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.
Night vision optics are certainly accessible for anyone who shoots, they certainly have their idiosyncrasies and there are a few quirks you have to get used to before you can successfully use this equipment.
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 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 Scopes:
- 1Armasight Nemesis6x-SD Gen 2+ Night Vision Rifle Scope
- 2Sightmark Photon XT 4.6x42S Digital Night Vision Riflescope
- 3Sightmark SM18018 Photon RT 6-12x50mm Digital Night Vision Riflescope
- 4ATN X-Sight II 5-20x/85mm Smart Day & Night Rifle Scope
- 5ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope
- 6Night Owl Optics NightShot Digital Night Vision Riflescope
- 7Firefield FF16001 NVRS 3x 42mm Gen 1 Night Vision Riflescope
- 8Bushnell 4.5X40 Equinox Z Digital Night Vision W/ Mount
- 9Pulsar Trail XQ Thermal Riflescope
- 10Pulsar Phantom Gen 3 4x 60mm MD Night Vision Riflescope
Table of Contents
- How to Choose a Night Vision Scope?
- Top 10 Best Night Vision Scope on the Market Review
- 1 Armasight Nemesis6x-SD Gen 2+ Night Vision Rifle Scope
- 2 Sightmark Photon XT 4.6x42S Digital Night Vision Riflescope
- 3 Sightmark Photon RT 6-12x50 - Digital Night Vision Riflescope
- 4 ATN X-Sight II 5-20x/85mm Smart Day & Night Rifle Scope
- 5 ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope
- 6 Night Owl Optics NightShot Digital Night Vision Riflescope
- 7 Firefield FF16001 NVRS 3x 42mm Gen 1 Night Vision Riflescope
- 8 Bushnell 4.5X40 Equinox Z Digital Night Vision W/ Mount
- 9 Pulsar Trail XQ Thermal Riflescope
- 10 Pulsar Phantom Gen 3 4x 60mm MD Night Vision Riflescope
- Type of Night Vision Scope
- Thermal Vs Night Vision
- How to Zero Night-Vision Scope?
- A Note on Legality & Ethics
- The Verdict
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, but entry-level pricing for night vision generally starts at over $500 for a value minded scope, but realistically cost at least $1000.
Make sure you have a clear and defined budget before you start shopping for night vision. It can get very expensive, very fast and small differences in quality or branding can amount to several hundred dollars.
It helps to know how the technology works and get some hands-on experience with rented or borrowed gear before you go shopping, so you can determine a budget based on your needs.
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.
Try and anticipate the ranges you are going to be shooting at. Night vision optics don’t allow for very much magnification if any at all. Most often, you trade magnification for field-of-view when using night vision.
Even modest magnification by conventional standards like 3x magnification will amount to as little as 13° field-of-view. That means you can easily lose your target at as little as 50 yards in the dark.
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 15’s and AK-47s.
#5. 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.
#6. Depth Perception
It may come as a surprise, but you will lose all sense of depth perception when viewing the world through night vision. Because the night vision gathers light and transmits a digital copy of it to your eye, it doesn’t account for things like shadows or differences in perspective.
Everything around you will seem flat and take some getting used to. If you decide to use night vision goggles as well as use night vision on your rifle remember to never drive or operate machinery with it on until you get a lot of experience with it!
#7. Day & Night Use
Some night vision scopes have the capability to be used at night, as well as during the day. Most of these scopes need to be manually switched from day to night mode, although some can determine day from night themselves.
The scopes tend to be heavier and bulkier, decide whether or not you’re going to need the scope before you commit to the expense and bulk they require.
Top 10 Best Night Vision Scope on the Market Review
1 Armasight Nemesis6x-SD Gen 2+ Night Vision Rifle Scope
Few night vision optics are truly designed for sportsmen to use. Many night vision optics are modelled after military or law enforcement scopes that just won’t cut it when chasing coyotes or varmints on the open range.
However, some companies have answered shooters and hunters with excellent rifle scope packages that offer excellent capability.
