15 Best Thermal Scopes for Hunting & Shooting in 2023

Hunter pointing his rifle with thermal scope towards his prey at sunset on a 2023 hunt
Best Thermal Scopes for Hunting & Shooting of 2023

Picture this: you’ve mounted one of 2023’s best thermal scopes to your rifle, and you’re about to head out on a nighttime coyote or hog hunt. Well, buckle up, cowboys and cowgirls, because I’m here to give you the info you need to pull the trigger on a cutting-edge scope that’ll help you stop that prey dead in its tracks.

Here you’ll find an extensive list of 2023’s latest and best scopes, chock full of the most up-to-date tech you’ll need for the upcoming season. Whether you’re searching for budget buys, mid-range options, or high-end gear to make your buddies jealous — you’ll find it all here.

To ensure our recommendations hit the mark, we’ve only included scopes from the most trusted brands in the industry, including ATN, Pulsar, Steiner, Trijicon, and more. All products on this list come highly-rated by fellow hunters in forums, product reviews, and hands-on gear videos.

Did I mention that these brands have engineered some mind-blowing features into their scopes? Whether you’re searching for digital imaging with real-time feeds to external devices, helpful GPS shot logging, or long-range detection of over 2,000 yards, you’ll find products that fit the bill on this list.

For each of the 15 scopes I recommend, I’ll give a complete rundown of its features, specs, and which type of hunters and shooters would find it most useful. Afterward, I’ll give you first-hand insight and scope reviews from seasoned hunters and nighttime sharpshooters across the industry.

Combine all this info with an easy-to-understand breakdown of how thermal scopes work and how to use them properly, and you might have the most comprehensive guide to infrared thermal imaging scopes on the internet.

So, no matter your budget or which features you’re looking for, you’ll find a product that checks off the boxes here. We’ve left no stone unturned in our quest to put 2023’s best thermal scope in your crosshairs, so take a deep breath, keep reading, and get ready to make a serious upgrade to your rifle kit.

Table of Contents

Best Thermal Scopes of 2023

Thermal Scope FAQ

Thermal technology is complicated and hard to digest, so we wanted to answer some of the most frequently asked questions on the subject. If there’s anything this section doesn’t clear up, feel free to drop us a comment below, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

What’s the Difference Between Thermal Imaging and Night Vision?

Thermal scopes use infrared radiation to detect differences in the temperature of objects. This signal is translated into your display or eyepiece, typically as a red, yellow, or orange color. Heat signatures are infallible and much safer when targeting animals or live objects.

Night vision devices collect all visible light and amplify it into your scope, making scenes at night appear more like daytime. The problem is that you can’t differentiate living things from their ambient background. Night vision is also hindered by dust, smoke, fog, and sunlight.

Because of these downsides, night vision is inferior to thermal imaging in almost every way.

How Does a Thermal Scope Work?

Everything naturally gives off a heat signature, usually in the form of heat waves or infrared radiation. Though subtle heat changes would be hard to detect with touch, thermal scopes can detect even the slightest variances in heat and display them as an image inside the eyepiece of your device.

From rocks to trees to wild boars, every object gives off a certain amount of infrared waves, which then enter the unique lens on your scope (which is made from germanium crystals). This wave then reaches what is known as a microbolometer, which is a sensor comprised of smaller sensors, each the size of a single pixel.

The microbolometer sends data into a computer processor, which translates that data into a high-definition image. That image is then displayed through your eyepiece or an external device.

Can You Use a Thermal Scope During the Daytime?

Because thermal imaging only senses light in the infrared spectrum, it is unaffected by sunlight. Therefore, thermal scopes are useful 24 hours a day. This is especially helpful when looking for a living object during the day, whether it is camouflaged or hiding, as it will still give off a heat signature.

On the other hand, night vision technology isn’t helpful during the daytime because its sensors only magnify ambient light. Too much light will overwhelm the sensors and make them unusable.

For these reasons, thermal technology is far superior to night vision.

Do Thermal Scopes Work Through Glass or Smoke?

Because a thermal scope reads long-wave infrared radiation, it can’t see through glass. The reason is glass, in particular, deflects waves in the infrared spectrum, making it like a mirror. If you look into a pane of glass with one of these scopes, the only heat signature you’ll see will be your own.

Smoke, dust, or other airborne debris like rain and fog do not block infrared radiation. While it may slightly distort the image temporarily by refraction, it won’t interfere with its heat signature. Yet another reason why thermal scopes are superior to night vision.

Where Should I Buy My Scope: Amazon, OpticsPlanet, or EuroOptic?

I wanted to share my experiences with purchasing optics online to help you with your buying process. I’m always quite wary of my delicate online orders becoming damaged on the way to my house. When I spend $5,000 on something, I want to arrive at my home in perfect condition.

I’ve had issues receiving broken or damaged gear from Amazon, but never with purchases from OpticsPlanet or EuroOptic. The positive note is that Amazon has remedied any problems I’ve had in the past, including broken or damaged goods. (OpticsPlanet and EuroOptic also have great customer service.)

