While there are a ton of super capable optics out there that you could use to easily shoot out to 700 or even 1000 yards, the capabilities of an optic don’t tell the entire story when it comes to specific applications, like hunting.
Hunting does require a certain level of performance from an optic. However, getting a hit at maximum distance isn’t the primary goal. If you spot an animal that’s a mere twenty yards away, that’s also an ideal shot, since the kill will be easy to get to once you’ve taken it down.
If you’re in a hurry:
just head over and pick up the Nikon Monarch 3 BDC. It’s the best overall scope in this article.
Nikon Monarch 3 BDC
So what qualities make for the best hunting scope? Here’s a quick rundown:
Your hunting gear is going to get beat up more than most range gear. When you’re tromping around in the woods with your rifle and climbing in and out of hiding positions, durability becomes a much bigger issue.
- Moderate magnification.
It might sound counterintuitive, but this goes back to the fact that making the longest shot possible isn’t the goal of hunting. Actually, making a 1000 yard shot might be a bit of a bummer when you have to walk that far to get to your game and then haul it back.
A more versatile magnification range like, 3-9x or so, is better for hunting, since it enables short range shooting and is powerful enough for shots out to about 700 yards, which is plenty for a hunting rifle.
- Lens quality.
When you’re shooting in the great outdoors, you have no real control over the weather and the atmospheric conditions. Since the air might not be as clear as you’d like, it’s important that you’ve got the clearest glass possible, so you can see well when the conditions are less than ideal.
- Low light performance.
A lot of hunting is done at dawn or dusk, so it’s imperative that your scope has some low light capabilities. Usually, a wide objective lens will be enough, however, for those who need to shoot in exceptionally dark environments, an illuminated reticle is also a good idea. Low light performance also helps in low contrast environments like scrubland and sage.
- Reticle utility.
An over complicated reticle isn’t necessary for hunting, but it’s best if your reticle has some utility for range and windage estimation. A useful reticle that doesn’t clutter your field of view will help you make faster adjustments, so you can take the shot before the animal moves on. A reticle with hash marks can be used for overholds, so you don’t have to make any adjustments in some situations.
Based on these criteria, these are the best hunting scopes of 2018, from most expensive to least expensive:
Top Products on the Market
Reviews: The Best Hunting Scopes of 2018
Best hunting scope under $1000: Vortex Optics Viper PST Gen II 2-10x32
Vortex makes an optic for every purpose. Any one of their scopes would do as a hunting scope, however, the Vortex Optics Viper PST Gen II 2-10x32 easily meets all the requirements for a hunting scope.
First up: durability. Vortex Optics has built a reputation for manufacturing incredibly rugged gear. The Viper PST is waterproof, fogproof, and shockproof. Vortex uses dry argon gas in conjunction with o-ring sealing to waterproof and fogproof their scopes. So, not only will the Viper PST perform in bad weather, but it’ll hold up to whatever knocks you hit it with.
The magnification range is excellent for hunting, and actually expands the usable magnification range just a bit. 2-10x is perfectly versatile, and is an improvement over the classic 3-9x range used in many hunting scopes. You’ll be able to make excellent shots at short ranges, while at the same time pushing your maximum range just a tad further.
Vortex Optics uses some proprietary technologies—extra-low dispersion glass and laser alignment—to ensure that their lenses present the clearest image possible. Additionally, the Viper PST features full multi-coating to increase light transmission, and ArmorTek coating to improve scratch resistance.
To go one step further, Vortex Optics fitted the Viper PST with a 32mm objective lens, which collects plenty of light for low light shooting, and couples well with the high quality glass for shooting in low contrast environments.
The reticle is functional, but uncluttered. The Viper PST features Vortex Optics’ mildot reticle, which offers intuitive and detailed hold points for range estimation or adjustment free shooting. Additionally, the reticle is illuminated and offers ten intensity levels so you don’t have to worry about your reticle overpowering your image.
If you do need to make adjustments, the Viper PST comes with laser etched turrets and fiber optic rotation indicators. This makes it easy to read your dials and keep track of your turret position, even when it’s a bit too dark to see clearly.
Lastly, the Viper PST is a first focal plane scope, so the reticle hash marks retain their proportions at all magnifications, so you don’t have to worry about any extra calculations when you shoot at different powers.
