The night vision scope is an essential rifle tactical piece, necessary when hunting, target practicing, or locating targets in low light settings. A night vision scope adds important capabilities when hunting vermin like raccoons or hogs. Military personnel lives rely on optical accuracy when working in low or no light conditions. The night vision technology helps locate a target with the best accuracy possible.
In our review of the best night vision scope under $500, we offer advice on what to look for when buying a night vision scope. You’ll find details about pricing and the various brands and technologies available.
Before buying a night scope, a word of caution, check your local laws. Some countries, like Germany, don’t allow night vision scopes mounted on rifles. Most states don’t have any or very few laws regulating night scopes. California, however, doesn’t allow rifle mounted night vision scopes. They also have stricter laws regarding the use of night optics than other states. State laws can change at any time, so it is best to check your local regulations.
Best Night Vision Scope: What to Look For
Also known as starlight scopes, the night vision scopes originated for tactical military operations during the 1930’s. Today, technological improvements make the nighttime rifle scopes available for civilian use in hunting and shooting.
During the night vision scope evolution through the years, with the new scope generations classifications, make choosing the right one confusing. Regardless of which classification you choose, Generations 1, 2, and 3 each have a varying price range. Some Generation 3’s cost up to $10,000. But, you can find a great Generation 1 scope with a 100-yard night time kill shot for under $500.
Determine the Use
Your first decision when considering the best night vision scope is how you plan to use it. If your plans include mounting on an AR-15 and hunting or shooting at targets without the long 100-yard shots, then a Gen 1 is a sufficient scope.
Most nighttime game hunting is illegal, but when hunting vermin or predators, it’s legal in most locations. Across the American South, feral hogs pose a huge problem for farmers, ranchers, and property owners. With the rising feral population, most states allow the use of night vision optics for hunting them.
For property protection or private security, a night vision scope is invaluable. If your night shooting involves long shots with a .308, you’ll need a high quality, and higher priced Gen 2 or 3 scope.
When you have a limited budget and need to stay under $500, a new Gen 1 is a great starter night vision scope.
Our Top Picks for Best Night Vision Scopes Under $500
The high-performance Armasight Orion 5x rifle scope offers mid-range night vision weapon sighting with great target acquisition and aiming capabilities. This makes the Orion perfect for security personnel, hunters, and sports shooters. The Orion 5x is one of the top dependable, high-performance weapon scopes available in a Generation 1 category. A rubberized aluminum body, ruggedly designed, houses Armasight’s top-quality optics and image intensifier tubes. Each scope features a top wheel focus for improved ergonomics and accuracy. For the budget conscious shooter, the Armasight Orion 5x scope offers the hunter or tactical shooter for improved shooting accuracy in dark conditions.
The Firefield NVRS Night Vision Scope stands out above the rest with its sleek design sporting enhanced optics and a durable titanium body. The Firefield NVRS has a long mount incorporated into an ergonomic design for comfortable shooting. The size of the NVRS lets you easily mount the night vision scope to a wide range of rifle types, including styles with a bolt action.
The NVRS delivers a higher resolution, and better light gathering capabilities. The NVRS has a 50mm lens with flip-up lens cover over illuminated reticle and multi-coated optics. Enhanced image brightness and range when used in total darkness from the built-in Pulse infrared illuminator with easy activation. Additional features included with the NVRS scope is precision elevation and windage adjustment and remote.
Extremely rugged yet compact and only weighing 2.9 pounds, the ATN MK390 is a low priced, high-quality Gen 1+ night vision scope. The red-on-green proprietary reticle system gives the ATN MK350 Guardian amazing accuracy for the price. The Guardian has elevation and windage ¼-inch at 100-yards adjustment accuracy. Combine these accuracy features with optimal brightness from the Front Lens System and you have a step above others in its class. With the reticle brightness with push button operation and a detachable 450 mW Infrared Illuminator, this Gen 1+ is an amazing buy for under $500.
The ATN MK390 mounts on all U.S. 7/8-inch Picatinny or weaver rail and is a great small and inexpensive night vision scope.
The Armasight WWZ is a high-performance scope with mid-range night vision sight. The scope delivers exceptional observation, target acquisition and aiming capabilities, for sporting, hunting, and security operations. This Gen 1+ scope gives you a top of the line, dependable, high-performance optic sight in the Gen 1 category.
The WWZ 4X scope has a rugged build with an aluminum body housing the image intensifier tube and optics. Improved ergonomics and accuracy comes from the WWZ’s top wheel focus system. This Armasight is a great solution for hunters or tactical shooters wanting improved shooting accuracy in dark conditions.
Generation Night Vision Scopes Explained
Generation 1 Night Vision Scope
The Gen 1 night vision scope, the first of the Generation technology, relies on ambient lighting instead of using infrared light sources. The Gen1 scope light amplification is about 1,000x, but only functions under the moonlight.
