At one point in time, rifle scopes were nothing more than a rifle accessory. However, today, unless you’re relegated to using an open sight, by regulation or choice, you’ll need a rifle scope for your long gun. But, how do you choose the best rifle scope? With so many rifle scopes available, how do you know the one you want works with your gun? How do you know you’re not overpaying for it?
The truth is, choosing the best rifle scope is a daunting and difficult task. You can easily make a mistake, especially with all the choices available on the market nowadays. There are some fairly new brands that can give you a lot of bang for your buck. But, discerning them from those who sell you overpriced rifle scopes that aren’t worth it, isn’t really easy. Let’s be honest – you’re out in the wild, you’re handling a firearm. You don’t want to be making a mistake of any kind here, as the consequences can be pretty serious. What you want is the best rifle scope for your needs. You can also have a look at our Top picks for thermal rifle scopes here.
Well, we’re here to help. Below you will find two things. First, we’ll give you ten of the best rifle scopes you can get on the market today. There are budget solutions, and there are premium ones. There are some that offer just the basics, and there are ones that give you advanced features and functionalities. Regardless of what you need, we have a rifle scope for you on the list below.
To add to that, once you’re done with that list, we have a bit of food for thought as well, in the form of a buyers’ guide. We’ll guide you through what you should, and shouldn’t be looking for, and where you should be spending your money when purchasing a rifle scope. Once you’re done, you’ll not only have a list of options but the knowledge you need to make an informed buying decision on what’s the best rifle scope as well. Let’s begin.
The 10 Best Rifle Scopes of 2019
If you don’t mind investing a bit more, look at the Bushnell BTR-1. Bushnell is another household name when we’re talking about optics. They’re best known for high-end products. However, even some of their budget and midrange options are excellent. The BTR-1 is made for close range, however, and the 1-4x magnification might not cut it for shots that are further away. But, is the BTR-1 worth it? Let’s take a look.
Starting off with the basics, the scope is fairly light at 17.3 oz. Its full length is 9.4”, which isn’t really compact. However, when you compare it to other scopes with this magnification range, it isn’t really bulky. As we said, there’s a 1-4x magnification factor, which is fairly limiting. Sure, you’re completely covered for close range, but if you want to shoot a bit further, you won’t really be able to do this.
While we’re talking about the zoom, we must mention the PCL or Power Control Lever. While many shooters add some kind of lever to their magnification ring, the Bushnell already has one. It’s a foldable handle that lets you easily move from 1x to 4x. The thing is, when you have such an optic, you’ll seldom use the 2x or 3x settings, and having the ability to use it as a switch between the two settings is very handy. There’s also a groove, and an O-ring on the PCL, which ensures the lever doesn’t damage the housing.
You get target turrets on the Bushnell, which are exposed and easily adjustable. There are no locking features, though, so you should ensure that you don’t move them off-zero. They’re graduated in 0.1 mil clicks, which is excellent for precise adjustments. The reticle is their BTR-1 reticle, which is calibrated for a .223 cartridge. It’s also a first focal plane reticle, which is excellent in low light. There are holdovers at 300, 400, 500 and 600 yards, but the top dot is intended for shooting at 0 to 200 yards. The reticle is good enough so you can use it in a lot of daylight situations. At night, however, you’ll want illumination, and you have it. At this price point, this is the best illumination in a scope. There are markings from 0 to 11 for adjustment, and it works admirably.
To wrap everything up, the whole scope is made of aluminum alloy and is anodize-finished. On the inside, there’s sealing to ensure everything is protected from the elements. The optics are fully multi-coated, which is as good as it gets. You also get 3.6” of eye relief, which is great for both people who wear glasses, and those who don’t. However, all things considered, this is one of the best close range rifle scopes you can get. It isn’t very expensive, it has Bushnell’s name to back it up, and it’s built like a tank. With the performance also being stellar, it has everything you might need or want from a scope like this.
