So, you want to go night hunting with your friends and hit your target even in complete darkness, but also want to avoid spending as much as you would for a small car? Well, read on!
We’ve compiled a list of the best and most affordable thermal scopes for 2023 in this article, so you can see at one glance which product works best for you.
We’ve listed good quality thermal rifle scopes from below $1000, so even if you’re new to the hunting scene you can get the best gear at a low price to perfect your setup.
Let’s get into it.
Best Cheap Thermal Scopes
***A quick word of caution.***
With the rise of popularity of thermal scopes in the past few years, there has been a lot of low quality optics and straight up knockoffs coming out of China to keep up in demand.
Buyers need to exercise extreme caution…
But you’re in luck, as we have included the links to our certified manufactures for each recommendation with our exclusive low pricing rates we’ve negotiated for our readers.
This article is for those who want high quality thermal optic technology but don’t have the budget to get a 7k add-on to your rifle. We’re going to be presenting you a range of scopes at different price points.
So rest assured, you’re about to get high quality recommendations of the best thermal scopes for any budget!
Top Pick For Best Budget Thermal Scope – Pulsar Core RXQ30V
Our selection for the best budget thermal scope is the Pulsar Core RXQ30V.
This scope is a mid-range thermal scope that has a lot to offer! When it comes to thermal rifle scopes, you get what you pay for, but this Pulsar Core scope really has a lot of features and power packed into it for a mid-range price, without any unnecessary and pricey add-ons.
This thermal imaging scope is best for entry-level users shooting close to mid-range. It’s also for those looking who want a relatively inexpensive, durable scope with a good battery that won’t run out by the time you’ve made it to your preferred hunting zone. So when everyone else is going home empty-handed, you’re sitting pretty waiting for the perfect shot!
The refresh rate is at a very fast 50 Hz (which stands for the amount of time the display refreshes the image per second) and guarantees a smooth and complete image transmission so you won’t miss your target even when it is moving.
The zoom ranges from 1.6x to 6.4x, which is a very broad range, making the scope a good choice for mid to long-distance shooting and hunting, and also making this a great “one size fits all” option, so no need to buy various scopes for various hunts.
Bottom line, it’s a perfect balance of performance and price, and is by far the best budget thermal scope on the market for the money.
The link we have here goes to our certified supplier who has the lowest price of the Pulsar Core available as of December 8, 2023. Just make sure you use the link before to get the savings:
Best Thermal Scope Under $1000 – ATN Thor LT Ultra Light
If you are looking for a thermal scope at a price of less than $1000, we recommend the ATN Thor LT Ultra Light with the 3-6x magnification. (The same model is available at a higher price point with higher magnification.)
This model convinced us with its 10-hour battery life thanks to its Li-Ion batteries and lightweight aluminum design that weighs only 1.4 pounds. This means you can go on long outings without worrying about the battery dying or carrying a lot of extra weight along with you.
This ATN scope offers advanced heat detection technology, together with a traditional design that is also available as a camouflage optic, allowing your gear to blend in with its surroundings even more leaving your game with no chance to get away.
If you’re old enough to be arrested, you’re old enough to carry a gun.Pat Paulsen
In general, thermal scopes can go blind in extreme cold, but the ATN Thor LT Ultra Light works at operating procedures of -20 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (-28 to 48 degrees Celsius), making it a very sturdy piece of equipment.
On the inside, it sports ATN’s Obsidian Core LT onboard computer processor and provides images with improved contrast and resolution with a near-silent shutter to make sure you won’t scare away your prey when it matters most.
What’s more, it features a sensor of 160 by 120 pixels and a 60 Hertz refresh rate, which delivers clear and crisp images even in total darkness onto its 1280 x 720 HD display making sure your prey with never outrun the image.
Obviously, for this price, you will have to miss out on a bit of performance at distances over 200 yards and extra features, such as video recording or Bluetooth, that the more expensive scopes deliver.
But this scope works perfectly well for a farmer who wants to do close-range damage control or for any entry-level shooter.
Best Thermal Scope Under $2000 – ATN ThOR 4 1.25-5x
For those with a budget of $2000 or less, we recommend the ATN ThOR 4 1.25-5x Thermal Smart HD scope.
This series of ATN ThOR 4 thermal imaging scopes offers a range of different scopes for different prices, and this one has really convinced us with its affordable price tag and easy-to-use interface, sensitive sensor, and 18 hours of battery life.
