Best Night Vision Scope For The Money – Reviews And Buying Guide (2019)

Do you want one of the best night vision scopes for the money? If so, then you have come to the right place. But first let's quickly talk about the history of night vision scopes. 

Modern night vision technology was once not common or affordable. The best we could do for night shooting was to use lamps. We could also make the most of every minute by using large objective lenses to gather light in our scopes.

Early methods are still very useful but the affordability of modern night vision equipment is great. It gives everyone a chance to make the most of shooting after dark. Modern night vision is really a great tool for the professional pest controller. With night vision these hunters can get great results shooting vermin and troublesome predators at night. Using night vision optics for tactical and military applications doesn't even need to be explained.

Read on to find out more about the top products available today.

Contents

Why Do You Need a Night Vision Scope?

Best Night Vision Scope For The Money 2020

Without night vision equipment, if you want to shoot at night or in dark places you need light. The light may come from a simple flashlight, the headlights of a vehicle, or a handheld lamp. The problem with these options is that they reveal your position to the enemy or to your prey while hunting.

Night vision equipment allows you to operate in the darkness without alerting game or potential enemies to your location or even to your presence. You want this advantage. It makes hunting at night so much easier since your prey won't be able to get used to the light and learn to avoid it. Proper night vision equipment opens up a whole world of opportunities for shooting at night.

How Night Vision Scopes Work

Many animals have a layer of tissue known as the tapetum lucidum in the back of the eye. Yes, that is a fancy Latin word. The tapetum lucidum is not that hard to understand. All it describes is a feature in most animals that reflects light back through the retina. This increases the amount of light available to the eye. Unfortunately, it does reduce the focus of the image.

Many animals active at night have a tapetum lucidum. These animals include foxes, rabbits, and cats. That tissue is actually the cause of "eyeshine" you see when you shine a light into those animals' eyes. 

Night active animals also have cells in their eyes that are specially arranged to work well in low light conditions. Humans and other apes lack a tapetum lucidum and that special organisation of cells. We do, however, still have a limited ability to see at night.

Human eyes are made to work okay in low light conditions. We have these things in our eyes called rods and cones. Without going into a long science lesson, just remember that the rod cells are what respond in low light. That only rods help us see at night causes us to lose our night vision if even a little bit of extra light appears. 

Human's night vision isn’t good enough to shoot accurately over long ranges unless our targets are illuminated. To make up for this lack we've made technology to see at night for us. There are a couple of options. Thermal imaging is one. It’s such a big topic that we would need a whole article dedicated to it. Another option is to intensify an image using the limited light. The final option is to find some way to illuminate a target without using normal visible light.

Image Intensification

Image intensifying optics gather the smallest amounts of light and produce enough light for our scopes. Some of the early attempts at producing night vision optics were called "starlight scopes" because of their ability to use starlight. They are also often called "image intensifiers" since the image they produce is brighter than the light they take in.

Image intensifiers work by turning the light that enters them into electrons. The electrons are then multiplied by a photoelectric cell called a photomultiplier. That photomultiplier does its job and creates extra electrons. Once the electrons hit a screen they create light brighter than what originally entered the optic.

Images viewed through these optics generally have a greenish hue. The original creators of image intensifiers used green look on purpose. If not for the screen all colors would appear black and white, but green light is easier to see and use. Thus, the green image.

Older image intensifier optics are only used in the dark and at night. Using them in bright light can damage them. Modern night vision is much more versatile. Many models can be used in day or night conditions. With modern night vision you don’t have to have a dedicated night shooting rifle. Some models of night vision equipment even come as an easily fitted adapter for a standard rifle scope.

Infrared Illumination

Insufficient light doesn't mean you can't use your scope. instead there is an option to enhance those images. Obviously one of the advantages of night vision is that it means we don’t have to illuminate a target with visible light. Another pro is that with modern night vision we can use light that isn’t in the visible spectrum. Our night vision optics can still turn it into a useful image.

Infrared illumination helps us achieve this process. Optics can either have built-in illuminators or mounted ones. These provide the illumination necessary to create an image in no visible light. Using IR illumination you will see "eye-shine" in mammals such as foxes and rabbits.

