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Best Cheap Thermal Scope 2021: Top 8 Reviewed + Buying Guide

Looking for an affordable thermal imaging scope for your rifle? 

You’ve come to the right place.

In this in-depth buying guide, we compare and review the best thermal imaging scopes - with a focus on budget thermal scopes.


Who Needs a Thermal Scope?

thermal rifle scope

A thermal scope is a favorite tool for many hunters. 

Thermal scopes are useful for hunting in low visibility conditions and at night - including in complete black-out conditions, something a night vision scope cannot do.

Most thermal imaging scopes include a reticle system, so they not only do they help you spot prey - they also help your shots land on target.


Top 8 Thermal Scopes For Hunting

ATN ThOR HD 640
  • ATN ThOR HD 640

  • Thermal Sensor:
    640x480

  • Magnification:
    1-10x

  • Built-in Video Recording:
    Yes (with livestreaming)

  • Battery Life (no video recording):
    8hrs

  • Weight:
    1.7lbs

Pulsar Trail XP50
  • Pulsar Trail 2 LRF XP50

  • Thermal Sensor:
    640x480

  • Magnification:
    2-16x

  • Built-in Video Recording:
    Yes (with livestreaming)

  • Battery Life (no video recording):
    8hrs

  • Weight:
    1.7lbs

Trijicon TEO Reap-IRIRMS 35
  • Trijicon TEO Reap-IRIRMS-35

  • Thermal Sensor:
    640x480

  • Magnification:
    1-8x

  • Built-in Video Recording:
    No (DVR-compatible)

  • Battery Life (no video recording):
    4hrs

  • Weight:
    1.3lbs

Pulsar Trail XQ50 thermal scope
  • Pulsar Trail 2 LRF XQ50

  • Thermal Sensor:
    384x288

  • Magnification:
    3.5-14x

  • Built-in Video Recording:
    Yes (with livestreaming)

  • Battery Life (no video recording):
    8hrs

  • Weight:
    1.7lbs



ATN ThOR HD 384 thermal scope
  • ATN ThOR HD 384

  • Thermal Sensor:
    384x288

  • Magnification:
    1.25-5x

  • Built-in Video Recording:
    Yes (with livestreaming)

  • Battery Life (no video recording):
    8hrs

  • Weight:
    1.7lbs

ATN ThOR 4 thermal scope
  • ATN ThOR 4

  • Thermal Sensor:
    384x288

  • Magnification:
    1.25-5x

  • Built-in Video Recording:
    Yes (with livestreaming)

  • Battery Life (no video recording):
    18hrs

  • Weight:
    1.9lbs

thermal scope
  • ATN ThOR LT 160

  • Thermal Sensor:
    160 x 120

  • Magnification:
    3-6x

  • Built-in Video Recording:
    No

  • Battery Life (no video recording):
    10 hours

  • Weight:
    1.4lbs

thermal scope
  • ATN TICO LT

  • Thermal Sensor:
    160x120/320x240

  • Magnification:
    1-2x to 5-10x depending on model

  • Built-in Video Recording:
    No

  • Battery Life (no video recording):
    8+ hours

  • Weight:
    1.2lbs


Best Thermal Scopes 2021: Reviews

ATN ThOR HD 640, 1-10x

ATN is known for its high quality and advanced optics.

The ThOR HD 640 scope is one of their finest.

It provides excellent resolution, good range, and plenty of high-tech features - for an amazing low price.

Pros

  • Excellent image resolution.
  • Good range.
  • Easy to spot and target prey using the range finder and ballistic calculator.
  • Reliable.
  • HD video recording and Wi-Fi streaming.

Cons

  • Expensive.
  • No carry case.

Our Review

This popular ThOR HD 640 thermal scope by market leader ATN provides a ton of value for the money.  

Just look at the features you get:

640 x 480 thermal sensor: The sensor picks up minute temperature differences between different surfaces, allowing you to quickly and clearly spot animals even during the day. It can pick out heat signatures through brushes, grass, and light fog.

1x-10x magnification: ATN calls their optical mag system, smooth zoom. As you increase your magnification to a max of 10x, the imager maintains focus on the target, so you don’t need to zoom and re-focus. (Note: the Thor HD 640 is also available in 1.5-15x, 2.5-25x, and 5-50x versions.)

Long range detection: This scope can detect prey at up to 685 yards. You'll recognize it is an animal at about 300 yards and be able to identify exactly which animal it is at about 200 yards.

Beyond these basics, this ATN ThOR thermal scope does much more to help you take your shot.

Here are two of our favorite features to help you hone-in on your prey:

Rangefinder: Instead of carrying a separate rangefinder or, even worse, trying to guess the distance, use the built-in rangefinder. It’s faster and more convenient since you don’t have to switch between two pieces of equipment.

Ballistic Calculator: Once you establish range and enter wind readings, the built-in ballistic calculator automatically sets the reticle to the right spot to ensure a precise hit. The calculator shifts the reticle automatically as you move closer or further from your prey or change angles.

All of these calculations are powered by the Obsidian Core, the super-fast computer in the scope. The computer also powers the integrated video recording capability. 

If you want to review your shots later or share them with friends, you can record HD video and store it on the included SD card.

You can also stream live footage via your smartphone or tablet. You’ll need to download the ATN Obsidian app for iOS or Android to do that.

