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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 best for your shooting context.
Some types of shooting are well suited to high-magnification optics (scopes), while zero-magnification optics or iron sights are best 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 scope, how to choose the right scope for your needs, and which scopes will work best for you and your budget.
Do I Need a Scope for my AR-15?
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 best.
Red dots and holographic sights vs scopes
The simple difference between red dots and holographic sights and scopes is the reticle.
The vast majority of red dots and holographic sights are unmagnified. Additionally, the reticle is usually entirely generated with LED systems or lasers. It’s projected in your field of view.
Conversely, scopes are usually magnified. And the reticle is often etched into one of the lenses.
So red dots and holographic sights are excellent for fast, short range shooting because it’s super easy to pick up your reticle and get your sight picture extremely fast when you present your rifle from the ready.
Scopes, on the other hand, are better for medium and long-range shooting where you need magnification to see your target clearly and get the shot placement you need.
Moving on with other reasons you might need a scope for your AR-15.
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 scope would be best, since this is medium range shooting at fast moving targets that change direction quickly.
Extreme long range shooters need a high-quality, magnified optic to be successful in this area. A majority of extreme 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 scope.
Top AR 15 Scopes on the Market Today
Our Best Choice
Nikon P-TACTICAL Riflescope .223 3-9X40
- Has a large 40mm objective lens
- Waterproof, shockproof, and nitrogen purged for solid performance in all conditions.
- Eye relief at 3.6 inches
The Best AR 15 Scopes: Zooming In
1. UTG 3-9×32 BugBuster Scope
UTG has developed a reputation for delivering high quality optics at wholesale prices. The UTG 3-9×32 BugBuster Scope is no exception.
Magnification and parallax
For a price point scope, the BugBuster has a respectable range of magnification, going from 3x to 9x. This makes the UTG a rather flexible optic. Additionally, the parallax is adjustable from 3 yards to infinity. The parallax adjustability is excellent. And most scopes in this price range don’t even have adjustable parallax.
Competition shooters and hunters who need equal performance at medium and long ranges on a variety of target sizes will get good use from this scope’s magnification range and adjustable parallax.
This model 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. The illumination 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 high-precision targets.
The eye relief 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 it also offers some tactical capability. This isn’t the best optic for tactical shooting. However, the long eye relief makes it easier to quickly get a sight picture. So it’s possible to use the BugBuster for rapid, short range shots in tight situations.
Although this scope 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. Overall, this scope is a capable performer in most shooting contexts. It has a good combination of quality and versatility that make it an excellent choice for most shooters looking for the best scope under $100.
2. UTG 4-16×44 30mm Scope
UTG nails another value price point with the UTG 4-16X44 30mm Scope. The 4-16×44 actually retails for just over $150, but is widely available on Amazon for less.
Magnification and parallax
The 4-16×44 has a wide and usable range of magnification that will suit most shooting contexts. Even at high magnification, this scope 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.
Also, the parallax is adjustable from 10 yards to infinity, which helps keep your reticle stable from your point of view, even if you’re fidgety.
This scope 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 there’s also color selection with 36 possible reticle colors. So this scope is ideal for shooting in varied conditions and environments.
The utility and varied reticle visibility make this the best illuminated reticle scope for an AR 15. It’s 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 the best in class for image clarity and light transmission. Multi-coated glass and an extra wide, 44mm objective lens give the 4-16×44 outstanding light gathering capability and low light performance. Additionally, this model features a proprietary illumination enhancement system 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 optic 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 this model is a great scope for shooting at any time of day, in any weather conditions.
The eye relief on this Leapers scope is stated to be 3.2 inches. This eye relief is good for fixed position shooting. And it’s long enough to enable quick target acquisition. However, the eye relief distance is a bit too short for good performance in tactical applications. Also, this is not a compact scope, further detracting from its viability as a tactical optic.
This model offers 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, light conditions, and environments.
3. Bushnell AR Optics Drop Zone Reticle Riflescope
Best 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 AR Optics Drop Zone Reticle Riflescope really bolsters Bushnell’s reputation.
1-4x magnification might seem a bit low. However, 1-4x magnification 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, the magnification gives this scope excellent tactical performance, since the magnification is low enough for fast close quarters shooting.
This model is also equipped with Bushnell’s Drop Zone reticle to enhance the capabilities at all ranges. The reticle offers holdover dots that are specifically calibrated for 5.56mm and .223 rounds. The hold over dots go all the way out to 500 yards. So the reticle enables you to quickly transition between distances without adjusting your scope, and hit CQB shots without zeroing your scope for CQB.
The objective lens is 24mm. The lens collects plenty of light to get a clear image at max magnification. This isn’t exactly a night shooting scope. But it performs well enough in dusky light and shaded environments. However, there’s no reticle illumination. So, it may be a bit under equipped for shooting in complete darkness.
