Thermal vision is taking hunting, particularly hog and varmint hunting, by storm. At the same time, many of these hunters choose the AR15 to do their hunting.
And why not? Mating the two can provide a top setup for getting some wild bacon or predator control. But if you’re looking to invest in a thermal optic for AR15, you need to find a proper thermal scope for this setup because not any kind of thermal scope will do.
If you don’t, you might end up with a scope that will be finished after a couple of uses, or worse, it’ll be a massive waste of your time and money.
However, no need to worry; we’ve got you sorted with our list of the best thermal scopes for AR15, so you don’t need to waste time stumbling across lousy products. We’ll also be going over all you need to know about thermal scopes, specifically for AR15, so you’ll be ready to pick the perfect one for your uses.
Best Thermal Scopes for AR15
Our selection of the best thermal scopes for the AR15 combines function, form, and fit. These scopes are well-suited to this popular rifle platform and are sure to get the job done.
They work equally well on hogs, coyotes, beavers, raccoons, and other critters you may be allowed to hunt at night (depending on where you are).
1 – The Best Thermal Imaging Scope for AR15 – Pulsar Thermion 2 XP50 Pro
The Pulsar Thermion 2 XP50 Pro looks like it was designed specifically for the AR15. It has the looks of a traditional scope and delivers the results you want with the features you need (plus great extra functions too).
An AR15 is a fast-moving and high-speed platform. If you are after hogs, you need something that swings fast to track the wild ham hocks running circles in the field after your first shot.
Now, this is where the refresh rate matters. The Thermion has a 50-hertz (Hz) refresh rate, which is around the top rate in the industry right now.
So, the refresh rate is how fast the screen cycles or processes the image. Low refresh screens will freeze when the scope moves, while high refresh scopes will process the image quicker and allow you to keep the gun moving; the latter is what you’ll be getting with this scope.
With the Pulsar Thermion 2 XP50, you can detect heat signatures out to 2,000 yards, well beyond the effective range of the .223 on hogs and ‘yotes, and letting you easily spot potential targets at an unparalleled range, greatly multiplying the number number of targets you can take shots at.
The effective identification range for large hog-sized targets is around 1,000 yards, still past the reliable kill distance on a big boar for a .223 or 5.56 round. By the time you get into an ethical shot distance, you’ll know if the target is male or female. Get a bit closer, and even the tusks will be visible.
It weighs 31.7 ounces, slightly heavy for thermal scopes, but merited with the added durability and range.
It packs 10 hours on a full charge, and even better, you can swap the replaceable battery in seconds (if needed). No need to weigh your pack down with extra batteries, a full charge will get you through the night.
Not only that, it’s recoil-rated for 12 gauge, 9.3×64, and .375 H&H, all of which have a kick well beyond anything a traditional AR15 delivers. In other words, under regular use, the scope’s internals will wear out before you break anything.
What’s more, it’s waterproof for at least 30 minutes at 1 meter under the surface, so you can hunt in the rain as long as you want. No need to run for cover when the rain comes.
The tube is a magnesium alloy, tougher than aluminum, and gives better heat dissipation than the latter. As this is a thermal scope we’re talking about, heat does make a difference, so with this casing, you’ll be sure the image you’re getting is accurate and clear.
The Thermion 2 is so good in fact, it also took one of the top spots on our guide to the best AR-15 thermal scopes for coyote hunting.
As it has a 30mm tube, you may need high rings to get the front bell to clear your barrel, particularly if you have an extended pic rail or tall handguard.
A great extra feature is its ability to record videos and still images so you can watch your hunt later. Perfect for studying your shots or showing off when you get back home.
With a built-in wireless connection, you can even live stream footage to your electronic device and control the scope through your phone with the app, making it a breeze to view the videos.
So, if you’re looking for a scope with long-range capabilities, crystal-clear displays, is perfectly recoil-resistant for AR15, waterproof, and retains the neat feature of recording and streaming videos and images, the Pulsar Thermion 2 is one not to miss.
