Our editors pick the products & services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Learn more.

Best Thermal Scope for the Money 2020 – Reviews and The Complete Guide

Best Thermal Scope for the Money 2020

If you have ever seen the movie Predator, I am sure you have wondered about thermal vision. To be able to spot prey no matter the time of day, forest cover, or anything else. That's quite the power. No, thermal scopes are not cheap. However, with some smart decisions and a little help, you can easily get the best thermal scope for the money!

Knowing what you need and want from a thermal scope will help you find a great product that will fit your budget. Most thermal scopes will still be expensive. Value thermal scopes are available as well, if you know where to look. 

This article will help you sort through the wide range of thermal scope options. 

The truth is that most people will never need a thermal scope. You don't need one while target shooting. Because of the way they work, most targets wouldn’t show up correctly. A few hunters do need a thermal scope. It makes all the difference for them.  You can also use one for home defense.

Sportsmen can use a thermal scope for coyote hunting to become more effective in the dark.  At night, living things light up the thermal scope like a candle. I prefer to use my thermal scope for coyote hunting. Still, many people opt for a thermal scope for hog hunting and do every bit as well as I do with coyotes. It is a versatile tool.

If you want to make yourself a true apex predator, you have to conquer the night. You can do this with a standard night vision scope. They just do not perform as well as thermal scopes. Thermal scopes are the best when you need to hunt in the dark. 

How does a Thermal Scope Work

Both digital night vision and thermal optics work using infrared light.  This can make the differences between the two confusing. You need more information to understand what makes digital night vision and thermal optics different. First, know that IR light falls into three categories:

  • Near IR is similar to visible light. Digital night vision optics rely on this type of IR. It is not visible to humans but behaves just like visible light. It is both produced and reflects normally.  You can get flashlights that shine in Near-IR.
  • MID IR represents the upper reaches of what a digital night vision scope can use. It works similar to Near IR. But, its wavelength is longer and it can travel farther.
  • Thermal IR is the farthest on the IR spectrum from visible light. It is produced by living things in the form of thermal radiation. Thermal IR has the longest wavelength and travels the farthest. Thermal optics use this type of IR. 
thermal imager

A view of a cat through a thermal imager; these images are also known as thermographs; by Lcamtuf [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

To work, the invisible thermal IR has to hit the thermal optic. The actual science behind how this works is very complicated. Here you will find a more general explanation. 

The lens of a thermal optic is actually made of a phased array of IR detectors. Because they are phased, these detectors can send out a signal that changes. The type of thermal IR determines the signal.  This allows the computer in the optic to establish a graph of the heat values in the scope's viewer. The resulting vision is called a Thermogram.

The thermogram is then transformed into a series of electrical impulses. The internal computer processes the electrical impulses and converts them into a raster display. That fancy term just describes a grid where each cell represents a single value. The raster display looks like the images you see on your computer screen.  Each cell value will represent a pixel or series of pixels.  

Essentially, all of the technological process we've described is there to turn the invisible thermal IR into a visible image. Unless you have a special thermal scope, the image you see will not have any color.

Thermal Scope Purchase Considerations

A lot of factors go into finding the right scope. A thermal scope is likely the most advanced tool you will ever buy for hunting. So it needs a lot of thought. Most of the processes inside the scope aren't that important for a buying guide.  As long as you look for some basic features, you will do fine. 


Unlike traditional night vision scopes, the range on thermal is quite long. Sometimes you will get a range of more than 1000 yards. Such a long range is not necessary for most hunters. More is not always better. Figure out the range you need and get that magnification level. 

Most scopes top out at magnification around 15x.  But, don't worry if that is too much for you. It's common to see less than 5x on a budget thermal scope. 

Sensor Resolution 

Far more important than the magnification is the sensor resolution. This is similar to the resolution on a digital camera. Unlike a digital camera, you won't get resolution in the megapixel range. You don't need it for hunting. You will likely just see a blob of color and no detail. For hunting the shape is the most important.  

To get good shot placement you have to be able to distinguish between the different parts of an animal. The resolution has to be good enough to do that. You can expect a modest to good scope to have a 640x480 resolution. Anything below 320x240 will be a problem.  


Range is similar to magnification, but it should be discussed separately. The sensitivity of the thermal detector will determine its range.  You want a range that is longer than your hunting area. The extra range allows you to scout with your scope and even watch your target approach. 

