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Deciding whether you need thermal imaging or night vision for your hunting can be a difficult one to get your head around. The main conundrum being… what’s the difference between each of these high tech optical methods.

Well that’s exactly what we will attempt to answer now. By the end you should be able to make the right choice when it comes to buying your new scope.

Thermal imaging Scopes

Thermal imaging cameras are technically not cameras at all. They contain sensors that do not detect light. Instead, they detect heat in the way of thermal (or infrared) energy.

Because thermal scopes detect radiation, the more sensitive the scope the better it will be able to represent heat as an image (or thermogram) on the screen.

The technology has improved exponentially in recent years.

The temperature differences detectable on some of the world’s most sophisticated devices can be as small as 0.01°C.

A thermal scope can also be set to represent the heat using colors chosen by the user. Normally, objects radiating low to no heat will be shades of dark, with the hot objects being white (or colourful depending on the scope features).

The obvious benefits for hunters at night is that the thermal scope will detect living animals in complete darkness.

Thermal image scopes do not need any visible light to produce an image.

For an overview of 5 of the best thermal rifle scopes currently on the market, head to our review round up here.

Night Vision Scopes

The major difference between a night vision scope and thermal imager is that the night scope does require at least a small amount of light to work.

This is because the technology is classed as an image intensifier.

This is no problem if you’re hunting at night under moon and star light. The night vision scope will be able to amplify the image and detect enough light in those conditions for you to see clearly, (shadows can be tricky however).

Hunting in building or a cave with no ambient light is a different matter mind you. In those situations, the night vision scope will have no light to intensify so the resulting image will be black.

However, to combat extremely low light conditions most modern night vision scopes come equipped with an IR illuminator.

These work like flashlights for your night vision sensors, providing light for the detectors to work while still being invisible to the human (or animal) eye.

Hunting with Thermal Imaging

Thermal image scopes are popular with hog and deer hunters because of the nature of the natural habitats and the need for hunting at night.

Hogs very rarely venture out during the day, and they will often have the benefit of tree or plant cover in many areas, (thus making them difficult to see with night vision technology).

The great thing about thermal image scopes over traditional thermal image cameras is that the hunter does not have to hold the scope, it is attached to the rifle.

The reduction in arm fatigue is an important benefit for hunters.

Hunting with night vision

Night vision technology has improved over the years to become highly sensitive while be sturdy and reliable.

The technology is currently more affordable than most thermal imaging scopes too.

Today’s scopes provide both a quality image and can withstand recoil with ease. This is important as the average hunter will put their equipment through its paces while out in the field.

Knowing that your scope can put up with the abuse while still providing a reliable image and alignment is vital.

Final words

Choosing the right scope for you really does depend on the nature of your hunting as well as some extent your available budget.

Thermal imaging is excellent for extremely low light conditions as the image will not be impaired. It is also good for hog hunting where the animal is likely to skulk in shadows that night vision scopes have difficulty highlighting.

Night vision is sturdy and reliable and often more affordable too. If you’re deer hunting under the cover of moon and star light, (or decide on a model scope that comes complete with an IR illuminator, you should have no problems sighting your quarry.