Where night visions fail, thermal scopes excel. That is because night vision would be a complete failure without boosters whereas thermal scopes rely on body temperature to help you spot prey.
So if you are planning to hunt in the dark, you simply cannot rely on night vision scopes alone.
And after testing 25 different thermal scopes over 8 months, I narrowed it down to the 5 best thermal scopes for the money. Whether you are a newbie or pro, there’s a thermal scope for everyone.
In case you do not want to spend time reading all the details and want to get a thermal scope right away, here’s a summary of our top 5 picks.
Table of Contents
Best Thermal Scopes
- Pulsar Thermion XP50 – Our Top Pick
- ATN ThOR 4
- theOpticGuru Thor LT – Best Thermal Scope on a Budget
- ATN Thermal Rifle Scope
- IR Defense IR Hunter Mark II
|• HD AMOLED Display gives high-res, crips images
• Range of up to 2500 yards
• 8x digital zoom
|ATN ThOR 4
|• Ballistic calculate makes aiming hassle-free
• 18+ hrs of battery life
• Weighs less than 2lbs
|• Easy to install and detach
• Weighs just 1.4 lbs
• 10+ hrs of battery life
|• Lightweight and durable
• 6x magnification
• 10+ hrs of battery life
|IR Defense IR
• 20x digital zoom
• Weighs just 840g
#1: Pulsar Thermion XP50
Got the big bucks to spend on your next scope? Then you are in for a treat. The Pulsar Thermion XP50 by ATN is a true professional’s choice and here’s why.
With state of the art technology that includes advanced thermal imaging sensors and germanium optics, this bad boy has a detection range of a whopping 2500 yards, much higher than most thermal scopes.
And that remains true even in darkness, fog, or rain. This is all thanks to the powerful sensitive sensor and HD AMOLED display that deliver the perfect amount of crispness, colors, contrast for a flawless, vivid display (it is like an eye of a hawk).
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also Pulsar’s proprietary image boost technology that further adds to the clarity by increasing sharpness and colors at the touch of a button.
You also have the freedom of choosing between different colors. For example, Red Hot, Rainbow, and Ultramarine give a more detailed hotspot which is perfect for crunch times during unclear weather whereas Violet, Red Monochrome, and Sepia reduce eye fatigue and are great for observation.
Similarly, you get to choose between different reticles as well (there’s something for everyone).
There’s also the 8x digital zoom that further makes taking distant shots a breeze. But you won’t always have to spend time adjusting the zoom. That is because of the picture in picture feature where you get a magnified image at the top of the original display.
Making changes to the reticles, zoom, colors take only seconds since all the adjustments are made via the ergonomically placed buttons and encoder.
Even starting the scope takes seconds which means you do not have to leave it on all the time, in turn, saving you some precious battery time.
And when you do run out of battery, it can be replaced in less than a minute as the batteries are located on the outside (because when it comes to hunting, every second counts).
It is also a very versatile unit and works with almost every gun and when you switch guns you won’t have to waste time adjusting the settings since you can store up to 5 5 zeroing profiles, with 10 distance coordinates.
To top it all, it is one of the few scopes to be IPX 7 rated. That means it is weather-protected allowing you to flawlessly hunt whether it is raining or snowing. You can even leave it submerged in 1-meter water for 30-minutes.
Furthermore, its metal construction means it can easily last you for 5-8+ years without any overhead expenses. Though this solid construction means it weighs more as well at 4.6 lbs.
Lastly, like any high-end scope, it doesn’t just record HD video but also streams them on to your mobile. In fact, with the stream vision app, your mobile also turns into a remote further adding to the ease of using the scope.
- HD AMOLED Display gives high-res, crips images
- Pulsar’s proprietory image boost technology improves visuals
- It has a range of up to 2500 yards
- Comes with multiple reticles and color options for easy aiming
- It has an 8x digital zoom
- Replacing the external battery takes seconds
- It can be submerged in 1m water for 30 minutes
- Metal construction makes it rock-solid
- Records and streams video in HD
- Allows you to store 5 zeroing profiles
- On the expensive side
- Weighs 4.6 lbs
#2: ATN ThOR 4
Don’t have a huge budget for a scope? No problem. You can get an easy to use and durable scope for less than $2000 as well and the ATN ThOr 4 proves just that. Here’s all about it.
The one thing I love most about ATN Scopes is the advanced ballistic calculator and rangefinder which makes hitting the bull’s eye each time a breeze.
Yes, with the ability to accurately calculate important factors like wind speed, direction, Angle to target, temperature, etc. thus giving you all the details needed to nail your shots even from hundreds of yards away.
