Best Thermal Imaging For Hunting And Spotting Animals

Last updated on October 28, 2020

Best thermal scope for the money

While many people know that thermal cameras are used in military, a variety of building inspections, electrical inspections, and other situations; thermal imaging technology is extensively used for hunting and spotting animals as well. Some people wonder what the difference is between thermal imagers and night vision or if there is even any difference at all! There are differences; night vision amplifies the available light so that you can see objects just as you would during the day. Thermal imaging on the other hand highlights differences in body temperature making it easier to spot living animals or people.

The two most common types of thermal imaging used for hunting are thermal imaging monoculars and thermal imaging rifle scopes. There are some differences between thermal monoculars and rifle scopes, so please read below to find which one is better for you. Until recently thermal imagers were extremely expensive, large and impractical for consistent use. Over the last few years, prices have come down dramatically as the technology has improved making them easily available to the general public although they are still a large investment. Some of the features that affect the cost of a thermal imaging scope or monocular are:

  • Thermal Sensor Resolution - the higher the resolution the clearer the image but also the higher the cost
  • Refresh Rate (in Hz) - how many frames are generated per second; the higher the rate the higher the cost
  • Optics - high-quality optics produce better pictures but also add to the cost
  • Magnification - the higher the magnification the further away you can spot/hunt but also the higher the cost and narrow field of view
  • Build Quality - higher quality/waterproof materials ensure your monocular or scope will last longer but will increase the cost

Thermal Scope vs Thermal Monocular, what are the differences?

Thermal monocular and thermal scope for hunting

While you may think that thermal imaging scopes and monoculars are essentially the same that is incorrect. Monoculars are meant to be small and compact; able to fit in your bag and allow you to look at or spot animals and other things that are not far away. Monoculars are usually less expensive than thermal scopes because they have weaker optics (less magnification), no mounting rails, and fewer software add-ons.

Thermal scopes, on the other hand, are designed to help hunters get better shots at their targets from much further away. An entry-level thermal scope will be good for 100 to 250 yards; whereas a very expensive thermal scope can help you accurately target objects over 1,000 yards away. Better (typically a germanium lens) and more complex optics used in thermal scopes allow for much higher magnification which is another reason they cost more. Thermal scopes also have more electronic and software features to assist the shooter such as a ballistics calculator, range finder, and recoil activated video recording.

thermal imaging riffle scope for hunting

Wild boar spotted with thermal imager

You may also be wondering what is the difference between a 5x50 monocular or scope and a 3x15? The first number refers to the magnification of the image so a 3x would magnify the image 3 times. The second number the (15) refers to the size (objective size) of the front lens in millimeters. Your initial thought is that you should always go for the largest magnification and objective size however that is not the case.

First, the larger the magnification and objective size the more expensive your scope or monocular will be, secondly, the larger the magnification the harder it will be to steady the scope or monocular on your target without a tripod. Finally, the higher the magnification the smaller your field of view. What is the field of view? The field of view is how much of the image you will able to see when looking through the scope. For example is the field of view is 300ft at 1,000 yards you will be able to see 300ft of the image when looking through the monocular or scope without moving the lens.

So what does it all mean? This means that you should think about the situations and distances that you will likely be using your monocular or scope in and buy accordingly. If you are not going to be spotting or shooting more than 300 yards out then you may not need to purchase a scope or monocular with powerful optics and higher sensor resolution; not only will you save a lot of money but it will be much easier to use a scope or monocular rated for this distance.

10 Best Thermal Imaging Scopes and Monoculars for Hunting

First reserved for the military, thermal imaging rifle scopes and monoculars have come a long way to now be adopted in law enforcement and civilian sporting activities like hunting. Thermal imagers give you the tactical advantage that you need when out in the field in low or no light conditions.

Thermal imaging scopes are different from night vision scopes. They detect heat signatures from objects and turn them into visible images sensing and displaying the differences in temperature that an animal or object emits. If you are planning to hunt boars or other nocturnal animals, you’ll be able to see them in pitch darkness.

