Take the Shot! 4 Best AR-15 Scopes for the Money [2017]

 

When it comes to the AR rifles the amount of choices are a little overwhelming.

This is due to two reasons. First, the AR is an extremely versatile weapon that can easily be fitted with a number of scopes. Second, the marketplace is well developed with hundreds of manufacturers competing to produce AR specific products. The result is 10 million different options.

In this post we’re going to cover some of our top picks for AR rifle scopes. These are tried and tested favorites that our staff have used and still own. For more overall AR-15 awesomeness, check out our epic guide on the best AR rifles for the money available today.

One of the things we need to consider while reading this and making purchasing decisions is what situation or environment will the rifle be used in.  You need to pick the best scope for the job.

Couple of examples of what I mean:

  • Shooting in the fog or some wet environment? You’ll need a scope with anti-fog functionality.
  • Looking for long range AR shooting? Then you’ll want a scope specially designed for that.

Just a word of caution for any of you readers out there looking to buy a scope on the cheap. Generally speaking (from my experience) with optics you really get what you pay for.

ProductWhat We LikeScore
Bushnell AR Optics FFP Illuminated BTR-1 BDCBest Quality and Value5/5
TRS-25 Best Riser
4.5/5
Aimpoint Micro H-1Best Red Dot Optic5/5
UTG 3-9X32 Compact CQB BAO RGB ScopeBest Long Distance Optic5/5
Magpul Gen 2 BuisBest AR-15 Back Up Iron Sight5/5

Best AR-15 Scope (Most Bang for Your Buck)

 ProductPriceWhere To Buy
image of Bushnell AR Optics FFP Illuminated BTR-1 BDC
Bushnell AR Optics FFP Illuminated BTR-1 BDC
$$

BUSHNELL AR OPTICS FFP ILLUMINATED BTR-1 BDC

image of the BUSHNELL AR OPTICS FFP ILLUMINATED BTR-1 BDC
Just a beautiful piece of machinery

The FFP offers some high quality viewing at longer distances with a 500 yard field of vision. This is great for people looking for longer range scopes. Operates extremely well in lower light environments as well.

One of the features that I love about this model is the Throw Down PCL quick viewer. This allows shooters to quickly switch from one field of view to another without delay. The FFP’s Target Turrets systems works to allow you to make ultra fast corrections on the sighting calibration.

Scope is protected against moisture, fog, rainwater and is shockproof to protect the lenses. Although Bushnells reports is water resistant I would avoid submerging it completely. Lenses are coated to increase vision and clarity.

I recommend this for anyone looking for a high quality option that won’t break the bank. High quality scope design by a well established manufacturer.


Best Risers and Red Dot Optics for AR-15

 ProductPriceWhere To Buy
image of TRS-25 With Riser
TRS-25 With Riser
$
image of Holosun HS403A/B
Holosun HS403A/B
$
image of Vortex Sparc AR
Vortex Sparc AR
$$
image of Aimpoint Micro H-1
Aimpoint Micro H-1
$$$
image of EOTech EXPS-2
EOTech EXPS-2
$$$
image of EOTech - Holographic Sights
EOTech - Holographic Sights
$$$

1. TRS-25 With Riser

image showing the TRS With RiseThe TRS gives you some badass target acquisition. This is one of my go-to red dot optics. It’s easy to use and extremely high quality given the price.

I would recommend NOT using the riser that comes with the TSR-25.

Another good alternative to it is the .83inch UTG model which I find is much more stable and fits with a number of different red dot scopes.

2. Holosun HS403A/B

image showing the AR optic Holosun HS403ABetter quality and an awesome field of view compared to some of the other more budget models. I’ve abused the Holosun a lot, dropped it, stepping on it and even lit it on fire (might be true) and it maintains well.

Good all around choices for any AR rifle. Holosun also has another model that is solar-powered.

3. Vortex Sparc AR

image showing the Vortex Sparc ARThis is the stronger brother of the Holosun. The Vortex optic has pushed a new standard for scope design and precision by combining high quality optics with extremely durable design. AKA – this model can take some serious punishment.

