For most, hunting is a daytime activity, but more and more hunters are starting to appreciate heading out after the sun goes down. Night hunting has become more popular in recent years, partly due to more widely available high-tech equipment.
If you’re interested in testing your night hunting skills, you need a scope to help you see your target. You can choose either a standard thermal scope or a clip-on model. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, so it helps to make a well-informed decision. To that end, here’s everything you need to know about standard thermal scopes vs. clip-ons.
More On Clip-On Thermal Scope Attachments
If you’re looking for more info on the best clip-on thermal scope attachment options on the market, make sure to check out our full article. We cover all of the top clip-on models to make sure you’re getting the perfect thermal attachment for your needs.
Thermal Clip-On Scope Attachment vs. Dedicated Scope
For the uninitiated, thermal imaging technology works by translating heat energy into visible light. If you’ve ever seen any of the Predator movies, you know about how it looks from one’s point of view. While the real deal isn’t quite as clear and cinematic as what you see in the movies, it’s still pretty accurate. (1)
Once you decide to go thermal, you need to determine whether you want a dedicated scope or a clip-on attachment. Here’s a breakdown of both scopes and how well they work in different situations.
For more on Burris thermals like the video above see our post on where are Burris scopes made.
What is a Clip-On Scope?
As the name suggests, a clip-on scope is one you attach to your current rifle scope. There are quite a few models available, and each one is pretty simple to install. Here’s a quick video of how to attach a clip-on thermal scope so you get a better idea of the process.
Pros of a Clip-On Scope
- Don’t need to zero in to work with your rifle
- Easily switch between thermal and non-thermal hunting
- More affordable
The primary advantage of using a clip-on scope is that you don’t have to recalibrate it to work with your rifle. As any experienced shooter will tell you, scopes can be affected by different variables, and it takes a while to get accustomed to the scope for accurate targeting. So, attaching a clip-on means you don’t need to readjust how you aim at your next target to bring it down.
Another benefit of using a clip-on scope is that you can switch from thermal to non-thermal hunting with the same rifle. Unless you like having a dedicated rifle only for night hunting, this feature can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
Finally, clip-on scopes are generally more affordable, and they’re often pretty versatile. For instance, you can utilize a clip-on as a monocular instead to spot your prey before taking it down. With a dedicated scope, you’d also need thermal goggles to get the same effect.
- Lower resolution
- Short battery life
- Compatibility issues with existing scope
- Added weight
The main disadvantage of a clip-on scope is that it doesn’t have the same optics resolution as a dedicated unit. So, you might not be as precise or accurate with your shooting, even though the sight itself doesn’t change.
Another issue you may encounter is ensuring compatibility between your scope and rifle. If you hunt with multiple rifle brands, you may have to get multiple scopes to accommodate them all. In this case, you may negate any potential cost savings by switching to a clip-on. (2)
What is a Thermal Scope?
A dedicated thermal scope is one that mounts to the rifle, not to an existing scope. If this is your first time swapping out your rifle scope, the process can be a bit tricky, so we recommend practicing before doing anything final.
Pros of a Thermal Scope
- Better resolution
- Reticle included for more accuracy
- Less weight
- Longer battery life
Dedicated thermal scopes often have better resolution and optics, which means you get crisper and clearer images of your target, making it easier to make a kill shot. In addition, dedicated scopes can vary from brand to brand, and some options offer ultra-high definition imaging that let you see about as well at night as you would during the day.
Overall, installing a dedicated thermal scope works best if you want to assign only one rifle for night shooting. This way, you can train on the same gun and get attuned to its unique faults and quirks.
- Learning curve adjusting to thermal scope
- Less flexibility to swap from thermal to non-thermal
- More expensive than clip-ons (generally)
The main disadvantage of using a traditional thermal scope is that you have to re-train yourself on it once it’s mounted. Because the point of impact could change, you need to practice with the new scope to ensure you won’t be off target when you’re hunting. If you hunt from long distances, even a small adjustment could mean the difference between a kill shot and a wounded (and fleeing) animal.
Another disadvantage of a dedicated thermal scope is that it’s harder to switch back and forth between thermal and non-thermal hunting. While it’s not impossible to swap scopes whenever you’re out in the field, the process is much more complicated and time-consuming.
A dedicated thermal scope would work best if you’re hunting long distances or need to see your target as clearly as possible. However, if you’re just trying to hunt with thermals on occasion and aren’t too worried about the clarity of your scope, a clip-on model would be preferable.
Overall, clip-on scopes are more convenient and versatile than dedicated models. And, even though the optics aren’t as clear, it’s not like you can’t differentiate between targets. Realistically, clip-on scopes are the best option for most hunters who only plan on using thermals from time to time.
- SAVER, Thermal Imaging Technology, www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ThermalImagingTech_TN_0305-508.pdf
- ZEISS DTC 3, The First Thermal Clip-On Device from ZEISS, Retrieved from: https://www.zeiss.com/consumer-products/int/home/content/newsroom/news-overview/2022/zeiss-dtc-3.html
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.
Or contact me at: