As technology evolves, shooters are always looking for the next big advantage. Within the last 30 years, there have been some amazing leaps in night vision technology, and hunters and shooters are always ready to use it to our advantage.
Thermal imaging systems have become increasingly accessible to the average civilian shooter, and they have never been better than they are right now. If you are looking to own the night, whether you are hunting or outfitting firearms for personal protection, the best thermal scope is the next logical step.
If you’re in a hurry and don't have time for the details, here are our best picks for thermal scope:
- 1Trijicon Teo REAP-IR Mini - Our Top Pick
- 2ATN ThOR HD 640 Smart - Best Under $5000
- 3Pulsar Thermion XP50 - Best Long DIstance Thermal Scope
- 4ATN ThOR 4 - Best for Deer Hunting
- 5IR Defense IR Hunter Mark II - Best for Hog Hunting
- 6ATN ThOR LT - Best for Under $2000
- 7Trijicon Teo SNIPE-IR-Best Clip-On Thermal Scope
- 8Leupold LTO Tracker 2 - Best Under $1000
- 9FLIR Breach PTQ136 Monocular - Best Thermal Handheld Device
Table of Contents
- Why Use a Thermal Scope?
- How Thermal Imaging Works?
- How to Choose a Thermal Scope?
- Best Thermal Scope on the Market Reviews
- 1 Trijicon Teo REAP-IR Mini - Our Top Pick
- 2 ATN ThOR HD 640 Smart - Best under $5000
- 3 Pulsar Thermion XP50 - Best Long Distance Thermal Scope
- 4 ATN ThOR 4 - Best for Deer Hunting
- 5 IR Defense IR Hunter Mark II - Best for Hog Hunting
- 6 ATN ThOR LT - Best for Under $2000
- 7 Trijicon Teo SNIPE-IR - Best Clip-On Thermal Scope
- 8 Leupold LTO Tracker 2 - Best under $1000
- 9 FLIR Breach PTQ136 Monocular - Best Thermal Handheld Device
- Thermal Imaging Vs Night Vision
- Tips for Hunting with a Thermal Scope
- Can a thermal scope see through walls?
- Can a thermal scope be used in the daylight?
- What thermal scope does the military use?
- Can I use a thermal scope for bow hunting?
- Are thermal scopes effective for long range shooting?
- What type of gun can I mount a thermal scope to?
- How long should batteries last in a thermal scope?
- Do I need an IR illuminator for my thermal scope?
- Do I really need a thermal scope with rangefinder technology?
- Can I take my thermal scope outside of the country?
- Final Thoughts
Why Use a Thermal Scope?
Today, thermal technology is more affordable, accessible, and popular than ever before.
As thermal technology continues to advance, it is increasingly used for much more than military applications.
Thermal imaging can be used for a variety of shooting applications. If you are a hunter, a thermal scope makes it easy to find and identify nocturnal animals like hogs, coyotes, and predators. They are also a handy way to find game hiding in thick vegetation.
Thermal optics are also a popular option for tactical shooting. Even if you aren’t a military or law enforcement shooter, a thermal optic can help you identify living targets, even when it’s too dark to see.
How Thermal Imaging Works?
All natural and manmade objects emit infrared energy as heat. The warmer something is, the more infrared energy it produces.
Infrared energy is undetectable to the human eye. However, thermal imaging sensors can detect even the tiniest differences in temperature. This technology can then use those differences to create a detailed temperature pattern called a thermogram. A quality thermal imaging device takes just fractions of a second to gather temperature information to generate the thermogram. It then uses internal software to translate information from the thermogram into a series of electrical pulses which are eventually transformed into a viewable image.
Since humans and animals generate significantly more heat than trees, rocks, and other inanimate objects in the environment, they are very easy to detect with a thermal optic. Living organisms often appear as glowing orange, red, and yellow objects against the duller blues and greens of the surrounding area.
How to Choose a Thermal Scope?
Here are a few key things to consider when shopping for a thermal scope.
