The AR 15 is a very customizable platform that’s capable of filling tactical, competition, and hunting roles. However, in order to get the most from your AR 15 in any capacity, you need the attachments and optics that are perfect for your shooting context.

    Some types of shooting are well suited to high-magnification optics, while zero-magnification or iron sights are right for others. The right scope, in the right shooting context, will improve accuracy, target acquisition speed, and can even help you scout terrain and size up targets.

    Keep reading to find out if you need a optic, how to choose the right one for your needs, and which ones will work for you and your budget.

    Our Favorite Choice

    Nikon 6729 Prostaff


    Do I Need an AR 15 Scope?


    Whether or not you need a scope depends less on what sort of shooting you plan to do, and more on the range and type of targets you intend to shoot at. Here’s a quick primer to help you with the question, “Do I need a scope for my AR 15?”

    Shooters looking to do only short range, rapid-fire shooting in a tactical or competition setting would likely be happier with an unmagnified sight.

    Think CQB or three gun competitions. For tactical shooting inside of 25 meters, good iron sights or illuminated optics such as holographic, red dot, or reflex sights work excellently.

    Shooters who need medium to long range precision at lower rates of fire and shooting from a fixed position will benefit from a magnified scope. Hunters and competition shooters usually fall into this category.

    Some hunters might prefer slightly lower magnification if they hunt fast-moving game at shorter ranges. For example, if you have an AR 15 for coyote hunting, a low magnification optic would be just right, since this is medium range shooting at fast moving targets that change direction quickly.

    Extreme distance shooters need a high-quality, magnified optic to be successful in this area. A majority of extremely long range shooters are competition shooters and a select few hunters. Anyone looking to push their shots out to 700 meters or more should be in the market for a good optic.


    How to Choose The Perfect One For Your Needs?


    Hint: if you’re still reading, you probably need an AR 15 scope

    Each shooting context has scope characteristics are more important than others. Choosing the right scope is a matter of finding a scope with the combination of features that meets your shooting needs, without paying for features that you don’t. This way, you’ll get a scope that fits your shooting context, and your budget.

    • Magnification
    • Reticle
    • MRAD vs moa
    • Focal plane
    • Parallax
    • Light Gathering
    • Eye Relief
    • Budget

    Magnification

    Magnification is simply how much a scope will magnify the image within the field of view. Rifle scope magnification is expressed as the first number in the specifications. For instance, a 4x32 model magnifies the image four times more than viewing with the naked eye.

    Here’s a good rifle optic magnification comparison:

    More magnification might seem better, but there is such a thing as too much magnification. Models with extremely high power are generally designed for longer ranges than an AR 15 is capable of.

    Additionally, more magnification narrows the field of view of a scope and reduces how much light comes through the lenses to your eye.

    Typically hunters and competition shooters need more magnification. If you’re shooting at longer ranges or small targets at medium or long ranges, look into high magnification scopes, potentially 4x or higher.

    As a general rule for AR 15 rifle optic magnification, the longer the range and the smaller the target, the higher the magnification should be.

    Fortunately, there are many variable power models that will give you versatility if you plan to use your AR 15 for shooting at varied ranges.

    These are this year’s top rated options, from the top brands, based on their characteristics and what shooting context they excel in. Keep reading to find the one that’s right for you!

    Best AR-15 Scopes for the Money


    1. UTG 3-9x32 BugBuster

    UTG 3-9X32 1" BugBuster Scope, AO, RGB Mil-dot, QD Rings

    Budget

    UTG has developed a reputation for delivering high-quality optics at wholesale prices. The UTG 3-9×32 BugBuster is no exception.

    For a price point scope, the BugBuster has a respectable range of magnification, going from 3 to 9x. This makes the UTG a rather flexible optic. Competition shooters and hunters who need equal performance at medium and far ranges on a variety of target sizes will get good use from the BugBuster’s Magnification range.

    The UTG features a mildot reticle with both range markings and windage markings. This reticle is ideal for quick range estimation and shooting moving targets at range. Additionally, the reticle has dual color illumination, red or green, which improves low light performance for hunters looking to get out in the early morning or late evening.

    UTG used an emerald coating on the lenses to maximize the amount of light that reaches the shooter’s eye. The emerald coating produces an exceptionally clear image for those who need to engage small game or targets.

