Varmint hunting at night has become wildly popular, especially in areas where feral hogs proliferate, or coyotes put pressure on livestock. These animals are mostly nocturnal so staking them at night is usually much more successful. The problem is our eyes are not particularly suited to nighttime hunting. For the best results, most nighttime varmint hunting requires the use of night vision equipment.
Thermal imaging rifle scopes are some of the most popular choices for night varmint hunting. Thermal imaging has several advantages over traditional night vision systems. You will also find some disadvantages to thermal night vision as well.
Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of thermal night vision equipment is key in selecting the right thermal night vision equipment for your hunting needs. Before we delve into the thermal vision market and look at the best thermal night scopes, we need to discuss the pros and cons of night vision and what you should look for in a night vision scope.
How Does Thermal Imaging Work?
Unlike the more common image intensifiers, often called starlight scopes, thermal imaging doesn’t rely on light to transfer an image. Thermal imagers see differences in temperatures and electronically translate that information into displayed images that our eyes can see. Thermal imaging “sees” in the infrared range and not in the visible light range.
This technology provides the ability to “see” objects when our eyes perceive total darkness. Every object has a heat signature. Living objects tend to be warmer than their surroundings. Non-animate objects radiate infrared at different wavelengths. A Thermal imaging scope detects these variations in radiated infrared and converts them into colors our eyes can perceive on a screen.
What Are Some of the Advantages of Thermal Imaging?
Thermal imaging scopes have several distinct advantages over other kinds of night vision equipment. Among these advantages are:
- Thermal imaging scopes don’t depend on ambient light. A thermal imaging scope can detect the temperature difference in downrange objects in total darkness.
- Under most circumstances, thermal imaging scopes can see through smoke, fog, or dust when a traditional scope or a light intensifying scope can’t see.
- Better thermal scopes can detect and image objects through thin material such as leaves that may obscure or hide the object from a traditional or light intensifying scope.
- New thermal imaging scopes can be used during the daytime as well as nighttime
Are There Downsides to Thermal Imaging Scopes?
Almost everything has downsides, and thermal imaging scopes are no different. Before you purchase a night vision system, you should thoroughly understand the disadvantages of thermal imagining rifle scopes.
- The images you see using a thermal imaging scope differ from those in a traditional night vision scope. It takes some training and use to develop the skills to interpret and use a thermal imaging scope.
- Thermal imaging rifle scopes are more expensive than their light intensifying cousins.
- Because of the electronics and batteries required for thermal imaging, these types of rifle scopes tend to be bulkier and heavier than other night vision scopes.
- Some thermal imaging scopes require time to startup before they are ready to use.
- The images produced by thermal imaging scopes are often hard to interpret, especially at longer ranges. The images often appear as colored blobs with no distinguishable characteristics.
Thermal imaging scopes are popular among varmint hunters who work at ranges less than 125 yards. At these distances, object become much more recognizable. The major drawback of thermal imaging rifle scopes is the cost.
What Should I Look for in a Thermal Imaging Rifle Scope?
When we look at thermal imaging scopes, four categories are of interest. We use these things to judge thermal imaging rifle scopes for our use and our recommendations for the best thermal scopes.
Number one on our list of things to consider when choosing a thermal imaging scope is durability. Considering the cost of purchasing a thermal imagining scope, we want to ensure that the scope we choose will survive the types of hunting we expect to encounter.
At the very least, we look for a thermal scope that has these features
The quality of the manufacturing is the biggest factor in durability. Unfortunately, better manufacturing costs more money, driving up the price of the best thermal imaging rifle scopes
The higher the resolution of the small screen that displays the images to see is a key factor. More resolution means crisper images with more detail. More detail and sharper images translate into more accurate shooting and better photos and videos if you take advantage of this feature.
Some top-end thermal imaging scopes offer 4K resolution. This is certainly the way to go if you can afford the price. Just like anything else, the higher the resolution, the costliest the scopes tend to be.
Daytime Use Features
One of the great advantages of thermal imaging scopes is their ability to work during the day and night. If you select image intensifying equipment, you are relegated to only using the equipment after dark. Exposing image intensifying systems to sunlight can be catastrophic to electronics.
On the other hand, thermal imaging is unaffected by bright sunlight. It can operate just as effectively during the day as it does at night. The advantage of having a thermal imaging rifle scope that works under all light conditions is an important feature
Almost all thermal imaging scopes offer some degree of magnification. This is not your normal magnification using lenses like a traditional optical scope. The magnification on most thermal imaging scopes is done electronically in the display.
Typically, thermal imaging scopes offer a magnification range of 3X to 5X. Only the most expensive models of thermal imaging rifle scopes can produce magnifications higher than 5X or 6X.
Our Choices of the Best Thermal Imaging Rifle Scopes
Looking across the market, we have selected what we believe to be the best thermal imaging rifle scopes in several categories. We based these choices on our expectations and needs as rifle shooters and hunters. Your needs and expectations may be different. You should tailor your decisions to your situation.
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Best Overall Thermal Imaging Scope for Most Hunters – ATN Thor LT Thermal Rifle Scope
ATN has a huge footprint in the thermal imaging rifle scope market. The quality of their products is well established, and the ATN Thor LT is one of the most affordable thermal imaging rifle scopes that meets our standards. ATN advertises these scopes as being lightweight and affordable. In addition, ATN includes these features with each ATN Thor LT Rifle Scope.