This night vision rifle scope from Armasight called the Nemesis is a 6x power rifle scope with a 6.5 degree field-of-view, with a fully shockproof lens and waterproof body.
This scope mounts to a standard weaver rail and includes many features that you would be used to on the standard rifle scope like illuminated reticle and fully multicoated optics.
The only thing different from a standard rifle scope is the addition of the auto brightness control module, that automatically accounts for how dark it is outside to allow for optimal site picture.
One of the great things about this night vision scope is that is fully set up for hunting at extended ranges, with no magnification modules or extra focusing need it.
This scope acts much like a traditional rifle scope but at the ability to hunt at night or in extremely low light situations. Great for a night vision scope for under $2000.
If you’re looking for a very high-quality night vision rifle scope, look no further than this Gen 2+ scope from Armasight. Because of the advanced night vision capability of the scope, exporting it to other countries requires special permissions from the State Department. Make sure you know the laws before you try and take this on a hunt in Canada, or Mexico.
2 Sightmark Photon XT 4.6x42S Digital Night Vision Riflescope
This is without a doubt one of the best night vision scopes for hunting. This is an extremely versatile 4.6x42mm scope that brings all the capability of a Gen 1 night vision scope but adds in a higher magnification and illuminated red reticle.
This scope features 33% longer battery life over previous generations and 30% lighter weight than its competitors. Most other digital night vision rifle scopes on the market will be much bulkier and heavier and the batteries will not last throughout an entire night. This is certainly not a problem with the Sightmark Photon XT.
This scope is loved by night time hog hunters because you can use standard rings to mount to any rail and while the scope is quite a bit longer than traditional rifle scope, it sits low to the bore axis.
This doesn’t change much about the balance and feel of a lightweight carbine that you would use for hog hunting in heavy brush. This is very much a “Plain Jane” night vision scope that doesn’t offer any bells and whistles but, for the money, this is an excellent night vision scope for hunting.
It’s simple construction, bare-bones approach to controls and attention to detail when it comes to battery life and overall weight and bulk means that you will be able to use this rifle scope all night for coyote hunting and shooting.
3 Sightmark Photon RT 6-12x50 - Digital Night Vision Riflescope
Sticking with affordable night vision options, Sightmark offers a few very good examples. These are far from what ATN offers but Sightmark has its own high points and are serious scopes for serious shooters. They have borrowed from other brands to improve their optics and they are poised to make a name for themselves.
This is another of those rare night vision scopes that can be mounted with standard rings. It is also very small compared to most. The weight is mostly forward which has its downsides but for lightweight guns it's perfect. At 6x-12x it has the power to really reach out there and this plays well into one of the Photon’s greatest assets.
This is one of the farthest-reaching digital night vision scopes on the market with a built-in IR illuminator that ensures a bright, clear view. It also features Wi-Fi streaming and video recording. The resolution is a little lower but at ranges out to 300 yards, you will have zero issues. You can stream this video feed to a smart device which is a nice touch.
With the addition of a one-shot zero function, this is on that border between standard night vision and high-tech. Its rock solid and ready for hard use. This is one of the most popular hog hunting options and among the best value night vision on the market.
4 ATN X-Sight II 5-20x/85mm Smart Day & Night Rifle Scope
If you’re looking for one of the most technologically advanced rifle scopes on the market, this is it. This scope literally incorporates a miniature computer to give you just about everything you would need to shoot and hunt at long ranges.
For starters, this scope from ATN is named the X-Sight II and is built around an adjustable 5-20x power magnification lens and 85 mm objective lens. That gives you ample magnification and light gathering ability to use day or night out to the very edge of most cartridges ballistic potential.
Combine this with the ability to use the ballistic calculator, rangefinder, electronic compass global positioning system, and barometer and you have literally everything but the kitchen sink to allow you to hit targets at very long ranges.
The ballistic calculator shifts the point of impact on the fly allow you to walk your shot into the target and still make a first-round hit.
