to Choose the Right Thermal Scope (Buying Guide)
- Hunting with a Thermal Scope
- Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Thermal Scope?
A thermal scope is a device that uses infrared technology to create an image of an object or scene.
Thermal scopes are often used for night hunting, law enforcement, and military applications. They can detect heat signature from long distances, making them ideal for use in low-light or no-light conditions.
Best Overall Thermal Scope: Pulsar Thermion 2 XQ50
The Pulsar Thermion 2 XQ50 is an excellent choice for hunting and precision shooting. Its top-quality components meet all the criteria and outperform most of the competition, as can be seen from a glance at the specification sheet.
The Pulsar Thermion 2 XQ50 is a top-of-the-line thermal imaging scope that features a powerful 384×288 microbolometer sensor. This sensor is highly sensitive and can detect extremely slight variations in heat signatures from up to 1968 yards away.
The scope delivers highly-contrasted images on an immaculate 1024×768 AMOLED display. In addition to its massive detection range and outstanding image quality, the Thermion 2 XQ50 also features a true 50mm objective lens.
Buy this scope with confidence.
Best Thermal Scope for Beginners:
ATN ThOR 4 384 (1.25-5x) Smart Thermal Rifle Scope
It is a great introductory thermal scope for those that don’t want to break the bank before getting their feet wet.
This device has a dual-core processor that minimizes pixelation and improves heat sensitivity. You will get high-resolution images that are clear and sharp.
It calculates where to aim your gun based on humidity, angles, and other variables.
Besides being able to record video, this security camera also has Wi-Fi streaming capabilities and comes with an app that is compatible with Android and iOS devices.
Best Budget-Friendly Thermal Scope: AGM Global Vision Rattler TS19-256
The AGM Rattler TS19-256 is a compact thermal imaging scope designed for use in all weather and environmental conditions. It features two objective lens options, allowing you to choose the perfect unit for short or medium-range missions.
This riflescope has a 256×192, 12μm thermal detector and 1024×768 OLED monitor, providing a clear image under harsh environmental conditions such as darkness, fog, smoke, dust, rain, snow, wood, camouflage, etc.
All this for under $1,000.
Best Thermal Scope for Professionals: Trijicon Optics Snipe-IR
Constructed from aircraft-grade aluminum, the Snipe-IR is a lightweight clip-on thermal scope that offers an unparallelled capability for your day scope.
The model might appear simple, but it packs a lot of thermal functionality, including a high-quality lens, a high refresh rate of 60Hz, and a 640 x 480 resolution, making it arguably the best clip on thermal scope in the market.
Other features that set it apart include the thumb-stick control that offers better intuitive usability than a button and the no-shot zero function that lets you easily zero your scope.
Trijicon engineered this model to also function as a handheld thermal device, and it can also work as a standalone weapon sight, offering users versatility.
How Thermal Imaging Works
Thermal imaging is a type of imaging that allows us to see heat signatures. This means that we can see things based on how much heat they give off, which can be helpful in a variety of situations.
For example, thermal imaging can be used to find people in the dark, to see through smoke, and to detect animals.
So how does it work? Thermal imaging cameras detect infrared radiation, which is a type of electromagnetic radiation that is invisible to the human eye. This radiation is emitted by all objects, including people, animals, and even inanimate objects.
The amount of infrared radiation emitted by an object depends on its temperature, so by measuring this radiation, we can get an accurate reading of an object’s temperature.
Thermal Scope vs. Night Vision Scope
It is not uncommon for many people to confuse thermal scopes with night vision scopes. Both technologies can help you see in the dark, but don’t work in the same way.
Thermal scopes are not cheap, at least compared to night vision scopes. For this reason, it is essential to understand the difference between the two and be sure that the former is what you need before investing in one.
A thermal imaging scope detects heat or radiation from an object. Usually, the target’s temperature is higher than its environment, making it easier to perceive.
The device does not require visible light to function optimally since it works by reading or sensing radiations. This makes it easier to see targets, even in complete darkness.
You can better conceal your position during hunting with a thermal rifle scope, and you’ll be able to pick up smaller targets even in deep fog.
However, besides its higher price range, one other major downside of using thermal sight is a lack of precise details. It takes quite a bit of practice to make out exact details from thermal images.