You can even save multiple weapon profiles thus making switching scopes across weapons effortless (no more will you have to spend time re-configuring it every time you change guns).
Another thing that helps with that is the Ultra Sensitive Next Gen Sensor. Say goodbye to guesswork that comes with an unclear, slightly blurry display. Thanks to its better sensitivity, this baby gives crisp, sharp images whether it is dark, sunny, or the target is miles away.
And those amazing shots can also be recorded and streamed directly on your mobile. Recordings are Full-HD so you get sharp, colorful pictures. Streaming though only 720p is still pretty clear and clean.
Recording videos is fully automatic thanks to the RAV or Recoil Activated Video technology.
Even with all the heavy lifting, ATN ThOr 4 battery easily gives an excellent 18+ hours of runtime. And if that wasn’t enough, you can get 22+ hrs with an additional 20,000 mAH battery pack.
Mounting and detaching takes less than 60 seconds even if you are new to scopes (yes, it’s that damn easy) while it weighs less than 2lbs which is much lesser than some of the other high-end scopes on the market making it easy to carry around as well.
- Ballistic calculate makes aiming hassle-free
- Saves multiple weapon profiles
- Ultra-Sensitive Sensor provides crisp, clear visuals
- Quick mounting and detaching
- 18+ hrs of battery life
- Records and streams videos
- Video recording starts automatically
- Weighs less than 2lbs
- It can be used in the day and at night
- It is weather-resistant
- Costs above $1500
- Not as advanced as the Thermion
#3: theOpticGuru Thor LT (Best Thermal Scope on a Budget)
While heat detection systems of cheaper scopes fail in foggy weather or darkness, Thor by theOpticGuru excels. Equipped with a more advanced heat detector, it can also help you spot your target hiding in thick bushes.
The visuals are pretty crisp and clear and you do not experience any flickering or blackout upon firing.
Plus, the scope will last you for years. Constructed with a special hardened aluminum alloy, it can handle not just all the recoil over the years but also the bumps that come while hunting in the wild. Further solidifying its durability is its single tube build.
Even with that strong build, the Thor LT weighs a mere 1.4 lbs so carrying it either mounted on the weapon or even your backpack is a breeze.
Battery life isn’t as high as the ATN mentioned above but you still get a good 10+ hours of runtime.
It is also equipped with a one-shot zero feature. Though it doesn’t give you the freedom to save Zero settings for different weapons, adjusting it takes mere seconds.
Attaching and detaching is also easy but if you have any trouble, included in the package is a detailed manual with step by step instructions.
On the downsides, it is one of the most basic thermal scopes you will come across. In fact, it doesn’t have great magnification as well.
But you are particular about a magnifier, you can get the 320 x 240, 3-6x variant for less than $2000.
- Costs less than $1200
- Weighs just 1.4 lbs
- Easy to install and detach
- Comes with a one-shot zero feature
- The durable build makes it ideal for rough use
- Provides excellent images in any weather
- 10+ hrs of battery life
- Does not store zero settings
- The basic version has no magnifier
All in all, this is the best thermal scope for beginners. It is cheap, durable, easy to use, and comes with all the basic features needed to equalize some pigs, deers, or hogs.
#4: ATN Thermal Rifle Scope
If you are looking for a slightly cheaper ATN Scope, your search ends here. Costs almost $700 less than the ATN ThOr, this is a good pick for beginners. Here’s more about it.
One of the reasons ATN scopes are regarded so highly is because they are rock-solid and yet remain lightweight. That remains true for this thermal scope as well that weighs just 1.4 lbs.
And its aluminum, 30mm one tube build makes it recoil resistant and strong enough to take the beating that comes with hunting in the wild.
It is also equipped with the same ultra-sensitive sensor as the ATN ThOr so you will have no complaints about picture quality (rain, snow, fog, or vegetation, this will be your eyes through anything and everything in the wild).
Like the Thor by theOpticsGuru, this one also has a good runtime of 10+ hours except here you can boost it further by 16+ hrs with the help of a battery pack.
Attaching and detaching is quick and you can further take that up a notch with the ATN quick detach mount.
The one-shot zero feature makes sighting in the scope easier. Take the reticle back to the first point and impact and voila, you will be ready in an instant.
What I don’t like about this scope and the reason it is below the OpticsGuru Thor thermal scope is that the screen tends to blank out or hang in between shots.
Also, it doesn’t have the ballistic calculator and rangefinder that ATN Scopes are so well-known for.