While prices for thermal imaging scopes and monoculars have come way down they are still a large purchase with almost none available under $1,000. If you are on a budget we would suggest a digital night vision scope; which is completely different than a thermal scope. We have assembled a list of night vision scopes here.

Want to know which ones you should consider? We chose the top 10 best thermal imaging devices for hunting and summarized their pros and cons for you. 

Product Name

Type

Thermal Resolution

Refresh Rate

Range Finder

Display

Scope

384x288

50Hz

No

1024х768 AMOLED

Scope

384x288

50Hz

Yes

1024x768

Scope

384x288

60Hz

Yes

1280x720

Scope

320x240

50Hz

Yes

1024х768 AMOLED

Scope

640x480

60Hz

Yes

640x480 AMOLED

Monocular

320×240

50Hz

Yes

1024х768 AMOLED

Monocular

640x512

30Hz

No

640x480 LCD

Monocular

384x288

30Hz

Yes

HD Display

Monocular

160x120

9Hz

No

640x480 LCD

Viewer

320x240

25Hz

No

390x390

Let's go over some of the best and highly rated thermal imaging devices on the market:

1. Pulsar Thermion XQ38


Pulsar Thermion XQ38 Thermal Riflescope

Best Overall Thermal Scope

We’ll kick off our list with this Pulsar Thermion XQ38 riflescope that embodies quality and performance. This is evidenced by the advanced technology incorporated in the designing of this unit, starting with the robust 30mm traditional–style aircraft-grade 30mm tube. Though the unit’s metal housing is tough, it’s surprisingly lightweight for easy handling. 

The model features an impressive 1024 x 768 display resolution and 384x288 thermal sensor to provide you with exceptional image clarity and detail needed by the professional hunter.

Given the impressive 1,350m detection range, you can view your prey in absolute clarity from a distance—even in total darkness. The riflescope allows you a detailed field of view and better identification of your target as well as objects in the vicinity. Further target identification is made possible by activating the 8x digital zoom. It’s apparent that chances of you hitting the target are very high using this riflescope.

The unit allows for both video and still-photo recording. Footage recorded can be stored for hours on the 16GB internal memory card.

Despite the sophisticated craftsmanship, you’ll find the device very simple to use. Firstly, it’s easy to set up; the scope features standard 30mm scope rings for easing mounting. You don’t need any specialized tool for the job. Secondly, start-up is almost instant which essentially saves your battery thereby increasing time of operation. The dual battery system also provides additional operation time. Upon starting up the unit, you’ll also find the riflescope easy to use thanks to the user friendly controls.

Best of all, you’ll appreciate that the riflescope is waterproof, so feel free to use it in wet conditions without worrying about damage.

Specs:

  • Thermal sensor: 384x288 @ 17 µm
  • Field of View: 9.8°x7.4°
  • Recording: Video and still capture
  • Visual display: 1024 x 768
  • Magnification: 2.5x-10x
  • Digital zoom: 4x
  • Refresh rate: 50Hz
  • Battery: 7 hours
  • Dimensions: 3.1 x 15.5 x 2.5”
  • Weight: 26.5 oz
PROS:
  • Sturdy construction and excellent built quality
  • Ideal for medium and long distance viewing
  • Waterproof
CONS:
  • Expensive

2. AGM Global Vision Secutor TS25 384


If you prefer a more compact and lightweight unit for easier handling, consider this AGM thermal scope which we’ve rated as the second best option. You can expect 24 hour operation using this scope which is designed to operate effectively regardless of weather conditions. This is because the unit is made using superior materials which are not only durable but weatherproof too.

The thermal scope is specifically designed for short to medium range shooting depending on the lens on the model you pick. You have the option to pick a model with a 25mm lens for short range shooting or 50mm and 75mm lens for medium range. Simply pick one that’s best suited for your circumstances.

