Best Cheap Thermal Scope 

 November 30, 2018

By  Randy Angwin

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Last updated on September 1, 2022

Whether you’re a professional hunter by trade, or simply a beginner looking to start out; hunting at night will always be a challenge without the right equipment. A thermal scope can become your best friend when out in the field - your sight in the pitch dark.

We took the time to review the top 6 best inexpensive thermal imaging scopes to help you make your choice. 

1. ATN ThOR 4 1.25-5x - 384 x 288 Gen4 sensor

2. ATN Thor LT 3-6x - 160 x 120 sensor

3. Pulsar Core RXQ30V - 384 x 288 17um sensor

4. ATN Thor HD 640 1.5-15x - 640 x 480 sensor

5. AGM Global Vision Secutor TS - 384 x 288 17um sensor

6. Pulsar Thermion XQ38 - 384 x 288 17um sensor

As hunting rises in popularity so does the market for these thermal devices. While there are many high-end thermal imaging scopes available to anyone with money to blow; there are more and more affordable options available. 

Hunting equipment is always personal. It’s all about what makes you feel the most comfortable and improves your odds of taking down your target when out in the field. And when under the cover of darkness, your comfort is paramount. A thermal rifle scope is one of the best additions you can make.

That being said; safety is the one thing that outweighs comfort any day. A thermal rifle scope is one of the devices that quite literally lets you see where you otherwise could not. When entering the property of wild creatures a reliable scope is critical.

What Is A Thermal Scope?

A thermal scope is a device that a hunter mounts to their rifle to be able to hunt at night. It is an electronic machine with features similar to the conventional telescope, with more impressive abilities.  

Thermal rifle scopes use heat-sensitive or infrared sensors to distinguish temperature differences in the dark. The thermal sensor (microbolometer) detects the temperature differences in objects and uses this information to generate a thermal image. The viewer can then see all that wasn’t previously visible in the dark.

The military initially developed thermal imaging technology to gain the upper hand in warfare. It has since been adopted by law enforcement, firefighters, and even everyday security guards - and hunters. 

Thermal scope with high refresh rate

Thermal scopes are not, however, only restricted to use in darkness. Hunters can make use of them in daylight as well. While everything will already be in view, the scope will still reflect temperature differences. This could help with spotting a game that is camouflaged into the scenery.  

Thermal scopes are typically lightweight and not bulky. They add little to no resistance to your rifle and can be easily transported around the field. They are also usually incredibly durable, entirely capable of taking a tumble with you through even the roughest of terrains.  

Night hunting without one of these devices isn’t recommended. To follow are some benefits of investing in one to take along with you.

The Benefits:

A thermal scope's most significant benefit is the ability to see in complete darkness. Not only is the success of your hunt reliant on this, but your safety as well. 

Some of the best thermal scopes feature onboard video recording or live streaming via Wi-Fi. This lets you connect your experience with others in real-time. Captured footage can also be played back and reviewed later for assessment & discussion.  

After working with a thermal scope, many hunters report improvement in their aim over time.  

One of the most significant benefits will be your familiarity with the hunting area while navigating in the dark. After repetitive use, the pathways, barriers, and foliage will no longer be as unfamiliar to you as before using a thermal scope.

Price Range:

Thermal imaging scopes vary significantly in price depending on several factors. They can start at around $1500 and range up to $15,000 for the exceptionally higher-end units.  

Here’s what determines cost:

  • Sensor resolution is a big role player. A higher resolution is a more visually desirable experience. The better the resolution, the more expensive the scope. Cheaper scopes won’t offer explicit imagery - however, they can still get the job done.
  • Some thermal imaging rifle scopes offer interchangeable lenses that can be purchased as add-ons. These are typically more expensive units. Most cheap thermal scopes have fixed lenses that cannot be swapped.
  • Thermal scopes, in theory, should all have waterproof bodies. Sometimes cheaper units are only water resistant, not waterproof.
  • Perhaps the biggest deciphered of price are the seemingly unnecessary but cool extra features. Wi-Fi connectivity, onboard video recording, live streaming, and still image capturing are some of these. With some scopes, you can stream your hunt to social media as it unfolds.

The more features the scope houses, the more expensive it is likely to be.  

6 Best Cheap Thermal Scopes

This is the best cheap thermal scope we looked at, but in no way does it lack impressive features. 

The ATN ThOR 4 produces impressive 110,592 pixels due to its reasonably high-resolution sensor. For a low cost, ATN Thor 4 can produce incredibly clear imagery. We are also very impressed with the built-in batteries that can last 18 hours in the field before needing a recharge. 