OpticsPlanet has an incredible rewards program that gives customers up to 20% back on their purchase in the form of Bonus Bucks that can be redeemed like cash. At the time of writing this, our #1 recommendation earns 12% Bonus Bucks, or $493 in rewards. That’s pretty generous.

EuroOptic is also great, and one big reason we love them is their ultra-fast one-day “RED” shipping. At no extra cost to you, EuroOptic offers ultra-expedited shipping for some of their more high-ticket items. They also have a price matching policy, so hit them up if you see a better deal elsewhere.

Best Overall Thermal Scope
ATN ThOR 4 2.5 – 25x Thermal Smart HD

ATN ThOR 4 rifle optics

Zoom: 2.5 – 25x
Objective Lens: 50mm
Refresh Rate: 60Hz
Resolution: 1280 x 720
Sensor Resolution: 640 x 480

Coming in hot, the ATN ThOR 4 2.5 – 25x takes our top spot with the 2nd best lens package of 2023. This finely-tuned high-tech piece of machinery features some of the most up-to-date Smart Technology and has an easy-to-use interface.

This bad boy is equipped with a 640-pixel sensor with the extra power and lens capability that more-basic 328-pixel options can’t keep up with. It boasts a stellar detection range of 1,950 yards and identification and recognition ranges of 475 and 800 yards. These features, combined with a 50mm objective lens and high-resolution microbolometer, make for one of the most crystal clear thermal imaging experiences on the market.

As a relatively inexpensive add-on, I recommend getting the auxiliary rangefinder to pair with your scope. It’ll ultimately unlock crystal clear long-range capabilities and help you adjust for distance, windage, and ballistics with ease. Further, it’ll allow you to store several weapons profiles in your scope.

We’ve dubbed the ATN ThOR 2.5 – 25x the king of all thermal scopes on this list, but we also recommend several less expensive ThOR 4 models later on in this post. Being as it’s at the top of the heap, this scope is a no-brainer if you have the money to spend.

  • Pros: Easy to mount, easy user interface, long battery life, one-shot zero, GPS
  • Cons: A little pricy, but this is pretty much the entry price for a 640 sensor
  • Best for: Serious rifle shooters, group hunters, those looking to record their hunts

Best Thermal Scope for the Money
Pulsar Core RXQ30V

Pulsar Core infrared optical device for rifles

Zoom: 1.6 – 6.4x
Objective Lens: 22mm
Refresh Rate: 50 Hz
Resolution: 640 x 480 pixels
Sensor Resolution: 384 x 288

When you arrive at the intersection of quality and affordability in the thermal market, the Pulsar Core RXQ30V will be waiting. This scope isn’t as powerful as the higher-end options on this list, but it’s hands down the best bang for your buck.

Just ask my friend, Simon, from Alabama, who toyed around with night vision scopes for a few years when trying to find a suitable solution for his ranch’s hog problem. Because of night vision’s inferior tech, he had difficulty making out the hogs and almost shot his dog on accident.

Don’t worry; Simon’s story has a happy ending. Thanks to his new Pulsar Core, he now has a far superior way of spotting and eliminating destructive hogs after dark. He loves the scope’s resolution and brags he can identify these invasive beasts quickly and clearly up to 200 yards. He has it mounted on his AR-style .223 and said it fits his setup perfectly.

That said, this isn’t a very feature-rich thermal scope, and it won’t record as well as all the high-end options on this list. But if you’re looking for a high-quality, no-frills scope that gets the job done at an approachable price point, you’ve found your match.

  • Pros: Inexpensive, durable, decent battery life
  • Cons: Lacks long-range capabilities and additional features
  • Best for: Entry-level thermal shooters, those performing damage control on their property


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Creme-De-La-Creme High-End Option
Pulsar Thermion 2 XP50 & XG 50

Pulsar Thermion 2 XP50, the best thermal scope of 2023 for the money

Zoom: 3 – 24x
Objective Lens: 42mm
Refresh Rate: 60Hz
Display Resolution: AMOLED 1024 x 768
Sensor Resolution: 640 x 480

Man, oh, man, the Pulsar Thermion 2 has got me all worked up. While my wife will undoubtedly get upset when I purchase this, I may pull the trigger on it this year anyway. I’m not sure how I’ll bring it up to her, but I’ll practice with you first.

First off, I feel that this scope is far superior to any others in the 640 microbolometer class. It has the sleekest and most state-of-the-art design of anything on this list, and its dominance doesn’t end there.

It boasts detection up to a ridiculous 2,300 yards and proprietary software that boosts image quality to make it even more effective at a distance. If that weren’t enough, it comes with video and still image recording, impressive battery life, and a crystal clean 8x zoom ratio. It’s durable, waterproof, and may just be the only thermal scope you ever need, so long as you take care of it.