And if you weren’t sold…
Our certified supplier is currently running a sale on the Thermion 2 ending midnight October 1, 2023. Make sure you use the link below to ensure you’re getting the genuine product at this all-time low price:
2 – Best All In One – Pulsar Trail 2 LRF XP50
Some people prefer even more features and want a completely self-contained unit. And so, the Pulsar Trail 2 LRF XP50 is the best choice for this. It has an integrated quick-release mounting system, a rangefinder, and all the other equipment you expect from better thermal scopes.
With a detection range of 1,970 yards, you can expect to identify wolf-sized critters and anything larger at less than 1,000 yards. If you shoot ‘yotes, beavers, and coons, you need to be closer, say 500 yards, for a positive ID and an ethical shot with a .223.
The flexible rubber eye cup means you can look through the scope and see exclusively what the scope provides. Ambient light from the moon or other sources will not interfere with your view to blur your image.
A major tradeoff when choosing this scope is its weight. At 4.45 pounds, that is nearly as much as a light-frame AR15 weight when loaded. In other words, when you raise the gun to shoot, you are picking up about 10 pounds.
That may not sound like much until you realize you also have to hold the crosshairs on a target. At 150 yards, keeping on target without a bipod is a huge challenge.
It also has a built-in laser range finder. Combine that with 10 distance coordinates, and you can drop your bullet on target each time without guesstimating with easy on-the-fly range adjustments.
Better still, it has 5 zeroing profiles, so you can switch this scope between guns and get back on target almost immediately. Set your favorite rifles once and forget it.
This scope comes with a 50 Hz refresh rate and a 1024×768 display. That’s not quite a high definition, but it’s still considered extremely good, and honestly, you’ll not know the difference when seen on small screens, through the tube, or on a smartphone. You’ll only see some pixelation on big TV screens.
It also records videos with one touch of a button so you can watch your hunts later and even share them on social media.
This scope is also recoil-rated for 12 gauge, 9.3×64, and .375 H&H, so it will handle anything a standard AR15 will shoot, no need to worry about babying this one.
It has an 8x digital zoom; not as good as true zoom. Digital means you lose resolution the tighter you get, but its 3.5-14x true zoom is enough for any kind of shooting with the .223 cartridge. At 14x, you have a 9.8-meter field of view at 100 meters, enough to let you see the eyeball of your target. Basically the zoom is adequate for 99.9% of the shots you’ll realistically take.
Also waterproof for at least 30 minutes 1 meter down, you can hunt no matter how hard it rains. And if you happen to drop it in the creek or lake, you can fish it out without worrying about the scope being fried. Trust me, if you’re spending this much on a scope it needs to be waterproof.
With how feature-rich and high these specs are, it’s no wonder why this is our best all-in-one thermal scope for AR15.
3 – Best Mid-Level Scope – ATN ThOR 4 4.5-18x50mm
By best mid-level, we mean under $3000. The ATN ThOR 4 4.5-18x50mm will set you back about the same amount as a high-end AR15. In short, you get fewer features than pricier scopes but more than entry-level models.
It has a heat detection range of 1800 yards. For the AR15, the scope’s 430-yard identification range is all you really need. The ATN 60 Hz sensor is about the same as the 50 Hz in other more expensive scopes; this will let you track a yote loping across a clearing.
The video is recoil-activated when you turn on the feature. So, no need to worry about recording with this auto feature; you can solely focus on the hunt.
It packs an impressive 18 hours of battery life, but the drawback is the battery is internal, so you have to plug the scope in to recharge it. An external battery backup will extend the life, but it’s one more thing for your pack. But, as you can handily record video on a MicroSD card, as long as you have extra cards and battery power, you can record your hunt all night long.
This one comes in black or three different camo patterns. Since this scope can be used during the day, camo may be important.
Wild hogs have horrible sight, but coyotes, foxes, and bobcats have sharp vision. Breaking your outline with camo can spell the difference between a successful hunt and going home skunked.