Other notable features of this ATN thermal scope include:

  • Day/Night mode built-in E-barometer (feeds humidity data to ballistic calculator), gyroscope (stabilizes image), E-compass (provides direction), and GPS (for geotagging and altitude data).
  • Recoil Activated Video (RAV). When you turn on RAV, the built-in recorder will automatically record video when it senses a recoil. The video will include the moment before the shot, during the shot, and after. You can customize the video length pre and post recoil.
  • Rifle profiles. If you plan to use the scope on different weapons, you can set a profile for each. This eliminates tedious to set up when you switch the scope to another rifle.

The only issue is the price.  While it does represent enormous value (which is why we put it on this list), is one of the most expensive thermal scopes, especially if you choose the higher magnification versions.

But we think it’s worth it.

The ThOR HD 640 thermal scope provides a level of reliability, performance, and user-friendliness that matches the price tag.

But for the price, I wish they’d included a hard carrying case. The last thing you want is to drop your expensive new scope.


Pulsar Trail XP50 thermal scope

Pros

  • Excellent imaging quality and resolution.
  • Long detection range.
  • Image and video recording.
  • WiFi connectivity for livestreaming on app.
  • Long battery life.
  • IPX7 waterproof.
  • Carrying case.

Cons

  • Pricey.


This is another good option for hunters and outdoor enthusiasts looking for a premium thermal scope with video recording at a great price.

The Pulsar Trail 2 XP50 uses the same powerful 640x480 sensor as the ATN ThOR HD. It delivers a high resolution, incredibly detailed thermal image.

Here are the important basics you need to know about the XP50.

640x480 thermal sensor: The sensor makes it easy to pick out animals amidst the bushes and trees. It picks up the animal’s heat signature perfectly in the dark without requiring any light, unlike a night vision scope. It’s also handy for spotting hidden animals during the day.

<40 mK NETD: The Trail 2 XP50 has a NETD of under 40 mK. NETD refers to thermal sensitivity or the ability of a thermal camera to distinguish between small temperature differences. The lower it is, the more contrast you get in an image, making it easier to identify your target. XP50's <40 mK NETD is one of the lowest among thermal scopes. It is especially useful for identifying targets in cold, foggy, rainy or snowy weather where it's harder for animals to stand out. 

2-16x magnification: It’s up to you how close you want to get to your target without actually getting physically closer to it. Just take advantage of the Trail 2 XP50's 8X smooth digital zoom to get an up close view.

50 Hz refresh rate: The high refresh rate keeps thermal images smooth and fluid when you are on the move or following a moving target. The fluid image not only makes it easier to track moving animals, it's also easier on your eyes. It prevents fatigue. 

Long detection range: The XP50 has a 1,970-yard detection range. Of course, you cannot tell exactly what you are looking at. The actual identification range is less than 2,000 yards.

Like the ATN scope, the Pulsar Trail XP50 has several features that help you target and hit prey. Here are our favorites.

Laser Rangefinder: Makes it easy to determine the yardage to your target, eliminating guesswork and the need to carry a separate rangefinder.

10 reticle options: You can select from 13 eticle shapes. Some hunters prefer a simple dot, others a cross, and some a traditional crosshair. Choose the one you find the easiest to work with.

Picture-in-Picture (PiP) mode: This is one of our favorite features. With PiP activated, the display will magnify the reticle area in a small window at the top. This gives you a close-up view of your target, which improves shot accuracy.

Another feature we love is the built-in video recording. You’ll find it handy if you create content for your followers or want to share your adventures with friends and family.

You can even live-stream video via a companion mobile app on your smartphone or tablet thanks to the XP50's WiFi capability.

The XP50 comes with 16GB of internal memory to store videos and images. You can then download them to your phone or computer later. 

Other notable features of the XP50 include:

  • The rechargeable battery pack lasts 8 hours. That’s a whole night of hunting. Note that this is with video off. If you are recording, the battery life will be shorter. You can connect an external battery pack for longer battery life.
  • The IPX7 waterproof design.
  • 2” eye relief.
  • Frost-resistant AMOLED display.
  • One-shot zeroing with freeze function. You can set up 5 zeroing profiles for different rifles. This makes it easy to switch weapons without having to re-zero.

As for concerns, our main one is the price tag.

But considering the quality of the image and the kind of features you are getting, I think the Pulsar Trail XP50's price is a steal.


Trijicon TEO Reap-IRIRMS-35 thermal scope

Pros

  • Excellent imaging performance.
  • Lightweight and compact.
  • Carry case.
  • Intuitive joystick control.
  • Military-grade build quality – hardy, durable, and weatherproof.

Cons

  • Very expensive.
  • No video recorder.
  • Short battery life.


The Reap IR series of small, lightweight rifle scopes offer professional-grade performance for a wide range of conditions.

This scope is designed for pro hunters who want the best in accuracy, speed, and visibility. It is also more expensive than most of the other thermal scopes on our short list.

The IRMS-35 is one of the least expensive scopes in the series - it offers the following features.

  • 8x magnification (with 2.5x optical magnification): You can get a closeup view of your target without having to get too near where you might scare it away.
  • 35mm lens: The higher focal length delivers a clearer image even as you increase magnification. It performs much better than the standard 19mm lenses.
  • 60Hz frame rate: This is higher than the usual 50Hz refresh rate you get on cheaper scopes. It allows hunters to detect motion and react to it accurately. Note that if you select the power saving mode, the refresh rate drops to 30Hz.