When the Bushnells, Leupolds and Carl Zeiss options are out of your budget, or you simply don’t want to pay for them, you’re pretty much forced to look at budget rifle scopes. However, budget doesn’t always mean cheap, especially with some of the brands that started making rifle scopes in the past period. One of those brands is BARSKA. They are well known for budget-oriented scopes that are built well and offer all the adjustments and performance you could expect from that price range. However, before we even begin with the review, let’s get one thing out of the way. This is in no way a premium scope. If you’re an experienced marksman who knows what they want, this may not be for you. But if you’re someone who’s just getting into shooting, or someone who just wants a cheap backup to throw in their backpack, by all means, read on.
As its name suggests, this is a 3:1 scope with a 3-9x magnification factor. As an all round scope, it will do the job quite well. The 40mm lens will also ensure plenty of light comes in. In terms of coating, nothing is specifically mentioned by the manufacturer, so it’s safe to assume there isn’t any. At this price, however, you can’t really complain about it. It does manage to provide a crisp and clear image, even though not really comparable to the Bushnell or Leupold above. For aiming, you have a rangefinding P4 reticle, which is decent, but not mindblowing. The field of view at 100 yards ranges from 36.6 to 13.6 feet, about the same as the Leupold. The click adjustments come in increments of ¼ MOA, something you’ll easily get used to.
On the outside, there’s one thing that’s a first on our list – flip up lens covers. When you’re carrying your rifle or your scope in a backpack, you don’t want to damage the lenses. Especially when they don’t have any protective coatings, this can be very handy. You’ll also find 1” scope rings. These will let you attach the scope to a Weaver or Picatinny rail, and you don’t have to buy them additionally. The fingertip adjustable turrets work admirably, too. The whole scope weighs 16oz, which is relatively light, and is 13” long. It isn’t compact by any means, but it won’t weigh you down. The BARSKA is completely waterproof and fog proof. You can be sure you can easily use it in a variety of environments, and it won’t fog up or destroy the internals.
If you’re limited by your budget or find it hard to justify spending a lot on a scope, this might be the best bet for you. It might not have amazing optics, or high-end coating, or reticle illumination, but at a fraction of a price, it covers the basics really well. To add to that, the included ring mounts and the flip up lens covers are a nice little touch. One of the best rifle scope options at this price point.
Even though it isn’t extremely budget oriented, we have to admit that the UTG BugBuster is much closer in price to the likes of the BARSKA than the Bushnell. It makes a compelling argument for a scope that doesn’t cost much more but improves on a lot of the shortcomings of the BARSKA. If you’re on a budget, but want some of the higher end features, this might be an excellent option for you. Let’s take a closer look.
Kicking things off with the basics, this is a 3-9x scope. As we mentioned, this is a versatile magnification range. It works great at both close range, and further away. There’s a 32mm objective lens which should do the job. You might think this is less than the BARSKA, but the higher end optics in the UTG more than make up for that. Especially in situations where you have insufficient light and require the most out of your scope, this works better.
The UTG rifle scope has a 1” tube with Emerald Coating, which makes sure that plenty of light comes in through the lens. The reticle can be illuminated in both green and red, depending on what kind of background you’re aiming against, as well as the available light. The mildot reticle is also range estimating, which ensures optimal performance. The objective itself can be adjusted from 3 yards to infinity, giving you a bit more versatility.
Moving on to the outside, there’s plenty going on with the UTG. The first thing you’ll notice are the turrets. They’re extremely well made, and they let you make precise and smooth adjustments for both windage and elevation. They’re also lockable, so you don’t have to worry about them moving, and there’s a resetting feature as well. The third side wheel is the one that regulates the illumination. The whole scope is nitrogen purged, making it fog proof, and it’s also rainproof as well. This doesn’t translate to waterproof, though, so we’d advise being careful with that.
Another thing that’s a nice bonus is the shockproof feature. This ensures you don’t have to worry about the scope getting damaged if you throw it in the backpack, or if you’re using it on an AR. You’ll also find a few accessories in the box, such as a 2” sunshade, as well as flip-open lens caps and quick release rings. These are all things you’d need to buy additionally with other scopes, so it’s a nice thing that they’re included here.
