Today I’m going to show you the best thermal scope.
I’ve hand- tested over 10 scopes alone for this review.
The best part?
I’ve sorted the scopes by use. So whether you’re on a budget or need the best scope for hog hunting, you’ll find it here.
Let’s dive in!
Instead of focusing on whether a night vision scope is better than thermal or vice versa, the real question is:
Which one would work best for your needs and budget?
By the end of this guide, you’ll know exactly the answer to that.
Let’s get started!
Night vision works by taking light or reflections of light and intensifying them into a crystal clear image.
Therefore, it needs some sort of ambient light to function.
If you’re shooting at night, the moonlight and stars usually provide enough light. Newer models come with infrared illuminators that work like flashlights for the scope but aren’t visible to the naked eye.
If you’re looking through the market for night vision optics, you’ll see different ratings for them — Gen I, II, or III. In simple terms, the higher the generation, the better the quality.
You’ll also see a newer classification of night vision scopes called Digital Night Vision.
The regular night vision displays the traditional green and black while the updated digital night vision is typically displayed in black and white on the LCD screen.
Night vision delivers a higher quality image.
It allows you to differentiate between finer details. Additionally, night vision scopes are cheaper and more compact in size. It’s not affected by cold weather.
Night vision technology has been around a lot longer than thermal optics. Night vision scopes are used to being mounted on rifles and are overall more rugged, stable, and absorbs recoil like a champ.
Its need for ambient light makes night vision limited.
So unless you have an infrared illuminator, it’s pretty much useless in completely dark environments. It can’t be used in daylight either as it be permanently damaged if exposed to a bright light.
Thermal scopes detect radiation or heat given off by any living object. Thermal imaging uses a special kind of lens that focuses on infrared light and creates a thermogram. This thermogram is then turned into electrical impulses that become a picture on your screen.
Thermal vision is a little more versatile since it can be used in any kind of lighting condition. In fact, one of the most significant advantages of thermal imaging scopes is that they function correctly in day and night and don’t require infrared light. On top of that, you’ll be able to see through dust, smoke, and fog with ease. This is why firefighters use thermal technology.
A primary disadvantage of thermal imaging is that it is quite heavy to carry. They are also expensive and you might have to undergo training to interpret the images correctly. The battery life is often limited, and the quality of the image can be adversely affected by colder temperatures.
As we’ve discussed above, both night vision and thermal scopes have their pros and cons. It’s essential to understand the different factors you should look into before making your decision, so you can make the most out of your purchase.
If you’re shooting in cold environments, the thermal image’s quality will be affected. On the flip side, night vision scopes can be problematic if the game is camouflaged or standing still behind shadowy areas. Unless you have an IR illuminator, detecting hidden targets, especially at great distances, can be difficult.
If you’re more concerned about detecting a target in deep cover or hidden by fog, it would be easier to use thermal optics. On the downside, you may not be able to determine what type of animal you’re looking at right away because thermal doesn’t provide as much detail as NV scopes.
Night vision and thermal technology can be used for various purposes, including hunting, tactical shooting, home defense, and even just for sport. Here’s a comparison:
Night vision scopes provide more clear and natural images. The technology is more robust and a lot more reliable for a hunting trip. It’s easier to tell the size, type, and other animal details. It’s less expensive and provides a much wider field of view. So if you’re out stalking game in wide-open environments with minimal foliage, go for a night vision scope.
If you’re out hunting in foggy or dense areas, a thermal optic should be your go-to. Trust me: no hog can hide from you. But be careful, they may be high-end, but thermals don’t provide accurate target identification. You don’t want to end up shooting the neighbor’s dog because you thought it was a coyote.
Night vision scopes are compact. In fact, this is the reason why militaries love mounting them on their assault rifles. They allow you to navigate easily if you’re moving and grooving through open terrain. Since night vision technology produces vivid details, you’ll be able to distinguish friend from foe through facial recognition.
You can’t see facial features with thermal scopes, but you can see through camouflage so you can easily detect and track potential threats. Since thermals don’t rely on ambient light, you won’t have to worry about finding your way in the dark. If you’re in a position where you’re observing multiple targets or have established a defense, thermals are invaluable.
Although I believe in the principle of “quality is better than quantity,” the price is also a crucial factor for many hunters and shooters. While thermal is better for detection, it has a much heavier price tag than night vision.