This Bushnell scope is IPX-7 sealed for weather resistance. Unfortunately, some buyers have reported quality control issues, which include occasional condensation inside the scope. However, Bushnell honors their warranty. And, the defects are rare. This model may not be perfect for everyone. But, it’s an excellent optic for shooters who want long range capabilities, without sacrificing short range and CQB viability.
4. Nikon P-TACTICAL Riflescope .223 3-9X40
Best AR 15 Scope Under $200
Nikon is one of the most well known brands in the optics industry, and their lens clarity and build quality is second to none.
What makes the Nikon P-TACTICAL Riflescope .223 3-9X40 one of the best AR 15 scopes 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 ideal 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 almost every range and target size.
This optic utilizes a BDC 600 reticle (the same reticle the old P-223 used) 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 it uses open circle aiming points for quicker target acquisition and precision at various ranges.
The reticle has no internal illumination. But it’s etched to maintain the reticle clarity even in low light conditions.
Although there’s no reticle illumination, this scope has a large 40mm objective 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 conditions. Even without illumination, this scope still performs admirably in the low contrast light of dawn and dusk.
Nikon set the eye relief at 3.6 inches, which kind of the sweet spot for fixed position shooting with minimal eye fatigue when you use your scope for scanning and locating game. But, even though the Nikon has a fairly low minimum magnification, it’s still not quite perfect for short range tactical shooting. Usable, but not perfect.
In terms of durability, Nikon’s reputation speaks for itself. This model is waterproof, shockproof, and nitrogen purged for solid performance in all conditions. The build quality 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, this scope stands atop the heap for hunters and competition AR 15 shooters looking to shoot out to 600 yards.
5. Leupold VX-3i 3.5-10x40mm Rifle Scope
Hunting and Competition Scope 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 is second to none. And, the Leupold VX-3i 3.5-10x40mm Rifle Scope is no exception.
This scope sports a 3.5-10x magnification range, which covers the most common hunting distances. And, the magnification range is a bit wider than a typical whitetail scope. So, it gives competition shooters a tad more capability to maximize the long and medium range capabilities of their rifle.
One great thing about this model 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 is excellent for precision shots at medium and long ranges. However, it’s a bit too simple for quickly switching between distances and using holdovers. This makes the Leupold better suited to competition shooters and hunters who shoot from a fixed position and are able to make range calculations.
Unfortunately, the reticle offers 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 light conditions. So this is a perfectly viable option for hunting at dusk or dawn. Additionally, this scope offers adjustable eye relief from 3.6 to 4.4 inches. This is ideal for AR 15 owners who have an adjustable stock. The eye relief offers a wide adjustment range. And it’s long enough to eliminate eye strain and fatigue even at the lowest setting.
This scope is equipped with diamond coating on the lenses and industry leading waterproofing. The diamond coating prevents scratching. And the scope is purged with a mixture of argon and krypton for outstanding anti-fogging properties. So this scope will hold up to all sorts of abuse. And the lens coatings ensure that it performs in any weather conditions.
This scope may not be ideal for short range tactical shooters, despite the long eye relief. But, this model is ideal for hunters and competition shooters who want consistent long-range precision.
6. Vortex Optics Viper HS LR 6-24×50 FFP Riflescope
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 Riflescope would fall into the high end category.
The wide range of magnification makes this the best variable magnification AR 15 scope for the money on this list. This model delivers the wide 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.
Now, this scope doesn’t offer any reticle options. But the standard Dead-Hold BDC reticle is quite capable. It offers hash marks for windage and bullet drop estimation. Additionally, this optic is a first focal plane scope. So the reticle scales as you change the magnification, providing easy precision at all ranges and magnifications.
There’s reticle illumination for low-light shooting, which couples nicely with the huge 50mm objective lens. The wide lens collects a lot of light. And that 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 scopes is top notch. So this scope is great for hunters and competition shooters looking to shoot at long ranges in bad light.
The eye relief is a comfortable 4 inches, which is ideal for competition shooters and hunters who spend a lot of time looking through their scope. Long eye relief also makes it easy to quickly get a sight picture and acquire targets for fast, tactical shooting.
Vortex Optics constructed this model 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 scope 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 best AR 15 scope under $1000. However, the viper is a bit heavy and not designed for fast moving tactical situations.
7. Nikon PROSTAFF P3 4-12×40 Riflescope
Best Value AR 15 Scope
Nikon may not be known for producing crazy fancy or expensive scopes. But they do build great value optics. The Nikon PROSTAFF P3 4-12×40 Riflescope follows this trend and is probably one of the best all around AR 15 scopes in this price range.
The thing that gives this scope a bit of an edge over the other scopes at this price is the top end of the magnification. 4-12x power pushes the capabilities of your rifle to the max, while retaining good short range performance. 4x might be a tad much for short-range, tactical shooting. But this is still a solid optic for shooters who want a bit more long range viability without sacrificing too much on the short range side.
The BDC reticle is intuitive, with aiming circles at various holdover ranges for quick shots at multiple distances. It’s very handy for anyone who often shoots at multiple different distances and doesn’t want to make elevation adjustments to transition between different ranges.