Some rifle scopes will have ranges of more than 1000 yards. A more modest scope will have a range of 300-500 yards. The smaller ranges will usually be acceptable to most hunters.  Because of safety concerns, you really shouldn't shoot more than a couple hundred yards after dark anyway. 


The overall toughness of any outdoor product is always an important factor. The scope has to contend with dust, rain, fog, the occasional rough treatment, and many other environmental factors. Getting something that will last for years is crucial.  Purchasing a product with a warranty should also be a main concern. 

thermal vision scope is a high-tech and quite sensitive piece of equipment.  They will always need to be treated with care.  You aren’t going to get one that you can beat up like your grandpa’s shotgun. But with the right durability the scope will be able to be used in adverse conditions. Be cautious of low-end scopes. Their durability will likely be less. You want a product that gives you your moneys worth. 


A lot of extras can be packed into a thermal scope. These can be simple things like changeable reticles all the way to video recording.  Every brand has its niche. Some will even offer very advanced options. You can get thermal scopes with rangefinders, inclinometers, and GPS.  It’s even very common to find thermal scopes with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

Some advertised extras are sales gimmicks. Still some are essential for the hunter. Though not for everyone, having a thermal scope that streams to a Smartphone through Wi-Fi may be important for you.

Some of the more advanced scopes even have ballistic matching technology with app support.  This feature helps a lot by calculating bullet drop based on your caliber and load. Additionally, the included app may stream video, audio, and even allow for control of the scope.  Ballistic matching technology is a very powerful feature!

Judge each scope independently and don’t sacrifice overall quality for extras. The more extras you have, the higher the cost of the scope. 

Top 9 Thermal Scopes For Coyote Hunting Reviews  2019 - Comparison Table

Image Product Features
scmtbl-table__image ATN ThOR- HD 640
  • Magnification: 5-50x
  • Resolution: 640x480
  • Weight: 4.4lbs
  • Extra Features: Video Output, Rangefinder, Easy Zero
scmtbl-table__image Pulsar Trail XP 1.6
  • Magnification: 1.6-13x
  • Resolution: 640x480
  • Weight: 4.2lbs
  • Extra Features: App Support, Rangefinder, Video Recording, One-Shot Zero
scmtbl-table__image Trijicon Teo Reap-IR
  • Magnification: 2.5-20x
  • Resolution: 640x480
  • Weight: 4.2lbs
  • Extra Features: Video Recording, Wi-Fi, Ballistic Calculator, Rangefinder
scmtbl-table__image Pulsar Trail XQ
  • Magnification: 2-10x
  • Resolution: 640x480
  • Weight: 4.2lbs
  • Extra Features: Video Recording, Rangefinder, Wi-Fi, App Support
scmtbl-table__image Armasight Zeus
  • Magnification: 3-12x
  • Resolution: 336x256
  • Weight: 1.7lbs
  • Extra Features: Video Recording, Map and Image in video Support
scmtbl-table__image ATN ThOR-HD 384
  • Magnification: 4.5-18x
  • Resolution: 384x288
  • Weight: 3.1lbs
  • Extra Features: Video Recording, Wi-Fi, Ballistic Calculator, Rangefinder
scmtbl-table__image FLIR R-Series RS32
  • Magnification: 1-16x
  • Resolution: 640x480
  • Weight: 1.8lbs
  • Extra Features: Video Recording, Rangefinder
scmtbl-table__image Armasight Predator
  • Magnification: 2-8x
  • Resolution: 640x480
  • Weight: 1.4lbs
  • Extra Features: Video Recording, Map and Image in video Support
scmtbl-table__image ATN ThOR 4
  • Magnification: 1-5x
  • Resolution: 384x288
  • Weight: 2.7lbs
  • Extra Features: Video Recording, Wi-Fi, Ballistic Calculator, Rangefinder

Top 9 Best Thermal Scopes on the Market Reviews

 1  ATN ThOR HD 640

When it comes to thermal optics, only a few companies are worth the money.  The one that comes up the most is ATN. ATN is well known for their highly advanced range of thermal optics. The ThOR HD is our editor's choice. It is the best thermal scope under $6000. It also incorporates some of the best technology and innovations on the optical market today. 

Let's look at the thermal scope itself. It has the industry standard 640 resolution. There are a large variety of selectable reticles. The many pallet choices provide you with the best color scheme for any environment. You can choose from two-tone to classic rainbow patterns.  Even in the densest fog or heaviest rain, you can easily see all living things. The ThOR HD comes in a variety of magnification powers from a max 5x to a max 50x. 

ATN ThOR-HD 640 real image

Despite its quality, the ThOR is designed for hard use in adverse conditions.  Its unaffected by moisture. Plus, it handles shock well on any rifle up to 30 caliber.  The attached lens caps keep your investment safe and the rubberized buttons make manipulations easy. 

The extras are where the ThOR HD shines.  Not only is it an amazing thermal optic but comes equipped with a rangefinder, GPS, customizable ballistic calculator, and can even directly record HD video.  It can send this video over Wi-Fi to any device (IOS or Android). With the ThOR HD you will always have a record of your hunt. You can even have a friend spot for you in real time. 

 2  Pulsar Trail XP 1.6

Pulsar Trail XP Thermal Riflescope

With so few competitors in the thermal optics market, every brand is unique.  That said, I am not sure anyone expected Pulsar to come out with such a phenomenal optic.  The Trail XP 1.6 is the best of Pulsar's series of thermal optics.  If you want power and accuracy, consider this scope.

Pulsar Trail XP Thermal Riflescope real image

Let's get the specifics out of the way. The resolution of the Trail XP 1.6 is on the high side at 640x480. The magnification goes from 2 to 13x.  Neither of those specs are outstanding but the detection range is nearly a whopping 2000 yards.  While it is highly unlikely that you will ever use such a large range in the dark, it is large enough that you can easily spot any target.

The Trail XP 1.6 has all the standard durability features. It resists water and fog. The whole scope is dustproof for use in harsh environments.  With Pulsar, these features are par for the course.  You also get an amazing eight hours of run-time. An additional battery pack will take the run-time up to 20 hours or more.  Plenty of battery life to hunt all night and then some.

When it comes to extras, this product has them all.  You get picture-in-picture zoom.  You can send your video stream to an external device.  The included remote control allows you to see through the scope without actually having to hold the gun. Easy mount, easy zero, the Trail XP 1.6 is truly amazing.

 3  Trijicon TEO Reap-IR

Trijicon TEO Reap-IR

What’s not to love about an optic made by Trijicon?  Their products are the best in every class. Even though the brand has just started manufacturing thermals, the TEO Reap-IR is great!  If you are after the best thermal on the market, you have found it.  This is one of the few that is mil-spec. It is ready to use in any environment.

The resolution on the TEO Reap-IR is 640x480. The zoom goes from 2.5x to 20x to you the most versatility available.  Whether you need it for long distance hog hunts to short range CQB, this scope excels.  To maximize its potential, there are not extreme color modes.  You get an option for white or black hot. As an added bonus, you can even choose an outline mode that will highlight targets without ruining your night vision.

The whole concept of the Reap-IR is to provide a small, lightweight optic with a lot of power.  It succeeds at this. It is also the most durable thermal optic on the planet.  It can handle harsh desert environments and urban streets, so it should be able to work for any kind of hunting.  This optic was specifically designed for AR 15 rifles, but it will work on any rifle.

While extras aren’t the focus of the product, there are a few that are quite handy.  Firstly, this optic has an integrated rangefinder.  This extra is coupled with a readout showing the exact direction of your reticle. You can change the way your sight appears. Also, all of these functions are easily controlled by a single thumbstick. If you want the best, the Reap-IR is the way to go.

 4  Pulsar Trail XQ - Best thermal scope under 5000

Pulsar is an up-and-coming company. They are the new kid on the block when it comes to thermal optics.  But this doesn’t make the Trail XQ any less stellar. It is a high quality scope, which is amazing since it is Pulsar's first ever thermal scope. 

The Trail starts with a high res 640x480 AMOLED display. The features only get better from there.  With a max of 10.8x magnification and an astounding range of just under 2000 yards, there is nothing that can hide from this scope.  You can select from 13 reticles that feature a 1 shot zero. There are also up to three profiles, so you can mix and match rifles. 

The Pulsar is IPX7 waterproof and unaffected by fog or dust.  It can handle a beating from rifles with less than a magnum round. It can also run all night long.  As a matter of fact, the eight hours run time is among the best in thermal optics. It even beats most standard night vision.  Pulsar includes a charger and, of course, the all-important warranty. 

