How to Sight in a Thermal Scope ( 6-Step Process )

view through a thermal scope
View through a thermal scope

You’ve gone off and bought yourself a thermal scope. It was likely a significant investment, but it’s one you won’t regret. Thermal optics are an absolute blast.

My first taste of thermal optics came from the United States Military, and since then I’ve been in love with the technology. I used them in both combat and training and truly saw how unique and impressive they are.

They light up the world in front of you, and no living creature can hide from thermal optics. Thermal scopes in the hands of civilians are often used for hunting, especially for feral hogs.

Thermal optics make it easy to locate, close with, and eliminate these foul beats. Thermal optics can be used to deal with predators in rural environments, to protect livestock, and to detect thieves outdoors.

Zeroing your thermal scope is critical to proper use, but how do you go about it? Well, today we are going to answer your question.

6 Step Process To Zero Your Thermal Scope

1. Understand How Thermal Scopes Function

Thermal scopes are not like standard day scopes. Most notably, they don’t have turrets to make adjustments because they are digital scopes. Their reticle is digital and is adjusted digitally. Instead of dialing in turrets with small adjustments, you are often pressing buttons to move the reticle up and down.

Every thermal optic is a little different, but most go through a menu system to make adjustments to the reticle.

Step one comes down to read your manual. You need to understand how your optic functions and how exactly you’ll be making adjustments.

You should take some time, experiment and play with the optic to learn the menu system as well as how to adjust the system. It’s best to do this before you head out the range and waste any time or ammo. Knowing how to get through the system will make your life a little easier.

 

2. Understand Bullet Drop

ATN thermal scope home screen
ATN thermal scope home screen

When it comes to programming your optic for your rifle, it’s critical that  you use the same exact round you’d use for hunting or self-defense. Bullet drop not only varies by caliber, but by bullet weight, velocity, and more.

You want to zero your optic for the ranges you’ll commonly be using it at. When hunting at night with thermal, this range will likely be pretty close.

My preference is to sight in my optic for ranges between 50 and 200 yards. There can be a little variance at this range, and my 50-yard zero hits about 1.5 inches above the reticle, but is dead on at 200 yards. At 50 yards a 2-inch difference is nothing, but at 200 yards 2 inches is an easy miss.

Most major companies will publish the drop data for their rounds, but if they don’t the only real way to find out is to get out and shoot it at different ranges. Regardless of how you figure it out, it’s good info to know.

 

3. Get the Right Target

Thermbright Wild Hog Target
Thermbright Wild Hog Target view from scope

If you are shooting a thermal optic, do you really think you can use a standard paper target? Your optic won’t be able to really see a piece of paper at 50 yards, so let’s be real here. You need heat, and how do you heat up a target? Well, there a few ways.

A company called Thermbright makes targets that glow under a thermal optic. These are quite amazing and come in hog, coyote, and standard bull’s eye targets. They are a little pricey, but nothing compared to the cost of thermal optics. ATN, the night vision and thermal optics company, produces thermal zeroing targets.

A big pack of hand warmers from WalMart is pretty cheap and can be used decently as a target for thermal optics. They aren’t the best but are by far the most affordable.


4. Obtain a Good Shooting Position

ATN ThOR-HD
ATN ThOR-HD

Once the logistics of ammo and targets are figured out, we can start getting serious. You’ll need to set up in a stable shooting position to steady your weapon. It needs to be as steady as possible to maximize your zero. You want to remove the human element as much as possible.

A bipod is a great way to do this, and so is a gun rest. I always suggest either a prone position to help stabilize the gun, or additionally, a seated bench rest is a rock-solid position to zero a weapon.

Start relatively close, no more than 50 yards, but if the gun is way off, you can close that distance to 25 yards. After you get your near range zero, you can go back and zero at longer distances.

 

5. The First Three

hunter testing rifle

Now that you are set up, your gun is loaded, you have an excellent thermal target, and you are in a good position, it’s time to start the zero process. It begins by firing three rounds into the target. After that, you unload, set the rifle down and check out your target.

Observe where the three rounds landed and do a rough measurement of the vertical and horizontal distance to the bull’s eye. Keep those numbers in your mind, or even write them down. This will allow you to make adjustments.

6. Make the Necessary Manipulations

man adjusting thermal scope

Back at your optic, you can dial in the measurements to adjust the reticle. Again this is why you need to know how to use your optic. Dial in the changes and once the reticle is moved to get ready to fire again.

It’s important to keep a consistent position and firing pattern to zero your weapon. Now fire another three shots. Stress those fundamentals and make sure you are doing your part behind the gun.

Approach your target and see where your rounds have struck. Measure and record where your rounds have struck. Now if you are already dialed in and your rounds have hit the bull’s eye, you are nearly done.

If they haven’t dialed in those measurements, repeat until they are hitting your designated bull’s eye. Once you are hitting the bull’s eye, you want to fire one more string of three rounds. This is to confirm your zero make sure everything is good to go.

Sighting in a thermal optic is easy to do, but it is critical that you do it correctly. Take your time, refresh your thermal target as needed, and go for precision. After you get your close range zero, you can back off and repeat the process to your preferred distance. If you have any tips or tricks, please share below.

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes

1 COMMENT

  1. Hey Travis

    I dr exactly what you said, went out and bought an expensive herbal for hog hunting. Resolution is great. It’s an REAP IR. PROBLEM IS I CANT GET IT SIGHTED. I go to elevation and windage but can’t tell whether the +/- numbers are up/down or left/right. Can you help.

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