The reticle doesn’t have any powered illumination. But this scope has a 40mm objective lens and a fully multi-coated optical system that transmits up to 98% of collected light to the shooter’s eye. This model delivers excellent image clarity at high magnification and in low light conditions for those looking to shoot while the sun is down.
The eye relief is 3.7 inches for easy focusing with minimal eye fatigue. This means easy sight picture and target acquisition. Those who spend a lot of time behind their scope will be glad the eye relief is so easy on the eyes. However, the eye relief is a tad short for quick shots from the ready. You can still pick up your reticle. But a slightly longer eye relief would help ensure that you get the reticle in front of your eye when you raise your rifle.
Nikon used nitrogen purging and completely sealed the scope body to make this scope fog proof and waterproof. Hunters and competition shooters who are willing to get out in the rain won’t have a problem with their optics if they use this scope. This scope also comes with Nikon’s Spot On ballistic software. So you can mathematically calculate the exact aiming points for your particular ammunition. This is especially useful for competition shooters and hunters who use expensive ammunition and want to get the most out of each round.
There are better scopes for short range tactical shooting. But this model offers a complete package for a really reasonable price. One last reason this scope is the best AR 15 scope for the money: the Spot On software makes it really easy to swap this scope between rifles, if you need a one-size-fits-all optic.
8. Nightforce Optics 5.5-22×56 NXS Riflescope
Best Long Range AR-15 Scope
This scope 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 Riflescope is certainly the cream of the crop when it comes to shooting as far as possible.
This model employs a fairly versatile 5.5-22x magnification range which means amazing capabilities at extremely long ranges. But there’s not TOO MUCH downside in short range situations. It’s still not a short-range tactical scope, though. That’s not the primary focus of this optic.
But given the price and features of this scope, 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. And they’re all glass etched, which is to be expected from a scope 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. So you can use this scope literally any time.
The objective lens is a massive 56mm. This model collects a lot of light. And Nightforce Optics produces some of the clearest glass on the planet. The image is incredibly clear at maximum magnification in minimum light.
Eye relief on this scope is 3.9 inches, which makes it at least as comfortable as any other scope. And the eye relief is long enough to accomodate 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 best option. Additionally, this scope has a LOT of adjustments, and is probably not suitable for beginners.
But this Nightforce Optics model is rated out to 2000 yards, which makes it one of the best extreme long range rifle scopes, period. 2000 yards is also far beyond the capabilities of an AR 15. So this scope 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.
9. X-Sight II HD 5-20X
The magnification on this scope 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, this optic 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, it’s good in no light as well. Those who need a quality scope for night vision will be happy with the X-Sight.
There are a few reticle options: multiple colors and reticle patterns. But the standard cross reticle works well for most shooting.
With an electronic sight, eye relief isn’t a huge deal. This optic features an eye cup to minimize light that escapes the eyepiece to avoid compromising your concealment.
The electronics in this ATN scope are extensive, which means this probably isn’t the best scope 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 scope will be overkill for many hunters. However, night hunters and tactical professionals who need nighttime observation optics will find that this scope provides a lot of functionality that’s needed for their context.
10. Trijicon ACOG
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 it’s been a staple of Marine rifle squads for more than a decade.
The magnification of the ACOG is set at 4x power 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 fiber optic light collection during daytime shooting. The reticle is illuminated 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 it’s bright enough to see in daylight for excellent all-conditions performance. Each vertical hash mark functions as an overhold mark. The overhold distances are determined by the range the sight is zeroed at.
But this sight is designed for fast shooting at any range. So there’s no need to adjust the scope for different ranges once it is zeroed.
The eye relief on this optic is fairly long. And there’s a decent eye relief range. So the sight picture stays even if you shift slightly closer or further from the scope. It’s 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 extreme long range precision shooting.
However, it’s an excellent option for shooting at man-sized targets out to 500 or 600 yards. Additionally, this optic is usable in CQB situations using a both eyes open shooting technique.
Overall, for shooters looking to compete in three gun competitions or need a flexible optic for tactical employment, this is arguably the best tactical rifle scope on the market.
11. Burris Scout 2.75x20mm Heavy Plex Reticle Riflescope
Short Range AR-15 Scope
The Burris Scout 2.75x20mm Heavy Plex Reticle Riflescope that’s ideal for enhancing your precision at short and medium ranges. It’s a high quality scope with a low-profile body that enables you to minimize the mechanical offset of your optic.
Mounting your scope in a low profile mount reduces the height over bore. So you need less overhold for short range shooting, which helps simplify the process of using your scope at all shooting distances.
The magnification on this scope is fixed at 2.75x. It’s a solid all-purpose magnification level. You get enough magnification for excellent precision at 100 to 400 yards. But the magnification is low enough that you can still use this scope for fast, short range shooting, as well.
And you can take advantage of the low-profile mounting capability of this scope to make it even easier to transition from long to short-range shooting.
