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Last updated: February 10, 2023
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Hunting doesn’t need to stop when it gets dark. In fact, there’s a whole host of targets that only come out at night, so what do you need to get shooting after dark?
We’re going to try to help you find the best night vision scope for hunting in this article, and we’re going to take a look at the best five options that we could find.
There’s a whole bunch of things that you might want to go after once the sun is down and night descends, and a whole bunch of reasons you might want to do that. Be it purely for fun, or you could even just be trying to get rid of some pests or to protect a valuable crop, night vision equipment can be a great investment. What’s more, these days, you don’t necessarily have to empty your wallet completely to get out and be having a great experience hunting after night falls. We came up with a list of top 5 picks, and the ATN Thor HD 384 4.5-18X turned out to be our Editor’s Choice.
Extra features: HD video recording & photos, recoil-activated video, Wi-Fi streaming iOS and Android
The Thor ATN HD 384 4.5-18X is a digital and thermal scope that really impresses. One of the best things about this scope is the battery life. It comes in at a pretty amazing 22 hours of continuous use, which is a great feature. This unit also features great magnification
You won’t be short of opportunities to show off your shooting successes with this scope either, because it also comes with full HD streaming, photo and video capability and you can use those features with either your Android or iOS phone, so there’s no reason why you can’t capture all those great moments out in the field.
No problems here with ballistic calculations or range finding either. This little beauty will do it all for you, and reports about the user interface are all good. If you can use your phone, then you’ll probably be able to use this night vision scope.
This comes in an aluminum casing and it’s durable. You can use this scope during the day or at night, with equal success, and it’s a decent little unit all round.
There have been a few issues in terms of image interference when using the Wi-Fi features, and although that’s not a massive problem, it is going to affect you if you want to shoot while you’re using that.
Extra features: weatherproof, 640 x 480 resolution, 40mm aperture
The first thing to mention here is that we’re dropping right down the range in terms of price. The Nightowl Optics Nightshot comes in at approximately 10% of the cost of our top pick – but it does still do a job. This is going to be considered a budget scope in any top-five list, but it’s important to keep perspective here and to figure out what it can get done in the field.
You get none of the digital or the thermal bells and whistles with this scope, that you do on the top few picks. This is night time hunting on a budget, but it does the basics very well.
Range on the scope is limited with the built-in IR illuminator, but this outfit will sell you an add-on version that will take your shooting capability further out.
This night vision scope is a favorite with many hunters because it does some stuff just as well as scopes that are far more expensive and it’s not pretending to do anything else. It’s going to get you out in the field for very little cash and there’s definitely a place in the market for it, and certainly a place on this list.
It definitely deserves a place on this list because it’s easily the best night vision scope under $1000 for hunting purposes, and if that’s what you’re looking for, then look no further.
Extra features: waterproof, integrated HD video and sound recorder, picture-in-picture mode, Wi-Fi streaming for iOS and Android, 8GB internal memory
The quickest thing to say to sum this scope up is WOW. This is a thermal digital scope that does everything you’ll ever need it to do in the field. It comes in a package that’ll withstand submersion is water at three feet depth for up to thirty minutes and it’ll handle a 308 recoil with no problems, so it’s as tough and durable as can be.
One of the coolest things about this scope is the picture-in-picture display, which they’ve got the proportions of exactly right. The PiP takes up 10% of the view, so it doesn’t really affect field of vision, whilst offering the ability to really see where you’re aiming at range. Great feature, and very well done on this scope.
The range is great, magnification is awesome, and you also get full streaming, photo and video capabilities on both Android and iOS. And you can do all of that showing off either during the day or at night, in HD.
It offers a refresh rate of 50Hz and a HUGE detection range of up to 1800 yards. Plus, the battery pack offers up to eight hours of uninterrupted use.
Extra features: HD video recording & photos, recoil-activated video, Wi-Fi streaming
With the ATN Thor HD 384 1.25-5X, you’re looking at a very similar night vision scope to the number one pick on our list. This time, you’re getting a lot less magnification – so you’ll need to be considering whether or not the cost saving here is going to suit how you’re going to be using the scope out while you’re hunting.
Cheaper and with most of the same features as the 384 4.5-18X, but with less room to use effectively at longer ranges, this obviously won’t be a great pick for you if you’re shooting out at 200 yards regularly, if not just occasionally. If that’s the case, then spend the extra dollars on the other Thor scope on this list, because you’ll really be struggling to have great times with this unit.
