For the avid hunter, there is nothing like that feeling of owning the night. That is the feeling of being a true predator. When used for coyote hunting and possibly even for deer hunting, any of the best thermal scopes will put you far ahead of the game.
You will need to check your local laws but most places will allow night hunting of varmint, hog, and coyote. Otherwise, you will be restricted to low light conditions when you use your scope. This could be rain, fog, or just a darker dusk or dawn.
Before we get into the reviews, let's cover a few details. The first is cost which is relatively high, even on an entry level scope. However, the prices have come down significantly over the years. There was a time where you couldn’t get even the most basic unit on the market for under 5000 bucks. Now you can get most of the best scopes for under 3000.
While you can get a very affordable handheld monocular for under 1000 bucks, we are concerned with the thermal hunting scope for this article. When it comes to these scopes, there are very few brands. Most companies have not invested into their production so our list will predominantly cover the four best-rated brands.
Table of Contents
- How to Choose the Best Thermal Scope?
- Top 10 Best Thermal Scopes on the Market Review
How to Choose the Best Thermal Scope?
Before we dive into the world of thermal scopes, there are some aspects that are important to understand. Though a thermal scope may function as a normal scope, the addition of a thermal detector and the technology surrounding it take extra consideration.
Sensor and Display Resolution
There are two resolutions for every thermal scope. The sensor resolution dictates how the scope detects heat and what size that heat source needs to be in order to register to the scope. The display resolution represents the internal screen and its pixel count.
Sensor resolution will come into play when shooting at long distance or at very small animals. A mouse may not register on the sensor unless its very close. A deer may fail to register if it is far away. Most scopes have a sensor resolution of 320 pixels or close to. This is a good general scope.
Display resolution is often 640x480. This works out well for the small screen size where larger resolutions would be meaningless. They are kept in an aspect ratio that works well to display recorded footage on modern electronic devices. There is little need to go higher than this resolution unless you want HD recordings of your hunt.
Magnification and Range
We all know that scopes have a power setting that, in effect, displays a target x times the size it looks through the naked eye. A 10x scope would make a target look 10 times bigger. The challenge with a thermal scope lies in the use of digital magnification.
Digital magnification works like zoom on a camera. Where most scopes will have some optical magnification, most of the magnification will be digital. A scope with 2x optical magnification and 4x digital would be a total of 8x.
Simply put, digital magnification will cause more distortion than optical. Scopes with very large amounts of digital magnification may not be very useful when at full power. The screen and sensor resolutions simply are not powerful enough to deal with 30 or 40x.
A second part of the equation when it comes to range is how far away the detector can effectively pick up thermal radiation. Most scopes are quite sensitive and can pick up a target well beyond the range you will be able to accurately shoot it. Just be aware that there is a cap on how far away you can effectively see a target.
Palettes and Reticles
Both of these attributes of a scope deal with what you see when you look through your optic. Reticles are fairly easy to understand. Most scopes will have selectable crosshairs that can be used depending on the range of the target or the weapon you choose. Many people regard this as an extra feature that is not necessary but it can dramatically affect how accurate your shot is.
Palettes, on the other hand, can be very important to a hunter. When watching the old Predator movie, the alien creature uses thermal and sees through a rainbow pallet. This is one of many options a thermal scope may have for palettes. Others are black hot, white hot, and some that almost look like standard night vision.
Each palette has its own strengths and weaknesses. You should be familiar with all the palettes your scope offers for different situations. Some scopes may offer only one or two palettes while others offer a dozen or more.
As any high-tech device, thermal scopes can be fairly basic or offer a ton of advanced features. These will change mostly by brand but can differ between models. Since each scope is different, you will have to judge each one individually.
The most common feature you get on a thermal scope is recording. This may be preset or activate on the recoil of the rifle. Most thermal scopes will record both sound and audio. Some store it on the device while others are capable of Wi-Fi streaming. This is a novelty feature but one many hunters enjoy.
A few scopes, specifically those offered by ATN, offer onboard ballistics calculations. This takes the guesswork out of long range shooting as much as anything can. A good ballistic computer can track a number of variables and match those against your load for the most precise shots you can make.
Coupled with this on some scopes is an onboard rangefinder. Once again, ATN leads the pack. Having this feature is very useful on its own but works best when augmenting the onboard ballistic computer.
Top 10 Best Thermal Scopes on the Market Review
1 Armasight Zeus 336
Leading the ranks, you have the Zeus by Armasight which is among the best high-end thermal scopes on the market. This would make a prime choice in the world of thermal imaging if you need something for AR 15 style rifles. Right out of the box, it will mount to your rifle.
This 3-12x optic is one of the lightest and most compact scopes on the market and you can have it for under 4000 bucks. While that may be expensive, you get a lot for the money. Not only is this a high res scope with great detection range but it has all the features you could want.
A short list of features would need to cover the multiple pallet and reticle options, automatic reticle tracking, multiple image filters, video record options, and even a wireless remote. This is on top of the fully CNC machined, water and fog resistant construction.