Modern night vision optics combine IR illumination and image intensification to produce the very best images possible. As an added bonus the packages are much lighter, more portable, and more capable than ever.

These two methods are often referred to as passive and active night vision. Image intensification is passive because it sends out no light of its own. It only gathers and amplifies all available light.  IR illumination is known as active night vision since light is both passively gathered and actively sent out in the form of infrared light. You will also hear terms such as generation 1 and generation 2 describe night vision equipment.

Generations of Night Vision

The generation terms mentioned above are really just a marketing ploy. Generation 1 products (passive night vision) are the true budget option. They offer limited effective range of under 100 meters and images that are poor when compared to newer products. They may also use batteries up quickly and be of poorer overall quality.

Most night vision equipment available in the civilian market is generation 2. These products are higher quality overall. They also produce a much clearer picture.

Remember that picking a night vision device based on its generation can be dangerous. You’d be better served by looking closely at the features and specifications. The higher generation optics will always cost more. But they may not provide the features you need. You don't want to end up paying for the best model when it won't work for your hunting and shooting needs.

Also beware of people touting "generation 4" night vision. There really aren’t many, if any, night vision devices out there in generation 4. Don't pay a premium for a product that is only a generation 3 at best. 

The History of Night Vision Optics

Modern night vision units are the very cutting edge of shooting technology. Even though night vision technology has actually been around for a while, it has only recently become affordable and portable enough for civilians. People in the military were using it as early as The Second World War. In fact, soviet soldiers in 1945 reported being attacked at night by German snipers.

history of night vision scope

Figure 1; The German Zielgerät 1229 "Vampir" was the first night-vision sniperscope to enter service. Photo By British Army photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The very first attempts at night vision equipment were very heavy. The batteries of the day were large and inefficient compared to our modern batteries. They would often require a dedicated backpack. The backpack would then be connected to the optic or an infrared illuminator by cables. This setup not only made the equipment heavy but difficult to use as the cables could easily get tangled.

The American M3 sniper scope was an early attempt at producing tactical night vision equipment. We show the one issued during the Korean War below. It is mounted on an M1 carbine with its battery pack. 

M3-Sniper-Scope

Figure 2; M3 Sniper Scope Fitted to an M1 Carbine Image by Curiosandrelics This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Since the first early attempts at producing night vision optics, night vision technology has been further refined. It has been used to great success by the military and is now being used routinely by hunters, wildlife managers, emergency services, law enforcement agencies, and private security firms.

Comparing the Best Night Vision Scopes

When looking for a night vision optic, there are a few features you need to consider:

Clarity

You will never get the same levels of clarity with a night vision optic that you might with a true telescopic sight. Yet, some of the better models on the market do offer excellent image quality. The use of the terms generation 1, 2, or 3 often refers to the quality and clarity of the image. Look for a scope clear enough to allow you to identify your targets. Just remember the better the clarity, the more your scope will cost.

Range

The clarity of the images and the sensitivity of the components inside your scope contribute to its effective range. The better the image and light gathering capability, the more effective it will be at long distances. Some of the products listed here are effective up to a hundred yards or so. Others, such as the top of the range Pulsar products, will be effective to several hundred yards. Just don’t expect the kind of long range image quality you can get with expensive daytime optics.

Battery Type & Life

Rather than the old massive battery packs, modern night vision optics often only need a couple of AA’s. As long as you use good quality batteries, you should have several hours before you have to change them. Do be aware that modular IR illuminators often require more unique batteries. They will also eat through them quickly. You will need to choose these products wisely and consider opting for rechargeable batteries.

Whatever batteries your chosen scope takes, carrying a few spare packs is always sensible. Even if your products is marketed as having a multi-day battery life you may need to change them unexpectedly.

Day & Night Use

The ability to use a scope both day and night is a really important factor. You may want something you can use whatever the light conditions. The inconvenience of having to re-zero a rifle constantly as you switch between a day and night scope is terrible. So, if you are going to use one rifle for everything, consider a product  that will do both. You could also find a product that can be fitted to your standard optic.

