We are currently living in the Golden Age of technology, and the hunting and shooting industries have really benefited from some major technical advancements. Modern shooters now have access to night vision optics that are basically specialized computers we can mount right on our rifles. However, finding the best thermal scope to mount on your firearm is no easy feat, especially for those unfamiliar with the technology.
That’s why we’ve compiled this useful guide to help you find just the right thermal optic for your shooting needs.
Whether you need a scope for tactical situations, nighttime hog hunting, or just plain fun, we’ve got all the information you need to find the best quality optic for your rifle.
If you don't have time for the details, check out the list below for the best rated thermal scopes:
Table of Contents
- How Thermal Imaging Works?
- Why Use a Thermal Scope?
- Things to Consider When Choosing Thermal Scopes
- Best Thermal Scope on the Market Review
- Final Thoughts
How Thermal Imaging Works?
Many people confuse thermal imaging with night vision technology. While both help you see in the dark, they use very different technology to accomplish that goal.
Night vision technology relies on ambient light to help you see at night. It gathers all available light and amplifies it so you can see images in the dark. Usually, the light from the moon and stars is enough. However, if there isn’t enough natural light, night vision scopes use an IR (infrared) illuminator to help you see.
In contrast, thermal scopes don’t rely on ambient light. Instead, they pick up thermal patterns. All natural and manmade objects emit infrared energy as heat. Humans and animals generate significantly more heat than their surroundings, making them easy to detect with a thermal scope.
Thermal imaging technology detects the subtle differences in temperature and then create a very detailed temperature pattern called a thermogram. It only takes a fraction of a second for an array of sensors to gather temperature information in the device’s field of view (FOV) to generate the thermogram.
The software in the scope then translates the thermogram into electrical impulses. The impulses then travel as data to a digital display. That display projects an image composed of various colors (or shades of gray) that correspond to the intensity of the objects infrared emission.
If all of that sounds complicated and high-tech, it's because it is. The important thing to understand is that a thermal scope picks up the heat signatures of objects and uses it to make an image you can see, even in the pitch dark.
Why Use a Thermal Scope?
As the technology has become more accessible to civilian shooters, thermal scopes have increased in popularity. No longer relegated to military use, thermal imaging can be used for a variety of shooting applications.
Thermal riflescopes are a popular choice for hunters. While they are an obvious choice for hunting nocturnal animals like feral hogs, coyotes, and other predators, they are also useful for detecting game animals through dense fog or thick brush.
Thermal optics are also a favorite choice for tactical shooters. Whether you are military or law enforcement personnel (or you just want to emulate the tactical rigs of those professionals), a thermal scope will help you identify live targets even in the dark.
Things to Consider When Choosing Thermal Scopes
Before you make a considerable financial investment in an expensive thermal optic, here are some important points to consider.
Thermal imaging technology is expensive. Some more advanced thermal optics can push five figures, and you definitely won’t find one priced under $1000.
While that may seem expensive, the price has dropped considerably in just a few short years. As the technology becomes more mainstream, we should expect to see these devices become much more affordable. In the meantime, be prepared to budget thousand dollars for a quality thermal scope.
Size and Weight
Modern thermal scopes carry a ton of internal technology, so it should come as no surprise that they generally weigh more than a traditional scope. If you need to lug your rifle (and a mounted optic) long distances over rough terrain or through dense woods, the size and weight of your thermal optic becomes a serious consideration.
Some thermal models are more compact and weigh less than others, which is a major asset when hiking miles through the wilderness or trying to balance your rifle for those difficult off-hand shots.
A reticle is the pattern of fine lines and markings inside a scope that help you aim accurately. Reticle designs range from simple crosshairs and center dots, to elaborate MIL-Dot configurations.
Many high-end thermal scopes have several pre-programmed reticles, so you can easily choose a design that fits your personal preferences or best suits the shooting task at hand.
