Night vision rifle scopes, often called starlight scopes, were originally designed for tactical military use only in the 1930’s however technology has improved greatly which means that these rifle scopes are now generally available to the general public for shooting and hunting. Night vision scopes have evolved over the years and they now fit into different “generations” which can be confusing when choosing your night vision scope however I hope this guide clears things up for you.
The first thing that you will notice about night vision scopes are that they tend to be much more expensive than you traditional hunting rifle scope! This has to do with simple economics and economies of scale however the advancement in technology has brought the price down substantially. You will find substantially different prices whether you are looking at Gen I, Gen II, and Gen III. For example, a top of the line Gen III with IR and all the bells and whistles can cost you $10,000! However you can purchase a good Gen I night vision rifle scope for less than $400 which will allow to make 100 yard kill shots in the dark.
|Yukon NVRS Titanium 1.5x42mm Night Vision||$$|
|Armasight Zeus 4-8x42mm Night Vision||$$$$$|
|Armasight Vampire 3x42mm Night Vision||$$$$|
A lot of guys mount night vision scopes on their AR 15 or other tactical rifles for varmint hunting, especially those pesky hogs. Another popular use for night vision scopes are for crossbow hunting. Night vision won’t scare predators like a traditional LED flashlight. Others mount their night vision scopes on larger calibre rifles such as the .308 Winchester or 30-06 Springfield depending on the quality of the scopes. Some of the cheaper Gen I night vision scopes I would suggest wouldn’t hold up to the recoil on those firearms and would be more suitable for a .223. Note that you will want to check the regulations in the country that you live in. I know that in Germany you are not allowed to mount a night vision scope on a rifle. Currently in most states in the US there are no such regulations however regulations are subject to change so be careful! I have heard that California state laws are more strict than most states.
Considerations for Night Vision Scopes
You need to first decide what the purpose of your night vision scope will be at the beginning when researching and reviewing starlight scopes and be honest with yourself. If you want a good night vision scope for varmint hunting or target shooting with you AR 15 and don’t expect to make shots over 100 yards, then a Gen 1 might be sufficient. If you want to reach out for longer shots with your .308, you might have to look into Gen 2 or Gen 3 night vision scopes, however the money that you will have to dish out will be a heck of a lot more.
Now I know I have already touched on the price of night vision scopes, however if your budget is the main concern and you are limited to what you can spend, then that should be your starting point. If you can only spend $500, then you are most likely limited to a Gen 1 night vision scope if you are purchasing it new. Ask around, some of the guys you shoot with may be willing to sell you a used night vision scope for half the cost. If your budget is under $5000, then you can expect to get a really good gen 3 night vision scope that will be more versatile than a gen 1 or gen 2.
Gen 1 Night Vision Scopes
Generation 1 night vision was basically the first technology that was developed for shooting in dark conditions. It was developed from Gen 0 technology however for the purpose of explaining the different generations, I am going to start at Gen 1. These night vision rifle scopes rely on ambient light as apposed to infrared (IR) light source. These scopes produce a light amplification of around 1000x however they rely on moonlight to function. Gen 1 rifle scopes tend to be bulkier as compared to Gen 2 or Gen 3. The upside, they will definitely be cheaper than further generation night vision scopes.
Gen 2 Night Vision Scopes
Generation 2 night vision hunting scopes are a step up from the technology that was developed in the Gen 1. These devices feature an improved image intensifier resulting in a much brighter image along with improved image quality and reliability. Light amplification is around 20,000x. Gen 2 went further with Gen 2+ technology which feature better optics and improved resolution.
Gen 3 Night Vision Scopes
Generation 3 night vision maintain some of the same technology as the Gen 2 such as the micro-channel plate (MCP) but now use a photocathode which helps to further improve image resolution and light amplification improves to 30,000x to 50,000x.
Gen III went further and developed into Gen 3+ for Gen III Omni IV – VII. Consumer classification calls the Gen III+ the Gen 4.
Best Night Vision Scopes Reviewed
The Sightmark Photon XT is one of the best digital night vision scopes for the money. It is designed for medium range shots (under 150 yards) and is extremely versatile. Sightmark states that it is 33% more efficient with battery usage and also 30% lighter compared to other digital night vision scopes. This scope offers Gen III quality optics and clarity for less than most Gen I riflescopes with its infrared technology. It comes with 6 different reticles, 3 different reticle colors, contrast adjustment, and an infrared adjustment.
If you haven’t used a night vision scope before you will notice that they are bulky. If you are using the Sightmark Photon 4.6x42mm on a heavy rifle you will definitely notice the added size and weight of this scope. You will probably want to buy a set of quality 30mm scope rings unless you have a spare set around. I would suggest that you purchase a set of detachable scope rings so that you can use your rifle with multiple scopes. It uses AA batteries – think about using a good set of rechargeable batteries.
This night vision rifle scope consistently outranks others and is one of the best night vision scopes for under $500.
Objective Lens: 42mm
The NVRS Mini Varmint Hunter 1.5x42mm uses enhanced multi coated optics, a durable titanium body, and has a sleek ergonomic design which provides additional comfort during shooting. It has a built in powerful Pulse infrared illuminator which can easily activated to enhance the brightness and increase range in total darkness.
Yukon’s NVRS 1.5x42mm uses Gen 1 technology so don’t expect to be able to see too far out past 100 yards or so. With that in mind, this scope was built for hunting varmint so 100 yards is typically plenty. This night vision rifle scopes will work well on your varmint rifle such as a 17 HMR and also can fit on a crossbow. It can also be used in the day which provides added versatility.
Objective Lens: 42mm
The Armasight Zeus 4-8x42mm is a tactical night vision scope used by law enforcement and the military because it can be used in daylight or darkness, and cuts through dust, smoke, and other obstacles that may be in your way. This high performance thermal imaging camera has a multiple hunting scenarios function which it makes it the perfect varmint hunting scope for night conditions.
If you are serious about shooting in darkness and have the budget, then the Armasight Zeus 4-8x42mm may be a good fit for the price. If you are just looking for a good night vision scope and price is important, than this scope is probably overkill. It uses thermal technology as opposed to standard night vision which makes it undetectable.
Objective Lens: 42mm
The Armsight Vampire 3x Night Vision rifle scope uses Gen 1 technology however has made some adjustments to it so it operates with similar features to Gen 2 and Gen 3. It is built with their CORE (Ceramic Optical Ruggedized Engine) technology which basically functions to double the clarity and brightness of the Gen I technology. I would say that this scope lies somewhere between gen 1 and gen 2 and is a good scope for under $1000 if you are looking for a high quality night vision scope.
With this rifle scope, you should be able to reach out to 200 yards, depending on how well your rifle is sighted in and the darkness conditions. It basically will allow you to shoot double then length of other gen 1 night vision scopes.
Objective Lens: 42mm
Conclusion on Best Night Vision Scopes
There is no doubt about it – for a quality night vision scope you will have to spend more money as compared to a traditional rimfire rifle scope. There is so much more technology built into it which allows you to see in complete darkness. These rifle scopes were built for tactical applications such as law force and for the military and are only recently being offered at the general consumer price range.
The best night vision scope for the money is the Armsight Vampire 3x night vision because it uses a hybrid of gen 2 and gen 3 technology however still considered gen 1. If you are looking for a good night vision scope for varmint hunting or for your crossbow, get the Armasight Vampire. With a solid warranty, you won’t be disapointed.