{Top 12} Best Night Vision Scope 2020 - Comparison Table

Product

Image

Day/
Night
Capable

Objective

Magnification

App Support

RRP range

Weight (lbs)

IR illuminator included

Pulsar Phantom Generation 3 Select 4x 60mm MD Night Vision Riflescope

Yes

60mm

4

No

Under $3000

2.7

Yes (included with purchase but not integral to scope

ATN X-Sight II HD 5-20 Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope

Yes

85mm

5-20 (digital zoom only)

Yes

Under $1000

2.55

Yes (include with purchase but not integral to scope)

ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope

Yes

50mm

3-14x and 5-20x models available

Yes

Under $1000

2.2

Yes

NiteSite Eagle

Yes

N/A (adapts to existing scope)

Fully Multi-Coated 

No

Under $1000

1.4

Yes

Sightmark SM18008 Photon XT 4.6x42S Digital Night Vision Riflescope

Yes

42mm

4.6

No

Under $1000

2.3

Yes

Night Owl Optics NightShot Digital Night Vision Riflescope with IR illuminator, Black, NIGHTSHOT

Yes

No information

3

No

Under $500

1.5

Yes

Firefield FF16001 NVRS 3x42 Night Vision Riflescope

Yes

42mm

3

No

Under $500

2

Yes

Bushenll 4.5X40 Equinox Z Digital Night Vision W/Mount - 260140MT

Yes

40mm

4.5

No

Under $500

1.4

Yes

Pulsar Digisight N550 Riflescope

Yes

50mm

4.5

No

Under $500

2.2

Yes

NITEOWL NV-G3 Digital Night Vision Scope for Rifle Hunting with Camera and Portable Display Screen Night Vision 400 Meters

Yes

N/A (adapts to existing scope

N/A (adapts to existing scope

No

Under $500

No information

Yes

Pulsar Digital Night Vision Attachment Forward DFA75

Adapts a standard optical scope for night vision.

Fits a 50mm objective lens

Uses scopes own magnification

No

Under $2000

2.2

No

Armasight Nemesis6x-SD Gen 2+ Night Vision Rifle Scope w/6x Magnification

Yes

No specification given

6x

No

Under $2000

4.2

No

Top 12 Best Night Vision Scopes on the Market Reviews

Now that you know how they work and a little about their history, you can choose the best night vision scope around. Night vision optics have plenty of uses: military and tactical applications, law enforcement, and even hunting and vermin control. Unless you are given a product by your job, you will have to choose your own from among the dozens of products available. You are probably left asking yourself: which night vision scopes are the best?

 1  Pulsar Phantom Generation 3 Select 4x 60mm MD Night Vision Riflescope

Pulsar Phantom Generation 3 Select 4x 60mm MD Night Vision Riflescope

The massive objective lens on Pulsar's product gives you a great field of view. It also has plenty of light gathering ability and is very useful in low light conditions. You may not even need to resort to an infrared illuminator. 

The problem with night vision optics is that they require so many more settings than your average rifle scope. Being able to adjust them, especially in the dark, can be tricky unless the controls are very intuitive. Pulsar products shine in this avenue. Their side-mounted simple controls are easy to use, something that can’t always be said of top-mounted controls.

This is a very rugged scope. Unlike some of the budget options that shouldn’t be fired on heavy recoiling magnum rifles, this scope will take all the punishment you can throw at it. It won’t suffer if you drag it through the bush or on a long hike to a blind or high seat.

