The thermal imagers were the first time met by the broad audience while watching the sci-fi action thriller Predator with Schwarzenegger. By the time, it was already clear to many that the hide-and-seek game would be much less exciting in the future.
As you probably guess, the night vision devices were developed for military purposes. If we disregard the military and Law Enforcement purposes, then we are entering the world of low-light hunting scenarios, very well known to varmint and hog hunters.
Just a decade ago, one of the earliest challenges that hog hunter encounter was the selection of their first night-vision device (NVD). These gadgets intensify the available light thousands of times so that targets can be seen at night.
However, these days, the term “night vision” has added meaning, and outdoorsmen who are looking for a scope that will perform in low-light conditions have a choice of a night-vision device or a thermal-imaging device.
GUIDE TO BUYING THERMAL SCOPE
If you are searching for the best thermal scope for the money you need to find functional scope and one that should be able to work perfectly well regardless of the environmental conditions and weather situations.
Before you decide on a particular model, you need to know what to look for when buying a thermal rifle scope. Here are some aspects to consider while going for the best of thermal vision scopes.
First, similar to the night vision, there are two types of thermal imaging systems on the market today. Thermal scopes are available in clip-on and standard, standalone configuration. A dedicated rifle scope is a thermal sight featuring the reticle and all adjustments in its housing in which the system is self-sustaining.
An alternative is the “clip-on” thermal device that mounts in front of a standard daytime riflescope. With mounted clips-on thermal sighting scope, you will be using the reticle, magnification and adjustment of the day scope. Obviously, the clip-on thermal scope is cheaper than standard thermal scopes, but also it is more flexible as it can be used hands-free like a spotter.
The second classification is based on two operational systems; the near-zero cooled and uncooled ones.
Most thermal imaging devices are designed as an un-cooled thermal imaging system, which is sturdy and cheaper, then but not as sensitive as the cooled thermal scopes.
For the average civilian user, it is essential to know that near-zero cooled or cryogenically cooled thermal imaging systems offers improved sensitivity over non-cooled devices. Still, they are more complex, more susceptible to rough handling and seems to be more costly than the former type.
Since a lot of thermal imaging riflescopes being produced are the un-cooled types, all models from our list belong to that type.
The sensor resolution of your rifle thermal scope is the most important consideration when buying a thermal imaging riflescope. A high-resolution image that appears on display should possess a crisp and precise definition of an object. With proper resolution, you will able to see not only a patch of color but the detailed shape of an animal, where you must be able to distinguish the various parts of an animal.
Contrary to some beliefs, it is far more important than the magnification, and you should purchase a thermal with as high a resolution as you can afford. Usually, an average to high-quality thermal scope should have a 640×480 screen resolution.
Thermal scopes can cover considerably greater distances compared to the daytime scope or night vision devices. Actually, the sensitivity of the thermal detector can easily detect the objects at length longer than 1,000 yards. You will need the detection range that is longer than your hunting distance because the extra range will allow you to scout your games that are hundreds of yards away and watch as your target approach.
Along with high-end scopes having the range over 1,000 yards, there are more modest scopes with a range of 300-500 yards, but you should know that shooting beyond a few hundred yards at night is not a safe practice.
Like with the traditional daytime scope, you should opt for thermals with better optical magnification instead of digital zoom. You will get the best results combining both of these zooms. The majority of the scope top out at magnification power around 15x, but for reasonably night shots at 50-200 yards, a magnifying power of 5 times would be enough.
The refresh rate is the frequency the image will be changed per second. A higher the refresh rate means a smoother and more lifelike image when tracking the target. To avoid issues with blurriness, we recommend that you opt for a refresh rate above 30 hertz, and preferably 60Hz per second.
As opposed to the conventional daytime optics, thermal sighting scopes may offer quite a number of extras and add-ons implemented into their design. However, you shouldn’t ignore the general quality of the thermal scope for the add-ons, which are just a sideshow.
You can get thermal scopes with a meter to gauge the rifle inclination and the Geographic Positioning System, or a rangefinder. It's even very common to find thermal scopes that have WiFi which can broadcast straight-up to your smartphone or more advanced scopes also have ballistic matching technology with app support.
