Best Thermal Scope 2020 – Buying Guide and Reviews

Last updated on November 19, 2020

best thermal imaging scope

You may know that thermal imaging scopes have been around for many years primarily being used by the military and law enforcement agencies. As thermal technology advanced, the costs of producing thermal scopes have come down and they quickly became popular among hunters. A hunter at night no longer depends on use of night vision optics which are not as effective at spotting animals in total darkness. High powered spotting lights that spook their intended targets have become a thing of the past as well.

If you have been looking to buy a good thermal sight, you probably already know that thermal imaging scopes can be costly. There are tons of features that are available from different manufacturers and the options for optics and thermal imaging sensors can be overwhelming for new and experienced hunters. New technologies like more compact sensors have allowed for reductions in prices on various models and longer battery life. Thermal scopes also function very differently than night vision equipment and each has their pros and cons which we also discuss later in our thermal imaging scopes reviews. Our guide will help you find the best thermal scope for your needs. 

Here are our top 7 best thermal scopes for 2020:

1. ATN Thor 4 384 - Best Thermal Scope for the Money

2. Trijicon IR Hunter Mk III - Best Premium Thermal Scope

3. ATN Thor LT 3-6x - Best Budget Thermal Scope

4. Pulsar Thermion XQ38 - Best Thermal Scope for Short Range Shooting

5. Pulsar Thermion XM50 - Best Thermal Scope for Long Distance Shooting

6. FLIR Apollo-Pro MR 640 - Best Clip On Thermal Scope

7. ATN ThOR 4 640 2.5-25x - Best Under $5,000

When you look at some of the best thermal scopes on the market, you have to decide what features are most important to you and your needs. Will you use a thermal scope for deer, hog, or coyote hunting? Do you need to stay far away from your target? Would you like to be able to record and share your adventures with your fellow hunters? Below we go in depth on these and other important questions so that you can get the hunting scope suited for your needs. The 6 factors that hunters need to keep in mind are, price, resolution, refresh rate, long/short range, battery life, and extra features.

1. ATN Thor 4 384 1.25-5x


The Thor 4 384 thermal scope has been designed and manufactured by ATN (American Technology Network) and is their newest 4th generation line of thermal optics taking the place of the ThOR HD for hunters. The ThOR 4 has several different versions with different optics perfect for everyone from first time thermal rifle scope purchasers to hunting and sporting enthusiasts. ATN also has a 640 version of the ThOR 4 releasing soon for those that want even higher thermal resolution. As a hunter the ThOR 4 line is a great choice.

The ThOR 4 is equipped with a 384 x 288 sensor and is powered by their new Obsidian Dual Core IV processor. The new processor along with the enhanced optics provide crystal clear images. The upgraded optics now allow detection ranges out to 960 meters, recognition range of 480 meters and identification to 300 meters. The ThOR 4's aluminum alloy contraction also makes is suitable for many different environments.

Another upgrade of the ThOR 4 is the 60Hz (up from 30Hz) which means no blurring even when tracking fast moving targets and perfect for hog hunting or coyote hunting. Finally, the biggest upgrade, which will appeal to shooters who often go in groups, is dual streaming. This allows you to shoot, record and stream video via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi at the same time allowing people to watch your hunt in real time with the ATN Obsidian app. Lithium battery has also been improved to last over 18 hours of continuous use.

The ThOR 4 smart thermal imaging riflescope comes with all of ATN's normal features such as ballistic calculator, smart laser range finder, (calculating wind speed and direction) geotagging, e-barometer, e-compass and gyroscope and multiple reticle options. Don't worry, ATN's Recoil Activated Video (RAV) is included as well and will start recording as soon as you pull the trigger and the video will be saved to the Micro SD card.

The ThOR 4 line is a definite upgrade from the ThOR-HD and with all the features and selection of optics to chose from gets our pick for best smart thermal riflescope and best for the money. The REAP IR from  Trijicon, while very different is price is a great choice if you have the funds.

Specifications:

  • Thermal resolution: 384 x 288
  • 1280x720 HD Display
  • 60Hz
  • FOV: 12° x 9.5°
  • Native magnification: 2x
  • E-zoom: 4x
  • Battery life: 18 hours
  • Wi-fi: yes
PROS:
  • Tons of high tech features
  • Recording with recoil activation
  • Dual streaming
  • Superior operating time
CONS:
  • Longer range lenses can get expensive

2. Trijicon IR Hunter Mk III 35mm


The Trijicon TEO IR Hunter Mk III is one of the most advanced thermal scopes on the market today along with a premium price tag. Trijicon's thermal optics are known for their superior quality. Some of the most notable features are the 60Hz frame rate (can also be dialed back to 30Hz to save power) 640x480 thermal sensor and 12 micron thermal core. Many thermal optics are still 17 or 21 microns. The smaller micron thermal cores allow for better magnification with the same size lens. This results in clearer crisper images that allow you to detect targets at further ranges. The Trijicon TEO Mk III with a 30mm objective lens comes with a long range 12° field of view with 2.5x magnification. The Trijicon's aircraft grade aluminum construction also means that it can handle almost any environment. These are also used by the military and law enforcement.