Powered by one AAA battery as well.  One quick note – the field of vision is slightly smaller than the Holosun.

4. Aimpoint Micro H-1

image showing the Aimpoint Micro H2You know I always save the best for last. 😉

Aimpoint is the Cadillac of red dot optics. Aimpoint models combine durability in all weather conditions: rain, fog, snow, waterproof and volcano resistant.  Battery life is about 50k hours on a single battery!

The Micro H-1 also works well on my AK. The T version is also night vision capable for those who wanted an added upgrade.

Reticle Sizes for the H-1

The H1 has two reticle sizes. 2 MOA and 4 MOA.

I’d recommend the 4 MOA as it’s a bit bigger dot which lends itself to better accuracy at longer ranges and some great functionality for close quarters.

image of tactical team using the Aimpoint Micro H1
Tactical team with the Micro H1

You can use a cheaper mount but I’d suggest going with a quality mount that provides good support and versatility. The LaRue is a good choice for the H-1.

5. EOTech EXPS-2

image showing the specially designed EOTech EXPS-2Aimpoint has always been one of the main competitors of EOTech.

I personally think that both companies really provide military-grade quality for a decent price. The difference lies in their sights.

6. EOTech – Holographic Sights

image of EOTech
Holographic EOTech

Like I mentioned EOTech has gained a significant military following with multinational tactical units utilizing these laser scopes. I will mention for full disclosure that EOTech was involved in a lawsuit with United States government over functionality issues caused by weather.

I’d say that for anyone looking to use these rifles in minus 40 weather stay away. For those who aren’t hunting polar bears than this is compatible to the H-1.


Best Long Distance Optics for AR-15

 ProductPriceWhere To Buy
image of UTG 3-9X32 Compact CQB BAO RGB Scope
UTG 3-9X32 Compact CQB BAO RGB Scope
$
image of Vortex Spitfire 3x
Vortex Spitfire 3x
$$
image of ACOG TA31F 4×32
ACOG TA31F 4×32
$$$
image of Vortex Viper PST 1-4x
Vortex Viper PST 1-4x
$$
image of Vortex 1-6x Razor HD Gen 2
Vortex 1-6x Razor HD Gen 2
$$$$

1. UTG 3-9X32 Compact CQB BAO RGB Scope

image of the UTG 3-9X32 Compact CQB
Looks and feels great

While it might have an excessively long name the UTG brings some serious durability to the table. Like the H-1 it’s totally resistant to water, fog, snow and impact resistant.

You don’t need an additional platform for the UTG and is quick to install.

We tried the UTG is lower lighting conditions and found it performed well. The design incorporates an emerald coated lens that serves to amplify existing light and focus them in your line of sight.

The UTG also comes with a host of options for customization. MOA adjustments are pretty fast as well.

2. Vortex Spitfire 3x

image of the Vortex Spitfire 3xShe’s a beauty, ain’t she?

The Vortex gives the user magnification up to 3X. Unlike other multifunctional scopes it’s built specifically for the AR model. The Spitfire has reticles with dropdown up to 500 yards.
It comes with an unlimited lifetime warranty, to boot.

The upgraded version adds a mount, red/green reticle and 5 intensity levels. Great choice for serious shooters who are looking for a gun to last them the next 5-10 years.

3. ACOG TA31F 4×32

image of ACOG TA31FAnother lovely design by our friends over at ACOG.

ACOG stands for Trijbicon Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight and it functions just as well as its name sounds. Beating the Spitfire with 4X magnification, it also utilizes a reticle designed for the AR platform using 5.56 from 0 to 800 meters.

I do realize that the ACOG can be a bit pricey. That’s because it has a special fiber optics system that funnels existing light towards the chevron (V in scope site).  The tritium lamps also work in tandem to add extra light with a lifetime of 15 years before replacement.

Again, it’s pricey I know, however, I received one as a present last year and have loved it since. 🙂

4. Vortex Viper PST 1-4x

image of Vortex Viper PSTAnother great mid range option. Vortex is known for making quality products and the PST is great for long rang shooting as well as close quarters fire practice.
This unit has a great field of view with high quality lens.

