The human eye is, unfortunately, not designed for great vision during the nighttime hours. But that doesn’t mean that hunters are out of luck when it comes to pursuing their quarry after the sun has gone down.
Instead, night vision scopes use various types of illuminators ( infrared is the most common) to beam light into the environment that our eyes can’t naturally see. Although this sounds counterintuitive, it allows sophisticated night vision scopes to collect that light and project an image that we see in either black and white or with a green glow.
The result is detailed nighttime vision that you can use to spot your targets and make excellent shots that your naked eye would have trouble with.
But finding the ideal night vision scope takes more than a high-power infrared flashlight. Instead, use this guide and its tips to identify the perfect night vision scope for your needs and get the best bang for your buck.
What to Look for When Buying Night Vision Scopes
The best night vision scopes will all have several key qualities or features that separate them from their mediocre counterparts. Let’s go through each of those qualities in turn so you know what to look for when doing your own shopping or browsing.
Of course, your scope’s magnification matters a great deal. Most night vision scopes don’t have the higher magnification settings seen with some optical scopes, although there are a few exceptions to this rule. This is actually beneficial; because of how night vision scopes work, shorter ranges allow for better image generation and cleaner lines. The more light the scope can collect, the better the image, and it’s easier to collect more light up close.
In general, night vision scopes will have only a few settings to switch between or a fixed magnification value. Typical scope magnification settings usually rest between 3x-5x, although you can often find scopes that have set 6x magnification as well. Some night scopes occasionally go as high as 20x or so for even greater accuracy at range.
Most night scopes can provide you with vision between 100 and 200 yards. This is shorter than optical scopes, but that’s because night vision scopes rely on either stray light collected from your environment or infrared light from a separate flashlight or emitter attached to the scope itself. Some can go farther, but the 100-200 yard range is standard.
Night vision scopes don’t work the same way that regular optical scopes do. You’ll want to find a model that provides you with decent resolution, normally around 640x480p or higher. Some of the best scopes will go into true 4K resolution and offer you some of the crispest video footage possible, but the above value is fine for most scopes or average nighttime hunts. Remember, the better the resolution, the better your accuracy and ability to identify your target.
Night vision scopes also sometimes have resolution described in LP/MM or lines per millimeter. The higher this value, the better; it means your target will be clearer.
You’ll often see “generation” in the names of many night vision scopes. These refer to the category of scope that an individual scope belongs to and can give you valuable information about its capabilities. Lower generations of scopes are often cheaper, while higher are usually more expensive.
In general, Gen 1 scopes use passive infrared light and ambient light from your surroundings to provide a sight picture. These can usually see as far as 75-100 yards, although some high-quality models push this past 100 yards.
Gen 2 scopes have better resolution than Gen 1 scopes and can see up to 200 yards or so thanks to their better electronics and infrared illuminators.
Gen 3 scopes have advanced tech that can convert more photons to electrons, which can then be used to generate a better image for your eyes. These usually have the highest resolution for their set range.
Video/Image Recording Capability
Some night vision scopes will allow you to take video footage or capture pictures while you’re sighting down their lens. This can be useful for a variety of reasons. For instance, you may want to remember a particularly worthwhile hunt that you did a year ago. A video camera that is attached to your scope can let you record that moment.
You may also run into legal trouble at some point since hunting licenses and appropriate areas for hunting can be a complicated affair. Having video footage of your actions is always worthwhile in these cases.
Many of the best night vision scopes will have video recorders that automatically turn on as soon as the system detects recoil from the mounted weapon. This is advantageous since it doesn’t require you to take your hand off the trigger or barrel to initiate camera recording. That lets you focus on what matters the most: getting the perfect shot for the camera.
The glass quality of your scope is another important factor that you can’t discount. Higher quality (and likely higher-price) night vision scopes will likely have greater glass quality. What exactly does this mean?
The better your glass, the better your light transmission. Higher light transmission means that the scope captures more of the available light in your area regardless of whether it’s day or night. The more light that your scope collects, the brighter and higher contrast your sight picture or the cleaner your image lines.