The Trijicon TEO Mk III thermal scope also has multiple reticle save options so that you can quickly and easier swap rifles without the long process of sighting in the scope with each weapon change. The Trijicon IR Hunter Mark II also has a ballistic calculator and built-in sighting system. Also made by the same manufacturer, the Trijicon TEO REAP IR, REAR IR mini  and the Trijicon TEO Snipe IR should also be looked into.

Operating time is okay at 3.5 hours at 60Hz and 5 hours at 30Hz. The picture quality of the Trijicon Mk III thermal optic has to be seen to be believed. If cost is not an issue you cannot find a better thermal rifflescope on the market today. A hunter with a Trijicon scope certainly has an advantage!

Specifications:

  • Thermal resolution: 640 x 480
  • 640x480 OLED Display
  • 30/60Hz
  • FOV: 12°
  • Native Magnification: 2.5x
  • E-zoom: 8x
  • Mounting system: throw-lever, quick-release picatinny rail
  • Operating Time: 5 hours
PROS:
  • High quality thermal images
  • Best in class processing
  • Power saving option
  • Fully waterproof
  • Ultra durable construction made out of 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminum suitable for military use
CONS:
  • Pricey

This new thermal scope is considered to be the best value thermal imaging scope for night hunting particularly for those people looking for a good deal. Weighing only 1.4lb, this model is the lightest thermal scope within its range. As a result, this unit is the ideal pick for those that want a lightweight device that’s easy to handle. Because of its compact design, this model is versatile and can be used with a crossbow or air rifle.

You can view every minute detail of your target with clarity thanks to the 1280 x 720p HD LCD display resolution and 160 x 120 sensor. The unit comes with standard black hot or white hot color palettes and data can be displayed in either mode depending on your preference.

One of the product’s invaluable features is the One Shot Zero functionality that makes it easy to adjust your scope before use. Aside from being simple to use, you’ll find this thermal imaging rifle scope incredibly easy to mount thanks to the standard 30mm rings provided on the unit.

This riflescope is known for its ultra-low power consumption and is designed to conserve energy. You can expect over 10 hours of continuous power which is more than enough to complete your expedition. Because of the sturdy construction, this unit can be used in adverse weather conditions. It’s made of hardened aluminium alloy and features a weather resistant IP-rating.

Overall, we love this unit for its compact size that allows for easy handling. While not military grade it is perfect for a first purchase.

ATN Thor LT thermal scope

Specifications:

  • Thermal resolution: 160 x 120
  • 1280 x 720 HD display
  • 60Hz
  • FOV: 11° x 8.3°
  • Native magnification: 3x
  • E-zoom: 2x
  • Operating Time: 10+ hours
PROS:
  • Sturdy construction
  • Weather resistant
  • Long battery life
  • Easy to use & mount
  • Lightweight
CONS:
  • No recording feature

4. Pulsar Thermion XQ38


Pulsar Thermion XQ38 Thermal Riflescope

Best for Short Range Shooting

If you’ve been on the hunt for a thermal scope for short ranges, look no further than the Pulsar Thermion XQ38 Thermal Scope. Firstly, this black beauty is sleek, slender and sophisticated & features a rugged, reliable, reinforced design.

It has multiple color palettes to pick from ranging from White Hot to Ultramarine and from Rainbow to Violet. Picture-in-picture mode displays a magnified image in the reticle area for precise shot placement. The XQ38 thermal scope has e-zoom up to 4x, a 384x288 pixel resolution, an IPX7 waterproof rating, and five zeroing profiles. It has built-in HD video recording capability with recoil activation, can connect to smart devices via Stream Vision Wi-fi module and has a one-shot zero with freeze function.

It also has variable magnification of 2.5 to 10x that you can change with ease. A 16GB internal memory card, instant start-up and Image Boost Technology seal the deal on this steal. The Pulsar Thermion XQ38 Thermal Riflescope measures in at 15.5 x 2.5 x 2.6 inches and weighs 26.5 oz—so you don’t need to worry about this bad boy weighing you down. 