    The comfortable distance of the BugBuster is worth noting since it’s a little more than 4 inches, which is quite generous. This not only makes the UTG easy to look through for long periods of time but also offers some tactical capability.

    This isn’t the perfect optic for tactical shooting. However, the long eye relief makes it easier to get a sight image through the unit. It’s possible to use the BugBuster for rapid, short range shots in tight situations.

    Although this one is known for being very durable, UTG has had quality control issues. However, the hardware is covered under warranty, so a defective scope can be returned to UTG for a replacement.

    The BugBuster is capable of performing in most shooting contexts and has a good combination of quality and versatility that make it a good choice for most shooters looking for the value optic under $100.


    2. UTG 4-16x44 30mm

    UTG 4-16X44 30mm Scope, AO, 36-color Mil-dot, w/ Rings

    Most Versatile Under $150

    UTG nails another value price point with the UTG 4-16X44 30mm. The 4-16×44 actually retails for just over $150 but is widely available on Amazon for less.

    The 4-16×44 has a wide and usable range of magnification that will suit most shooting contexts. Even at high magnification, this models retains solid image clarity for shooting smaller targets at long ranges. The wide range of magnification makes this a solid performer for competition shooters and hunters of any size game.

    This one uses a mil-dot reticle with 9 range and windage markers for precise range estimation, wind calls, and moving target engagement. The reticle comes with standard red and green illumination but also features color selection with 36 possible reticle colors. This makes the 4-16×44 ideal for shooting in varied conditions and environments.

    The utility and varied reticle visibility make this the ultimate-illuminated reticle optic for an AR 15, and an ideal optic for hunters and competition shooters who travel and shoot in a lot of different areas.

    UTG claims that their emerald coating is top in class for image clarity and light transmission. Multi-coated glass and an extra wide, 44mm objective lens give the 4-16×44 exceptional light collection capability and excellent low light performance.

    Additionally, the UTG features a proprietary illumination enhancement system UTG called EZ-TAP IE. This technology helps improve image clarity in low light and low contrast environments, such as scrubland during dawn and dusk. The multi-color reticle combined with the illumination enhancement make this an ideal piece for morning and evening hunters.

    On the other end of the spectrum, the 4-16×44 also has a shroud to reduce glare in daylight conditions. This means the UTG is a great scope for shooting at any time of day, in any weather conditions.

    The eye relief on the 4-16×44 is stated to be 3.2 inches. This eye relief is good for fixed position shooting and is long enough to enable quick target acquisition. However, the aiming distance is a bit too short for good performance in tactical applications. Also, the UTG is not a compact optic, further detracting from its viability as a tactical optic.

    The UTG has industry standard durability features such as nitrogen purging to prevent internal fogging, and water repellant lens coatings. The combination of durability and versatility make this an ideal scope for hunters and competition shooters who need consistent performance in unpredictable weather, lighting conditions, and environments.


    3. Bushnell Optics FFP

    Bushnell Optics FFP

    1-4x Scope (Under $200)

    Bushnell is a popular name in the firearm optics industry and has a good reputation for producing high-quality and high-performance gear. The Bushnell Optics FFP Illuminated BTR-1 Rifle optic does a lot to bolster Bushnell’s reputation.

    1-4x magnification might seem a bit on the low side. However, the 1-4x range is ideal for competition shooters who focus on ranges between 50-100 yards and hunters who hunt small, fast-moving game at short to medium ranges. Additionally, 1-4x magnification gives this one tactical viability, since the magnification is low enough for close quarters shooting.

    Something else that gives the Bushnell a versatility edge is Bushnell’s proprietary Throw Down PCL, which allows for power adjustment on the fly. This is an ideal feature for competition shooters or tactical professionals who want to use a single optic for short-range tactical shooting and medium range engagement.

    The reticle is a ballistic tactical reticle (BTR), which is ideal for quick target acquisition and rapid-fire shooting at short and medium ranges. The BTR reticle features holdover lines for ranges out to 500 meters but is not quite suitable for long range, high-precision shooting.

