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Thermal vs Night Vision Scope For Coyote Hunting [Dilemma]

L.p. Brezny | Updated May 28, 2023 | Why You Should Trust Us | How We Earn Money
cover photo of night vision or thermal: coyote hunting showing split image of night vision and thermal imaging shown side by side, article title, and logo

If you’re stuck deciding whether you should use night vision or a thermal scope for coyote hunting, you’re not alone. 

See, both scope types have their own advantages and disadvantages, so it can seem hard at first to figure out which to purchase for hunting yotes. But that won’t be bothering you long because we’ll be going over the benefits and weaknesses of both to help make your choice much clearer.

Night Vision Scope vs Thermal for Coyote Hunting

So which is best, night vision vs thermal for coyote hunting? Why do hunters pick one over the other? Here’s a real breakdown of the things you need to know about each one.

Night Vision

Night vision rifle scopes are older than thermal scopes, initially used in the military before manufacturers moved into the civilian market. (1)

Essentially, night vision displays everything in shades of green to black, utilizing specialized sensors to read infrared light and enhance visuals at night.

Pros

So, what makes night vision better? Well:

Cheaper cost – Compared to most thermal devices, night vision is cheap. You can get several sets of NV scopes for the same price as one thermal.

Detailed image – NV gives you a more natural image, letting you pick up details that a thermal cannot.

Longer battery life – NV uses less power than thermal vision, so your battery will last longer.

More durable – NV is tougher than a thermal device. You can damage an NV scope, but it will handle more rough handling than a thermal.

Cons

Can’t handle too much light – The biggest drawback to NV is you can’t use it during the day. Too much light will flood the sensor and can ruin it; even good lighting in a room inside a house is too much. If you’ve come across NV scopes that have day use, these don’t utilize the NV sensors.

Requires light – At the same time, NV needs some light. This is why many such scopes come with an infrared light illuminator. You’ll need this light – which yotes cannot see – on overcast or new moon nights. But on a clear night and a full moon, you’ll have plenty of ambient light to use the scope.

No see-through ability – NV cannot see through leaves, fog, and smoke. In fact, NV essentially sees the same things your eyes see if there is enough light. Because of this, camo is often still effective; hiding in the shadows can defeat NV.

Thermal Vision

If you weren’t aware, thermal vision gun scopes entered the night hunting market not long ago and took off, becoming an increasingly popular tool for the field. And as technology advances bring prices down, more and more hunters are buying these devices.

Pros

Functional any time of the day – Thermal scopes work just as well during the day as at night. As they rely on a different frequency of infrared light than night vision, sunlight has no effect on their ability. However, avoid pointing the scope at the sun as that could damage it.

See-through ability – With thermal vision, you can see through fog, smoke, and light brush, like leaves. Although, not through trees.

Tracking – You can use a thermal to track residual heat like a fresh blood trail on the ground.

Range – Top thermal scopes can pick up heat signatures at 2,000 yards, many times that of NV.

close up image of a thermal imaging camera viewing a house for heat loss during the day

Cons

Cost – Its higher price has to be the chief reason many steer away from thermal scopes. They start around $1,000 and go up to $10,000.

Lacks image detail – Thermal scopes see heat, which means details are scanty. Making a 100% positive ID on something based strictly on the thermal pattern is difficult even for trained experts.

Shorter battery life – Battery life is more limited. Some scopes give about 4 hours of use, and on the other end, 8 hours of use is considered a long time. (3)

What Is Better for Coyote Hunting, Thermal or Night Vision?

Experienced hunters will almost always go with thermal cameras. But we recommend novice hunters try a night vision scope to save money.

If you prefer using shotguns, night vision is better. That’s because shotguns have a limited range and recoil, especially with magnums, and can be brutal on scopes. (2)

Best IR Scope for Predator Hunting

There are many thermal scopes which have been designed specifically for predator hunting. Make sure to check our article on the best IR scope for predator hunting for more info. We explain which is the best scope for every hunter on every type of budget.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Coyotes See at Night?

Yes, coyotes can see at night very well. They have a much higher percentage of “rods” (light receptors) in their eyes than humans do, making their night vision superior to ours.

How far can coyotes see at night?

Coyotes can see very far at night as yotes have more rods (the receptors in the eyes that process light) than people, so they effectively have very long-range night vision, seeing far better at night than humans. They also have acute hearing and a great sense of smell, which is why range is an important aspect of your scope when facing song dogs.

Is night vision good for coyote hunting?

Yes, night vision is good for coyote hunting as they can’t see the infrared light you need to make an NV scope work. Night vision scopes are also inexpensive, making them a good choice for a beginner or a hunter on a budget.

Do you need thermal scope to hunt coyotes?

No you do not need a thermal scope to hunt coyotes. In fact, you can hunt coyotes during the day with traditional scopes or no scopes at all. 

If you can use red filter spotlights, you can hunt at night with a traditional scope – thermal scopes just make it much easier.

What is a good night vision scope for coyote hunting?

The Sightmark Wraith is a top choice for a night vision scope for coyote hunting. It’s inexpensive, comes with an IR light, and can be used like a traditional scope during the day. What’s more, it’s able to take pictures and record videos of your hunt to watch later.

References

  1. Robotics and Automation News, A Short History of Night Vision Devices, retrieved from https://roboticsandautomationnews.com/2020/04/07/a-short-history-of-night-vision-devices/31525/
  2. North Dakota Game and Fish Department, Coyote Hunting and Trapping, Retrieved from: https://gf.nd.gov/hunting/coyote 
  3. Sanjiv Fernando, Seeing in the dark and more: Facts and FAQs about thermal imaging, Retrieved from: https://news.mongabay.com/2017/03/facts-and-faqs-about-thermal-imaging/

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