Just like with the ATN, this scope has lots of options.  It can stream to a smart device and also comes with a remote.  This means you can control this scope using a smart device and/or the remote control. It even comes with detection software to help you spot targets in the densest cover.  For a new company, Pulsar is doing just about everything right. 

 5  Armasight Zeus

Armasight by FLIR Zeus 336 3-12x50mm Thermal Imaging Rifle Scope with Tau 2 336x256 17 micron 30Hz Core

Not only does Armasight use FLIR technology but they are part of the company. FLIR is the original and only manufacturer of high-end thermal detectors.  All of Armasight optics use FLIR technology. Still the Zeus was specifically designed for it. FLIR makes the most of the knowledge they have gained over the years in their design.

The Zeus has a 3 to 12x optic, which is nothing spectacular. It also has a lower res 336x256.  While these specs don't stand out in the crowd, there is a massive amount of technology behind the Zeus that pushes makes it unique. The contrast, gain, and sharpness correction are handled by a computer. Additionally, the flat-field correction keeps down image noise, which makes this a remarkably clear scope.

FLIR is used to creating products that can operate in harsh conditions. The Zeus is no exception. It will perform when you need it without fail.  Rain, snow, dust, fog, or smoke will have no effect on its performance.

Armasight by FLIR Zeus 336  real image

You will get a ton of extra options with the Zeus line. Every possible mode available for a thermal optic is packed into this scope.  You can also add a video recorder and extended battery pack if you need them.  The Zeus shows what pure thermal technology has to offer when it is create and manufactured by one company.

 6  ATN ThOR HD 384 - Best Value Thermal Scope

ATN Thor HD 384 Smart Thermal Riflescope

We talked about the ThOR 640 above. The ThOR HD 384 is simply the more affordable version of that great optic. There are not many differences between the two other than price.  If you want to save a fair amount of cash and still get a solid, usable optic, the ThOR HD 384 may be for you.

The resolution on this optic is about half of the 640 model but the zoom is also about half.  The balance between resolution and zoom is perfect. It creates a great scope in its own right.  If a max of 18x is enough, and it should be for most hunters, then this scope will be perfect for you.  That is a ton of magnification for most any hunting adventure. The magnification can even be lowered to almost zero for shorter range CQB ops.

There are no differences between this product and its big brother in terms of durability.  It can handle all of the same conditions and temperature ranges and will not fog or be damaged by water.  It can even handle the same impacts as the ThOR 640. The ThOR HD 384 is a performer.

Just like durability, the 384 and 640 have virtually identical extras.  Video modes, Wi-Fi, and streaming are all the same.  It has the same smart rangefinder and ballistic calculator.  Seriously, the only difference here that matters is the power.  If you are shooting at a normal distance, the 384 should be sufficient.

 7  FLIR RS32

FLIR has been leading the thermal optics market pretty much since its inception. In fact, the technology on most other sights was initially developed by FLIR.  This has enabled them to lead in thermal optics even if they don’t offer all the extras.  However, when it comes to state-of-the-art, lightweight thermal scopes you will find none better. 

If you are after thermal scope for AR15 rifles or similarly small platforms, the R-Series by FLIR is your best bet. No thermal optic is truly lightweight but at just under 2 pounds the RS32 leads the competition.  It is fully waterproof, rugged, shock resistant, and comes with its own internal sealed Lithium battery. The battery has a 4-hour charge. 

Mounted on a standard Picatinny rail, this 5x max optic is one of the best thermal imaging scopes for the money. It comes with multiple pallets and reticle options coupled with a high res detector and target recognition software.  The image provide by this scope is better than almost any other product in its range. 

FLIR has focused more on the R-Series optic itself than the extras.  But, it does have video out and can be operated with an external battery pack. The pallet choices are some of the most extensive of any optic and the target alert system works great.  Otherwise, it is just a solid, high-quality thermal scope. 

 8  Armasight Predator - Best Thermal Scope Under 2000

If you are looking for a great thermal scope under $2000, the Predator is by far the best. Just like the R-series, this optic is made by FLIR. No company does the thermal side of thermal optics better.  This product may not have many extras but makes up for the lack with its quality.  Its low price makes the Predator a great thermal scope for .22 rifle shooters.