If you’re still unsure between the two, you can buy yourself a handheld thermal monocular. These devices are capable of detecting heat signatures out to 300 yards and cost less than $800. Plus, you can use a thermal monocular with your night vision scope.
However, thermal monoculars have less magnification and there’s no way of mounting it on rifles.
Then again, the main purpose of a monocular is to spot hidden prey. So, once you’re ready to shoot, you can use your night vision scope for clear images and still get accurate hits.
With that said, let’s take a look at the best thermal scopes on the market…
If you’re pressed on time, here’s a quick list of the best thermal scopes for your rifle:
- Trijicon Teo Reap-IR Mini Therma: Best for Hog Hunting
- Pulsar Trail XP38 1.2-9.6×32: Best Thermal Scope for the Money
- Pulsar Digisight Ultra: Best Budget Thermal Scope
- ATN ThOR 4 1.25-5x: Best For Coyote Hunting
The Trijicon Teo Reap-Ir Mini Therma is the best thermal scope for hog hunting.
It’s the only thermal on the commercial market with edge detection, a feature only seen on high-end military sights.
Here’s why it works…
There’s no doubt that the Trijicon Teo Reap-IR has the best picture in the game.
With clean, clear, crisp, and bright imaging, I could see tiny rodents scampering up and down tree trunks at over 100 yards away.
The 12 micron BAE core 640×480 sensor allows for this high quality imaging. This is the top of the game, and, with the 60hz frame rate camera (30hz in power saving mode), those images run so smoothly you can see the hog’s ear twitch in real time.
I normally use night vision in conjunction with thermal optics as I’ve found NV optics provide better target identification. But with the Reap-IR’s clarity, there’s no need to invest in a NV scope.
Reticle options are shooter’s preference with 5 different reticle display patterns. With multiple reticle save locations, you can mount the sight on different weapons while still maintaining your reticle position.
The digital read-out on the reticle adjustment screen is a new feature that gives your x/y reticle location down to .5 MOA accuracy.
In general, thermal scopes are superior to night vision for pinpointing targets under virtually any conditions- including thick vegetation.
There are 6 MaxPol white hot/black hot settings which allows you to choose the perfect contrast for every situation.
Black and white imaging gives you the clearest target definition, but the downside is that the screen’s brightness practically blinds my right eye every time I look into the scope.
That being said, the Edge detection feature is an entirely new approach to reduce night blindness. Only the edges around your target are white while 90% of the screen goes black.
It’s an extremely useful feature that dims your display for tactical situations and allows you to stay on target for longer periods of time with less eye fatigue.
Until now, this feature has only been used on certain high end military sights. There’s no other thermal weapon sight with this feature that’s commercially available.
The scope’s biggest flaw is its manual calibration. Most thermal scopes recalibrate automatically with only a split second freeze frame.
This means that every minute or so, the lens cap needs to be closed which can cause major issues if calibration needs to be done under stress. However, once I adjusted to this system, it became second nature and never caused me any problems.
With only 27mm of eye relief, I did feel like I was hugging up on my gun. But the soft rubber eye protector keeps the position comfortable and safe so I didn’t have to worry about a black eye.
There’s a lot to view through the scope, so the shorter eye relief allows you to zone in on the optic while still maintaining a 12 degree viewing range.
I needed this scope to be durable for hog hunting and for the price.
The Reap-IR mini is an absolutely quality unit.
If you’re looking at the brands made in China, a percentage of them tend to have quality control issues despite costing a large chunk of chain.
While the Trijicons are more expensive, they’re a safer investment because they’re made and tested in America to MIL-STD-810G methods and procedures. This scope should have an active 5-10+ years of service before it needs a refurb.
The Reap-IR is no different. The 6061 Aircraft-grade aluminum package is built for abuse. The scope is waterproof up to 1 meter and nitrogen filled to prevent internal fogging.
Speaking of fog, I was still able to acquire targets despite foggy conditions.
The Reap-IR is noticeably smaller and lightweight; far closer to an ACOG than the bulky models of other manufacturer’s.
The small size and weight of this scope is ideal for night operations when quick stealthy positioning is required.
However, the smaller size does mean that battery life took a hit. My batteries only lasted 4 hours of constant use before needing a change.
That being said, the new model has a top-load battery that’s fast and easy to exchange in the dark and the CR123 are easy to find.