We still claim that for extremely limited budgets, the BARSKA is the best option so far. However, if you need, or want, things such as an illuminated reticle, higher quality turrets, and an overall better-built rifle scope, you’ll want to upgrade to the UTG. It costs a bit more, but with all the attention to detail, as well as the extra features you’re getting, that upgrade is more than worth it.
If you’ve read a few reviews here and there, we couldn’t blame you for wanting a Bushnell scope. However, most of them are fairly high end, and not everyone is ready to invest that much in a scope. Well, Bushnell does have a budget-oriented lineup, and the Trophy is right in there. Well, that depends on the configuration you get it in, but it’s still cheaper than most of the competition. It’s an excellent entry level scope, without any of the fuss of some extremely expensive rifle scopes. It does, however, cover all the basics, and there are a few nifty features built in. Let’s take a closer look.
As we mentioned, it comes in multiple configurations. In terms of color, you have a stealthy matte black and a silver one. However, you can choose between the “standard” 3-9x40mm, and the slightly smaller 2-7x36mm. Both options are fairly flexible and let you use them as an all round scope. The smaller one is a bit cheaper as well, but you should buy the size you need. They come with Bushnell’s Multi-X reticle, which has been field proven and works great in a variety of situations.
In terms of performance and build quality, both are equal, so whatever we say from this point on, applies to both. To begin with, you have fully multi-coated lenses, which are as good as it gets. Crisp, clear images with plenty of contrast, regardless of the weather conditions, are always welcome. It’s not just any coating either – it’s Bushnell’s Amber-Bright coatings. The whole scope is purged with dry nitrogen and is fog proof, waterproof and shockproof.
On the outside, you’ll find a fast focus eyepiece, which lets you adjust focus very smoothly and precisely. Being built around a 1” tube, you can easily find rings for it, and it’s not very heavy, or big. To be more specific, the larger scope weighs a mere 13.2 ounces and is 11.7” long. There’s a 3.4” eye relief, and a 6” mounting length. These are all more or less standard numbers for a scope of this caliber. What might be a small bummer is that there are no mounts with the scope, so you’ll have to get your own. However, this is a small gripe with an otherwise excellent rifle scope.
When you sum things up, the Bushnell Trophy is by no means a high-end scope. Regardless of which one you get, there are much better ones. But, those “much better ones” cost quite a bit more, and the Trophy does an excellent job of justifying its already low cost. It covers all the basics – versatile magnification, big lens, fully multi-coated optics, and great build quality. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends – no extra features or accessories to sweeten the deal. If you don’t need them, though, and want a basic scope that has great optics and does the job well, you can’t go wrong with the Bushnell Trophy.
There are plenty of users out there who need scopes that are large and have high magnification factors. For these users, a 3-9x just won’t cut it, and they need more. However, if they were to get a high-end scope, that would cost quite a bit, making the purchase unjustifiable for many. This is where the Argos BTR by Athlon Optics comes in. It’s a midrange scope with some high-end features and a magnification that is more powerful than anything on this list. If you need a lot of zoom, this is the one we have for you, so read on through our full review.
That “big zoom” doesn’t mean anything without numbers. The Athlon Argos BTR has a 6-24x magnification factor. 24x is twice as much as the Nikon, for example, and a lot more than the all round champs that only do 3-9x. If you really want to get close to your target, you’ll appreciate that. A high magnification factor usually requires a lot of light for it to work properly, and that’s where the 50mm lens comes in. It will let in plenty of light, making the scope perfectly usable even in situations where the light conditions are suboptimal.
There is also a first focal plane reticle that shrinks, or grows, along with your target, as you go through the magnification settings. The fact that the reticle is in the first focal plane also ensures a bit better performance in low light, something that’s always welcome. The reticle is actually etched on the glass and ensures better durability and shock resistance to recoil.