Apart from magnification, the two Thor scopes are very similar, in terms of features, and you get just about everything else with this scope as you do with its bigger brother. So, it’s definitely worth considering this scope if you always shoot at shorter ranges. Anything more and you might find yourself looking at a blurry image, and missing lots of shots.
Extra features: 42mm objective lens, 640×480 resolution, resistant to bright light exposure, weatherproof, shockproof
We’re moving into more traditional digital night vision scope territory with the Sightmark SM 18008 Photon XT. The unit comes with a very decent IR illuminator, though. And you also get the option of a side weaver rail so that you can mount an external IR device if you want to up the capability of the IR.
As with all digital scopes, you can use this perfectly well in either daylight or night time conditions and it’ll really do a job for you for the spend.
This is a pretty heavy scope, though, and there is a question about whether it can be used comfortably while on the move. You’ll need to decide that and it’ll come down to the type of hunter you are.
You get full streaming, video and photo capability with the Sightmark scope and it really is very good value for money in terms of what is offered here.
This is not the luxury digital thermal scope that you’ll find at the top of our list here, and you will be sacrificing certain things when you drop down the price range, but it’s worth noting that with this model, you can achieve accurate use at longer ranges because the built-in IR illuminator is good, and the scope will perform even further out with an external IR fitted.
What are our favorite features?
Good range with the built-in IR
You can mount more IR
What could be better?
Things to Consider
In this buying guide, we’ll try to talk you through the ins and outs of the whole business of finding the right scope for you. We realize that the choice out there can be a bit daunting, and so can the range of features available. As with buying any piece of equipment, it’s wise to start off after you’ve had a really good think about how you hunt, and what sort of features you’re going to need. The last thing you want to do when you choose your scope, is spend money buying features that you don’t need or won’t ever use.
Reasons to get a top-quality night vision scope for hunting
Apart from the obvious reason, being that having a night vision scope enables you to carry on shooting after dark, gives you a great advantage of having the cover of night during your hunt, and meaning that you’ll be able to go for prey that just doesn’t stick its head up during the day. It’s worth remembering that night vision scopes are pretty darn complicated pieces of kit. Technologically, they need to do a lot of stuff, and as with most technology, your user experience will improve markedly as you rise up the price range. Durability and capability will both be influenced by the quality of build, and whilst it’s fine to be on a budget, you should stretch your budget as far as you can when buying a piece of equipment like a night vision scope.
Features to consider when choosing a night vision scope for hunting
There are a few things to consider here, and some of it is going to come down to the exact type of shooting or hunting that you do. Range is a big factor, and field of vision is kind of related to that too. Don’t go buying a scope where 50% of the cost is down to the fact that it’s engineered to have excellent clarity and field at 250 yards, if you only ever shoot up to fifty.
Durability is another factor you need to consider. If you shoot in heavy rain or snow a lot, or you splash about in rivers and creeks regularly, then how waterproof is it?
If you tend to run around a lot, and you’re up and down and thrashing around all the time, consider shock-proofing as a major factor. If you don’t, and you tend to do a lot of prone shooting, then don’t worry about it too much, because it’ll cost extra dollars.
If you spend a lot of time shooting with no moon, or in bad weather, then gain is going to be a massive issue for you and you really should be trying to find a scope that incorporates that. Unless of course, you go for a thermal scope, because it removes the gain factor completely.
If your scope comes with a mount, then make sure it fits your weapon.
Another thing to consider will be battery life and types, which we’ll discuss a little further down the line.
Type of night vision scope
Scopes are generally broken up in terms of their generation. Gen 1 scopes being the least sophisticated and expensive. As the number rises, so does the price, but so does the capabilities of the scope. Older scopes tend to be lower generation scopes, and it works like that. The latest and greatest scopes, featuring the newest technologies and innovations are at the upper end of the generation scale. Then there’s digital scopes, which are a whole different ball game, and my personal favorite type of scope. They offer more versatility and you’re more likely to get a scope that can be used in daylight too effectively, when you opt for digital – without having a great deal more cost attached to it.
The other factor to consider here is Thermal Vs Night Vision. Thermal uses thermal imagery to produce a picture.
Magnification is what is going to get you a nice clear image at more yards. It’s obviously a very important point to consider when buying a scope for hunting.