Although the price point might be a tad high, the Viper PST will easily meet the demands of any hunter, and could even double as a competition scope for casual competitors. .308 shooters will find this to be the best hunting scope for .308 shooting because of the improved magnification range and high quality lenses.
Best hunting scope under $500: Nikon Monarch 3 BDC
Nikon has a solid reputation for outstanding lens quality. The Nikon Monarch 3 BDC lives up to the Nikon reputation for image quality, while also delivering the sort of durability you need for roaming the woods.
The Monarch 3 is built to Nikon’s exacting standards, and is waterproof and fogproof, so your scope will be clear in any conditions. Additionally, the Monarch 3 is shockproof, so it will hold its zero while you bang around looking for game.
The standard Monarch 3 model uses 4-16x magnification, which is on the higher end for hunting scopes. Hunters who use larger, high-performance rounds, will find the Monarch 3 enables them to get the most from their ammunition.
The lenses are definitely the prime selling point of the Monarch 3. Nikon says the lenses, combined with the proprietary Ultra ClearCoat Optical System, transmit 95% of collected light to the shooter’s eye, which is impressive.
Between the high light transmission and generous 42mm objective lens, the Monarch 3 delivers exceptional low light performance, and excellent image sharpness at all magnifications. This means that low contrast environments and target acquisition will be no problem with the Monarch 3.
Nikon’s BDC reticle is one of the simplest, but most intuitive reticle patterns. The duplex crosshairs are supported by four different aiming points just below the cross, so you can easily make shots at various ranges without making adjustments.
For making adjustments, the Monarch 3 utilizes spring-loaded instant zero-reset turrets, and all the reference numbers are viewable from the shooter’s position, so you don’t need to shift around so much to get your scope dialed in.
To support the whole package, Nikon includes their proprietary software, Spot On Ballistic Match Technology, so you can calculate the zero for any round you use. This means the Monarch 3 can easily be used on multiple rifles, with minimal zeroing time.
The Monarch 3 is an exceptionally capable scope in this price range, and offers great versatility because of the Spot On Ballistic Match software. Hunters who favor a larger caliber will find that this is likely the best scope for 30-06.
Best hunting scope under $300: Nikon Prostaff 5 BDC
Nikon scopes come up in a variety of price ranges and for multiple shooting contexts, because Nikon produces a very versatile line up of optics. The Nikon Prostaff 5 BDC is just a step down from the Monarch 3 in terms of price but is just as capable and high quality.
Nikon didn’t compromise on the durability just because the price is lower. The Prostaff 5 is waterproof, fogproof, and shockproof—all the durability you need for your time in the woods and shooting in bad weather.
For hunting, the magnification is pretty dialed. The Prostaff 5 goes from 3.5x to 14x, which is low enough that you won’t have issues at short range. On the other end, the magnification is high enough that you’ll be able to make more accurate shots at normal hunting ranges, and maybe even make a kill that you couldn’t have reached with a standard 9x scope.
The Prostaff 5 features fully multi-coated lenses, which are of the standard Nikon quality. Nikon states that the light transmission of the Prostaff 5 is just as high as the higher-priced Monarch 3.
Nikon fitted the Prostaff 5 with a nice 40mm objective lens, which pairs perfectly with the high light transmission. The Prostaff 5 will perform well for shooters who need a scope that offers a crisp image in bad light or low contrast environments.
The reticle is Nikon’s BDC reticle, which makes it easy to make shots at various ranges without making adjustments. Unfortunately, the reticle isn’t illuminated. However, the reticle is etched, so it will appear crisp in almost all light conditions.
Additionally, the Prostaff 5 comes with a quick focus eyepiece, so you can bring the reticle into focus quickly when you shoulder your rifle.
Just like the Monarch 3, the Prostaff 5 comes with Nikon’s Spot On Ballistic Match Software, which makes this scope exceptionally versatile, and totally viable for use on multiple rifles.
The Prostaff 5 is probably the best hunting scope for the money, and will definitely meet the needs of any hunter.
Best hunting scope under $200: Leupold VX-1 3-9x40 Compact
Leupold has been a household name in hunting optics for decades. Over the years they’ve gotten very good at delivering high quality optics at affordable price points. The Leupold VX-1 3-9x40 is an excellent example of Leupold’s value.
