Night vision optics are becoming more and more common every day. What used to be high-grade military technology can now be used by just about any shooter who can afford a conventional scope.
Night vision technology is now sold in many gun shops and sporting goods stores across the country, but the Internet has opened more access to night vision optics than any other source. A quick trip online can lead you to hundreds of models from dozens of companies manufacturing night vision optics specifically for civilian hunting and shooting.
Here are the best night vision scopes on the market for civilian hunters and shooters, and a quick buyer’s guide filled with tips and tricks for buying and using night vision optics.
If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time for the details, here are our best picks for night vision scope:
- Pulsar Digisight Ultra N455 – Best under $2000
- Sightmark Night Raider 3×60 Riflescope – Best for Hog Hunting
- Firefield NVRS 3×42 Gen 1 – Best Tactical Night Vision Scope
- ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart – Best Day/Night Riflescope
- Sniper HD 4.5×50 – Best Budget Night Vision Scope
- Night Owl Optics NightShot – Best under $500
- Sightmark Photon RT 6-12×50 – Best Digital Night Vision Scope
- Armasight Nemesis 6x-SD – Best Gen 2 Night Vision Scope
- Armasight CO-LR GEN 3 Alpha MG – Best Long Range Night Vision Scope
- Bushnell 4.5×40 Equinox Z Digital Night Vision W/Mount
Table of Contents
- Why Night Vision?
- How Night Vision Works?
- How to Choose a Night Vision Scope?
- Best Night Vision Scope on the Market Reviews
- 1 Pulsar Digisight Ultra N455 – Best under $2000
- 2 Sightmark Night Raider 3×60 Riflescope – Best for Hog Hunting
- 3 Firefield NVRS 3×42 Gen 1 – Best Tactical Night Vision Scope
- 4 ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart – Best Day/Night Riflescope
- 5 Sniper HD 4.5×50 – Best Budget Night Vision Scope
- 6 Night Owl Optics NightShot – Best under $500
- 7 Sightmark Photon RT 6-12×50 – Best Digital Night Vision Scope
- 8 Armasight Nemesis 6x-SD – Best Gen 2 Night Vision Scope
- 9 Armasight CO-LR GEN 3 Alpha MG – Best Long Range Night Vision Scope
- 10 Bushnell 4.5×40 Equinox Z Digital Night Vision W/Mount
- Best Night Vision Scope Brands
- Thermal Vs Night Vision
- How to Mount a Night Vision Scope?
- Legality & Ethics
- Tips for Hunting with Night Vision
Why Night Vision?
Not long ago, night vision was available only to military forces. Night vision was a game-changer on the battlefield, giving those with the technology clear advantages over those without it.
However, this cutting-edge technology was fragile and hard to use. It was also so expensive that it was difficult for all but the most well-connected civilians to get their hands on. As the technology has advanced, it has become more affordable, sturdy, and easier to use.
Night vision is still a game-changer. Night vision scopes are handy tools for hunting hogs, coyotes, and other nocturnal predators. They allow hunters to see their quarry without having to shine visible light into the woods. With a quality optic and a good infrared light, night vision can help hunters identify and shoot targets out to several hundred yards and the game will never even know those hunters are there.
Night vision can also be an asset for home defense. Since most criminal activity takes place after the sun goes down, a homeowner with a night vision scope has a clear advantage when it comes to identifying a deadly threat to his or her family.
How Night Vision Works?
Night vision devices (NVDs) collect and intensify ambient light from the stars, moon, and other light sources. Some NVDs also use an infrared light, which is invisible to the naked eye but can be especially helpful on moonless nights or other pitch black conditions. Depending on the device, night vision either uses an image intensifier tube (IIT) or a camera sensor to create a viewable image.
Traditional Versus Digital Night Vision
Traditional night vision is the technology used by most military forces. It is characterized by the stereotypical light green glow made famous in Hollywood war movies.
Traditional night vision can only be used in the dark and is categorized by generation – Gen 1 through Gen 3. Gen 1 is the most basic technology and is also the most affordable. The technology gets better with each generation, and image clarity, detection range, and battery life improve with each step up. The price also increases as the technology improves.
Digital night vision is a relatively new technological development. Instead of intensifier tubes, digital night vision uses an objective lens, a charger coupler device, and an LCD screen to transmit a digital image to the user. Unlike the famous green hue of traditional night vision, digital NV is usually displayed in black and white. One major perk to digital NVDs is that they can be used during the daytime as well as at night. Digital NVDs also tend to be much cheaper.
How to Choose a Night Vision Scope?
Night vision optics are much more expensive than conventional optics. That’s not to say that you can’t find conventional optics that cost more than mainstream night vision. However, entry level night vision generally starts around $500 for a value-priced scope. Some high-end products can cost several thousand dollars.