Thermal scopes can range in magnification power from 1x to 16x or higher. Consider the ranges you will need to shoot while keeping in mind that most thermal scopes are unreliable when shooting beyond 300 yards.
The magnification on a thermal scope can be either digital or optical. Digital zoom can create a murky or blurry image, so keep in mind that maximum magnification might not give you the best sight picture.
The screen resolution and refresh rate are probably the most important features of a thermal optic. Higher refresh rates and increased screen resolution will create a crisper, clearer image.
Some thermal scopes also have built-in software that will smooth pixelation caused by slower refresh rates or powerful digital zoom.
When considering the impressive technology built into modern thermal scopes, it can be easy to forget that you need to carry the thing on a rifle in the field. A lighter scope will be easier to carry through the wilderness. It will also be easier to keep on target when firing your weapon off hand.
Heavy scopes may be more durable and have more features, however. You will need to consider how you plan to use the scope. If you are outfitting a SWAT team, you probably don’t need to think about carrying a heavy scope over long distances. If you’re coyote hunting, a heavy scope will seem to get heavier the further you need to carry it through the woods.
There are a lot of thermal scopes with tons of extra features built into them. Laser rangefinders, GPS units, recording software, on-board compasses, and gyroscopes can help make you a better marksman. However, these high-tech features are probably going to cost you.
If you don’t plan on taking shots at ranges beyond 150 yards, you might not need a built-in laser rangefinder or gyroscope. Think about the features you need and weigh them against those you want. Then decide which of those features fit into your budget.
Best Thermal Scope on the Market Reviews
1 Trijicon Teo REAP-IR Mini - Our Top Pick
If you served in the US military, the REAP-IR Mini from Trijicon will already feel like an old friend. Not only does this look like a military grade thermal optic, the controls are laid out just like the AN/PAS-13 thermal weapon sight the military uses.
The REAP-IR Mini uses a state-of-the-art 12 micron, 640x480 sensor. This means you’ll have access to some of the clearest thermal images available to civilian shooters.
This is definitely a high-end optic with a high-end price tag, so prepare yourself if you’re prone to sticker shock. However, the REAP-IR is jam packed with cool features. It even has one cool feature you won’t find anywhere else. The REAP-IR Mini’s unique Edge Detect mode outlines targets to reduce image brightness. This will help prevent night blindness, especially in target rich environments.
Super rugged, the REAP-IR Mini is designed and tested to high military standards. It also comes with a Picatinny rail mount, making it perfect for AR-15 and other modern sporting rifles.
2 ATN ThOR HD 640 Smart - Best under $5000
ATN makes some of the best digital night vision scope and thermal scopes available to modern shooters. The company caters to nighttime hunters, so if you’re looking for an ideal optic for hog or coyote hunting, the ThOR HD 640 is it.
Far more than a simple riflescope, the ATN ThOR HD 640 goes far beyond thermal imaging. It also has an on-board ballistic calculator, rangefinder, and GPS. This high-tech gadget also features recoil activated video (RAV) and Wi-Fi streaming.
The ThOR HD 640 is built for rugged use in the field. It is shockproof, making it perfect for high recoil cartridges. It is also thoroughly waterproof.
3 Pulsar Thermion XP50 - Best Long Distance Thermal Scope
With quality germanium optics and a state-of-the-art imaging sensor, the Pulsar Thermion XP50 has a radical detection range of 2000 yards, one of the longest ranges in the industry.
Not only does the Thermion XP50 have an impressive range, it also provides some of the clearest images you’ll see through a thermal scope. Pulsar uses patented Image Boost Technology to deliver a razor-sharp, highly detailed field of view. This makes it easier to identify targets, even at longer ranges.
The Thermion XP50 also provides digital recording and can store hours of video and thousands of photos.
4 ATN ThOR 4 - Best for Deer Hunting
We love the traditional look of the ATN ThOR 4. At first glance, it looks just like a classic riflescope. However, this thing is packed to the gills with modern, high-tech features.