Specifications:

  • Thermal resolution: 384x288
  • 1024x768 display
  • 50Hz
  • FOV: 9.8°x 7.4°
  • Native magnification: 2.5x
  • E-zoom: 4x
  • Lens diameter: 32mm
  • Battery life: 7 hours
  • Mounting system: standard 30mm scope rings
  • Wi-fi: yes
PROS:
  • Inexpensive
  • Impressive detection range
  • Onboard 16GB internal memory
  • IPX-7 waterproof rating
CONS:
  • Not ideal for long ranges

5. Pulsar Thermion XM50


Thermion XM50

Best for Long Range Shooting

The Pulsar Thermion XM50 thermal optic is the most powerful lens within the XM series of thermal optics and features an impressive 50mm lens. The XM line of thermal scopes were developed as  the replacement of highly successful Pulsar Trail XQ line as well as Pulsar Core RXQ30V. This is the lens to pick if you want to view images from a distance as evidenced by the extended 2300m heat detection range the model offers. For even greater detection range, you have an option of getting the Pulsar Thermion XP50 with even higher resolution sensor.

This XM50 thermal scope is known for its impressive features which include the instant start up functionality; the device switches on almost instantly. Quick start will help save energy and therefore prolong the operational lifespan of the device. The thermal scope is powered by a lithium-ion battery which can last up to five hours.

Other features you’ll appreciate on this thermal optic include the simple user interface which makes operating this scope a breeze.

The rifle scope offers 15 reticle options in up to four hues namely black, red, white and green. With this device, you can perform integrated still image as well as video recording. It features 16GB of internal storage which allows you to store a sizeable number of pictures and videos for later viewing.

You have the option of connecting this device to Wi-Fi via the Pulsar’s Stream Vision app. As a result, you can perform video and image transfer functions to other Wi Fi devices.

Powerful Germanium optics usually cost more than their comparable counterparts so you’ll have to pay more for this model. In addition, the more powerful the lens, the heavier the device is. This thermal scope weighs just under a kg making it the heaviest in its range. But nonetheless, you can still handle—and carry—it with ease.

With regards to design, you’ll appreciate the solid construction of this scope which is now much slimmer compared to the Pulsar Trail XQ thermal imaging riflescope. Pulsar Thermion thermal sight mounts perfectly on standard 30mm rings much like the other models within this series. This riflescope’s base features a rugged construction so you’re guaranteed a long-lasting product if you pick this model.

Specifications:

  • Thermal resolution: 320 x 240
  • AMOLED 1024 x 768 display
  • 50Hz
  • FOV: 4.4° x 3.3°
  • Optical magnification: 5.5x
  • E-zoom: 4x
  • Operating Time: 5 hours
  • Wi-fi: yes
PROS:
  • High definition imaging
  • Target recognition at 2300 meters 
  • Rugged construction with ipx7 waterproof rating
  • High resolution AMOLED display
  • Picture-in-picture zoom
CONS:
  • Expensive

6. FLIR Apollo-Pro MR 640


Whether you’re a complete novice or a seasoned pro, the FLIR Armasight Apollo-Pro MR 640 Thermal Clip-On Sight has something of value to offer everyone. As far as clip on scopes go, the Apollo-Pro MR 640 is about as advanced as it gets—this nifty clip on tool is full of features and functionality that the modern day hunter can’t go without.

With the Armasight by FLIR Apollo-Pro MR 640 Thermal Clip On Sight you can take your hog hunting and coyote hunting to the next level. Designed to sit in front of your daytime scope, this clip on tool offers you a FLIR Tau 2 sensor with 640 x 512 resolution, a 30 Hz refresh rate, 50mm lens, 1x optical magnification (2x, 4x and 8x with e-zoom) and multiple color palettes to pick from including Rainbow, White Hot & Black Hot. 

It’s compatible with CR123A V and AA batteries alike—simply use four of either kind & enjoy up to 7 hours of continuous usage. Seamlessly switch from day to night hunting, get set up and packed down in no time thanks to its quick-disconnect system & quick operation is guaranteed thanks to its included wireless remote. Of note FLIR's Thermosight Pro PTS223, while a very different scope is also a good choice if your looking for more compact and light weight option, good refresh rate, and a 12 micron thermal sensor.

Specifications:

  • Thermal resolution: FLIR Tau 2 640 x 512 pixels
  • OLED 800x 600 display
  • 30/60Hz
  • Optical magnification: 1x
  • Objective lens diameter: 50mm
  • Eye relief: 45 – 55mm
  • Focus range: 5m to infinity
  • Operating time: 7 hours
PROS:
  • Full of high tech features
  • Can also be used as monocular
  • Mounts in front of daytime scope
  • Remote control operation
  • No zeroing required
CONS:
  • Expensive

7. ATN ThOR 4 640 2.5-25x


This is undoubtedly one of the best thermal scopes you can get for under $5,000. By purchasing this model you’re getting one of the most sophisticated thermal units specifically designed for civilian use. This smart thermal sight comes with a wide range of impressive features starting with the improved 1280 x720 screen resolution and Gen 4 640x480 resolution sensor (successor of the Thor HD 640 line of thermal scopes). You can view images with crisp and clear clarity regardless of the range & visibility conditions.