Let’s talk about the optics for a second. With the Argos BTR, you get fully multi-coated lenses with their exclusive XPL coating, which is one of the technologies they offer. This doesn’t only ensure crisp and clear images with plenty of contrast, but also adds a lot of protection against the elements to your lens. You don’t want to be getting any scratches on them, and Athlon Optics don’t want that either. The scope has parallax adjustment as well. That lets you adjust the scope to any range right within reach. The turrets that adjust elevation and windage are smooth and precise. You can also easily and quickly set them to zero after you take a shot, which is a great feature.
The whole scope is built incredibly well. It’s made from a one-piece 6061 T6 tube which has been heat treated. Once built, it’s argon purged for great thermal stability, as well as water and fog proofing. You won’t be having any issues with the elements with the Argos BTR.
Now, we’ll be honest. This is by no means a cheap rifle scope. However, with the magnification it offers, you’d be hard pressed to find one that gives you more bang for your buck. High-end optics, excellent build quality, everything’s there. If you need that high magnification power, all that’s left to do is to pull the trigger (pun intended) and order the Argos BTR.
Even though we did look at a couple of budget options earlier, what we have here from Simmons may very well be the budget king. It comes at an insanely low price, yet manages to provide features and optical performance that rivals even some of the high-end scopes that we took a look at. With its versatile magnification range and high-quality build, you will absolutely love it if this is what you need. Read on through our full review to see why we loved the Truplex, and why it might be your next purchase.
To begin with, this is a seriously cheap rifle scope. However, it’s very likely the best budget scope within its price range and punches way above its weight. It has that 3-9x magnification range that we can’t stop praising enough, and it will give you plenty of versatility in the field. The 40mm lens does let in enough light for you to be able to use the rifle scope in just about any light. The QTA (Quick Target Acquisition) eyepiece will make sure that you get the target quickly, and the shot is placed accurately. The Truplex reticle will also help a bit with that too. While we’re discussing the optics, you’ll be happy to know that Simmons has managed to give us fully multi-coated optics at this price point.
In terms of adjustment, you will find ¼ MOA SureGrip adjustments which have an audible click. That applies to both the windage and elevation adjustments. There’s a 3.75” eye relief, which should be plenty, even for someone who wears glasses. The field of view goes from 31.4 to 10.5 feet at 100 yards, depending on the magnification range.
Construction is excellent for this rifle scope, from the fog proof and waterproof build to the shockproof internals. You won’t be having any issues with the elements. Now, the whole scope is admittedly heavy. At 70 oz, that might weigh you down a little bit, which could be a problem for some. Especially if you’re using a lower caliber rifle, that might have quite an impact. If, however, you’re able to look past that, you should be good.
All things considered, what we have here is a great package at an incredible price. All the basics are covered, and even some advanced features such as multicoated optics and weather resistance are there. If you’re really limited in terms of pricing, do give the Simmons Truplex a shot.
Going back to the midrange to high-end options, we have the Vortex Crossfire II. In terms of pricing, it’s close to some truly high-end scopes, but you do pay a bit of a premium for the Vortex name. They have a proven track record, from binoculars to rifle optics, and everything they make is an incredible value proposition. We’ll be honest with you – this isn’t a scope for people who have a somewhat limited budget. However, if you can afford it, the Crossfire II will give you a couple of things that you seriously won’t find anywhere else. Read on for our full review, and see why it’s worth your time.
To begin with, you’ll actually find a couple of variants of this scope. There’s a 3-9x40mm, there’s a 4-12x44mm, there’s even a 6-24x50mm option. What we’re focusing on today, however, is the 3-12×56. It hits somewhat of a sweet spot, in terms of pricing, performance, and versatility. You get a slightly better 4:1 ratio. Compare this to the 3-9x scopes we spoke about, and you get a significant advantage at the high end. The 56mm lens might sound massive, and it is. However, weight isn’t that significant (the whole scope comes in at 21oz), and the performance advantage is incredible. You get plenty of light inside, which ensures that the image you’re seeing is crisp and crystal clear. This is also what gives the Crossfire II an advantage over anything else on our list, since you can use it in extremely low light, without needing things such as night vision.
