Shopping for binoculars, monoculars, or a thermal scope for hunting?
You’ve come to the right place.
Thermal monoculars, binoculars, and scopes are not just useful for nighttime use, however. You can also use thermal optics during the day to spot animals through thick brush, low-light wooded areas, and dark environments such as a cave.
What's in This Guide?
In this buying guide, we review and compare the best thermal scopes, binoculars, and monoculars for hunting.
We chose to review all three types of thermal optics together to give you a flavor for when and where you might need each type.
If you prefer the hands-free convenience of NV goggles, then check our review of the best night vision goggles.
How Thermal Imaging Works
Thermal imaging, whether in a thermal scope or a thermal camera, works off the same scientific principles.
A special sensor collects infrared radiation from the target object. Infrared detectors create a temperature pattern of the object or environment, what's known as a thermogram.
The thermogram is then translated into an electric signal processed by a circuit board into a display.
You see on the screen or eyepiece are the different colors representing the intensity of infrared radiation collected from the environment.Because an animal will be warmer than the environment, it'll easily stand out in the final image.
Best Thermal Imaging Solutions
FLIR Scout TK
- Best for up to 100 yards visibility
160 x 120
Pulsar Axion Key XM30
- Best for scouting and spotting
320 x 240
- Best for helmet mounting
320 x 256
Leupold LTO-Tracker HD
- Best for night hunting
320 x 240
ATN BINOX 4T
- Best thermal binoculars
384 x 288
ATN ThOR 4
- Best rifle scope
384 x 288
Pulsar Quantum XQ23V
- Best for quick startup
384 x 288
Yes via video cable
ATN ThOR 4 640
- Best thermal resolution
640 x 480
Leupold LTO Quest
- Best budget
206 x 156
No (Stills only)
ATN OTS-HD 384
- Best for clear and sharp images
384 x 288
1. Best 100-Yard Spotter: FLIR Scout TK Handheld Thermal Monocular
For people who mostly do close-up hunting and need a quick spotting tool, the FLIR Scout TK is a great choice.
You can detect animals, including smaller ones like squirrels, from up to 100 yards out.
Its pocket-sized design and super light weight makes the Scout TK easy to carry around.
The FLIR Scout TK thermal monocular is ideal for beginners or people looking for an affordable thermal scope for basic hunting and animal spotting.
The price is much lower than most thermal scopes (especially for a FLIR product), but you should understand what you are getting.
For one, you will only be able to detect warm objects up to 100 yards away. At this range, you can make out large animals easily. For smaller animals like birds or squirrels, you’ll need to be closer to tell which animal it is.
The resolution is also on the low side. The 160 x 120 sensor produces a good quality image, but only at close range. It’s one reason why the Scout TK’s detection range is limited to 100 yards. Beyond that, the image is too fuzzy.
What we love most about the Scout TK is its portability. It weighs 6 ounces and can fit in your pocket. The included lanyard makes it easy to carry it around safely when you are out in the woods.
You’ll also love the photo and video recording capability. You can cycle through multiple color palettes when taking photos or recording videos, too.
To transfer media to another device, the Scout TK comes with a USB cable that you’ll also use to charge the scope.
The Li-ion battery provides about 5 hours of continuous use.
The FLIR Scout TK has limited imaging performance, which is expected for an entry-level thermal monocular.
The resolution, refresh rate, and detection range are all on the low end of modern day thermal imagers.
Because of the low resolution, the Scout TK lacks magnification, as zooming in would further distort image quality.
If you are looking for a high-resolution, high-magnification thermal monocular you can use for spotting distant animals, the Scout TK is def. not it.
While it does have limitations, the FLIR Scout TK is a perfect tool for close to mid-range large animal spotting. Beginners will also love its low price and ease of use.
2. Best for Scouting and Spotting: Pulsar Axion Key XM30 2.4-9.6x24 Monocular
The Pulsar Axion Key XM30 is a major step up from the FLIR Scout TK in almost every aspect - especially in terms of resolution, magnification, and detection.With a useful detection range of up to 1,300 yards, the XM30 is an excellent long- and short-range spotter for large and small game.
The FLIR Scout TK is fine short-range spotter but isn’t much help when trying to scout far away animals or small game.
The Pulsar Axion Key has a 13X greater effective range - up to 1,300 yards - so big game hunters and animal lovers will miss nothing with this unit.