It uses 30mm rings, so you’ll need high rings to clear the front bell. The rear section of the tube is relatively short, so most of your eye relief has to happen on the pic rail.
Rather than a button, you use a knob for the zoom. Each click lets you feel how much you have zoomed in; it can be unnecessary as you’ll see the zoom through the scope but I personally love that “manual” feel.
Although it’s weather-resistant, it’s best to stay out of driving rain, but a light shower or mist will not affect it. At 2.2 pounds, it does add some weight, but that’s the nature of thermal scopes.
With ATN’s one-shot zero feature on its thermal scopes, all you do is take your shot, adjust the reticles with the buttons, and you’re already on target. That easy.
If you’re looking for affordability without sacrificing features that matter, the ATN ThOR 4 is the one that takes the spot.
4 – Best Budget Thermal Scope for AR15 – ThOR LT 3-6x50mm
If you are a casual night hunter and don’t want a lot of extras, the ThOR LT 3-6x50mm is the scope for you. You do, however, get fewer features compared to more expensive scopes.
The scope is rated for day and night use and is designed to be very light, which makes a difference if you plan to do a lot of stalking through fields and brush.
Now, the 3-6x magnification is a bit high for close-up shots, but the 6x is good enough for 100-yard shots. It also retains the ATN 1-shot sight in technology to save you time and bullets too.
The controls are on the top of the scope and easy to use, even wearing gloves, and the scope can stand up to recoil from much bigger calibers than the .223/5.56, so AR15s are no problem.
This scope does not gather a lot of light for daytime use, especially in the twilight. The scope’s visual range is also short, ATN giving it a “human recognition range” of 240 yards.
In other words, at 200 yards or so, you should be able to ID the heat source as a hog or a coyote. If you plan to hunt with big game rifles, get a scope with more range than this one.
It has a 30mm tube. You can order this scope with a quick-detach one-piece mount.
It comes in black or your choice of 3 camo patterns. If you plan to hunt strictly at night, the color is irrelevant, but camo is helpful if you hunt during the day, especially when you’re chasing hunter-wary varmints like coyotes. Hogs have poor eyesight, so as long as you stay downwind and still, they will never know you’re around.
It promises 10 hours of battery life and is rechargeable with a USB cable, so if you’re worried about battery, you can take a portable USB battery to extend the in-field life. But since you’re not going to be recording with this one, the battery won’t deplete as fast.
So, let’s recap: lightweight, affordable, and with decent battery life, this is the perfect budget option for those who need it for short-range targets and don’t require all the high-end features and frills.
This scope has been so popular in fact that it has been sold out everywhere online for months. As of September 22, 2023 our certified supplier just got a new shipment in and has been fulfilling all of their backorders. The rep told me they expect to be sold out in about a week, so if you’re lucky enough to find one in stock I’d snag one now or you might be waiting a while or paying a markup.
They’re also on sale with the Pulsar Thermon 2 until October 1, 2023, so that’s a big plus:
5 – Best Clip On – Leica Calonox Sight
Some people who prefer to use their existing day scopes look to attach a clip-on thermal device instead. And for that, the Leica Calonox Sight is an excellent choice.
Leica is one of the world’s top optics makers, and the quality of their glass is unsurpassed. Your sight picture through this thermal device is as good as technology can get today.
At 1.1 pounds, it is the lightest offering in our group. That said, you are adding a pound of weight to the front of your regular scope.
This weight-forward addition will put more weight on the forearm as the hand holds that part of the gun. In other words, it can seem heavier because it throws the balance off.
Another drawback with clip-ons in general is you’re adding something to the front end of your regular scope. That may stick out enough to be a bother. A third drawback is the mount; you have to buy a separate adapter to put this one on your scope.
The clip-on battery life is about 6 hours, on the lower end for thermal devices (but usually, clip-ons aren’t for constant use anyway), and it does not record video.