Let’s discuss optics. The objective is adjustable and gives you both image focus and parallax removal, both of which are very welcome. You get fully multi-coated lenses that also have an anti-reflective coating, which is as good as it gets. You can be sure that the image you’re looking at is as bright as possible, and there’s plenty of contrast. To add to that, there’s the Vortex V-Brite reticle, which has an illuminated center dot. You might be thinking we’re praising the low light performance quite a bit. You’d be right, as the name “Hog Hunter” is here for a reason. The Crossfire II is specifically made for hunting in low light, from the early evening to dawn.
On the outside, you’ll find a single piece tube, made from aircraft grade aluminum. The strength and durability are incredible, and so is the shock resistance. Everything is sealed with O-rings, and purged with nitrogen, to ensure no water or fog can ruin your day out in the field. As far as adjustments go, there are capped reset turrets. You can easily adjust them and they have MOA clicks. They’re also really easy to reset to zero after you sight in. Last but not least, you have a 3.5” eye relief, which is plenty, regardless of whether you wear glasses or not. The eye box is very forgiving too, and the eyepiece is extremely fast if you want to focus.
At the end of the day, what you’re looking at is a brilliant performer that will add quite a bit of versatility to your arsenal. You can use it for medium to long ranges, and it’s easily the best on our list in terms of low light performance and usability. The build quality won’t disappoint you either, as Vortex Optics didn’t cut any corners on the Crossfire II Hog Hunter. If you need one rifle scope to rule them all, and this is within your budget, you should order it without hesitation.
This wouldn’t be an up-to-date list if we didn’t include something that has a lot of high technology built in, and that’s exactly what we have to wrap things up. ATN is known to make higher end scopes with tech you would expect on cameras, not on a rifle scope, but their products are field proven and work very well. Today we have their 3-14x X-Sight II, so read on through the full review to see if this relatively expensive rifle scope is worth your money.
To begin with, what sets the X-Sight II apart from everything else on the list is the fact that you can use it both during the day and the night. It has night vision technology built in, and lets you get a clear image of what you’re aiming at even during the night. Once you power it up, you’re taken to the home screen which lets you either take a shot or move around and look at some of the features. Night vision, photo, and video capture capabilities, compass, rangefinder, to name a few, are all included. If you factor in how much money you’d spend on each of these devices individually, the high price suddenly doesn’t seem that high. Now, another thing that’s different is that you’ll need four AA batteries to run the whole thing, and that’s not really a good thing.
There’s a 3-14x zoom range, which is very versatile – more than any other scope on our list. This is plenty for any situation, and the HD resolution display means that you won’t notice any quality loss at either end of the range. With a traditional rifle scope, you’d need to range your target, and calculate your drop afterward. This requires both knowledge and experience. Then, you need to accommodate for the slope and the wind and take the shot. With the X-Sight II, all the math is done for you, and you can easily place a one shot hit. A downside with traditionalists might be that there are no traditional turrets for elevation and windage adjustments. With all the digital assistance options, however, you’ll get used to that pretty quickly.
We mentioned that there’s a lot of high-tech things in here, so let’s talk about them for a second. The best thing of them all is the option to record both photos and videos with the X-Sight II. Yes, you might not get the quality of a digital camera with a big lens, but if you want to review your field trip, or share it with friends, it’s more than enough. It is a 1080p video, after all. You can either save that to a microSD card or transfer it to an iOS or Android device via Wi-Fi. The ballistic calculator is another nifty feature, and the built-in rangefinder is just a cherry on top.
All things considered, this is a very high-tech rifle scope, and possibly the best rifle scope if you want something that is built very well, does the basics very well, and has a lot of tech in it as well.
If you’ve ever ventured into the sports optics game, you’ll know the name. They have amazing solutions, from binoculars, to rifle scopes. They have set a couple of industry standards as well, and the Leupold VX-1 is absolutely one of their best rifle scopes on the market today. But, just how good is it?