The unit is designed to produce higher thermal sensitivity compared to other models within the same price range. The manufacturer took it a step further by adding a Ballistic Calculator so you can better point at your target. Other features you’ll appreciate on the model include the Recoil Resistant functionality that’s designed to withstand the high pressures associated with high impact weapons.

Design-wise, you’ll be impressed by the almost silent shutter that allows for quiet operation of the unit. The new and improved contrasts will enable you to view targets with clarity. You’ll also appreciate that this model is extremely easy to use. It doesn’t present a huge learning curve even if you have no prior experience with handling thermal riflescopes. Make use of the Smart Range Finder if you want to identify your targets with ease regardless of your distance.

This model looks and feels like a traditional thermal rifle scope. It weighs 2.2lb making it extremely lightweight for easy handling. It’s simple to mount and comes with 30mm standard mounting rings. You can expect low power consumption from this model too. What’s even more impressive is that the unit is designed to provide over 16 hours of continuous battery power. In a nutshell, we love the ultra low profile of this thermal scope and how all the features are easy to learn. It is also a definite improvement over the ThOR HD 640.

ATN ThOR 4 640x480 mounting rings

Specifications:

  • Thermal resolution: Gen 4 640 x 480
  • 1280 x 720 HD Display
  • 60Hz
  • FOV: 12.5° x 9.7°
  • Optical magnification: 2.5x
  • E-zoom: 10x
  • Operating Time: 16+ hours
PROS:
  • Lightweight
  • Extra-long battery life
  • Low profile design
  • Good image quality
  • Successor of the popular ATN ThOR HD 640 line
CONS:
  • Expensive

Comparing Features and Specifications

Thermal Scope Model

Product Preview

Features

ATN thor 4 smart thermal riflescope

Recoil activated video recording on SD card, real time dual stream 720p video, smart rangefinder; smooth zoom; 384 x 288 | 17 µm pixel pitch; 18 hours of operating time.

Trijicon IR Hunter MK3 35mm_7

Digital focus, target edge detection, video output;

640x480 | 12 µm pixel pitch

3 hours at 60Hz and 5 Hours at 30Hz of operating time.

ATN Thor LT thermal riflescope

Weighs only 1.1 lbs, 1280 x 720p high resolution display; 10 hours of operating time.

Pulsar Thermion XQ38 Thermal Riflescope

Video recorder, real time WiFi streaming to smartphone and YouTube; 320 x 240 | 12 µm pixel pitch; 7 hours of operating time.

Thermion XM50

Video recorder, real time WiFi streaming to smartphone and YouTube; 320 x 240 | 12 µm pixel pitch; 5 hours of operating time.

Armasight Apollo-Pro MR 640 Thermal Clip-on Sight

640x512 | 17 µm pixel pitch; 7 hours of operating time; up to 8x of digital zoom.

ATN ThOR 4 640 2.5-25x – Best Thermal Scope Under 5000

Gen 4 640x480 sensor; 16+ hours of operation; wifi streaming; smart rangefinder; smooth zoom system.

Thermal Scope Buying Guide and Tips

best thermal scope for the money

Very simply a thermal scope (or any other type of thermal imager) detects infrared radiation that is emitted by all things living and nonliving and produces an image colorized according to the temperature of the radiation the objects are emitting. This means that thermal imaging works in almost all weather conditions and does not need any visible light in order to produce high-quality images for object detection. A night vision scope or monocular on the other hand has to have some ambient light or IR light attached in order to function, which we will discuss below.

How can everything emit light/energy even non-living things? Biological matter (people, animals) and machines emit heat energy which is detected. Additionally, rocks, trees and other material soak up thermal energy from the sun during the day and emit this energy during the night as the cycle continues.

So how is an image generated if all matter just emits heat? All materials emit thermal radiation differently so while you can touch a rock in the sun and feel that is it hot there are actually many different temperatures being emitted in the lower portions of the infrared light spectrum that we cannot distinguish which is where thermal imaging comes in. A thermal image is generated not by the temperature of the matter but by the difference in temperatures that the object is emitting. Thermal imaging devices are very sensitive to temperature information and can detect even a 0.01C temperature difference.

Thermal imagers are also not affected by objects with the same or similar contrast. Night Vision systems will have a hard time showing targets that are of the same or similar contrast because they rely on reflected light as well as ambient light and cannot detect and show the temperature differences.

ATN Thor 4 640 person

What is a Microbolometer in a thermal scope?