1. ATN THOR 4, 1.25-5X, 384X288, HD THERMAL RIFLE SCOPE
W/Ultra Sensitive Next Gen Sensor, WiFi, Image Stabilization, Range Finder, Ballistic Calculator and IOS and Android Apps
Thermal Imaging used to be restricted to military service is now affordable for reasonably well-off hunters and other civilians. Two decades ago a thermal day/night vision cost tens of thousands of dollars, and now you can buy top models of the line for about what you'd pay for a decent ATV or less.
However, ATN Corp has released a line of thermal scopes that combines the classic features closely resembling a regular riflescope with a 30mm maintube with new capabilities unique to this line.
The ATN ThOR (Which stands for Thermal Optic, Rifle) 4 series of thermal scopes include a basic 384x288 Gen 4 sensor or a higher resolution 640x480 version with the next-gen sensor. They are powered by ATN's new Obsidian IV Dual-core processor which provides many improvements like cooling performance and ultralow power consumption offering outstanding 16-plus hours of battery life.
The most affordable ThOR 4 384 scope has a magnification range between 1.25x and 5x, an excellent 60Hz refresh rate with 384 by 288 resolution which should be good enough for most hunters. Even in this modest version, ATN ThOR 4 has some impressive detection ranges as it offers a detection range of up to 750 yards and an identification range of 200 yards for a human-sized target.
The ATN ThOR 4 1.25-5x Gen 4 Thermal Vision is features packed riflescope that includes one-shot zeroing, recoil activated video, E-Compass, a multitude of in-view functions and ballistic calculators. These scopes also provide you built-in video recording with Live-stream capability, a 64GB of SD card memory and an integrated laser range finder.
2. ATN THOR-640,5-50X, HD, 640X480
19 mm, Thermal Rifle Scope with High Res Video, GPS, WiFi, Image Stabilization, Range Finder, Ballistic Calculator and IOS and Android Apps
New ATN Thor-series flagship model comes with a 100mm objective and 640×480 sensor for the clearer thermal image. The biggest difference between ATN Thor 640 and 384 series lies in their sensors. The Thermal sensor 640x480 allows for better detection range that offers non-blurry image resolution.
The most significant improvement is its Obsidian' T' II Thermal core combined with the uncooled Vanadium oxide bolometer detector. This detector will catch the heat energy from your prey at the ranges of up to 2,700 yards, while it will identify the target at 700yards away, making you the ultimate predator.
This most potent ATN ThOR thermal features the industry-standard 640 resolution and incorporates some of the best technology and innovations on the optoelectronic market today.
That said, this ATN Thor 640 comes with 5-50x magnification range-extending your hunt capabilities to the unheard distances, just a few years ago. Along with excellent image performance, the 640 range carries more features such as Smooth Zoom, variety of selectable reticles, a rangefinder, customizable ballistic calculator, WiFi, GPS, Image Stabilization and IOS and Android Apps.
ATN ThOR HD 640 Smart Thermal Riflescope is made from aircraft-grade aluminum and can withstand shock well on any rifle up to .30 caliber. Although it comes in smaller packaging than 384 models, be prepared for the weight of 2.75lb that can be pretty exhausting on long hunting trips.
Packed with more other upgrades, the ThOR 640-HD line of thermal scopes is designed with the professional shooter in mind. Using 4 AA batteries (recommended Lithium-Ion type batteries), it can provide up to 8 hrs of continuous use in the field. In contrast, you have an Extended Life 20,000mAh battery pack you will get power for up to 22 hours.
3. ATN THOR LT 3-6X THERMAL RIFLE SCOPE
w/10+hrs Battery & Ultra-Low Power Consumption
Following the success of the ThOR 4 and ThOR-HD series, ATN introduced a brand new ThOR LT line of budget thermal riflescopes at a price that is affordable to the average hunter.
In addition to the already proven ATN line of thermal optics, the ThOR LT is a powerful yet compact thermal riflescope available in 3-6x and a 4-8x configuration.
With its streamlined design, ThOR LT 3-6x thermal riflescope looks more like your traditional glass optic, but with its 160 x 120 sensor, it provides a detection range of 475 yards allowing you to even see animals through light fog or rain.
Though featuring low a thermal resolution of 160 x 120, a high 60Hz refresh rate allows for fast detection and identification at reasonable ranges.