As you would expect from a scope of this price, it performs exceedingly well on the ground.

Many hunters like the scope’s lightweight design, which makes hunting easier and increases shooting accuracy. They also say the resolution is really good even at long distances or when observing smaller animals.

A lot of praise also goes to the intuitive thumb-stick control. Instead of fiddling with multiple buttons like in most thermal scopes, you simply turn the multi-directional joystick to adjust various settings.

This allows you to change settings and select options on the fly without having to take your eye off the target.

Here are other notable features of the Reap-IR thermal scope.

  • Easy Zero method: A new system to make it easier to sight your target and get off a precise shot.
  • Picatinny rail: Useful when you need to mount additional accessories.
  • Multiple reticles: You can choose from five reticles depending on your personal preferences and the level of accuracy you want.
  • Edge detect: This mode dims image brightness and outlines the edges of the target to make viewing easier on your eyes. It’s easy to spot targets without getting blinded.
  • Rangefinder: A built-in stadiametric rangefinder calculates the distance to your target. No need to carry a separate rangefinder.

As you can see, there are many great features to justify the scope’s price. But there are a few things we don’t like.

There is no internal video recorder, no automatic shutter, and no color palettes (only black and white).

The battery life is a bit disappointing, too. Each CR123 battery provides 2 hours of yielding a total of 4 hours from two batteries. That’s about half the life of some cheaper scopes that use higher-capacity lithium-ion battery packs.

What you are paying for here is imaging quality, which is one of the highest you can get in a thermal scope.

Oh, and build quality is also excellent. This scope is built like a tank. It’s made with aircraft-grade aluminum and can survive water submersion up to 1m.


Pulsar Trail XQ50

Pros

  • Good value for money.
  • Good imaging performance.
  • Integrated video recorder with the option to live stream.
  • Lightweight.
  • Long battery life.

Cons

  • Resolution is not as high as in pricier scopes. The image is less clear, especially at longer distances.


The Trail 2 XP50 reviewed above is a member of the XP series, Pulsar’s line of premium thermal scopes. 

The XQ is their budget suite of scopes that include the Trail 2 XQ50 and the now discontinued XQ38. 

The XQ50 is one of the best thermal scopes you can buy for under $5,000. It is ideal for beginners and anyone looking for a low budget thermal scope with good imaging performance,

Here are the main features of the Pulsar Trail XQ50.

  • 384x288 thermal sensor: The XQ series scopes have a lower resolution sensor compared to the XP series. The image is less clear and sharp, but still good enough for most people’s needs. Combined with the 50Hz refresh rate, you get pretty good views.
  • <40 mK NETD: To complement the scope's resolution, the XQ50 uses a sensor with low NETD, which means it's able to discern tiny temperature differences. This produces high-contrast thermal images that are particularly useful in cold, foggy, rainy or snowy weather. 
  • 1969-yard detection range: This is quite good for a scope of this price. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can take an accurate shot at this range. To identify what animal it is and center your shot accurately, you need to get much closer.
  • 3.5-14x magnification: 3.5x optical zoom plus smooth 4X digital zoom lets you get close-up views of your target without getting too close.
  • 8 hours battery life: You can get a full night of hunting from the Li-Ion battery pack thanks to its 8 hours of battery life. You can recharge the battery using the included micro-USB jack. If you are going to be away from civilization for a while, you can charge it from a power bank or solar generator.
  • IPX7 weather ratingThe XQ50 is completely waterproof. You can use it in heavy rainfall or snow without any damage.

The Trail XQ50 also includes several features to help you target your prey.

  • PiP (picture in picture) display: When you activate PiP, the scope displays a magnified image in a small window within the main display. This enhances your view of the reticle area and improves shot accuracy.
  • Stadiametric Rangefinder: The built-in rangefinder saves you the trouble and inconvenience of carrying a separate rangefinder. It provides accurate distances to your targets.
  • Built-in accelerometer: The accelerometer automatically measures angles and tracks your rifle angle adjustments. You can set the scope to shut down automatically when the accelerometer detects that the rifle is in a non-shooting angle.

The Pulsar Trail XQ50 also comes with wireless remote control, a radiator panel to prevent heat build-up, and 13 digital reticles to choose from.

It also has an internal video recorder. The 16GB internal memory stores plenty of images and video that you can download to your computer. 

If you share content on social media or YouTube, you can stream live footage via your smartphone or tablet using the Stream Vision app.

Overall, the XQ50 offers a lot for its price. There are many cool features to play around with, and the performance is up to par for most hunters.


ATN ThOR HD 384

Pros

  • Good value for money.
  • User-friendly interface.
  • Video recording and live streaming.
  • Ballistic calculator and built-in range finder for accurate shots.

Cons

  • Limited range and resolution.


The ATN ThOR 384 is a lower-spec and lower-priced alternative to the ATN ThOR HD 640 and is probably the best overall value on our list.

The ATN ThOR HD 384 is an entry-level thermal scope, so don’t expect the same performance as a $4,000+ model.

But it offers surprisingly good imaging and plenty of cool features to enhance your hunting experience.