This scope will provide you with five hours of continuous battery life which is sufficient to complete your hunting expedition. 

The thermal resolution is 384x288, which provides you with superior image quality for short to medium range shooting. This is also made possible thanks to the five zeroing profiles that allow you better focus on your target. In the event that you want an even better view of your target, simply zoom-in the image using the 2x and 4x zooming options provided.

For an additional price, you have the option to extend the unit’s capabilities to include a Wi-Fi module or external video recorder.

The manufacturer also included a carrying case, lens cloth and user manual together with the manual. While we advise you to have a look at the manual before operating the device, we can confirm that you’ll find the monocular easy to use.

Specs:

  • Field of View: 15ᵒ x 11.2ᵒ
  • Optical Magnification: 1.2x
  • Detection range: 500yards
  • Thermal resolution: 384 x 288
  • Digital zoom: 2x, 4x
  • Refresh rate: 50Hz
  • Battery: 5 hours
  • Dimensions: 9.8 x 2.8 x 3.2
  • Weight: 1.43lb
PROS:
  • Affordable
  • Compact
  • Lightweight
CONS:
  • Only for short to medium range shooting

3. ATN ThOR 4 384


The ATN ThOR 4 384 Smart Thermal Scope (1.25-5x 60Hz) is our pick for best value thermal imaging rifle scope. Depending on your shooting preferences and needs you may want to choose a different lens setup though, which will affect the price. Don't worry they have a 640 version coming soon which will offer even higher thermal resolution. 

ATN's newest (4th generation line) the Thor-4 384 is our best value model, mainly because of the affordable price tag and new features. The ThOR 4 384 includes all the regular features you would expect such as video recording/streaming at 720p, ballistic calculator, range finder, and IOS/Android apps for use with smartphones or tablets. 

The 4th generation also has a 60Hz refresh rate (up from 30Hz in the prior model) giving you crisp images even when tracking a moving target. The ThOR 4 can now handle up to a 256 GB SD card so you never have to worry about running out of video storage if you are on a long hunting trip. The ThOR 4 also has a zoom wheel on the side of the scope instead of buttons which makes zooming much easier. One of their newest enhancements is the ability for dual streaming which allows you to shoot, record AND stream to a phone or tablet at the same time! Battery life has also been extended to over 18 hours of continuous use. While there are lesser expensive models if your looking for a full featured thermal scope that has the latest features and dual streaming options this is the one for you.

The ATN ThOR 4 also has an upgraded 3.5 inch eye relief with multiple eye rings to make mounting on many different rifles easier and more comfortable for the shooter. There are three rings included, two standard rings and one L ring for extra eye relief when needed.

The ATN ThOR 4 384 allows you to detect, recognize, and identify targets further away than previous generations with the help of their newest thermal (microbolometer) detector. The detection range is 750 meters, the recognition range is 335 meters and the identification range is 205 meters. It features ATN’s Obsidian Dual Core IV processor matched with their enhanced optics that provides clearer images than ever before.

The ThOR 4 384 uses a smart system which gives you parameters of important environmental data making longer shots easier, This includes such elements as wind direction, wind speed, relative humidity, etc. You can easily calculate the trajectory of your bullet; making it easier to hit the target on the first attempt. It saves you from having to deal with the complexity of reticles and reading charts.

One of the best features from the prior line is the ATN ThOR 4's Recoil Activated Video Function. You just have to switch to this mode, and your thermal scope will be ready to record, store, and stream videos the moment you pull the trigger. This features records the last few seconds before your shot and and a few seconds after your shot allowing you to capture everything. This means you’ll be able to share your expeditions with your friends and relive great shots.

The scope records video in 1280x960 resolution. It even has a gyroscopic image stabilizer which helps you to zoom in on an image without losing its sharpness.