 2  ATN X-Sight II HD 5-20 Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope w/1080p Video, Ballistic Calculator, Rangefinder, WiFi, E-Compass, GPS, Barometer, IOS & Android Apps - Best Night Vision Scope For Ar 15

ATN X-Sight II HD 5-20 Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope w/1080p Video, Ballistic Calculator, Rangefinder, WiFi, E-Compass, GPS, Barometer, IOS & Android Apps

The ATN X-Sight II HD is a day/night scope which can be used as a stand-alone rifle scope or in conjunction with an infrared illuminator

This really is a product for the gadget geek. The ATN X-sight has it all: recoil activated camera, gps, wifi, ballistic calculator, rangefinder, electronic compass, and barometer. It even has an associated app that you can use to change everything from the reticle, to the level of zoom, to just about anything else.

remington 700 with ATN scope

Figure 3; The x-sight fitted to my Remington 700 chambered in .300 blackout

One of the features of this scope I have found most useful and impressive is the one shot zero capability. This feature saves you a great deal of time and ammunition. It also has the ability to save the data for multiple different loads. The one shot zero capability is particularly useful for the .300 blackout that I have my X-sight mounted on. The blackout handles high velocity and sub-sonic ammunition. The zero for these can both be stored on the X-sight. You can even switch between them at the touch of a button.

The 5-20x power magnification allows you to view your targets in greater detail than many of the other products in this list. Also, the 85 mm objective lens is significantly larger than most standard optics so it gathers loads of light before you even use  the included infrared illuminator.  

 3  ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope - Ultra HD 4K technology with Superb Optics, 120fps Video, 18+ hrs Battery, Ballistic Calculator, Rangefinder, WiFi, E-Compass, Barometer, IOS & Android Apps

ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart

The X-sight 4K is the latest night vision product from ATN. It offers improved performance from the X-sight II. The video quality is quite improved from earlier models, but it still features the recoil-activated camera and other beloved features. You will also receive advanced battery-saving features that allow you to use your scope for over eighteen hours. A full night's shooting will be possible without having to switch your scope on and off to preserve battery life. This is a really valuable feature. If you’ve done a lot of night shooting you will know the frustration of running out of battery at a vital moment.

ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope real image

The large objective lens and relatively long scope tube compared to the older versions make this scope a little bulky and heavy. You have to make that trade-off for the very best features on this scope.

 4  NiteSite Eagle

NiteSite Eagle

Rather than being a complete scope package, this unit piggybacks on your existing scope. It uses a camera that slots over the eyepiece of your scope and transfers that image to a screen mounted on top of your rifle. Behind the screen is an infrared illuminator that gives you clear images even in the darkest conditions.

This product is relatively inexpensive. It is a good option if you don’t want a dedicated night shooting system. If you just need this for occasional use, then you've found the right product.

I have also found that the NiteSite Eagle doesn’t really suit heavy recoiling rifles. I prefer my Tikka T3. In a .243 Winchester it would dislodge the camera from the scope. I would really only recommend this product on lighter recoiling rifles such as .22’s or even smaller centerfire cartridges such as .223

Because of it’s design, you can’t mount your rifle in the usual fashion. Also, aiming using a screen instead of looking through the scope will take some getting used to. It also trails wires and reminds me a bit of the original World War II scopes. This product is interesting and is great for some tasks, but might not be ideal if you have to slog through the brush with it.

 5  Sightmark Photon XT 4.6x42 - Night Vision Scope For Crossbow

Sightmark SM18008 Photon XT 4.6x42S Digital Night Vision Riflescope

This is optic offers probably the best value of all those listed here. I comes in at under $500. It is very versatile and offers functionality day or night at a fraction of the weight of some other models. As might be expected from a budget option, it doesn’t have quite the same level of performance as other models. It also only offers really good images to about 120 yards.

Those on a budget should consider this product. It will be plenty for a lot of your hunting needs. Given that it features reticle options specifically designed for clear images up to 120 yards, it is about the right sort of range for crossbow hunting.

Sightmark SM18008 Photon XT 4.6x42S Digital Night Vision Riflescope real image

For added performance at night, this scope has a built in infrared illuminator. At less than three pounds, the entire scope comes in at a fraction of the weight of some of the other models. This keeps your rifle lightweight and easy to move, which is important for hunting.

 6  ​​Night Owl Optics NightShot Digital Night Vision Riflescope

Night Owl Optics NightShot Digital Night Vision Riflescope with IR illuminator, Black, NIGHTSHOT

Another budget offering is this scope. It is best up to 200 meters and includes a built-in infrared illuminator. It offers three times magnification but a relatively limited field of view. While it is suitable for most common small or mid-sized cartridges, you should probably avoid using it with heavier recoiling calibers. Since it has a lightweight, budget-friendly construction, it is not rated for those larger magnum calibers.