To begin with, we have a 3:1 zoom ratio. As you’ll see in our buyers’ guide below, that’s the most versatile setup you could go with. Magnification factors are 3-9x, and they cover both close firing situations, as well as some that are a bit further away. If you’re looking for an all round rifle scope, these are the numbers you should go for.
Now, the actual magnification range is a bit smaller at 3.2-8.8x. However, chances are this isn’t something you’d notice in day to day use. At 100 yards, the field of view you get is 34.6-14.6 feet, depending on the zoom. While we’re talking numbers, we should mention that the objective lens diameter is 40mm. If you’re coming from binoculars or spotting scopes, this might not be a lot. However, with rifle scopes, this is plenty. You can let in plenty of light, which lets you make use of the Leupold VX-1 even in darker situations.
On the inside, you will find an LR Duplex reticle on the 2nd focal plane. The Duplex is the preferred all round reticle nowadays, so this is pretty welcome. In terms of adjustments, you have 52 MOA for windage and elevation. There’s also a ¼ MOA impact point correction, so all the basics are covered very well. The optics of the rifle scope are multi-coated. This ensures plenty of brightness and clarity and gives you a sharp image with plenty of contrast. We’re talking about Leupold’s excellent Multicoat 4 system, which has been proven to work great, even in some more extreme low light situations.
Another thing that comes from Leupold and works wonders is their inside construction. Their proprietary nitrogen sealing process is nowadays the industry standard. You can be sure that there won’t be any fogging on the inside whatsoever. It is also completely waterproof, even though we wouldn’t suggest you put the rifle scope under water. If you get caught out in the rain, though, you should be good.
Moving on to the outside, we have stellar build quality. The entire rifle scope is 320mm long, and you get a 1” main tube. It’s fairly compact, and as you’ll see below, this is where you want to be for maximum compatibility. The mounting rings are cheapest for 1” rifle scopes, too, so if you’re on a budget, this shouldn’t be a problem.
At the end of the day, if you’re after a do-it-all rifle scope that has all the basics covered, the Leupold VX-1 might be the best scope for you. It isn’t without its downsides, however. After reading our guide below, you might be inclined to get a scope that has the reticle on the 1st focal plane. However, when you consider the price and the features that you get for it, you’ll see why we have no problem recommending it. It’s on the top of our list of rifle scopes for a reason.
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Moving back to some higher end options, we have our first contender from Nikon, in the form of their P-308 rifle scope. As its name implies, it’s primarily made for AR rifles that have .308 Win. bullets. That’s not to say it won’t work on anything else, but that’s where it feels at home. It’s the smaller, lower magnification brother of the much appraised M-308 4-16×42, with a smaller objective lens and a couple of fewer features. However, overall, it’s still an incredible rifle scope, maybe the best possible option if you have the appropriate firearm for it. Read on to see how it fares.
The whole thing is built around a 1” diameter tube, and it’s made of aerospace-grade aluminum alloy. As the name suggests, there’s a 3:1 4-12x magnification, as well as a 40mm objective lens. This would be a high magnification, yet very versatile scope option. The zoom ring is covered in rubber to make sure it won’t slip, and it’s just forward of the ocular. There’s also a rubber-covered focus ring which gives you plenty of adjustment.
Inside, you’ll find Nikon’s BDC 800 reticle. It is extremely popular and was specifically made for bullet drop compensation when using a .308 Winchester, or 7.62x51mm NATO round. When you sight it in at 100 yards, the clear and black dots on the reticle give you hold-over points for up to 800 yards. Those short horizontal lines will give you 50-yard increments as well. However, you won’t find any windage offset marks. The internal adjustment range maxes out at 60 MOA in both axes.
An interesting feature is Nikon’s Spot On Ballistic Match Technology. This is actually a program that gives users the precise aiming points on any BDC reticle, for any ammunition, at a specific range. This pretty much eliminates any guesswork, as you can get the program both online or on your smartphone, as an app.
