As a buyer, you probably will wonder how long a thermal scope will last. And that’s wise because no one wants a scope with a short lifespan or one that can’t last long enough during a hunt to get the job done.
Fact is, thermal scopes have a limited shelf life because the electronics inside degrade over time, just like other electronic devices.
But with the proper care and attention, you should get thousands of hours of use from your thermal scope if you buy a quality one. The best thermals log in more than 10,000 hours before they have to be replaced.
Although, a factor hardly anyone considers is that tech advances. While your thermal scope may last a decade, the tech that goes into newer ones will render yours obsolete and outdated.
How Long Do Thermal Scopes Last
How long a thermal scope lasts depends on several things, like how you treat it and how often you use it. The quality of the scope also affects the lifespan, as well as the often overlooked issue of the battery life.
Factors That Affect Life Expectancy
The No. 1 factor affecting life expectancy is how you use the scope. This is even more important than the manufacturing quality.
Essentially, you have to take care of it. If you treat your thermal scope like a truck gun, that will lower its life expectancy.
Now, a truck gun is something you throw in the truck and leave it there. It’s cheap, gets bounced around a lot, is rarely cleaned, and is generally mistreated. It’s also supposed to be used in emergencies.
A thermal scope will not last with that kind of treatment.
Treat the scope like an expensive digital camera, which is what a thermal device really is. You can use the scope during the day, but do not point it at the sun – the sun is hot enough to damage the internal electronics. (1)
When you’re done hunting, remove the batteries – if possible – and store the scope with the gun in a safe place.
Hunting With It
You bought the scope to hunt with it. So, go out and shoot.
But bear this in mind: it is not as sturdy as a high-end traditional scope. Although, it will stand up to the bumps and gentle knocks that are part of hunting.
You should make sure the scope is rated for the recoil your rifle generates. Today’s thermal rifle scopes will stand up to guns with low to moderate recoil. Once you move into the truly big to dangerous game scopes, then you need to check.
The Pulsar Proton FXQ30 is rated for the .375 H&H, the minimum caliber for hunting Africa’s Big Five. Considering these animals kill hunters, you definitely need to have enough power to get the job done.
A good way to look at recoil is to compare the venerable .30-06 to the .375 H&H.
A 220-grain projectile in the ’06 delivers about 20 foot-pounds of kick. That is a heavy load. The .375 with a dangerous game-sized bullet delivers double that, around 40 foot-pounds.
If the scope can handle the .375, it will stand up to common deer and hog rifles.
Where a scope is manufactured can be a big indicator for scope quality, and subsequently, its lifespan.
Some thermal scopes are made in the US, while big brands like Steiner and Pulsar scopes are made in Europe. These are generally high quality and come with manufacturer warranties that are easy to use.
And turns out, China has entered the thermal scope market directly as well as produces some parts for thermal scopes. But getting a Chinese company to honor a scope warranty is difficult at best.
Since you have to send the scope back to China, it may be impossible because of US law regarding exporting devices like night vision scopes. Companies that import Chinese-made thermal optics must have special permission from the government.
So, before buying a thermal scope, find out where it is made and the warranty. This will tell you a lot about the quality of the scope.
The Battery Life on Thermal Scopes
Simply put, battery life is how long a charge lasts and, with rechargeables, how many times it can be used before it will not hold a charge anymore. With the right care, your thermal scope will go through many sets of batteries before the scope needs replacing.
This is true for lithium-ion, alkaline, and Nickel-Cadmium (NiCad) batteries.
Now, battery life depends on three factors:
1) Hours of use
2) Battery type
Hours of Use
Hours of use are further broken down into these categories:
Chargeable – How long will a rechargeable battery provide power before needing a recharge?
This varies. Small batteries die faster but take less time to recharge. Big batteries let you hunt longer but weigh more and take longer to recharge.
Power draw – If you’re running the scope, the video camera, and the ballistics calculator (if available) simultaneously, then you’ll have a heavy power draw. If you just run the scope, you pull less power, and the battery will last longer.
Additionally, as the screen gets bigger with a higher resolution and better image quality, it also draws more power. (2)
Single-use batteries are use-and-done. These batteries are cheaper, per battery, than rechargeable ones. But rechargeable batteries are much cheaper in the long run because you’ll use them over and over.
In general, rechargeable batteries run out of juice faster than non-rechargeable ones. You also have to keep up with the charger.
On the other hand, some thermal scopes have an integral rechargeable battery, which cannot be replaced. With these, some come with a replaceable battery.
Here’s a protip: Get the replaceable battery scope where possible.
Why? Because with it, you can swap the battery and keep hunting when the power is gone instead of having to spend time with the scope plugged up to charge. All-around more convenient and efficient for you.
Like humans, batteries are affected by temperature too. Extreme cold and heat reduce a battery’s power output and the overall life of the power cell.
That’s why we recommend not leaving your scope to the outdoor elements for storage to gain the optimum lifespan. Treat it like you’d treat your phone (unless you’re constantly dropping your phone and leaving it outdoors. In that case, don’t treat it like your phone…)
Thermal Scope Features
The types of thermal optic features greatly effect the battery life. Examples are recording, reticles, auto-on/off etc. Check out our full article on IR optic features to see which ones are right for you and which you could go without.
Cheap Thermal Scopes and Lifespan
Of all the factors which effect not only the battery life and the lifespan of a thermal optic, it is the price. Most of the time you get what you pay for. Luckily, our team has compared all of the cheapest thermal scope options out there to find which ones are good values for the money, and which ones need to be avoided.
Do Thermal Scopes Wear Out?
Yes, thermal scopes wear out with use and time, specifically the electronics inside. You should get thousands of hours of use before needing to replace the scope.
Do Thermal Scopes Use Batteries?
Yes, thermal scopes use batteries to power their internal electronics. Batteries can come in the form of integral rechargeable, replaceable and rechargeable, and non-rechargeable (single-use) batteries.
- Optics Planet, The Basics of Thermal Scopes, retrieved from https://www.opticsplanet.com/howto/how-to-how-to-buy-a-thermal-scope.html
- C-Net, Three Ways to Boost Battery Life, retrieved from https://www.cnet.com/pictures/three-ways-to-boost-battery-life/
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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