The Axion Key has excellent optical & digital zoom, helping you observe animals from a safe distance. The optical/stepped zoom goes up to 2x, and starting at 4x the optics are supplemented by 4x digital zoom.
While zooming, you can engage the PiP or Picture in Picture mode. This lets you magnify your target in a small window at the top of the display while retaining a clear view of the environment.
The 320 x 240 sensor doesn’t have the highest resolution, but it’s plenty good enough for spotting. The only time you might find it limiting is when you zoom in too much. The image gets a bit fuzzy.
You can take photos and record videos using the Axion Key XM30 monocular, up to the internal memory limit of 16GB.
The XM30 monocular supports the Stream Vision app. Just connect the XM30 to your phone over WiFi to download the free Stream Vision app.
You can then use your smartphone as a remote viewfinder, a remote control, and a remote video/photo recorder. You can also Livestream your adventures via the app.
The 3200 mAh battery is good for up to 4 hours. Recharging requires a USB connection to a battery pack or 12V inverter.
The Axion Key XM30 is built to withstand rugged outdoor environments while being easy to carry around. It has a lightweight & tough aluminum body and is rated IPX7 (waterproof).
The XM30 certainly has a better resolution & range than the Scout TK.
But the XM30 is still limited in terms of image quality. The 320 x 240 resolution proves inadequate when you zoom in too far. You’ll find it easier to get closer to your target rather than relying entirely on the zooming.
There’s also the issue of price. The XM30 is more than three times the price of the Scout TK. If you are looking for a budget thermal scope, this is not it.
With improved optics, rugged and lightweight construction, and live streaming capability, the Axion Key XM30 is worth the higher price tag for hunters who want to see more than a hundred yards away.
The FLIR Breach PTQ136 is designed primarily for law enforcement. But there’s no reason you cannot use it for hunting and animal spotting.The integrated railing allows you to mount it on a helmet for hands-free spotting.
A helmet-mounted monocular is convenient when you need your hands free to hold a hunting rifle. It also provides better spotting when you or the animal is on the move.
FLIR Breach comes ready for helmet mounting. It has an integrated mini-rail for attaching it to a helmet. You do not need an adaptor or any additional equipment to mount the FLIR Breach monocular.
As for the optics, Breach falls in the mid-level performance range. It’s better than beginner thermal scopes but has some significant limitations.
The 320 x 256 sensor delivers a pretty clear image, provided you are not too far away from the target. The maximum detection range is about 225 yards for people and large animals. For smaller animals, you need to be about 100 yards away to get a clear image.
FLIR Breach has 1x-4x continuous digital zoom to get you a close-up view but notes that zooming will reduce image quality.
One optical feature we love about FLIR Breach is the high refresh rate (60 Hz). When you are using a helmet-mounted scope, you are likely to be moving a lot. The high refresh rate ensures you still get a smooth image when on the move.
The refresh rate is also handy when tracking a moving target.
The FLIR Breach can take up to a thousand still images and record up to 2.5 hours of video. Use the included USB cable to transfer media to an external device.
With a weight of just 7.4 ounces and a compact design, the FLIR Breach is easy to carry.
The FLIR Breach thermal monocular is not designed for long-range observation. Most users reported a useful range of about 200 yards, shorter for smaller animals.
Another issue is the price. FLIR Breach is not ideal for budget-minded hunters.
Battery life could be better, too. The 90-minute continuous usage is less than most other thermal scopes.
Bottom LineWhat makes the FLIR Breach good for law enforcement also makes it great in the woods. It has excellent optics, lightweight design, and the option to mount it on a helmet.
4. Best for Night Hunting: Leupold LTO-Tracker HD Thermal Viewer
If you like to hunt or spot animals at night, we recommend the Leupold LTO-Tracker HD thermal monocular. You can also use it during the day, but it shines most in cooler conditions (that is, at night).
The LTO-Tracker HD easily picks up temperature differences in the environment, allowing you to spot even small animals like rabbits at a significant distance.
The Leupold LTO-Tracker HD works best in cool night temperatures. That’s when it provides the best contrast between your target and the environment.
On extra-cool nights, the detection range can be as far as 750 yards. Obviously, it’s much shorter for small game.
You can use the 6x digital zoom to get a closer view of your target. But thermal scopes and zoom generally don’t go well together. Beyond 4x, it’ll be hard to make out any warm objects. We recommend using the zoom feature sparingly and don’t go beyond 4x.
