Night Vision VS Thermal Optics for Hunting

Night Vision VS Thermal Optics for Hunting

Night hunting is a whole different ball game for hunters. It’s becoming increasingly more popular as hunters realize there is a lot more activity going on at night then there is during the day. But while the sun goes down hunters can only participate in the nighttime activities such as studying animal behavior and actually hunting your game if they can see. 

Night vision or thermal optics are not only necessary for hunting but also for keeping yourself and potentially others safe as well. Where night hunting is legal you’ll want to consider the ins and outs of night vision or thermal imaging. That way you can make the best decision for which device works better for you.

What is It?

Whether you are using thermal imagining or night vision both are going to aid your eyesight so that you can see clearly in the dark. How is that possible? Well, it is the same technology that businesses or really any home security cameras system use to be able to surveil areas in the dark as well.

The two ways of doing that are completely different even though they produce a similar result. Let’s talk about how these two differ and why you make personally prefer one approach over the other. Consider also that one approach may be better in certain circumstances than the other so it never hurts to try both approaches out. 

Thermal Imaging

Thermal imaging produces images at night by using heat from bodies. These can be from animals or from humans. When the camera detects the radiation of heat being emitted into the shot it will be obvious as the structure will be colored likely red or orange depending on how hot. This is not just true of animals or humans, thermal imaging also picks up fires.

What you see is going to be called a heat map. This allows you to clearly identify all your surroundings not just the ones that are alive. This is done through the microbolometer that helps capture the infrared heat signatures. Then colors are assigned with the hotter something being (animals, humans, fire) the closer to red the color will be. It will outline the object so it’s clear what it is. Then things that are cool (plants, ground, etc.) will be likely blue or cooler colors. 


  • Accurate imaging
  • Requires no light source at all
  • Can see through particles like fog, dust, smoke
  • Has a great range of distance 


  • No image detail
  • Generally expensive
  • Generally more narrow vision

Night Vision

Night vision also produces vision at night but works slightly differently than the way that thermal imaging does. Night vision provides a strikingly clear image and detail of your game which is why so many hunters love using it. It works by the device collecting a small amount of a light source, be it the stars and moon. It also uses infrared light which isn’t visible to our eyes and captures it in the photocathode.

It then produces its own picture by converting the light to electrons and processes it so that our eyes and brain are able to interpret. So unlike thermal imaging which is taking what’s infront of them by heat, night vision is actually producing the image from light sources.   


  • Great amount of detail and clarity
  • Typically more affordable than thermal imaging
  • Easy to carry around


  • Need a bare minimum light source
  • Cannot use when foggy or dusty
  • Less magnification distance rage

Product Example: If you need to see a great example of night vision aids that work well then look no further than this one. X-Vision Optics Night Vision Rangefinder offers hunters sight for up to 150 yards in total darkness with the ability to zoom 6x. In the daytime, you can use it for up to 400 yards which makes it multifunctional. 

With a long battery life (9 hours daytime, 4 hours nighttime) you don’t have to worry about anything getting in your way. You even don’t have to worry about rain, dust, or other elements ruining your device! This is a good example of what a hunter should look for when choosing night vision aids. 

When to Use One Over the Other?

When it comes to using thermal imaging or night vision it can be difficult to know which one thrives in a certain environment. While both are great aides and it never hurts to have both handy, not all hunters want to travel with baggage. Let’s talk about a few different situations where thermal or night vision would make the most sense. 

Wide-Open Fields
Wide-open fields will work really well with a night vision device. This situation doesn’t allow for any blocking and night vision can take in the most moonlight without any kids of trees or anything blocking the light coming into the device. This is the most optimal situation for night vision where you will be able to see any game easily up close and far.  

Thick Dense Forest
Areas where there is a lot of brush (the opposite of a wide-open field) are better reserved for thermal imaging. Thermal imaging relies on heat and not light so anytime there is a deer behind brush the light won’t be locked. It gives away their hiding spots because you will still be able to see the heat being emitted from their bodies. 

Thick dense forest isn’t the only environment where this works well. When you are in canyons, mountain ranges, etc., using thermal imaging will help you. If the landscape varies between open areas and busy ones, you can alternate between the two to get the absolute best case scenario. 

Choosing At Least One

Regardless of the direction you go in a hunter who plans to hunt in the middle of the night or even around sunrise and sunset needs to have one of these devices in their back pocket. Being able to see clearly in dim or no lightning at all proves advantages such as better identifying your game and their behavioral patterns. That’s why cameras that are used for monitoring areas will also have night vision so why not give yourself that same opportunity?