You might not find the parallax adjustment dial that the larger brother has, but the spring-loaded Instant Zero-Reset turrets are here. They have a knurled top ring which lets you adjust them really easy, and getting them back to zero afterward is very easy as well. Field adjustments are, honestly, a piece of cake. What you will find here as well as a fully multi-coated optic system, with multiple layers of compounds on every piece of glass. You can be sure that there’s a bright, clear sight, and plenty of light transmission, from dawn to dusk. As far as build quality goes, we get waterproofing, shockproofing, and fog proofing, and we wouldn’t expect anything less from Nikon.
When you take everything into consideration, the Nikon P-308 is far from cheap. However, consider everything you get, and add to that Nikon’s limited lifetime warranty, and you have yourself an extremely good rifle scope. If you can afford it, and you need something that lets you shoot a bit further away than a 3-9x would let you, you wouldn’t be making a mistake by ordering it.
The Buyers’ Guide
As we said in the beginning, choosing the best rifle scope can be a bit difficult. Do you get a cheap one, or do you spend a lot of money? Or is the answer in the middle? Do you go for a high magnification one, or is a small factor just enough? What diameter size lens do you get? If you’re an experienced shooter, chances are you know the answers to these things, but a small reminder won’t hurt. If you’re only getting your first scope, though, you’ll need this guide.
The tube and objective lens diameter
When discussing rifle scopes, their main tube commonly comes in one of three sizes: 1”, 30mm or 34mm. If you need long-distance targeting, a larger diameter will give you more range of adjustment. This may also give you a bit more durability as well. However, this also results in heavier rifle scopes. Another thing is that the rings required to mount them are not only more expensive but much more limited in selection as well. There are plenty of 34mm rings for example, that cost north of $200. For the majority of hunting situations, a good 1” scope should do the job. If you think you need a bit more, don’t spend all that money on a ridiculously priced 34mm scope. A 30mm main tube will give you plenty of adjustment, and you can get mounting rings much more easily.
As far as the lens diameter goes, you can get anything from the somewhat minuscule 20mm scopes to a giant 72mm lens. The ones that are most commonly found are 40 and 50mm ones, and they’re priced the most reasonable as well. A larger objective lens with rifle scopes means that it has better light gathering ability, something that’s very important, especially in low light situations.
However, a larger lens isn’t always better. For one, it results in a much heavier rifle scope, which can throw things off balance. Second, getting a 50mm or larger rifle scope, you might need to mount the rifle scope higher. This is so there’s enough clearance between the rifle barrel and the scope’s bell. In turn, this impacts scope-to-eye alignment, and cheek weld consistency, which is both required if you want to be accurate. This is something you will especially see as a problem on an AR rifle. If you want to hit the middle ground, something that’s between 40 and 44mm in size is actually great. You might be inclined to get a larger objective lens diameter if you have low-quality optics without enough coatings, to compensate for the quality loss, but that isn’t really necessary, and there are plenty of compromises to be made here as well.
One other thing that’s worth mentioning while discussing tube and objective lens, is the construction itself. If you want something that’ll last, and you can use for a good while, you’ll want it built well, both inside and out. On the inside, specifically, you need either argon or nitrogen purged optics – this displaces water vapor, and will eliminate any internal fogging. While we’re at it, get something that’s shockproof and waterproof, too. You might regret it if you don’t. All the best rifle scope options these days have it, so not much to worry about.
Glass and coating is also extremely important
This is commonly where budget brands cut corners, or where high-end brands save some money on their cheaper offerings. This would be a mistake because, with glass, you actually get what you pay for. You can’t be expecting incredible performance from cheap materials that aren’t really well made. If you’re looking at rifle scopes that are a bit more high end than the basics, you’ll want extra-low-dispersion, or ED, glass. If this isn’t an option, look for another premium alternative, such as SLD (special low dispersion) or ELD (extraordinary low dispersion) glass, which is also better than the cheap ones you’ll run into.
Getting ED glass doesn’t mean you’re getting the best rifle scope, though – you’ll want it to be coated as well. This might range from cheap, non-coated optics, to multi-coated optics and fully multi-coated at the end. The coating will help minimize color fringing and give you a bit more sharpness and color fidelity, as well as contrast. A multi-coated lens also lets in more light and ensures maximum brightness. Add to that a hydrophobic lens coating on the outside, something like Bushnell’s RainGuard HD, and you’re good to go. The outside coating will ensure that any moisture on the outside surface is easily removed.
