If you’re a tactical shooter or looking to grow in that direction, a thermal scope is an excellent option. But before investing in this gear, take a look at our guide to determine how to spot a real value, as well as consult our list of the top thermal scopes on the market today.
Comparison of the Best Thermal Scopes
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What are Thermal Scopes?
Do you wish you could see in the dark? Well, thermal scopes are one of the better answers to this most basic of human dilemmas. While they won’t truly enable you to see perfectly, they will enable you to see a heck of a lot better. That’s because it detects the infrared light reflecting off of objects and illustrates what it sees visually, based on this data.
Every object gives off a unique pattern of infrared, allowing you to see fairly precise shapes. Best of all, the more intense the radiation, the brighter the object appears due to the heat it gives off are the most visible. This makes them invaluable for hunters as well as military combat.
How Do Thermal Imaging Scopes Work?
Naturally, many people would love to know how the physics behind this work. All objects reflect light, and some of that light is on the infrared spectrum. In particular, heat produces a lot of infrared radiation. A special lens focuses and reflects that infrared light to a phased array which converts this into a sort of electric map called a thermogram.
From here, the thermogram is turned into electric impulses which are interpreted by a circuit board, which converts it into data to appear on the display as colors. The more intense the heat, the stronger the electric impulse and the more intense the color.
If that’s a bit complex-sounding, no worries—the great thing about thermal imaging is that it does work, even if you don’t understand how it works! You’ll be seeing in the dark in no time.
Aspects to Consider When Buying a Thermal Scope
Before we take a closer look at the scopes, let’s go over a few features you’ll want to look out for.
With a higher resolution display, you’ll see sharper edges and a more accurate target outline. This isn’t as important if you are hunting large game at short to intermediate ranges, but can make all the difference if you’re hunting small game or shooting very long distances.
You’re probably not buying a thermal scope because you’re hunting in beautiful, sunny weather. If you’re using it to find a target in the rain, you’ll need it to be water-resistant.
As with any scope, quiet controls are important. Anything that clicks when you adjust it is likely to startle your target. In addition to sound, you’ll also need to worry about light. A good thermal scope will have a low light signature and higher-end models will even be RF shielded.
The last thing you want is for your scope to turn off just as you’re drawing a bead on your target. Long battery life is important, especially if you’re going to spend several days in the wilderness. That said, it’s good practice to put fresh batteries in your scope before a hunt, just to be sure.
Most scopes don’t have a rangefinder, because that would require batteries and electronics, adding weight to your rifle. Since thermal scopes already have batteries, a rangefinder is relatively easier to include. This is particularly useful for medium to long-range shooting, where drop becomes more significant.
Some advanced scopes have a processor that allows you to change temperature profiles, record video, or even geotag your kill. If you want any of these features, a more advanced scope can be worth every penny.
Review of the Best Thermal Scopes
Now that you have a solid understanding of the idea behind thermal scopes, let’s take a look at the best products on the market. Of course, what makes a good thermal scope for you will depend a lot on how you intend to use it, so read our reviews with your use case in mind!
ATN Thor HD 384 Smart Thermal Riflescope w/High Res Video
If you have the budget for it, the ATN Thor HD is hands-down the best bet for optimum performance in the field. It not only is an excellent thermal scope in its own right, but it also offers a lot of added features such as a built-in rangefinder.
To start, you get amazing performance with a 384x288 sensor which actually is a bit different in that it doesn’t detect infrared light but heat energy, a departure from the traditional heat sensor. This provides an enhanced level of detail. In conjunction with high-quality lenses, this sensor is capable of providing zoom from 9x-36x, which is quite a range.
Additionally, it is equipped with a ballistic calculator, providing you with all the details of how your shot will land without the work! You simply input a little environmental information and it will overlay the trajectory, automatically determining range, bullet drop, and so on.
As such, it also includes a built-in rangefinder, allowing you to forego additional equipment and not have to focus on detailed reticles. In combination with the ballistic calculator, it is simply game-changing.
Additionally, it is capable of recording to an internal SD card or streaming to a compatible device like a smartphone or tablet. This allows you to re-watch your sessions. Optionally, you can allow it to record only when you take a shot, preserving both recording time and battery life.
Which brings us to the last thing—you’d expect a unit this advanced to have a short life, but it offers up to 22 hours of continuous use thanks to a rechargeable battery.
Truly, if you have the budget, this will completely change how you hunt.
If you have the budget for it, we cannot recommend this unit enough, as it goes far beyond being a thermal scope and does almost everything for you! Simply the best thermal scope you can buy.
Best Thermal Scope for the Money:
ATN Thor-HD Thermal Rifle Scope w/High Res Video
Coming in neck-and-neck with our top choice is another very strong contender from the same manufacturer. This model is very similar to the previous, so be sure to carefully read our first review for concrete details so that you can fully understand what both offers, and how this unit differs.
The two units are priced very similarly and have essentially the same features, so let’s focus on what’s different: for a slightly lower price tag. First, you’re getting a larger sensor at 640x480, which translates to a more precise image.