This scope is equipped with a heavy plex reticle, which is basically just a duplex reticle. It’s simple. But it’s nice, because it gives you an uncluttered sight picture.
The “heavy plex” just means that the reticle lines are a tad thicker than a standard duplex reticle. The heavier lines make it easier to pick up your reticle quickly for fast shots from the ready. And it makes it easier to track your reticle and get a proper sight picture in precision shooting.
There’s no reticle illumination, though. But the reticle is etched to make it clearer and crisper in all lighting conditions.
This model is equipped with index-matched lenses, with Burris’s Hi-Lume multi-coating to maximize light transmission and improve low-light performance. The glass clarity and multi-coatings actually work quite well, and help maximize your shooting capabilities in low-light conditions, even without an illuminated reticle.
The eye relief on this scope is non-adjustable. But this model offers a remarkably wide eye relief range, from 8.5 to 14 inches. The eye relief is actually so long that you may need to mount this scope on a top rated scope mount near the front of your upper receiver.
But, the exceptionally long eye relief makes it super easy to pick up your reticle as you present your rifle for both-eyes-open shooting, regardless of your shooting technique or where you mount your scope. It’s excellent for hunting fast-moving animals and tactical shooting.
This Burris Optics scope is plenty durable for ordinary hunting and even tactical use. However, this scope is designed for small caliber rifles. It may not be a good idea to mount it on a rifle that shoots a magnum rifle round. But the low magnification isn’t ideal for a magnum rifle round anyway. And this scope is easily tough enough for shooting 5.56mm or .223.
Overall, this scope has the vital features that you need for most things you’d do with an AR-15. It’s a super cost efficient option for anyone who wants a simple optic that will do almost everything they need.
12. Atibal X 1-10×30 Rifle Scope AT-X
Variable Power AR-15 Scope
The Atibal X 1-10×30 Rifle Scope AT-X offers a wide magnification range that covers the most useful magnification powers for AR-15 shooting. This scope offers all the magnification you’d need to shoot out to the effective limits of your AR-15.
This scope offers an impressively wide magnification range. It goes from 1x to 10x. The magnification range is just right for an AR-15. At 1x, this scope is perfect for short range tactical shooting.
And, at 10x, you could easily hit targets at 500 yards or even a bit further. That’s about the maximum effective range of any AR-15. So this scope gives you all the capability you need to shoot as far as possible with your rifle.
The reticle is impressively capable at all ranges. It has elevation and windage hash marks, spaced in milliradians. And there are range indication markings on the vertical post. The hash marks are not illuminated. There are four illuminated bars that form a diamond around the center aiming point. At 1x, the illuminated bars form a perfect aiming box for short range tactical shooting.
And the illuminated bars get bright enough for most light conditions. But they can get overpowered a bit in super bright daylight. At 10x, the hash marks and range markings are much more pronounced, which makes the reticle much more usable for range and windage estimation.
The only downside is that this is a second focal plane scope. So the reticle has different proportions at different magnifications. But you’ll have no problem using the reticle at maximum magnification.
The glass clarity and multi coating on this scope are good. But not amazing. The light transmission is 85%, which is pretty strong. However, there are manufacturers that build scopes which transmit more light.
The glass is clear enough that there’s no haziness or color distortion up to about 8x. At maximum magnification, though, the image gets just a bit hazy. But it’s still totally usable at 10x, even for hunting in low contrast environments.
The eye relief goes from 3.6 inches to 5.5 inches. It’s a good eye relief range for an AR-15, since it’s long enough for fast sight acquisition in fast, tactical shooting. But it’s short enough that you can mount this scope fairly far back so that it won’t interfere with your handguard rail space. So it offers good versatility for mounting accessories and different types of shooting.
This Atibal scope might not be perfect. But durability isn’t an issue. It holds up perfectly in any typical use, be it tactical or otherwise. As long as you’re not intentionally dropping it on rocks, you won’t have a problem.
Overall, this is an excellent option if you want a first focal plane scope with a wide magnification range.
13. Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope
Red Dot Alternative AR-15 Scope
The Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope is sometimes called the “poor man’s ACOG.” And that’s a fair nickname. This model offers a lot of the benefits of an ACOG. But it’s less than half the price.
The magnification is set at 3x, which is almost the same as an ACOG. It’s just as versatile, with just slightly less long range capability. However, the magnification is low enough that it’s not disruptive in short range tactical shooting. It’s still very easy to acquire your reticle with both eyes open for quick shooting from the ready and target transitions.
The reticle is Vortex’s proprietary EBR-556 reticle, which is kind of an advanced horseshoe reticle. It has the standard horseshoe at the top. Then there are horizontal hash marks that serve as holdover points for long range shooting.
It’s a solid reticle that has a nice, large aiming point for fast, short range shots. And it enables you to make long-range shots quickly, without making elevation adjustments, which is nice if you need to swiftly engage targets at varying distances. Also, the reticle is etched.
So you can see it, even if your illumination is turned all the way down. And there’s illumination that makes it easy to see your reticle in low light conditions.
