When you’re hunting in the dark, you need to be able to detect your prey in the most efficient way possible. This is why there’s such a heated debate among hunters about using a thermal scope vs night vision. Each type of detection device has its pros and cons, with the deciding factors being your personal preference and how you’re hunting.
A thermal scope detects prey through the use of heat. There are high-tech, highly sensitive processors inside the scope that are able to detect even the smallest differences in heat to provide you with a digital image of the landscape and prey in front of you. The majority of thermal scopes allow you to switch between color pallets so you can choose the type of digital image that offers you the best contrast between hot and cold.
For instance, if you have your scope in the “white-hot” mode, you’ll be able to tell the difference between objects with heat, which will appear bright white on the image, and cooler objects, which will be darker, with the coldest objects showing black on the image. In this mode, the landscape will likely appear dark, with blacks reserved for the coldest areas, while an animal will stand out against the black landscape as a bright, white beacon.
The main advantage of a thermal scope is that it doesn’t require any light to function. They’re also extremely effective whether you’re hunting in the day or night because light isn’t a factor in the detection of prey. You’re also able to detect residual heat, which means if a warm-blooded animal was present just before you arrived on scene, you’ll be able to detect heat from where it was, albeit at a lower level than if it was still there.
Another advantage of a thermal scope over night vision is that it is able to detect heat through tall grass, smoke, fog, and other thin barriers. This is because it’s using heat to detect an object rather than light. A thermal scope has more range than night vision and is able to detect a warm-blooded animal at a greater distance of up to 1,000 yards. You can verify a prey is present and move closer to confirm your target.
With thermal scopes, you’ll probably have to undergo some training to be able to interpret the heat maps they generate. This can add additional cost to an already-expensive device. Thermal scopes are generally more expensive than night vision optics, which is another disadvantage for the average hunter. Additionally, thermal scopes are heavier and larger than most night vision devices, which will require an adjustment to carry and use if you’re not accustomed to carrying and shooting with a heavier scope.
The biggest disadvantage of a thermal scope is that you can’t distinguish between a predator and prey using this technology. Since it only detects heat, you won’t know what animal is in front of you unless you get close enough to see it. This can present a dangerous situation if you’re in an area where there are many types of animals or where there might even be people. Moreover, the scope won’t be able to detect cold-blooded animals like snakes, which could be deadly as well.
Night vision works by collecting and intensifying ambient light, which could be from any source, including the moon, stars, or actual electric light. By taking what little light is available and making it brighter, you’re able to see objects in the dark. Many night vision devices come with infrared light to provide that minimal light source that is needed to make the technology effective in pitch black circumstances, such as hunting in a dark field on a moonless night.
Infrared light is invisible to the human eye, but night vision optics are able to detect this light source and use it to create a spotlight in your field of vision. However, more expensive night vision optics rely less on infrared lighting than cheaper options because the more advanced models are so sensitive that they are better able to use any small amount of light from the surroundings to be effective. Also, there are some animals that can see infrared light.
If you want a more natural image of your surroundings and to be able to determine which animal is in front of you, then night vision is the better option. The newer digital night vision technology is especially adept at showing a more natural image, as it’s projected in black and white rather than the typical green of older technology.
Night vision optics are also considerably less expensive when compared with thermal options, and they’re more durable as well. They can withstand both colder and hotter temperatures and will always work when you want them to, which is critical when you’re in the middle of a hunt and need to see in the dark. They are lighter than thermal scopes, so are often the choice of hunters who don’t want to carry a lot of gear.
Since night vision optics are limited to seeing what is right in front of you, just as your eyes are, you may not be able to see prey that is behind grass or in fog or smoke. Additionally, camouflage can still be effective at hiding from night vision optics because of the lower-resolution image that is inherent with limited light. This means you could miss warm-blooded animals that are right in front of you but hidden by their color.
Night vision users are also at a disadvantage when it comes to distance as well. They aren’t capable of seeing long distances, whereas thermal scopes can detect heat for a much further range. As such, you’ll have to move your position more often with night vision than you will if you’re using a heat-sensing device. Moreover, you won’t be able to use night vision at all during the day.
The type of scope you end up using really depends on your preference and your budget. If you have the funds, a thermal scope is the superior option, but night vision can make hunting in the dark possible for hunters who’ve only ever hunted during the day. For the perfect setup, having access to both types of devices can put you in a far superior position than either one alone.