The 320 x 240 thermal resolution is not too bad. It provides decent image quality, but be careful not to zoom too much as it reduces image quality
The CR123 battery provides up to 3 hours of continuous use. Note that the battery is non-rechargeable.
The Leupold LTO-Tracker HD does not have video or image recording. If you were hoping to keep a record of your adventures, look for another thermal monocular.
We’ve also mentioned the poor image quality when using the digital zoom, especially if you go beyond 4x.
The 25 Hz refresh rate is a bit slow, so the image can be choppy when trying to follow a moving animal or observe a target while you are on the move.
Bottom LineThe Leupold LTO-Tracker HD has quite a few limitations. But for the price, we still think it is a good deal, especially for beginners and anyone looking for an entry-level thermal scope for nighttime hunting.
5. Best Thermal Binoculars: ATN BINOX 4T 384 2-8X Thermal Binocular
Most of the hunting binoculars you’ll find online are night vision binoculars. They are good for seeing in the dark, but won’t help you spot animals hiding in thickets.
If you are looking for binoculars with thermal, not night vision, technology, we recommend the ATN BINOX 4T 384 2-8X thermal binoculars.They are pricey but offer the best in class optical performance. You also get a few extras, including a built-in laser rangefinder and video streaming.
It is surprisingly hard to find a good pair of thermal binoculars.
Most use night vision technology/not thermal imaging, which won’t help you see through bushes nor in pitch black night conditions.
If you want high-quality set of thermal binoculars, however, be ready to spend a bit of money.
The ATN BINOX 4T binoculars are pricey, but they offer really good optics and some nice extra features.
Let’s start with the optics.
The BINOX 4T binoculars feature a 384 x 288 sensor that’s good enough to detect large animals up to 1,000 yards away. The recognition and identification ranges are, however, much shorter at 480 and 300 yards, respectively.
Similar to other thermal optics, you can choose from several color palettes for better target identification.
BINOX 4T provides 2x to 8x magnification. Thanks to the high-resolution sensor, you can zoom-in quite close before image quality degrades much.
BINOX 4T comes with a built-in laser rangefinder to help you calculate the distance to the target.
These binoculars also have a built-in IR illuminator. The illuminator is helpful if you or your hunting partners have night vision and need better visibility.BINOX 4T offers also provides on-board video recording and streaming in HD.
6. Best Rifle Scope: ATN ThOR 4 Thermal Rifle Scope
The ATN ThOR 4 is very similar to the ATN BINOX 4T binoculars in terms of optical performance and features.
The main difference is that ATN ThOR 4 is a monocular scope you can mount on a rifle.ATN ThOR 4 is designed specifically for taking long-range shots. The integrated reticle and ballistics calculator increase your chances.
The ATN ThOR 4 is a feature-heavy thermal scope that’s designed to provide better spotting and targeting. It comes with a high-resolution 384x288 sensor that can detect animals up to 1,000 yards out.
The 2x-8x magnification gives you a close-up view, though you have to be careful not to zoom in too much to the point that it turns fuzzy.For shot accuracy, the ATN ThOR 4 scope has a built-in stadiametric rangefinder that helps adjust the reticle to the right spot.
7. Best for Quick Startup: Pulsar Quantum XQ23V 1.8-7.2x18 Monocular
Some thermal scopes and monoculars can be frustratingly slow to startup. Most take at least 5 seconds, with some taking painfully long to start up and calibrate.In contrast, the Pulsar Quantum XQ23V is ready to go in two seconds flat.
The Pulsar Quantum XQ23V lacks the fancy features of the ATN ThOR 4. But the optical performance is just about the same, for a lower price.
The lack of many add-ons is one reason why the Pulsar Quantum XQ23V can boot up in no time.
The 384x288 sensor is pretty good and delivers a high-quality image in different environments, ranging from open grasslands to thick bushes.
The detection range is 874 yards, making the Quantum XQ23V a good choice for long-range spotting. You can also zoom in between 1.8x and 7.2x.
While not as accurate as a laser rangefinder, the built-in stadiametric rangefinder significantly improves shot accuracy. It’ll measure the distance to certain common animals with known height such as deer, hare, or boar.
You can choose from even color palettes depending on the environment and personal preferences.
If you are moving or tracking a moving target, the Quantum XQ23V’s 50 Hz refresh rate proves helpful. Instead of a choppy image, you get a smooth flowing image that makes it easier to keep up with your target.