Some scopes only have a single reticle or none at all. Whether you need a thermal scope for tactical shooting or hunting nocturnal predators, before settling on an optic, be sure the reticle is appropriate for your shooting needs.
Some thermal scopes have no magnification, while others may offer up to 16x or more. The level of magnification you need depends on your shooting pursuits.
The magnification on a thermal scope will be either optical or digital.
Optical magnification is relatively low-tech and lets you get up close and personal with your target using actual lens adjustments. A thermal scope with optical magnification will have better image quality when you zoom in to the highest magnification level.
Digital zoom uses software to enlarge an in-camera image. Digitally magnified images will be less clear at maximum power.
This is the range your device can adequately detect the infrared heat signatures of objects and animals in the FOV. Different devices have different detection ranges. Thermal imaging technology has a relatively short detection range, so the effective range of your rifle should greatly exceed the effective range of your optic.
Thermal scopes aren’t at all like your grandfather’s old hunting scope. Unlike traditional rifle scopes, thermal scopes use digital technology to create a viewable image projected on a digital display.
Screen resolution is the most important factor in determining how clear the images you view through your thermal scope will appear. No matter how great the scope’s sensor, if you have a low resolution screen, you’ll have difficulty making out target details, especially on maximum zoom.
Some thermal imaging scopes feature built-in software that helps smooth pixelation to produce more detailed images.
Our suggestion is to invest in a thermal scope with the highest resolution you can afford. While thermal imaging makes it quick and easy to spot living targets, the technology often lacks the detail of standard night vision. This lack of detail can make precision shooting problematic, especially for hunters. The higher your device’s resolution, the easier it will be to make effective nighttime shots for quick, humane kills.
When most people think of thermal imaging, they imagine the bright reds and oranges of the alien vision in the popular 1987 film, Predator.
While many modern scopes feature vibrantly colored images, many also offer black and white options. Rather than shades of red and yellow, these thermal optics display heat signatures as darker or lighter on the gray scale. Monochromatic images may not be as exciting, but they are easier on the eyes, especially in pitch-black, target rich environments.
Some models offer several color settings, giving you the option to choose whatever strikes your fancy. You may opt for bright colors for easier target identification or switch to black and white when you have a whole passel of hogs coming to your bait station.
Most thermal imaging scopes come with a ton of extra bells and whistles (which is a good thing when you consider the price tags on some of the fancier models). Some additional features to look for include laser rangefinders, ballistic calculators, GPS location, digital compasses, recoil activated video recording, and Wi-Fi streaming.
Best Thermal Scope on the Market Review
Still feeling overwhelmed by all the options? Here is a list of our top picks to help point you in the right direction.
1 Trijicon Teo REAP-IR Mini
The world's most demanding shooters trust the Trijicon REAP-IR Mini for their thermal imaging needs. This lightweight scope is perfect for those already familiar with the AN/PAS-13 thermal weapon sight used by the United States military.
Not only does it look like a military grade scope, the REAP-IR Mini has a remarkably similar control layout, allowing those already acquainted with the AN/PAS-13 to easily navigate settings with the highly intuitive multi-directional thumb stick control.
The REAP-IR Mini allows you to engage targets in any light. This means you get seamless day night transitions from one high-quality optic. The optic uses a cutting-edge 12 micron, 640x480 sensor to deliver the clearest thermal images available to civilian shooters.
This thermal scope is tricked out with all the features you would expect to see on a high end optic. However, it has one seriously cool feature we haven’t seen anywhere else. The REAP-IR Mini’s unique Edge Detect mode outlines downrange targets. This feature reduces image brightness to help prevent night blindness in target rich environments
Trijicon has a reputation for producing rugged, dependable optics, and the REAP-IR is no exception. This optic is designed and tested to military standards. Completely battle-ready, the REAP-IR Mini is crafted from 6061 aircraft grade aluminum and is guaranteed waterproof to one full meter.