Rather than turrets, adjustments on the screen are made with an intuitive, multi-directional thumbstick on the side of the optic.
Thermals are notoriously difficult to zero which is why I was ecstatic that the Reap-IR re-invented the system.
Zeroing was super easy with a secondary aim point. All I had to do was line the two reticles up, click save, and I was done.
There are 4 save locations to zero the Reap-IR, so I can calibrate the optic to four different weapons without having to re-zero.
Magnification is achieved with 8x digital zoom and 2.5 optical magnification.
The zoom feature is great, but there is a level of clarity lost with every magnification increase, especially beyond 150 yards.
Target distance is made easy with the stadiametric rangefinder that quickly determines distance by setting ranging units and target size.
The Trijicon Reap-IR uses a mini picatinny rail mounting kit. A mini picatinny interface on the top of the optic also allows you to easily add on accessories.
The optic comes with a shuttered eye guard, lenspen, and a really nice transport case.
Trijicon’s REAP-IR Mini Thermal is an incredible device that packs a 12 micron thermal core and a 35mm GAS-IR lens into a tiny package.
It’s a great investment for serious night time hunting, and offers the right assistance for serious hog hunting.
Here’s why it works:
- Intuitive menu
- Edge Detection
- 3-year warranty
- Unparalleled resolution
- Multiple Reticle Save Locations
There’s no doubt that it’s a large investment, the unparalleled technology and quality make it worth every penny.
If you’re even considering the Trijicon Teo Reap-IR mini therma, I say go for it.
- Great for any outdoor enthusiast
- Made in the USA
- Very easy to Use
The Pulsar Trail XP38 is the best thermal scope for the money.
Lots of thermal scopes can easily demolish the bank and leave you choosing between your shiny new optic or that engagement ring….
But fear not, I’ve got a reasonably priced thermal scope.
Read on to get the best of both worlds.
The glass clarity is excellent.
Due to the price of this thermal scope being less pricey than most, I was doubtful of the glass clarity.
But I was pleasantly surprised. Especially by the live video quality that was clear and precise.
The night vision quality was also top notch. I could clearly see the critters I was hunting, even when the weather wasn’t exactly picture-perfect.
What about the reticle?
It’s a variable electronic reticle set in the Second Focal Plane (SFP).
Which means when the magnification changes, the reticle’s size stays the same.
The Trail XP38 also has 13 preloaded reticles to choose from. And with its Picture-in-Picture feature, you can display a separate magnified image on screen while viewing your larger field of view.
I really enjoyed this feature because I could see the bigger picture, literally. All while getting another image of a certain area I wanted to zoom in on.
The eye relief is 50mm.
And this scope can detect heat up to 2,000 yards. So you’ll be able to see far and wide while out in the field.
The Trail XP38 is made for harsh outdoor conditions.
It’s fully waterproof and can handle 3 feet submersion for up to 30 minutes.
All this while also being fogproof and highly shockproof.
In fact, it can take high shock resistance and high powered recoil up to .375-cal.
The 1-click turrets are pretty smooth.
In fact, my only complaint is that sighting in with this digital scope was not as precise as my standard.
So if you’re new to digital scopes, definitely do your research before purchasing. You do need to be a little tech-savvy to get the hang of it.
The magnification is variable from 1.2-9.6x. The Picture-in-Picture feature can go from 2x-4x digital zoom.
The zoom power was nice, especially because I got an optimum field of view.
But does it zero?
This is where it gets tricky.
The Trail XP38 features a one-shot zero with freeze function. Meaning that it’s supposed to hold up to three zero saves.
But I had some issues with the zero not holding about half of the time. Sometimes it was great and held zero, but it occasionally didn’t work.
It could be technology’s fault, but just be aware that the zero can be faulty.
The Trail XP38 comes with an IPS5 battery pack, a battery charger, USB cable, carrying case, user manual, lens cloth, and a warranty card.
As for a suitable mount, I used the Pulsar Locking QD mount. It can smoothly attach and detach, so it’s not a chore to switch it up.
- Locking quick-detach picatinny mount
- Returns optic to zero
- Matte black finish and aluminum material
Plus, I recommend getting the Pulsar DN 42mm Cover Ring Adapter for some extra scope protection. It’s lightweight, highly durable, and can withstand the elements.
If you’re a serious nighttime hunter, I highly recommend the Pulsar Trail XP38. You’ll get the best view of your big game with the night vision and awesome magnification power.