This bad boy is recoil-resistant of any scope you’ll see, as fellow hunters remark that it’s unaffected by a 12 gauge shotgun up to a 375 H&H. If you’re going on an African Safari hunt, this is the scope for you. (This scope is ideal for any type of hunt, to be honest.)

  • Pros: Best-in-class range, durability, waterproof, fantastic clarity in the eyepiece, and recoil-resistant for any rifle
  • Cons: Pricey, but you get what you pay for (this is not an entry-level scope)
  • Best for: Those looking for the best of the best and will not sacrifice any feature or quality to save a few bucks

Spare-No-Expense Top-Of-The-Line Scope
Trijicon Electro Optics REAP-IR Type 3

Trijicon Electro Optics REAP-IR Type 3 rifle device for infrared imaging

Zoom: 1.7 – 14x
Objective Lens: 24, 35, 60mm
Refresh Rate: 60 Hz
Display Resolution: OLED
Sensor Resolution: 640 x 480

The Trijicon Electro Optics REAP-IR Type 3 is only for the most discerning hunters and shooters who do their homework and leave nothing to chance. If you’re a tactical squadron of BAMFs or a serious ‘yote hunter, look no further than this top-notch thermal scope.

Yes, this unit is costly, but you get what you pay for in spades. It’s built to Military Standard 810G, meaning you can expect world-class performance from it no matter what conditions you may encounter. When I was a medic in the Army, I drooled over these rock-solid thermals whenever I hung out with the infantry recon guys in my unit.

The refresh rate on this unit is next-to-nothing and will allow you to follow moving targets flawlessly. It comes in three sizes of objective lenses — 24mm, 35mm, and 60mm — each with increasing abilities (and price tags). I recommend the 35 mm; use it at close range, long-range, or any range in between, and you’ll be sitting pretty.

I was torn when making this suggestion between Trijicon’s IR-HUNTER and the REAP-IR models. The IR-HUNTER is a little more feature-rich with fast turret controls, but the REAP-IR is far more compact, portable, and lightweight. To me, the REAP-IR is the more practical and easier to use choice.

If you need to extend the maximum effective range on your scope, consider the 60mm unit, though it would be overkill for most purposes.

  • Pros: Very durable, incredible refresh rate, extremely well-reviewed, available in three different objective lens sizes
  • Cons: Very pricey
  • Best for: Professional security, military, police, serious hunters


Reliable Buy Under $3,000
AGM Global Vision Rattler

AGM Global Vision Rattler scope for hog, coyote, and predator hunting

Zoom: 2.1 – 8x
Objective lens: 35mm
Refresh Rate: 50Hz
Display Resolution: 1024 x 728
Sensor Resolution: 384 x 288

Sub-$3,000 is an interesting price range for thermal scopes. While they typically won’t have the same features of the $4,000 range, you can still find some tremendous infrared scopes that you shouldn’t overlook. The AGM Global Vision Rattler is a shining example of why.

This scope weighs less than a pound and is super compact, making it a very intriguing option. It’s so tiny, in fact, it can be detached from your rifle and easily used as a monocle. There are plenty of scenarios in both hunting and patrolling, where having this ability creates a significant tactical advantage.

Its maximum effective range is around 300 yards, which isn’t huge, but for some people, that’s all they’ll need. Look no further if you’re searching for an all-around solid scope for property protection and keeping the ranch clear of varmints, hogs, and coyotes.

  • Pros: Compact, Lightweight, detachable for use as a monacle, super clear display, easy interface, WiFi capable for streaming
  • Cons: Not great for long-range applications
  • Best for: Self-defense, varmint control, or medium-range hunting rifle

Feature-Rich Mid-Range Option
ATN ThOR 4 4.5 – 18x Thermal Smart HD

ATN ThOR 4 Thermal Smart HD night vision optics for hunters

Zoom: 4.5 – 18x
Objective Lens: 50mm
Refresh Rate: 60Hz
Resolution: 1280 x 720
Sensor Resolution: 384 x 288

This scope probably looks familiar, and that’s because it’s our second recommendation from the ATN ThOR 4 series. This is your best bet if you love the ATN ThOR with the 640 but don’t want to drop four grand. It doesn’t have the 640 x 480 sensor resolution as our top recommendation, but it does offer many of the same high-end features.

It has a staggering detection range of 1,800 yards and an identification and recognition range of between 420 and 720 yards, making it comparable to the 640 x 480 model. (You can thank the 50mm objective lens combined with a zoom ratio of four for this.) This should offer plenty of range for most hunting and night shooting needs, as targets beyond this range are typically too far for most shooters.

As an additional add-on, you can buy an auxiliary rangefinder to attach to the scope. I highly recommend purchasing one as it’ll help you maximize the longer-range shooting capabilities of this scope.