With a combination of 2x optical and 4x digital zoom, you can get this 640x480 scope up to an 8 power. It has more range than you would even need at night. The many different included pallets and latest FLIR technology gives the Predator the best longevity ever. It also has greater clarity than any other scope short of actual military hardware. 

Like all FLIR optics, the Predator is waterproof. In fact, it is completely submersible. It also handles rifle recoil well for most calibers.  It even comes with a 3-year warranty.  And if the thermal does start to burn out, that particular part has a 10-year replacement warranty. 

In addition to the selectable pallets, there are 5 different reticles. There is even a repeatable zero system that works even if you remove it from the rifle.  The Predator has video export and can handle external power for longer hunts.  It runs off CR-series batteries, which mean you can always carry spares. 

Although not the editor’s choice, the Predator is a personal favorite. It is probably the most amazing thermal rifle scope for the money ever produced.

 9  ATN ThOR 4 - Best Budget Thermal Scope

One of the major issues with thermal optics is the size and bulk.  They can be a pain to mount on some older rifles.  But ATN, a company best known for high tech products, gives a nod to classic rifle scope with the ThOR 4. It mounts with standard rings and is compatible with just about any of your older rifles. 

The truth is that you won’t find a thermal scope under $1000. The ThOR 4 is about as close as you are going to get. You still get a hell of a lot for the money. Really, for the price, you probably get more from this scope than any other product on the market. 

ATN ThOR 4 real image

The resolution of the ThOR 4 is more moderate than many higher end scopes. It only gets 384x288 on the sensor. You will not get extreme ranges, but most shots happen under 200 yards after dark. So you should have no worries.  The sensor is among the most sensitive on the market. It picks up everything and can display it in the pallet of your choice. 

Like all ATN scopes, the ThOR 4 records and exports video via an app and has the standard rangefinder.  This particular ThOR model has increased the number of load profiles you can create. It can even factor in angle, temperature, humidity, range, and wind to make sure you are on target every time. In addition to all of these extras, the ThOR 4 can run for a solid 18 hours.  You probably won’t need that feature unless you are in Alaska in the winter but it's nice to know you have it. 

Thermal Scope Attachment

Most thermal scopes are sold as a complete system. Very few accessories will be needed.  Often you can get by with nothing but what comes in the box.  If you are interested in expanding your options, there are a few attachments available, usually offered by the manufacturer. These attachments will improve your overall effectiveness.

  • The number one thermal scope attachment you need is an appropriate mount.  Most thermal sights come with a mount that works on any of the normal rail patterns.  If you are mounting the scope on a weapon with no rail, you will need to get a small rail mount attachment.  A few thermal optics have rails separate from the optic.  If that is the case, make sure you also add a mount.
  • Several brands of thermal optic offer an extended power pack.  This can be a nice addition if you are planning a long night hunt and don't want to run down your battery.  Many extended power packs give you 10+ hours of runtime.  If there is no power pack option, many thermals charge via micro USB. They can be charged just like your cell phone.
  • If your battery can be removed, some specifically designed batteries for thermal scopes can be purchased from your manufacturer.  This can also be a great addition.
  • You should strongly consider a rain cover for your optic if one is available.  Even if your scope is watertight, a rain cover provides extra protection that greatly increases the scope's lifespan.
  • A final thing that you are going to want to pick up is a cleaning cloth.  Ones intended for glasses work well. You can also purchase one specifically designed for scopes.  Either type of cloth will keep your scope working.

Thermal Scope Brands

While the products reviewed mention the top thermal scope brands, we go into detail about each here. New technology is released every year.  Below are the top players when it comes to thermal optics.


FLIR has been around since the late '70s. They are the true thermal imaging pioneers.  FLIR may not make the most popular scope or even the most successful one but the technology used in EVERY thermal scope is made by FLIR.  Other companies may add their own gizmos and gadgets. Still, at their heart, every thermal scope has a FLIR detector.

FLIR makes a successful and very high-quality line of riflescopes. That is not their primary market.  FLIR also makes safety equipment, video analytics, night vision, measurement, and diagnostic tools.  Most of these are somewhat reliant on thermal imaging.

Most thermal optics used in military and law enforcement application are made by FLIR. Obviously, this brand makes the highest quality products. 

American Technologies Network (ATN)

ATN is probably the largest producer of thermal scopes but that is far from their only focus.  They are best known for their smart optics. The optics can pair with other ATN technology to refine distance shooting.  ATN also produces a full line of night vision optics, rangefinders, and many other products for the outdoorsman, hunter, law enforcement, and military.