The REAP-IR has 8x digital zoom so you can easily get up close and personal with nocturnal targets. You can also choose from five different reticle designs. It also comes with a Picatinny rail mount, making it perfect for AR-15 and other modern sporting rifles.
2 ATN ThOR HD 640 Smart
ATN makes some of the best digital night vision and thermal scopes in production today. Catering to the nocturnal hunter, all ATN optics are great for hog hunting, and their ThOR HD 640 is near perfect for popping feral swine.
The ThOR HD 640 has a highly sensitive thermal sensor that catches heat from your target and translates it into a clear digital image using an Obsidian T II thermal core. Essentially a highly-specialized onboard computer, the Obsidian T II runs a set of sensors, crunches large files, and makes complex mathematical calculations faster than a wild hog hops on sweet corn.
This is far more than just a thermal scope. It has a built-in smart rangefinder, GPS, an on-board ballistic calculator, and recoil activated video (RAV) and Wi-Fi streaming, so you can capture all the excitement of your nighttime hunts and share them instantly with your friends.
Although this is a serious high-tech gadget, it is surprisingly rugged. Both shockproof and waterproof, the ThOR HD 640 is durable enough to handle the toughest hog hunts. And it’s priced well under $4000!
3 Pulsar Thermion XP50
The Pulsar Thermion XP50 is easily one of the best long distance thermal scopes on the market. High-quality germanium optics and a cutting-edge thermal imaging sensor combine to provide an extreme detection range of 2000 yards, even in total darkness.
The Thermion XP50 features Pulsar’s patented Image Boost Technology that is designed to increase image clarity for a sharper, more detailed FOV, making it much easier to identify targets. Even at long range, the images viewed through this thermal optic are sharp enough that you can actually count the hairs on a broadside buck.
For even more enhanced viewing, you can choose from an array of color palettes. The Thermion XP50 even offers digital recording that allows you to store hours of video or thousands of still images.
Built with a rugged, lightweight all-metal housing, this is the perfect thermal scope for coyote hunting. Made to hold up in wet weather and rough hunting conditions, the Thermion XP50 easily mounts on your rifle using standard 30 mm scope rings. Plus, it is recoil rated for hefty calibers like .375 H&H and even 12 gauge shotguns.
4 FLIR ThermoSight Pro PTS 536
FLIR has packed a ton of high-tech features into one compact, lightweight thermal riflescope. The ThermoSight Pro PTS 536 has a Boson Core Sensor and a high definition FLCOS display that delivers sharp, clear images in both low contrast daylight scenes or in absolute darkness.
You can capture all your best hunting moments with the ThermoSight Pro’s recoil activated video recording. It also stores up to 2 ½ hours of video or 1,000 still images.
For easy personalization, the ThermoSight Pro features multiple color palettes, reticle types, and reticle colors. It also comes with rangefinder technology, a digital compass, and an inclinometer.
Super lightweight (less than a pound and a half), this compact optic is surprisingly rugged. Designed with a durable aircraft grade aluminum alloy body, the ThermoSight Pro is tough enough to withstand bumps, bangs, and drops in the field and never skip a beat.
Hunters and tactical shooters alike will appreciate the quick-release Picatinny rail, which lets you easily swap out optics when you need to.
5 Armasight by FLIR Predator 640
This lightweight, American-made thermal riflescope features the latest Tau 2 VOx microbolometer and uncooled FLIR core technology. Now you can cut through total darkness, snow, dust, fog, smoke, and atmospheric haze to clearly detect downrange targets.
Consolidating everything a savvy marksman wants in a scope, the Predator 640 features digital zoom, various color modes (including white hot and black hot), a wireless remote control for tactical operations, video recording, and a 10-year warranty.
The Predator 640 has some of the most intuitive controls in the industry. It’s also easy to install, and has a user-friendly quick-release locking mechanism compatible with MIL-STD-1913, Weaver, and Picatinny rails.