On the other hand, a night vision scope works using ambient light from the environment, including moonlight and starlight. Many modern options feature an infrared illuminator that improves clarity in pitch-dark conditions.
These devices produce highly detailed images compared to thermal scopes, making shots a tad easier at night, even for beginners.
However, as a general rule, a night vision scope is limited to nighttime shooting and do not have the detection capabilities of a thermal scope optic.
The recommendation is to choose a thermal scope if you want good vision in any light condition or if you intend to use the device both during the day and night. It is also an excellent choice for hunting in areas with heavy impediments such as dense bushes.
But if you want a less expensive optic device specifically for night hunting with detailed images, you might want to opt for a night vision scope.
Top 4 Thermal Scope Brands
- AGM Global Vision
ATN has an extensive line of thermal scopes that are popular among hunters and targets shooters alike. They are best know for the ATN Thor 4 thermal rifle scope that is a perfect affordable option for beginners.
Trijicon develops high-end thermal scopes that are regularly used by professional hunters. They have a full line of tactical and hunting rifle scopes and a great track record to go behind them.
AGM Global Vision
AGM Global Vision probably has the largest selection of thermal scopes and monoculars of any company on this list. What makes AGM Global Vision so great is that they have some high-end professional models but also offer many affordable models for beginners.
Pulsar, in our mind, is currently leading the thermal scope and monocular race. They offer several high-end digital night vision and thermal scopes and monoculars. While they are not cheap, Pulsar offers decent affordability for the quality of the rifle scopes they offer.
How to Choose the Right Thermal Scope (Buying Guide)
It can be a bit daunting to pick a thermal scope out of all the models available, especially with so many features to choose from.
For this reason, we’ve created a buyer’s guide that shows you the important considerations and the essential features to look for when choosing a thermal scope for your specific purpose.
If you’re considering a thermal imaging scope, one of the most important considerations is the price range. You should budget at least $2,000 to get a good-quality option. There are very few thermal scopes available under $1,000.
The good thing is that you’ll get your money’s worth, especially if you invest in options with lots of performance features.
Image clarity depends greatly on the resolution of your device. Thermal scopes with low resolutions will produce images that are difficult to make out, regardless of the device’s powerful sensor.
The primary idea behind using a thermal scope attachment is to get detailed images during shooting, even in harsh conditions. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to invest in a model with the highest resolution.
The magnification feature enlarges the image size several times when you zoom in on your target. While some thermal scopes offer up to 16 times magnification or even more, other models do not have this functionality.
If you prefer a model with varied magnification, your options include digital and optical magnification. The former uses software to zoom images and is generally not very clear at the highest enlargement.
Models with optical magnifications use lens adjustments to zoom in on images and are usually clearer, even at maximum magnification level.
The refresh rate refers to the number of times images change per second. This is crucial in ensuring accurate aiming, especially with a moving target.
Refresh rates are measured in hertz (Hz), with 30Hz, 50Hz, and 60Hz being the common measurement in most models. Models with higher refresh rates offer seamless image transition and less blurriness.
Detection range refers to the extent to which the scope can effectively sense heat signatures from your target.
Each thermal scope attachment model comes with a different detection range, with most standard options offering short detection ranges. For this reason, it is crucial to ensure that your riffle’s effective range significantly surpasses the range of whichever scope you choose to buy.
Aiming your target can be more accurate with a reticle – the network of fine lines, crosshairs, dots, or other patterns inside a scope.
Thermal scope attachments come with a variety of reticle options, from sophisticated MIL-Dot configurations to simple crosshairs.
The option you pick depends on your shooting pursuits, such as whether you mainly use crossbows, hunt mostly at night, or you prefer tactical shooting.
But if you are unsure or you want to have multiple options without buying more than one thermal spotting scope, you can opt for a model that offers several pre-programmed reticles.
However, keep in mind that some models with multiple reticle options are high-end devices and might be more expensive.
Size and Weight
Do you usually hike several miles lugging your rifle through difficult terrains? Do you have a small firearm or heavy weapon?
The size and weight of a thermal scope can make or mar the entire shooting experience. Consider a lightweight and compact model if you already have a heavy weapon.