The ThOR LT 3-6x thermal scope is available with multiple reticles and offers a choice of either a black-hot or a white-hot display. This affordable ATN night vision device is powered by a Lithium-Ion battery, which provides over 10 hours of continuous battery life with a full charge.
Rugged, weather-resistant housing is made from hardened aluminum alloy to allows you to use this scope in any weather conditions. At the same time, it can easily stand up to the recoil forces of high caliber weapons.
On the other hand, the ThOR LT measures only 23 ounces, making it light enough for use on crossbows, air rifles or rimfire rifles. This elegant and streamlined hunting thermal scope due to its streamlined profile can be mounted with user-supplied standard 30mm rings.
WHAT IS THE BEST THERMAL SCOPE FOR HUNTING?
Unfortunately, the best thermal scopes for hunting are not cheap and you cannot afford two or more units for different hunting scenarios, like will you do with traditional daytime scopes. If you want to conquer the night, you should invest in a thermal scope which is the ultimate choice for hunters on feral hogs and predators.
The top tier optics for thermal hunting scope should have a proper magnification appropriate for the range of field that you'll be hunting in because you might have to shoot your prey from a more extended range than usual.
A top-quality thermal scope for hunting needs sufficient detection range ability, to make it more likely for you to find a game to hunt down.
Although the thermal scopes are the best when you need to hunt in the pitch dark, thermal sight equipment can be just as effective and helpful during the day, so you should shift between night and day modes quite seamlessly.
Finally, the thеrmаl іmаgіng рrоduсtѕ intended for the hunting should be able to keep up with a few bumps and falls without breaking or malfunctioning.
WHAT IS THE BEST THERMAL SCOPE FOR COYOTE HUNTING?
Thermal Imaging is the best option for predator hunting because every night time hunter knows that coyotes and similar species can "see" IR light from the night vision scope.
Since the most quality thermal scopes are quite large and heavy, you should look for a most compact and lightweight thermal scope. You need thermal imager with higher resolution to positive identifies coyote at longer ranges. As the typical ranges for night predators hunting are up to 200 yards, you'll want something with at least 4x-6x magnification.
CAN YOU SEE DEER HORNS WITH THE THERMAL SCOPE?
The answer is a definite yes. Though the antlers don't carry a large amount of heat, a thermal imager will take a small change in temperature between the antlers and the background. Compared to the night vision, the thermal scope image is not as sharp, so you won't be able to see a lot of details or to determine the size of antlers.
CAN THERMAL SCOPES BE USED IN DAYLIGHT?
Since the thermal imaging devices rely on the heat that is radiated from an object and not on any light levels, they can be used equally well day and night.
Even though a thermal scope is mainly designed as an overnight vision, it is compatible with both the daytime and nighttime use. If temperatures are hotter than the object you are observing, most thermal scopes will pick differences in heat rather than the hottest object out there. However, it will work better at night because of the pronounced variation between the temperature of the background environment and that of the target.
CAN THERMAL SCOPES SEE THROUGH WALLS?
No, thermal scopes cannot see through the walls of glass, nor even can identify people through leaves and the branches of trees.
This is movie-land nonsense because the walls are generally thick enough and insulated to block any infrared radiation from the other side.
HOW LONG DOES A THERMAL SCOPE LAST?
The thermal scopes and cameras that can now be bought easily by the average civilian shooter may last for years if properly maintained. As with many optoelectronic devices, it mainly depends on the brand, on how often you use it, and how well you maintain your scope. While for most consumer class thermal scopes, you can reasonably expect to last as long as 5 to 8 years, the military-grade thermal weapon sights are using thermal cores made by FLIR who offers a 10-year warranty.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THERMAL AND INFRARED?
Thermal-imaging devices look at the invisible heat produced by living things and translate that into a shaded image, which is presented to the viewer. This type of infrared light, in this case, is called a thermal IR.
In contrast to the Near IR and MID IR light, the Thermal IR is the farthest on the IR spectrum from visible light. A digital and classic night vision systems rely on the shorter wavelengths type of IR that travel slower compared to the invisible thermal IR light.
As for the advantages, Thermal scopes shows living targets better at the further range and can be used in daylight. On the other hand, night vision devices are far more affordable and available and under suitable light show terrain better.