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Are you searching for affordable thermal imaging scopes?
Unsure if you can pull the trigger on an optic that costs several thousands of dollars?
We have a lineup of the best thermal scope options that are reasonable in price when you can easily rack up a $10,000 bill.
Without maxing out your credit line, we’ll get you clued in to what’s new and hot, and what scope will best fit your needs. We’ll also educate you on what thermal considerations you need to know about before you buy so that you can get the best thermal for your needs!
Top 9 Best Thermal Scopes in 2020
|OPMOD THOR LT 3-6X||
|Trijicon IR Hunter MK3||
|Pulsar Trail XQ38||
|ATN Thor HD 384 2-8X||
|ATN Thor 4 384 1.25-5X||
|Pulsar Core FXQ38||
|Sig Sauer Echo 3||
|Armasight by FLIR Apollo Pro MR 640||
|Armasight by FLIR Zeus 336 3-12X50||
Thermal Scope Reviews
You can’t help but invoke flashbacks of the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger “Predator” movie at the mention of thermal vision. If there’s one thing to remember from the classic, action-packed movie, it’s that you can change the way you hunt and stalk your prey when you have the best of alien technology on your side.
As sci-fi and alien as thermal imaging may seem, it’s not extraterrestrial technology that allows you to see what’s creeping and crawling in the dead of night or in covert stings. Thermal scopes display temperature information, and because thermal imaging products will vary greatly in quality, display resolution is an important factor to consider when buying a thermal scope.
Infrared imagers or cameras are made to pick up part of the light spectrum in the 700-1000nm region. The best thermal imagers are able to operate in the 8000-15,000nm part of the spectrum. While we see and interpret what is displayed on the scope as color differences, they are actually temperature differences between objects emitting varying levels of radiation. Sounds cool, right?
But, is it “too much scope?” How can you use a thermal scope to justify purchasing the expensive tech?
- Day/night hunting and scouting
- Law enforcement/Military use
- Tactical, security, and surveillance
Being able to better spot game, identify predators, get eyes on intruders, and track downed game are just some reasons you may want the best thermal tech. Because it’s an active device, you can use thermal at any time during the day or night even when there is visible light.
Let’s check out what your best options are if you’re serious about being the hunter and not the hunted.
Best Thermal Scope for the Money
1. OPMOD Thor LT 3-6X – Best Overall Value for Money
The OPMOD thermal scope is Optics Planet’s modification of ATN’s Thor LT 3-6x model. But, what makes it the best for the money? It’s under $1200, has a couple extra features, and it’s fully backed with a limited lifetime warranty.
- 10+ hours
- Custom reticle
- Included FREE QD mount
- Only White Hot/Black Hot color modes
What makes an optic worth the money is largely subjective, but it must be economical, must be comparable to other similar, high-end models, and it must be a high-performance optic. The OPMOD covers it all.
The OPMOD Thor maintains all the favorite features of the ATN Thor but with a couple mods that make it a specialized thermal scope for any type of hunter. The mods may be subtle like the OPMOD logo on the body of the unit, but it also has much more obvious benefits such as an included QD (Quick Detach) mount that you must purchase separately with ATN and a specialized reticle that ATN models don’t have.
What is that “special” reticle? It’s a 68 MOA circle dot reticle that is literally one of the most popular reticles for its fast target acquisition and aiming points. This is a nice addition to have when you have multiple reticles at your disposal, so why not throw in the 68? That is exactly what OP thought, and so they did it.
As an ATN Thor at its core, it has the classic One Shot Zero feature, multiple thermal displays, ultra-low power consumption allowing more than 10 hours of use, and long identification, recognition, and detection ranges.
One of its most notable features is its ultra-lightweight and compact frame. If you want to switch things up between weapons where weight would normally restrict you, you can mount the 1.4 lb scope to air rifles and crossbows – be our guest. Just let us know how it goes when you do!
2. Trijicon IR Hunter MK3 Thermal Scope – Best Over $5000
Full-featured and high-quality optics is what Trijicon does, and they nailed it with the IR Hunter MK3. This IRMK3-35 model from the Trijicon Electro Optics Division is one of the best of their line. Brilliant precision, detailed reticles, and digital technology spells out expensive. It’s expensive and not for everyone, but the best superior scopes worth their grit rarely are.
- Variable magnification/zoom
- Germanium lens
- Digital control
- Advanced features
- Made in the USA
- Reversed elevation/windage turrets
Mounting this serious scope will add just over 2 lbs of weight to your weapons system but no surprise there – thermals aren’t lightweight optics. What it also isn’t is cheap. There’s very little chance you’re taking home the IR Hunter unless you’re prepared to spend a significant amount of cash.