While the Gen 1 night scopes are heavier and bulkier than the Gen 2 and 3, they come in on the lower end of the pricing scale, making them a desirable first-time night scope.
Generation 2 Night Vision Scope
A technological advancement from the Gen 1, the Gen 2 night vision scope has many features hunters prefer. With a more advanced image intensifier, the Gen 2 gives brighter images with better quality and stronger reliability. These night vision scopes are brighter with better light intensification than the Gen 1 night vision scopes.
Boasting a 20,000x light amplification, the Gen 2 takes the technology a step further with the Gen 2+ scope. The Gen2+ gives night vision scopes improved resolution and more enhanced optics. The Gen 2 scope and its improved photocathode and microchannel plate technology has a much smaller size than Gen 1 scopes.
The U.S. military supplies NATO allies with the Gen 2 technology. The Soviets copied this technology, making improvements and creating the Gen 2+. Western Europe, Russia, and Belarus still produce top quality Gen 2+ systems today.
Generation 3 Night Vision Scope
Keeping much of the Gen 2 technology, the Gen 3 night vision scopes use the same MCP (micro-channel plate) but adds a photocathode. The added feature improves the Gen 3 light amplification and image resolution taking it from 20,000x to between 30,000 and 50,000x. Generation 3 night scopes can operate for 15,000 hours and offer the best light intensification of the Generation technology.
Like the Gen 2, the Gen 3 technology updated to Gen 3+ for the Gen III Omni IV – VII or known as Gen 4 in consumer classification. Exporting the Gen 3 technology outside of the United States is prohibited without permission from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Night Vision Scope Performance Factors
Unlike night vision monocular or binocular, night vision scopes have a design made for target shooting and not just observation. Generations consist of scales with acceptable baseline standards. When comparing the scales, one Gen 1 scope can have an extremely different rating than another Gen 1 scope.
Five Performance Factors for Considering a Night Vision Scope
- Clarity – Hunting or tactical use make good optic resolution critically important. If you can’t identify the target with certainty, you better not pull the trigger. Night vision scope resolution has lines per millimeter or LP/MM measurement. The clarity increases as the lines per millimeter increase.
- Recognition Range –When choosing a night vision scope, you want a scope with a greater recognition range than a total range. Range amounts cover ranges ranges for starlight only, overcast skies, full moons, and quarter moons. The amount of ambient light affects the scope capabilities. While you get a 600-yard recognition range during the full moon, you only get a 100-yards under overcast skies.
- Ergonomics –Regardless which scope you use, a heavy night vision scope weighs a lot just like a heavy regular optical scope. Both night vision and regular scopes with high magnification have larger and heavier optics. This makes a lighter optic more desirable for off-hand shooting and brush hunting. Large magnification, heavy optic scopes slow down your speed when moving the rifle.
- Durability –The more technologically advanced the scope, with specialized devices, electronics, and optics, and the failure potential rises. If your scope use involves inclement weather, is it waterproof to protect the delicate electronics? If not, hunting on a mist-shrouded night can quickly ruin your new investment if it’s not waterproof. Recoil can also damage the sensitive electronics.
- Infrared Illuminators or IR – The infrared illuminator lets you shine an infrared light for brighter night vision. Brighter night vision is a necessity when using on nights completely or nearly pitch-black nights. While illuminator range is limited, buying a handheld or attachable illuminator is a good decision.
Our Final Review for The Best Night Vision Scope Under $500
Choosing the right night vision scope isn’t always easy especially when trying to understand what features you might need. Night vision scopes get defined by their generation of development with pricing going higher with each generation.
Digitally enhanced generations, like the Gen 1+, have a crisper and clearer picture. These higher generations also have a lower weight than the standard generations.
When looking for a scope, you want the best magnification and clearest picture possible for the price. When hunting or using the optical for security, you can’t afford to cut corners for a lower priced scope. Having the same precision found in scopes used by professional military and law enforcement is nice, but it’s not necessary. Many times, a Gen 1 or Gen 1+ can work for you as well as the higher priced Gen 2 or 3.
Regardless of which scope you choose, always check your local rules governing the owning and use of night vision scopes. Some states, like California, do not let their residents own any night vision riflescopes for any reason. Getting caught using a night scope in this state is an infraction punishable by a prison term. The United States government makes it illegal to ship night vision scopes outside the country. You must first get permission from the Federal Department of Defense before shipping to another country.
Night vision scopes perform a valuable service for home defense, protecting livestock from predators, and other legitimate uses. But, before buying, it’s important to take the time and do your homework. Start by reading different reviews like ours, and look at all the features of each scope you consider buying. Each scope and each generation have varying features and functions.