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The AR-15 can be a tricky piece to purchase an optic for.
On one hand, the AR-15 is capable enough that some magnification is nice for maintaining precision all the way out to the maximum effective range of the 5.56mm/.223 round.
On the other hand, too much magnification makes an optic difficult to use in CQB and short range tactical contexts.
Fortunately, there are a handful of optics that hit the sweet spot for versatility that improve performance at both ends of the AR-15 practical application spectrum (which is somewhere between 1x and 10x).
So, here are the best AR-15 scopes that will help you get the most out of your rifle in all contexts:
If you’re in a rush, read this:
OUR BEST CHOICE
Trijicon ACOG 4x32 BAC
Top Choices on the Market
The 3 Best AR-15 Scopes under $1000
1. Trijicon ACOG BAC Dual Illuminated Riflescope, .223 Ballistic Reticle, 4x32
Top Tactical Choice
Trijicon has been making hardcore tactical optics for decades now, and currently holds some high-value government contracts for their coveted ACOG scopes. The Trijicon ACOG 4x32 BAC is Trijicon’s flagship tactical optic. Marine rifle squads have been using ACOGs to extend their combat range since the early 2000’s.
I’ll lead with the best thing about the ACOG: it’s an entirely batteryless optic. The reticle is illuminated with Trijicon’s fiber optic light gathering system and tritium inserts.
The strength of the fiber optic system is that it relies on environmental light to illuminate the reticle, so the reticle organically dims in low light conditions and doesn’t overpower the image.
This gives the reticle high-contrast brightness in all light conditions, so you can quickly acquire your reticle and get a good sight picture no matter what.
On the topic of reticles, the ACOG comes in over 10 different reticle patterns (disclaimer: some reticles may cost a bit more than $1000). Several of the reticle options are specifically designed for AR-15 ballistics.
No matter which reticle you get, you’ll get hash marks for windage and range estimation and holdovers, and a center aiming point that’s brightly illuminated in all conditions.
Trijicon is known for their durability and glass clarity. The ACOG collects light with a 32mm objective lens and delivers superior image brightness and sharpness even at dawn and dusk or in dim tactical environments.
The magnification is set at 4x, which might seem limiting, but it’s actually an ideal all-purpose magnification. 4x is powerful enough that it enhances the natural accuracy of the AR-15 platform without inhibiting the short range and CQB capabilities. You’ll get more precise shot placement at the 500 and 600 yard marks, and can use the aiming point at CQB ranges as well.
Overall, the ACOG and outstanding all-purpose tactical optic that’s perfectly viable as a 3-gun competition optic, or as an operating optic for tactical professionals.
2. Vortex Optics Viper PST, Gen 2, Focal Plane, 2-10x32
Top Long Range Choice
Vortex Optics is known for building flexible tactical scopes that perform well at both ends of the range spectrum. The Vortex Optics Viper PST Gen II 2-10x32 an outstanding option for those looking to push their long range capabilities without losing any edge in the short range game.
The Viper is built with high density, low dispersion glass that provides a bright, high definition image at magnifications and distances that exceed the capabilities of the AR 15 system. The lenses are coated with two proprietary lens coatings:
XR full multi-coating that enhances resolution and color fidelity.
Armortek full multi-coating that increases scratch resistance and repels oil and dirt.
Between the glass and the lens coatings, the Viper delivers outstanding long range image clarity even in gray dusk or dawn light and dim tactical settings.
The reticle is Vortex Optics’ proprietary Dead Hold BDC reticle that gives markings for bullet drop and wind compensation but is minimal and doesn’t clutter the field of view. So you get lower target acquisition and sight alignment times.
Additionally, the reticle is illuminated and offers 10 brightness settings so the reticle never overpowers the image.
The Viper offers 2-10x magnification, which is perfect for AR 15 shooters who want to max out their effective range, without dulling their rifle’s CQB viability. 10x is more than enough for controlled shot placement at the maximum effective range of the 5.56mm/.223 round. 2x is minimal enough that you can use this scope for fast-paced, short range engagement. It’s a great one-size-fits-all magnification range for an AR 15.
The Vortex Viper is definitely your best bet for long range performance with your AR 15, and will still give you an edge in fast, tactical engagements. This is an excellent option for any 3-gun competition shooter or tactical professional.
3. Leupold VX-R 3-9x40mm Riflescope, Patrol FireDot TMR, Illuminated
Top Value Choice
Leupold made a name for themselves long ago with their long range optics. However, the technology that makes their higher power scopes so good also makes for excellent short range optics. The Leupold VX-R Patrol FireDot gives excellent performance at all distances, and improves shot placement at maximum range.
The FireDot is constructed with the same glass Leupold uses to build their long range optics, so the image is sharp and clear in all conditions. Additionally, the lenses are fully multi-coated with Leupold’s proprietary DiamondCoat, which increases light transmission and improves scratch resistance.
The FireDot collects light through a 20mm objective lens, which is large enough for tactical applications in all light conditions, and wide enough for long range engagements in dawn and dusk lighting and dim tactical situations. However, the FireDot may struggle to produce a clear image in extremely low light conditions.
For low light shooting, the FireDot features an etched reticle with an illuminated aiming point in the center (the FireDot). The reticle features hash marks for elevation and windage adjustments and corrections, but only the center of the reticle illuminates to minimize reticle distraction during short range shooting. This means faster, more accurate short range shots, and full functionality for long range shooting.
To help you manage your battery life, the FireDot features motion sensor technology, which automatically dims the illumination when there’s no motion in the field of view, and brightens the reticle again when something moves. This way you won’t pick up your rifle only to find you forgot to turn the illumination off and now have to change the battery.
The magnification goes from 1.25x to 4x, which is plenty for getting more precise shots at range, and excellent for short range and CQB engagement. In both scenarios, the FireDot will help you get better hits, faster.
Overall, the Leupold FireDot is definitely the best AR15 scope for the money, and will get you far more performance per dollar than most tactical optics.
Those with a $1000 budget should get a Trijicon Trijicon ACOG 4x32 BAC. There are very few optics that have Trijicon quality and specs specifically dialed for AR-15 rifles.
Now that you know how to get even more performance and flexibility from your AR 15, head out and get some shooting done!