Thermal imaging is highly advanced technology that allows a user to see objects based on the heat they produce. This cutting-edge technology has mainly been implemented by police and law enforcement, but is becoming more and more available to the average shooter.
In this article, we’ll look at the best thermal scopes for hunting and other uses and help you pick the one that is right for you.
- 1 In a Rush?
- 2 Thermal Scope Comparison
- 3 Top Thermal Scope Picks
- 3.1 Budget Handheld – FLIR Scout TK
- 3.2 Mid-Priced Thermal Scope/Camera – ATN ThOR
- 3.3 Mid-Price, High-Quality – Pulsar Core RXQ30V
- 3.4 Best Thermal Scope for Coyote Hunting – FLIR Thermosight RS64
- 3.5 High-Zoom Thermal Scope – ATN ThOR HD 640
- 3.6 Cell Phone Thermal Attachment – FLIR One
- 3.7 Thermal Reflex Sight – Sig Sauer Echo 1B
- 4 How To Bring the Heat – Picking a Thermal Scope
- 5 Summing It Up
In a Rush?
Looking for a quick answer to find the best thermal scope for hunting? Here are our quick picks for the three best thermal scopes to take away from this article.
Continue on below for full reviews and more models covered!
Mid-Price, Good Performance – Pulsar Core RXQ30V
This scope falls in the mid-price range of thermal scopes. For the price, it has very solid performance and a number of good features.
Best Thermal Scope for Coyote Hunting – FLIR Thermosight RS64
This scope sits at the high end of the price range, meant for the professional or dedicated shooter. It offers great clarity and is designed for hunting non-game animals such as coyotes and other varmints.
Budget Handheld Monocular – FLIR Scout T
If you’re on a budget and want thermal capabilities, consider that maybe you don’t need a fully featured rifle scope. This handheld monocular provides a lot of scouting capability at a much lower price than a rifle scope.
Thermal Scope Comparison
|Product Name||Magnification||Size & Weight||Price|
|FLIR Scout TK||1X||6 Ounces|
|ATN ThOR 4||1.25-5X||~2 Pounds|
|Pulsar Core RXQ30V||1.6-6.4X||1.1 Pounds|
|FLIR Thermosight RS64||2-16X||2.4 Pounds|
|ATN ThOR HD640||5-50X||2.75 Pounds|
|FLIR One||N/A||<2 Ounces|
|Sig Sauer Echo 1B||1-2X||<15 Ounces|
Top Thermal Scope Picks
Budget Handheld – FLIR Scout TK
In the woods, thermal imaging technology is welcome in a handheld package as well as attached to your rifle scope. If you want thermal scope technology, but don’t want to spend the money for a dedicated rifle scope (or if you want a complement to your thermal scope), a handheld model gives you a lot of functionality.
The FLIR Scout TK provides the ability to see animals or humans at distances over 100 yards. The unit fits easily in a pocket or light bag and is very lightweight at only 6 ounces.
The Scout TK has four simple, intuitive controls and requires no training for anybody to be able to use. It also features a durable shell enclosure, which is built to withstand the outdoors.
Additionally, the monocle is capable of recording still images and video. This makes it ideal for outdoor scouting as well as property security purposes.
Provided with the monocle is a USB charger to power the internal lithium ion battery. It has a battery life of around 5 hours, which is plenty for a short hunting outing or for security uses.
The Scout TK is a great option for somebody who needs affordable thermal scope technology without a dedicated rifle scope package.
Mid-Priced Thermal Scope/Camera – ATN ThOR
ATN is known for producing a wide range of “smart” scopes and optics. It’s no surprise that an ATN thermal scope would end up on this list.
The ThOR model makes our list of best thermal scopes because it combines features and utilities with a mid-ranged price point (relatively speaking, anyways).
ATN offers the ThOR in a range of power, from 1.25-5X to 7-28X. The options offered all fall in the typical range for hunting and sporting optics, so there are choices for all different uses.
Like many ATN smart optics, the ThOR offers exciting additional features: video and still picture capability, a built-in ballistic calculator, Wi-Fi streaming and more.
The built-in camera can record in 960p definition, as well as stream over Wi-Fi to a second device such as a cell phone or tablet. It also has ATN’s recoil-activated video mode, which senses the recoil of your firearm and records video seconds before and after the shot to make sure you capture it.
The Generation 4 ThOR series uses a new, next-generation sensor module as well as a dual-core processing unit. The combination provides clearer images and a smoother visual experience.
One advantage this scope has over some of its competitors is the extended battery life. By increasing the efficiency of the scope, ATN has extended the battery life to 18 hours of continuous use. An external battery pack is also available, which adds another 20+ hours of operation to those who need it.
For a thermal scope that is heavy on features and falls within the mid-range budget, the ATN ThOR is a strong contender.