The VX-1 is built with Leupold’s military-grade durability, and features Leupold’s proprietary nitrogen purging, which provides excellent fogproofing. Additionally, the VX-1 is waterproof and shockproof, so you won’t have any issues with it in the woods.
Leupold sticks to the classic magnification range for hunting, 3-9x, which means the VX-1 is ideal for the vast majority of popular hunting rounds. Hunters will find that they’re easily able to make shots at most common hunting ranges without issues. Additionally, this all-purpose magnification range makes the VX-1 the best hunting scope for 450 Bushmaster in this article.
Leupold’s lens quality has always been stellar, and the VX-1 delivers excellent image clarity through exceptionally clear glass. Leupold’s proprietary lens coating, Multicoat 4, also transmits maximum light to the shooters eye.
The VX-1 is equipped with a 40mm lens, so there’s always enough light to take advantage of the glass and lens coatings. Even in low light conditions, the VX-1 provides edge-to-edge image clarity, and makes spotting game in low contrast environments much easier.
The reticle is a standard Leupold duplex, which doesn’t offer a lot of overhold utility, since it’s essentially a simple crosshair. However, the reticle presents no clutter in the field of view, so target acquisition is quick and easy.
The VX-1 also has exceptionally long, 4.2-inch eye relief, which is excellent for bringing the reticle into focus quickly, and shooters with glasses.
Overall, the Leupold will appeal most to hunters who prefer a more classic design and specs, and those who want a high quality scope at an affordable price point.
Best budget hunting scope: Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn Multi-X Reticle
Bushnell has been a major staple in the budget optics market for a long time, and they deliver impressive optical quality at budget price points. The Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn Multi-X Reticle is an excellent buy in the lower price ranges that performs very well.
Bushnell optics are known for being rugged. So much so that they’re occasionally not very good looking. The Banner isn’t bad looking, and is 100% waterproof, fogproof, and won’t lose its zero when you toss it around in your truck or drop it while you’re out rumbling around.
Bushnell is a reputable glass manufacturer, and their lenses are always exceptionally clear. The Banner is specifically designed to deliver high definition images in low light. The lenses are indexed and aligned for maximum light transmission, so you’ll be able to spot game and make shots in failing light.
The Banner delivers classic magnification, ranging from 3x to 9x, so you can shoot at any hunting distance without any fuss, with any hunting round.
To bump up the performance of the glass and magnification, the Banner features a 40mm objective lens, which collects plenty of light for taking shots at dawn and dusk (as the name implies). Additionally, the lenses are coated with Bushnell’s proprietary Dawn and Dusk Brightness (DDB) multi coating. The multi coating improves color and contrast in bad light, so you can pick out animals more easily.
The reticle is Bushnell’s Multi-X reticle, which is essentially a duplex reticle. The Multi-X reticle isn’t quite as useful for range and windage estimation as a mildot reticle, but is very minimal and presents no clutter in the field of view.
The Banner also has a fast-focus eyepiece, so you can easily bring the reticle into focus when you shoulder the rifle, for those hunters who like to move around more than wait.
In the end, the banner is one of the best value scopes on the market, and any hunter will find that purchasing this scope is money well spent, even if it’s just a backup.
For the majority of hunting situations, a 3-9x power scope will do for most hunters. Hunters who hunt larger game, or hunt with a larger caliber round may want to bump up to 12x to 14x on the upper end.
Additionally, a mildot reticle, or any reticle with a few hash marks for windage and elevation is the best for making accurate shots without making frequent adjustments, and the vast majority of hunters will be happy with this reticle.
To get the best value, while meeting these specs, a scope between $300 and $500 will be ideal for most. To help plan your budget, it’s a good idea to spend about half as much on your scope as you did on your rifle. Following this guideline, most of the time you’ll get a very capable optic that does everything you need, without breaking the bank.
The Nikon Prostaff 5 BDC is the best overall scope that works for most hunting contexts and price ranges.
The Nikon Monarch 3 BDC is the best value scope covered in this article. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s the most bang for your buck.
The Leupold VX-1 3-9x40 is the best scope for hunters on a budget. You won’t spend much, and you’ll get a great scope that will do just about everything you need.
All you’ve got to do now is get out there and bag yourself some game!