For those of you who are, it has a 35 mm Germanium objective lens with a replaceable, highly-transmissive IR window to protect it. The thermal scope’s optical magnification is 2.5x, and you also have 8x E-Zoom to get a closer look. It’s also important to note that the 8 reticles available in the system are high-precision reticles that scale in size as you change magnification. Yes – it’s equal to a FFP (first focal plane) reticle seen in high-end rifle scopes.
But, unlike traditional scopes with the elevation turret on top and windage turret on the right side, the IR Hunter reverses the location of the two turrets. It might take some getting used to, but we thought you should know.
White-Hot and Black-Hot imaging, 640×480 sensor and display resolution, and multiple advanced features to achieve target recognition, focus, and contrast, you can bet these stats set the standard for the best thermal imaging you can have on a scope.
The IR Hunter is a battery hog. You’ll run out of battery life around 3.5-6 hours in, but at least it can conveniently be taken off for uploading data and battery replacement since it comes with a dual lever LaRue tactical quick detach weapon mount.
Edge Detect, Enhanced Target Recognition (ETR), Digital Contrast Enhancement (DCE), and a Stadiametric rangefinder are features that will forever change the way you see a hunt, whether it’s for hogs or fugitives.
3. Pulsar Trail XQ38 Thermal Scope – Best Under $5000
The XQ line of Trail scopes are the entry-level models, as if spending around a few grand is entry-level in anyone’s books. But, when it comes to the best thermal imaging rifle scopes, the good stuff never comes cheap, and you get what you pay for. So, does “entry-level” and a few grand get you anything good? Let’s check it out beginning with the pros and cons below:
- IPX7 rated
- 50Hz refresh rate
- Long range detection
- Wi-Fi compatible
- Model confusion
Not surprisingly, the Pulsar Trail XQ is a popular optic. It’s not outrageous in price as thermal optics can get, and it still has all the fixings you need to identify and spot elusive prey. To start with, there is some model confusion since there are a couple of XQ scopes available. The 2.1 and 2.7 designations refer to the base or beginning magnification of the model. This is the 2.1 model which is the Trail XQ38 with a beginning magnification of 2.1x and a 38 mm aperture.
The sensor specs on an XQ Trail is 384×288 resolution with a 17 µm pixel pitch. The main difference between this model and the Trail XP38 is the 640×480 sensor and display resolution, and of course, the price. Features and capabilities remain identical between the two Trail scopes.
It’s an excellent scope made for the field or timber as it’s been shock and recoil tested to be mounted to hunting rifles up to and including 375H&H. It’s also fully waterproof and is IPX7 rated. For a thermal scope, it’s also on the lighter end of the scale, weighing approximately 18 ounces. It has an impressive 1476-yard (1350 m) detection range.
The Pulsar Trail XQ 38 comes with a wireless remote control, and it can connect to WiFi via your smartphone and the free, recommended app for live streaming and uploads. Other digital features include a Stadiametric rangefinder, digital zoom, multiple zeroing profiles, and a built-in accelerometer.
What’s not to love about the Pulsar Trail? It has just the right amount of tech and quality to balance out the price without being too tedious and difficult to use. Now, that’s a thermal rifle scope worth buying.
4. ATN Thor HD 384 2-8X Thermal Scope – Best Under $2000
If you’re out to hunt down hogs and coyotes at night, you’ll need the strength of a mighty Thor at your side – not the superhero, but the ATN Thor thermal imaging scope. It’s a nighttime prowler that has smart technology, ballistic data, and long-ranging detection capabilities that will make your best hunts more productive.
- Smart technology
- Multiple digital features
- Long range detection
- Quality control issues
For a hunting scope, it’s lightweight for a thermal optic weighing in at 1.55 lbs. It’s going to add some weight to your rifle, but fortunately, it comes with an interchangeable Quick Release mount if you decide to pack up the scope and shed some weight. However, as a techy gadget, the mini Thor doesn’t like to get wet. It’s only water resistant, so you don’t want to be caught out in a pour-down with the rain-shy thermal scope.
You can get some extra detection distances with the 2-8x magnification range. Since magnification is digital, it can get grainy at the higher end, but it’ll still give you that reach you need. Thanks to ATN, they give some specific numbers you can expect to use when out and about. Detection range for this scope is 800 m, at 400 m you will recognize your target, and at 250 m you can identify it.