6 ATN ThOR 4
Although the ATN ThOR 4 has the classic look of a traditional riflescope, it is jam packed with modern high-tech features. With an internal dual core processor that reduces image pixelation and increases thermal sensitivity, this scope produces high resolution images with sharp contrast, even in total darkness.
The ThOR 4 also features a ballistic calculator that reads temperature and humidity. It also instantly calculates angle to target adjustments. You can leave all the difficult math computation to your device. You won't need a separate calculator or pen and paper.
The scope even stores multiple weapon profiles for the most precise readings every single time, no matter which weapon you're shooting. It even works perfectly on those tough long-range shots.
As an added bonus, the ThOR 4 records video internally and also gives you the option to stream high resolution video to your mobile device while simultaneously storing it on an SD card.
This scope is durable enough for rough hunting or tactical conditions. It has an ultra low profile and a surprisingly long battery life. And although some shooters might balk at the price tag, the ATN ThOR 4 is easily the best thermal scope under $5000 we’ve ever seen.
7 IR Defense IR Hunter Mark II
Featuring high-quality germanium optics and MicroIR 12um Micron technology, the Hunter Mark II delivers super crisp, sharp images while using less battery power than the competition. The 60hz fast frame rate and Mil-Spec Emagin OLED micro display make it easy to get crosshairs on both fast-moving and long-range targets.
With a sleek modern design, the Hunter Mark II is a real looker. However, it is surprisingly rugged and feels right at home in harsh weather and tough shooting conditions.
The controls on this high-end infrared thermal scope are similar to those on a traditional riflescope. While push button controls are nice to use during the daytime, the intuitive controls on the Hunter Mark II are right where you would expect them to be on the scope. This one feature makes the Hunter Mark II incredibly easy to use in the dark and under stress.
8 theOpticGuru Thor LT Thermal Scope
If you are just getting started in thermal optics, the price tags on these high-tech devices can be pretty scary. Needless to say, we were pretty skeptical when we found a thermal scope priced well under $2000. However, this riflescope from theOpticGuru does a nice job of breaking the price barrier for beginners and budget conscious shooters.
While this thermal scope lacks some high-end features like Wi-Fi streaming and ballistic calculations, it does a fine job of focusing on what really matters - detecting body heat through dense vegetation, fog, smoke, and total darkness.
Rugged, durable, and dependable, this refreshingly affordable optic is constructed of a hardened aluminum alloy, and it is recoil resistant to higher caliber weapons. When it comes to thermal technology, theOpticGuru Thor LT is definitely the best value for the money.
9 Trijicon Teo SNIPE-IR Clip-On Thermal Sight
If you’re already in love with your day scope, you can keep it and easily make the switch to after-dark shooting with this clip-on thermal sight from Trijicon.
Don’t be fooled by its simple clip on design. The SNIPE-IR features a 12 micron, 640-480 sensor and top quality optical components. The result is crisp, clear, high-resolution images, even in pitch-black shooting conditions. You can also use this as a standalone sight or as a standalone thermal monocular.
Tough enough to withstand rough use and harsh weather, the Trijicon SNIPE-IR is made from aircraft grade 6061 aluminum and is guaranteed waterproof to one meter. Some of the SNIPE-IR’s other great features include easy-to-use thumb stick controls, image capture, and a Visrelay Collimating Optic to ensure seamless operation with your daytime optic.
We also love the SNIPE-IR's No Shot Zero sight-in feature. Sighting in your optic just doesn’t get any easier than this.
Thermal imaging scopes are fantastic tools for identifying live targets, especially after the sun goes down. These high-tech gadgets give you a tactical advantage in the field, help you hunt nocturnal game, and are just plain fun to use. If you want to give yourself a technological edge, a thermal scope is one great way to do it.
While not every thermal optic will work for every shooter, we hope the information in this article helps you find the best thermal scope for your shooting needs.