    Another feature of the reticle is the variable illumination. There are 11 brightness settings so the reticle won’t overpower the sight picture in very dark conditions. The object lens is 24mm, which collects plenty of light for a clear image at max magnification. This isn’t exactly a night shooting optic but will perform well in dusky light and in environments with a lot of shading.

    Preferred aiming distance on the FFP is set at 3.6 inches, which is generous enough for target acquisition and shooting in tactical environments. The Bushnell is also compact enough that it’s viable for many tactical applications, but some may find it a bit too bulky for CQB.

    The FFP is sealed for weather resistance. However, it’s not equipped with UTG’s RainGuard HD technology, and some users have reported condensation getting inside the scope. So the Bushnell may not be the wisest option for people who often shoot in the rain.

    Overall, though, the FFP is still the highest rated 1-4x optic in this price range, so it’s a great option if it fits your needs.


    4. Nikon P-223 3-9x40

    Nikon P-223 3-9x40 Mate BDC 600

    Nikon is one of the most well-known brands in the optics industry, and their lens clarity and build quality are second to none. What makes the Nikon P-223 3-9×40 one of the top models for the money is that it was developed specifically for the .223/5.56mm round, so the performance is dialed for the AR 15 platform.

    3-9x magnification is right in the appropriate usable range for most types of shooting. Based on Nikon’s research, 3-9x is also optimal for the .223/5.56mm round. Hunters and competition shooters will find that this scope has a power setting that’s right for every range and target size.

    The P-223 utilizes a BDC reticle with hash marks from 100 to 600 yards. The reticle is specifically calibrated for the trajectory of high-performance 55 grain .223/5.56mm rounds and uses open circle aiming points for quicker target acquisition and precision at various ranges.

    The reticle has no internal illumination. However, the P-223 has a large 40mm object lens that Nikon says transmits 98% of available light to the shooter’s eye. This means excellent image clarity and a visible reticle even in low light situations. Even without illumination, the P-223 still performs admirably in the low contrast light of dawn and dusk.

    Nikon set the eye relief of the P-223 at 3.6 inches, which is in the sweet spot for fixed position shooting with minimal eye fatigue if you use your optic for scanning and locating game. Even though the Nikon has a fairly low minimum magnification, it’s still not quite ideal for short-range tactical shooting.

    In terms of durability, Nikon’s reputation speaks for itself. The P-223 is waterproof, shockproof, and nitrogen purged for solid performance in all conditions, which makes it ideal for hunters who carry their rifle in a pack and hunt in inclimate weather.

    The $200 price range features a LOT of options. However, the P-223 stands atop the heap for hunters and competition AR 15 shooters looking to shoot out to 600 yards.


    5. VX-2 3-9x40mm

    Leupold 110797 VX-2 3-9x40mm Compact Waterproof Fogproof, Duplex reticle

    Hunting and Competition (Under $300)

    In terms of optics, Leupold is one of the most reputable manufacturers in the game. The detail, finish, and technology in Leupold optics are second to none, and the Leupold VX-2 3-9x40mm Compact is no exception.

    Leupold has zeroed in on the 3-9x magnification range, which is optimal for most competition shooters and hunters looking to take a medium to large game. The magnification and clarity of the VX-2 are good out to the limits of the .223/5.56mm round.

    One great thing about the VX-2 is that it comes in a variety of duplex reticle options, some Leupold proprietary reticles, and a classic German #4 reticle. The standard duplex reticle in the VX-2 is excellent for measured precision shots at medium and long ranges but is less than optimal for fast shooting at multiple ranges. This makes the Leupold more suited for competition shooters and hunters who shoot from a fixed position and are able to make range calculations.

    The reticle features no powered illumination. However, the 40mm objective lens and index matched lens system boast 94% light transmission for a clear, visible reticle even in low amounts of lighting, so the VX-2 is a perfectly viable option for hunting at dusk or dawn.

    Leupold equipped the VX-2 with an adjustable eye relief, from 3.7 to 4.2 inches. This is excellent for AR 15 owners who have an adjustable stock. Additionally, 4.2 inches of eye relief is very comfortable, and won’t cause any eye strain when gazing through this model for a long time.

