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Thermal Scope vs. Monocular: Which Should You Choose?  

L.p. Brezny | Updated June 1, 2023 | Why You Should Trust Us | How We Earn Money
cover photo of thermal scope vs monocular showing a side by side image of thermal scope and monocular, article title, and logo

When deciding on optics for your rifle platform, your available options include thermal scopes and monoculars that allow you to distinguish between heat signatures and gain a massive advantage on the field. 

Although both of these optics are similar and allow you to see more than you could with your naked eye, each has its own features and benefits.

And choosing the right one for your needs can be difficult. This is especially true given these optics are typically a large investment.

Thermal Scope vs. Monocular

So, to decide the better tool for your tasks, first, we’ll break down what they are and what distinguishes them from each other to set out what makes either one better for certain tasks.

What Is a Thermal Scope?

Unlike thermal monoculars, thermal scopes mount directly to a weapons system. These dedicated scopes are often purchased for the specific purpose of hunting early in the morning or late at night when visibility is low.

If you’ve been looking into thermal scopes, you’ll know that scopes are usually distinguished by recoil ratings, which signifies how much recoil the scope can withstand. High-end thermal scopes have a higher recoil rating to take the brunt of the rifle’s movement in stride.

And following that, many high-end scopes offer a far detection range, up to 2,000 yards, and may also retain WiFi and streaming capabilities to bring their audiences a front-row seat to the action. Some thermal scopes even include a feature that begins recording your shot as soon as the rifle is fired.

However, when hunting with a thermal scope, it’s essential to check your local and state laws and hunting regulations, as some states may restrict the use of thermal scopes when hunting a particular game.

What Is a Thermal Monocular?

A thermal monocular is simply a handheld monocular with thermal imaging technology onboard to view heat signatures. Compared to traditional night vision, these monoculars have not been around as long and can quickly jump in price compared to “normal” monoculars. 

With a thermal monocular, you’ll have access to long-lasting battery life, smart features, the potential for WiFi compatibility, portability, high image resolution, and a quick powerup process. You can also digitally zoom, as well as take advantage of an improved refresh rate.

Monoculars become the popular choice when scouting and spotting become the primary task. As it’s lightweight and portable, it’s an efficient tool that comes in handy when trying to track game. With it, you won’t need to tire your arms when bringing up a rifle whenever you want a magnified thermal view.

But similar to thermal scopes, the best thermal monoculars allow for live streaming, which can really make a difference for some hunters. In addition, the higher-end thermal monoculars will enable you to see up to 1,000 yards or more.

When deciding on a thermal monocular, you’ll want to consider the magnification, price, and sensors. The better these components are, the higher the price will typically be, but you also receive a much higher-quality product.

Which Is Better?

two thermal scopes in showroom being charged without lenses caps

Thermal Monoculars:


  • Lower cost than a thermal scope
  • Lightweight
  • Compact
  • Versatile
  • Easily spot and track prey


  • Can be hard to use for an extended period of time
  • May not come with a reticle
  • More of an accessory than a traditional scope
  • Redundant if you already have a thermal scope

Thermal Scopes:


  • Wider range of technology available
  • Potential to record and stream the hunt
  • Mount directly to your weapons system
  • Helps you get close to your intended target without spooking your prey
  • Track your game for follow-up shots if necessary


  • Dedicated to one singular platform typically
  • Can get expensive quickly
  • Image/video can be grainy in lower-cost scopes

So, the real question is: when do hunters actually use either of these optics? 

Simply put, hunters most often use thermal monoculars to scope out their targets, while thermal scopes come in handy the closer they get to their intended target. 

When you’re ready to take the shot, thermal scopes are the ones that take precedence and will help you with follow-up shots. However, either is effective at tracking your game animal to its final resting place.

To decide which is better for you, you should first work out what you’ll most often be using the thermal device for. Then the rest should be more straightforward. (2)

Thermal Scopes vs Night Vision

Arguably more popular than thermal for night hunting is well, night vision itself. Though many argue that thermal now has the upper hand, night vision does still have its own advantages. Make sure to check out our article on thermal scopes vs night vision scopes for more info.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use a thermal monocular for hunting?

You may be able to use a thermal monocular for hunting as long as the law allows it. Check your local and state game hunting laws before purchasing and hunting with a thermal monocular.

Where allowed, many hunters prefer to use a thermal monocular to quickly scout and track game, an effective tool that will allow you to see your target without coming within close range.

While the most dedicated hunters invest in a thermal scope for night hunting, you can easily purchase a thermal monocular at a more affordable price. This allows you similar benefits without having a dedicated setup.

Can you use a thermal monocular in daylight?

You can use a thermal monocular in daylight as long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Some thermal monoculars, like thermal scopes, are not meant to be exposed to direct sunlight.

Instead, these thermal monoculars require an aperture that filters out part of the daylight to keep the internal components safe. Overexposing the thermal monocular elements to sunlight can permanently damage the optic.

How far can you see with a thermal monocular?

You can see up to 1,000 yards or more with a quality thermal monocular. If you’re looking in the more affordable range, the most budget-friendly thermal monoculars can see up to around 100 yards.

Be aware that zooming with certain thermal monoculars can result in a grainy or pixel-y appearance. If you’re consistently hunting longer distances and need to distinguish specific features before taking a kill shot, you may want to consider investing in a thermal scope instead. (1)


  1. Teledyne FLIR, A Perfect Tool for Finding Wildlife, Retrieved from: https://www.flir.com/discover/ots/outdoor/a-perfect-tool-for-finding-wildlife
  2. Rifle Scope Buyer’s Guide, Mathew Brost, Retrieved from: https://1source.basspro.com/news-tips/hunting-gear/23324/rifle-scope-buyers-guide

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