You will get up to 4 hours of run time and can easily shoot long distances with this scope. It is resistant to recoils up to 30 caliber rounds so for 308 this would be perfect. While there are some scopes that do specific things better, this brings it all together for a great tactical optic.
2 Pulsar Trail XQ
Pulsar is a newer company in the world of thermal optics but the products they have put forward have been prime examples of optical technology. With amazing military styling, this very tactical thermal scope would sit perfectly on any of today's most modern rifles. Using something like this for 300 blackout would be a killer for hogs.
This scope is set up for hunting with a long 8-hour battery life and is fully IPX7 waterproof. This will also deal with fog and dust issues in harsh condition. It can detect up to nearly 2000 yards and with a max 10x zoom, you can shoot a good portion of that.
With the novel ability to view a smaller, more zoomed window you keep the ability to scan the area while planning your shot. You can choose your reticle from a large library to what you like and zero with a single shot. Even if you hunt multiple loads or different rifles, the scope can keep your settings saved for easy changeover.
On top of all of this, you get video recording and even some software that will help you detect and recognize targets at range. All of this comes together to make an amazing scope that you can hunt with day or night and be very successful.
3 ATN ThOR HD 384 9-36x
When you start looking at thermal scopes, you will find a vast array of advanced features. At the top of the list of companies adding these features is ATN. They do more with their scopes than any other company making them consistently the best value in thermal optics.
If you really want to get to know the ATN Thor HD 384 Smart Thermal Scope, you have to start with the basics. This is a 9x-26x scope which is nowhere near basic. It even has the detector range to match that level of magnification. This is a thermal scope you can easily pull off 800-1000 yard shots with.
It may be a bit heavy at 4 pounds but it is fully weather resistant. For that weight, you get the thermal scope with all the usual high-end features. It has video recording with wi-fi, multiple reticles, various pallets, and anything else you are likely to see on a scope like this.
Past that, this scope has a smart rangefinder that will calculate range and can store load data to give you a precise trajectory to your target. It even has GPS, image calculation, and a full ballistic calculator. These can be used via the scopes drop-down menus and through the free app for your smart device. Simply put, this is about the most advanced scope on the planet.
4 Pulsar Apex
The Pulsar Apex series are considered among the best on the market for pure mil-spec style performance. They are lacking in some of the features and are about normal as far as optical quality is concerned. However, they are made to be rugged and still have enough features and quality to satisfy.
You can max out the zoom at around 8x which works well with the 640x480 AMOLED display. These can be accessed via presets or using the smooth zoom option. This gives you plenty of range and with over 1300 meters of detection range, you will have range to spare.
Battery life is about 5 hours but a separate power unit can be added to extend the life. Every part of the scope is sealed to keep water out and provide a fog and dust free scope for a long life. This is nothing outstanding but when combined with a good quality scope, this will do the job.
As far as extras you do get the different pallets and a large number of reticles to suit your needs and taste. You can store three separate zeroes for different loads and even different rifle. As with most scopes, it does record and like all Pulsars, it will do it via remote. Basically, it will do everything a more expensive Pulsar will but for a more budget price.
5 ATN ThOR HD 384 4.5-18x
You are likely to see this particular optic come up several times throughout this article. They make many versions for different uses and budgets. If you are seriously looking for a thermal optic, there is likely a version of the ATN thermal scope that will fit your needs and your budget.
As far as the differences go, they are all in the magnification, size, and weight. This version is the max 18x and would be perfect for shots out to 800 yards without issue. It is a little smaller and lighter than the previous model and lends its well to more type rifle setups.
You are still able to record and stream video over Wi-Fi and you still have all of the reticle options and thermal display modes that come on every ATN ThOR. It has the smooth zoom and high-resolution display. And it has their very impressive ballistic calculator combined with a rangefinder for ultimate accuracy.
The construction is aircraft aluminum which is sealed against dust, water, and fog. It has all of the same hardwearing features. You do need to be mindful that all thermal optics are high tech pieces of gear. Regardless of how durable they are, you still need to treat them with care.
6 FLIR Thermosight Pro
So here is the truth of thermal optics. Every company has their own scope designs, materials, and extra features. Those are unique. But when it comes to the actual thermal imaging unit, almost all of those are made by one company, FLIR.
Does that mean that FLIR is somehow better than all the rest? Not at all but it does mean that they know a thing or two about thermal optics. In the case of their Thermosight series, these are some of the best scopes around in the areas of durability and overall quality. They just lack extra features.
This model, the PTS233, does have video and image recording and comes with a compass and inclinometer. As far as extras, that’s all you get. It doesn’t stream Wi-Fi or have a ballistic computer. It does have an assortment of color palettes but that is more a necessity than an extra.
What it has over other scopes is an amazing FLCOS display which is the clearest display around. It has nearly 2000 meters of detection range which is top of the line. And it is fully mil-spec when it comes to durability. This isn’t a scope to buy when you want extras but is the perfect scope when you want an accurate, hardworking piece of gear.
7 ATN ThOR HD 384 2-8x
As we move the next step down the list of ATN ThOR scopes, we are getting into the lower power range. In the case of a 2-8x scope like this one, these are perfect for lower powered rifles like an AR-15. This is not to say that they are poor on larger rifles but their range is likely to top out around 300 yards or so.
This would be considered the low end of their midrange lineup of scopes. This in no way means its basic. This scope has all of the advanced functionality of all of the more powerful and costly ThOR scopes. It just costs much less. This was one of the first thermal optics to sell for under 2000 dollars.
Like the other ThOR scopes, you get video recording, display modes, Wi-Fi connection with the app, and all of those novelty features. You also get the ballistic computer and rangefinder that are linked to give you great shots. It’s the same throughout except the power, size, and price. This scope is just over half the weight of the most powerful model.
8 Armasight Predator
Today's modern rifles are made to be maneuverable and having a heavy, bulky optic is very counter to that purpose. The Armasight predator is the lightest thermal optic in this class at just a pound and a half. Many regular riflescopes will come very close to that weight without all of the added technology. And the Predator is high on the technology.
Underneath, the Predator shares a lot with the Zeus above but with a little lower power. This scope maxed out at 8x which is plenty out to 300 yards or so and dead on at ranges closer than that. If you are hunting in the dark, it is unlikely you will ever take a shot any farther than that. Not that you couldn’t with a detection range of a little better than 1500 yards.
This optic has the standard video record capability in its list of features as well as many of the other tricks you would want. It may not compare to an ATN scope but it does have 6 different reticles and a variety of pallets for any environment. It also adds in tracking and target detection to round out its list of extras.
The goal of the predator is to be mission capable anytime in any environment. This means is waterproof and capable of handling dusty, cold, hot, or just about any other environment. The pallets are designed to work in the various conditions as well. Like the other Armasight, it does have a three-year warranty on the scope and a ten year on the detector should anything happen.
9 Pulsar Core
As with the Armasight, Pulsar has scaled down its Apex to give you a shot at a thermal scope on a budget. The magnification on this scope maxes out at just over 6x between the optical and digital zoom which makes this perfect for your 5.56mm or 7x39 caliber rifles. It would fall short of what you would want for anything more powerful and longer range than that.
Like its bigger brother, this scope is made to be used. It is as mil-spec as you can get on thermal optics short of paying huge money. You get IPX7 waterproofing which will also keep out all dust and debris. It also prevents fogging and any form of water intrusion no matter the weather. All of this is encased in an aluminum shell that is shockproof and can handle recoils up to 30 caliber rounds.
The most notable thing you are going to lose with this budget scope is the ability to record. Otherwise, you get a phenomenal scope. This has most of the other features of the more expensive Pulsar optic including one shot zero and target detection up to 900 meters away. You only get a sapphire green display and a single reticle but you do get the picture in picture display.
All in all, this is an amazing and cost friendly scope for smaller rifles. This would even work well for a .22 around the farm or homestead. The sensitivity is high enough to see very small targets at a hundred yards or better. You can even zero it for several different rifles depending on your varmint needs. Among the scopes here, if money is tight, this is the one you want.
10 ATN Thor HD 384 1.25-5x
Rounding out the top 10 is the smallest, lightest, and cheapest ATN scope on the market. This is a thermal optic that you can get for less than 1500 bucks. That is less then what most good night vision optics run and this will blow them out of the water as far as performance goes. And for that budget price, you will lose far less in performance and feature than you would think.
Like all ATN scopes, you are going to get their paired rangefinder and ballistic computer. It's hard to overstate how awesome this combination is. It is somewhat less important on a scope maxing out at 5x. You would be hard pressed to push much past 150 yards with this scope. But in that 150 yards, you can nearly guarantee your shots are going to be on target.
This has been a very popular choice for hog hunters for years. This has more to do with the affordability and durability than any of the extra features. You get the same water, fog, and dust resistance as you get with any ATN scope and every bit of the image quality. It’s the same 640 resolution with multi-mode and multi-reticle options. That alone makes it worth far more than the price.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an ATN scope if you didn’t get the video with streaming and all of the extras. That is just added value to a scope that is already worth so much more than the price. Just 5 years ago, this scope would have run at least three times this cost. To see it now for so cheap is almost unbelievable.
That gives you the low-down on all of the most recent and high tech scopes available on the market right now. These are by far the best value and highest quality thermal optics you are going to get without paying thousands more. This is a growing market with a huge amount of popularity amongst modern shooters.
Just remember if you get one, you can’t sight these in on a standard target. Paper all looks the same thorough thermal. Special targets are available to help you get it on target. Once you do, most of these scopes are made to return to zero if you move them and many even have modes for different rifles. This is important because thermal targets aren’t cheap.
If you are a hunter, going after hog or coyote with one of these is an amazing experience. If you can hunt deer after dark in your area, that is just another reason. For target shooters, there is little reason to own the best thermal scope. Personally, I have found their use on the various varmints around the home to be the most useful. That and being able to scan for anyone in the yard without them knowing.