Here are the basics:

  • 384 x 288 thermal sensor with a 19mm lens: The smaller lens and lower-resolution thermal sensor mean you can only pick out targets within a relatively short range – roughly 100 yards. You can still see objects beyond that distance, but the image will be grainy and less defined.
  • 1.25-5x magnification: You can get a closer view of your target using the scope’s smooth zoom feature. If you don’t think 5x magnification is enough, the ThOR HD 384 also comes in 2-8x, 4.5-18x, and 9-36x magnification options. Just note that higher magnification greatly affects image quality.
  • 683 yard detection range: You can detect a human-sized object from pretty far. But to identify what it is, you’ll need to be 200 yards or closer. For smaller animals, the identification range is less than 100 yards.

Given its lower specs, you are limited in what you can achieve with the ThOR HD 384 when hunting. But the scope has several helpful features that mitigate the reduced range and resolution, improving performance and accuracy:

  • Ballistic calculator: This is an internal computer that calculates bullet trajectory, ensuring shot accuracy every single time.
  • Range finder: A built-in smart range finder makes it easy to tell how far the target is. It’s easier to use and more convenient compared to having a separate range finder.
  • E-barometer, Gyroscope, Compass, and GPS: All these help you to hone in on your target and take an accurate shot.

If you love sharing your adventures with family and friends or you’d like to relive them later, the ThOR HD 384 has a built-in HD video recorder.

If you are afraid you might forget to hit record when you are about to take a shot, then you can activate the included RAV (recoil activated video) feature. The recorder will automatically store everything before, during, and after a shot. You can adjust the pre and post-shot recording periods (e.g., the 30s before and 30s after for a 1min video).

Videos are stored in the included 4GB SD card. If you need more storage, you can expand storage to 64GB with a higher capacity SD card.

By the way, you can also stream live video on YouTube and social media using the ATN Obsidian app on your phone.

Here are some other notable features of the ThOR HD 384 thermal scope:

  • 3 years warranty.
  • Multiple reticles and palette options.
  • Water and fog-resistant.
  • 2.5” eye relief.

Note: this scope doesn’t come with a Li-ion battery pack, only non-rechargeable AA batteries. We highly recommend buying the optional 20,000 mAh battery pack with a 22hr battery life.

Overall, the ThOR HD 384 is a great choice for beginners looking for an affordable thermal scope with decent performance.


ATN ThOR 4

Pros

  • Excellent value for money.
  • Accurate shots thanks to smart range finder, ballistic calculator, and one-shot zero.
  • Video recording and streaming.
  • 18-hour battery life + USB-C recharging.
  • Recoil-activated video capture.

Cons

  • Slightly heavier than other scopes.
  • Limited range.


Looking for an outstanding, high-featured budget thermal scope?

We recommend the ATN ThOR 4 with its 384x288 thermal sensor, built-in range finder and video recording with WiFi streaming.

This unit packs in a lot of features for a scope that costs half the price of the most popular thermal scopes.

The most impressive feature is its battery life. With most thermal imaging scopes, you typically get 3-4 hours of battery life - or 8 hours for scopes that use a Li-ion battery pack.

But 18 hours...?

The ATN ThOR 4 is the only thermal scope we know of that has an 18-hour battery life. No other model comes close.

ATN achieved the extra long lige using low-profile Li-ion batteries. Basically, they’ve been able to pack more batteries in the scope which has increased the scope’s weight by a bit, but it still feels light.

So if you hunt for hours or over several nights and you don’t want to buy an external battery pack, this is the best thermal scope.

When the battery dies, you can quickly recharge it at base camp using the USB-C connector - from a power bank, solar generator, or wall plug.

If you want a better-resolution sensor, then buy the 640x480 ThOR 4 scope. It also boasts over 16 hours of battery life. 

Enough about the battery life.

Here’s what you get in terms of optics and thermal imaging:

  • 384x288 thermal sensor: The ThOR 4 uses an ultra-sensitive Next Gen sensor to deliver sharp and vibrant images even with the lower resolution sensor.
  • 1.25-5x magnification: The smooth zoom feature lets you get closer to your targets without scaring them off. Instead of a zoom button, the ThOR 4 scope has a zooming wheel that is easier to use.
  • 750 yards detection range: You can detect a large animal from over 700 yards away and make a positive identification from around 200 yards away.

The scope is easy to mount on your rifle though it doesn’t come with a quick detach option. Instead, you get standard 30mm rings.

But you can buy a quick detach mount separately if you need to move the scope between rifles quickly.

The long 3.5” eye relief makes for comfortable viewing even for glasses wearers.

When it comes to target prey and taking a shot, the ThOR 4 includes a few features to ensure it’s an accurate shot:

  • Ballistic calculator: Enter your rifle information and a few details about your current environment, and the internal Ballistic calculator determines the exact bullet trajectory.
  • Built-in rangefinder: Provides an easy and convenient way to determine distances to your targets. No need to carry a separate range finder.
  • One-Shot Zero: It takes just a single shot to sight your scope. If you have multiple rifles, you can set adjust the reticle to the right position for each rifle and save the profile. This allows you to move the scope between rifles without losing zero.

Like other ATN thermal scopes, ThOR 4 includes video recording as well as live WiFi streaming. It comes with a 64GB SD card to store the HD video.

With the new Obsidian 4 dual-core processor, ATN has added a neat video feature called Dual Stream Video.