    Leupold has a solid reputation for high-quality optics, and they’ve included things like diamond coating on the lenses and industry leading waterproofing. The diamond coating prevents scratching, and the optic is purged with a mixture of argon and krypton for outstanding anti-fogging properties. This makes the VX-2 an excellent option for shooters who frequently shoot in wet conditions.

    In terms of shooting contexts, the VX-2 is not ideal for short-range tactical shooters, despite the long aiming distance. This one is definitely aimed at hunters and competition shooters looking for consistent long-range precision.


    6. Vortex Optics Viper

    Vortex Optics Viper HS LR First Focal Plane XLR Reticle (MOA)

    High End AR 15 Scope

    Vortex Optics started in 2004 and has since established themselves as one of the best optics manufacturers in the industry. They’re known for strict quality control and high-end products, so it makes sense that the Vortex Optics HS LR 6-24×50 FFP would fall into the high-end category.

    The wide range of magnification makes this the prime variable magnification AR 15 scope for the money on this list. The Viper HS delivers the high magnification range that extreme long range competition shooters look for in their optics. However, 6-24x is versatile enough that hunters and competition shooters will be well served when shooting at more moderate ranges as well.

    The Viper doesn’t offer any reticle options, but the standard dead-hold BDC reticle is quite capable and features hash marks for windage and bullet drop estimation. Additionally, the Viper is a first focal plane scope, so the reticle scales as you change the magnification, providing easy precision at all ranges and magnifications.

    For low light performance, the Vortex uses reticle illumination, which couples nicely with the huge 50mm objective lens. The wide lens collects a lot of light and provides an incredibly clear image even at high magnification in low contrast environments. Vortex Optics laser aligns all their lenses to ensure that the light transmission of their models are top notch, so this model is great for hunters and competition shooters looking to shoot at far distances in bad light.

    The aiming distance is a comfortable 4 inches, which is ideal for competition shooters and hunters who spend a lot of time looking through their optic. Long eye relief also makes it easy to quickly get a sight picture and acquire targets.

    Vortex Optics constructed the Viper from a single piece of machined aluminum for excellent durability and waterproofing. Vortex also uses proprietary lens coating and purging techniques which buyers say provide excellent performance in bad weather.

    This one is primarily designed for long-range shooting from a stable position. Hunters and competition shooters looking to reach out to exceptionally long ranges might find this to be the top choice under $1000. However, the viper is a bit heavy and not designed for fast moving tactical situations.


    This one is probably a bit excessive for all but the most boutique AR 15 rifles, and even then the scope may outrange the capabilities of the .223/5.56mm round. However, the Nightforce Optics 5.5-22×56 NXS is certainly the cream of the crop when it comes to shooting as far as possible.

    The NXS employs a fairly versatile 5.5-22x magnification range which means great capabilities at extremely long ranges, without too much downside in short range situations. Given the price and features of this model, long range enthusiasts and competition shooters will be happy with the capabilities of the Nightforce, and any other hunter or competition shooter will find that they can see everything they need to (and more) with this optic.

    Nightforce offers a ton of reticle options for the NXS, and they’re all glass etched, which is to be expected from a model of this caliber. The MOAR reticle is the most popular and tends to be the standard buying option. The MOAR reticle features extremely precise range and windage hash marks and will perform in even the most complex long-range shooting contexts.

    The reticle is also illuminated for good nighttime and low light visibility, and the objective lens is a massive 56mm. The NXS collects a lot of light, and the image is incredibly clear at maximum magnification in minimum light.

    Eye relief on the Nightforce is 3.9 inches, which makes it just as comfortable as any , and is long enough to accommodate most telescoping AR 15 stocks. Additionally, the length of the eye relief is enough that getting a good sight picture and acquiring targets is easy.

    At this price point, fog proofing and waterproofing are a given, and Nightforce is known for high-quality construction that will last for many years of rugged use in wet climates and bad weather.

    As a short-range tactical optic, this is not your finest option. Additionally, the NXS has a LOT of adjustments and is probably not suitable for beginners.

    The NXS is rated out to 2000 yards, which makes it one of the highest extreme long range rifle scopes, period. 2000 yards is also far beyond the capabilities of an AR 15, so this optic is a possible one-size-fits-all option if you’re looking for a high-end optic for your AR 15 and your bolt guns.