My only complaint about the reticle is that it’s a bit thin. Even with the illumination turned up, the reticle lines are fairly wiry. Yes, you can see the reticle. And it’s relatively easy to pick up quickly. I’d just like the reticle lines to be a bit thicker.
Vortex Optics makes excellent glass. And this optic seems to have slightly better glass than the Vortex red dot and holographic sights. In the Vortex red dot sights, the image has just a slight green hue. However, this optic seems to maintain true color fidelity, even at long ranges.
Also, it’s a very short scope, with minimal magnification. So the light transmission is excellent. There’s just not as much glass between your target and your eye, which makes for a very clear image in comparison to some higher magnification scopes.
I think the weakest aspect of this prism scope is the eye relief. It’s 2.8 inches, which is surprisingly short. Now, it’s not a huge issue on an AR-15. You can mount the scope a bit further back on your upper receiver or adjust your stock. That way the scope comes up in the right spot when you present your rifle.
But a bit more eye relief would be nice for an optic that’s designed to be viable in both precision and short range shooting.
The durability of Vortex optics has been proven more than a few times. And this optic is just as solidly built as other Vortex optics. And they offer an excellent warranty. If this optic doesn’t hold up, you’ll likely be able to get Vortex to repair or replace it. A couple bonus notes for you:
There are 2 angled picatinny rail mounts, which are perfect for mounting a backup red dot, if you want a backup optic or better short range capabilities.
Lastly, the battery lasts up to 3000 hours, if you stick to low power. Some have complained that this is kind of low. But, with good battery management, 3000 hours is a lot of shooting. This just might not be a great option if you want an always-on optic.
Other than that, this is an excellent alternative for those who want ACOG-like performance, but can’t quite afford the Trijicon price tag.
14. Leupold FX-II 2.5x28mm Fixed Power Scout Riflescope
AR-15 Scope for Coyote Hunting
The Leupold FX-II 2.5x28mm Fixed Power Scout Riflescope is an affordable, high-quality optic with good specs for coyote hunting or picking off other varmints.
As the name suggests, this is a fixed power, 2.5x scope. The magnification range is excellent for short and medium range shooting. And it even makes those long shots a bit easier. Though, it’s not an ideal scope if you’re looking to do super long range precision shooting. However, the magnification is mellow enough that you can use this scope for fast, both-eyes-open shooting, if you need. And, if you’ve got time, a little magnification makes any precision shot easier.
The reticle is a standard Leupold duplex reticle. It’s a simple reticle. But it works well for the intended purpose: fast, short to medium range shooting. And it keeps your sight picture uncluttered, which makes for easier target acquisition and transitions. But the reticle lines are reasonably thick and easy to pick up, even in low contrast environments. However, there’s not a lot of utility on this reticle for range and windage estimation and adjustments.
The glass is Leupold quality glass, which means it’s good. The multi-coating and Leupold’s Twilight Management System extends your shooting window in the morning and evening by about 10 minutes. The light transmission is excellent. And the color fidelity is perfect, even at maximum range.
And, the lens coatings also reduce glare, which makes it much easier to identify targets and get hits in full sunlight.
The eye relief on this scope is exceptionally long. It’s 9.3 inches. It’s a super forgiving relief that enables you to pick up your reticle very quickly when you present your rifle from the ready.
However, you’ll need to mount this scope a bit further forward on your rifle. So you may need to reserve some rail space to accommodate this optic. Even so, the eye relief is handy for hitting fast moving targets and helps reduce eye strain if you need to look through your scope for a long time.
There was a time when Leupold held some military contracts. Not all of those contracts are still active. But Leupold still builds optics that meet military specifications. And this scope is covered by Leupold’s lifetime guarantee.
Bottom line: this scope is more than durable enough for typical AR-15 use. No, I’ve never thrown it on rocks. But I generally trust optics that come with a lifetime warranty, because it’s hard for the manufacturer to stay in business if they have to constantly replace faulty equipment.
Overall, this is an excellent scope for anyone who uses their AR-15 for varmint hunting. And it’s versatile enough that you could mount it on other semi-automatic rifles, like an M1A1 scout.
15. Redfield Revolution 2-7x33mm Riflescope
Low Power Variable AR-15 Scope
The Redfield Revolution 2-7x33mm Riflescope is almost a low power variable optic (LPVO). It’s not quite, because the magnification starts at 2x. It offers very similar capabilities to an LPVO.
The magnification range is ideal for use on an AR-15. This scope goes from 2x to 7x. 2x magnification is low enough that you can use this scope for fast, short-range shooting, with both eyes open. It’s not as good as a reflex sight. But it works.
But 7x is powerful enough for shooting out past 500 yards, which is about as far as a carbine will reach. My only complaint about the magnification range is that it would be just about perfect if it went one step further in either direction. A 1x to 7x would make this scope a great LPVO. And 2x to 8x would make this a really solid long range scope.
But, as it stands, this scope plays the jack-of-all-trades role.