The built in illuminator will only work well up to 100 meters. But, you can add a high intensity illuminator to use with this scope. It may seem as if this scope is not all that competitive compared to some of the other products on this list, but you should consider its price. At under $400, its lack of features is a sacrifice worth making for a basic functional night vision optic.

 7  ​​​Firefield FF16001 NVRS 3x42 Night Vision Riflescope

Firefield FF16001 NVRS 3x42 Night Vision Riflescope

This lightweight scope from firefield is another budget option. Its three times magnification might not offer all the detail you could want for hunting. Still, it’s a great option for casual use on the range. I wouldn’t trust it for heavier calibers. It would be better for a 5.56 rifle as long as you don’t plan on being too rough with it.

This scope has a built-in rugged mount for a weaver or picatinny rail. The built-in mount is a common features among most of the models in our list. It allows for easy removal of the scope. The titanium body also reduces the weight and adds strength.

 8  ​​​​Bushenll 4.5X40 Equinox Z Digital Night Vision W/Mount - 260140MT

Bushenll 4.5X40 Equinox Z Digital Night Vision W/Mount - 260140MT

When it comes to optics for sportsmen Bushnell are leaders in their field. They make some of the highest-quality precision rifle scopes, binoculars, and optics used by elite military and law-enforcement. They also have some great products for hunters and sportsmen.

They don’t have a huge range of night vision products, but they do offer some budget options. Included is this simple, light weight, and compact scope. It features 4.5 power magnification and a 40mm objective lens. As you can tell, it provides more magnification than some of the other options on this list.

This brightness of the IR illumination can be adjusted. That feature is really useful, especially for close range shooting. This unit also offers great battery life and image capturing, video recording. It can be used during the day. Or, it can easily be used a stand-alone night vision monocular for spotting and scouting.

 9  ​​​​​Pulsar Digisight N550 Riflescope

Pulsar Digisight N550 Riflescope

A cheaper offering from Pulsar than their gen 3, this is a full-featured but slightly cheaper model. It might be more accessible to many people but it still isn’t a budget scope.

This prodcut will do almost everything most people need from a night sight in a very sleek package. Its slim lines disguise the fact that it has a built-in infrared illuminator. This scope is a great option for full functionality without any unnecessary weight or all the opportunities for snagging that other products present.

 10  ​​​​​​NITEOWL NV-G3 Digital Night Vision Scope for Rifle Hunting with Camera and Portable Display Screen Night Vision 400 Meters

NITEOWL NV-G3 Digital Night Vision Scope for Rifle Hunting with Camera and Portable Display Screen Night Vision 400 Meters

This is another adapter option, rather than a stand-alone night vision optic. NightOwl's offering adapts to your normal scope. It features a stock-mounted battery pack to power the camera and screen.

It also has a bank of three IR torches mounted over the objective bell of the scope. These can be used to illuminate targets. Unfortunately, they do also throw the balance of your rifle out and are a nightmare for snagging on undergrowth.

With the additional kit attached to your rifle, this set up is really only practical from a stationary, rested position. You won’t be stalking through the woods with this one. You should only consider it if you have a seat in a blind.

 11  Pulsar Digital Night Vision Attachment Forward DFA75 with 50mm Cover Ring Adapter

Pulsar Digital Night Vision Attachment Forward DFA75 with 50mm Cover Ring Adapter

The greatest advantage of this night vision scope is that it can attach to your standard optic rather than needing to be attached to your rifle. This means your rifle can be used as normal during the daytime and be adapted for use at night very simply. Most of us can’t afford to have a dedicated night shooting rifle. The ability to switch simply to and from night vision is very important.

This isn’t the cheapest night vision option on the market. It retails at around $2000. Still, if the alternative is to have two rifles for day and night shooting, your saving is significant.

The unit is easy to mount and dismount. The ease of use allows you to use your favorite rifle no matter what the light conditions. It's designed to fit over the objective lens of a standard scope. It is compatible with 42, 50, and 56 mm objective bells and offers no magnification. This feature will be provided by your normal scope.  

At just over a pound this product adds very little weight to your overall setup. It is much easier to carry than the much heavier fully-featured night vision scopes.

 12  Armasight Nemesis6x-SD Gen 2+ Night Vision Rifle Scope w/6x Magnification

Armasight Nemesis6x-SD Gen 2+ Night Vision Rifle Scope w/6x Magnification

Despite the fact that sportsmen, hunters, and wildlife managers find night vision so useful and essential nowadays, most civilian night vision optics are still modelled after military and tactical products. That doesn't matter with this product from Armasight. It  will work for you no matter what. 

It features 6x magnification, has fully shockproof construction, and a waterproof body. This scope mounts to a standard weaver rail like many of the other products listed here and includes features that you find on a standard rifle scope. These include an illuminated reticle and fully multi-coated optics.

Armasight Nemesis6x-SD Gen 2+ real image

In contrast to the lightweight pulsar adapter, this scope weighs over four pounds. You will need to be prepared for that extra weight and bulk.

Because of the advanced night vision technology used in this scope, exporting it to other countries requires special governmental permission from the State Department. Always make sure to check the law before taking the product overseas.

Top night Vision Scope Brands

There are a number of brands listed above but there are only a few that really dominate the marketplace. The top brands are ATN and Pulsar. Any products by these two companies are guaranteed to be of high quality. They will work for the rigors of hunting or tactical applications.

If you have a very tight budget, Bushnell would be my choice. Their products have the protection of a good warranty. Bushnell is also a well-known and reputable company.

 It’s not that the other products listed above aren’t up to scratch. It is just that some are designed for people on a very tight budget. They may not have quite the same rugged build or quality of lenses and sensors as the premium products.

Night Vision Generations 

There are four generations when it comes to discussing night vision. Each generation refers to the quality of the product.

The scale starts on the lower end with the 1st generation, and ends with the 4th generation. The generations' quality increases as the the numbers get higher.

1st generation night vision is the most common throughout the world. It’s not the best, but it doesn't have any surprises.

There are some downsides to using a 1st generation night vision item, of course. First, you will see some blurry items on the outside of your field of view. Second, you may hear a slight, high-pitched moan when night vision is activated.

Even in a given generation, you will see some items that are higher and lower quality. Of course, products in a specific generation are not necessarily the same. The categories provide you a quick reference.

2nd generation items are better than 1st generation ones. They provide a better image. Some objects that were blurry before will now be sharp. This increases the cost of the night vision item, which means that 2nd generation scopes are best used by professionals who have a serious need to see at night.

3rd generation gets even more serious. The picture gets even brighter and clearer than a 2nd generation. Companies create the change in quality by adding serious chemicals to the mix. These chemicals take gen 3 products well outside the range of hobbyists and casual users.

By the time you’ve reached the 4th generation of night vision, there is almost no distortion to your image. When using 4th generation night vision, you can even see out into changing light situations without any problem. The technology involved has been developed quite recently. These are state-of-the-art products that can provide tactical military units all of the information they need when operating in the dark.

Thermal Vs. Night Vision

Night vision and thermal scope

Thermal scopes and night vision scopes have a lot to offer. What does each do and how you decide between them?

Thermal scopes use small differences in heat in the animal you hunt. These thermal scopes do not use light in any way. They don’t need light to let you see the image that you’re hunting. As a matter of fact, thermal scopes can be used morning, day, or night in any kind of lighting conditions.

Night vision, on the other hand, does require some form of light to work effectively. If you are using a night vision scope at night and you have natural light from some source, even the moon – you should be fine. However, if you can't rely on natural light, you may need some sort of illuminator.

Don’t be worried about scaring off animals with the illuminator though. It’s not a light that can be seen visibly. If you try to hunt in the pitch black, you will need it.

While too little light is a problem for a night vision scope, too much light can also be a issue. You’re not going to have good results trying to use a night vision scope in daylight or any other situation where there’s a lot of natural light. The scope wouldnot work right in those situations.

Night vision scopes have been around a long time and are easily cheaper than thermal scopes. Thermal uses newer technology and can work in more situations, so it makes sense that the cost would be higher.

Night vision scopes get the job done for a more narrow window of possibilities. They are only good when you have some, but not too much light. Your choice will come down to the question of if night vision scopes fits your specific needs. If you need something that works more often, then you may need to look into thermal scopes.

Night Vision Comparison

Many times, hunters will have to decide between a night vision scope and a different item for their hunting needs.

The comparisons below will help you make the best decision for your specific needs. It will also allow you to weigh the pros and cons of night vision scopes.

Night vision scopes can be great tools, but do they measure up individually when put to the test?

Night Vision Scope or Thermal Scope

Night vision scopes can easily be compared to thermal scopes because of their differences.

Thermal scopes are used in a wide range of situations, because they’re based off of heat to generate an image.

Night vision scopes need a specific band of light to work. If you don’t have that illumination, or if you have too much light – a night vision scope is going to be rendered unusable.

Thermal scopes on the other hand, can be used at any time and any light situation.

Both scopes rate pretty similarly as far as durability. Neither scope has a problem dealing with kickback. They would both be appropriate for you to use during a lot of dimly-lit hunting situations.

One concern that may come up is cost. Night vision scopes tend to be a lot cheaper than thermal scopes. Really, the only reason you would need to go with a thermal scope is if you don’t know what light you will have while hunting.

Night Vision Scope or Monocular

Night Vision Scope or Monocular

Choosing between a night vision scope or a monocular is an interesting decision.

A monocular is basically a smaller version of a telescope. It can be used to quickly look at things far away. Most versions of a monocular that you see are quite small. 

A monocular is a handheld device that can be used in a lot of situations. But, it will give you problems when switching between it and your rifle. You should only use a monocular when you already have some idea about what’s going on.

These are not high-powered items and don’t come with any real game-changing abilities. If you are looking for an item with more power, you probably want the traditional scope.

Night Vision Scope or Clip On

Night Vision Scope or Clip On

Deciding between a dedicated night vision scope versus a clip-on model is one of the most talked about controversies today.

A big problem when using a night vision scope is the general lack of access to a regular daytime scope.

Every time you switch these two scopes, you need to adjust them. You have to make sure they’re completely brought back to their perfect setting. The hassle created by all this adjusting frustrates some users. It could also lead to a lot of useless work when lighting situations change.

The frustration over night vision scopes led to the invention of clip-on night vision scopes. A clip-on essentially gives you a 2nd option on your gun without adjustments.

Clip-ons allow you to simply add a night scope to your existing scope. This conveniently allows you to use your rifle in any environment.

Clip-ons are generally less powerful than a regular night vision scope. That’s okay, but you have to ask yourself how much convenience you need. Are you willing to sacrifice your power of magnification for that convenience?

Night Vision Scope vs. Goggles

Night Vision Scope vs. Goggles

When considering night vision options, goggles should come to mind.

Night vision goggles allow you to slip both eyes into night vision mode and get a wide view of what’s going on. Generally, these goggles do not offer any kind of magnification. You can wear them around your head.

The plus sides of goggles are that they offer a lot of ease and convenience. It’s quite easy to slip on a pair of goggles and give yourself vision in the dark.

With goggles, you get a lot of great depth perception. They are also easy to use – to a point. Night vision goggles may not be hard to understand, but you do add weight to your head. You also lose the ability to take in different views.

The best time to use goggles is if you’re moving around a lot and need constant use of night vision. Also, use goggles if you’re doing casual observation while sitting in one spot. This isn’t a high-powered option and shouldn't be used for an intense view of things.

Night Vision Scope vs. Green Light

You can also compare night vision scopes to green light.

The obvious advantage of a night vision scope is that you are not sending out a visible light. When you use a green light you do.

Visible light can be problematic for a few reasons. First, green lights have been known to spook some prey. This doesn’t happen in all cases, and there are things you can do to mitigate that risk. However, when you start shining lights while hunting, there may be consequences.