Now, it comes with a high-resolution display of 1280 x 720 pixels and a refresh rate of 60 Hz, which means it will provide crisp and clear images. The high refresh rate means that the image will always keep up with a moving target and the high-resolution screen makes it easier to correctly recognize and identify your prey first before placing a good shot.
This scope has a detection range of about 750 meters and an identification range of 205 to 340 meters, making it a great option for mid-range shooting and hunting.
Best Thermal Scope Under $3000 – Sig Sauer Echo 3 1-6X23mm
If you have a budget of up to $3000, the Sig Sauer Echo 3 1-6X23mm SOEC31001 is the perfect choice for you because it is one of the best direct view thermal scopes on the market.
This thermal scope comes with a variety of different brightness settings and color palettes, so you can adjust your image to fit your needs and the environment perfectly! This is especially useful if there is dense foliage at nighttime or several moving objects as it helps you to improve the image, and therefore, the precision of your shot.
It weighs just 14.3 ounces and sports a 1-6x magnification with a 23mm objective.
To be honest, the battery life is rather short at 6 hours, but on the other hand, the scope offers you a lot of customization options and records both photos and videos in all 8 different color palettes, which you can transmit to your device of choice via WiFi or Bluetooth.
This is why it’s a great thermal scope for anyone looking to record and film their hunting and shooting trips, as it renders a very high-quality image and video footage.
It’s a great device for close-range shooting at night and is very small and practical for long outings.
Best Thermal Scope Under $4000 – Pard SA 19 1.5-6x
The Pard SA 19 1.5-6x Thermal Scope SA-19-THR is a great option and you can now get it on sale for below $4000!
The thermal scope comes with an IP67 waterproof rating and weighs only 14 ounces, making it a very compact and well-designed high-quality thermal scope. Thanks to its waterproof housing, it’s well suited for bad weather outings or foggy or humid conditions.
The screen has a 1024 x 768 resolution and 5 different color schemes for your heat signature image with great image quality. This helps you correctly spot and later identify your target, even if several moving objects are around.
At this price point, it is no surprise that this thermal imaging device comes with a top refresh rate of 50 Hz and a magnification from 1.5 to 6x, making it a very precise thermal rifle scope for all things night-time hunting and shooting. You can really tell that this is a high-quality product by the many additional features, such as:
- a startup time of less than 2 seconds
- shutterless technology
- one shot zeroing
This means that you will be ready to go and shoot at very short notice and without any extra unnecessary noise that can scare away your prey!
The Pard SA is currently on sale with our preferred supplier at a massive discount until December 31, 2023, so make sure to use the link before to get the best savings before the price goes back up:
Best Thermal Scope Under $5000 – ATN Thor 4 2.5-25x Thermal Smart
Here we are again with the ATN Thor 4 series but this time we will present to you the ATN Thor 4 2.5-25x thermal smart HD scope for our top choice under $5000.
As the name implies, this scope offers you an amazing zoom ranging from 2.5 – 25x, making it a great piece of equipment with an impressive detection range of 1950 yards and an identification/recognition range of 475 yards.
Thanks to its high-quality zoom and lens, this scope really takes long-distance shooting and hunting to the next level and will allow you to spot your prey from far away. The sensor resolution of 640 pixels also guarantees you a sharp and precise picture that is clearly displayed on its 1280 x 720 screen, helping you with recognition and final target finding.
With a refresh rate of 60 Hz, you will be sure to not miss a single movement of your prey, and with this finely tuned piece of high-tech gear, you will be hitting the bullseye at every try for sure.
Next to its jam-packet interior, this ATN scope is also easy to mount and has a really user-friendly interface, combined with long battery life and GPS capabilities. This is especially handy if you are on a long hunting outing and want to save the GPS coordinates of a particular spot to come back to later.
The One To Avoid – Boa X Thermal Reflex Sight
Our top choice for a cheap thermal scope that has the lowest price point is the Boa X Thermal Reflex Sight.
This Boa thermal scope is a very budget-friendly option.
The Boa X comes in a very lightweight and compact design weighing just 0.36 pounds, so it’s a good entry-level model to get you used to the extra weight on your rifle. This saves you a lot of energy when you’re out all day, letting you hunt longer without getting fatigued.