A Microbolometer (say that three times fast) is an uncooled thermal imaging sensor that is made up of hundreds or thousands of individual pixels with each pixel having several layers. The top layer of a thermal imaging system is the infrared absorbing material, followed by a gold contact, an electrode, and a reflector to ensure light that passes through the top layer is reflected back up to produce the best possible image. Finally, the bottom layer of the pixel is a readout circuit helping to generate the image. To ensure the infrared absorbing material is separated from the other layers of the pixel a gap is created between the IR material and the reflector using a substance that can be chemically etched away when the rest of the process is completed.

The finished thermal imagers resembles a bridge with the IR detector being the bridge, the reflector being the water under the bridge and readout/image circuit the ground underneath the water.

As technology has continued to advance the image quality produced by microbolometers has continued to increase while the cost has also come down making thermal imaging systems available to many more people. Microbolometers are commonly available in 320x240 and 160x120 while lower resolution ones are cheaper they do not produce as high a quality image. For hunting, we recommend choosing at least a 320+ pixel sensor ideally 640x480 especially if your targets will be at distance.

This sounds expensive! Thermal scopes do cost more than regular scopes however with the advent of the uncooled microbolometer as detection units as discussed above the costs have come way down. A cooled thermal scope cost many times as much as today's thermal scopes and suffered from being very large, hard to operate and required a long amount of “cool down time” to be usable.

Thermal sensor resolution

ATN Thor LT thermal sensor

Does it matter what the thermal image resolution is in my thermal sight? Yes! It matters a lot; just as with a regular visible light camera higher resolution produces clearer images that you can enlarge without the picture getting blurry. Some of the common thermal resolutions for thermal optics are in order of quality:

  • 640x512
  • 640x480
  • 384x288
  • 336x256 
  • 320x256
  • 320x240
  • 240x180
thermal scope with high thermal resolution

As expected the higher the resolution the higher the cost of the thermal scope. Sensor resolution should be one of the areas that you spend the most time deciding on as a poor choice here will make the investment in your thermal scope worthless. You should go for the highest thermal resolution sensor that you can afford even if that means forgoing some of the other extra features you want especially if you plan on shooting at longer ranges. A thermal sight with poor resolution will drastically limit target identification and game you can shoot at.  

If you know that you will be shooting short distances and will not have other animals or people around that could get caught in the crossfire then a lower resolution budget thermal scopes will be adequate. If you are planning on shooting long distances, and need to clearly identify your game and use e-zoom frequently, a sensor with high resolution for your thermal optic will be a better choice.

Thermal scope refresh rate and why it is an important factor

Thermal scope with high refresh rate

Just as your TV or monitor produces smoother pictures with a higher frames (broadcast TV is typically 25 frames) thermal optics with a higher refresh rate produce a smoother image as you track your target. As an example a 9Hz means that the camera will refresh the image 9 times per second; while a camera with a 60Hz sensor will refresh at 60 times. Typically, the higher the refresh frame rate the higher the cost of the scope. 

Many riflescopes will also allow you to control the refresh rate which can drastically impact the battery life. Some of the better thermal imaging rifle scopes allow you to switch between 30Hz and 60Hz modes; the higher rates will drain power faster but give you a much smoother image which is needed for fast moving targets.

Magnification and zoom: will you be hunting at short or long distance?

hunting with thermal scope

The thermal scope shows you the target by detecting the different temperatures of the radiation/heat that your target is emitting. A thermal scope with powerful optics will allow you to positively detect heat signatures at 1,000 yards away while an entry level scope can limit you to 200 yards or less.

When choosing a thermal optic, you will find that there are many lens options available. High power quality lenses are expensive and heavy so you need to choose wisely. There are usually three numbers indicated on thermal scopes: variable optical/digital zoom (2-16x, 8-32x, etc) and focal length (19mm, 35mm, 60mm, etc.). The first number is your adjustable optical zoom. You must pay attention to the second number as it will tell you angle of view and magnification. The longer the focal length - the higher the magnification but the narrower the angle of view. Typically, longer focal length also means a heavier lens and a more expensive thermal scope. You can save money if most of your hunting is done at short distances. Hunting for larger animals that aren't afraid to come closer to you will work just fine with shorter range optics.

Most modern thermal scopes include digital zoom or e-zoom, ranging from 2x to 8x. It is important to note that you will also want a higher thermal resolution scope when hunting at long distances because they will provide sharper images when you use the digital zoom.

The area where you will notice the refresh rate most is if you are shooting while moving and shooting at fast moving subjects. For instance, if you are sitting in the back of a truck and targeting running boars a low refresh rate scope will likely not work as the image will lag and you will have difficulty tracking and hitting your target. The same scenario with a 30Hz or 60Hz rate will be much better. If you will be shooting at fast moving targets and/or moving as you shoot, you will want a thermal scope with at least a 30Hz rate and preferably 50Hz or 60Hz as it will be much smoother. On the other hand, if you will be stationary and hunting slower moving targets then you can save money and purchase a thermal scope with a lower rate. 