The Quantum XQ23V runs on four AA batteries that give you about 6.5 hours of continuous use. To save power, you can turn the display off without shutting down the scope. When you need to observe again, it immediately turns on without needing to boot up.
The Quantum XQ23V can also be set off automatically when it’s inclined, indicating it’s not in use.
The lack of extra features like video streaming and wireless connectivity is actually good for some hunters, because it cuts weight and cost.
The one extra we miss on this unit is video recording. The Quantum XQ23V can record video but only via a video-out cable. This means you need to have an external DVR if you want to record videos, which is a real pain.
Bottom LineIf the lack of built-in video recording is not a big deal for you (or you don’t mind carrying a DVR with you), the Quantum XQ23V is an excellent night time thermal spotter.
8. Best Resolution: ATN Thor 4, 640x480, Thermal Rifle Scope
If you are looking for a thermal scope that delivers clear and sharp images, we recommend the ATN Thor 4 640x480 thermal scope.The ATN Thor 4 has the highest resolution sensor among our picks.
The ATN Thor 4 640 x 480 scope delivers the best image quality of any thermal scope or monocular in this buying guide.
The primary practical advantage of the high-resolution sensor in this series is you can see long distances while maintaining a high quality, sharp image. The ATN Thor 4 has a detection range of up to 830 yards, though the recognition range is closer.
The 1x-10x magnification provided in the base unit provides easy zooming with minimal loss in image sharpness - up to a point. Beyond 6x, you’ll get some fuzziness, and it’ll be harder to identify targets.
The ATN Thor 4 comes with many features designed to make hunting easier and to improve shot accuracy. These include One-Shot Zero reticle calibration, a built-in ballistic calculator, and an integrated smart rangefinder.
You can stream HD video via WiFi to an external device such as a smartphone or tablet. You can also record HD video onto an SD card.
The included Recoil Activated Video (RAV) feature ensures you don’t forget to capture the most crucial moments when firing fast.
As for battery life, the lithium-ion battery delivers an impressive 16 hours of continuous use.
High-quality optics don’t come cheap. The high-resolution ATN Thor 4 is one of the more expensive thermal scopes in the market.
Something else to note is that the ATN Thor 4 has a bit of a learning curve. Because it has so many features, it’ll take some time to get the hang of everything.
Bottom LineThough pricey, the ATN Thor 4’s high-quality optics makes it a great buy for any serious hunters and outdoor enthusiast. It is also a great choice for hunters that want to record or stream HD video.
9. Best Budget Spotter: Leupold LTO Quest Thermal Viewer
Thermal technology is still expensive. Good thermal scopes and monoculars cost $1,000 or more.
But some less expensive options offer decent resolution and optics.A good example is the Leupold LTO Quest, a small compact thermal viewer perfect for short-range animal spotting and hunting.
We certainly don’t recommend the Leupold LTO Quest for serious hunters. It’s more of a beginner thermal viewer for those who don’t want to splurge on a high-end scope.
The optics are ideal for short-range spotting and hunting. The sensor has a 206 x 156 resolution, good enough to detect large animals from 300 yards away. For smaller targets, you’ll need to be much closer.
There’s no magnification, as expected, again making the LTO Quest less than ideal for serious long-range hunting.
Instead of an eyepiece display like the one on scopes and monoculars, the Leupold LTO Quest displays the thermal image on a 2.4” LCD display. Buttons let you cycle through different settings, including multiple color palettes.
You cannot record video on the Leupold LTO Quest, but you can take still images. The internal memory stores up to 2,000 images.
A rechargeable lithium battery that provides up to 4 hours of continuous use powers the Leupold LTO Quest.
In addition to the thermal imager, the battery also powers a built-in 30-lumen flashlight, perfect for night use and in emergencies.
The Leupold LTO Quest is an entry-level thermal viewer with plenty of optical limitations, including resolution, image quality, zoom, and range. If you are looking for a thermal scope for serious hunting, this is not it.
Bottom LineThe Leupold LTO Quest is a great choice for beginner hunters looking for an affordable thermal imager with the decent optical performance.
10. Best for Clear & Sharp Images: ATN OTS-HD 384 Thermal HD Monocular
The ATN OTS-HD monocular delivers a clear and sharp image at a relatively affordable price tag.
