Considering the invested money, there is no simple answer to this question. If we neglect the financial aspect, thermal imaging for hunting is an extremely worth investment on multiple grounds.
First, your night hunting excursions would be much safer due to the reduced risk of shooting unidentified targets.
Second, you will be able to fill your hunting bag in a much more proper manner without shooting at protected species or games.
And third, a good thermal monocular can be very useful after the shot has been fired and the game isn’t killed immediately.
With the help of a thermal imaging camera, you will be able to find the wounded animal in the greatest brushwood or dark environments such as a cave and put a mercy shot.
Differences between Night Vision and Thermal Optics
Many people are confused with nighttime vision systems and often mix up traditional night vision optics with thermal imaging cameras.
Without a doubt, both night vision and thermal optics assist a hunter to detect, recognize, identify and harvesting his targeted game animal.
However, the thermal is best used for detecting wildlife in pitch dark, and after that, you can use the night vision device for recognizing and identifying the desired game object.
The night vision devices collect and intensify ambient light to allow you to see into the dark. Primarily, there are two types of night-vision optics, traditional analog night vision and digital night vision.
Analog night vision devices use an intensifier tube to produce an image quite similar to the one you see with your eyes. The image color is normally green and black in regular night vision, which is more comfortable for the eyes of most users.
Speaking of image colors, the analog night vision devices are classified by generations, where Gen. 1 night vision devices have green image intensifier tubes. Later on, Gen. 2, the Gen. 2+ and Gen. 3 night vision devices were developed.
From the 2nd generation upwards, night vision devices display a black and white picture.
Digital Night Vision
Besides these analog night vision devices, the newest classification in night vision is digital night vision.
Unlike analog night vision systems, digital night vision does not have an integrated image intensifier tube, but they have a sensor behind the objective lens.
The captured light, sensor processes and converts the image into an electric signal and then sends an image to an LCD screen.
The digital night vision devices can be used during the daytime, whereas the night vision scopes cannot be used in bright light because they will damage the intensifier tubes.
In the absence of natural light, both types of night vision devices can use infrared light to help illuminate a field or target. The IR illuminators generate infrared light which is invisible to the eye of humans and some animals.
On the other side, thermal imaging devices are based on a special sensor that detects minute differences in heat when detecting a game.
Infrared detectors create a thermogram which is translated into an electric signal processed by a circuit board into a display.
The thermal images are typically displayed in black and white or various shades of color.
How Thermal Imaging Works
The night vision devices operate in the visible and near-infrared spectrum, whereas the thermal imaging cameras operate only in the infrared spectrum.
The thermal optics, on the other side, focus on the heat signatures, noting any slight temperature changes in dark conditions.
While the light amplifying nighttime vision systems (analog or digital) cannot be successful in difficult-to-see conditions, thermal imaging cameras will see through the darkness and ignore visual camouflage.
Thermal vision can detect heat radiation and does not require light to produce an image.
Though thermal imaging cameras can be used equally well day and night to spot animals through thick brush, they will not work in bright conditions.
Thermal imaging devices are the latest development for nighttime observations and can be divided into several configurations, each designed for a different purpose:
- Thermal monoculars (cameras) with one objective lens and one eyepiece are must-have thermal imaging hunting equipment. These devices are very useful for hunters and wildlife enthusiasts. You can also mount a monocular on your head using some high-quality headwear like a hat or helmet.
- Thermal binoculars are similar to monoculars, but they have one objective lens with two eyepieces. Thermal binoculars are more comfortable to use but are higher priced, especially if you compare them with the basic monotube units.
Thermal goggles attach to the rear bracket of the proprietary helmet mount. Mainly designed for military service, these goggles are extremely expensive.
- Thermal clip-on devices are intended to be used on daytime optics. Thermal clip-ons also known as ‘inline scopes”, are like night vision clip-on systems designed as dual role devices. These practical units, you can use as a handheld tracker and then turn your traditional riflescope into a thermal scope.
- Thermal scopes are essentially monoculars with a reticle that you can mount on a rifle. Typical weapon mounted thermal sight comes with extra features such as a rangefinder, recoil activated video and similar features. Similar to clip-on devices, some thermal scopes can be used in multi-role duties – as a mounted riflescope, as a spotter, or as a remote viewer.
Selecting the Best Thermal Imaging for Hunting
Without a doubt, a thermal imaging camera is a perfect tool for finding wildlife. in the last five years, we have witnessed amazing development of thermal imaging devices, particularly with an emphasis on improved resolution and image quality.
Whether you are buying a thermal monocular or thermal riflescope you need to consider several important factors.
One of the main factors that determine performance is the image resolution or number of pixels in the thermal sensor.
Most of the entry-level thermal imagers come with a detector that has 320 x 240 pixels for minimum efficient use.
This is the minimum standard, but if you can afford the higher resolution thermals, then you should look at the higher-end thermal scopes and monoculars that typically have a resolution of 640 x 480 and a refresh rate over 30 Hz.
While the range of detection with the best digital night vision is around 400 yards, the typical ranges for the thermal devices go from 100 yards for low-end imagers to over 1,000 yards for high-end models.
Manufacturers of thermal equipment commonly divide detection range into two categories – the recognition and identification range. The identification range is usually a much smaller figure in spec and denotes the distance at which you can identify the type of game.
Magnification is always a great feature when you need to identify a specific target. All thermal imaging cameras for hunting have digital zoom, meaning that a higher magnification will significantly distort image quality.
For most thermal devices 4x-6x zoom is the maximum useful magnification.
Battery life and type of batteries should not be underestimated, since most of your hunting activity will be in the remote wilderness without electricity supply or shopping malls.
You should get at least a battery that can reach for up to 4-6 hours of continuous use before needing to recharge or replace the batteries.
Thermal Extra Features to Look For
Besides these crucial characteristics, the best monoculars or scopes come with some extra features that will add to the price tag.
A rangefinder usually comes in form of a built-in stadiametric rangefinder enabling you to find the distance between you and the target quickly and easily.
WiFi and Bluetooth
Many younger hunters would appreciate the features such as picture-in-picture zoom, video recording, video streaming, and recoil activated video.
Compass and GPS functionality may be a valuable feature for those who are on a constant move.
Thermal scopes and monoculars come with multiple color modes that you can switch between, such as, white-hot or black-hot.
You need to go for the best palette for a particular situation, one that meets your requirements.
Generally, night vision devices are better for budget-conscious hunters, but thermal night devices are the best twenty-four-hour imaging option.
You can find a recommendation from some gun authors that the best to purchase is a combination of thermal monoculars for observation and rely on a thermal clip-on or a digital night vision device for shooting.
However, in the near future fusion devices could replace both options, as these units will provide both systems and a combined picture will show the best of both worlds.