Mid-Price, High-Quality – Pulsar Core RXQ30V
The last scope we looked at had a lot of good features for a competitive mid-ranged price. It took full advantage of its computer capabilities to offer many different functional tools.
The next scope we will look at is in a similar price range, that takes a slightly different approach. Instead of spending resources diversifying the amount of features, the Pulsar Core RXQ30V has decided to focus on doing fewer things, but doing them really well.
For a thermal riflescope, the Core is relatively compact – avoiding the tendency of thermal scopes to appear large and bulky.
As a thermal rifle scope, the Core focuses on a clear and highly usable visual interface. Even though it would be considered the entry-level offering from Pulsar, it still boasts the very impressive capability to detect a human-sized heat signature at a distance of over 900 meters!
The display uses a unique “emerald sapphire” color, which is easy on the eye, preventing eye fatigue during long periods of use. The scope also has a nice refresh rate of 50 Hz. A higher refresh rate provides a smoother experience when looking at moving objects, and helps prevent the headaches and dizziness that some scopes can cause.
Built to last, the Core features a glass-nylon composite housing, which will resist bumps, drops and other forms of shock impact well. It also has an IPX7 waterproof rating.
Although the scope is powered by two CR123 batteries, it also accepts external battery packs for simplified use. Internal vs. replaceable batteries is a personal preference for the user, but the CR123 batteries required are very small and light, making them easy to store and carry out in the field.
For calibration, the Core offers easy one-shot zeroing, as well as manual adjustment of windage and elevation. The user can select between three different reticles for the scope, including reticles with hash marks to assist in making holds for bullet drop and wind.
Featuring a quick-detach scope mount in an cantilever style, the scope can be quickly mounted or removed and easily fits on a semi-automatic tactical rifle or a traditional hunting rifle. The scope can store three different zeroes for different rifles, and the quick-detach mount allows you to lock the scope into the same point every time, meaning little or no re-zeroing needed once a particular rifle is locked in.
If you are looking for a great scope (like the best thermal scope for coyote hunting), but want an affordable thermal scope, the Pulsar Core is an option to look seriously at.
Best Thermal Scope for Coyote Hunting – FLIR Thermosight RS64
Designed for hunting non-game animals, the RS64 is the most adaptable of the ThermoSight product line.
The magnification range is larger even than most traditional hunting scopes: 2 power for close-range brush hunting, all the way up to 16 power for identifying distant targets.
The scope is optimized for clear pictures even at long range, with the ability to see clearly defined targets at distances beyond 350 yards. It has a relatively high resolution of 640X480, allowing you to see your targets in more detail than other scopes.
The scope also has a number of user-adjustable features and options. For instance, the interface can display in the following color schemes:
Additionally, the scope features three user-selectable reticles: Duplex, Fine Duplex and German-style. This flexibility allows users to select the reticle that matches their preference and shooting needs.
The RS64 is built for durability in field conditions. It holds a water resistance rating of 1 meter submersion for 30 minutes (IPX7 Standard) and an operating temperature range of 122 degrees Fahrenheit to -4 degrees Fahrenheit.
An incorporated shock reduction system protects the scope from shock and other sudden impacts. It is impact-rated for use on semi-automatic rifles up to .308 caliber.
At under 2.5 pounds, the RS64 is a very capable unit that does not add the significant weight associated with some other scopes. It is still heavier than most standard rifle optics, but light in the realm of thermal scopes.
If you’re looking for a professional-level scope that is the best thermal scope for hunting coyotes or other small game, the RS64 is a serious contender – if you can handle the cost.
High-Zoom Thermal Scope – ATN ThOR HD 640
Many thermal scopes for hunting stay on the low range of magnification, where most low-light hunting is done. This can make it difficult for shooters to find a thermal scope with a higher magnification.
The ATN ThOR HD 640 is one exception, offering a 5 to 50 power magnification. 50 power is higher than even many bench rest and target scopes go.
With much higher magnification, the scope is useful for shooting small targets such as pests and varmints.
The HD 640 has many standard features of ATN thermal scopes, including:
- Built-in rangefinder
- Ballistic calculator
- HD video recording and Wi-Fi streaming
- Recoil-activated video
At just 2 pounds, the HD 640 is among the lightest thermal scopes on the list. This is a strong consideration if you are trying to keep weight off of your rifle.
There is a line of accessories available for the HD 640 that enhance its capabilities. These include a precision laser rangefinder, external battery pack and external wireless remote.
The external accessories can expand the use of the scope, but it does represent an additional cost that should be considered.
Cell Phone Thermal Attachment – FLIR One
Thermal scope technology is useful for many people, but the specialized equipment and high cost can keep some users from getting into it.
