How to Sight in a Night Vision Scope or Thermal Scope: The Complete Guide to Sighting

There is nothing quite like the rush of hunting after dark. You’re surrounded by nothing but the quietness and serenity of nature, and the exhilaration that comes when you finally identify a target in the still night air is unlike anything else.  

But picture this - you spend hours in the frigid darkness waiting for your opportunity. And when it finally comes, you fire your shot and miss. The game is scared away and you’ve sacrificed a good night’s sleep only to go home empty-handed. If only you’d taken the time to read our guide on how to sight in a night vision scope or thermal scope!

Hopefully, you’re here reading this before actually setting out for your first outing with your new scope so you can avoid that disappointment. If not, don’t sweat it - you’re here now, and you won’t ever experience the pitfalls of improper sighting again.

Below, you’ll discover exactly how to sight in a thermal scope or night vision scope as we walk you through the process step by step. You’ll feel confident in sighting in a night vision scope by the end of this article - and you’ll be ready to experience the wonders of night hunting as they were intended!

The Importance of Sighting in a Night Vision Scope to Perfection

You spent good money getting your hands on the best night vision scope for hunting in the dark. So it can be frustrating to fire that first shot at a live target and miss. But oftentimes, it’s not the scope itself - it’s user error. The fact of the matter is most hunters don’t take sightings seriously enough. And it comes back to bite them.

Really, taking the time to accurately sight in your scope can be the difference between a successful evening hunt filled with excitement and the frustrating, gut-wrenching feeling of doing all the work to get out there only to miss the one opportunity you have. While it’s true that the hunt is only partially why we get outside, it still sucks going home empty-handed.

Fortunately, we’re here to help you avoid all this. 

Are the Protocols for Sighting in a Night Vision Scope the Same as for a Thermal Scope?

Whether you got a night vision or thermal scope, you’ll follow a similar process for sighting. However, the tactics do vary slightly as these scopes rely on different technology to process images in the darkness. 

For example, you’ll want to start by mounting your scope and heading to the range regardless of what scope you have. You’ll also want to ensure that you have the other essentials on hand. 

But when you actually go about adjusting your scope will be different depending on the tech you’re using. One example of this is in taking ambient temperature into account. Because thermal scopes rely on heat signatures, you’ll want to sight your scope in similar conditions. And, you may need to adjust your sensitivity settings to account for the specific conditions in which you’re hunting.

Whether You’re Here to Learn How to Sight in a Thermal Scope or Night Vision Scope, Gather the Essentials

Now, whether you’re here to learn how to sight in a thermal scope or how to sight in a night vision scope, you’ll need to start by gathering the essentials and heading to the range. But what all do you need exactly?

Of course, you’ll want to grab the rifle you’re using in tandem with the scope. You’ll also need the mount to get your scope on the rifle. But besides the obvious supplies and equipment, make sure you have these as well:

  • A set of allen wrenches or other tools for making adjustments to the scope mount
  • A bore sighter or laser bore sighter (if available)
  • A shooting rest or sandbags
  • Target(s) (note that you’ll need a special thermal target for thermal scopes)
  • Ammunition (ideally the exact rounds you’ll be hunting with)
  • A rangefinder (if available)
  • A notebook and pen to record adjustments
  • A flashlight, headlamp, or any other lighting source in case of low-light conditions (if you’re sighting at night - unnecessary for sighting during the day)

Chances are, you already have most of this. If not, you can see if we’ve got it in store for you at Texas Fowlers. After all, we can get you better pricing and you’ll enjoy superior customer support compared to other online shops or your local hunting goods store. Once you’ve got all this, it’s time for the fun part - we’ll start by teaching you how to sight in a night vision scope.

How to Sight in a Night Vision Scope: Step-by-Step Guide

Ready to learn how to sight in a night vision scope? The process itself is quite simple, but that doesn’t mean you can just breeze through it. Remember - this is the difference between a successful hunt and spending a cold night in the darkness for nothing. That’s why step one is taking the time to read the manufacturer’s guidelines carefully:

First - Read the Manufacturer's Guidelines

Even when discussing night vision scope models from the same brand, sighting recommendations may vary. So, take the time to read the manual. 

Yup, boring - but necessary. This is where you’ll mind information on how to actually adjust the sighting on your specific scope. You’ll also learn about care tips to ensure the longevity of your scope - which was undoubtedly a hefty investment. 

What Distance Do You Sight in a Night Vision Scope Typically?

This will vary depending on how far how you plan on hunting your targets from. It also is influenced by the specific gun you’re hunting with. However, there are some best practices you can follow.

Some hunters like to sight in their scope at 25 yards. Others prefer a longer range of 100 yards as this more closely replicates the distance they’ll actually be hunting at. We tend to think a combination of the two makes more sense and is what we recommend for you. 

Start by sighting at 25 yards and then proceed to 100 yards - or even 50 yards and then 100 yards. You won’t experience much (if any) bullet drop from 100 yards, allowing you to fine-tune your sighting. 

Now, some hunters want to take things even further - zeroing their scopes from as far as 200 yards. This isn’t always necessary, but it definitely won’t hurt if you have the skills to do it. Just make sure you work up to 200 yards to save yourself the ammo and hassle.