The ThOR isn’t waterproof but is, however, weather resistant. Depending on the nature of the climate where you live, this could be a deterring factor. Hunting in the rain wouldn’t be possible. 

The most notable features of the ATN ThOR 4 are the following:

  • 384x288 Gen4 sensor = 110,592 pixels
  • Human detection range of 750 meters
  • 5x smooth zoom
  • Dual streaming
  • Range Finder

The ThOR 4 can record both audio and video on board the unit. Unlike other units within this price range, it can hold up to 64GB of SD cards. This isn’t a common feature in scopes of this price range. 

Dual streaming allows for all imagery to be viewed by a third party that isn’t necessarily in the field while you record.

  • Affordable
  • Impressive battery life
  • On board audio and video recording
  • Not waterproof 
  • Cannot change lenses 

The ATN ThOR LT 3x6x is the latest addition to their entry-level thermal scope. Do not be fooled by this cheap thermal scope because it is loaded with features found on more expensive models. The ThOR LT has a 17-micron 160x120 thermal sensor with an awe-inspiring 60Hz refresh rate. The visual display resolution is 1280x720, and the range is good as well, being able to detect humans at 475 meters, recognize humans at 240 meters, and have human identification up to 160 meters. 

ATN also makes a 4-8x version of this scope for more extended range shooting with detection ranges of 625 meters, 315 meters, and 210 meters for human detection, recognition, and identification, respectively.

The ThOR LT has one-shot zeroing capabilities and extra-long 10-hour battery life, and is weather resistant, so you know you can take it along for almost any nighttime hunt.

The ThOR LT is also the lightest thermal rifle scope ATN makes, which is ideal for crossbows, air, and traditional rifles.

  • 160 x 120 sensor = 19,200 pixels
  • 3x optical magnification
  • It weighs only 650g

While the thermal resolution could be higher, the lightweight, feature set, and great price make this a perfect choice if you're looking for the most inexpensive option from a well-known company.

  • One of the cheapest thermal scopes on the market
  • 10 Hours of battery 
  • 60 Hz
  • Low resolution thermal sensor
  • No video recording

3. Pulsar Core RXQ30V

The Pulsar Core RXQ30V is an excellent multipurpose thermal scope and monocular from one of the most well-known brands in the business today. The RXQ30V has a 384x288 17-micron thermal sensor with a 50Hz refresh rate and a 640x480 AMOLED screen. This is one of the few thermal scopes that can also be used as a thermal monocular if you do not want to mount it to your rifle. The RXQ30V thermal riflescope is also IPX7 rated, meaning it is waterproof and can withstand any hunting trip you take.

The Pulsar Core has 1.6x magnification and 2x, 3x, and 4x digital zoom, and the field of view is 12x21. The detection range is also impressive at 985 yards. The Pulsar Core also has many features, including one shot zero, picture-in-picture digital zoom, ten reticles to choose from, and multiple identifications viewing modes for different environments.

Battery life is decent at 4 hours of continuous use, and it is lightweight at just over 1lbs. without batteries.

  • 384x288 sensor = 110,592 pixels
  • 50 Hz
  • Detection range of 985 yards

Suppose you are looking for thermal imaging scope but also want to have a thermal monocular for times when you’re not hunting at night but do not want to spend the money to buy two separate thermal imagers. In that case, the Pulsar Core RXQ30V is an excellent choice at a great price. You get a lot for your money with its complete feature set, good detection range, and trusted pedigree.

  • Can be used as a monocular
  • Picture in picture
  • IPX7 waterproofing
  • No video recording
  • Only 4 hours of operating time on 2 CR123 batteries

4. ATN Thor HD 640 1.5-15x

The ATN ThoR HD 640 comes from the well-known ATN Corp. It is a cheap thermal scope with many innovative features on higher-end scopes, such as recoil-activated recording, e-barometer, gyroscope, e-compass, WiFi streaming, ballistic calculator, and profile manager so you can easily swap between rifles without having to re-zero. The mount options are versatile, with a Picatinny or interchange system available.

The ATN ThoR HD 640 thermal riflescope has a 640x480 thermal sensor with a 30Hz refresh rate and a 1280x960 visual display. The 1.5-15x optic is suitable for short to medium-range targets with a human detection range of 800 meters, human recognition range of 330 meters, and human identification range of 200 meters. For longer-range hunting, there are several models in the 640 ThoR HD line to choose from. The ATN 384 has a FOV of 24° x 19° and is also weather resistant so that it can be used in almost any outdoor condition. Battery life is also good at 8 hours of continuous use, and an optional external battery pack can also be purchased for extended hunts.