Redfield calls the reticle their 4-plex reticle. But it looks like a standard duplex reticle to me. Not that there’s anything wrong with a standard duplex reticle. It’s nice because it keeps your sight picture uncluttered. There’s not much to distract you.
The lines of the reticle are also reasonably thick. The reticle makes it easy to pick up your reticle when you bring your rifle up from the ready. This scope is also available with an AccuRange Reticle, which is similar to a duplex reticle. But it has an aiming circle for faster short range shooting. And there’s a holdover point for shooting at 500 yards.
The nice thing about the Accu-Range Reticle is that it gives you a good mix of utility and clear field of view. It’s useful, but still simple. My main complaint about the reticle is that this is a second focal plane scope. If you use the 4-Plex reticle, you won’t really notice. But if you use the Accu-Range reticle, the 500 yard holdover mark is only good at maximum magnification.
It’s not a huge issue. But I prefer first focal plane scopes, if there’s a reticle with holdover marks.
The glass quality is surprisingly high for such an affordable scope. The Illuminator Lens System seems to work very well for producing a sharp image with excellent color fidelity. Where this scope shows its price point is in the distortion at the edges of the image. It’s not a deal breaker. But, if you pan around while looking through this scope, you’ll really notice where the image bends at the periphery.
However, you get a crisp, true color image at the center of your field of view, where the aiming point is.
This Redfield scope has a wide eyepiece, which is similar to most LPVOs. So it’s easy to find your reticle quickly when you present your rifle. And the eye relief is decent. I couldn’t find a specific number in the Redfield documentation.
But the eye relief will work just fine on an AR-15, especially when you combine it with the fast focus eyepiece. If you position your scope and adjust your stock correctly, you’ll be able to get your sight picture very fast.
There are complaints to make about this scope. But durability isn’t one of them. This scope is very well built, with all the waterproof, fog proof, and shockproof ratings that you’d expect from a decent scope. And it’s backed by a full lifetime warranty. So Redfield doesn’t expect this scope to break.
Even though it’s not perfect, this is still an excellent scope for the money. And it’s a great option as an alternative to a true LPVO, since those can be a bit pricey.
16. Vortex Crossfire II 2-7×32 Riflescope
Best AR-15 Scope for the money
The Vortex Crossfire II 2-7×32 Riflescope might be the best all-around AR-15 scope you can get for the price. Full stop. Even though it’s affordable, it’s still made by Vortex. And Vortex makes excellent optics.
However, it’s also a very capable scope.
The magnification adjusts from 2x to 7x. This is another scope that’s almost a LPVO.
But 2x to 7x gives you great performance at all distances. 7x is enough for getting hits at 500 yards or more. And you can press this scope into service as a short-range tactical optic, if you need. So you get almost all the performance of an LPVO for less than half the price. It’s a good deal.
The reticle is kind of the star of this show. The Vortex Dead Hold BDC reticle is one of the best on the market. It’s ALMOST a standard duplex reticle. So it’s simple and keeps your sight picture uncluttered.
However, it’s ALMOST a duplex reticle. There are aiming points at the center of the cross which you can use for estimating windage and as holdover marks for shooting at varying distances. The reticle is super useful. But it presents almost no distraction when you’re trying to squeeze off the perfect shot. It’s one of my favorite reticles because it works for any type of shooting.
Unfortunately, the reticle on this scope is non-illuminated. But it’s etched to ensure that your reticle is crisp and easy to see for as long as you’ve got even a sliver of daylight.
For an inexpensive scope, the glass on this optic is remarkably clear. The image is very sharp even at long distances at maximum magnification. However, at very long ranges there’s a slight loss in color fidelity. It’s similar to the subtle green hue of the image when you look through the Vortex Holographic sight.
But the discoloration is minimal. And the lenses are fully multi-coated, which does a nice job of reducing glare and makes it easier to shoot in bright sunlight.
The eye relief goes from 3.9 to 4.7 inches. It’s a nice eye relief range that enables you to mount your scope so that it doesn’t interfere with your forend rail. But the eye relief is still long enough that it’s very easy to find your sight picture and pick up your reticle quickly when you present your rifle from the ready. And the eye relief is more than enough to keep your eyes from getting tired if you need to look through your scope for a long time.
We’ve talked about Vortex durability before. And this scope is backed by the same lifetime warranty as the more expensive Vortex optics. Even if you use this scope for hard, tactical shooting, it will hold up. And, if you have an issue, Vortex’s warranty service is very good. So, if you’re wondering, “What’s the best scope for an AR-15?” This scope might be the answer.
17. Leupold Mark AR Mod 1 4-12×40
AR-15 Scope for Hunting
The Leupold Mark AR Mod 1 4-12×40 is one of the few scopes that Leupold has designed specifically for the AR-15 platform. It’s a versatile scope. But it’s most at home in the hunting environment.
The magnification on this scope is on the high side, for an AR-15. It’s not too high, by any means.