Power options:

Nobody wants to worry about their thermal scope dying during a hunt, so it is important to look at the average operational battery life as well as the type of batteries that a scope uses. As technology and the features included in thermal scopes have continued to increase with WiFi modules, faster processors,  video recording, and higher refresh rates so have their power demands. We recommend using rechargeable batteries in your thermal scope if it does not come with a rechargeable battery. Although rechargeable batteries cost more up front, in the long run they will save you money. 

The ThOR 4 uses a rechargeable battery pack that is charged via the included USB-C cable. One charge will give you over 18 hours of use. You can also purchase an external battery pack (as you can for many thermal scopes) so that you can ensure your scope never dies not matter how long your hunt is. Pulsar Thermion XP50 thermal scope is powered by a rechargeable 3.2A-h battery power that delivers up to 5 hours of continues use. FLIR PTS233 uses a pair of CR123A batteries while FLIR RS32 and the rest of the FLIR RS line uses a built-in rechargeable power source.

thermal scope battery life

Video recording, streaming and supported apps

The latest thermal scopes have the ability to record what you are seeing through the scope making it easy to capture the best moments of your hunting. The ATN ThOR 4 has a slot for Micro SD cards (up to 64Gb capacity), making it easy to share and transfer images and videos to your PC. The Pulsar Trail line of thermal scopes has their Stream Vision technology that allows you to stream the video from your scope to your smart device or tablet allowing others to watch along with you. If you are a techie, you will appreciate ATN's RAV option - Recoil Activated Video which starts recording as soon as you shoot allowing everything to be caught on camera. All of ATN's ThOR line (including the older generaion ATN Thor HD 384 thermal riflescope and ATN Thor HD 640) have this option. FLIR's PTS 233 also has this feature.

Reticle

The aiming reticle helps provide accurate targeting making your hunt more successful. Modern thermal imaging scopes have digitally controlled reticle patterns as well as reticle colors options. You might find, a Cross, Crosshair, Cross-Center Dot, Line dot, etc. Depending on conditions where you hunt and your target, you can adjust the reticle to give you optimal targeting. Reticle color options can also be an important factor to consider especially if you thermal imaging scope has various color patterns. Armasight Zeus provides electronic zoom reticle tracking. ATN ThOR HD 384 smart thermal scope's on-screen reticle will guide you to optimal point of impact.

riffle scope reticle

Color Palettes

Different brands of thermal scopes have varying color modes. Color palettes serve as customization of your device’s display options.

Every thermal scope has different pixels which represent a specific temperature pattern. And these temperature points are assigned different hues depending on the heat changes at the scene that you’re viewing. This can assist you with target identification depending on the heat produced.

thermal imaging riffle scope for hunting

Different color modes will suit certain environments and situations. The most popular viewing modes being:

White hot: This color is ideal for viewing objects in landscapes and urban areas.

Sepia: This yellowish color works best if you want to view objects for a longer period as it’s designed to minimize human eye fatigue.

Rainbow HC: This will work best when viewing areas with minimal heat changes.

Black hot: This color is a common favorite among hunters and military personnel. It’s designed to display body heat in a clear image.

Outdoor alert: If you prefer using your thermal scope for night-time viewing, this color palette is known to provide clear night-time body heat detection.

You also want to pick a thermal scope that allows you to transition from one color scheme to the next with ease depending on your preferences.

Smart Rangefinder

Many of the higher end thermal scopes today also include laser rangefinders which is very helpful. While not a requirement to have for your scope it is a nice additional feature to have.

smart range finder thermal riflescope

Ballistic Calculator

One important factor to consider before purchase is whether your thermal scope comes with a built-in ballistic calculator. Why? This feature enables your scope to seamlessly adjust its point of impact. If you want to increase your chances of hitting your target, pick a model with this feature.

Picking a thermal scope with this feature increases your chances of hitting the target each and every time. This is regardless of the range and weather conditions such as wind & rainfall.

Connectivity Options

Thermal scopes on today's market gained some nice connectivity features like built-in Wifi, bluetooth, video output, and MicroSD card slots. You should look at these options as nice add-ons but not the primary factor buying a thermal scope. Your device is as good as the sensor and optics. 

ATN ThOR thermal optic running the latest Obsidian core is packed with features like built-in Wifi, bluetooth and card slot for MicroSD. If you are someone who would like to have the latest software and apps, the ATN Obsidian app allows you to control your device and view live streaming on a mobile phone. It is fun and interactive. You can also view recorded videos on the app if your thermal scope is connected via Wifi to your phone.