The ATN ThOR 4 is equipped with an internal dual core processor that enhances thermal sensitivity and reduces pixelation. The result is high resolution images with sharp contrast and crisp clarity.
The ThOR 4 also features a ballistic calculator that reads temperature, humidity, and angle to target and takes those readings into account before calculating your point of aim.
The scope also stores several weapon profiles, so you can use it with any weapon or load in your arsenal.
Like many thermal optics, the ThOR 4 records video and still images. It also allows you to stream footage in real time.
5 IR Defense IR Hunter Mark II - Best for Hog Hunting
The Hunter Mark II from IR Defense runs on MicroIR 12um Micron technology which produces super crisp, razor sharp thermal images. It also manages to produce those high-quality images while using less battery power than most other models.
With an incredibly fast 60hz fast frame rate and a quality micro display, the Hunter Mark II also helps you get your reticle on target fast. It is just as effective on short-range, fast-moving targets as it is on targets at longer ranges.
The Hunter Mark II has an attractive, streamlined modern look that will please tactical shooters as well as hunters. Not only is the design attractive, it’s also super rugged.
Our favorite thing about this thermal scope is the control design. Instead of joysticks and push buttons, the controls on the Hunter Mark II are similar to those on a conventional riflescope. This makes this model perfect for beginners. It also makes it easier to use in the dark and in stressful shooting situations.
6 ATN ThOR LT - Best for Under $2000
We know the price tags on some of these high-tech thermal scopes can be pretty intimidating. While it’s generally true that you get what you pay for, we were floored when we found out this scope was so affordable. This is the perfect thermal option for budget-conscious shooters.
The ThOR LT is missing some of the high-tech features we’ve come to expect from thermal scopes. However, when the rubber meets the road, the ThOR does exactly what it's supposed to do - detect body heat in total darkness. Honestly, this optic does such a fine job, we don’t even miss features like Wi-Fi streaming and ballistic calculators. This scope definitely offers the best value for the money of any optic on our list.
7 Trijicon Teo SNIPE-IR - Best Clip-On Thermal Scope
A clip-on thermal sight can be a great option, especially if you’re already proficient with your daytime scope. With the Trijicon Teo SNIPE-IR, you simply clip it on your rifle and seamlessly transition to after-dark shooting.
Although the SNIPE-IR has a simple design, it delivers big thermal performance. The optic features a 12 micron, 640-480 sensor, and high-quality germanium optics. These features combine to provide clear, high-res images.
The SNIPE-IR is a tough optic built for rough use and harsh shooting conditions. Crafted from aircraft-grade 6061 aluminum, the SNIPE-IR is waterproof, shockproof, and incredibly durable.
The SNIPE-IR can also be used as a standalone weapon sight or a handheld thermal device, making it one of the most versatile optics on our list.
8 Leupold LTO Tracker 2 - Best under $1000
This thermal optic from Leupold isn't technically a scope, but it is incredibly useful on the battlefield, in competition, and on the hunt.
This compact handheld thermal imager weighs only 7 ounces and will fit easily into your pocket or backpack. With a detection range of 750 yards, the LTO Tracker 2 will help you locate and identify game, check your surroundings, and even follow a blood trail.
Featuring a gorilla glass display and a rugged housing, the LTO Tracker 2 is built for rough use. It is 100 percent waterproof, fogproof, shockproof, and ready to handle anything Mother Nature might throw your way.
9 FLIR Breach PTQ136 Monocular - Best Thermal Handheld Device
Built specifically for law enforcement, this handheld monocular from FLIR is easily concealed in a pocket or mounted on a helmet via the mini-rail. Although the device is tiny and incredibly lightweight, it delivers excellent image clarity thanks to the advanced image processing of the internal BOSON core.
The FLIR Breach monocular features onboard video recording. It also allows you to choose from seven color palettes, allowing you to optimize target detection and visibility no matter what lighting condition you find yourself in.
