10 Best Night Sights and Thermal Scopes
From home- and self-defense to after-dark hog hunting, these are some of the best low-light shooting solutions you can buy.
Darkness can complicate even the most pedestrian of tasks. This goes double for shooting after the sun has set. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to deal with target acquisition after nightfall, each tailored to different shooting scenarios. Attackers often use darkness to their advantage, so the chances of you having to use a concealed carry firearm for self defense in low light conditions are pretty good. Night sights provide the ability to get an easy to see sight picture without adding the bulk of a gun light. Today, there are a number of remarkable digital night and thermal scopes on the market that include a variety of on-board shooting tools like ballistic calculators and range finders that have changed the way people hunt predators and wild hogs. Here are 10 ways to connect in the dark:
Tru Glo is best known for their fiber optic sights, built for damn near everything that shoots. The heart of these are fiber optic tubes which gather and concentrate ambient light to form bright aiming points. This does little to help when no external light is present, so Tru Glo added tritium to its TFX Pro line of handgun sights.
Tritium, if you’re not familiar, is a chemical that is used to increase the yield of nuclear weapons. It also happens to glow in the dark and is used much the way Radium was once used, to make things like the hands of a watch and gun sights visible in the dark.
In daylight, the dot on the front post has a red ring surrounding a green center, and both rear dots are green. When you’re using the tritium in low light, all three dots glow green.
TFX Pro sights are available for a number of handguns; check with Tru Glo for compatibility. MSRP: $186
The Meprolight FT Bullseye is also driven by a combination of tritium and fiber optics, but that’s where the similarities to the Tru Glo model end. With the FT Bullseye installed there is no need for a front sight. While resembling a traditional, albeit large, rear sight, the FT functions more like a reflex sight than it does an iron sights.
The all-in-one design houses a circle in the back plane and a dot in the front. When lined up properly, the sight picture resembles a bull’s eye; just put it on the target and press the trigger.
The aiming points are surprisingly bright during the day, but the tritium offers a subdued glow that won’t adversely affect night-adjusted vision. Because of this unique design, many opt to remove the front sight if they’re using the FT Bullseye, so they don’t instinctively look for it. Meprolight FT Bullseye sights are available for a number of handguns; check with Meprolight for compatibility. MSRP: $199
If you’re not a fan of three-dot sights, take a look at the CXT Big Dot Sights from XS Sights.
Instead of aligning three dots on a horizontal plane, you place a dot atop a line, effectively “dotting the i.” The rear sight features a v-notch, which helps you instinctively center the front.
The system also allows for rapid adjustment for changing distances. At close range, less than 25 feet, the dot in the front sight serves as your point of aim and impact point.
At further distances, you aim using the top of the front sight, while maintaining the same sight alignment. Tritium once again serves to illuminate both the front and back sights, with vials sourced from well-respected manufacturer Trijicon.
CXT Big Dot Sights sights are available for a number of handguns; check with XS Sights for compatibility. MSRP: $175
The 870 is one of the most used shotguns in American history. Extend that usefulness after dark with Meprolight Remington Night Sights. These install in the factory locations to provide a three-dot sighting system for home defense or predator hunting in brush country.
Once again, tritium provides the illumination. The front sight is drift-adjustable for windage, and the rear uses the factory screw adjustment system. These Meprolight night sights are meant for use on 870, 1100, and 11-87 shotguns, as well as 7400 and 7600 rifles with factory rifle sights. MSRP: $115
The AR-platform is exceptionally versatile, with applications from home defense to big game hunting. With the addition of XS Sights XTI DXT Big Dot sights you can take that versatility to the darkest environs.
The XTI DXT Big Dot are intended as tritium-powered back ups to your primary sighting system, so you can use your favorite optic during the day and still have a reliable nighttime solution. They are also useful in close-quarters situations where you wouldn’t want the magnification of a scope; simply cant your rifle to pick up the sights.
The XTI DXT Big Dot sights mount on any Picatinny rail, and are adjustable for windage and elevation. MSRP: $275
The Trijicon Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, or ACOG as it is more commonly known, has been used by our troops in multiple theaters since its adoption by select units in the 1990s.
The ACOG is a fixed power, compact riflescope with a tritium-illuminated reticle for use in conditions ranging from bright to low/no light. The optic’s design combines precise distance marksmanship with speedy both-eyes-open target acquisition useful for close-quarter encounters. Many variants include a bullet drop compensated (BDC) reticle for long-distance shooting, like what may be encountered on a hog control operation or coyote hunts in the West.
Models with magnification ranging from one-and-a-half up to six power are available. LED-lighted iterations are also available, if you’d prefer reticles with adjustable brightness. Mounts are available for Picatinny rails or A2-style carry handles. MSRP: $1,200 and up
Crimson Trace CMR-208 Rail Master Universal Tactical Light
The ATN X-Sight line brought affordable, high-resolution night optics to the masses. These scopes use digital technology similar to what you find in high-end camcorders to present you with a sight picture—night or day. Now they have broken the 4K threshold to give you even sharper resolution in the form of the X-Sight 4K Pro, offered in 3-14x and 5-20x versions. This scope has image stabilization, a ballistic calculator, and records high definition video.
You can utilize Bluetooth and WiFi to live stream on your devices and control the scope. The only drawback is that you still need some ambient light, such as moonlight, for it to work.
This is far below what the naked eye needs to see, but can limit range and effectiveness. Infrared illuminators can provide additional light without spooking animals or being visible to the naked eye. Previous generations were a bit buggy when first released, but those issues cleared up with subsequent firmware updates. The ATN X-Sight mounts using standard 30mm rings. MSRP: $700
Though Armasight was purchased by FLIR, the mechanicals in the Vampire 3X CORE IIT use night vision technology, not the thermal technology that FLIR is known for. This means that the optic still collects ambient light to form a sight picture. The driver behind this conversion of light is Armasight’s CORE (Ceramic Optical Ruggedized Engine) image tube, providing image quality that rivals high-end Generation 2 tubes.
Multicoated all-glass lenses and a manually adjustable reticle that makes precise shot placement easy. The Vampire 3X CORE IIT mounts to Picatinny or Weaver-style rails, and the body of the optic has rails for attaching accessories such as the included high-power infrared illuminator. MSRP: $795
FLIR ThermoSight PTS536
Unlike night vision, thermal imagers use subtle differences in temperature to create a picture—even at a distance. Even a degree or two is enough for the complex sensors of the infrared devices to form a clear image. This means these units can function in total darkness, and even see through grass, fog, or rain.
The ThermoSight Pro Series uses the company’s most advanced camera core for its sharpest picture to date, and offers an uncompressed video signal visible on a high definition display, and shot-activated video recording. Up to two and a half hours of footage can be stored on the onboard memory.
A built-in inclinometer helps with long-distance accuracy. The PTS536 uses CR 123 batteries so you can swap them out easily, even in the middle of a hunt. MSRP: $3,795
If you absolutely must reach out and touch something on the darkest nights, reach for the ATN ThOR-HD 640 5-50x. This top of the line night optic does more than just provide clear thermal images, including range finding, ballistic calculations and even a barometer.
A built-in gyroscope provides image stabilization so the crosshairs aren’t bouncing all over the place, and a smooth zoom means you can crank the power all the way up to 50x for precise shot placement without making yourself nauseas. The scope even takes high definition video, even recording automatically when recoil is sensed.
You utilize Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity to live stream on your devices and control the scope. But the real star of the show is the thermal processor, able to detect a human-sized target at up to 2,500 meters. All this premium tech comes at a cost though, so be prepared to fork over a wad of cash for this one. MSRP: $6,000