That is all in addition to the ability to shoot 1080p HD video of your shots and transfer wirelessly to your computer means that there isn’t anything you this sight won’t do.
Many of features on the scope are over the top and while there is a steep learning curve to using this sort of scope, it is a lot of fun to shoot with the scope at extended ranges, especially at night. As a night vision scope, the HD technology gives you crystal-clear vision day or night with millions of visible colors through the onboard computer system.
Make sure before you use the scope that it is legal in the area that you are going to be hunting. This scope has the ability to take almost all human error out of the aiming process and all you have to do is control the trigger. This is by far one of the most fully featured night visions scopes for under $1000.
This is both good and bad but if you are using a scope for varmint control on hogs or coyotes, there is not a better night vision scope for varmint hunting.
5 ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope
As I said above, ATN is an outstanding company and they have a huge lineup of optics. For this particular option, it is digital night vision but so much more. There are more features packed into an ATN scope than probably any other brand out there. And when it comes to ATN digital, the X-Sight in 4K is the absolute best.
For starters, this optic is a 5x-20x variable power scope that has a full 4K video recorder and an HD screen all built in. Unlike most digital scopes, this one can fit standard rings which makes it perfect with small calibers that you don’t want much added weight on. Use this for 17 hmr for a good choice on range and power with low weight.
Being digital with all of the added features makes this about the best bang for your buck in night vision. What features? Well, it has a ballistic calculator, the ability to record through the scope, Wi-Fi streaming, and runs everything off a dual-core processor. It even comes with a remote so you can set this up, stream it to your phone, and weight till your targets start appearing before getting on the scope for real.
ATN does simply amazing things with optics. Everyone needs to at least play with one of their smart scopes once to understand how good these things are. They may not be the real deal night vision but they knock the socks off most everything, especially for the price.
6 Night Owl Optics NightShot Digital Night Vision Riflescope
This is an excellent, easy to use night vision rifle scope made by Night Owl Optics called the Night Shot. Many night vision sights are designed to do many things well. This is one of the few night vision scopes made specifically for hunting at night.
The hallmark of this scope is being portable and having a large clear field of view. The greatest thing about this scope is when you’re using this scope in an open area, you can identify targets out to well over 150 yards. Where other night vision scopes fall short, this scope will allow you to see.
Especially with night vision scopes, an all-in-one deal is a great idea. The mount is built into this optic, allows the unit to sit lower on the bore axis and balance much better while in the field.
Other small features like the flip up lens cover that protects not only the objective lens but also the infrared illuminator makes the scope more weatherproof and affords you peace of mind in the field.
For hunting out to normal ranges of about 200 yards, this is an excellent night vision scope from Night Owl.
7 Firefield FF16001 NVRS 3x 42mm Gen 1 Night Vision Riflescope
Not all night vision scopes are ideal for modern sporting rifles or lightweight carbines. They tend to be bulky and have a lot of features that weigh the optic down. This model from Firefield is certainly not one of them.
Built-in to this optic is a rugged and dependable mount that is set up for quick detach and the easy to adjust incremental reticle brightness controls. All told, this is one of the best scopes for a lightweight rifle used for shooting or hunting at night. If you prefer an AR pattern rifle for varmint control there is no better optic than this one.
This is one of the few optics on the market to feature a titanium body that saves weight over a steel tube but adds substantially more strength than a comparable aluminum body.. The ergonomic design of this optic makes it easy to use and the intuitive controls means that there is very little learning curve to getting first-round hits in the dark of night.
Combine the intelligent, integrated design with a lightweight and durable construction and you have a great optic for not a lot of money. This is a favorite online of many hunters and shooters looking for an inexpensive but high-quality night vision scope and it should serve you well no matter what you’re doing.
8 Bushnell 4.5X40 Equinox Z Digital Night Vision W/ Mount
When it comes a sporting optics, there are few companies out there that have the market cornered like Bushnell. Bushnell is one of the largest manufacturers of optics in the world, making some of the highest-quality precision rifle scopes used by elite military and law-enforcement as well as having some of the best budget optics that can be picked up at Walmart for cheap.