With the built-in smart rangefinder, you can easily estimate the distance to your target. It makes targeting simple since, with two clicks and a shift of the scope, your target will be in your kill zone.

The ATN ThOR 4 can be operated remotely via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. You can access the device on the ATN Obsidian app on your tablet or smartphone. The app also provides you with a gallery to the recorded images and videos.

ATN is a reliable brand, and the ThOR-4 384 proves you can depend on their models for everyday use. It is a device made for anyone who needs a quality thermal scope with the newest features at a reasonable price. ATN also proudly makes all its products here in the USA.

Specs:

  • Field of View: 16°/12.5°
  • Lenses: Objective lens with 1.25x/5x magnification
  • Recording: Shot activated recording and live streaming through the app
  • Visual Display: 1280x720
  • Thermal Resolution: 384x288
  • Refresh Rate: 60Hz
  • Range Finder: Built in laser range finder
  • Battery: 18 hours
  • Dimensions: 13.1”x 3”x 3”
  • Weight: 1.9lb
PROS:
  • Longest battery life
  • Video Steaming & recording
  • 3 year warranty
CONS:
  • Too many features if you do not want to stream/record

4. Pulsar Thermion XM50


Thermion XM50

Best Long Range Thermal Scope

The Pulsar Thermion range of riflescopes is known for its high-performance units and the XM50 isn’t exempted. This range offers three models and the XM50 is the most powerful of them thanks to its large lens.

This is the device to pick if you want a riflescope that can detect objects clearly from afar. Thanks to the 2300m detection range, images will be viewed clearly via the monitor. You can make use of the magnification functionality which zooms images up to 22 times if you want a closer look of the object.

Though the riflescope provides long detection range, images are viewed in high definition. The unit offers a wide range of customizable recticles and color options at your disposal include red, white, green and black.

Feel free to use this riflescope in wet conditions because the unit is IPX7 waterproof. This means exposure to rain or snow is unlikely to damage the unit. Also, the same waterproof rating means the device can be in water for at least 30 minutes and it’ll continue functioning.

You’ll be impressed by how quickly this unit starts up; the riflescope will be up and running in no time. This quick start-up allows for battery preservation which is why the unit can function for at least five hours depending on usage.

One of the major drawbacks to owning this model is that since it has a large lens, it has a narrow field of view. But you can still view images clearly thanks to the high thermal definition and zooming functionality. Also, it’s the most expensive model within the Pulsar XM range, but for the performance it offers, the price is worth it.

You can capture both pictures and videos with this device. And it comes with 16GB internal storage to store your footage. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a microSD port so storage isn’t expandable. But this isn’t uncommon with models within the XM series.

Specs:

  • Thermal Resolution: Uncooled 320 x 240
  • Field of View: 4.4° x 3.3°
  • Refresh Rate: 50Hz
  • Lenses: 5.5-22x (x8 zoom)
  • Visual Display: Amoled 1024х768
  • Battery: 5 hours, optional battery pack
  • Dimensions: (15.82 x 3.07 x 2.52)
  • Weight: 0.9kg
PROS:
  • High image definition
  • Sizeable storage capacity
  • Powerful optics
CONS:
  • Storage not expandable
  • Slightly heavy
  • Expensive

5. Trijicon IR Hunter Mark III 35mm


Trijicon IR Hunter MK3 35mm_3

Best Premium Thermal Scope

Here is an exceptional unit that looks sleek and works dynamically, but take note it’s one of the more expensive units on the market. It’s also heavier than many others, so not the ideal option for long days long hunting trips. 

For the price you get impressive results giving you crystal clear images at night. The Trijicon IR Hunter Mark III usually presents so well you’d think that it is daylight. This also means you’ll have the best chance to get your intended target as you can easily discern exactly what you’re aiming at.  

It’s an ergonomic design so you’ll love handling this on the go. 