  • Pros: Easy to mount, easy user interface, long battery life, one-shot zero, can share real-time range and target data with others in your group
  • Cons: 384 series leaves a little to be desired, but an upgrade comes at a cost
  • Best for: Hunting, night or daytime shooting, hunting groups

Our Top Choice for Under $2,000
ATN ThOR 4 1.25 – 5x Thermal Smart HD

ATN ThOR 4 Thermal Smart HD optics for rifles and ars

Zoom: 1.25 – 5x
Objective Lens: 19mm
Refresh Rate: 60Hz
Display Resolution: 1280 x 720 Pixels
Sensor Resolution: 384 x 288 Pixels

Surprise, surprise — we’re recommending another product from the ATN ThOR 4 series. It goes without saying that this series of thermal scopes have excellent options at all price points. Scopes from other brands at this cost will have comparable picture quality and accuracy but can’t go toe-toe with the unique technology you’ll find in this beauty.

For starters, this has an easy-to-use and easy-to-install interface and helpful one-shot zeroing features, with wind, ballistics, and elevation adjustments also coming standard. Users can choose between seven different reticles, allowing them to use this scope in various applications.

As you might expect with its specs, the ATN ThOR 4 1.25 – 5x has a detection range of about 750 meters and a recognition and identification range of 205 and 340 meters. It has a zoom ratio of four, a very decent magnification for its smaller 19mm lens.

At this price point, there isn’t a single other scope on the 2023 market that compares.

  • Pros: Good tech, solid magnification for the price, one-shot zero, rangefinding capabilities (with extra mod), can share real-time range and target data with others in your group
  • Cons: The objective lens is pretty tiny, limiting your field of view and clarity
  • Best for: Hunting, night or daytime shooting, hunting groups

Budget-Friendly Option for Under $1,000

Cheap camo ATN ThOR LT gun sight for coyote, hog, and predator hunting

Zoom: 3 – 6x
Objective Lens: 50mm
Refresh Rate: 60 Hz
Display Resolution: 1280 x 720 pixels
Sensor Resolution:

The ATN ThOR LT is about as “cheap” as it gets price-wise for thermals, but it’s not a poorly made scope by any stretch of the imagination. For its price, it works well within its range to detect heat signatures and identify species and sizes. The problem about that range, though, is that it’s a stretch to use this at 200 yards.

It has its uses for an entry-level thermal, and it is a quality option out to 150 yards, though that might not be enough reach for your hunting style or situation. But if you’re a rancher or farmer whose plain are sick of coyotes getting into your business, this may be just enough for your needs.

The ThOR LT still excels at close distances and comes with many useable features, including the ability to record your experience. It also boasts a 60 Hz refresh rate, which matches the best on this list. Don’t overlook this scope, especially if it’s within your price range.

  • Pros: Excellent scope within its range limit, fantastic refresh rate, excellent user interface
  • Cons: Lacking the features and power of its older brother, the ThOR 4
  • Best for: Entry-level shooters and those performing close-range damage control or self-defense

Best Scope for Hog Hunting
Bering Optics Hogster Stimulus

Bering Optics Hogster Stimulus infrared sight for hunting and shooting

Zoom: 2.3-4.6x
Objective Lens: 19mm
Refresh Rate: 30 Hz
Display Resolution: 1024 x 768
Sensor Resolution: 256 x 192

The Bering Optics Hogster Stimulus is an affordable scope for the farmers and ranchers out there trying to do a little damage control by dropping a few piggies. It’s a downright reliable option with some high-end qualities at a fraction of the price you might expect.

You don’t need to go all out and purchase a $5,000 scope to hunt hogs. Sure, if you can afford it, the more expensive scopes will do more, but that’s not the point. If you don’t crave over-the-top tech specs or need to record your hunts, this might be right up your alley.

The battery appears to be lacking on this scope, as most people report they can only get about 3.5 hours of continuous use. You can mitigate this by purchasing the package deal in the link above, which should give you a few extra hours of battery life, at the very least.

Grab this puppy if you’re hard on your gear, as there’s nothing worse than breaking a $5,000 scope on a hog hunt. And if you’re torn between this scope and the slightly less expensive ThOR LT, I’d recommend this one 100 times out of 100. It has a much better digital zoom with a zoom ratio of two, which is solid for the price.

  • Pros: Inexpensive, good detection range, crisp image considering sensor resolution, lightest option on this list
  • Cons: No bells-and-whistles, sensor resolution is smallest on this list, low refresh rate
  • Best for: Hog and predator hunters looking for an inexpensive but reliable thermal scope


Mutt-Bustin Coyote Hunting Sight

iRay USA RICO Mk1 thermal sight for rifles and ars

Zoom: 2 – 4x
Objective Lens: 35, 42, 50mm
Refresh Rate: 50 Hz
Display Resolution: AMOLED 1024 x 768
Sensor Resolution: 640 x 480

Many hunters swear by their iRay thermal scopes, and I can see why. I’ve never tried one, but when I reached out to my buddies who chose this over the more popular ATN or Pulsar brands, they all told me the same thing: this is as reliable and capable as they come.