As a true, digital scope, it can connect to both WiFi and Bluetooth. It provides a plethora of digital features that includes a Ballistic Calculator, Smart Rangefinder, GPS, and more. As is expected, there are multiple reticle patterns and colors available to take advantage of.
You’ll want to make sure you’re packing an extra set of AA batteries, four to be exact. You’ll get about 8 hours of straight-up use out of it before you’ll need to give it fresh juice.
If you have any quality issues upon box opening, be assured the Thor HD 384 smart thermal scope comes with a 3-year warranty to protect your investment.
5. ATN Thor 4 384 1.25-5X Thermal Riflescope – Best Budget Thermal Scope
The Thor 4 rifle scope series came about as a fulfillment to demands made by hunters and shooters alike. Day or nighttime shooting, it doesn’t matter. If you need the kind of detection that keeps you at a distance while you can watch and stalk your unwitting prey, the Thor 4 was made to provide it. Here’s what you get when you combine smart tech and next generation quality together.
- Smart technology
- 60Hz rate
- Multiple digital features
- Gen 4 Sensor
- Quality control issues
This Thor 4 384 1.25-5x is at the lower end of the price and magnification range for the Thor 4 series. With low power, detection range is a max of 750 m with an identification range of 205 m.
The thing is, quality control issues seem to be related to firmware glitches and actually being able to use the thermal scope without it powering off. However, this isn’t an issue that ATN experiences alone. Many of the best digital scopes, regardless of brand, often have electronic issues. The Thor 4 scope has a 3-year warranty, and you’ll want to be vendor-specific when you’re ready to buy.
If you’re ready to pull the trigger on a cheap thermal scope, you’ll appreciate the surprisingly, high-quality thermal imaging. It has the dual core 4th gen sensor with a 60Hz refresh rate. That 60Hz will come in handy when you’ve got moving targets in field of view.
It has many digital features that you may have heard of: Ballistic Calculator, Smart Rangefinder, One Shot Zero, and Video Recording and Dual Streaming. Of course, there’s probably more features than you’ll ever use equipped on the Thor 4, but it’s your prerogative to have them.
You won’t have to worry about these endless features eating up battery life since the scope has an ultra-low power consumption rate. You’ll get 18 hours of practical use before needing to recharge your Thor.
It’s designed to be a high-performing and smart optic, but it’s still at the entry-level end for a digital scope. If you’ve got a strict budget to stick to, the Thor 4 may be your only option.
Best Thermal Scopes for Hunting
6. Pulsar Core FXQ38 Thermal Monocular – Best Coyote Hunting Thermal Scope
The FXQ38 thermal scope from Pulsar is a two-in-one optic designed for use as a thermal monocular and as a clip-on attachment to your scope. Check out your surroundings up to 1475 yards (1350 m) and then clip it on to the end of your daytime rifle scope for thermal imaging power. It’s that easy!
- 2-in-1 design
- IRIS technology
- Green OLED display
- Wireless remote control
- Requires coupler/adapter for connection
The convenient feature about the Pulsar Core forward scope is the rail-free design that allows mounting directly to the objective bell of your daytime rifle scope. Simply switch out the interchangeable eyepiece with the mounting coupler needed to fit the rifle scope and you’re good to go thermal for the rest of the hunt or special ops scenario.
Unfortunately, the coupler needed to attach the FXQ38 doesn’t come included as an accessory, so you’ll have to buy it separately. It comes in three sizes: 42, 50, and 56 mm to fit the objective bell of your scope. It’s important to note the internal bushings on the couplers must be sized with the outer diameter of the scope – not the objective lens size.
If you’re willing to get the extra piece to turn the monocular into a mounted scope, you’ll appreciate the light weight of only 13 ounces that won’t significantly affect the balance of your overall weapon and scope system.
It has a green OLED display that you might initially confuse with night vision, but to be clear, it’s a thermal imaging device. You can change the polarity between Black Hot and White Hot, but it will still be reflected in green tones.
What’s the IRIS technology? It’s their detection and recognition software that allows you to clearly see targets at distances over 1000 yards. With a 384×288 50Hz sensor, image quality is above par. It’s not a bells and whistles type of scope as it ditches features such as a rangefinder, video out, and other internal options. But, as a compact, easy-to-use forward thermal rifle scope, it leads the pack in ingenuity and performance.
7. Sig Sauer Echo 3 – Best Hog Thermal Scope Hunting
The Echo 3 is a thermal reflex sight. Yes, we know exactly what you’re thinking. Mount to AR. Wait for cover of darkness. Hog hunting on! We must be on the same wavelength.