During nighttime shooting, this can directly translate into higher resolution and, thus, allow you to see distant targets more clearly even when it’s pitch black.
In addition, glass that’s higher quality than standard will likely have a coating that protects it from scratch or shock damage. Scope glass is one of the most fragile parts of the entire unit and needs to be protected, so getting sturdy or durable glass is well worth the investment in most cases.
It’s always a better idea to purchase a higher-quality initial item than to purchase a cheap scope and have to replace it sooner rather than later.
A BDC (bullet drop compensation) reticle is a great choice for many rifle scopes since they use a specific reticle pattern that eliminates a lot of the guesswork involved when it comes to estimating bullet drop. These reticles possess a special series of aiming points that are stacked vertically underneath your crosshair or central dot.
Based on your rifle’s zeroed range (100 yards is a good standard), each BDC mark beneath the crosshair will correspond to an impact point taking bullet drop into account. For instance, if a BDC reticle’s aiming points are spaced for 100 yards apart, then you can have your rifle zeroed for 100 yards and still hit a target 300 yards away by using the BDC reticle’s second aiming point.
As you can see, BDC reticles are great for long-range scopes or night vision scopes to improve accuracy at a distance. They eliminate the need for you to adjust elevation at times. However, they can’t totally account for wind or other elements that may come into play during your shot.
You should also consider the holdover adjustment points of your chosen reticle. Some hunters prefer 1 MOA lines, while others might have different measurements that are more comfortable for their purposes.
Some scopes will allow you to change their type, color, or brightness intensity. These are all good things that let you personalize the scope for your use and can help you achieve maximum accuracy.
Again, there’s no right answer that fits every hunter, so the choice is ultimately up to you. The important part is considering this before you go shopping so you know exactly what you’re looking for.
Night vision scopes rely on battery power to provide you with sight even in the absence of environmental illumination. Therefore, the battery life of your scope plays a big role in how long you can consistently use it without having to replace the batteries.
Some of the best night vision scopes you can find will have exceptional battery life and allow you to use them for extended periods in the field without having to worry about them fizzling out at an inopportune moment. However, you should always have some spare batteries for your chosen scope no matter its battery life. It’s just a smart precaution.
Keep in mind that a higher battery life often translates to a higher price, so don’t be surprised if your budget starts to become tighter when you tack on a lot of these features or design choices.
Some of the best night vision scopes will also allow you to use them during the day. This is great value for money, since a scope that can function both during daytime or nighttime shooting is essentially two scopes in one, provided that it’s daytime functionality is serviceable.
If your night vision scope has daytime use, try to compare its features and functions against other daytime-specific scopes to see if it’s worthwhile. Sometimes manufacturers claim that their night vision scope can work during daytime hours as a gimmick rather than a workable feature.
But great night vision scopes will often function as a regular scope during the day. Instead of using their infrared illuminator to generate light for collection, they’ll collect ambient light and turn it into an image for your eyes. Keep in mind that all nighttime scopes still use battery power to make this image, so you’ll still need to have the scope “on” during daytime use.
Like the glass quality, the durability of your chosen night scope will dictate how long you can rely on it without having to replace it. Some of the better models will be called “weatherproof”, which is a combination of waterproof, fog proof, and shockproof factors.
Scopes that are weatherproof are usually great choices in terms of value for money. They can be depended on even if you take them into the wilderness during inclement weather. For certain types of hunts, this is almost a necessity given animal migration patterns or seasonal weather.
In addition, you should try to find a night vision scope made from aircraft-grade aluminum or a similar durable material. Some great night vision scopes will advertise that they have been anodized plating of some kind; this just means that the skin of the night vision scope is rust-resistant and isn’t likely to obtain corrosive damage easily. Such a coating also reduces sun glare and can help camouflage your position.
The 10 Best Night Vision Scopes
1. ATN X-Sight II HD 5-20 Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope
This scope is jampacked with excellent features that virtually any hunter can take advantage of. For starters, it provides clear day and nighttime vision in HD 1080p resolution. This results in crystal-clear imaging up to several hundred feet and better imaging even further. The scope goes between 5x and 20x magnification, so it’s great for targeting at lots of ranges.