Make sure you have a clear and defined budget before you start shopping for night vision. Things can get expensive fast, and small differences in quality or branding can amount to several hundred dollars.
The resolution clarity offered by night vision scopes is nowhere near that offered by conventional optics. However, the latest night vision generations are much better than what you may have used or seen in years past.
Many optics designed for sportsmen and hunters are perfectly good for hunting coyotes out to 200 yards with good shot placement. However, don’t expect to be able to identify a person from 500 yards.
Most night vision scopes let you identify targets out to somewhere between 100 and 200 yards. Be aware that this is a much shorter range than an optical scope and definitely closer than the effective range of your hunting rifle.
The range of a good Gen 3 device can be several times farther than that of a Gen 1 device. The amount of available light can also affect how far away you’ll be able to see with your scope.
The range of digital NVDs varies by make and model, so be sure to check the specs.
Don’t expect a BDC reticle when it comes to night vision scopes. Most often you’ll get a very simple duplex, or even dot optics. There are several magnifiers and night vision devices that attach to standard scopes on the market that are compatible with red dot optics. This is an ideal solution for lightweight carbines and modern sporting rifles like AR 15s and AK-47s.
Some of the newer products use computers in conjunction with laser range finders to automatically adjust the reticle to account for bullet drop at range.
Battery Type & Life
Make sure you get information regarding the required battery and expected battery life before you start using night vision. Many military grade optics use batteries that are expensive in the civilian world and are not rechargeable.
If possible, choose a night vision optic with a common battery, like AA, or buy high-grade rechargeable batteries. Make sure you have a fully charged set or two with you each and every time you go into the field. Some night vision scopes will use a proprietary lithium ion rechargeable battery that will have extended life; the downside is that they are expensive to replace when they have reached their expiration.
Best Night Vision Scope on the Market Reviews
1 Pulsar Digisight Ultra N455 – Best under $2000
You can use this high-tech digital scope from Pulsar to drop hogs, varmints, or predators both day and night. The Pulsar Digisight Ultra features 2x/4x digital zoom and a 4.5-18x magnification range, so you can get up close and personal with your nighttime targets.
The Digisight Ultra has a detection range of up to 600 yards, making it one of the most effective night vision scopes on our list.
It has a removable modular IR illuminator for those extra-dark shooting conditions and an adjustable wide angle eyepiece for comfortable viewing.
This thing is also packed with super-cool high-tech features. The Digisight lets you record all the after-dark action and stores it in its 16 GB internal memory. You can also stream adventures in real time with Pulsar’s StreamVision app.
2 Sightmark Night Raider 3×60 Riflescope – Best for Hog Hunting
This entry level night vision scope from Sightmark uses Gen 1 night vision technology to amplify passive starlight. The massive 60mm objective lens maximizes the optic’s light gathering ability. Although the device doesn’t require an infrared light source, it does feature an integrated IR illuminator to boost visibility in the darkest shooting conditions.
The Night Raider offers 3x magnification and allows shooters to identify targets at medium ranges. It also offers a generous 70 hours of battery life, and has a stabilized power supply that resists heavy recoil. This one pairs perfectly with heavy-hitting .30 caliber rifles (think .30-06 and 7mm Rem Mag), making it a wonderful choice for nighttime hog hunting.
Weighing a full 38 ounces, this is a pretty hefty optic. It could cause some problems with maneuverability and rifle balance. You may want to use a good shooting tripod for some extra stability. Still, with a price tag well under $1000, this is a smart option for shooters, especially those new to night vision.
3 Firefield NVRS 3×42 Gen 1 – Best Tactical Night Vision Scope
This highly affordable night vision optic from Firefield was designed specifically for the AR-15 platform, and it has plenty of performance to offer for the money. The optic is lightweight, yet features a durable titanium body. It also has an IPx4 splash-proof rating, so there’s no need to worry about keeping it dry in wet weather.
The Firefield NVRS comes with an integrated IR illuminator, quality multi-coated optics, and an illuminated duplex reticle.
Tactical shooters and nighttime hunters will both love the scope’s quick-detach mounting system. This feature allows you to quickly and easily swap out your optic for daytime shooting (or use your iron sights in a pinch). You can also quickly reattach the NVRS after the sun goes down, and your zero will still be set and ready to go.
The Firefield NVRS only has a range of about 75 yards, so you won’t be making any long range shots. However, this is a great optic for CQB, hitting hogs over bait, or coyote hunting with a call.
4 ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart – Best Day/Night Riflescope
If you don’t want the hassle of switching between a daytime and nighttime optic, the ATN X-Sight is the answer to your prayers. This digital rifle scope delivers impressive daytime performance and also lets you see targets at an impressive 150 yards, even in total darkness.