5. Vortex 1-6x Razor HD Gen 2

image of the Vortex 1-6x Razor HD Gen 2Another Vortex that I like is the Razor HD. If you’re trying to hit targets beyond 350 yards using a simple one to four magnification just doesn’t work.

The Razor HD adds an extra 2X which makes it an ideal candidate for distance shooting. Design is built to last with all the proof-features including: fog, water, humidity and wear and tear.

I also love the glass on the Razor, it’s exceptionally clear and produces an extremely sharp image.


Best AR-15 Back Up Iron Sight Reviews (BUIS)

image of AR15 sightsI like to be well prepared. Especially if I’m hunting or spend a few miles driving out for a competition or to try another range.

I’d recommend for any serious shooter to not just rely on your primary sight but to add a backup one as well.

These are just a couple backup choices.

Magpul Gen 2 BUIS

image of the Magpul Gen 2 BUISSimple. Functional and definitely gets the job done. The Magpul Gen 2 brings a polymer design that combines accuracy and affordability.


How to Choose Your AR-15 Rifle Scope?

We’re going to cover some of the things we talked about before. It’s important to know what you’re using your scope for.

Having a clear idea of what kind of shooting activities you’ll be engaging it will allow you to pick the best weapon. Nothing is worse than trying to do close shooting exercises while using a scope designed for long range shooting.

Take a look at my persona AR setup. 🙂

Some of the prices of the above scopes range from $85 all the way up to $2k. We know that’s a pretty big range but like I mentioned earlier – you get what you pay for.

Getting a cheap Walmart piece of garbage will cause you much frustration trying to constantly calibrate it.

Technical Advantage of Quality AR Optics and Scopes

Quality gear gives you a huge tactical advantage especially when you consider how cheap most AR 15 upgrades are now. There is a reason why US special forces utilize the latest in gear and equipment.

With optics quality comes in the form of magnification, lenses and zeroing mechanisms. Great lenses allow you to focus on your target and avoid an overly blurry field of vision.

finding the AR 15 range
Calculating distance is an important factor in picking your optic

Weatherproof optics are also a recommended quality that you definitely want to look out for. If you’re planning on using your optic is harsh environments you’ll need equipment that is specifically designed for those purposes.

Again, this comes back to knowing your scope and being able to identify exactly the kind of situations you’ll use it in.

Single Shot Scopes vs. Full Auto

Another consideration is whether you’re looking for accuracy while shooting single shots or double or triple taps. Beyond a single shot recoil becomes an issue.

Choosing a scope with good eye relief will allow you to use the field of vision more effectively and acquire your target 2-3X faster.

image comparing the best ar-15 scope single shot vs full auto
Something like this is good for single shots

It is important to think about the focal plane. Some users prefer a second focal plane to keep the reticle in the same position, even when the zoom is used.

If this is not your first choice, maybe a first focal plane scope would make it to your list, if you prefer the reticle to move with the image when zooming.

There is a simple justification for using a scope of this type. You get better shots and increased accuracy for a wide array of ranges.

The ideaw is that the reticle varies with the magnification, while for the second focal plane it remains unchanged, facilitating magnification.

Other features that should be considered when choosing a scope are power and magnification since some scopes are fixed, other adapt to the shooter’s needs.

To evaluate magnification levels, look for “nx,” where n is a number, usually in the range 1x-16x.

image showing how magnification worksThis is an abbreviation for the number of times the image is enlarged compared to your baseline vision, usually the way you normally see. Y

You should adapt the magnification power of the scope taking into consideration the shooting environment. Go for larger numbers in open plains and smaller ones in forests.


Still Wondering If You Should Get a New Scope?