But where it shines is its use as a monocular for viewing or tracking. Once you shoot your target, remove the device with the quick-detach mount and track the heat signature it leaves. You can also use the device to scan a field and not wear your arm out holding up the rifle.
So, if versatility, affordability, and the convenience of taking off thermal sights whenever is your goal, this Leica clip-on is sure to tick your box.
6 – Avoid This Scope – Infiray Jerry-C Clip-On
Infiray is a newcomer to the thermal scope market, and like many who try to enter this market, their products need to be looked at with not very high expectations.
At just over a half pound and with a battery life of about an hour and a half, you can expect to spend more time setting this one up and charging it than actually hunting. The refresh rate is listed at 50 Hz, but that is likely being generous.
The 25mm front lens and the 950-meter recognition distance make this a close-range scope. So think shotgun range. However, this scope will not stand up to the recoil of a 12 gauge, even with light loads.
This is also a front-mount clip-on, which is workable but not advisable to use for the best AR15 thermal setup.
Additionally, the company produces its optics in China and has almost no user reviews.
To round that up: do not be the guinea pig. Go with a tested and tried company so you know you are getting a good scope from a company with quality customer service.
What to Look For in an AR15 Thermal Scope
Thermal scopes are inherently different from night vision and their functions, so here’s a quick rundown of features to explain why more hunters are moving into the thermal world.
Thermal works on heat signatures and does not require any light or infrared illuminator to work, like night vision. It punches through rain, light fog, and light brush and has an exponentially greater range than night vision, but it’s also more expensive. (1)
The elements to look for in thermal scopes will be slightly different from night vision or day scopes.
Size & Weight
Thermal is heavier and bigger than traditional day-use scopes because of the box housing the battery and the electronics, so it understandably has more weight. However, too much will hinder your shooting accuracy and speed, so be wary of each scope’s weight.
What are the controls like? Are they simple buttons, easy to get to and press, or do you need an engineering degree to figure them out?
Our no. 1 scope, the Pulsar Thermion 2 XP50, has a simple interface of a few buttons. You won’t need to read the user manual in the field when trying to line up a shot.
Some scopes allow you to work with the scope through a wireless connection with a mobile device. While this can be handy sitting on your tailgate or at the range, it will get in the way in the field.
Another issue is the processor and battery. The more you ask the scope to do, i.e., connect with your phone, the faster the battery runs down, and the slower the processor works because of the several tasks it has to do at once.
Battery life tells you how long you can use the scope. Reality says the battery generally won’t last as long as the manufacturer says. At the same time, you’re not likely to leave the scope turned on for the entire hunt.
A tip and advice for you (if you have the budget) is to get a handheld monocular to scan. When you see something, then start the scope and take aim.
High-end thermal scopes have a greater heat tracking range than most hunters can shoot accurately. The better scopes certainly have more heat-sensing range than a .223 can reliably reach.
Hunting with a light and a fast bullet is best done at distances under 500 yards, and all good thermals will cover that.
If you’re looking for more on long distance shooting, see our article on the Barrett Bors Ballistics System.
The electronics and batteries in thermal devices will die. Therefore, you cannot get a lifetime warranty on these scopes.
The maximum you can expect is 3 years. Better scope makers allow you to transfer this warranty if you sell the scope.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a Thermal for AR15
Before you go out and invest in a thermal scope, you need to know a few things.
1) Limited range – Even the best thermal scope for AR15 has a limited range. Some scopes can ID a heat signature well past 1,000 yards but not well enough to take a shot. It’ll just be a blur.
Realistically, a good thermal scope will show you enough of your target to take an ethical shot with a .223 round at 800 yards max. We wouldn’t shoot a wild hog with a .223 past 200 yards; the bullet does not carry enough punch beyond that, but other people may disagree.
2) Day use – Some thermals work well during the day, and some do not. If you plan to switch back and forth, be sure to get a day-use thermal scope.