Their night vision line-up falls mainly into the budget category of the market, but what they offer far surpasses the competition for the amount of technology and features you get for the money. This is a generation two night vision scope for fast shooting at moderate distances.
This scope is built around 4.5 power magnification and a 40mm objective lens. It is one of the cheaper digital night vision optics on the market but still provides enough magnification and light gathering ability for you to be able to hunt with it at decent ranges. This one of the best scopes for an Eotech set up built for hog hunting at night.
This scope features adjustable infrared brightness levels and integrated mount and an extremely long battery life. This scope is primarily designed to give the shooter outstanding optical clarity and an extra wide field-of-view for cheap.
This scope includes digital features like image capturing, video recording, daytime color and can even be detached from a rifle and mounted on a tripod for scouting and for varmint control. This is one of the few scopes on the market that is ready to go out of the box with virtually no learning curve. Excellent for a first night vision scope and getting the most bang for your buck.
9 Pulsar Trail XQ Thermal Riflescope
We’ll discuss the difference between true night vision and thermal imaging later in this article but a list of night vision optics would be incomplete without at least one scope offering thermal imaging. Pulsar products are amongst the best on the market when it comes to digital scopes, night vision and thermal imaging.
This product works in day and night so it doesn’t tie up a rifle that can then only be used at night. Even with all it’s features it offers eight hours of battery life which should keep you shooting all night long. It features a huge array of technological advancements including the ability to connect to your phone or tablet with an app, it can record video and audio in HD and to protect all this gadgetry is waterproof and shock proof.
The ability to pick up the thermal signature of your quarry allows you to do away with an infrared illuminator and focus on your quarry, these aren’t though magical devices that allow you to shoot through obstacles or see the internal organs of your quarry as video games and films will have you believe.
They are however very useful tools in hunting and wildlife management to make it possible to hunt or control vermin in the dusk and dark. Their ability to see the heat signature of an animal up to 1970 yards away, according to the manufacturer’s specifications, far outranges most ir illuminators ability to illuminate targets.
Additionally this makes thermal scopes excellent for spotting as well as with this product taking accurate, aimed shots. Carefully weigh up the pros and cons of standard night vision against the functionality of a scope that offers thermal imaging and decide what best suits you.
10 Pulsar Phantom Gen 3 4x 60mm MD Night Vision Riflescope
The disadvantage of many night vision devices is their relatively limited field of view offered by generally quite small objective lenses. This offering from Pulsar though gives you a generous 60mm objective lens, larger in fact than almost all standard scopes. This larger lens makes this scope far more versatile than some other options with smaller lenses especially at mid to long range where most moderately priced competitors fall down. This scopes is going to offer you a lot of functionality as well as intuitive controls another area where some other products fail.
The need for easily adjustable, finger friendly controls is very important, especially at night or while in the aim when it could destroy your chance for an accurate shot if you have to fiddle with an awkward focus knob or look for a button. You shouldn’t have that problem with this scope.
As with many of the products here this offering from Pulsar is fully waterproof, something often taken for granted in standard scopes as short of breaking the glass there isn’t really any way for water to get into a scope but with these modern digital scopes which feature buttons and control and potential weak points for water to ingress through a decent level of waterproofing is an absolute necessity. The ultra-durable duraluminum construction also helps keep this scope in one piece and functioning even under the worst conditions.
Type of Night Vision Scope
Many people wonder just how night vision scopes work. In all honesty, night vision is a technological marvel. The very fact that it works is near magic. As far as hunters are concerned, night vision works by collecting and amplifying ambient light through electronics.
The most important thing you need to remember about night vision is that it is not a flashlight. In the movies, the good guy flips on his night vision and everything is illuminated. In reality, you need ambient moonlight or flashlights to illuminate the area. You won’t see anything if you are in complete darkness.
This is why many night vision optics incorporate infrared flashlights. The infrared is invisible to most mammal’s eyes but will be picked up by your night vision optics.