Here’s the best features:
- 13 preloaded reticles
- Picture-in-Picture digital zoom
- Heat detection up to 2,000 yards
- Fully waterproof and highly shock resistant
And it comes with 3-year warranty. Pulsar will repair or replace your scope within that time in the event it becomes damaged.
So if you’re searching for a great thermal scope for your big game hunting needs, I highly recommend the Pulsar Trail XP38 1.2-9.6×32.
- 1,970yd detection range with 640x480 resolution, 17UM Pixel pitch core
- 8x digital zoom- continuous zoom and 2x, 4x, 8x stepped zoom
- Picture in picture digital zoom
Trying to find an affordable thermal scope that also has all the features you need can be challenging, but fortunately the Pulsar Digisight Ultra has you covered.
Not only will you be able to spot your prey out to 500 yards, you’ll also be able to record the whole experience.
At less than half the price of a high end thermal scope, the Pulsar Digisight Ultra compares in quality and features.
Want to know more? Keep reading…
The Pulsar Digisight Ultra has crystal clear glass.
But where it really shines is the reticle.
It has over 10 reticle options and colors! This means you will get to pick the reticle you like best or that works best for your situation.
Having the ability to switch reticles makes this scope very versatile.
All of the reticle options are second focal plane, so the reticle will never change size, even when changing the magnification. BUT, they do have scalable ballistic reticle options, which is similar to the first focal plane.
To put it simply, you get the best of both worlds!
Plus, the Pulsar Digisight Ultra has a picture in picture mode, that allows the user to have a smaller frame inside the bigger one. What’s great about this is that you’ll get to see an enlarged image of the target inside of the small picture, and still get the full field of view in your mainframe.
Since this isn’t a traditional scope, you don’t have to worry about eye relief. You’ll have your eye snug up against the eyepiece.
The eyepiece is a wide angle eyepiece, so you’ll get a nice, wide field of view and be able to cover a good amount of area.
Knowing that your scope can withstand harsh conditions and treatment is imperative for any hunter.
The Pulsar Digisight Ultra won’t disappoint.
It is waterproof and tested to endure low temperatures down to -25 C.
Not only that, it has a frost resistant display, so you’ll never have to worry about losing your visibility when you’re out in the cold.
Pulsar also offers a nice warranty, which means you’ll have the support you need if something goes wrong.
The elevation and windage are 1 MOA and can be easily adjusted with the click of a button.
What about zeroing?
This scope is quick and easy to zero and holds zero very well.
One of the best features of this scope is the accurate zoom zeroing.
Not only can you zero at the basic magnification, you can also zero at a zoom. Plus, you can create 5 different zero profiles. Each of those profiles holds up to 10 zeroing distances.
Talk about some amazing versatility and variability! You can adjust this scope to every need you may have.
The Pulsar Digisight Ultra has a variable magnification of 4.5-18x, which is perfect for taking down hogs and varmints.
It also has a 2X/4X digital zoom, for even better visibility.
I was easily able to spot and shoot a hog at 300 yards in almost pitch black lighting conditions!
Even the best long range scopes need an IR illuminator for hunting at night. Fortunately, you also get 2 detachable, high power IR illuminators with the Pulsar Digisight Ultra, giving you more options for illumination level and the ability to choose the ranges where you’ll be most effective.
You won’t have to worry about parallax either, as it doesn’t exist on a thermal scope.
One of the things that I love most about this scope is that it comes with pretty much everything.
It has a QD Weaver/Picatinny rail, cleaning cloth, carrying case, battery pack, charging kit, USB cable, wireless remote control, and a hex key.
You really don’t need to buy anything else but your rifle!
If you’re looking for a thermal scope that you can afford, the Pulsar Digisight Ultra is the best choice you can make.
- 5 zero profiles
- Variable magnification
- Accurate zoom zeroing
- Built in recording capability
- 10 reticle options, 6 color options
- Nighttime detection out to 600 yards
In other words:
You’ll be getting high quality with loads of features for less than half the price of the competition.
I am an avid hog hunter and have always used my Leupold VX-R in the past, which is amazing for daytime and evening visibility, but the Pulsar Digisight Ultra is the only scope I’ll use at night now.
The fact that I can see details on prey at over 200 yards when it’s pitch black out has changed my ability to hunt at any time.