What sets iRay apart is its advanced built-in software called the Matrix III, which takes images and refines them even further than they usually would be. The result is crystal clear images in the eyepiece, which is especially useful with moving targets and under zoom, like coyotes and hogs.

This beast also sports the ability for recoil resistance up to a .300 Win Mag or 7mm, which is critical for those who want to run larger rifles during their hog or coyote hunts. Its 32 GBs of storage and six hours of runtime will let you film and store your hunting adventures without maxing out your memory or draining your battery prematurely.

Considering all of these features work alongside a 60 Hz refresh rate, a high-resolution 12-micron core, and a 640 x 480 sensor resolution, the RICO MK1 sure checks off a lot of boxes.

iRay is made in the USA and touts their products as “the best thermal images on the market,” and I have no reason to doubt them.

  • Pros: Best picture quality, best software, durable, compact, lightweight
  • Cons: 4,400 mAh battery isn’t bad but could be better
  • Best for: Hog and predator hunting, those looking for crystal clear optics


Best for Long-Range Hunting
N-Vision Optics HALO-LR

N-Vision Optics HALO-LR sight for long-range shooting and hunting

Zoom: 1 – 8x
Objective Lens: 50mm
Refresh Rate: 60Hz
Display Resolution: OLED 1024 x 768
Sensor: 640 x 380 12 Micron

The N-Vision Optics HALO-LR boasts one of the best long-range thermal scopes of 2023. It’s highly rated all over the internet, and I’ve yet to find a single hunter or shooter unhappy with its capabilities. If you’re a long-range shooter who likes to stretch your shots over 500 yards, this may be the best solution.

Users report zero lag even at full-zoom, making this scope handy for those trying to track an object at a distance. It also boasts a wide field of view at magnification and is rated for recoil resistance of a 50 BMG. In other words, it’s a beast that can take a beating.

I wish N-Vison would have given this an AMOLED screen as a personal preference, but I imagine they went with a standard OLED to increase the field of view. (I’d love to Frankenstein this optic with the PATROL-IR from Trijicon if we’re being honest with each other.)

One major downfall of this scope is that I can never find it in stock anywhere. If you run into this problem and need something sooner rather than later, go with a Pulsar Thermion 2. They are both made from super-durable, waterproof, military-grade hardware, so you’ll be satisfied either way.

  • Pros: Everything you want in a thermal, extraordinarily reliable and durable
  • Cons: Pricey, hard to find in stock
  • Best for: Long-range shooters, snipers, hunters who want a scope that checks all the boxes


Multi-Use Clip-On Option
Burris BTC 35/50

Burris BTC 35/50 50mm clip-on for multi-uses

Zoom: 3.3 – 13.2x
Objective Lens: 50mm
Refresh Rate: 50Hz
Display Resolution: OLED 1024 x 786
Sensor Resolution: 400 x 300

Smart shooters should consider a clip-on thermal scope like the Burris BTC 35/50. Why? Because you can use it as both a handheld thermal device and an attachment to your already lethal rifle setup. Just pop this gadget on the end of your current scope in mere seconds for instant thermal capabilities. Have to love that versatility.

This clip-on has digital zoom, but for the most part, your magnification will come from your regular scope. So, if you already have your rifle dialed in and want to extend its capabilities to the nighttime, this should work like a dream. If you have a spotter, their ability to use this as a monocular with ranging capabilities makes it quite the handy tool.

On top of its ranging capabilities, the Burris BTC 35/50 touts many of the same Smart Features you’ll find amongst the top scopes on the market. That’s remarkable when you consider that similarly performing thermal scopes cost a minimum of $4,000 or more. Great value, great versatility. Enough said.

From the research I’ve done, this seems to be one of the top-rated clip-ons in hunting forums and YouTube reviews. In my eyes, this scope is as close to a “sure thing” as all the clip-ons I researched for this buyer’s guide.

  • Pros: Good value, versatile, great for shooters with spotters, durable, easy user interface
  • Cons: Limited zoom capabilities, your rifle scope will determine its overall magnification
  • Best for: Anyone looking to get into the thermal scope market

“Good as it Gets” High-End Clip-On
Pulsar Krypton FXG 50

Big money Pulsar Krypton FXG 50mm infrared imagine scope for hunting and shooting

Zoom: 1x
Objective Lens: 50 mm
Refresh Rate: 50 Hz
Display Resolution: HD AMOLED 1746 x 1000
Sensor Resolutions: 640 x 480

According to several product reviews and YouTube videos, the Krypton FXG 50 offers “the best imaging of any Pulsar device.” While I find it hard to believe that it’s better than the Thermion 2, I have no doubt it’s Pulsar’s best clip-on. Like the Burris BTC above, it can attach to your scope in seconds and requires no re-zero.