- 1-6x power/10-degree FOV
- LevelPlex Anti-Cant System
- Motion-activated display
- Quick disconnect mount
For something so small and tiny, it sure has a heck of a price tag especially since it’s not even a
rifle scope.” While it’s technically not a traditional “scope,” it sure is a high-performing thermal device that you can mount to your AR for hog hunting! With its quick disconnect mount, you can simply remove it if you don’t need it for daylight shooting, but who doesn’t like a little thermal during the day too?
It has a 6x magnification and a nice, large 10-degree FOV for a sight. Yes, it’ll hold up to heavy loads and heavy use as it has the trade-marked LevelPlex Anti-Cant System with scope cant sensitivity down to 0.5-degrees.
If you’re already a Sig fan, you may already have Sig Sauer BDX compatible optics, and fortunately, they’re smart enough to add this WiFi/Bluetooth technology to the Echo 3. It also has multiple reticles to choose between, a heck of a load of elevation and windage adjustment travel, and minute 0.5 MOA adjustment increments.
The Echo is designed with hog and predator hunters in mind, so a convenient feature you’ll appreciate is the motion-activated display that powers up when it “sees” motion. Ears fluffing against the brush, snorts snorting, and hoofs hoofing – you’ll see it all through the 1-6x Echo 3 thermal reflex sight.
Best Clip On Thermal Scope
8. Armasight by FLIR Apollo Pro MR 640 Scope
The Apollo Pro MR is the real deal. It’s loaded, jam-packed, crammed to the seams with what seems to be an endless list of features and technology to give you sight at night. The best thing about it? It just may be the most advanced clip-on system you will ever come across. Check out the pros and cons of the Apollo Pro below:
- No zeroing required
- Mount in front of daytime scope
- Digital features
- Remote control
- FLIR Tau 2 core
- Requires extended rail on rifle
If you want to use the same weapon for day and night purposes, you’ll need a clip-on. The best clip-on systems give you the functionality to hunt, surveil, search, and detect with the benefits of thermal without changing weapons or going through the hassle of a full mounting process and re-zeroing your scope every time. At least, that’s what the Apollo Pro MR claims to do.
As a clip-on thermal scope, it’s designed to sit easy in front of your daytime scope. You’ll need to purchase an extended weaver or Picatinny rail to allow mounting. While it can be locked down to the rail for a secure and tight mount, it can be removed with its quick-disconnect system. Even though it’s specifically designed to work in front of your magnified sight, it can also be used as a stand-alone monocular.
This model has a 50 mm objective lens, 30 Hz refresh rate, and 640×512 sensor resolution. Optical magnification is 1x, but with digital zoom, you can scale your way up to 2x, 4x, and 8x power. 4 reticle color and 6 pattern options are available and so is a variety of imaging modes that includes White Hot, Black Hot, Rainbow, and more.
A wireless remote is also included for quick operation without taking your eyes off the sight picture or changing your armed position. You also have two battery options to take advantage of: four CR123A V or 4 AA batteries that will keep you out for about 7 hours max.
FLIR takes the approach that the less you have to do on your weapon and sights system means more time out in the field.
Best Surveillance Thermal Scope
9. Armasight by FLIR Zeus 336 3-12X50 Thermal Riflescope
This 3-12×50 thermal rifle scope is just one product model from the popular series of Zeus 336 scopes. They’re designed to be the ultimate value optic that balances out quality and features with price. Primarily designed as a weapon scope, it’s suitable for a range of applications that includes military use, law enforcement and SWAT purposes, and even for the committed hunter out in the field. What’s your game plan?
- AMOLED display
- FLIR Tau 2 core sensor
- Made in USA
- Quality control issues
The Armasight Zeus 336 has FLIR’s Tau 2 17-micron uncooled core technology with the latest upgrades and improvements. This model has a 30Hz refresh rate, multiple color palettes, and reticle options including a “no reticle” setting. You also have digital zoom to progressively increase your power range at 1x, 2x, and 4x magnification.
The large 50 mm objective lens is made with Germanium. The body has been made with CNC-machined aircraft aluminum alloy to keep its weight down to 1.5 lbs. It’s 10.2 x 2.9 x 3.3 inches in size and is compact for a thermal optic. You can wield the Zeus as a portable, handheld monocular if you wanted to.
The device is also loaded with various imaging tools that you can adjust and switch between, such as Active Contrast Enhancement (ACE), Smart Scene Optimization (SSO), Automatic Gain Control (AGC), and more to significantly improve and fine-tune your sight picture.