However, it occupies a different zoom range. You’ll recall the first model offers 9x-36x magnification. Here, you get 2.5-25x. This is still a great range and more than practical for most hunters, although it is closer, so be aware that one may better suit your shooting style.
Also, it’s important to understand that while both offer recording and streaming of 4K video, since this model is at a higher resolution, it also means that your image will look even better enlarged on a screen. Now, whether that makes a difference when you’re talking about thermal imaging is up to you.
Otherwise, the feature set is the same. You get a ballistic calculator, a built-in rangefinder, the same recording and streaming options, the same insane rechargeable battery life, and everything else.
Ultimately, it really comes down to whether you absolutely need to be able to go up to 36x—or, conversely, if you need to be able to shoot at a closer range with this model, which allows you to go down to 2.5x. Since the units are priced very comparably, that’s really the only important distinction. Think about this carefully, as it would be a shame to get such a beautiful scope and not have it be practical!
With functionality that does just about everything but pull the trigger, you’ll enjoy a massive leap forward in results at virtually any range. A highly worthwhile investment.
Best Thermal Scope for Coyote Hunting:
Armasight - Zeus 640 3-24X75MM 60 HZ Thermal Scope
Sometimes, you need a dedicated piece of equipment for hunting specific game. If you’re passionate about coyote hunting, you’ll definitely want to consider a unit that checks all the boxes for you. Coyotes, aside from only coming out at night, can be small targets and require careful tracking, meaning you’ll need optimized precision.
Say hello to Armasight’s Zeus line of scopes. You don’t want to just see an amorphous blob—you want to see a coyote with distinct details and contour so you can pull off the perfect shot, which is why this scope has the latest FLIR Tau 2 VOx microbolometer core.
Rather than the typical one or several at best, it is composed of ten unique models for detecting heat patterns. It’s for this reason that it’s a piece of equipment entrusted to military marksman when it really counts.
If you’re hunting coyote, you know that the environment can be unpredictable and unforgiving. You’ll be able to detect targets through snow, smoke, dust, fog, haze, and anything else the mountains or dusty desert can throw your way.
Some near-infrared illumination methods emit visible light or RF energy and coyotes are keen enough to pick up on the most fractional changes to their environment. This model does no such thing, keeping you as stealthy as can be.
Additionally, it features simple to use, color-coded menus that enable you to operate the unit swiftly without making noises and raising ears in the distance. With a 75mm objective lens, you’ll easily be able to navigate the menus and picture simultaneously, seeing real-time enhancements and significant detail, whether at 3x or 24x.
Lastly, the unit is also capable of recording your victories, enabling you to share your finest moments.
While it’s best suited for hunting tricky game like coyotes in unforgiving environments, these cutting-edge features and uncompromising levels of precision are perfect for any hunter.
Best Thermal Scope Under $5000:
FLIR Thermosight Pro PTS736 6-24x75mm
If you’re looking for the absolute best thermal scope your money can buy and you’re willing to lay down up to 5k, we’ve got the best one on the market in that range—and it actually is a fairly good discount from that amount, too!
Offering an exceptional magnification range of 6x-24x paired with a 75mm objective lens, it offers excellent versatility and allows for hunting in day or night with the same beautiful performance. During the day, the wide objective lens captures all the light you need to have a beautiful image without resorting to thermal.
When the time arises, however, it draws from a 12-micron 60Hz core. This power enables the scope to provide optimum detail whether in close or long ranges, whether it is in pitch blackness or in the thickest of haze, smoke, or rain. Additionally, it performs very admirably in cutting through non-solid matter such as light vegetation or snow.
It is also built like a tank, capable of withstanding temperatures ranging from -40 to 140 Fahrenheit. Suffice to say, you will be able to take this on any trek, whether in frozen tundra or raging desert. Of course, it has also been fully waterproofed, shock-proofed, and resists fog as well.
The picture is also enhanced by a built-in digital compass and inclinometer to allow for ultra-precise target orientation and range calculation. Plus, with a high-def FLCOS display, the information it relays will stay as crisp as it comes in.
Plus, you can record fully uncompressed video, allowing you to treasure your victories long after you take the shot.
Those looking for a thermal scope with an uncompromising processor to relay the more precise data, but who also want to take their scope to the hottest or coldest environments survivable, will find an incredible balance in performance and ruggedness.
Best Thermal Scope for Hog Hunting:
Pulsar Trail XP Thermal Riflescope
We’ve covered the best thermal scope for hunting those tricky coyotes, so how about hogs? It’s true, even though coyotes can be difficult to hunt without the appropriate gear, hunting hogs can be greatly enhanced by having a scope specially geared towards its unique challenges.
For one thing, you’ll likely be using a different build. This could be for a lot of reasons, but we suspect many shooters will be using higher-grain rounds. Hog hunters often like to hunt in closer quarters, too, and with many higher-grain rounds having a more limited range, it’s practical.
Thus, we present Pulsar Trail’s line of thermal riflescopes. There are six models to choose from, each with varying magnification ranges and objective diameters. The reason we love these for hog hunting is that each starts around 15x magnification, although depending on your model you can go as high as about 13x. You certainly don’t want to be using a Remington .380 with 24x magnification, so be smart and get a more near-oriented scope.