It has a few drawbacks, such as a somewhat limited field of view compared to some others on our list. However, the brand’s expertise thanks to 25 years in the market shows. They even added a replaceable IR shutter to the objective front lens. This means the most important (and costly) item is protected at all times.  

Specs:

  • Visual Resolution: 640x480
  • Thermal Resolution: 640x480
  • Field of View: 12°
  • Lenses: 2.5x optical magnification (digital: 8x)
  • Recording: You can download via cable
  • Battery: 3,5 hours at 60Hz but up to 5 hours if you use 30Hz 
  • Dimensions: 7.4" x 2.9" x 3.1"
  • Weight: 34.9oz
PROS:
  • Multiple reticles
  • Hard case included
  • Can use cable and USB
  • Eye guard is shuttered
  • Great clarity
  • Best in class thermal imaging processing
CONS:
  • Expensive unit

6. Pulsar Axion XM38


Axion XM38

Best Overall Thermal Monocular

This is the most expensive model within the Axion XM series. But parting with a few extra dollars for this model means you’ll get the most powerful lens within the range. This is evidenced by the large lens.

What you won’t appreciate is that thermal monoculars with larger lenses usually have a narrower field of view. But you’ll appreciate how you can view images and objects from afar thanks to the impressive 1700m detection range offered by this unit.

Also, expensive monoculars are usually constructed using high quality materials. This means if you pick this model, you’re guaranteed a long-lasting unit.

The Pulsar Axion XM38 thermal monoculars allows you to view clear images thanks to the 320 x 240 resolution. To get an even better picture of the image - or object - you can make use of the magnifying functionality which allows you to zoom in on an image up to eight times. Thanks to the 12µm thermal imaging sensor, you can achieve higher optic magnification.

This Pulsar Axion XM38 allows you to capture both still pictures and photo recording. Though the thermal monocular is packed with many impressive features, you’ll appreciate how compact it is. This thermal viewer weighs only 270g; it’s small enough to hold in one hand making operation easy. Also, thanks to its small size you can easily fit it into your pocket for hassle-free transportation.

The device is IPX7-rated so feel free to use it in wet conditions; rain or other forms of precipitation wont damage it.

The device has a battery operation life of just over four hours. And it’s powered by APS3 Lithium Battery Pack which you charge with the charging station included. Either that or you can connect it to a USB to charge it. Unfortunately, the monocular doesn’t come with a spare battery but you can always purchase one seperately.

You can connect this thermal monocular onto Wi-Fi to perform functions such as file image transfer where necessary.

Like most compact monoculars in the Axion XM line, this Axion XM38 model comes with 16GB internal storage. You can store all your images and pictures for retrieval at a later date.

Specs:

  • Visual Resolution: 1024х768  Amoled display
  • Thermal Resolution: 320 × 240
  • Refresh Rate: 50Hz
  • Magnification: 5.5-22x
  • Steaming: Built in WiFi and StreamVision app support
  • Water Resistance: Fully waterproof IPX7 rated
  • Field of View: 5.8° x 4.3°
  • Battery Life: 4 hours
  • Detection Range: 1700m
  • Dimensions: 5.87" x 1.93" x 2.75"
  • Weight: 0.27kg
PROS:
  • Long detection range
  • Compact & portable
  • Durable
  • Waterproof
CONS:
  • Expensive unit
  • Narrow field of view

7. FLIR Systems LS-XR


FLIR Systems LS-XR

Best High Resolution

If you’re a fan of FLIR devices and have extra money to spend on a high quality monocular, pick this LS-XR model that has a high refresh rate. The device allows for enhanced resolution as a result of the new 640x512 VOx microbolometer. You can expect clear images of your target. Because you can view targets clearly that are approximately 200 yards away, this monocular is ideal for short range to medium range shooting.

In the event that you want to get an even better view of your target, simply magnify the image using the 8x magnification capability.

Being a monocular, you’ll appreciate the lightweight and compact design which makes for easy handling. The device is small enough to fit into your pocket or small backpack. You even have the option to attach the unit to your wrist. Simply make use of the wrist strap provided.