But 4x to 12x magnification lends itself best to precision shooting at medium to long range, which is why this is an excellent hunting scope. 4x is low enough that you can still take relatively quick shots, if you spot an animal that’s fairly close and you need to engage quickly before it spooks.
However, if you’ve got the time for a precision shot, anything from 4x to 12x is going to help you put your bullet right where you need it. Aim small, miss small, right?
This scope is equipped with Leupold’s Mil-Dot Reticle. It’s essentially a duplex reticle with aiming dots. It’s a nice, simple reticle that has plenty of utility for quick shooting using overholds and making windage adjustments.
The reticle keeps your field of view relatively uncluttered and distraction free. But the lines are fairly thick. This is nice because it’s easy to pick up and track your reticle even in low-contrast environments.
However, the reticle makes the field of view feel a bit claustrophobic to me. I think it would be better if the posts weren’t quite so thick near the edges. It’s a nice reticle. And it’s totally usable. But it prioritizes reticle clarity and visibility over keeping the field of view clear.
Also, this is a second focal plane scope, which means that your holdover marks will only be accurate at whichever magnification you zero your rifle at.
This scope uses Leupold’s Multicoat 4 lens coating system. It does a good job of keeping the image bright and clear, even in failing light conditions. The light transmission is excellent. However, the image is wildly bright if you shoot in full sunlight against a lighter background like sand or paper.
It’s nice because the image quality is so high. And the glare reduction is good. But a sunshade wouldn’t hurt this scope.
The eye relief is 4.9 inches, which I find to be about ideal for mounting on an AR-15. The eye relief can push your scope toward the front of your upper receiver, depending on your length of pull. So you may need to reserve a few slots of rail space in front of your upper receiver to mount this scope.
But it’s easy to get your sight picture and find your reticle when you bring your rifle up. And it’s easy to keep your eye behind this scope for a long time without much eye fatigue. The only thing that might make the eye relief better is if the range were a bit wider. You start to lose your sight picture pretty quickly if you move outside the set eye relief. But it’s totally manageable if you have a good, consistent rifle grip.
We’re talking about Leupold durability here. The Multicoat 4 lens coating includes Leupold’s Diamond Coat, which improves scratch resistance to protect your lenses. And this scope is backed by Leupold’s lifetime warranty. Again, I don’t throw scopes on rocks to see if they’ll break. But I trust Leupold’s lifetime warranty, because they’ve been around for a long time. And businesses don’t stay in business by repairing or replacing every scope you sell.
Overall, this scope might be a bit too powerful for dedicated tactical use. But it’s an excellent optic for anyone who uses their AR-15 for hunting or varmint control.
Although some shooters will be at one end of the spectrum or the other, most AR 15 owners will find a scope that fits their needs within the $200 price range. At this price point, there are scopes with the features that shine in almost 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 some sort of reflex sight like a red dot or holographic sight. Tactical shooters who want versatile fixed magnification should save up for the Trijicon ACOG.
If you're looking for other alternative options for optics, iron sight is a great alternative discussed on this in-depth guide.
While there are a lot of great scopes out there, the Nikon P-TACTICAL Riflescope .223 3-9X40 is the best all around rifle scope that will serve the widest range of shooters. The scope is simple enough for beginners, yet capable enough for expert shooters looking to really 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 scope in your collection.
You can also check:
How to choose an AR 15 scope: if you’re still reading, you probably need an AR 15 scope.
Each shooting context has scope characteristics that 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 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 4×32 scope magnifies the image four times more than viewing with the naked eye.
Here’s a good rifle scope magnification comparison:
More magnification might seem better, but there is such a thing as too much magnification. Scopes 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 at small targets at medium or long ranges, look into high magnification scopes, potentially 4x or higher. As a general rule for AR 15 rifle scope magnification, the longer the range and the smaller the target, the higher the magnification should be.
Fortunately, there are many variable power scopes that will give you versatility if you plan to use your AR 15 for shooting at varied ranges.
Getting the right reticle for your shooting context is pretty important. A more complex reticle may have more functionality, but it also obscures the field of view more. The rule of thumb for AR 15 rifle scope reticles is to get the simplest reticle that meets your needs. If you never use the markings on the reticle, then it’s best not to have them.
The duplex reticle is the simplest rifle scope reticle, and features a basic crosshair. This reticle presents the least obstructed field of view, but requires range adjustments and manual windage estimation.
Most hunters that hunt medium to large game at ranges between 50-300 yards can do very well with a duplex reticle.
The BDC reticle is essentially a duplex reticle with range indicators and an aiming circle for each range. Some BDC reticles have range markers for ranges as long as 600 yards. The purpose of the range markers is to make it easier to shoot at various ranges without having to make elevation adjustments to your scope.
A BDC reticle is handy for competition shooters or hunters that need to setup and quickly take shots at varying ranges.
The mil-dot reticle looks a lot like a standard duplex reticle, with hash marks on both the vertical and horizontal lines. These markings are good for taking shots at varying ranges (the same way the range circles on a BDC reticle are used), estimating wind calls, and leading moving targets.