- Advanced heat detection sensors work through the fog, smoke, heavy vegetation, and in total darkness
- A traditional scope style design doesn’t look out of place on your rifle
- All aluminum frame and body construction provides durable operation on even the largest caliber rifle
- Low power consumption provides up to 10 hours of operation on the internal lithium-ion battery
- Lightweight design lightens the load on you and your rifle
- ATN’s one-shot zero functions mean less time on the range and more accurate shooting.
The ATN Thor LT thermal Rifle Scope is a great choice for the average hunter who wants to get into the night varmint hunting game. The entry-level pricing is about as good as you will get for a thermal imaging scope with these features.
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Runner up Best Overall Thermal Imaging Scope for Most Hunters – Armasight Zeus 640 2-16x50mm
For some hunters, a few more features and better magnification may be important. If this is the case for you, we think the Armasight Zeus 640 thermal imaging rifle scope is a great buy. This scope is a bit pricier than the ATN Thor LT but delivers in areas where the Thot falls short.
Keeping the price under $2,000 for the level of workmanship and the features you get in this scope is astounding. Mounting an Armasight Zeus 640 thermal imagining scope on your rifle gets you features such as:
- A better 640×512 resolution screen
- 50 mm objective lens diameter for increased field of view
- 2X – 16X magnification is among the highest available in this price range
- Fully adjustable diopter lens to keep the images crisp and clear
- Weather-resistant housing made of aircraft aluminum
- A fully adjustable display allows you to adjust brightness, reticle patterns, colors, and adjust correct for environmental issues
- Wireless remote control to manage video input and output as well as video recording
- Nitrogen filled to prevent fogging
The list of options and features goes on. The Armasight 640 2-16×50 thermal imagining scope delivers exceptional performance from a proven manufacturer. It is more costly than the ATN Thor LT but is still under that $2,000 mark.
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The Ultimate Best Thermal Imaging Rifle Scope – Trijicon Electro-Optics REAP-IR Type 3
We must admit that the Trijicon Electro-optics REAP-IR Type 3 thermal imagining rifle scope is over the top and a budget-busting choice. Anytime you begin shopping thermal imaging scopes near the $10,000 mark, you are in the stratosphere of equipment.
However, if you want, or need, the finest thermal imaging scope available, you must consider the Trijicon equipment. Years of proven use by military combat personnel and law enforcement officers underlies the Trijicon brand name. Obviously, the Trijicon Electro-Optics REAP-IR thermal imagining scope is not a choice for everyone. Nonetheless, some shooters may need the same level of quality and dependability that the Trijicon equipment offers.
- 640 x 480 resolution offers 4 times the pixels of 320 scopes
- 12-micron pixel pitch compared to most systems featuring 17-micron pitch. It makes for a small footprint on your rifle.
- 60 Hz framerate as compared to most scopes featuring 30 Hz frame rates means smoother and better clarity on moving targets
- Improved digital controls for faster response from the scope
- This scope can be used with a remote external power supply through a standard USB-C port
- Meets MIL-STD-819G ensuring the highest quality of design and construction
We know that the Trijicon Electro-Optics REAP-IR thermal imagining rifle scope is not a choice many hunters can make. However, it makes our list as our choice of the ultimate thermal night imaging rifle scope. If your budget can stand the hit, we recommend the Trijicon Electro-Optics REAP-IR thermal imaging rifle scope
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Best Mid-Range Thermal Imaging Rifle Scope – AGM Global Vision Python Micro-Compact Thermal Imaging Rifle Scope
AGM builds some of the best imaging devices available. We selected the AGM Global Vision Python Micro-Compact thermal imaging rifle scope for several reasons. This thermal imaging rifle scope has the highest resolution level of any scope on our list. That alone makes the price difference almost negligible.
AGM also packs a list of features into these thermal imaging scopes, making them a more expensive option reasonable. Consider what you get with the AGM Global Vision Python Micro-Compact thermal imaging scope.
- A lightweight, compact design means a smaller footprint on your rifle and less weight to manage.
- Easy and intuitive controls
- High Resolution 1024 x 768 display means better images with crisper edges and more detail
- The aircraft-grade aluminum construction provides durability and dependability in the most extreme conditions.
- Fully waterproof, shockproof, and fog-resistant
- Uses two standard CR-123A batteries that are easily replaceable in the field
- Adaptable to an external power supply via a USB Micro port
Suppose you want a full featured thermal imagining rifle scope with the highest resolution possible without breaking the bank. In that case, the AGM Global Vision Python Micro-Compact thermal imaging scope is a great choice. You can spend much more money without getting the quality of construction and the clarity of images you will get with this rifle scope.
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Owning the Night – Thermal Imaging Scopes
Thermal imagining rifle scopes have opened a whole new paradigm for night hunters. No longer dependent on ambient light or IR illuminators, these devices truly let you own the night. The downside is the cost of this technology. Still, as time passes, we anticipate that the cost to put a thermal imagining scope on your rifle will come down. In the end, if you want, or need, thermal imagining, there are solutions to be found.