Using Dual-Stream, you can stream live HD video on your phone or tablet while simultaneously recording it on the SD card. You don’t have to choose between the two.

Overall, the ATN ThOR thermal scope is an incredibly good value. You won’t find another thermal scope at this price with the kind of features and performance it offers.

Read Our In-Depth Review


ATN Thor LT Thermal Rifle Scope w 10+hrs Battery

The ATN ThOR LT 160 is the best thermal scope if you are trying to shoehorn a thermal scope into a very small budget. 

It doesn't have the specs and optical performance of ATN’s pricier scopes, but it’s plenty good enough for most big-game hunters. 

Pros

  • Low price.
  • Long battery life.
  • Crisp HD display.
  • Easy zeroing with One Shot Zero feature.
  • Lightweight yet sturdy and recoil resistant. 

Cons

  • Limited resolution and detection range.
  • Only two palettes - white hot and black hot.
  • No rangefinder, video recording or ballistics.

Our Review

The ThOR LT series is a cheaper alternative to the ThOR HD and ThOR 4 series thermal scopes.

The LT series strips down all the bells and whistles found in pricier scopes, leaving only the essential basics. 

If you need an affordable thermal scope that helps you spot animals at night without the fine level of detail required to determine sex or other features of your prey, get the ThOR LT. 

We’ve picked the cheapest model in the series - the LT 160 3-6X - as our best budget pick.

The 160 x 120 thermal resolution is certainly not the best, but it works surprisingly well when hunting in close range. 

The LT 160 has a detection range of 519 yards. It doesn't see as far out as other ThOR scopes, but you should be able to spot a hog or a stray cow from a fair distance.

For smaller animals and to fully identify what you are seeing, the LT 160 has a useful range of about 200 yards. 

If you like getting close to your targets, or often hunt in thick wooded areas where a long range scope wouldn’t be helpful anyway, then the THOR LT 160 will serve you well.  

The relatively low resolution of the LT 160 means thermal images are not as clear and detailed as those from higher resolution scopes. But they are not bad, especially when tracking an animal at close range. And the crisp HD display greatly improves image quality. 

If you want better image quality and a longer range, get the ThOR LT 320. The 320 x 240 sensor provides a detection range of almost 800 yards. 

As for magnification, the ThOR LT 160 is available in two options: 3-6x and 4-8x.

One advantage of the bare bones design of the ATN ThOR LT is that it’s lighter than most other thermal scopes. It weighs just 1.4lbs. This not only improves portability, it also makes the LT 160 suitable for a wide range of rifles and crossbows. 

Despite its lower price tag, the ThOR LT has the same solid build as other ThOR scopes. It has a lightweight yet sturdy aluminium alloy body that can withstand recoil from most rifles. The ThOR LT is also weather resistant. 

Another feature we love is the long battery life. At 10 hours, the LT 160 lasts longer than some expensive scopes. 

As expected, the ThOR LT has many missing features including video recording, multiple rifle profiles, ballistics calculator, laser rangefinder, WiFi connectivity and others. You also don't get any color palettes; just black hot and white hot.  

But we still think it’s a good bargain, especially for amateur hunters. 


ATN Tico LT Thermal Clip-On

A thermal clip-on scope is a convenient choice if you prefer using your dayscope most of the time.

Instead of swapping your standard scope for a thermal scope every time you need to see in the dark, fog, smoke or some other obstacle, you simply clip the thermal scope onto the day scope. 

The ATN TICO LT is one of the best clip-on thermal scopes sold today. It clips onto the front of your riflescope in seconds and delivers high quality thermal images on its crisp HD display. 

Pros

  • Easy to clip onto a dayscope.
  • Lightweight.
  • Long battery life.
  • Multiple magnification and resolution options.
  • Weather resistant. 

Cons

  • You may need to buy an adaptor depending on the
  • size of your scope.
  • Limited palettes.
  • No video recording.

Our Review

The ATN TICO LT is available in two resolution options: 160 x 120 and 320 x 240.

The 160 sensor is cheaper but it doesn't give you the same level of image detail as the 320 option. But if you often hunt in close range, the TICO LT 160’s 520-yard detection range is good enough. 

If you want a longer range, the TICO LT 160 is also available in a 25mm lens that has a longer detection range (683 yards) compared to the standard 19mm lens.  

Upgrading to the 320 x 240 pixel sensor gives you better image quality, improved contrast in difficult conditions such as fog and rain, and a longer detection range. 

The TICO LT 320 is available in three lens sizes: 25mm with a 1,000-yard detection range, 35mm with a 1,650-yard detection range, and 5mm with an 1,860-yard detection range. 

Importantly, all TICO LT clip-on scopes have a 60 Hz refresh rate, ensuring fluid images when tracking a moving target. 

The scopes are made from aluminium, so they are lightweight. At 1.2lbs, the scope doesn't add much weight to your rifle. 

Setting up the clip-on scope is easy. It comes with an adapter that fits 45.5 to 50mm riflescopes. You can also buy adapters for 51.6-59mm and 60-65mm scopes. 

You don't need to zero the thermal scope. Once you align it to your dayscope reticle, it’s good to go. 

Images look great on the 1280 x 960 HD microdisplay. Unfortunately, you can only switch between white hot and black hot color modes. There are no color palettes. Also, there’s no option to record images or videos. 