ATN ThOR 4 640x480 ports

Warranty

Thermal scopes are an investment and you should pay attention to the warranty length. Having a long warranty ensures that your investment will be covered in case of manufacturing defect. ATN warranty runs 3 years, while FLIR and Armasight give 3-year warranty on scope and 10 years on the thermal imaging sensor. One of FLIR's strengths has always been their long warranty length.

Also, think about purchasing an extended protection plan if available many retailers such as Amazon offer these plans and they can make sense when buying your thermal imaging rifle scope. Be sure to read the fine print and know what they will and will not cover to ensure it is a worthwhile additional purchase.

Zeroing a Thermal Scope

Zeroing a Thermal Scope

Soon after purchasing your thermal scope, the first thing you must do before using it in any application is zero it. This process is also known as sighting your scope.

Remember that the reason why you purchase a thermal scope in the first place is to enable you to view objects with clarity even in the toughest conditions such as dense fog, complete darkness or thick bushes. But this can only happen if your sight your scope properly. This is the process whereby you align your device with the barrel of your weapon. That’s the only way you can hit the intended target accurately.

The process will depend on the thermal scope you pick as the specifications differ from one model to the next. But generally speaking you must:

  • First get your target right
  • Select a proper shooting position that you’re comfortable with
  • Adjust your scope based on the ranges in which you’ll be using the device
  • Fire three rounds at your target
  • Set the rifle down and check your target
  • Repeat as necessary
  • Finalize your settings

What brands should you trust?

If you take some time out of your day to research the best thermal scope brands on the market, the following names are bound to appear:

Flir: 

Flir is arguably one of the leaders in the designing and developing of quality thermal  scopes and night vision products. Thanks to their diverse portfolio, FLIR thermal manufacture night vision products that are widely sought after across the industrial, commercial and government sector.

Armasight by FLIR: 

Armasight is another notable brand which was recently purchased by FLIR. Armasight by FLIR specializes in state-of-the-art outdoor Night Vision and Thermal Imaging systems. law enforcement, hunting and wildlife enthusiasts are largely drawn the brand’s superior products. Armasight by FLIR has been discounted in the US, but you may find similarly specced sights in the AMG line up.

ATN: 

ATN is another industry leader specializing in the manufacturing of high-performance Night Vision and Thermal Imaging systems. 

Pulsar: 

Pulsar is known for developing a line of Night Optic and Electro-optic devices for hunting as well as animal research observation. Their thermal imaging products are specifically designed for the civilian and military markets.

Trijicon: 

If high-end thermal scopes are what you’re after, opt for the Trijicon brand. This is the premium brand of thermal and riflescopes known for their quality & reliability.

Thermal Scope Prices

While thermal scopes or thermal optics as they are sometimes called are more expensive than digital NV scopes, you can get a good thermal scope for less than $2,000 depending upon the optics, thermal resolution, and the features you need/want. A higher end thermal scope with high thermal resolution, long range optics, and the latest features will set you back between $3,500 and $4,500. While a premium thermal scope like the Trijicon IR Hunter MK3 will set you back over $7,000 - however it is a phenomenal scope. The REAP IR (also by Trijicon) is not as expensive as the MK3 making it a solid choice as well if you have the money.

Trijicon IR Hunter MK3 35mm_fl

Many hunters will use a thermal imaging monocular for scanning/locating their  target and then switch to the thermal optics on their rifle for taking the shot. While there is an endless debate on whether you need two thermal optics for successful hunting most of it will come down to personal preference and price range. Constantly using your rifle to scan your surroundings can become tiresome due to the weight of the rifle not to mention dangerous in certain circumstances. Also, your thermal optic is almost always going to have a narrower field of view than a dedicated thermal monocular which means it will be easier to miss targets when scanning with your scope that you would have seen with a monocular.

The counter argument to this is that when you have to switch from your monocular to your scope you may startle the animal and not be able to take any shot. Also, when you are using a spotting monocular AND a thermal scope you have to carry more equipment with you and hence more weight. You will also need to consider the terrain you will be hunting in and the distances you will typically be shooting. If you will be hunting in more open and flat terrain and not shooting far distances a thermal scope may be all you need. In heavily wooded terrain and/or places where you will be taking longer shots have a monocular and scope can be a big help.

Finally, you will need a larger budget if you are going to invest in a thermal scope and separate thermal monocular for spotting. If your price range is going to be $2,500 or less it will probably make sense for you to invest in the best scope you can get as you really won't be able to get a quality scope and monocular for that price. If you have a $3,500 budget or more you may be able to buy both although we would suggest putting more into the scope as you will be using the monocular only for spotting. If you have $5,000 or more then you should look into potentially purchasing both a thermal scope and monocular. In todays market deals can also be found in almost every price range.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Thermal Scopes Legal?