Aside from easy handling, you’ll find the unit simple to operate. You can do so using one hand which is made possible by the intuitive controls. It’s easy to adjust the eye piece to your preference for a more comfortable surveillance.

You can also expect a little over five hours of battery life from this device. Along with the monocular, the manufacturer also includes an adapter, video out cable and USB cable for your operating convenience.

Overall, the specs and performance on this unit are very much worth every penny. 

Specs:

  • Field of view: 14ᵒ x 18ᵒ
  • Lens diameter: 35mm
  • Thermal resolution: 640x512
  • Magnification: 2x, 4x, 8x
  • Refresh rate: 30Hz
  • Battery: 5+ hours
  • Dimensions: 2.31” x 2.44” x 6.7”
  • Weight: 0.75lb
PROS:
  • Superb image quality
  • Multiple palettes
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Enhanced resolution
CONS:
  • Not for extra long range viewing

8. ATN OTS-HD 384


This design has most of what you want in your next monocular. Everything from video recording, live feeds to your friends and powerful thermal technology can be found here. On top of that it looks and feels quite rugged, giving you confidence that you won’t break it if its dropped. The industry standard of a 3 year warranty is included, so you know you’re buying quality. 

Bonus: It’s more affordable than some other monoculars we mentioned in our review.

Newbies or those in tense situations don’t have to worry about shaking from the adrenaline rushing through your veins. This one is fitted with an E-compass but also image stabilization. You’ll always have clear smooth images. 

It has a zoom (which you don’t always find in this niche) and we love that everything else shows high tech characteristics too: The brand even ensures long term use with making the firmware upgradable. The process sometimes gives errors, but try their friendly customer service if need be. Users love the Wi-Fi features so anyone can log in, view and share the experience with you. 

The digital zoom is a great plus, but just be prepared for more grainy visual feedback when using it. 

We’ve mentioned range often in this review - this one is more impressive than some, but know that beyond 100 yards it requires effort to distinguish what you’re actually looking at. Know your hunting style - if you’re often very far away from your prey, this one may not work for you. To enhance your experience, you should try out the different coloring options as many find the white hot mode helpful to identify animals, especially for hog hunting.  

Specs:

  • Thermal Resolution: 384 x 288
  • Lenses: 1.25 – 5x
  • Recording: Can record and stream (4GB to 64GB MicroSD card compatible)
  • Display resolution: 1280 x 960
  • Battery: 8 hours 
  • Dimensions: 6.85" x 3.16" x 3.14"
  • Weight: 1.55lb
PROS:
  • Good battery life
  • HD display
  • Wi-Fi features to iOS and Android
  • Decent warranty of 3 years
CONS:
  • Heavier than many other models
  • Zooming makes image grainy
  • No mounting options

9. FLIR Scout TK


Flir Scout TK

Best Cheap Thermal Monocular

If you want a quality monocular but are working on a tight budget, consider this FLIR thermal monocular. FLIR is known for designing affordable but quality devices and this unit is no exception.

It’s the perfect monocular to take with on those outdoor hunting adventures. The device is compact and lightweight so it’ll be a breeze to travel with. It’s even small enough to fit in your pocket!

Despite the compact design, don’t underestimate the housing quality. It has a sturdy body which is both durable and weather resistant. Don’t let the rain stop you from embarking on your favorite hunting expedition; simply purchase this model.

The 160x120 VOx microbolometer allows you to view your targets with good clarity. Just bear in mind that this device will work best for short range detection given the 100yard detection range. Using this monocular, you can view your targets clearly whether it’s day or night time - as long as you stick to the mentioned detection range.

You’ll find the unit simple to operate using only one hand. This is largely attributed to the intuitive interface and one-handed button design. With nine video palettes to pick from, you can easily adjust the palette to suit your environment at any given time.