As for power, the TICO LT clip-on runs on a lithium ion battery that lasts more than 8 hours. 


Popular Thermal Scope Attachments and Accessories

Thermal Scope Attachments and Accessories

Whether you are looking to get more functionality out of your thermal scope or add more battery power, there is a wide range of attachments and accessories to choose from.

Here are the most popular types of accessories to consider:

External battery pack: The batteries included with most thermal scopes last 4-8 hours. A battery pack can provide up to 22 hours of continuous use. Get a couple of extras if you plan to be hunting for several nights or you risk being away from base camp overnight.

Quick detach mount: If your thermal scope uses a ring and nuts to secure to the rifle, replacing that with a quick detach mount makes it easier to attach and detach the scope without losing zero. This is especially good to have if you plan to use the scope with multiple rifles.

Laser range finder: You’ll need this if your scope doesn’t have a built-in range finder, or you want to get a more powerful one. If you have an ATN thermal scope, definitely get the ATN ABL Laser Range Finder. It connects to the scope via Bluetooth and feeds distance data to the ballistic calculator. 

DVR In/Out: Most thermal scopes have built-in video recording. If yours doesn’t offer this capability, it most likely has a video out port to connect an external digital video recorder.


How Thermal Scopes Work

Thermal Scopes Working

Thermal scopes are essentially thermal imagers with extra components such as an aiming reticle and range finder added to help you target prey.

Thermal scopes are part of the night vision category of products that also includes image intensifier night vision goggles and digital night vision.

While night vision goggles are active, meaning they send out supplemental infrared light to improve visibility, thermal scopes are passive.

They work by collecting the heat energy given off by objects and animals and translate it into thermal images.

A thermal scope has an objective lens that captures infrared light. Sensors scan the light and send a signal to a microprocessor.

The microprocessor assigns different colors to different heat levels depending on the palette you are using.

A basic palette might only use black and white to translate what the scope is seeing. The hottest object – likely an animal – will show up in black or white.

Other palettes combine multiple color gradients.

A thermal scope repeats this process many times per second – 30 times for some, 50-60 times for others – to give you a live view. For example, you can see an animal moving.

Thermal scopes also have a reticle assembly that displays crosshairs (or other types of reticles) to help you take an accurate shot.


Purchase Considerations

thermal imaging scope

Here’s what to consider when you are shopping for a thermal scope.

1. Price 

Thermal scopes are generally more expensive than night vision goggles. While you can get night vision goggles for under $500, thermal scopes start at $1,000-$2,000.

These are entry-level scopes with lower resolution, limited range, and fewer high-tech features.

Between $2,500 and $5,000, you can get a professional-grade thermal scope with high resolution, a long detection, and lots of cool features like a built-in video recorder and range finder.

High-end thermal scopes start at around $5,000 and can top $10,000. These have very good imaging performance thanks to a high resolution and refresh rate.

How much you’ll spend on a thermal scope depends on your budget and your needs. If you are just starting out or don’t do much hunting, a basic low-cost thermal scope will do.

If, on the other hand, you are an avid hunter, a more capable and expensive scope will provide more accuracy and precision.

2. Sensor Resolution

When it comes to imaging performance, the resolution of the thermal sensor is the most important factor.

A higher resolution means the sensor has more pixels, which allows it to capture more infrared light. This results in a higher quality thermal image.

Also, a higher resolution sensor can ‘see’ further and detect small animals from a longer distance.

The two most common resolutions are 384x288 and 640x480.

Entry-level thermal scopes have a resolution of 384x288 or thereabouts. They are ideal for short-range hunting, especially if your targets are large animals.

The image quality is decent at a closer range, and as long as you don’t magnify it too much.

More expensive scopes have a 640x480 resolution. The resulting image is sharper, has better contrast, and shows clear thermal images of detected prey.

You can magnify the image without adding too much noise and distortion.

3. Refresh Rate 

You’ll probably hear more about image resolution than the image refresh rate when you are shopping for a thermal scope.

But the refresh rate is also important. It refers to the number of images the thermal camera takes in a second.

At the low end, it’s 30Hz or 30 frames per second. The image won’t be very smooth if the animal is moving or you are moving the rifle. You may also not be able to pick up on an animal’s movement as quickly, which can mess your shot.

The best refresh rate is 50Hz or 60Hz. At this rate, the camera easily keeps up with the animal’s or rifle’s movement.

4. Magnification 

Magnification allows you to get a close-up view of your target without having to get physically close.

The best magnification depends on the kind of hunting you do and the scope’s capability.

If you typically hunt from a distance, higher magnification will be more helpful.

But if you are planning to get a lower-resolution scope, getting one with a max magnification of more than 8x may not be so helpful as the image will be too grainy.

Scope magnification is usually listed as a range. For example, 1.6x – 8x.

This includes both the base (optical) magnification and the digital zoom. Some scopes provide two base magnification options, while others have just one.

As for digital zoom, you select it in steps, as in, 1x, 2x, 4x, and so on.

Increasing digital zoom reduces image resolution and quality.

5. Built-in Range Finder 

Having a scope with a built-in range finder saves you the trouble of carrying a separate range finder.

A built-in range finder is also more convenient to use since you don’t have to keep switching between the scope and a separate range finder.