  • 640x480 sensor = 307,200 pixels
  • 1.5x optical magnification
  • Human detection range of 800 meters

If you want to get your first thermal rifle scope with many of the latest features or want one for short to medium-range shooting and don’t want to spend a lot of money, the ATN 640 HD is a great buy. 

  • Recoil activated recording
  • Water resistant
  • 8 hours of operating time
  • Only 30 Hz refresh rate
  • Not suitable for very long range shooting

5. AGM Global Vision Secutor TS

Another budget-friendly option that has worked its way onto our list is the AGM Global Vision Secutor TS Thermal Imaging. Pick from 11 image palettes, enjoy a focusing range of 10m to infinity, detect objects from as far away as 500 yards and recognize them at 250 yards.

The AGM Global Vision Secutor TS thermal riflescope has a 17μm uncooled microbolometer detector type, 384 x 288 high-resolution sensor, and 2.4x optical magnification. You can adjust the diopter -5 to +5 DPT and enjoy digital zoom of 1x, 2x, 4x & Picture in Picture mode. 

Weighing in at 1.43 lbs, this model isn’t as lightweight as some of the other models on this list, but its measurements of 9.8 x 2.8 x 3.2 inches still make it easy to carry, use and store. It also has five zeroing profiles to pick from and is shockproof.

Here are just a few of the AGM Global Vision Secutor TS Thermal Imaging’s most notable features:

  • 50Hz
  • Display resolution of 1024x768 pixels
  • 11 image palettes 

Sealing the deal is its IP67-rated degree of protection and the fact that it comes with everything you need to get started, including a lens cloth and soft carrying case. 

  • High resolution thermal imaging sensor suitable for long range hunting
  • Affordable
  • Picture in Picture
  • Various optional accessories available as add ons
  • Heavier than other models on this list
  • Battery only lasts 5 hours

6. Pulsar Thermion XQ38

Don’t let its low price tag fool you; the Pulsar Thermion XQ38 is a thermal riflescope packed with features and impressive properties that make its low price point hard to believe. Perfect for professional hunters and those that have been doing this for a while, the XQ38 is one of the best thermal riflescopes in this price range.

The XQ38 has a built-in recording with recoil activation and one-shot zeroing (with a freezing functionality), and it can connect to smart devices thanks to its Stream Vision app. It boasts a decent 7-hour battery life and has an IPX-7 waterproof rating, meaning it can be fully submerged in one-meter water for up to 30 minutes.

The Pulsar Thermion XQ38 Thermal Riflescope is full of features. Here are some of its most notable ones:

  • 50Hz
  • Display resolution of 1024x768 pixels
  • 35mm objective lens diameter 

Topping it all off is its variable magnification of between 2.5 and 10, a 384x288 microbolometer sensor resolution, a 1350-meter detection range & 13 variable electronic reticles. 

  • IPX7 waterproofing
  • Recoil activated recording
  • Variable magnification range
  • Not as cheap as other models on this list

Final Thoughts:

As hunting grows in appeal, so will the world of thermal imagery.

We can only hope that as it does, these unique brands such as AGM Global, Pulsar & ATN continue to deliver affordable yet quality options for the low-budget hunter. 

Our winner in this comparison was the ATN ThOR 4 1.25-5x thermal scope. The jam-packed list of features speaks for itself. The fact that it offers all these specs but at the lowest price is a wonder.

Your thermal imaging scope should be an extension of yourself and your needs in the hunting field. You can also check out our thermal scope finder if you still can't decide which thermal optic is best for you.

And so we ask, which one do you have your eye on?

About the author 

Randy Angwin

Randy Angwin holds a master of science degree from University of Florida. He is an expert in infrared and night vision technology. His knowledge helps us staying on top of the latest trends in the thermal industry. When not working, Randy likes to hunt and spend time with his two German shepherds.

  • All that is good stuff, but for some one like me that need the cost to be no more than $1200.00 including tax.and that’s really pushing it on my budget ; isn’t there something you can do to help a veteran out. Thanks for the info. J. S.

    • Hello James,

      ATN Thor LT is the cheapest thermal scope on the market. The only other option for you would be Leupold LTO tracker or the Quest. They are not scopes though.

    • You know, I realized a couple monthd ago that I’d never heard my dad even tell anyone he was in the military, let alone tried to get discounts.

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