That said, this scope features a lot of great options. You get a high 640x480 resolution, a fully weatherproofed design, and built-in video recording. One unique thing we love is a picture-in-picture mode.
In this mode, you can see a magnified version of what’s in the reticle at the top of the screen. It only takes up 10% of the display, ensuring your view remains unobstructed, but it makes a huge difference in your accuracy.
If you’re hunting hogs, you’ll want a scope that is built for your setup and ammo type. Built especially for those shooting game like hogs, this is a fully-featured and durable scope with some unique features to enhance your precision.
Best Budget Thermal Scope:
ATN Thor 4, 384x288, Thermal Rifle Scope w/Ultra Sensitive Next Gen Sensor
There’s no way around it—thermal scopes can be really expensive. Even with our list, some of the best scopes out there can cost a lot, and we want you to be able to have an affordable scope to enhance your hunting. While you’ll never find a quality thermal scope that’s genuinely cheap, we have found the most affordable option that is capable of delivering solid results.
That scope is the ATN Thor 4. Now, you might remember ATN from our first two entrants on the list, which should assure you that we’re standing by quality. In fact, for the most part, you get the great options you get with those more expensive models.
The difference here is the magnification range. Ultimately, if you want a cheaper scope, lowering your magnification range is one of the most effective ways to do so. The technology and hardware required to process a variable range scope is expensive, and thus, the higher the range, the pricier the model. Here, you have several options to choose from, and we recommend 2-8x, although you can get 1.25-5x for even less.
It’s worth remembering that for the longest time, hunters and even military marksman rarely went above 4x. If you need a thermal scope and are on a strict budget, it may be helpful to remember this.
Considering this scope comes with the ATN features we’ve already laid out—a ballistic calculator, a built-in rangefinder, and so on—we think that it will drastically enhance your accuracy. Unless going to higher magnification is an absolute necessity, giving this scope a try will probably not only surprise you but open you up to abilities you didn’t realize you had.
If you want a great thermal scope but are limited on funds, one of the best out there is available in a more limited variable range, which frankly is the only real way you’ll be able to effectively cut costs. That said, it should significantly enhance your accuracy, mitigating the need for the high zoom levels you’re used to.
Best Thermal Scope for AR-15:
ATN - Thor HD 640 1.5-15X Thermal Rifle Scope
The AR-15 is one of the most popular guns on the market, and if you’re looking for a thermal scope that will perfectly marry this model, we’ve got you covered with another great option from ATN.
This iteration of the Thor HD features a 1.5x-15x variable magnification range as well as the all-new Obsidian T II thermal core. Meanwhile, this advanced technology has produced a slimmer profile and lighter weight. At only 1.55 pounds, you’ll enjoy excellent maneuverability, perfect for those shorter distances.
Since the unit includes a built-in rangefinder, this lighter weight comes especially in handy when you’re simply using the unit for ranging or navigation. You also get a 65mm eye relief to make this highly practical.
Of course, you still are given all the features that the Thor line from ATN is famous for, including a beautiful HD display, recoil-activated video recording to an internal SD or streamed to a smart device via WiFi or Bluetooth, a compass, and a ballistic calculator.
You now also get the advantage of geotagging your work, and with its software integrations and app, we’re sure that new functionalities will continue to be added, as its firmware can be updated whenever ATN has something new up their sleeve for the unit.
If you’re looking for a great thermal scope for your AR build, you can’t go wrong with this option, as you’ll be going both light and smart.
Those who are looking for a stealthy AR-15 build that will enable them to move quickly and comfortably will enjoy the modern Thor scope from ATN which features state-of-the-art technology and enhancements.
Types of Thermal Scopes
Before buying a thermal scope, keep in mind that they’re not all the same. Some key differences include:
Some scopes are designed to be used during the day, too. While you’re looking for thermal imaging, keep in mind how well-supported day shooting is seriously matters if you intend to use the same scope in all lighting conditions.
Every thermal scope has at least some thermal imaging technology onboard, but the introduction of a processor gives manufacturers the ability to easily add extra features. Some do and some don’t. Want video streaming, geotagging, or a ballistics calculator? Some have it!
Thermal scopes might all have their heat-vision capabilities in common, but that doesn’t mean they’re designed for the same game. While some will allow you to shoot at very long distances, keep in mind that if you’re hunting up close, you’ll want one with a more moderate and nearer variable range.
What is a Thermal Scope Best Used For?
Since thermal scopes detect heat signatures, they are best for night or low-light conditions. However, that’s not all they’re good for! The best thermal scopes can work beautifully during the day, too, and use their thermal imaging to cut through dense fog, haze, dust, rain, and snow. In many situations where you can’t see with the naked eye (or a traditional scope), a thermal scope is a great option.
And remember, you should never shoot when you can’t see well. If you intend on hunting when your visibility is seriously compromised, you will need the appropriate gear. For many nocturnal animals, a thermal scope is one of the few practical approaches.
Thermal scopes might be a bit pricey, but they’re worth the investment—sometimes, they’re the only realistic option. Before you buy, use our guide to determine how to found one truly worth your investment and pick from the absolute best on the market today with our in-depth reviews.