6. Video Recording and Live-streaming 

This is a nice-to-have feature that’s great if you’d like to view your hunting videos later or share them with friends and family.

Make sure the scope has recoil or shot activated video. It ensures that you don’t forget to record your most important moments. The recorder will automatically store a record of the moment before, during, and after a shot.

Also, check how much storage the scope provides. Most use a removable SD card to make it easy to transfer the videos to a computer.

Most thermal scopes with video recording also offer live streaming via a smartphone or tablet app. This is great if you’d like to share your adventures on YouTube or social media.

If the scope you want doesn’t have video recording, make sure that it has a video out port. This allows you to connect an external DVR to record video.

7. Battery Life 

Most thermal scopes come with a Li-ion battery pack that lasts for about 8 hours. That’s enough battery life for a full night of hunting. You can then recharge the battery during the day and do some more hunting at night.

Talking of recharging, a scope with a USB-rechargeable battery, will be super convenient when you are outdoors. You can recharge it from a power bank or solar generator.

Some scopes offer s 3-4 hours of battery life. These are ideal if you only hunt for short periods.

If 8 hours of battery life is not enough for you, you can always get an external battery pack that offers up to 22 hours of continuous use.

8. Reticle 

The reticle helps you focus on your target and take an accurate shot. Here’s what to look for when it comes to reticles.

  • Multiple reticle shapes, including crosshairs, dot, dotted cross, and so on. Most scopes offer around 6 reticles to choose from as well as the option of having no reticle at all.
  • Multiple reticle colors. This lets you improve reticle visibility in different environments.

Other Features To Consider

Thermal scope features

Here are other features to consider.

Palette options: A black and white thermal sensor is more limiting compared to one with additional colored palettes that you can use in different environments. But some hunters find a black and white scope (white-hot or black-hot palette) to be adequate.

Rifle profiles: This lets you save a profile unique to each rifle. Ideal if you plan to use the scope with multiple rifles.

Easy zeroing: An easy to use zeroing feature makes it easy and quick to sight your scope for accurate shots.

Protection rating: Make sure the scope is waterproof and also well protected from dust.

Lightweight: If you don’t want your rifle to get too hefty – especially if you’ll be doing quite a bit of hiking with it –look for a lightweight rifle that weighs less than 2lbs.

PiP display: Picture-in-picture display is a handy feature that magnifies the reticle area in a small window within the display. It improves shot accuracy.


Top Thermal Scope Brands

FLIR

FLIR

FLIR has been designing and manufacturing thermal imagers for decades.

It is the largest thermal imaging company in the world with a significant part of its growth has come from acquisitions of companies like Agema, Inframetrics, and Armasight.

FLIR thermal scopes are generally pricier than other brands, but they are reliable and offer excellent imaging performance on the ground.

American Technologies Network (ATN)

American Technologies Network (ATN)

ATN Thermal scopes are some of our most favorite. They are affordable but offer tons of great features and good performance.

Like FLIR, ATN has been around for several decades and has gained a lot of experience manufacturing night vision and thermal imaging products.

Pulsar

Pulsar

Pulsar is a brand of Yukon Advanced Optics, a decades-old manufacturer of various optical devices including night vision goggles, thermal scopes, laser range finders, and binoculars.

Trijicon

Trijicon

Based in Michigan, Trijicon manufactures aiming devices, including scopes, for rifles, pistols, and shotguns.

They manufacture products for the military, law enforcement, and the civilian sector.


Types of Thermal Scopes

thermal imaging rifle scope

Uncooled

Most thermal scopes for hunting are uncooled. The thermal sensor works at room temperature with no effort required to keep the components below a certain temperature.

Uncooled thermal imagers are cheaper and are more suited to the rough conditions typical of hunting.

The main sacrifice is reduced sensitivity. The scope may not show minute temperature differences.

But this is usually not a big deal since all you need to see is the heat signature of an animal. You are not diagnosing a faulty HVAC or repairing an engine.

Cooled 

Cooled thermal imagers have a cryogenic cooling system that keeps the sensor at a specific temperature. This allows it to detect much smaller temperature variations. They are also more accurate.

The main disadvantage is that they are expensive.

But it’s very hard to come across a cooled thermal scope. So you really don’t have a choice to make.


Pros and Cons of a Thermal Scope

thermal scope reviews

Pros

  • It provides visibility in total darkness.
  • It allows you to see through fog, smoke, light rain, trees, and bushes.
  • Passive operation – this makes it harder for anyone to detect your presence since the scope doesn’t give off any light or signal.
  • Ideal for use at night and during the day.
  • It greatly improves shot accuracy.

Cons

  • Fairly expensive.
  • Limited identification range. Even with a high-resolution scope, you usually need to be at least 200 yards away to identify an animal positively.

Thermal vs. Night Vision Scopes

Thermal vs. Night Vision Scopes

Thermal scopes read the heat (infrared) energy of the environment and create a thermal image from it.

With a thermal scope, you can see animals even in total darkness without needing an IR illuminator. You can also see through smoke, dust, fog, and bushes.

A night vision scope works by magnifying whatever little light is available to create a visible image.

If there is little to no light, you can use an IR illuminator to send out infrared light the scope can use to create a visible image. That’s why night vision scopes are classified as active night vision devices, while thermal scopes are passive.