Gen 1 & Gen 2
Different generations of night vision referred to the resolution and refinement of optical clarity. Gen 1, and Gen 2 night vision optics are normally what you will find on civilian sportsman grade optics.
Produced by many manufacturers, these are the most economical and generally the best option for people who are going to be using their scopes for a hobby or predator control.
Gen 3 & Gen 4
For people with a much larger budget, Gen 3 and select Gen 4 night vision scopes offer much more capability and range over previous generations. The problem with these, other than cost, is availability.
Many of the Gen 3 and Gen 4 night vision optics are built for military use and are either difficult to come by, if you can afford them, and are not ideal for sportsmen.
Oftentimes military grade night vision is built to be bombproof and used for short raids or rescues. Many of the high-performance lightweight and mobile designs are not available on the civilian market unless they’ve been stolen or are illegitimate copies.
The best advice is to buy from an authorized dealer and make sure that you are buying a product from a well-known manufacturer. The vast majority people who are buying night vision optics for hunting and shooting will be perfectly fine with a Gen 2 or inexpensive Gen 3 optic.
Thermal Vs Night Vision
Many people wonder about the differences between night vision and thermal optics. While the science that makes them work is completely different, many people assume they are used in the same way in the field.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, they are miles apart in both capabilities and applications. If you can afford it and are serious about hunting at night, you should have both. Most people will agree, including virtually all professional guides or government hunters, thermal is more useful for locating animals at night.
With thermal, you can identify a heat source several hundred yards away. In some cases, with professional grade optics, you can identify heat sources from over a mile in open terrain. However, thermal rarely provides you with enough detail to make an accurate shot.
Night vision gives you much more clarity and definition when viewing through the scope and allows you to make an accurate hit on the game animal you’re shooting at. In fact, on all but the smallest of varmints and at close ranges it is unethical to use thermal optics.
Especially on medium-size game like nuisance deer or hogs. There is not enough definition to be able to place a bullet in the vitals. In short, locate the animals with thermal and kill them with night vision.
How to Zero Night-Vision Scope?
Zero Night & Thermal Imaging Rifle Scopes
A Note on Legality & Ethics
Before you step into the field with night vision optics, particularly if you’re going to be hunting, make sure you know what you’re doing. Of course, you need to follow all safety rules for firearms, particularly in the dark when you may not be able to see what is on the other side of your target very well.
However, you need to make sure that the equipment that you plan on using is legal in the area that you are going to be hunting. This is of concern for people who will be hunting outside the United States, even carrying military or civilian grade night vision optics outside the country for personal use is considered exportation and will require permission from the State Department.
However, in all 50 states there are regulations regarding when and where night vision and thermal optics can be used for hunting. Particularly out West, were big game species are vulnerable to poachers taking advantage of large game like elk or grizzly bear.
However, ethics dictate you don’t use thermal or night vision optics for other purposes. Namely, for game species that aren’t allowed or in methods that are not allowed. A perfectly legal example of using night vision or thermal optics is trailing wounded game.
However, many times the lines get blurred. For example, using thermal optics to locate turkeys on the roost in total darkness is unethical, and in many states and counties is illegal.
As a sportsman, you must make a judgment call whether what you’re doing is fair. Using thermal optics or 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 that you would use to kill game. Simply use it to make the old tactics and methods more effective while still maintaining a fair hunt.
Night vision optics are an incredible piece of technology. Not only because they allow for more effective varmint control in areas of the country experiencing severe damage due to coyotes and hogs, they provide a new level of safety and efficacy for hunting at night.
If you are going to take advantage of this technology, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the science that makes them work, and the quirks that come with using it. Night vision optics are sure to get better and better over the years to come as technology gets cheaper and manufacturing improves.
For now, though, these models are the best of the best night vision scope for sportsmen looking to expand their season or protect crops and property. Hunting and shooting at night can get expensive and dangerous very quick, know what you’re doing before you head into the field and enjoy it!