The HD factor doesn’t stop there. This scope can also record 1080 P HD video and take similar pictures all while streaming it via Wi-Fi connections. It activates automatically upon detecting recoil from your weapon, so you don’t have to manually turn it on. Recording your hunting trips for both memory’s sake and for legal reasons has never been easier.
The scope also includes a ballistic calculator that can shift the estimated point of impact on the fly. This is great for calculating quick trajectories or for determining the proper ballistics needed for various types of shots. It’s also useful for purposeful practicing when you are at the range trying to noticeably improve your shot.
A smart rangefinder is included. It can identify the range to your target with just two clicks of a button. This is great for determining the ideal magnification level to choose or determining whether your chosen ammunition is ideal for the hunt at hand. The rangefinder is accurate to within +/-1 yard.
There’s even an E-Compass and GPS functionality included with the software. It’ll make navigating your terrain that much easier. The battery pack allows for 22 hours of continuous use and it’s easy to recharge, and the infrared illuminator works with all other night vision devices.
It’s just a fantastic scope all around. Although the asking price is high, the value makes it worthwhile.
- Excellent features, digital upgrades
- Clear daytime vision
- Great video clarity and recording functionality
- Not weatherproof
2. Sightmark SM18008 Photon XT 4.6x42S Digital Night Vision Riflescope
This versatile night vision scope provides great vision at 4.6x magnification.
This scope features three different digital reticle color options: you can choose between red, green or white reticles depending on your preference or needs at the time. You can even flick between reticle types at the touch of a button. Choose between Duplex reticles, Mil-Dot reticles or German-style reticles with ease.
All the reticle options will be complemented by 640×480 resolution. This allows you to see targets clearly up to 120 yards away. It’s not quite as crisp or clear as scopes with 4k resolution, but this is still more than serviceable.
This scope is one of the lightest you’ll find, as well. It’s a sleek, compact model that isn’t likely to get in your way as you shift to the best possible position. You can attach additional accessories to the integrated Weaver rail and utilize the scope’s digital windage and adjustment systems without fiddling with bulky knobs.
This scope also has a video recording function that must be activated by hand. It’s not quite as advanced as the last recorder system we look at but it’s still handy to have for a variety of reasons. This scope also boasts a 33% longer battery life than many counterparts.
The scope is totally weatherproof so it’s one of the most durable models you can find. You can easily take the scope onto any hunting expedition even in tough conditions and rely on it to provide you with the illumination you need to make your shot when it counts.
There’s even more value for money contained with this purchase. You also get a carrying case, video cable, and the lens cloth in addition to the main scope unit itself. The eyepiece is a little short compared to some other scopes, but this is an overall minor flaw compared to all of the benefits.
- Lightweight and compact
- Very durable
- Good resolution for range
- Short eyepiece
3. ATN X-Sight 5-20 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope
This night vision scope might be pricey, but it’s well worth the overall cost. It has a smooth zoom function between 5x and 20x magnification.
It utilizes ultra HD sensors and an Obsidian 4 Dual Core processor to bring you the best sight picture and imagery possible during low light conditions. The colors depicted in your eye box will be truly fantastic and the outlines of your targets in scenery will be crisper than you can believe.
It’s perfectly fine for use during daytime shooting, too. The resolution brings the color to the forefront of each image and can make discerning various small creatures that normally blend in with the environment easier to identify.
The scope also includes a special ballistic calculator to help you identify the best possible shot at each critical moment. It’s so advanced that it can calculate the range and wind that will affect your next shot placement, as well as factors like the angle to your target, the temperature, and ambient humidity. It’s truly a remarkable piece of equipment to be combined with the night vision scope.
Of course, the scope can also dual-stream record video in 4K resolution and buttery-smooth 120 fps. As it records, it can stream the footage to a mobile device while simultaneously recording on the SD card contained within the scope itself. That gives you two places where the footage is stored so your chances of losing anything are slim to none.
Video is activated with a recoil detection system so you don’t have to physically turn the camera on when you should be paying attention to the perfect time to take your shot.