This will lessen the burden of carrying your rifle over long distances through the wilderness or dense woods. It will also save you the stress of trying to steady your weapon during tricky shots.
Color options vary between models, with some having monochromatic or grayscale in addition to a few color options and others having up to nine color variations.
While images in colors are usually preferable, it is crucial to remember that under certain conditions, these might not be as easy on the eyes as grayscale images, especially when viewing through your scope in complete darkness with lots of moving targets.
Depending on your preferences, you may want to choose a model that offers multiple color options, including monochromatic options, because this gives you the flexibility to switch between color modes as needed.
There are only a few things worse than your battery juice running out in the middle of shooting in a remote area.
While bringing additional batteries is a good practice, it is usually better to buy a model that doesn’t require a change of batteries frequently.
It makes sense that if you are paying thousands of dollars for a thermal imaging scope, it should have a few extra features that improve its performance.
Consider choosing models that offer additional performance and convenience features such as GPS location, Wi-Fi connectivity for streaming purposes, and digital compasses.
Some models are also fitted with options for recoil activated video recording, ballistic calculators, and laser rangefinders.
The bottom line is to choose a model with excellent resolution, magnification options, and impressive extra features.
Hunting with a Thermal Scope
If it is your first time buying a thermal scope, it is crucial to know the ins and outs of the device before hitting the field.
First things first, make sure you learn the regulations guiding the use of these devices and hunting in general. The best way to do that is to check your local laws.
We recommend doing this even before buying this piece of expensive equipment. You definitely don’t want to purchase something that you can’t use in your state.
With that out of the way, you should familiarize yourself using these tips.
- Learn to identify the object you see through your device. This is important because thermal signatures viewed through scopes are very different from objects in real life.
- Take some time to study and get used to the thermal images of your target. Do not take any shots until you are very sure of what you are shooting.
- Even the best thermal scopes do not show immediately you turn them on. Depending on your model, it can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes to warm up and calibrate.
- Remember to always check your zero before you head out to the woods. Although good quality thermal imaging scopes shouldn’t present too many problems, it is possible for your zero to be off in some cases.
Application and Benefits
From tactical shooting to hunting at nights and everything between, thermal scopes are suitable for these purposes.
You will find ample use for a thermal imaging scope whether you are hunting coyotes, deer, or hog. But if you prefer shooting competition or tactical shooting, thermals scopes are equally up to the task.
See Through Impediments
Thermal scopes make hiding very difficult because they can pick up the slightest change in temperature, see through fogs, smokes, camouflage, and brush.
Highly sensitive units can even see through light covers, making evasion tactics almost useless.
Residual Heat Detection
Apart from detecting the exact location of a target, these devices can also sense residual heat. That’s because a thermal hunting scope can pick up traces of heat signatures, even shortly after the object has left the spot.
This is particularly useful for tracing blood from a recently shot animal or in determining if a track is still fresh.
Daytime and Nighttime Flexibility
While night vision scopes are great devices, they have a huge limitation, which is the obvious inability to operate in daylight or in bright light.
That drawback does not apply to thermal scopes since they use temperature instead of ambient light.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use thermal scopes in daylight?
Yes, thermal imaging scopes are suitable for daylight use. These sighting devices do not use or depend on ambient light to work, and unlike night visions, bright lights have no impact on them.
Can I mount a thermal scope on any gun?
Thermal rifle scopes can mount on any gun that can use a regular scope, whether it is a small firearm or a heavy weapon.
How effective are thermal scopes for long-range shooting?
On average, a thermal scope is capable of detecting objects out to 250 yards without any difficulty. If you are looking to place shots beyond that range, you’ll find a few models that can sense heat signatures up to 2,000 yards. Of course, these might cost higher.
Can thermal scopes see through walls?
Thermal scopes do not have the capability to see through walls in real life. That idea derives from sci-fi and video games but does not apply in reality.
These devices can see through thick smoke, fog, snow, and several other harsh weather and environmental conditions. They can even see through curtains or other thin barriers as longs as they can detect the heat signatures behind those barriers. But they cannot see through thick walls.
How much does a thermal scope cost?
Thermal scopes vary based on the features it has. The basic thermal scope models that have only needed features are available from $1,000 to $3,000. The advanced scopes with extended range, magnification and resolution cost above $10,000.