The X-Sight Pro is a versatile, multi-purpose optic that is basically a high-tech computer mounted to your favorite rifle. Powered by an Obsidian 4 Dual Core Processor, this riflescope features a built-in ballistic calculator, rangefinder, compass, thermometer, and 3D gyroscope.
Shooters will also love the X-Sight Pro’s 4K video recording capabilities. It has recoil activated recording (RAV) and real-time Wi-Fi streaming capabilities.
5 Sniper HD 4.5×50 – Best Budget Night Vision Scope
The Sniper HD is a digital riflescope with quality multi-coated optics, a generous 50mm objective lens, and an on-board IR LED illuminator. When combined, these features produce images with surprisingly crisp resolution. The Sniper HD even allows you to see targets up to 300 yards in complete darkness.
You can use this optic in bright sunlight or the dead of night. During daylight hours, the scope delivers a bright, full-color sight picture. At night, you can choose between black and white, or go with the classic green glow of traditional night vision.
The Sniper HD provides 4.5x optical magnification and a 3x digital zoom. It also allows you to record video and still photos of your after-dark shooting adventures.
6 Night Owl Optics NightShot – Best under $500
The Night Owl NightShot was engineered specifically for nighttime predator hunting. It has a range of 100 to 200 yards in most conditions, so it is perfect for after-dark fox shooting.
Relatively inexpensive, the NightShot is reliable, rugged, and ready to take on harsh environments and rough use. The optic is made from durable thermoplastic, which is incredibly both strong yet lightweight. If you need to haul your rifle long distances over rough terrain, this scope isn’t going to weigh you down.
The NightShot mounts easily on most rifles with the included rail mounts. You’ll definitely want to invest in some spare AA batteries since the four it comes with will only power your optic for about two hours. However, this is one of the best value optics on our list.
7 Sightmark Photon RT 6-12×50 – Best Digital Night Vision Scope
Another great night vision optic from Sightmark, the Photon RT uses digital technology, so you can use it both day and night. The after-dark detection range can reach out to 300 yards, which is pretty impressive for a digital device. It also has a 2x digital zoom and a nice magnification range of 6-12x, which will allow you to easily reach out and touch pesky nighttime rats and rabbits.
The Photon RT lets you choose from six different reticles, so it works for shotgun, rimfire, bolt action rifles, and even crossbows. However, this is far more than just a simple riflescope. The Photon RT also lets you stream footage to YouTube or any Smart device. You can also record sound and video to share after your hunt.
8 Armasight Nemesis 6x-SD – Best Gen 2 Night Vision Scope
Featuring a high-quality image intensifier tube, the Armasight Nemesis uses Gen 2 technology to provide shooters with a high-resolution sight picture. It comes with a detachable long-range IR illuminator, an illuminated reticle with adjustable brightness, simple push-button controls, and 6x magnification.
The Nemesis has a pretty impressive 60 hours of battery life. This thing is also built like a beast. Engineered from aircraft-grade aluminum, the Nemesis is lightweight, yet surprisingly robust. It is even MIL-810F Compliant for water resistance.
9 Armasight CO-LR GEN 3 Alpha MG – Best Long Range Night Vision Scope
It really doesn’t get any better than Gen 3 technology when it comes to night vision. This device from night vision leader Armasight isn’t technically a scope. Instead, the device is designed to mount in front of your existing scope.
It easily clips on your weapon and immediately equips your current optic with awesome night vision capabilities. In fact, in the right conditions, the Armasight CO-LR Alpha MG lets you see targets out to an astonishing 1000 yards.
One of the perks of using a clip on device like the Armasight CO-LR Alpha MG is that you can use your favorite scope. The device doesn’t change the eye relief or aim point that you are familiar with. It works seamlessly with most commercial and military spec daytime riflescopes with up to 12x magnification.
This is easily the best night vision “scope” for long range shooting. However, this one comes with a pretty hefty price tag that may make it impractical for the average shooter.
10 Bushnell 4.5×40 Equinox Z Digital Night Vision W/Mount
The Bushnell Equinox Z works best as a handheld NV monocular. However, it comes with a removable rail mount that allows you to mount the device to any firearm with a Picatinny rail.
The Equinox Z can be used day or night and has high-tech digital features like image capture, video recording, and zoom.
With a durable housing, the Equinox Z can handle bumps, thumps, and drops with no problem. However, since this optic wasn’t engineered as a riflescope, it isn’t designed to stand up to harsh recoil. This one definitely works better for rimfire firearms than for shotguns.