3) Cost – Thermal scopes are the most expensive optics around. The top-end scopes are several times the cost of a top-end traditional scope. Even entry-level scopes will set you back $800-$1,000.
4) Features – You can get scopes that are packed with features you may never use, down to the base models that are a plain scope with thermal electronics. The more features you get, the higher the price will be.
5) Fit – By fit, we mean you need a scope that matches your gun and your hunting style. A hunter on our team living in South Georgia does their hog hunts in pecan orchards and fields and from their deer stands. They can easily find hogs at 1,000 yards any night, but they wouldn’t shoot that far with an AR15. Their preference is to shoot the hogs at night with a suppressed AR15 shooting subsonic .300 Blackout ammo, their shots 100 yards or less.
How to Mount Your Thermal Scope to Your AR-15
Mounting your thermal scope to your AR15 is the same as mounting any other scope. In this video, Jerry Miculek shows you how to mount a scope to an AR platform. The key things to note are:
- Eye relief – Make sure you can see through the scope clearly and that it won’t hit you when you shoot.
- Clearance – Make sure the front lens clears the barrel, handguard, or rail in the front. You may need higher rings than ones that come with the scope.
- Charging handle – You must have enough clearance on the back of the scope to grab the charging handle to load the rifle unless you have a side charger. You may need an extended charging handle.
What is an AR-15 Rifle?
The AR15 is the most versatile platform firearm on the market today. However, you should know the AR15 is also a multi-part gun. The lower is the heart of the gun, while the upper is the barrel assembly; this is where the versatility comes in.
In seconds, you can go from pistol or short-barrel rifle configurations with barrels as short as 5 inches up to sniper-class models with 24-inch or longer barrels.
You switch the upper assembly and sometimes the bolt to shoot other centerfire calibers. Both can be done very quickly. For more reading, take a look at our full article on: What is an AR-15 rifle? (2)
More On the Best Thermal Scopes
This article is focusing to optics specifically for AR15s, but what are some great thermal gun scope options for other rifles? Check out the article linked here to find the perfect scope for any rifle, period.
Why Are Thermal Scopes So Expensive?
The reason why thermals scopes are so expensive is due to the very complex technology required to make the optic work.
When Were Thermal Scopes Invented
The exact moment when thermal scopes were invented is debatable, but most histories credit the Nazis during WW2. Take a look at our full article one the subject to learn more.
Is a thermal scope worth it for an AR15?
If a thermal scope is worth it for an AR15 completely depends on you. Are you going to hunt a lot at night or during twilight hours? Is night hunting legal where you hunt? Are thermal scopes legal to hunt with where you will go?
If you can answer yes to all 3 questions, thermal is a good investment. If the answer to any of the 3 questions is no, thermal scopes are not worthwhile for you.
What is the best thermal scope for an AR15?
In our opinion, the best thermal scope for the AR15 is the Pulsar Thermion 2 XP50 Pro. Beyond our recommendations above, the best thermal scope for your AR does what you want it to do. Do you want a good video? Then get a high-resolution scope.
Do you just want to pop hogs and varmints at night? Get a simple scope with simple controls.
Do you plan to hunt and do precision shooting or nighttime tournaments? If so, get a high-end scope with a built-in rangefinder and bullet performance compensator.
- Optics Planet, The Basics of Thermal Scopes, retrieved from: https://www.opticsplanet.com/howto/how-to-how-to-buy-a-thermal-scope.html
- Sara Swann, The history of the AR-15 and how it became a symbol of American gun culture, retrieved from: https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2022/what-is-ar15-rifle-history-of-firearm/
Our Top Pick – Pulsar Thermion 2 XP50 Pro
Andrew Maurer is a Precision Rifle Series competition shooter and gunsmith and has been building competition rifles for over 12 years. He works as a big game hunting guide in Iowa, South Dakota, and Arizona. He is also a political scientist studying the effects of gun control on society. He teaches youth rifle shooting.
📧 Reach me via email at: Andrew@barrettrifles.com