On top of that problem, animals may be affected by lights in different ways. Hunting in various ways may be hard with green light. You probably won't be able to find information about whether a green light is “safe” for your specific needs.

Mounting a green light to your gun may also increase its weight. This could lead to you having a harder time maneuvering and getting where you need to be.

One disadvantage of the night vision scope is cost. It may cost more to get a fully loaded night vision scope. Still, if you have a lot of different hunting needs – the versatility may be worth the cost.

Tips To Night Vision Scope

You can do a number of things to ensure that you’re using your night vision scope as best as you can.

When first starting out, you should hunt in places that you are familiar with. Just because you have a night vision scope doesn’t mean that you can see everything perfectly.

If you’re trying to hunt in a new area, go and view things during daylight hours. It doesn’t make sense to try and go somewhere new just because you have a scope.

While you can see more, a familiar spot helps you hunt with your scope. You already know what to look for. For example, you’ll spend less time trying to decide if there’s rocky terrain in the distance. You’ll already know where to look for the rockey ground.  

This issue can turn into a safety one as well. Is there anything like roads, ditches, or other potentially hazardous situations that you need to be aware of?

Checking out the terrain beforehand will give you a great idea of the location of those hazards.

Everything changes at night. Even though you have a scope now, you may not be familiar with how the night can distort distances. Try initially setting up in a familiar area where you know distances well. Then you can compare the distances you know to the image in your scope.

Take readings and be aware of your surroundings.

Consider other factors as well! Just because you’re in the dark doesn’t mean that the animals you’re hunting have completely changed.

The animals will still be affected by all the usual things, including smell, noise, etc. You can’t just go stomping around in the dark. If anything, your prey will be more suspicious of these noises because it’s dark for them as well. That can heighten their senses. 

Takeaway from this section that you should be aware of your surroundings. Also, don’t change your hunting behavior just because it’s night time.

FAQ

Are Night Vision Scopes safe to use?

Yes, night vision scopes have been tested for safety. They do not emit any harmful radiation. Still, you will want to be familiar with the land you're on to stay away from dangerous situations.

Can I use a night vision scope in pitch black conditions?

No, you’ll need some light to operate a night vision scope correctly. If you are in a pitch black situation, you will want to consider using an illuminator.

What about using a night vision scope during full light, what will happen?

This can actually damage your night vision scope. It is not recommended. You won’t get any results by using your night vision scope in a full light scenario. While most devices have cut-off levels, it’s still not a good idea. It could even damage your scope.

How far away can my night vision scope see?

This depends on the model you’re using. Generally, more expensive models can seefor a longer range.

Why do night vision scopes seem to have less magnification than other scopes?

Night vision scopes generally have less magnification built into them. You actually lose more light as you magnify a further away view. With less light, the scope is not as able to do its job.

The Verdict

Effective night vision optics are an incredible advancement in technology. Today they are even available to hunters, sportsmen, military, and law enforcement alike. They offer incredible advantages that we could only dream of a few years ago.

The impact night vision scopes have had on the management of nocturnal pests and predators such as hogs, foxes and coyotes is incredible. Now we do not need to hunt with massive lamps. The traditional way will work for a while. But, most animals eventually get used to it. A night vision scope can stealthily and efficiently get the job done.

Among the reviews in this article you will find some of the absolute best products. All of them have great quality and features. Some are even of the decent affordable products.

Of the twelve products presented here, I would pick anything from Pulsar or ATN. Money will need to be no object. But, I am confident that these products will do everything I need them to at night.

Whatever your choice, make sure you take some time to get used to it. Night vision scopes are not as intuitive as standard optics. Setting up and operating them in the field requires is much more "hands on" than normal. You will constantly need to fine-tune the focus. You will also probably need to make adjustments to the IR illumination and other settings. 

Going out hunting right after purchasing your night vision scope is a setup for failure. Spend some time with your new product even before you mount it on a rifle. Taking the time will help you learn all the buttons and features. Then, as always, you should put in some range time.