Don’t pay lots of cash for large amounts of magnification if the range you’re going to be shooting at is pretty short.
One of the biggest needs for magnification with good clarity when hunting at night is obviously going to be safety. If you’re taking out targets at long range, at night, then do look at good magnification. You want to know that what you’re shooting is your prey.
If a scope’s range is rated at 200 yards, that’s just giving you the ability to detect movement at that range, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to tell a pig from a person – so safety, range and magnification are all tied in together under certain hunting conditions. Be aware and be safe.
Night & day modes
If you already own a top-notch daytime scope, then this isn’t going to be quite as relevant for you. That’s to say that if you’re solely looking for a scope to use at night, it won’t matter. However, there are advantages of being able to carry on shooting as dusk falls, without having to mess around changing out scopes – and there might even be times where to do so would mean missing a target. It’s great to have both capabilities in a scope, and you’ll have to decide how much weight you need to put on that factor.
It’s well worth mentioning here that optical scopes are way less likely to be suitable for daytime use than digital scopes are.
So, keep digital firmly in mind if you need a scope for all lighting conditions.
The aperture size is a big factor in determining how well the scope will gather and use the ambient light that’s available from the moon or the stars, or even from nearby street lights when you’re closer to more urban areas. It’ll also deem the scope more useful at dusk and dawn. The size of the lens improves how much available light is reused by the scope. A scope with good gain – which is that ability to use ambient light, will be great for hunting at the beginning and end of the night. You’ll also use less of any built in IR illumination that a scope may have, and therefore drain batteries slower – if you have good gain from the aperture.
With eye relief, it’s important to assess the position of your eye when using the scope on your particular rifle. It’ll affect your field of view if it doesn’t all fit together well. It can be hard to work out without physically having a scope and your gun at hand – so it is advisable to ask the manufacturer whether the specs all suit.
Wi-Fi connectivity, streaming and recording
This is going to be an important consideration if you like showing off your shooting successes to your friends and family. If that’s not something you want to do, then these features probably aren’t a big deal because they can cost a lot extra. If just hitting targets more often and in the dark is what you want to do, then you’re better off going for quality in gain and magnification and ignoring the streaming and Wi-Fi stuff.
Durable construction and build
We touched on this before, and different scopes will have different levels of shock-proofing built in – same with waterproofing. It comes down again to what sort of shooting you do, in what conditions. And how active you are while you’re doing it. Keep all that in mind and choose the scope that’s right for you.
Batteries and battery lifespan
This is a bigger factor if you’re going to be using a lot of IR, because that will drain batteries.
Options-wise, you’re looking at a few different types. First, and probably cheapest is using standard batteries and changing them a bit. This will cost over time but get you a cheaper scope, or a scope with better features, but it can lead to inconvenient situations and lost opportunities when they fail at the wrong moment. Secondly, you can get the same scope and invest in a couple of packs of rechargeable batteries. That’s a good middle option. Or thirdly, some scopes come with the ability to plug in an external battery pack. And probably the best option is the scopes that use lithium ion batteries, because they last longer, and you can recharge them. Some of the lithium ion scopes last up to 22 hours. Use what you plan on doing with the scope, your budget, and any weight concerns to decide.
Some scopes can be mounted on a crossbow, but it’ll depend which one you buy. If you’re looking to use on a bow, or you’re looking to use the same scope on both a bow and a rifle, then mounts are going to be your main area of concern. You’ll need to make sure that the scope comes with a suitable mount or mounts, or you may have to explore buying a separate mount or mounts.
So, there we have it. We’ve looked at the five best night vision scopes available and the ATN Thor HD 384 4.5-18X came out on top. It’s a scope that operates at the very top end of the market and it offers full HD streaming, photo and video capability and you can use those features with either your Android or iOS phone. It’s going to be hard to find a tougher and more usable scope anywhere.
Next up came the Night Owl Optics NightShot, which is also a very nice and usable budget scope, which ended up on our list despite being 10% the price of almost any other option.
At number three in our list was the Pulsar Trail XQ50 Thermal Riflescope. It’s a great scope, well-engineered and durable – and it does all the things that a night vision scope should do. You will particularly like the Picture-in-Picture feature, which coupled with its range, makes it the best night vision scope for coyote hunting.
There’s something for every hunter on this list, and all of these scopes will get you out shooting at night, no matter what your budget. I don’t even know why you’re still here – just go hunt!