Even though it’s the cheapest monocular on our list, the battery life is also long—much like in the higher end units. It can provide you with up to five hours of continuous battery life depending on the settings. 

Specs:

  • Field of view: 20ᵒ x 16ᵒ
  • Recording: Digital detail enhancement
  • Thermal resolution: 160x120
  • LCD Disiplay resolution: 640x480
  • Refresh rate: 9Hz
  • Battery: 5 hours
  • Dimensions: 6 x 2 x 2”
  • Weight: 0.375lb
PROS:
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to operate
  • Compact
CONS:
  • Low refresh rate
  • Not for long range detection

10. Leupold LTO Tracker 2 HD


This is such a slim, simple design that contains high tech features. Just note that this isn’t a true monocular. It’s a thermal tracker—but you may find that it’s exactly what your hunting gear needs.  

Leupold LTO Tracker 2 HD will give you feedback on heat signals up to 750 yards away and we love how quickly it starts up: Only 4 seconds and you’re good to go.  

It does have limits such as having no mounting options and of course it can’t handle firearm recoil. However, it’s still an investment since it’s a unit you’ll use both day and night. Take it along for rough handling situations too - the Gorilla Glass cover can withstand a lot. 

You can’t adjust the reticle but you’ll appreciate the multiple color palettes (8 in total). Probably one of its best features is that this one is super light. 

It’s a user-friendly model and slightly more affordable than others on this list, making it a good option if you’re just starting out and shopping on a budget.  

Specs:

  • Display Resolution: 390x390
  • Thermal resolution: 320 x 240
  • Field of View: 18.1 at 1.6x; 4.9 at 6x
  • Digital Zoom: 6x zoom
  • Battery: 3 hours at 25Hz
  • Dimensions: 6.85" x 3.16" x 3.14"
  • Weight: 7oz
PROS:
  • Super light model
  • Use friendly
  • Multiple color palettes
  • Thermal sensor works over long distances
CONS:
  • No reticle options
  • Can’t mount
  • Can’t handle firearm recoil
  • No video recording and image capturing

What to Look for When Buying Thermal Imaging for Hunting

There are dozens of different types and grades of thermal rifle scopes on the market today and with the ability to find them all on the internet it can be a daunting task to find the right scope for you and your budget. Should you save money and buy an entry grade thermal imaging scope with a low refresh rate (>30Hz) and minimal features? Should you buy the most expensive thermal scope that your budget allows with all the bells and whistles such as recoil activated recording, ballistic calculator, and the ability to shoot targets 1,000 yards away? While the correct answer for everyone is different it probably lies somewhere between these two extremes.

While everyone will have slightly different needs and a different sized budget I always like to think about how often I will be using the scope and in what conditions I will be using it. If you will only be using the scope once or twice a year for a "fun" hunt and will not be in extreme weather conditions, then a more budget friendly scope with fewer options will probably do very well for you. On the other hand, if you are going to be using the scope dozens of times per year in harsh conditions and/or long distance shots then a higher quality and more expensive scope will be a better buy for you.

 Below are some of the things that you should be on the lookout for when deciding which thermal imaging rifle scope to buy.

Does It Matter Which Manufacturer/Brand I Buy?

There are many manufacturers of thermal imaging moncoulars and rifle scopes some of the most popular and better brands are: Trijicon, FLIR, Pulsar, and, ATN and many others. FLIR is probably the most well-known and one of the best brands currently in the monocular category. They have an industry leading warranty and produce very high-quality products; however, their products are usually the most expensive. For those looking for high quality and willing to pay the price FLIR can be a great choice.

Pulsar is a more mid to high level brand with a large selection of monoculars at a variety of price points. They also have several scopes available.

ATN is one of the more popular thermal imaging rifle scope makers and makes a quality product for a reasonable price.

Do I Want A Color or Black & White Scope/Monocular?