For people who want to experience thermal view, but don’t want to put the money into it, there is another option. FLIR has developed a camera that attaches to your cell phone and allows rudimentary thermal scope capabilities at a low price.
The attachment plugs into your phone and uses a thermal scope overlaid on top of a regular camera for increased clarity. It is available in both Android and iOS models.
As far as power and capability, the FLIR One will not compete with a dedicated handheld unit or scope. Unfortunately, technology is not yet at the point where such a small, inexpensive unit can produce such clear results.
What the FLIR One does offer is limited thermal capability at a comparatively low barrier of entry. The FLIR One allows you to spot an animal nearby in your yard, or diagnose mechanical and electrical problems with heat signatures, without a more expensive unit.
Thermal Reflex Sight – Sig Sauer Echo 1B
Thermal sights are associated with significant weight and bulk to house the complex electronics inside. Of course, advanced optics used to be this way until technological advances brought them to more manageable sizes.
Sig Sauer may be the first major manufacturer to produce a small reflex sight with thermal imaging capabilities.
The Sig Sauer Echo 1 sight represents an advancement in thermal technology in a more compact package. The sight is meant to be used as a reflex-style sight, shot with both eyes open for quick aiming.
The size of the scope is comparable to a standard reflex red dot sight such as an Eotech or an aimpoint, making it perfect on a tactical semi-auto or bolt-action rifle.
1X magnification allows for fast, intuitive aiming that keeps both eyes aligned naturally. The scope also has 2X magnification for situations that need a little extra zoom.
Only a small section of Picatinny rail is required to attach the Echo 1B, so it will mount easily on most rifles or firearms that accept any other optics.
The scope takes a common CR123 battery that is small and easily replaceable.
How To Bring the Heat – Picking a Thermal Scope
Obviously, thermal optics can be pretty expensive for the average user. If you’re thinking about investing in one, you might have concerns about whether you are spending your money the right way.
Knowing a little bit about different scopes and their features will help you make an educated choice about the model that suits your needs best.
Cost is going to be a foremost consideration for many users. If you want the best in thermal optics, you should be prepared to spend several times more on a scope than you might on a rifle.
That’s not to say that you can’t be satisfied with a lower-cost thermal optic. However, you should understand that there are trade-offs with lower-cost optics and understand what you are sacrificing to stay within your budget.
For instance, you may not get the optical quality or magnification that you would like without increasing your budget. You may also consider a unit with fewer additional features, or even a handheld monocular with no rifle scope features, if you want the best quality on a strict budget.
Because thermal optics require complex electronics and pieces, they tend to be bulky and heavy. It might not sound like a big deal, but a 4-pound scope can make a rifle very cumbersome.
Weight tends to rise with lower-cost and increased features. Consider the trade-offs in this case.
There are several factors that affect the visual quality. Resolution refers to the number of pixels per inch, an essential limit on the picture clarity that can be produced.
A higher resolution means sharper images, particularly when zoomed in at higher ranges. This can improve your ability to identify animals and targets at distance or in densely concealed positions.
The refresh rate is another important consideration. Refresh rate is measured in hertz, the number of times per second the image is refreshed.
A higher refresh rate makes movement more fluid and easier to track. Low refresh rates can sometimes cause undesirable side effects such as eye strain, motion sickness and headaches. In some cases, investing in a higher-quality scope can alleviate or prevent these symptoms for shooters who use their optics for long periods of time.
Some thermal scopes have a variety of color palette options. These palettes can match different situations and are generally designed to provide quick recognition of targets.
Many night-time hunters like to record their hunts and shooting expeditions. Video can also be useful for animal eradication and professional security purposes.
Because many thermal scopes use digital technology, some of them (especially those made by ATN) offer digital video recording, or even streaming.
If the ability to record your shooting is important to you, make sure the scope you’re looking at has provisions for video recording. Not all scopes have camera capabilities built in, but many will at least offer a video output that can send video to an external device.
Because thermal scopes can contain sensitive electronic equipment, it’s important to get a scope that will hold up to the use you put it through. This is especially important for professional users and those who hunt in extreme conditions. On the other hand, a user might choose to skimp on some of these features for a plinker or gun that stays at the back door.
A scope that is rated for impact resistance will hold up better to heavy use, including drops and tumbles. Additionally, some scopes may be rated for higher calibers than others.
If you’re going to go hunting with shotgun slugs or a magnum caliber rifle, make sure the scope you use is rated for that kind of recoil! Otherwise you could end up beating your scope to death.
Waterproofing may be another factor to consider, depending on your environment. It probably won’t be a big deal in the desert, but anywhere with lakes, rivers or ponds presents a potential water hazard for your scope.
Summing It Up
A thermal scope gives the shooter or hunter many advantages. Although it’s emerging technology and can have a high barrier of entry, knowing a little bit about the technology and market choices can help you choose the best thermal scope.