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How to Use a Thermal Scope: All You Need To Know

L.p. Brezny | Updated June 1, 2023 | Why You Should Trust Us | How We Earn Money
cover photo of how to use a thermal scope showing two deer glowing red/orange from the IR optic, article title, and logo

Got a brand new thermal scope but not sure how to use it yet? Look no further, we cover all you need to know from out to box to hunting ready.

First, How To Mount the Scope

This article is a continuation of article where we explained how to put a thermal scope on a Picatinny rail. This article is a continuations after the scope has been mounted.

Next, How To Use a Thermal Scope

Here comes the fun part.

To begin with, stabilize your rifle to ensure it’s secure, stable, and steady using a rifle rest, gun bench, tripod, bipod, or whatever works best for you. Some folks use cement blocks and heavy bags, but the point is to ensure stability and a comfortable firing position.

Protip: For long-distance hunting and target shooting, consider using the prone position for maximum stability.

After securing your rifle, you can start aiming down range through your thermal scope.

Since thermal scopes sense heat, your targets should either emit heat or reflect it. Many people practice using objects like hot water bottles but using hand warmers or aluminum foil stuck to wood also works in a trice (and it’s cheap too).

Alternatively, you can buy specialized thermal targets, but regular paper or cardboard targets of this kind will often shred as fast as you’d expect.

paper thermal target attached to a post
A Thermal Target Can Be Great For Practice

Regarding a reasonable distance to set your targets, anywhere between 20 to 500 yards is our recommendation. But ultimately, you’ll get the best results by selecting a distance optimal to the scope you are sighting and your estimated field of action.

You should also consider mixing up target distances as much as possible to get a feel for different distances, which is essential for hunting or shooting at moving targets.

Additionally, you want to use the same rounds you would use for hunting and targeting when adjusting for the most consistent results since bullet drops can differ based on velocity, size, and caliber types. (Using the same rounds for everything is a good rule of thumb for any firearm.)

Now, shoot a few practice rounds once you’ve secured your rifle. Start by firing about three rounds at your target. Check where your bullets hit, and then figure up the horizontal and vertical distances they landed relative to the center target.

Once you’ve made your calculations, make the necessary adjustments to your scope until you’ve zeroed the scope to your satisfaction.

You might not know this, but thermal scopes often have more adjusting features to help improve accuracy. So, ensure you take the time to become familiar with using these tools, as they can dramatically improve your marksmanship and provide consistency with your distances, firing patterns, and positioning habits.

Another Protip: Your adjustments should always be as incremental as possible, inching your way to the center bit by bit. Try to avoid dramatic adjustments, as they very rarely save you time. Patience is the most important element of this process.

So, fire a few rounds after every adjustment, measure, then repeat the process until you consistently hit the center target. (1)

And voilà, you’re set to go.

Common Questions

How to Use a “Tactical Magnifier” With a Thermal Scope

It is impossible to use a tactical magnifier with a thermal scope as this is a fictitious piece of equipment.


  1. Thermal Imaging Systems (Infrared Thermographic Systems / Thermal Imaging Cameras), US Food & Drug Administration, Retrieved from: https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/general-hospital-devices-and-supplies/thermal-imaging-systems-infrared-thermographic-systems-thermal-imaging-cameras

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