Thermal Imaging Vs Night Vision
If you’re trying to shoot in the dark, you have two basic options - a thermal scope or a night vision scope.
Night vision scopes are generally cheaper than thermal optics, especially if you opt for digital night vision. However, cost shouldn’t be your only consideration. Thermal optics have plenty of benefits overnight vision.
Thermal scopes do not rely on ambient light, so they work equally well whether there is moonlight, daylight, or no light at all. The day night versatility of a thermal scope is one of the major selling points.
Even when conditions are perfect for night vision, it can be difficult to pick out targets through brush, fog, or dust. Thermal scopes have no problem picking up targets through these visual impairments. In fact, live targets stand out even more when there is smoke, fog, or brush obscuring them. .
The ability to change between white-hot and black-hot features can further assist the shooter in identifying targets. Night vision does not give the shooter any feedback on changing temperature conditions, and both live and non-live targets look similar through a night vision scope. Night vision relies heavily on shadow to differentiate objects, giving the shooter a less dynamic picture than thermal can offer.
The sensors on non-digital night vision scopes can be irreparably damaged if exposed to too much light. This means they are useless for daytime shooting. Since thermal imaging systems rely on heat sensors, the amount of ambient light has zero effect on them. This gives the hunter a major advantage when it comes to detecting game. During daylight conditions, wild game often blend into the forest but will stand out like a neon sign when viewed through a thermal scope.
Tips for Hunting with a Thermal Scope
As with any hunting equipment, it is important to train and familiarize yourself with your thermal scope before taking it into the field. Thermal imaging devices have some nuances that take some getting used to, so you should take note of several specifics.
Thermal Scopes FAQ
Can a thermal scope see through walls?
No. While it might be possible to see some heat signatures through thin layers, such as curtains, walls give off their own heat signature and hide whatever is behind them.
Can a thermal scope be used in the daylight?
Yes. Unlike night vision, thermal scopes do not use the visible light spectrum. This means that ambient light has no effect on how thermal optics operate.
What thermal scope does the military use?
While there are multiple thermal imaging systems used by the US military, the most popular scope is the AN/PAS-13, which comes in several variations. The AN/PAS-13 is made by Raytheon, and it is not readily available on the civilian market.
Can I use a thermal scope for bow hunting?
While we are not aware of any thermal sighting solutions for bow sights, thermal imaging can be used as a standalone unit to help identify targets. Also, most crossbows have mounting capabilities for thermal scopes.
Are thermal scopes effective for long range shooting?
That depends on what you consider long range. Most thermal scopes can help with shot placement out to about 250 yards. However, some thermal devices can detect targets out to 1800 yards or more.
What type of gun can I mount a thermal scope to?
Any gun capable of receiving a scope can use a thermal scope.
How long should batteries last in a thermal scope?
Battery life will vary depending on the manufacturer, the batteries used, and the design of your scope. For practical use, a thermal scope should last at least four hours on a single set of batteries.
Do I need an IR illuminator for my thermal scope?
No. While night vision scopes benefit from IR lights, thermal scopes do not need any ambient light, IR or otherwise.
Do I really need a thermal scope with rangefinder technology?
It really depends on the scope’s reticle design. Some reticles can help you range targets, so you don’t necessarily need a designated rangefinder.
There are thermal rangefinders that come as standalone units. One paired with an affordable thermal scope can be less expensive than many optics with integral rangefinders.
Can I take my thermal scope outside of the country?
No. Thermal scopes are covered under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, so transporting them across national borders is illegal. In fact, it is against the law for a non-US citizen to even look through a night vision or thermal scope.
There is a lot to consider before jumping into the world of thermal optics. If you are willing to investigate a new technological advantage, thermal optics provide a whole new way to enjoy hunting and shooting.
We hope this guide helps you find the best thermal scope to meet your shooting needs. Any of the models on our list will help you take your nighttime hunting and shooting skills to the next level.