Rated as waterproof, this thermal clip-on should be useful in rain, sleet, snow, or any other challenging conditions. Not to mention, it has the same power objective lens and AMOLED screen as the Thermion series, but at a fraction of the size and weight. Unreal.

This little gizmo will instantly upgrade your kit if you already have a beloved rifle and scope setup for hunting or self-defense. It’s lightweight, compact, and easy to take on and off, characteristics I value when running and gunning on a nighttime hunt.

Compared to the Burris BTC, I’d say this clip-on scope is stronger in terms of field of view and viewing resolution. It doesn’t have some of the intelligent features that the Burris does, however, so the choice is up to you. You can’t go wrong with either option if you ask me.

  • Pros: Small yet mighty, fantastic image quality (one of the best on this list)
  • Cons: None we can think of
  • Best for: Quick scope exchange, great for dark nights and low-light twilight when you need to pop this on to ensure your target (this comes in handy if you are trying to shoot a bull elk at last light)

Tactical Infrared Scope for Self Defense & Security
Steiner eOptics Close Quarter Red Dot

Steiner eOptics Close Quarter Red Dot device for rifles, ars, and other guns

Zoom: 1 – 4x
Objective Lens: 18mm
Refresh Rate: 60 Hz
Sensor Resolution: 320 x 240
Display Resolution: 800 x 600

Behold, the most impressive tech in self-defense and short-range thermals on the market, the Steiner Close Quarter Red Dot. This incredible feat of engineering was developed for the most tactical close-quarters police and military situations when you rely on your gear to keep you alive.

Clearing a room in the dark should be straightforward with this high-end thermal scope. It works by projecting a holographic display into its red dot sight, meaning you can also use it in the daytime. This feature alone makes this scope the top choice for those serious about self-defense.

Bad guys won’t even see you coming with this AR-rail-mountable thermal red dot scope. They’ll simply pay the ultimate price for messing with you, the person who invested in the industry’s best technology to protect themselves and their loved ones.

If you’re serious about home defense, you must also be serious about your rifle and scope kit, which is why the $10,000 Steiner Close Quarter Red Dot thermal sight is worth every penny.

  • Pros: Military-grade hardware, durable, accurate, one-of-a-kind tech
  • Cons: You’re going to take a severe hit to your bank account (totally worth it when your buddies get a load of this thing)
  • Best for: Military, police, self-defense, tactical situations, end-of-the-world preppers

Affordable Thermal Alternative (Night-Vision Scope)

ATN X-Site LTV night vision scope

Zoom: 3 – 9x
Objective Lens: 30mm
Refresh Rate: 60Hz
Sensor Resolution: 2688 x 1944
Display Resolution: 1280 x 720

Okay, okay, you caught me. This recommendation isn’t a thermal scope. It’s a night vision scope that takes in ambient light and amplifies it into a digital picture onto your display. The problem with night vision is that it’s hard to tell precisely where and what an object is.

That’s not to say this scope doesn’t have its uses, which is why it still made this list. The truth is, I wanted to provide a recommendation for those who don’t have the budget for a thermal. If you need a scope for hog, coyote, or predator hunting right now, and this is all you can afford, it may just get the job done.

The ATN X-Site LTV is a solid product for anyone who needs to see close-range targets on a starlit or moonlit night. In more challenging situations than these, you risk misidentifying your target, so exercise caution and temper your expectations.

  • Pros: Fast and responsive refresh rate, excellent picture quality, decent zoom, and large objective lens.
  • Cons: Not a thermal scope, meaning it’s far less helpful, can’t be used during the day
  • Best for: Shooters who need to see at night right now but don’t have the budget for thermal

Factors To Consider When Choosing a New Scope

N-Vision Optics HALO-LR long-range thermal imagine sight against a backdrop of woods at night
Thermal scopes are complex beasts; there’s a lot we took into consideration when picking 2023’s best

As you probably know by now, there are a lot of technical considerations to ponder when choosing a thermal scope for hunting and shooting. We thoroughly analyzed the following specifications to ensure we did our due diligence when putting together this list.

Hertz/Refresh Rate

The refresh rate, or Hertz, measures how many times the display refreshes per second. Whether chasing bacon in Alabama or mowing down mutts in Nebraska, there’s a good chance you’ll need a responsive scope that refreshes quickly.

Your prey will boot scoot and boogie the second you ring off that first shot, so you need a scope with a good refresh rate to keep up with a moving target.

Battery Life

Depending on how long you plan on being out in the field or out on patrol, you don’t want your scope’s battery to let you down. When comparing products against each other, we did our best to consider battery life. A scope can have all the fancy features in the world, but it won’t do you much good if its battery drains when you need it most.

Magnification and Zoom

I’ve read a lot of optics blogs and even magazines that have misdescribed magnification and zoom on many occasions. I’ll do my best to explain them accurately.

Magnification is how much closer an object will appear than it would with the naked eye. A scope with a maximum magnification of 13x can magnify an object up to 13 times its size onto your display, for example.

In reality, the difference in the field of view applies to the front of the optic compared to the image you’re shown through the display.

Zoom isn’t the same as magnification; it’s the full range of magnification that your optics support. For example, a scope with a range of 3 – 9x zoom can change its magnification from between 3x and 9x.

Zoom ratio is the highest magnification capability divided by the lowest. So, in this case, a scope with a 3 – 9x range would have a zoom ratio of three. The higher the zoom ratio, the more capable the scope.

Digital zoom can magnify the existing image digitally, making the center of the image larger. This will make for a smaller and less crisp resolution since the display isn’t receiving additional input through the front of the lens.

I hope I haven’t lost you yet, but it’s essential to understand what these zoom-related numbers mean when trying to understand the abilities of your scope.


Thermal scopes are infrared devices, and their lenses are inherently different than a standard rifle scope.

These lenses aren’t made from glass but from specialized germanium crystals, which absorb less light from the infrared spectrum. The scope’s sensor reads that infrared spectrum, digitizes it, then presents itself as an image on its display.

Lens quality is a critical consideration for all optics, but it’s even more vital on thermals. A guffed-up thermal lens will throw off your digital picture more than the same damage would on a glass lens. Take great care of your lens, and it’ll take great care of you.

Objective lens is the measurement of the outer lens’ diameter in millimeters. The larger your objective lens is, the more signal it can take in and the more display it can present. Larger lenses, like those in the 50 – 60mm range, are capable of stunning resolution and higher magnification capabilities.

Display Resolution

The two most common display screens you are going to find are:

  • AMOLED – This type of screen is known for its super-fast refresh rate, which is superior to OLED displays. When considering thermal imaging, AMOLED displays are superb for following and displaying fast-moving objects without lag, and they tend to have much higher resolution than OLED
  • OLED – Although OLED has a slower refresh rate than AMOLED, it’s still a solid option because of how large the screen sizes tend to be. Larger screen sizes are helpful since your field of view won’t look cluttered, and you’ll generally be paying a bit less

The higher the display resolution is, the better quality you can expect when transmitting its image to external devices (like smartphones or monitors) or converting it to video. This is an essential feature to consider, especially if you plan on recording your hunts.

Microbolometer and Sensor Resolution

A microbolometer is essentially an array of thousands of tiny sensors that detect infrared radiation. Each sensor is a pixel in size and receives infrared wavelengths through the objective lens. The microbolometer then processes and translates this infrared information into an image for the display.

When considering sensor resolution and microbolometer, there are two numbers to be aware of:

  • Pixel Pitch: This refers to the spacing of the microbolometer pixels and is measured in microns. The smaller the micron number, the more crisp and detailed the resulting image will be. Infrared imagine devices commonly have 12 or 17-micron pixel pitches, with 12 being more desirable.
  • Sensor Resolution/Pixels – This refers to the number of pixels the scope sensor has to detect the infrared spectrum. There are generally two classes of sensor resolution: 640 x 480 and 384 x 288. Sensors in the 640 class receive more information and typically display clearer, more detailed images than those in the 384 class.

In short, the lower your pixel pitch is and the higher your sensor resolution is, the more input your device will be able to receive, translating to better resolution on the output.

High-End Features: The Bells & Whistles

Here is a little secret: No matter its features, each scope on this list would make a beautiful addition to any hunter or shooter’s arsenal — every last one of them.

In general, larger sensor and display resolutions, stronger lenses, and higher magnifications lead to more robust and accurate scopes. That said, the better your scope’s features, the more money it’ll cost. We hunters and shooters want to get our hands on the best gear, and thermal scopes aren’t exactly cheap.

This decision is an important one.

When choosing your future scope, pick a unit that suits your needs. If you’re new to thermal shooting and simply trying to clear invasive animals off your property, magnification, display resolution, and lens sizes aren’t the be-all-end-all. But if you’re a professional shooter refining their expert skills, these numbers mean everything.

Beyond magnification, lens sizes, sensors, and refresh rates, you’ll find some high-end features when researching thermals that you should understand when making your decision. Here they are:

Rangefinding Capabilities

Many of the options on this list have built-in laser rangefinding capabilities, which is very helpful when ranging your target to take an ethical shot. The less guesswork, the more accurate you’ll be. Scopes with rangefinding capabilities will also prevent you from switching back and forth between a separate device, like a standard rangefinder or rangefinding binoculars.


Some of the higher-end devices on this list can geotag your shot and record the elevation, location, and speed when it was taken. GPS is an excellent feature for backcountry hunts or unfamiliar terrain when you need to retrace your steps to find your way back to the scene.


Many products on this list can real-time stream the digital image onto an external device like a smartphone, computer, or an external monitor via Bluetooth and/or WiFi. If you want to record or live-stream your hunts (like in the video above), get your hands on a device that’s Bluetooth/WiFi capable.