    8. X-Sight II HD

    ATN X-Sight II HD 5-20 Smart Day/Night

    Complete Utility AR-15 Scope

    There are a lot of tools involved in hunting and long-range shooting, and the X-Sight II HD 5-20X packages them all into a single piece of equipment. As an all-in-one solution for hunters, this is possibly the ultimate setup.

    The magnification on the X-Sight goes from 5x to 20x, which is perfect for most hunting applications. Additionally, the image is electronically generated in HD, so there’s no real distortion at high magnifications, which means excellent long range performance.

    Additionally, the X-Sight is fully night vision capable, and the reticle is overlaid on the HD image. This means that the X-Sight is not only capable in low light conditions, but it’s also good in no light as well. Those who need a quality optic for night vision will be happy with the X-Sight.

    With an electronic sight, comfort distance isn’t a huge deal. The X-Sight features an eye cup to minimize light that escapes the eyepiece to avoid compromising your concealment.

    The electronics in the X-Sight are extensive, which means this probably isn’t the perfect option for using in the pouring rain. However, the X-Sight does make use of all that circuitry with functionality like an automatic rangefinder, ballistic calculator, and video recording and photo capabilities.

    This unit will be overkill for many hunters. However, hunters who are night hunting and tactical professional who need nighttime observation optics will find that this scope provides a lot of functionality that’s needed for their context.


    The Trijicon ACOG is technically not a scope. ACOG stands for Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, so the ACOG is actually a sight. However, the ACOG has been the apex of magnified tactical optics for quite a while and has been a staple of Marine rifle squads for more than a decade.

    The magnification of the ACOG is set at 4x for simplicity and consistency. For hunting, tactical and competition shooting, the ACOG stands out as one of the most versatile optics. The magnification is adequate for shots out to 500 yards, while still being usable in CQB situations.

    The reticle is a self-illuminated chevron, with hash marks for various ranges. The reticle is illuminated by fiberoptic daylight collection during daytime shooting, and with a tritium insert in low light conditions, which means always-on illumination. However, the illumination does not overpower the sight picture in low light and is bright enough to see in daylight for excellent all-conditions performance.

    Each vertical hash mark functions as an overhold mark. The overhold distances a determined by the range the sight is zeroed at. The ACOG is designed for fast shooting at any range, so there is no need to adjust the unit for different ranges once it is zeroed.

    The eye distance on the ACOG is fairly long and makes it easy to quickly get a sight picture and acquire targets, even when shooting from the ready or on the move.

    The durability of Trijicon optics has never been an issue, even in harsh combat conditions. Additionally, the tritium reticle illumination is guaranteed for seven years.

    The ACOG is not an optic designed for long range precision shooting. However, for shooting at man-sized targets out to 500 or 600 yards, it’s an excellent optic. Additionally, the ACOG is usable in CQB situations using both eyes open shooting technique. For shooters looking to compete in three gun competitions or need a flexible optic for tactical employment, the ACOG is arguably the most outstanding tactical rifle scope on the market.

    So, What's The Best Scope for Your AR-15?


    Although some shooters will be at one end of the spectrum or the other, most AR 15 owners will find an optic that fits their needs within $200 price range. At this price point, there are models with the features that shine in every context.

    Competitive long-range shooters may need to search above this price range in order to get the sort of clarity at high magnifications that high precision shooters require. However, many competitive shooters won’t need to go much beyond the $300 price point.

    Tactical shooters who need rapid fire and close quarters performance would be better served with electronic or iron sights. Tactical shooters who want versatile magnification should save up for the ACOG.

    Nikon 6729 Prostaff AR 15 Scope

    While there are a lot of great models out there, the Nikon 6729 Prostaff is the best all-around rifle scope, that will serve the widest range of shooters. The Prostaff is simple enough for beginners, yet capable enough for expert shooters looking to test the capabilities of their rifle.

    Nikon’s included ballistic software is also a huge plus for any shooter looking to get the most out of their AR 15 setup. Lastly, there are several packages that include mounting hardware with the Nikon to add even more value.

    So whether you’re a seasoned competitor or hunter, or just getting into the AR 15 game, you can’t go wrong having a Nikon Prostaff in your collection.

    If you are interested in our selection of the best rifle scopes, check out our page. We know you'll love it.