Consider these benefits 🙂

  • Shoot with accuracy even from a great distance
  • Removes the need for a flashlight when shooting
  • Depending on the magnification power you get extreme precision
  • The scope makes the target appear clear so that you can direct the shot in the right area
  • Acquiring the target in seconds
  • Gives the shooter a tactical advantage
  • Guarantees target shooting
  • Eliminates the necessity to approximate distances
  • Enlarges the shooting range consistently
  • Protects the shooter’s safety by allowing a greater distance
  • Ensures proper game identification
  • Don’t mistake an animal for another ever again
  • Allows the selection of trophy-material game
  • Recommended even for beginners and shooters who do not like lining iron sights
  • Extends the hunting time to early mornings and late evenings
  • Suitable for night shooting, especially for larger game animals
  • More hours shooting, more chances
  • Pinpoint the target through clear imaging
  • Allows you to be thrifty with your bullets and get more game for the same ammo

How to Decide on the Perfect Optics System?

Don’t just get the first scope you can find, put some time into research and study before you buy. Since there is a wide selection of scopes available, you should choose the one that actually makes a difference in your case.

Don’t be satisfied just with the first reviews you can find, dig deeper before taking out the money.

Go through the 5-star reviews, but for a balanced view on the quality of the scope also read with increased attention the 2 or 3 stars to prepare yourself other issues you might have. Seems like a no-brainer, but check the scope’s compatibility with the gun, there is no one size fits all in this case. Also make sure it fits your upper receiver!

It is worthwhile to think about the bullets type too.

gif image of the AR-15 shooting
One of my favorite AR-15 models

Never accept a piece without a warranty, no respectable company would allow such a product to leave their premises. This gives you peace of mind that is case of a defect the scope will be replaced of broken.

You also got to know your preferences, as a laser sight and your illuminated reticle are very different. You should be able to point and shoot accurately with no additional adjustments.

It is also a good idea to try different scopes or ask for advice from more experienced shooters.


Technical Considerations Before Buying

The AR-15 is a semi-automatic weapon that comes in two different calibers, the .223 and the 5.56 NATO.

When selecting a scope for this gun take into consideration the necessity of a shock absorption scope that allows repetitive shooting fast and efficiently. The gun has enough recoil to make an impact on your sighting for a few seconds.

image of ar-15 bullets on display
A couple of cartridges used in the AR-15

The cross-hairs are also a debatable topic, and each shooter has a personal preference depending on the use of the gun. If you are a hunter, you might enjoy a reticle with marks showing the distance, usually between 50 and 600 yards.

Precision shooters prefer a color adjustable single reticle. The adjustment comes in different intensity shades

Finally, the field of view needs to be taken into consideration to be sure you are shooting accurately both near and far away.

Again, there is a noticeable difference between hunters and marksmen. While the first need to shoot at a considerable distance, the latter are more interested in clarity at shorter ranges.

It all depends on the way you intend to use the scope, get the right tool for the job.

It’s also important to clean your AR-15 regularly to avoid any buildup or damage to the gun.

How Much Magnification is Optimal for an AR-15?

As previously described each scope has a magnification power denoted by “nx,” for example 3x, sometimes up to 16x. It is important to know that the larger the number, therefore the zoom, the bigger the distortion.

Of course, a good scope will strive to reduce the distortion, but you need to balance the magnification power with other features of your rifle.

image showing how the ar-15 magnifies an object

Hunters go for the large numbers, choosing between 9x and 32x, but this is not the only specification to pay attention to. The light allowance is also essential, and those that have an emerald coating allow light magnification.

If you intend to hunt in low light and not lose visibility, this is a great choice since you get a clear sight of the field of view even when using full magnification.

Even for short distances, a scope is justified if the use requires excellent precision and clarity. Usual applications are in tactical missions, where clarity at short range is more important than distance. Never buy a scope before checking magnification abilities.


How to Find the Right Reticle?

There are numerous types of reticles available, and the selections should be adapted to the user and the rifle. For a semi-automatic fast paced gun like the AR-15, a natural choice is an adjustable brightness and color reticle that can be used from early morning until late in the evening in any background or scenery.

image showing how well an AR-15 magnifiesMost shooters go for a “gradual distance reticle” which shows marks for different tick mark for each distance and the shooter can adjust accordingly. Reticles can be green, black or red with different intensities.

The more advanced models have a range measuring tool that enables the shooter to make small corrections for natural elements that might affect the trajectory, like the wind.

Duplex Reticle

The primary type of reticle is the duplex. It is a cross meant to be overlapped with the target for an easy acquisition.

