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Thermal Hunting 101 – How to Approach Nocturnal Hunting

Thermal Hunting 101 – How to Approach Nocturnal Hunting

In this article, we’re going to go back to the basics and walking through the fundamentals of thermal hunting gear and how to become a night shift hunter with ATN thermal optics.

Over the last couple of years we have broken down a ton of information about thermal hunting. From the how and why to scouting and field tactics. Like any hunter or outdoorsman, the more time we put in to the pursuit, the more comfortable we become. When things start to feel like second nature in the field, you begin to see greater success and a return on investment. Sometimes that investment can be time or money, often both. One thing is certain however, as you transition in to a master of your craft you can forget one thing, to help others along the way to learn what you have been taught.

With that said, I wanted to use this article as a refresher course, not just for myself, but for others who may be thinking of breaking in to the world of thermal hunting. The vast majority of outdoorsmen who have hunted at least once, will all have one thing in common, owning a rifle chambered in a caliber capable of taking medium to large sized game. The bang stick you choose for your day time whitetail or muley pursuits does not need to be a one trick pony. You can absolutely use a bolt gun to chase down coyotes or other nocturnal animals.

When making the decision to begin thermal hunting, it can be tempting to go out and buy a new rifle to pair with your thermal optics, but ask yourself “why?” before you break open your wallet. Not only is your current hunting rifle capable of most thermal pursuits, your skills with that rifle will certainly improve if you increase your opportunities to use it. Each time you head out at night with your deer rifle, you are getting in reps for your prime season later in the year. You can and should hit the range more than once a year to zero, but my point here is that with increased opportunities in the off season to actually pull the trigger in a hunting scenario, you are conditioning your mind to calm itself when the shot counts. Taking a shot when your adrenaline is high will never be as easy as a putting holes in a paper target. My recommendation is to look at and deploy your bolt gun before buying a new rifle for your thermals.

With the rifle figured out, you may be wondering about camo and the other concealment focused gear you might want. Again, use what you have. Having spent many days and nights in Texas over the last few years on guided hunts I have noticed one recurring theme. Our guides are almost always wearing blue jeans and while it’s tempting as a hunter to be dripping head to toe in camo, it might not always be 100% necessary. I’m not recommending heading out in your New Balance grass cutting sneakers and jean shorts, but I do thing it’s acceptable to take a semi-casual approach to your look. If you plan to hunt from a blind or stand, you can absolutely set yourself up for comfort. If you plan to hunt a location with less concealment opportunities, however,  you may want to be more kitted up. Ultimately, you will know the ins and outs of where you plan to hunt and you should plan for it.

Finally is the most important item in your new night hunting kit, your thermal device. We aren’t shy about what we use, our go to has been ATN Thermal Optics. Like most of us in the hunting world, we lean heavily on the gear from brands that we have used and tested the most. We’ve been set up with ATN thermals from our first hunt through our most recent and have had great success along the way. What ATN offers, which is often hard to find, is a product mix that allows a hunter of any budget to break in to thermal hunting without destroying your pocket book. This is huge for one main reason, it allows you to grow in to the sport. Not everyone can drop large sums of money on something they haven’t tried before and so the ability to purchase an optic that fits your budget is huge.

Ultimately, you want to set yourself up for long term success and allow yourself the opportunity to enjoy the sport. With all of that said, here is our favorite pieces of gear from ATN that will help you hit the ground running in pursuit of your favorite nocturnal game animals, no matter what your budget is.

1. ATN THOR LT 160 3-6X


ATN THOR LT 160 3-6X

ATN THOR LT 160 3-6X

The most budget friendly thermal scope that ATN has to offer, the THOR LT 160 3-6X is the perfect option for someone looking to make the leap in to night hunting. While the THOR LT 160 3-6X does not have some of the more advanced features, it is a fully capable scope for those looking to harvest a coyote or nuisance animals like racoons. One of the benefits of the LT 160 is that it is the most light weight scope ATN offers coming in at just 1.4lbs.

Some of the features of the THOR LT 160 3-6X include:

  • Thermal Color – Black and white hot
  • 10 hour continuous battery life
  • One shot Zero
  • HD display
  • Available in Mossy Oak Camo
  • Recoil Resistant

Pros/Affordable, lightweight, low power consumption

Cons/Does not feature video recording, low magnification

Bottom Line/This is by far one of the most capable and budget friendly thermal scopes on the market.

2. ATN THOR 4 384 1.25-5X


ATN THOR 4 384 1.25-5X

ATN THOR 4 384 1.25-5X

The next ATN thermal scope on our list would be considered the middle of the road option. The ATN THOR 4 384 1.25-5X is the base model in the THOR 4 line up and will give you more advance features and processing power than the ATN THOR LT 160 3-6X, while still allowing you to keep your budget in mind. The Gen 4 sensor featured in the ATN THOR 4 384 1.25-5X allows for sharper images, more zoom functionality and additional color palette options. You also have the introduction of video recording, which is my favorite feature!

Some of the features of the ATN THOR 4 384 1.25-5X include:

  • 4th Gen 384X288 sensor
  • 1.25X5X zoom
  • Thermal detection at 750 meters
  • Thermal ID at 205 meters
  • Video Recording
  • One Shot Zero
  • Ballistic Calculator
  • Smart MilDot Reticle
  • 18+hours of continuous use battery life

Pros/Reasonable Price, Feature Rich, Video Recording

Cons/Low zoom power

Bottom Line/This is a great scope to invest in your long term thermal hunting pursuits.

3. ATN THOR 4 640 4-40X


ATN THOR 4 640 4-40X

ATN THOR 4 640 4-40X

The Grand daddy of all thermal scopes offered by ATN is the ATN THOR 4 640 4-40X. This is our go to scope and the most feature rich and capable in the line up. Featuring the 4th gen sensor and 4-40X zoom, the ATN THOR 4 640 4-40X is a powerhouse of features and functionality that will impress anyone who gets behind a gun with this bad boy on top. One of the most impressive features of this scope is it’s detection range. Thermal detection begins at a staggering 3300 meters with ID occurring at 800 meters. With the ATN THOR 4 640 4-40X, you will be able to ID your target well before you can ethically fire on it.

Some of the features of the ATN THOR 4 640 4-40X include:

  • 4th Gen 640X480 sensor
  • 4X-40X zoom
  • Thermal detection at 3300 meters
  • Thermal ID at 800 meters
  • Video Recording
  • One Shot Zero
  • Ballistic Calculator
  • Smart MilDot Reticle
  • 16+hours of continuous use battery life

Pros/Feature dense, powerful target detection, 40x max zoom power, 60fps recording


Bottom Line/With the best scope available in the THOR 4 lineup, the only limitations you will have will be finding enough time to hunt!

Avatar Author ID 628 - 1090759177

Ben currently leads the editorial staff for Outdoorhub, Alloutdoor, and The Firearm Blog. He is an avid outdoorsman and has hunted for large game across the United States including Alaska, Texas and his home state of Michigan.
Ben also has a deep knowledge and passion for firearms and has participated in various civilian courses focusing on precision rifle shooting, carbine, pistol, ammunition reloading, and hunting focused firearm applications.
Outside of work, Ben pursues a number of water based activities spending his free time in Northern Michigan boating and fishing on Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan.

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