If you want to be able to do the same, give the Pulsar Digisight Ultra a try. You won’t be disappointed.
- Lightweight and extremely durable
- 2x/4x digital zoom with continuous and stepped option
- Stream Vision App - connects scope to smart device for remote viewing and streaming
For a while, it seemed like a night couldn’t go by without a pack of coyotes roaming across my land.
I constantly had to worry about my animals and was getting tired of not having a scope to properly hunt them at night.
Most scopes just don’t cut it at night. To really be able to see the varmints I knew I needed a thermal scope.
That’s when I found the ATN ThOR 4 1.25-5x. It was a little pricier than I had hoped, but it was completely worth it when I finally got those coyotes to stop coming through my land.
Keep reading and I’ll tell you why this is the best thermal scope for coyote hunting.
It’s got a crystal clear germanium lens and a 1280×720 HD display.
The image is so crisp, I could see a cow at 1000 yards and the mice running across my field.
It’s got a duplex reticle and an incredible ballistic laser rangefinder that has become my new best friend.
A click above the target and one below, and I know I’m gonna have the perfect on target shot, every time. It’s taken all the guesswork out of hunting.
The ultrasensitive gen 4 thermal sensor is what really takes the cake on this scope. No more squinting to see if that’s actually your target.
With this, the coyotes light up like Christmas trees in the dark and you always know what you’re aiming at. I couldn’t ask for a better feature.
It’s got a 3.5” eye relief, which is perfect for most hunting rifles.
It comes with standard and extended mounts so you can adjust this as well.
The eye box was super generous and I found it comfortable to use for extended periods of time.
This scope is made of a hardened aluminium alloy and comes with built in impact resistant electronics.
That means this scope is going to hold up to repeated use. It’s weather resistant too, so you don’t have to be shy using it in the rain and wind.
I’ve used this scope dozens of times and it holds up as well now as it did fresh out of the box.
Rain, sleet, snow, or shine, this scope is gonna do its job and do it well.
At only 1.93 pounds, you’ll be able to take it with you on any hunting trip, and with it’s 18+ hour battery life, I’ve never had to worry about it dying on me when I needed it.
The knobs turned smoothly and offered no resistance. The zoom was completely smooth and it boasts a one shot zero.
It’s true. I was able to zero it on the first shot and on my .308 I haven’t lost zero yet.
The Recoil Activated Video is a really neat feature on this scope as well. Just pull the trigger and your hunt is recorded from the second you shoot. It’s fun to rewatch some of my best shots with friends.
One of the best features is the profile manager that allows you to save your zero settings for each gun you mount it to. That saves me a ton of time when I’m switching it out.
With a magnification range of 1.25-5x, this scope is perfect for hog and coyote hunting.
It’s got just enough zoom to see them creeping up on my property and it’s low end is super clear, so I can see them if they get close.
I had no issues with parallax anytime I’ve used it, but I did notice that the screen can sometimes get a little pixelated when I zoom too far in. That’s an easy fix by updating the firmware though.
It comes standard with a picatinny two piece ring set, an L shape ring, and a scope cover. It’s everything you need to get started.
The stock rings worked perfectly for me, and I didn’t feel the need to upgrade them.
You’re gonna want to pick up a bigger memory card though. I recommend a 64GB one.
- Ideal for Android Smartphones and Tablets, and MIL Cameras
- Capacities up to 512GB (1GB=1,000,000,000 bytes; Actual user storage less) to store even more hours of Full HD video (Approximations; Results and Full HD (1920x1080) video support may vary based on...
- Up to 100MB/s transfer read speed (Based on internal testing; Performance may be lower depending on host device, interface, usage conditions and other factors) lets you move up to 1000 photos in a...
If you’re in the market for a thermal scope, look no further. This is the perfect scope for night hunting, and particularly effective against coyotes.
- 1.25-5x mag
- One-shot Zero
- Thermal Scope
- Weather resistant
- 18+ hour battery life
- Hardened aluminium alloy
- Ballistic Laser Rangefinder
If you’re still not sure, they offer a three year warranty should anything go wrong with it. Don’t take my experience as the final word though, go check out the ATN ThOr 4 for yourself.
I hope you enjoyed my best thermal scope guide.
Now I want to turn it over to you:
Which thermal scope will you pick for your rifle?
Let me know by leaving a quick comment down below.