When your battery power is starting to run low, you can switch the scope to an ultra-low power mode and give yourself time to return to base while still maintaining proper visuals. At normal power, the battery runs for about 18 hours of continuous operation.
All of its advanced features are great, but the typical scope aspects are fantastic as well. There’s a lot of eye relief so you aren’t likely to give yourself a bruise when you fire your rifle, even if it has a lot of recoil. The scope uses a Picatinny mount that can be attached or detached in just seconds.
- Fantastic camera and resolution
- Recoil activated recording system
- Low-power mode
You can also check which are the best thermal scopes.
4. Firefield FF16001 NVRS 3×42 Night Vision Riflescope
This night vision scope has a set magnification setting at 3x, giving great accuracy between 100-200 yards. This zoom is complemented by great image resolution thanks to the high-power infrared illuminator, giving you enhanced image detail and clarity in low light conditions.
The scope boasts a 42 mm lens that allows plenty of stray light to be captured for improved night vision resolution while still providing a good field of view. There’s also a flip-up lens cover shield. You can snap this into place to protect the lens from damage while you’re in transit from place to place.
Your Duplex reticle is automatically illuminated but you can incrementally adjust just how bright it is with a control on the scope itself. The degree of control you have is pretty good and allows you to set a comfortable illumination setting that doesn’t strain your eyes.
The scope is lightweight but has a durable titanium body. It’s also totally weatherproof, so it’s built to withstand a lot of punishment before you start to see any performance decreases. The optics, in turn, are also durable and have been multicoated to resist scratch damage and improve light transmission during nighttime hunts.
The scope also has a quick detach Weaver mounting system to let you snap it onto your rifle as quickly as you need or collapse it just as fast if you need to pick up and move to pursue a target. You can start the scope up pretty quickly instead of having to wait for a lengthily boot-up time.
- Easy to adjust reticle brightness
- Quick detach Weaver mount
- Not great for daytime use
5. Night Owl Optics NightShot 3x Digital Night Vision Riflescope
This night vision scope uses an infrared illuminator that’s powerful enough to provide you with great clarity and vision up to 200 yards, provided typical nighttime illumination. Its magnification level is set to 3x. The resolution is 640×480.
You get to choose between three different reticle types, each of which can be configured in either white or black depending on the background you’re sighting against. Switching any of it only takes a flick of a switch with one finger, so you can easily do that while still maintaining a prone position where you’re ready to take the shot.
The scope is also totally weatherproof and can withstand a lot of inclement weather before showing any signs of wear and tear. It’s been made of engineered thermoplastic that’s both durable and which doesn’t glare under light, further masking your position.
The scope is compatible with either Weaver or Picatinny rail types, so you can use this model with virtually any rifle at your disposal. The scope only uses for typical AA batteries or lithium batteries, which means that having spares at your disposal is a trivial affair.
We’d still recommend using lithium batteries if you can manage it since lithium batteries tend to last a lot longer and you’ll get more bang for your buck. With AA batteries, you’ll get five hours of power with the infrared sights at low, and even more time with lithium ones.
- Easy switching between reticle types
- Durable material construction
- Suitable for multiple rail types
- Battery life isn’t the greatest
6. Armasight Nemesis6x-SD Gen 2+ Night Vision Rifle Scope w/6x Magnification
This night vision scope can provide powerful magnification at 6x. This is at the farther end of the effective range for most night vision scopes, giving you optimal sight at 200 yards and a bit beyond. Resolution is standard definition at 480p.
Flip-up backup iron sights are integrated onto the scope as well, so you can switch between night vision or regular eye sights just by lifting your head up. This isn’t quite the same as a true, day-use night vision scope, but it’s still nice to have this functionality if you need to adjust on the fly.
It has shock-protected optics to keep the scope working for a long time to come and provide consistent performance even with high recoil weapons. The glass has been multicoated to protect it from scratch damage and improve light transmission across the board. This improves the night vision capabilities of the scope.
The 6.5° field of view gives you plenty of space to see your local environment and spot your target at the edges of the lens. The auto-brightness control can be modified easily. This lets you set your typical brightness settings and prevents the scope from adjusting too drastically if your light level changes.