This thermal scope offers 8 different reticles and quite an impressive screen resolution of 160×120 pixels, making it the perfect gadget for entry-level hunters or homeowners as it provides you with a clear and easy-to-read image on the screen, and also making you substantially more accurate.
It also comes with an IP68 waterproof rating and military-grade quality, so you can get the most out of this thermal scope for a long time and don’t have to worry about being out and about in bad weather.
The downsides to this budget option are that it has a low refresh rate (just 9 Hz) and very few added features.
Though this is by far the cheapest thermal scope on the list, in our opinion they went too low end to where its actually functionally is questionable.
Why You Should Buy a Thermal Scope
Thermal rifle scopes are an indispensable piece of equipment for hunting at night or in bad visibility conditions, as they detect the radiation from the heat emitted by your prey and make it visible for you, even across dense foliage or in low light or foggy conditions.
Simply put, with this, you can go hunting and shooting in almost any weather and conditions and no longer need to rely on ambient light, as is the case with night vision scopes.
So, farmers who need to protect their land from invaders like hogs, for example, can really benefit from this additional gear as this means they can hunt their prey whenever they appear and do not have to depend on the weather or ambient conditions being in their favor. (3)
Here Are Some Reasons Why You Should Buy a Thermal Imaging Scope
A thermal weapon sight is a great way to improve your hunting and shooting experience, especially during night hunting. Because they do not rely on additional light and instead use infrared light to generate the image, you will remain invisible to your prey!
- It detects heat both during the day and night, making your prey visible to you at anytime
- Makes your prey visible even when it’s not moving or is hidden
- Is great for detecting prey, even at large distances
We’re guessing you might have this question floating around right now: “…Doesn’t it sound a little similar to night vision?” Well, let’s look at the differences between them and why thermal scopes are generally more expensive.
Differences Between Thermal Imaging and Night Vision
Unlike a more standard night vision scope, you can use thermal scopes during the day because they’re not sensitive to strong light like night vision optics are.
Thermal scopes also work when there is absolutely no light, whereas night vision scopes are an optical system that needs some kind of external light source (ambient light). The light of the moon and stars can be enough, but when it is overcast or foggy, this can be an issue.
Thermal scopes, however, detect the heat radiation of animals and therefore do not rely on any external light sources. This is especially useful in heavy weather conditions!
This additional technology is one of the reasons why thermal scopes are usually heavier and more expensive than night vision scopes, as they use more advanced technology to provide the image you see on your screen at the end. (4)
Reasons You’d Want to Buy an Affordable Thermal Scope
Thermal imaging used to be a thing reserved for the elite combat units of the armed forces. But with time, this technology has become more accessible, and now, everyday people can benefit from it to improve their shooting and hunting outcomes.
Thermal scopes are also called FLIR Scopes, which stand for forward-looking infrared scopes.
What FLIR technology does is use the heat emitted by exothermic animals (mammals) to differentiate them from their surroundings and make them visible to you, even in difficult conditions like fog or at night. This obviously makes them a great addition to your nocturnal hunting equipment because the heat signatures of the animals will make them stand out and cause detection and identification of targets to be much easier tasks.
Most people start out with a night vision scope first, but soon you will find that a thermal scope will really make a difference to your hunting and shooting experience at night as it can operate even if there is absolutely no light source or with bad visibility. (5)
Where Do You Use a Cheap Thermal Scope?
Thermal scopes are mainly used for sighting your prey while out hunting. To understand how to use it correctly, it is important to know how they work and how the image you see is generated.
So, thermal scopes use infrared light to detect different temperatures in your environment. You cannot see this light with your naked eye, so this is where the thermal scope comes in to make prey visible to you that you otherwise would have missed.
Now, thermal scopes can be used at night and also work during the day, but remember that the higher the contrast between the surrounding area and prey, the easier it will be to spot.
How to Adjust and Set Up Your Thermal Scope
Modern-day thermal scopes have a digital menu where you can make all the necessary adjustments to get your perfect shot. Before you start, make sure to prepare and adjust your scope correctly to avoid missing your target and wasting precious ammunition, time, and energy.
- Here you need to consider the bullet drop, which is influenced by the weight, velocity, and caliber.
- You need to zero the thermal scope before you use it for the first time to ensure a perfect shot.