However, there seems to be some quality control issues with Zeus 336 thermal scopes whether it be grainy sight picture at zoom power or electronic disfunction in some form or another. Fortunately, it is covered with a 3-year warranty and 10-year warranty on the detector.
It’s not a decked-out thermal scope, but it’s made to be an intuitive, high-functioning thermal unit for the field.
What to Look for in a Good Thermal Scope
Thermal scopes are not cheap or affordable optics. Their technology is still new compared to night vision (NV), and it explains why it’s still so expensive, even next to night vision devices.
But, thermal imaging allows for an extensive detection range of targets since it’s picking up temperature/heat signatures. Although thermals can be used in both day and night conditions, they’re even more effective at night when temperature differences between objects and surroundings are vastly different.
The best thermal rifle scopes can pick up minute temperature differences, and its ability to do so will depend on the thermal detector/sensor sensitivity. You’ll also need to consider how display resolution will affect image quality, and even though high-power scopes can extend your range, pixel quality can become poor with an increase in power.
There’s a lot to consider, so let’s break it down for you.
Features To Consider in a Good Thermal Scope
The best thermals are going to be over $5000. While these are often the best-of-the-best scopes you can buy, you’ll get practical use from options in the $2000-$5000 range. If you’re looking for a cheap thermal scope under $1000, you won’t find one. There will be some thermal units under $2000 but be brand-specific to get good warranty and money-back guarantee coverage since quality control issues should be expected in this price range.
Night Vision VS Thermal Imaging
They’re not the same thing. Night vision relies on any ambient light being available. It enhances this visible light to essentially provide “night vision” capability. Thermal imaging doesn’t provide the kind of detail night vision scopes do. Instead, it reads temperature signatures in part of the lightwave spectrum that cannot be seen by the human eye. For more on the differences between the two technologies, check out our comparison article.
Thermal imaging scopes have been heavy and big. Average weight for a standard thermal rifle scope is around 2 pounds. Lightweight thermals weigh in around 1-1.5 pounds which is comparable to regular daytime rifle scopes. While thermals may be around the same length of traditional rifle scopes, and even shorter, the internal components needed to provide thermal imaging makes them wider. Their overall size and weight will influence your hunting or tactical weapon and sight system.
A lightweight and compact option may be to consider a clip-on system. Not only does it shed size and weight, they’re designed to be used in front of your daytime scope and should be easily removable and attachable.
Thermals can provide over 1000+ yards of detection range on targets regardless of day or night conditions. However, the distance at which you can recognize and identify what your target is will be significantly shorter.
These ranges will vary between manufacturers, models, and quality. The thermal detector sensitivity will be the prime factor you will want to research. Increasing magnification can help to quickly recognize and identify a faraway target, but it can also cause poor pixelage resulting in a grainy picture. Display resolution will also determine the quality of the sight picture.
30Hz VS 60Hz
This is the refresh frame rate that keeps your sight picture updated and looking as natural as possible. They say that the human eye finds it difficult to notice the difference between 30Hz and 60Hz quality. However, if you’re going to be on a moving platform or continuously watching/hunting moving targets, you’ll want the 60Hz upgrade to have the fastest, more natural-looking sight picture for your application.
With everything a thermal imaging scope has to provide, you can bet they’re essentially fragile optics. While they’ve been shock and recoil-tested to be used on weapons, they’re still not optics you want to leave exposed to prolonged weather as most scopes will be water-resistant only. Consider build quality to ensure it lasts, and a good repair/replace warranty from a reputable brand is paramount.
Many scopes, especially the lower-end ones will have many added features. It can include rangefinders, various video recording capabilities, and everything from accelerometers to WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. While these features are sometimes helpful, be sure to research if they’re built into the scope or if they’re only available via connection to a smartphone/app. These details may influence your decision.
However, regardless of added, digital features, you always want to be guaranteed high quality at its core. Foundational features such as core technology, resolution, build, battery life and overall quality should always top in as the priority over the tempting add-ons.
Thermal Rifle Scopes: Ultimate Detective & Hunting Tools
Thermal imaging can provide clues that not even night vision scopes can compete with. You can see visible suspects and game at far-off distances, and for the intelligence-gathering agent, you may be able to see vehicles that were just used. The hunter may even be able to follow the blood trail of recently downed game.
Whatever your application, thermal has changed the way a shooter or observer hunts and gathers intelligence. Remain covert. Have the strategic advantage. See details no one else can see. Get the best. Get thermal!