This depends on the state you live in. While they’re used across government and military sectors in some states, certain countries and states don’t allow them. In the US, petitions were signed by 40% of wildlife conservationists against the use of thermal scopes. And as such many regulations were passed against them. Your best bet as a hunting enthusiast is to familiarize yourself with the laws regarding thermal scope usage in your area of residence.

Can a thermal riflescope be used in the daylight?

Yes, unlike night vision optics that are specifically designed for use at night thermal scopes can be used for both day and night-time. This is because thermal scopes don’t require any light to operate (night vision technology requires a light or IR illuminator). Rather, they use thermal detectors which can detect temperature changes from objects to form a heat signature images regardless of the time of day. Note, digital night vision can be used in the daylight without the danger of damaging the sensor.

Can I use a thermal riflescope for bow hunting?

Yes. Because thermal scopes can be attached to your weapon it means you can use it for hunting with a crossbow. You simply need to make sure that this type of hunting is allowed in your state.

bow hunting

Do I need infrared light with a thermal scope?

Thermal scopes are nothing like night vision riflescopes. This means that they detect heat signature that’s produced from objects and don’t see reflected light. As such, you don’t need an infrared light with your thermal scope as you do with a night vision scope which does not detect heat signatures but amplifies the available light.

Can a thermal scope see through walls?

Depending on a thickness on a wall, a thermal scope might be able to detect temperature changes if an object behind it is close enough. But it most cases, it won't be possible.

What is the Difference Between Thermal and Night Vision Scopes?

Night Vision Scope Image

Image produced with Night Vision Scope

thermal imaging riffle scope for hunting

Image produced with Thermal Riffle Scope

Lets first look at the biggest difference between night vision technology and thermal technology. Night vision works just like your eyes do in that they detect light that is reflected from the target. Night vision allows you to see in low light conditions because it amplifies the available ambient light thousands of times more than your eyes can making night time seem like daylight. However, if there is no light even night vision will not generate an image, unlike thermal imaging.

A thermal scope uses a microbolometer (an uncooled thermal sensor) to detect infrared radiation (heat signatures) with specific wavelengths that all matter emits. One of the biggest reasons that thermal vision works so well no matter the light or weather conditions is because infrared radiation/light (heat signatures) is emitted by all matter, unlike visible light that is reflected by all objects. The infrared radiation being emitted is detected by the microbolometer and translated into an image colorized by the different temperatures of radiation being emitted.

Thermal Vision vs Night Vision Suggestion Chart

What Are Thermal Imagining’s Strengths?
  • Thermal technology works great in any light condition
  • Easily detect objects with similar or the same contrast
  • Can detect objects through certain materials
What Are Thermal Imaging's Weaknesses?
  • Images may not be as clear as night vision images (applicable to low resolution thermal sensors)
  • Won’t function well in extremely cold environments

What Is the Best Thermal Scope For AR 15?

The AR 15 platform is very versatile and there is a reason it is one of the most popular platforms around today. Getting the best thermal scope for your AR 15 can take some time because everyone is going to have different needs and desires when it comes to what they want to do with their AR.

If your looking for an entry level thermal scope and don't want to spend a lot of money FLIR's Thermosight Pro PTS223 with its new 12 micron Boson core is a great choice providing sharp image clarity and not breaking the bank. The FLIR Theromsight Pro also benefits from being more compact and light weight.

If money is no object and you want the best thermal rifle scope with the latest technology then Trijicon's Mk III is your best bet; its 12 micron core and crystal clear images will help make sure you don't miss anything on your next outing. Trijicon's REAP IR while expensive is also a solid choice.

Clip On Thermal Rifle Scopes

Some thermal scopes have a "clip-on" function, meaning that you do not need to dismount your daytime scope and re-zero it. Clip-on thermal scopes mount in front of any daytime scopes. If you are interested in one of these, look into Trijicon Snipe-IRThey offer high-quality clip-on thermal scopes and several lenses to choose from.

clip on thermal rifle scope

Final Thoughts:

As you can see there are many different types of thermal rifle scopes at many different price points, on the market today, to satisfy pretty much anyone's budget and required feature set. Thermal optics have advanced greatly in the last few years making them accessible to almost all hunters and while very different than night vision scopes they are a great asset to hunters. Whether you are looking for a military grade scope or simply your first purchase we have covered a wide range of available models.

Our reviews are a great starting point for when a hunter narrowing down the best scope for their budget and needs. The three most important things you need to ask your self when you are deciding on your thermal are scope are:

  • What Will You Be Using Your Thermal Rifle Scope For?
  • How Far Will Your Targets Be?
  • What Am I Willing To Spend?

After reading our buying guide if you are still not sure or just want to see how many different types of thermal scopes there are you can use our thermal scope finder to help you decide. If you are looking for an affordable thermal scope you should also check out our top budget picks.

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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