An illuminated center red cross reticle is designed to provide the best contrast and detail possible during nighttime shooting conditions. You can also adjust the brightness of this reticle. All of the brightness settings must be adjusted using digital controls via an app or computer. This can be great for some hunters but inconvenient for others.
The scope mounts to a standard Weaver rail and is compact and sleek. It doesn’t take up a lot of space in any hunting bag nor does it make a rifle heavier or bulkier than it already is. In addition, the battery life is truly phenomenal, capable of being run continuously for 60 hours before needing recharging.
It’s also been made from aircraft-grade aluminum. It has a waterproof body rather than weatherproof, but it’s still durable enough to take out during most stormy weather. Just be careful if the weather is foggy or if you think you’ll have lots of chances to drop the scope by accident.
- Digital adjustment controls
- Long battery life
- Includes iron sight
- Not great for daytime use
7. Bushnell NightVision 4.5×40 Equinox Z
This night vision scope is another great model that provides magnification at 4.5x with a 40mm lens. It can be mounted on your rifle or held in your hand; the choice is yours.
The monocular provides a wide field-of-view and can let you see up to 250 yards thanks to its superior infrared illumination. The illuminator can also be adjusted between two brightness settings. It uses only AA batteries, but these don’t last very long. It’s a good idea to have some spares on your person at all times.
Furthermore, this night vision monocular can capture both images and video. The video function can go between 1x and 3x magnification for greater control over your recording. The quality of both are very good, and given the low asking price, it’s a great bit of extra functionality that enhances the value of the product. Daytime recordings are vivid in their color. The biggest downside here is that the light sensitivity or IR illuminator can’t be altered while you’re in video mode.
Since it can be handheld, you can get pictures or video footage from much better angles than you typically could with a scope that is attached to your rifle.
The housing of the monocular is water-resistant so it’s fine to take out during rainy or wet conditions. It’s not exactly shockproof, so be careful not to drop it or you might find that the glass cracks relatively easily.
The purchase also comes with a carrying case, which provides even greater value for money. A tripod mount is further included so you can look through the monocular with the ultimate amount of stability when lying prone in wait of your target.
- Can be handheld, portable
- Comes with case and tripod
- Excellent day and nighttime clarity and color
- Can’t alter settings while in the middle of video-recording
- Low battery life
8. Armasight Orion 5X Gen 1+ Night Vision Rifle Scope
This night vision scope is another exceptional model with a set 5x magnification. This is ideal for many nighttime hunting scenarios. It’s a bit better than many Gen 1 scopes and can provide good clarity through the ideal 100-200 yard range.
The reticle is an illuminated red cross design; you can modify the reticle brightness via a simple control that’s adjusted on the scope itself. There are no digital controls to be found with this model, so you can make quick, manual adjustments to your reticle on the fly. In addition, the long-range infrared illuminator can be detached from the scope itself.
The battery life is around 40 hours in total, which isn’t the highest we’ve seen but it’s still very reasonable and allows you to take multiple hunting expeditions back to back without having to recharge. It’s also sealed in a water-resistant case that’s perfect for taking into rainy weather without worry.
The scope has shock protected optics that improve its overall lifespan and reduces the likelihood that the lens will ever crack from recoil or short drops. The rubberized body also helps keep the scope functioning even after moderate physical trauma.
It mounts to a standard Weaver rail and comes with a limited two-year warranty. This warranty binds the manufacturer to replace the product if there are manufacturer defects upon the reception of the scope. It’s a great guarantee that you’ll receive a functioning product.
Its image resolution is pretty great as well: 30-40 lp/mm, which is high for a scope that’s in the Gen 1 archetype. The only real downside is that the windage/elevation adjustments turn at ½ inch increments instead of a more precise ¼, but this is a minor flaw overall.
- Rubberized, durable body
- Good image resolution
- Good battery life
- Windage/elevation adjustment could be better
9. Pulsar N750 Digisight Riflescope
This night vision scope provides you with quality images and video resolution. It can switch between 4.5 and 6.75x magnification to provide powerful clarity at fantastic ranges.