A night vision scope provides a more realistic view of the environment, complete with depth perception. If you find a thermal image a bit too disorienting, try a night vision scope.

As for price, thermal scopes are generally more expensive.


Stand-Alone vs. Clip-On Thermal Scopes

Stand-Alone vs. Clip-On Thermal Scopes

A stand-alone thermal scope is like any one of the above that we’ve reviewed. It’s a complete thermal imaging system with base magnification and digital zoom.

But let’s say you already have a daytime scope and don’t want to replace it with a thermal scope. You have the option of buying a clip-on scope.

Instead of replacing your existing scope, it clips onto the end of it.

While they do offer some convenience and a lower price, clip-on scopes have some significant downsides. They offer little or no magnification, the image quality is lower, and the range is reduced.

You may also not get extra features of a full thermal scope, such as a built-in video recorder.

A clip-on thermal scope is ideal if you do most of your hunting during the day.

But if you hunt at night a lot or you hunt among thick trees and bushes (whether it’s day or night), a stand-alone thermal scope is the best option.


Thermal Scopes vs. Thermal Imaging Monoculars

Thermal Scopes vs. Thermal Imaging Monoculars

Thermal monoculars are more versatile than scopes.

While thermal scopes are designed primarily for shooting at night, thermal monoculars can be used for target identification, home security, ghost hunting, and various outdoor applications.

Their versatility is what makes thermal monoculars less than ideal for hunting. That’s because they lack dedicated shooting features to help you take an accurate shot, such as a reticle system and range finder.

I recommend a thermal imaging monocular if you are looking for something to scout your environment with. It perfectly complements a dedicated thermal riflescope.


How to Zero-Set a Thermal Scope

To make sure your shot actually hits where the reticle is, you need to zero or sight your scope. This is typically done when the scope is new or when you are using the scope with a different rifle.

Modern thermal scopes are very easy to zero. It usually takes just one shot to align the reticle and the rifle.

To zero the scope, you first need to shoot at a target with the reticle at the center of the target. Make sure you can easily see the impact point through your scope. It should stand out since it’s hot.

Without moving your rifle, adjust your reticle until it’s exactly on the tip of the point of impact. You’ll need to go into settings to make the Y and X scale adjustments.

After you’ve saved the new reticle position, take a second shot. It should hit your target dead center.

Your scope is zeroed.

If you have any problems sighting your thermal scope, check the manual or contact the manufacturer.


Thermal Scope Hunting Tips

clip on thermal scope
  • Patience is key. Never rush your shots. Not only are you likely to miss your shot, but you could also cause a serious accident. The scope may have picked up a heat signature, but you can’t be sure it’s an animal until it is around a couple hundred yards away.
  • Have a hunting partner. They’ll prove handy as a spotter. They can use thermal imaging monocular to scout for animals. They can also view a live stream from your thermal scope on their phone or tablet if your scope has that capability.
  • Set up early. Give yourself plenty of time to find the right location and set up. Since it takes a few minutes for a thermal scope to start-up and calibrates, you can’t turn it on and shoot as soon as you spot an animal.
  • Rely on just the base magnification as much as you can. Using digital zoom quickly deteriorates image quality, especially with a lower-resolution scope. Base optical magnification provides a close-up view without affecting image resolution. Of course, there are times when zooming will help you identify prey and take a good shot.
  • Check the scope’s zero regularly. Otherwise, you’ll be left wondering why you miss most of your shots.

Finally, don’t forget to check local regulations on night hunting and to use night vision devices for hunting.


Thermal Scope Frequently Asked Questions

thermal scope

What thermal scope does the military use?

The US Army has been using the AN/PAS-13 thermal scope since 1998. It’s designed for use in small arms or as a standalone device.

In 2006, the army ordered updated versions of the scopes. Currently, there are four versions of the AN/PAS-13: a light, medium, and heavy scope, as well as a much smaller version for use with M16 rifles.

Can a thermal scope see through walls?

No, you cannot. Most walls are thick enough to prevent the scope from picking up heat signals on the other side.

You also cannot see through the glass because of the same insulating effect.

Can a thermal scope be used in daylight?

Yes, you definitely can use a thermal scope during the day to see through fog, smoke, dust, and thick bushes.

Of course, it will be harder to see prey since everything is warmer than at night. But with a good quality thermal scope and using the right palette, you should still be able to see targets.

Can a thermal scope see through the fog?

Yes, you can. You can also see through the rain (though heavy rain can make it harder to see), dust, smoke, and other environmental conditions.

Will, a thermal scope get damaged by a rifle’s recoil? 

Thermal scopes are designed to withstand the force of a gun recoil. It’s important to check the scope’s recoiling rate and make sure you don’t exceed it.

Can you put a thermal scope on a crossbow?

Yes, you can. But beware; a thermal scope designed for a rifle may not work well on a crossbow. The reticle may not line up perfectly with the crossbow.

How long does a thermal scope last? 

With good use and maintenance, the general lifespan for most thermal scopes is 10 years.


Conclusion

Night Vision

You’ll have to dig deeper into your pocket to get a thermal imaging scope compared to a night vision (image intensifier) scope.

But the higher investment is worth it. Thermal imaging scopes provide excellent performance during the day and night regardless of weather and environmental conditions.

With plenty of great options in the market, you won’t have trouble finding the right one for your hunting needs.