Variations are available, including the long-distance reticle, which has additional marks for different ranges.

image explaining what a duplex reticle is

The beauty of a duplex reticle is revealed in the heat of the moment when the shooter can pinpoint the target, adjust the setting to the distance and take an accurate and deadly shot.

How does Mildot Work?

The duplex is best for stationary targets while moving targets are better acquired with a mildot. This is like the duplex but has rings for distances distributed over the vertical distance and for the horizontal as well.

The horizontal marks are the ones that help to set your gun on the moving target. As a shooter, you just to estimate well the target’s speed and make corrections accordingly.

What is a BDC Recticle?

The BDC reticle can be considered an extension of the duplex but suitable for longer ranges, up to 600 yards, in comparison to 100 yards maximum for the basic duplex. This is the choice of police and other tactical shooters for their AR-15 rifles.

how does a BDC reticle workMRAD and the Minute of Angle

To enjoy the full benefits of our scope, you need to calibrate it and actually understand what the relationship between an inch on your scope’s movement and the distance in the field is. Enter the minute of angle, a mathematical relationship.

diagram showing the minute of angle in actionYou start by dividing a circle into 360 equal parts called degrees, and each degree in 60 smaller equal parts called minutes (yes, there is a link to the minutes in an hour). You can see a graphical example below

Difference between the MIl and MOAThis matter becomes necessary when sighting your new scope. You need to be extremely accurate because, due to similar triangles, any error propagates and grows. As you can see, one MOA becomes an inch larger at each 100 yards. The knobs serve as data-entry tools, helping you fine tune the scope until you zero in.

How does Focal Plane Work?

The image you see through the lens is the focal plane. This goes through an optical system since due to the lens type it appears reversed when it enters the scope.

The transformation of the image through the scope is called Cardinal Points; this describes the journey of the picture through the scope. The primary lens in the scope makes sure the image is not upside down and moving to the other side.

image showing focal plane in actionYou need to know this because scopes come in two types: front focal plane and rear focal. European manufacturers favor the front focal and is most useful for tactical applications due to fast focus at different magnifications.

The rear focal plane is better for low light situations. A rear focal on a BDC reticle is best at high magnification. There is a clear preference of manufacturers for front focal plane models since these are more versatile.

Parallax

The parallax is a misalignment of the focal plane. You can empirically test this by sighting your target via the scope at rough 100-110 yards. After being on target, move your eye to observe another part of your target and watch any movement of the image. If you can see a difference, there is parallax.

how to setup the correct parallaxTo correct this, you can use the scope’s adjustments for this problem, if available. If you have a model that doesn’t have a dedicated parallax adjustment you need to sight your rifle again.

The downside of this method is that if the scope has a parallax in the field, you will not be able to correct it on the spot. It just makes more economic sense to have a scope with parallax as standard.

Hope You Enjoyed Our AR-15 Scope Review

There are numerous options available, and your job is to select the right tool for the job. Start by thinking about the way you are going to use this scope.

Don’t forget to look for opinions and reviews online, as these are usually pointing out both pros and cons. Use the retailer’s similar products feature you can start with a model and explore other products.

Don’t worry about the mounting system too much; it is a generic “bridge” mount. It is more important to think why do you need the scope. Is it for a tactical use or hunting?

In conclusion, the best scope is that one the fits your needs and is within your budget. There are plenty of models available for hunting, tactical or even self-defense.

Since this is a utilitarian tool it is meant to be durable and last for years, making your shooting pinpoint accurate and there is no shortage of options, you just need to research in depth to find the one for you.

Enjoy the reading and comparing, maybe after this you can help others make an excellent choice.

Share your experience and thoughts on this matter and have fun hunting!

2 COMMENTS

  1. For the money Holosun can’t be beat. For a budget scope the quality is great.

    Great point! If you’re shopping for an AR15, you can definitely beef it up a bit if you don’t overspend on a scope.

    • Thanks for stopping by Sammy! Agreed that AR15 optics, or any other scopes for that matter, can get pricey. But imo they are they most important (and coolest-looking) AR-15 upgrade. 🙂

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