- Lightweight and durable
- Resistant to recoils thanks to its one tube build
- Comes with 6x magnification
- 10+ hrs of battery life
- One-shot zero feature makes sighting easier
- Battery pack and detach mount cost extra
- Display flickers or hangs sometimes after a shot
- Does not have a ballistic calculator
#5: IR Defense IR Hunter Mark II
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You may be wondering why a $5000 thermal scope is worth the money, right? Well, it is a beast of a thermal scope and if it wasn’t for that huge price tag, it would be well on top.
Not only does it come with a 640×840 resolution but to further enhance the display, it is equipped with an OLED display which is hands down one of the best display types (something even experts at TechRadar agree with).
Another reason for this is the 60hz fast frame rate that ensures the display remains just as crisp and bright with moving targets.
Furthermore, it is armed with a germanium lens just as the Pulsar Thermal Range mentioned above that allows for better light transmission, in turn, ensuring the images are sharp and crisp.
The 20x digital zoom makes achieving the perfect level of zoom easy while further making aims accurate is the special inbuilt sighting system that boosts MOA accuracy.
I also loved the FFP Reticles. This means that as you zoom in and out the reticle size also changes preventing it from covering the entire display and becoming a hindrance.
Combine all of these features with the much-improved target recognition and missing your aim is more difficult.
The goal of the target recognition system is to give you even better image quality by automatically adjusting the gain and contrast and limiting it to the viewing area. This is particularly helpful when you are hunting in the day or during dense fog.
Durability gets a 5-star rating from me. From rain, fog, recoil from the 100s of shots to even you dropping the gun or those bumps that come with moving in the wild, it stands tall against it all and yet weighs 840g only.
But if you are still worried about investing that kind of money, you will be happy to know it is also backed by a 3-year warranty, essentially making it a risk-free purchase.
- It is weather-resistant
- One-tube metal build makes it resistant to recoil and bumps
- Target recognition system makes aiming easier
- FFP reticles zoom in and out with the magnifier
- 20x digital zoom
- Weighs just 840g
- Backed by a 3-year warranty
- 60 Hz refresh rate maintains image clarity with moving targets
- Germanium lens and OLED display give high-res visuals
- Costs around $5000-6000
- Suitable only for professional hunters
Things to Consider in a Thermal scope – Buying Guide
In case you are wondering how I rank the scopes, here are a few features that separate the best from the rest.
Simply put, magnification is a must when it comes to scopes as it allows you to get closer to the target and get a clearer view without having to compromise your position or get too close to the target.
Variable Digital magnification is hands down the best as it gives you more levels of zoom but it is only available with high-end models.
The images are your vision in the dark and the higher the resolution the better will be the image quality. Most high-end scopes have a resolution of 640 x 840 which in tandem with a germanium lens provides crisp and sharp images. Even 320 resolution is good but anything less means the range of your scope is going to be less.
You can either get an FFP reticle or an SFP Reticle. Now, this usually comes down to personal choice but I prefer FFP reticles since they zoom in and out with the magnifier which means they do not cover the entire viewing area upon magnifying to the highest level.
But again, scopes with FFP reticles cost higher so if you do not find a fixed reticle a hindrance you should easily get a thermal scope on the cheap.
If you are hunting deers you want your display to be crystal clear as your targets are fast-moving, right? This comes down to the refresh rate. 60 Hz is the highest offered in premium scopes. 50 Hz should work just fine as well. But with 30 Hz you risk blurred images, especially during quick transitions, and are more suited for hunting hogs.
You will be out hunting in the wild and there are no charging ports out there which means you are completely reliant on the battery life of your scope. Hunting scopes like the ATN ThOR or Pulsar Thermion XP50 give 18+ hours with ease
But cheaper ones drain in about 6-10 hours. In this case, we suggest you get additional battery packs but keep in mind, these will cost you as well.
The choice comes down to monochrome thermal scopes or colored thermal scopes. The benefit of monochrome scopes is they are easier on the eye and great for scoping whereas colored scopes provide a colored heatmap based on the temperature of the various parts.
I prefer colored scopes since they work better in fog and smoke. Some thermal scopes like the Pulsar Thermion XP50 give you the option of switching between both different modes.
I have said it once and I’ll say it again, where night visions fail, the best thermal scope excels and if you are a serious hunter or want to take it up seriously, investing in a thermal scope makes sense.
Yes, they cost higher but are worth every penny. And with this detailed buying guide, I am sure you will get the best bang for your buck as there is something for all budgets and needs.
In case you have questions about any of these scopes or other thermal scopes you are considering getting, our experts are at your service. Shoot them via the comments or the contact form.
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