It uses a built-in laser infrared illuminator, the power of which you can adjust via a three-step process. The illuminator is powerful enough for detection up to 600 meters; that’s fantastic for night vision scopes!
Although this laser makes the scope great for nighttime shooting, it’s perfectly fine for brighter conditions, and in fact is resistant to bright light exposure to protect your own eye.
The scope can be used during the day or night and you’ll still receive crystal-clear optics and imagery.
For daytime use, there’s a flip-up cap that can protect the lens from damage during travel from place to place or just from simple light exposure. The scope also gives you 67mm in eye relief; given its overall size and weight, we could see this finding a lot of use on heavier rifles that have a good amount of recoil with each shot. Thankfully, the chance of getting bruising around your eye is really low. It comes with mounting options for either Weaver or Picatinny mounts, so there’s a lot of versatility in that regard. It has a built-in power supply and external power supply for easy access.
The scope can be controlled with a wireless remote. This allows you to change the various power settings on your infrared illuminator and alter your video output and preferences, as the scope can be connected to multiple types of video recording sources.
This is a little clunky since it requires you to remember an extra accessory, but some prep work before you head out into the field will eliminate the need for most adjustments. The windage and elevation adjustments are done via a physical knob, though.
Overall, it’s quite pricey but it’s very durable and has a lot of value hidden within its bulky shell. It’s one of the better choices you can make if quality video capture is a high priority.
- Great image quality and resolution
- Easy to zero for targeting
- Lots of eye relief
- Very expensive
- Heavy and big
10. BESTSIGHT DIY Digital Night Vision Scope for Rifle Hunting
This scope is one of the largest you’ll find on any market, and it’s also one of the most affordable. It uses a bulky external apparatus, along with a digital viewing screen, to provide you with unparalleled optics from afar. Essentially, it has you fix a camera at the end of another night scope, which then captures the image and delivers it to a screen above the scope body. The camera gives you images at 3 Megapixel quality.
This setup can be a little clunky depending on the model of rifle you plan to use it with, but it can also be useful for taking shots in awkward positions or without getting onto your belly in cramped conditions.
Although it’s quite large, it can be assembled in just a few minutes thanks to the detailed instructions contained with the purchase. Once you set it up, you can use this night vision scope in daytime or nighttime and receive plenty of detail and/or color.
In fact, the night vision captures are some of the best we’ve seen. You can even observe some targets in complete darkness thanks to the high power infrared illuminator attached to the front of the setup. The Telescopic Zoom illuminator provides an exceptional nighttime range.
The 5-inch clear display screen captures everything that the camera picks up and displays it instantly for your benefit, and has zoom, crosshair adjustment, and day/nighttime settings.
The scope’s camera is positioned right at the back of the scope itself, peering through the lens that your eye would normally sit behind. As you might expect, this totally eliminates any chance of bruising your eye, although you will want to use this scope and camera system with a weapon that does not have a lot of recoil or otherwise keep it unattached to an actual gun at all.
To make things even better, an 18-month warranty is included for any quality-related issues. You’re getting a lot of gear, but you can rest assured that it’ll all work or you’ll be able to get replacements in a snap. Two eyepiece tubes come with the purchase that you can switch between depending on which one fits you the best.
One minor downside to this night vision camera and scope system is that you need three batteries to run everything: two for the monitor and one for the infrared flashlight. In addition, you have to purchase these batteries separately; they don’t come with this purchase.
That being said, this is a novel take on night vision products and might be a great choice if you have a stable rifle and shooting position and don’t plan on moving frequently. This system can be a pain to detach and take apart if you need to pick up and move quickly.
- Provides camera and monitor with great resolution
- Useful for daytime or nighttime shooting
- Great 18-month warranty
- Needs separate batteries
Night vision scopes are a great benefit for any hunter that’s going to spend significant time in the darker hours of the day. Hopefully, you found a scope that’s ideal for your needs no matter what your pricing point is, but even if you haven’t you should now be well-equipped to browse all the available models and find one to your liking. Good hunting out there!