Best Night Vision Scope Brands
There are dozens of companies currently making night vision products for the civilian market. Here are a few of the top brands. These companies specialize in producing high-quality NVDs, and their products are consistently reliable.
ATN was founded in 1995 and has been dedicated to developing cutting-edge night vision. They offer some of the most advanced technology in the industry, including 4K resolution projections, video recording, Wi-Fi streaming, and thermal imaging.
Pulsar specializes in creating high-tech night vision and thermal devices for the civilian market. The company is owned by hunters and outdoor enthusiasts. However, Pulsar produces the full spectrum of night vision optics for “hunters, fishermen, researchers, travelers, tourists, rescuers, sportsmen and other civilian activities.”
Armasight is a subsidiary of FLIR Systems, the company that provides the United States military with most of their night vision capabilities. Armasight makes some of the best NVDs available for civilian use.
Firefield focuses on producing budget-oriented rifle optics. The company recently decided to jump into the night vision market, and their products are perfect for the average Joe.
Sightmark focuses on civilian shooting sports, although they draw inspiration from cutting-edge military and law enforcement technology. In addition to their high-quality NVDs, Sightmark manufactures reflex sights, red dots, and traditional riflescopes.
Thermal Vs Night Vision
Many people wonder about the differences between night vision and thermal optics. While both help you see in the dark, they use completely different technology to accomplish that.
As we mentioned, night vision gathers and intensifies ambient light to produce a viewable image.
Thermal imaging detects subtle differences in heat. It then uses that heat to create a digital picture.
Since mammals produce significantly more heat than inanimate objects, they stand out considerably from the surrounding landscape. High-end thermal devices can detect warm-blooded targets out to 1000 yards. They can also detect body heat through fog, dust, and even thick vegetation. This makes thermal devices very handy for locating and identifying animals.
However, thermal optics do not usually provide significant detail. Animals are usually displayed as little more than glowing orange bodies, which can make proper shot placement for a humane kill very problematic.
Night vision provides significantly more image detail, definition, and clarity, which allows you to make more accurate shots on game.
How to Mount a Night Vision Scope?
Many night vision scopes have integrated mounting systems, making it simple to attach them to picatinny or weaver rail systems. On those that use a traditional scope shape, you will use mounting rings just like you would for a traditional riflescope.
Keep in mind the eye relief on your night vision optic will be different from most traditional scopes. You will need to adjust your mounting position accordingly.
Mount your night vision optic in a dimly lit room. Turn the scope on, and loosely mount the scope on the rifle. Check to make sure you can see the full field of view when you put the firearm to your shoulder.
Adjust the placement of the scope until you are comfortable with the position and the sight picture, then tighten the rings in an X pattern. This will ensure even pressure on all the fasteners and prevent the scope from torquing out of position as you tighten them. Make sure you use the torque specs provided in the scope’s user manual to avoid over-tightening, which can damage delicate internal electronics.
Legality & Ethics
Before you purchase a night vision scope, check your local and state hunting regulations. All 50 states have rules regarding the use of night vision optics for hunting. Some states have very strict regulations, especially some western states where big game species are vulnerable to poaching.
However, even in areas where NVDs can legally be used for hunting, ethical lines can be easily blurred. For example, using night vision to locate turkeys on the roost in total darkness is unethical and unsportsmanlike, and in many states and counties is illegal.
As a sportsman, you must make a judgment call as to whether what you’re doing is fair. Using night vision in the off-season to scout for deer is one thing. As a rule, do not use hunting technology to change the general methods and tactics you would use to kill game. Simply use it to make the old tactics and methods more effective while maintaining a fair hunt.
Tips for Hunting with Night Vision
- Take frequent breaks from looking down the scope to avoid eye fatigue.
- Always bring extra batteries.
- Even if your NVD is waterproof, it’s best to protect it from rain and water if possible.
- Only clean the objective lens of your scope according to the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid damaging the surface.
- Use IR light to enhance the scope’s capabilities when there is no moonlight.
Night vision scopes are incredible pieces of technology. They are particularly handy tools for varmint control and for hunting destructive nuisance species like coyotes and feral hogs.
If you plan to take advantage of this technology, spend some time familiarizing yourself with your new NVD. Shooting with a night vision scope can be a much different experience than shooting with a traditional riflescope. It can feel quirky, so you’ll want to practice with your new set-up before you head out to the field.
As night vision technology continues to advance, civilian optics should become more dependable, effective, and affordable. For now, the models on our list are the best night vision scopes available to civilian shooters. While many of the optics on our list are expensive, we’ve tried to include something to fit every budget.
As always, be sure to follow all the rules of gun safety. Nighttime shooting isn’t without danger, so have fun, but be safe. Happy shooting!