ATN optics are well known for being the most advanced. They have a number of additional features and extras found nowhere else.  Their products are highly sought after and considered the top in thermal optics and digital night vision.


While Pulsar has only been around since the late '90s, they have found quite the following with hunters. This is likely because the brand was founded by a small group of hunters. While they are not popular among military or LE, Pulsar remains one of the bestselling brands for hunting.

Compared to the other producers, Pulsar optics are quite affordable. They are most often used for hog and coyote hunting. They have also found a small niche recently for deer hunting. Their affordability combined with rock-solid dependability makes Pulsar products a solid choice for action in the deep woods.


Though very new to thermal optics, Trijicon has been a regular name in the hunting and shooting communities for decades. Their optics are known to be nearly indestructible. Many LE and military units that use thermals will likely to move to Trijicon in the future.

Currently, Trijicon only offers four models of thermal scopes. All of their products are based on the same platform. The thermal optics by Trijicon are rock solid but will cost a lot. 

Pros and Cons of a Thermal Scope


Thermal scopes come with many pros.
  • Usable in most any lighting conditions. It can handle bright indoor lights to complete darkness.  Because a thermal scope is in no way dependent on visible light, they can be used at any time.
  • Most have exceptional detection range.  The mechanism is very sensitive at detecting heat signatures. It will often see them hundreds of yards away.
  • A thermal scope can see through atmospheric conditions like dust, rang, fog, and smoke.  Likewise, they can see through light foliage and other thin obstructions.  This has made them popular in urban and woodland rescue.
  • You can use a thermal to see a target and the target's last location.  The residual heat left in tracks and dens will often appear for a short while after the animal leaves.
  • A thermal scope sees almost anything.  Light cover, camouflage, and other usual tactics are useless.  Even hand-prints will show up on a sensitive unit. This makes hiding and evasion much more difficult.


Most of the cons of thermal scopes are subjective. If you are interested in thermal optics, there is nothing here that will convince you not to try one.

  • Cost is the first problem to overcome. For many people it can be a big one. Prices will likely drop in a few years. However, today there are not really any affordable thermal scopes. 
  • Interpreting the image can be more difficult than some people expect.  Without the context of familiar colors and shading, some targets can be hard to identify.
  • Most thermal scopes are quite large and heavy. Their weight can make them hard to use.  So far weight has been the largest limitation to their popularity.
  • When you can make out a target, getting a positive ID is impossible.  An intruder in your home and a family member will look identical.
  • Startup/Warm-up time takes a while. Battery life is often shorter than desired. This is not a tool that you simply turn on and use.  It will take time to make it operational.

Thermal And Night Vision Scopes

Many people confuse the technologies of thermal optics with night vision. This problem is comment enough so that you will commonly see the term thermal night vision scope.  Thermal night vision scope is a misnomer. It actually does not describe thermal technology well.  Thermal scopes are far more than night vision. 

Night vision works by reflected light.  For traditional night vision the light comes from the visible spectrum like the moon or even stars.  Digital night vision is closer to thermal as it uses IR light. But digital night vision still needs an IR projector.  It picks up the Infrared light that is reflected off a target not what is emanating from it.  For this reason, night vision is more properly called light-amplification technology. 

Thermal vision uses radiation that is emitted from the target.  It doesn’t need any light source. Whether used in complete darkness or the noonday sun, it will still work.  This versatility is not possible with light-amplification technology.

Stand-Alone vs. Clip-on Thermal Scopes

There are some companies, including many of those listed above, that are offering "clip-on" thermal scopes.  This product is a low or no-magnification thermal optic. It clips onto a rail system behind your normal optic and gives you thermal capabilities without the need for a dedicated scope.

Clip-on scopes are very convenient. They also have a number of other pros and cons to consider.


- Clip on sights allow you to use your normal scope until you need thermal optics.  

- They are versatile. They don't have to be attached to a normal scope. They are also convenient for hand-held use when not mounted on a rifle.  

- There can be a small cost savings with a clip-on thermal.


- You lose many of the extra features found in a full thermal scope.  Image quality, especially, is not as good..  

- The cost savings are small considering the features you give up.

Clip-on scopes may be for you. Just do your due diligence and research thoroughly before making your decision.