Sighting a Night Vision Scope During Day vs Night

Most night vision scopes should not be used during the day - as this can contribute to considerable damage to the scope itself. That’s the last thing you want with equipment that costs as much as your scope does. So - are you forced to sight your scope at night? 

You can, but there is another option that allows you to sight during the day. If you’re sighting your scope in during the day, you’ll need to ensure you have the lens cover on. This sounds counterintuitive - how will you see anything? There should be a pinhole through your lens cover that allows enough light for you to sight your scope without the risk of damage.

If your scope doesn’t have a lens cover of this nature, or you simply don’t want to risk it, then yes - you’ll need to sight your scope in the dark. And this requires you to choose the right conditions. You’ll want ample light from the moon and stars to keep things simple and most importantly, safe. You’ll have a much easier time identifying your target and measuring your bullet holes after firing shots - making the sighting process faster.

Initial Setup

Once you’ve chosen the night for the deed, it’s time to head out to the location in which you’re zeroing your scope. Ideally, you’ll find a place you can create the utmost stability - which requires you to either be prone with a bipod or sandbags, or seated on a bench/table with something to rest your gun on.

Think about it like this: the more stable you are in taking your shots, the more accurate your sighting will be. That’s why supplies/accessories that help you stabilize your rifle are worth their weight in gold. 

Similarly, you want to perfectly replicate the conditions in which you are hunting. This ensures the sighting still holds true when it’s showtime. With that said, let’s talk about taking that first shot.

Find Your Target, Aim at the Center, and Fire Your First Shot

After setting up your targets and getting situated on the ground or at your table, it’s time to take aim and fire your first shot. Don’t sweat it if you didn’t hit a bullseye - you’re just trying to get a starting point. Head down the range and assess your target - after ensuring it’s clear, of course.

Adjust the Sighting as Necessary

Take note of just how far off you missed your target, and adjust the scope’s windage and elevation settings accordingly. You can adjust the scope left or right, up or down, depending on where you missed. 

Shoot Again and Assess the Sighting Once More

Once you've made the necessary adjustments, shoot again and assess the sight picture once more. Repeat the process of adjusting and shooting until you are satisfied with the sight picture and the bullet is hitting the center of the target.

Many hunters think they can get away with a one-shot-sighting or even just a two-shot-sighting. And this is partially the result of manufacturers marketing their scopes as such. At a certain point, it’s possible to sight your scope using a single round. But at first, you’ll need to set your pride to the side and fire as many shots as it takes to achieve perfect sighting.

What About How to Sight in a Thermal Scope?

That’s how to sight in a night vision scope - pretty straightforward, right? Well, what about how to sight in a thermal scope? You’ll follow a pretty similar process. 

However, thermal scopes typically don’t have windage or elevation turrets that you can adjust. Instead, you make adjustments digitally. Again - reading your owner’s manual is the best first step you can take to sighting in a thermal scope for this exact reason. You don’t want to spend your time at the range trying to figure it out - especially at night. 

Set Up Your Target at the Proper Range

As mentioned earlier, paper targets won’t cut it for a thermal scope - because these require a heat source. You can buy a specialized thermal target. Or, you can take the DIY route and use hand warmers. Just stick these on the back side of your target after activating them. We’ve also seen hunters use off-the-wall methods like heating a nail, using tinfoil, and more.

Whatever you use, make sure you set your target at the proper range. Again, we recommend starting small before moving your target out to 100 yards. This will help you get the process done quicker, believe it or not.

Take That First Shot and Make Adjustments

Just as you would when sighting a night vision scope, create a stable shooting base, and take that first shot downrange. If you’re using techniques like the handwarmer or hot nail to pick up your target on the thermal scope, it’s best to actually set your shooting area up first - as you need to act quickly to ensure the sources still produce heat.

What’s great about thermal scopes is that most of the zeroing is done for you by the scope itself. Simply adjust the reticle without moving your rifle and the scope does the rest - it’s really that easy. 

Fire a Second Round and Confirm Your Adjustments or Tweak More

After the adjustments have been made, you can take another shot (or another few shots if you’re using a cluster-style sighting tactic) and assess from there if additional changes are necessary. 

One of the advantages of these scopes is that you’re able to store different profiles in your scope. That means if you hunt different types of game or use different rounds, you only need to zero your scope once - and then you can go back to that profile time and time again without unnecessary trips to the range to re-sight the scope. 

Final Thoughts on How to Sight in a Night Vision Scope or Thermal Scope

That concludes our full guide on how to sight in a night vision scope as well as how to sight in a thermal scope. As you can see, it’s quite simple and straightforward - so there’s no reason not to follow our advice closely and get your scope zeroed and ready for a night of exhilarating thrill. 

Need other essentials for the big night? We don’t just have night-vision rifle scopes for sale!

You can find everything you need to hunt in style at Texas Fowlers - no matter what type of game you’re after. We source our products from the most trusted brands in the industry so you can rest assured you’re getting the best of the best. And with unbeatable pricing and superior customer service, what more could you ask for?

Keep yourself warm by exploring our collections of waterfowl vests, duck hunting pants, duck hunting jackets, duck hunting gloves, and everything else we have in store for you!