It’s a great choice for hunters who want a better view of their target, both nearby and faraway.
A 384 x 288 sensor delivers a clear and sharp image up to a range of 625 yards. A built-in 3D gyroscope keeps the image steady and reduces shakiness, especially when you are moving.
The ATN OTS-HD also comes with an integrated compass and rangefinder.
You can record HD video on the ATN OTS-HD. You can also stream live video on a smartphone or tablet to let others share the fun.
The ATN OTS-HD runs on 4 AA batteries that will give you about 8 hours of continuous use.
Compared to other monoculars, the ATN OTS-HD is heavy. It can get tiring to hold it up for long periods.
Bottom LineThe ATN OTS-HD is a mid-range monocular that’s great for hunters looking for high-quality optics at an affordable price.
How to Choose a Thermal Imaging Solution
Whether you are buying a thermal monocular, scope, or binoculars, here’s what to consider when choosing the right one for your hunting needs.For serious hunters, your best options range between $1,000 and $5,000 depending on the optics. Higher resolution, long detection range, and extra features like video streaming will add to the price tag.
Type of Thermal Imager
Monoculars: Monoculars have one objective lens and one eyepiece. A monocular is great if you want something lightweight and easy to use with one hand.
Binoculars: If you find it disorienting to use one eye for animal spotting, get thermal binoculars. Binoculars are more comfortable to use. On the downside, they are heavier and more expensive than monoculars.
Bi-oculars: Thermal bi-oculars are not very common and are expensive. A bi-ocular has one objective lens but two eyepieces. They are more comfortable to use compared to monoculars.
Scopes: Scopes are essentially monoculars that you can mount on a rifle. Riflescopes typically come with extra features such as rangefinder, adjustable reticles, and recoil activated video, among others. Some scopes can serve three duties - as a spotter, remote viewer, or mounted riflescope.
The higher the thermal resolution, the better the image quality.
Entry-level thermal imagers typically have a resolution of about 160 x 120, while midrange imagers spot a 384 x 288 thermal sensor. Higher-end scopes and monoculars typically have a resolution of 640 x 480.
A mid-range resolution thermal imager is good enough for most hunters. It provides a clear image, even when zooming.
Detection range tells you how far you can spot an animal using the thermal imager. This typically ranges from 100 yards for low-end imagers to over 1,000 yards for high-end models.
Note that the given detection range is typically for large animals like deer and boars. Detection range may also vary from the recognition and identification range, which is the distance at which you can identify the type of animal.
With most thermal imaging devices at 1,000 yards you may be able to spot something warmer than the background. But to tell whether it’s a deer, a human, or a motorcycle, you’ll need to be closer.
Most thermal imagers offer digital zoom, letting you get a close-up view of your target.
Obviously, higher magnification means more zoom. But high zoom can significantly distort image quality.
With most thermal scopes, monoculars, and binoculars, 4x-6x zoom is the maximum useful magnification.
Some more expensive thermal scopes offer higher optical zoom. This magnifies the image without losing sharpness.
Many scopes and monoculars today have a built-in stadiametric rangefinder that calculates the distance to a target.
A rangefinder can greatly improve shot accuracy and help you estimate the walk time to get closer.
Multiple color palettes are a must-have in any thermal imager, even a cheap one. Being able to cycle through different colors lets you choose the best palette for a particular situation.
If you’d like to store and share recordings of what you see through your scope, look for one that offers video and/or image recording.
Some thermal imagers have wireless connectivity, either WiFi or Bluetooth, that lets you stream a live image of what you see on a smartphone or tablet.
Video streaming is handy if you are hunting with friends or family. They can all share in the fun.
Check the battery life of the scope or monocular. You should get at least 4-6 hours of continuous use before needing to recharge or replace the batteries.
High-end thermal imagers come with high-capacity batteries that can provide well over 10 hours of use.
The best price comes down to what kind of optics you want and how much you are willing to pay.
If you are a beginner and don’t need extra-high resolution or long detection range, you can easily find a good imager for under $1,000.
Conclusion: The Best Thermal Imaging Solutions Sold Today
While thermal technology costs more than night vision, it’s allows you to do more at night.
For hunters, thermal imaging is the best technology for spotting and tracking animals in all kinds of environments, be it forests, grasslands or snow.
Our mid-range pick for thermal spotting is the Pulsar Axion Key XM30. It’s perfect for hunters looking for a balance between affordability and optical performance.