Do you need a full color thermal monocular/rifle scope or will a black and white one work fine? A lot of this will come down to personal preference and how much you want to spend on your monocular or scope. Black and white can be easier to see however you cannot detect the temperature ranges as easily as you can with a color one but will be more expensive. At the end of the day this option should probably be further down your list of priorities as you will be able to get better optics and/or resolution with a black and white display.

How Long Should My Battery Last?

Depending upon how often you are going to be using your thermal imaging monocular battery life may be a very important factor to consider when making your purchase. As a rule of thumb, you would want a battery that will last at least a couple hours without replacement or recharging. Some batteries can last up to 8 hours, but these are typically found in more expensive scopes and monoculars. The FLIR Scout TK monoculars battery lasts for 5 hours as an example. Typically, thermal riffle scopes' battery last anywhere between 8-12 hours. Most high quality scopes also come with easily accessibly battery trays so you could take extra batteries if you run out of juice. There are also many external battery packs that you can buy to extend the life of your scope.

Is High Resolution Worth It?

What resolution do your need your thermal imaging monocular or rifle scope need to be? Again, this will depend upon your personal preference and how much you want to spend on your monocular or scope, Higher resolutions will allow you to see animals more clearly but will add to the cost. 384x288 is an okay resolution but ideally 640x480 is where you want to be.

Do I Need A Fast Refresh Rate?

The refresh rate dictates how quickly the image refreshes with higher refresh rates making for smoother more accurate images but also increasing the cost of the rifle scope or monocular. A refresh rate of 30HZ or higher is recommended as this will give you a smooth image and you will be able to track your target much more easily.

Optical Or Digital Zoom?

While both zoom types have their places; an optical zoom will not pixelate as a digital zoom will. The optical zoom is typically more expensive though so there is a bit of a tradeoff. Depending upon how far away you are going to be from your targets a digital zoom may be okay. For first time buyers we would recommend a digital zoom as it will cost less; however if you know that you will be shooting at long range targets or spotting animals from long distances away then an optical zoom or combination optical and digital zoom maybe best for you.

This is probably one of the more important areas where you need to spend a little time figuring out how far away you really want to be able to spot/identify animals as lower end monoculars and scopes will turn the image into a blob quickly if you have a low quality zoom.

Is My Reticle Important?

This is one area when personal preference comes heavily into play. There are a variety of recital styles ranging from the classic "red dot" to the standard crosshair here you can choose what you prefer, and many scopes and monoculars allow you to change the reticles among several presets giving you even more options.

Standard Glass Or Germanium?

Germanium glass is used in more expensive thermal rifle scopes and monoculars as it is not an insulator like normal glass. While thermal rifle scopes and monoculars with germanium are much more expensive. For casual or weekend users you would almost exclusively look at standard glass or silicon scopes and monoculars as they will be more than adequate.

How Much Should I Spend on a Scope?

Probably one of the most important factors in selecting the right thermal imaging scope or monocular. Prices for scopes and monoculars range from under $1,000 to over $15,000 for the top end military grade ones. As with almost everything you do get what you pay for so typically the more you spend the better quality and more features you are going to get. As a rough guide typically, any scope or monocular under $1,500 is considered a mid to entry level scope or monocular; however, for many people that is all they will need. Only serious hunters and enthusiasts can justify or rationalize spending $5,000 to $10,000+ on some of the higher end thermal rifle scopes and monoculars.

Our Final Thoughts:

Whether you are looking for a thermal imaging monocular or rifle scope we have put together the comprehensive guide to help ensure you are able to find the best one for you and your budget. If you have already purchased one of these or a different one please let us know what your experience has been.

About the author 

Randy Angwin

Randy Angwin is an avid outdoor enthusiast and has been with TICR since the beginning. He helps create new articles and reviews latest infrared and night vision devices for the site as well as staying on top of the latest trends in the thermal industry. When not working, Randy likes to hunt and spend time with his two German shepherds.

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