Here’s a video for a visual guide to the system settings of the ATN Thor 4 for a better idea of how to set up your scope:
Thermal Scope Features and Factors to Consider
There are are many thermal scope features and other factors to consider when shopping for a IR optic. Here are the most important ones:
- There is a range of different thermal scopes for a variety of budgets available to buy nowadays! You can find a high quality product for less than $1000 or spend over $5k if you want to get more advanced gear.
- A good quality piece of equipment will last you a long time but also cost more. Thermal scopes are no small investment, and in general, you really get what you pay for, so if you plan on using it a lot, it might be worth taking the plunge and going for a more expensive but also more durable option.
- Power Consumption
- There is no point in having the best possible scope if the battery runs out the moment you need it most, so compare the battery life and evaluate your needs. Before you buy, check the duration of the battery life and how long it takes to charge. Having a second battery you can bring along as a backup is always a good idea but keep in mind that they will add some extra weight to your equipment.
- This factor determines how far you can zoom and also how much you can magnify the image your scope is providing. This is especially important for long-distance shooting and recognizing and identifying your prey. Generally, the cheaper your thermal scope, the smaller its zoom and magnification rates.
- Consider that any extra gear you add to your rifle can impact your aim and overall shooting experience. Also, you will have to carry it along while you’re out and about, so if you are planning on doing long outings, maybe opt for a more lightweight piece of gear!
- Refresh rate
- Extra features
- There are a lot of extra features available for a thermal scope, but really think about what you need first. It might sound nice to have Bluetooth and WiFi in your thermal scope, but remember that it will drive up the price, so consider questions like: do you really need to stream the video onto a phone?
More on the Best Thermal Scopes
If you liked this article and you’re looking for more on thermal scopes, defiantly check out our article on the best thermal scopes on the market.
We compare all of the top choices on the market to bring you the best money can buy. We defiantly suggest you check it out, you’d probably be surprised of which ones from this article made the cut…
Thermal Scope Rental
If after reading this you’re still looking for an even more affordable thermal option, make sure to check out our article on thermal scope rental options. We cover the best companies to rent IR optics and the things you need to watch out for when doing so.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a thermal hunting scope cost?
A thermal hunting scope can cost anything from $900 to several thousand dollars. Depending on your budget and needs, there are loads of options out there. In this article, we present scopes from below $1000 to $5000 so you can make an informed decision about what works best for you.
How much do thermal scopes cost?
When it comes to the cost of thermal scopes, the sky’s the limit. There are a lot of very expensive thermal scopes on the market, but we have also found some very affordable options that still provide you with the basic functions and good quality from below $1000!
Is it worth buying a thermal scope?
If you plan to really take your shooting and hunting to the next level, a thermal scope is definitely worth buying. It can be used during the day or night and can help you to quickly spot your prey, even when it’s not moving or hidden behind dense foliage or when you’re in foggy conditions with bad visibility.
Is thermal cheaper than night vision?
No, normally thermal is not cheaper than night vision. This is because they use more advanced technology and can often be used for longer distances. However, they are worth their money and are a great addition to your hunting and shooting setup.
Top Pick for Best Budget Thermal Scope – Pulsar Core RXQ30V
- Intel, What Is Refresh Rate and Why Is It Important, retrieved from https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/gaming/resources/highest-refresh-rate-gaming.html#:~:text=The%20refresh%20rate%20of%20your,image%20144%20times%20per%20second.
- PCmag, Definition of screen resolution, retrieved from https://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia/term/screen-resolution
- Tyler Rogoway, Soldiers Will Soon See Thermal Weapon Sight Crooshairs Projected Into Night Vision Goggles, retrieved from https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/3508/soldiers-will-soon-see-thermal-weapon-sight-crosshairs-projected-into-night-vision-goggles
- Britannica, Warning systems – infrared, retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/technology/warning-system/Infrared
- Britannica, warm-bloodedness, retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/science/warm-bloodedness
I have been writing firearms and outdoor material for over 50 years to date. I have hunted across the world, including Russia, and a great deal of time professional hunting in Australia. I currently live in the American West and hunt all across the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Big Horn Mountains. I have specialized much of my work as a load developer in shotguns and rifles. I have run a small company that builds suppressor barrels of my design and load tests for writing purposes and consulting. My commercial names include Ballistics Research & Development / Metro Gun Systems TM.
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