Are Night Vision Rifle Scopes Legal in California?

A Comprehensive Guide

Are night vision rifle scopes legal in California?This should be an easy question but it isn’t. Night vision scope and thermal scope are generally legal to own in the United States, except for in the state of California. Currently, California has laws against the possession of attachment and similar devices that are used with firearms and allow the user to visually determine and locate the presence of objects during the nighttime. Certain conditions will allow you to use night vision equipment legally.


The law in California regarding the possession and use of devices with night vision can be a little tricky. But here’s a quick little breakdown:

What’s Illegal?

  • Active IR scope with magnification
  • Passive IR scope with magnification and IR illuminator

What’s Legal?

  • Active and Passive IR scope with no magnification
  • Passive IR scope with magnification
  • Passive IR scope with no magnification and an IR illuminator
  • Active IR goggles with and without magnification
  • Passive IR goggles with magnification
  • Passive IR goggles with magnification and an IR illuminator
  • Passive IR goggles without magnification and an IR illuminator
Are Night Vision Rifle Scopes Legal in California?

However, as long as your NVD uses a passive light, that is legal. In other words, as long as there is no infrared light source, it is legal to own and possess your NVD. It is unlawful to use or possess infrared light sources while hunting at night, and this includes binoculars and night scopes. Night vision rifle scopes that use light-amplifying circuits powered by batteries or electives, whether they are attached to a firearm or not, are also illegal due to statutory factors.


If you would like to have a look at the California Penal Code Section 486, to check the maximum sentence you can check it out here. If you’re interested in learning about the Fishing and Hunting Regulations in California, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife should be your best resource for you to double-check if your equipment is legal. While using your night vision scope, electronic viewing device with night vision capabilities, thermal imaging devices, or night scopes can be extremely fun, it’s important to stay within the legal boundaries to avoid unpleasant fines. So I would recommend looking at the resources provided to make sure you’re not breaking any laws when you are on the hunt at night.


The answer depends on several factors. You cannot use lights at night hunting in any areas where the general deer season is open. Fur-bearing mammals and nongame mammals can be taken down using light from a vehicle, considering that the vehicle’s motor is turned off. For regulations on the use of lights, please check the California Mammal Hunting Regulations booklet (CCR Title 14, section 264 on page 18 and Fish and Game Code, section 2005 on page 20). You may use rimfire, centerfire, or shotgun and possess non lead ammunition in the condor zone and while hunting on all state-owned lands.

No, night vision scopes don’t have any negative or harmful effect on the eyes. They cannot affect the eyes in any way. The research done by the Army Research Laboratory on US marines has proven that their eyes show no adverse effect after using Night vision goggles for long hours. Green light is used to display the image in night vision scopes. The green color is less intensified and is safe for human eyes.

The average life of night vision goggles depends on the kind of model or generation of goggles you are using. If you are using a generation 2+, then it will last around 5,000 hours. A gen 3+ will have a life of 15,000 hours with continuous operation. The most common type of night vision goggles nowadays has an average life of 10,000 hours.


In short, as long as you stay within the bounds of California law, you should be able to enjoy a successful hunt using your favorite night vision scope or device. However, it is always important to double-check with local authorities before heading out into the field, just in case there are any changes in regulations that you aren’t aware of. Happy Hunting!

Author Profile

Gabriel Tackett
Double major in Engineering and Geology at the University of Minnesota. Experienced shooter & hunter for over 15 years. Certified NRA officer for over 10 years working as a writer at .

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