The mil-dot reticle is most popular in tactical settings, but is also excellent for hunters and competition shooters, especially those looking to shoot at extreme long ranges or at moving targets.
Mils (MRAD) vs Minutes (MOA)
The MRAD vs MOA debate is long and storied. For most shooters, though, the difference is less important than many gun experts make it sound.
MRAD and MOA simply refer to the system of measurement that the scope uses for elevation and windage adjustments. Both systems are perfectly capable. However, shooters who are familiar with one or the other should stick with what they know.
Military optics, for example, almost always use MRAD adjustments. Shooters who are familiar with military scopes are probably best using an MRAD scope.
The reasoning for this mostly comes down to familiarization time. It’s going to take a lot longer to get proficient with a scope if you have to unlearn old habits and make new ones as you learn to operate your scope.
If you’re not familiar with either system, don’t worry. Choose a scope that has the magnification, reticle, and durability you need, and familiarize yourself with whatever measurement that scope uses. Then, choose a scope with the same system when you buy your next one.
If you’re concerned about MRAD vs MOA for hunting or competition shooting, both MRAD and MOA adjustments are perfectly capable for almost every type of shooting. The only caveat here is extreme long range shooting.
There are some that disagree with this, but a vast majority of the best extreme long range shooters are using MRAD optics. So, if you’re planning on shooting out past 700 yards, MRAD may be your best option.
The biggest question people have here is, “What is the difference between first and second focal plane scopes?”
Focal plane simply refers to where the image is focused in the scope. In a first focal plane scope, the image is focused closer to the objective lens, and in a second focal plane scope, the image is focused closer to your eye.
The biggest effect of focal plane is how the reticle is affected by the scope magnification. In a first focal plane scope, the reticle scales with the magnification, so the measurements of the range and windage markings are the same at every magnification power.
In a second focal plane scope, the reticle does not change with the magnification power. This means that the range and windage measurements of the reticle will only be accurate at the magnification the scope was zeroed at.
First focal plane scopes are better for shooters who use variable magnification scopes and need adjustment-free accuracy at all magnifications. Second focal plane scopes are fine for shooters who spend most or all of their time shooting at maximum magnification or do not have variable power scopes.
Parallax is one of the most confusing characteristics of rifle scopes. Plenty of shooters never fully understand parallax. Without getting too scientific, parallax is caused by two things:
- The fact that light travels in straight lines.
- The fact that the reticle is closer than the target.
If you look out the window of a moving car, you’ll notice that things which are close to the car appear to be moving faster than things that are far away from the car. This isn’t actually parallax, but parallax causes a similar effect when it comes to optics.
So, what is the parallax on a rifle scope?
If you move your head while looking through your rifle scope, you’ll notice that the crosshair may appear to move around faster than the target moves. This causes the crosshair to shift its position on the target. You’re witnessing parallax in action.
If you want to understand it better, this is a great video that explains the effect.
Most rifle scopes are designed to be parallax free at 100 or 150 yards. For most hunting applications, this works just fine, and there’s no need for any scope parallax adjustment. Competition shooters, and extreme long range shooters may find a parallax adjustment necessary.
However, for most other shooters, good shooting technique will be enough for accurate shots, since the effect of parallax is mostly only noticeable when the shooter moves their eye behind the scope.
Image clarity in low light conditions and at high magnification depends on how much light reaches the shooter’s eye. A wider objective lens enables a scope to collect more light, which does two things:
- Provides a clearer image in low light conditions.
- Gives a clearer image at high magnification.
As such, quality high magnification scopes and the best rifle scopes for low light conditions are fitted with very wide objective lenses. The diameter of the objective lens is expressed as the second number in the specifications. A 4×32 scope has a 32mm objective lense.
Something to consider if you’re looking for a scope with exceptional light collection capabilities is that a very wide objective lens may interfere with the rail system on your forend. If you have bulky handguards or any attachments on your rifle, check to make sure the diameter of the objective lens won’t cause compatibility issues.
Typically, hunters and long range competition shooters are most interested in an extra wide objective lens. Hunters need a large objective lens for better low light performance, and long range competition shooters benefit from the clearer image of a wide objective lens when sighting in at maximum magnification.
The eye relief of a scope is the distance from the ocular lens—the lens closest to your eye—to where your eye should be for the most focused image. Longer eye relief distance means less eye strain and fatigue.
Eye relief distance is of particular importance to shooters who need to look through their scope for long periods of time. If you use your scope to scan for animals when you hunt, or if you plan on using your scope for tactical observation, look for a scope with longer eye relief.
Some scopes have adjustable eye relief, which is quite useful for AR 15 shooters using adjustable stocks.
Maybe this consideration should actually be first. In any case, the old rule, “you get what you pay for,” holds true when it comes to rifle scopes.
However, this doesn’t mean that the most expensive scope is always the best for your situation. The goal is to get a scope that exactly meets your shooting needs, without paying for functionality you won’t use.