Hardwire/SD Storage

Many modern scopes can plug into external devices, like a hard drive, via a Mini-HDMI or USB-C cable, which can store your footage. Some scopes also feature an internal micro-SD card slot, allowing you to record video and images of your hunt directly to your device.

Reticle Options

Reticles are the crosshairs that you see in the display image when you look through the eyepiece of your scope. Different reticles serve different purposes, and a high-quality thermal scope should give you a variety of options that come standard. Here are a few examples of reticles you’ll find:

  • Common crosshairs
  • Star with cross
  • German
  • Mil-DOT
  • Bullseye

If versatility is important to you, grab a scope that comes with several different reticles, as they’ll serve you well in various hunting and shooting scenarios.

Color Palate Settings

A thermal scope processes the pixel temperature data from the microbolometer sensor and translates it to an image displayed in the eyepiece. This data is converted into different colors, helping you differentiate your target from the background.

Different color palate settings will offer shooters a diverse array of color display options, from white to black to red and yellow. Flipping between color palates changes the scene’s appearance, highlighting areas that otherwise wouldn’t be under a different setting.

Color palates are one of the more underrated features on a high-end thermal scope.

Advice & Reviews from Experienced Hunters & Shooters

When gathering real-world information for this article, I reached out to a few hunters who own thermal scopes and use them as part of their rifle kit. I feel like their responses are pretty relevant to the infrared optics hunting discussion, so I included them below.

Gordon Garcia – South Texas | Rancher with predator, hog, and human trafficking/drug smuggling trespassers – Pulsar Thermion 2

“I’ve always dealt with hogs and coyotes for as long as I can remember. I’ve usually hunted them in the twilight hours, which has worked okay, but these critters are nocturnal. I finally upgraded to a thermal, and I’ve never been more successful at ridding my property of these pests. More importantly, I’ve never seen so much criminal activity nearby in my 30 years at this property. Violence is becoming more abundant in my area from human trafficking and smuggling activities. My family’s wellbeing comes first, so this scope was one of the best investments in our safety I could have made.”

Jordan Robinson – Montana | Lawyer, hunter, and owner of a small farm – Burris BTC, ATN ThOR 4 50 mm

“I’m a gear geek, so I have a few different thermal scopes for different needs. I have a clip-on Burris BTC and the ThOR 4 in two sizes. I put the 50mm on my 7mm and the 35mm on my .223. I’m pretty happy with my choices. I can’t get over how crisp the video quality is when I go back to watch the footage from my hunts. It’s unreal how far the tech has come along since I bought my first-night vision scope back in the 90s.”

Gino Loutino – Colorado | First-time scope purchaser, needed for his upcoming hog hunt in Alabama – N-Vison HALO

“I went to the Las Vegas expo last year, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled with the N-Vision HALO that I picked up. I’m new to the game, but geez, this puppy packs some seriously hot sh**. I’ve fired about 100 rounds with this thing to prep for my hog hunts this spring, and I can’t wait to use it to drop a few animals. I’m very impressed at how easy this was to sight in with my .300 WinMag.”

How to Sight in a Thermal Scope

Thermal scopes are typically pretty straightforward to sight-in. Many on this list offer the one-shot sight in. However, a few will require a little tinkering to get used to.

The best way to sight in your scope is with practice, adjustments, patience, and repetition. There’s genuinely no substitute for hard work when dialing in your sight.

But thermal scopes are much different from standard rifle scopes, meaning sighting them in will present additional challenges. Take the time to sight in your scope correctly, and your work will pay off in spades.

Check out the super informative YouTube video above from the Night Goggles channel for a step-by-step guide on sighting in your scope. OpticsMag also has an informative blog post on the subject, which we also recommend checking out.

Which Thermal Scope Will You Choose for Hunting & Shooting?

ATN infrared rifle sight, 2023's best for the money for coyote, hog, and predator hunting and shooting
Choosing a thermal scope is a complicated & technical process; we hope we helped you get it right

Choosing your next thermal scope is one of the most critical and expensive optics-related gear decisions you’ll ever make. We sincerely hope we’ve given you enough information to make up your mind. Will you waffle for another month, or are you ready to pull the trigger? These are the burning questions, my friend.

We set out to provide our readers with the most comprehensive and up-to-date guide to thermal scopes in 2023. Making a well-informed decision is essential, so we tried to offer as much variety as possible, from stellar high-end scopes to rock-solid mid-range options to some capable budget buys.

Here you’ll find scopes from the industry’s most trusted brands, like Steiner, ATN, ARG, N-Vision, Pulsar, iRay, Bering, and more. If you think we got something wrong or overlooked a quality scope and left it off the list, please drop us a line or leave a comment below. We’re never beyond reproach.

Whether you need a thermal scope to hunt coyotes, hogs, or predator animals, or you want to protect your family from 2023’s unpredictable events ahead, we hope we helped you make an informed decision. After all, we’re a lot like you; we want to get our hands on the right gear and enter the field, rearing to go.

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Last Updated on January 19, 2024

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