Thermal Scopes vs. Monoculars

Now that you know about the clip-on thermal scope, let's talk about monoculars. There are several monoculars that allow you to use them as a thermal scope on a rifle.  Some clip-on sights are simply monoculars that have an attachment point for a rail system.  So what is the real difference between these two types of thermals?

Thermal monoculars are amazing and worth having for many hunters.  In many ways they are far more versatile than a thermal scope.  You can use them any time for many things.  They are great for low-light scouting and target identification.

However, a thermal monocular is not ideal as a weapon mounted sight.  They lack the magnification of most thermal rifle scopes.  They also have little to no extra features that support shooting. They are often much cheaper. But, they do not serve the hunter well unless he wants to constantly switch between his standard rifle scope and a handheld monocular.

There is a distinct value to the thermal monocular. If you are a hunter, however, you are better off with a dedicated rifle scope.

How to Zero a Thermal Scope

This is an important point that is often overlooked.  You absolutely can not sight in a thermal scope on a standard target.  You need special targets that are designed to work with a thermal sight.  Even then, sighting in will be a challenge.

Get an appropriate target and take your time.  You may struggle to get a thermal target or have a lot of trouble with it.  In that case, consider placing a halogen light on the ground behind the target.  This may be enough to get you by. It has worked for me with two separate thermal scopes.

Thermal Scope Hunting Tips

  • The first and primary rule of hunting with a thermal scope is to hold your shot.  As hunters, we are often excited the first time we get our sights on a critter. You still do not want to rush your shot with a thermal.  Target identification can be tricky and no one wants an accident.  Make sure you know what you are shooting before you pull the trigger.
  • Set up early and give yourself time.  Unlike a normal scope, you can’t just turn your optic on and expect to start shooting.  You need to give the scope time to warm up and calibrate.  This can take a few minutes.
  • Use a spotter.  Most modern thermal scopes will let you stream your view to a tablet or other device.  This gives you a second set of eyes to help with spotting and identifying targets.  Use this feature to your advantage.
  • Check your local laws.  Not all states allow hunting after dark and many that do restrict what can be hunted.  Learn the regulations and know your rights.  Nothing is worse than having an expensive piece of gear that you can’t even use.
  •  Check your zero often.  While most quality scopes will not have issues, thermal is a complex technology.  Before you hit the field to hunt, make sure your zero hasn’t wandered off.

Thermal Scope Q/A

What thermal scope does the military use?

The current scope used by the U.S. military is the AN/PAS-13.  While you can get these as a civilian, they run close to $15,000.  It was developed by the defense contractor Raytheon for use on all military light weapons.

Can a thermal scope see through walls?

This is a video game and sci-fi trope.  You cannot see through walls with a thermal scope, no matter how sensitive.  You cannot see through any solid material.  Even glass can be troublesome with thermal optics.

Can a thermal scope be used in daylight?

Yes.  A thermal scope can see in daylight. Some thermal scopes even have a daylight mode that allows you to see in normal color.  You can use a thermal scope no matter the light level.  During warm, it can be a little tricky to see your target. But you can still do it.  

Can a thermal scope see through fog?

Yes, most thermal optics can see through fog, rain, snow, and most other environmental factors without issue.  Many can even see through thick smoke without a problem.

Can you finance a thermal scope?

Many financial institutions do offer financing that could be used for any purchase. If you don't want to go the bank route, try Amazon. They, and some other sites, offer financing options. So, the easy answer is yes.  You can finance a thermal scope.

Can you put a thermal scope on a crossbow?

Yes, you can use a thermal scope on a crossbow.  You need to be aware that most thermal optics are not set up for a crossbow and the reticle may not be the most useful.  Some, like the ATN, do work well. You will still have to configure them to work with a crossbow.

How long is a thermal scope's lifespan?

The lifespan of an individual scope will mostly depend on how often you use it. You could get many years out of it.  Most of the thermal cores in civilian optics are made by FLIR who offers a 10-year warranty.  Most people can expect to get more than 10 years.


There is something very exciting about hunting with night vision.  Something that you don’t get in any other form of hunting. There is a feeling of technological superiority. You may even feel like the most advanced hunter in the wild. With night vision, you own the night. 

Anything that approaches you, it's in your sights. You see all. All night vision technology is great but nothing in the world beats thermal! 

Scroll to Top