Reticles and their positioning in the focal plane
With so many choices of reticles on the market, the important thing to remember is that the ideal reticle depends on your firearm and location. For example, an all round great reticle would be a standard Duplex. Well, that is unless you need something that has trajectory compensating, such as the Leupold Boone & Crocket Big Game. If you think you will be hunting in thickets, get a Heavy Duplex, or a German No. 4. Plus, if you’ll be doing any long-range varmint extermination, you might need a finer crosshair. The go-to for the best rifle scope would be mil-dot, even though some might suggest Huskemaw or Horus as well.
Now that you have the choice out of the way, let’s see about positioning. When you position the reticle in the first focal plane, the scale is unchanged throughout the whole magnification range. This lets you range accurately, and correct windage at any magnification settings. This is exactly why this is the preferred setting of many marksmen. If the reticle is in the second focal plane, there’s an increase and decrease in the image as you change the magnification. The reticle remains the same size, but the sub-tension is changing constantly. Therefore, if you’re using a trajectory-compensating reticle, you’ll need to use a specific magnification setting if you want to do any sort of accurate ranging, or holdover. Budget oriented rifle scopes tend to have the reticle in the second plane, which is less preferred, but also less costly to implement.
One more thing, do you get an illuminated reticle or not? This is more a question of legality, as this kind of reticle isn’t legal everywhere. But if it is where you live, and where you’ll be using the rifle scope, by all means, get it. It improves sighting when the light is insufficient, and this isn’t just limited to dusk and dawn. In dense vegetation or in inclement weather this can help quite a bit.
Eye relief is key if you wear glasses
The most common eye relief you’ll find on rifle scopes tends to be around three to four inches. Some budget scopes tend to have that a bit shorter, which can be bad in two situations. First, if you wear glasses, you need more eye relief to accommodate for them. Second, if you have a higher recoiling rifle, you’ll end up with a black eye with insufficient eye relief. With a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope, this isn’t that important when you don’t have glasses, but the story is a bit different when you have a rifle in your hands.
Magnification matters quite a bit, too
If you were to do a bit of research on the subject, you’ll find that proper magnification varies quite a bit. This is a subjective thing, and there are many “rules” you might come across. However, one thing that most people tend to agree with, is that you should aim for more or less 3x increase at 100 yards. Therefore, at 200 yards, you’d be looking at 6x, or 9x at 300 yards. This, as we mentioned, is a personal preference, and you might agree or disagree. You won’t know until you try a few different options and see which one suits you best. Though, this might not be an option for people just getting into the rifle scopes game, as they’ll want to know what the best rifle scope magnification is before they buy.
Fortunately, this has more or less been taken care of in the past few years. In the beginning, the best all round scope had a 3:1 zoom ratio and the 3-9x magnification range was a staple. This makes perfect sense – you can get both close-ups, as well as extended shots. With most shooters, this is the ideal rifle scope if you were to limit yourself to a single one. 4-12x is another alternative that also has the 3:1 zoom ratio, with some even choosing that over 3-9x. As we said, this is a personal preference.
However, nowadays, we have zoom ratios that go from 5:1 to even 8:1. You won’t need to do any compromises here at the near or far end. A scope that has 1-8x or 2-16x can easily handle just about anything. This makes it extremely versatile, and you can easily rely on it as your one single rifle scope to do it all. Now, even though this is excellent, if you know you’ll only be hunting at close ranges, or longer ones, get a scope that’s specifically made for that. A lot of those versatile rifle scopes that aren’t really high end will sacrifice image quality at one end of the range, or both. Therefore, there’s no need to get a 4.5-30x scope, where realistically, you only need a 1-4x. Make sure you know your requirements before you go out and order your scope.
And last but not least, if you think you’ll be hunting within 200 yards, dot or reflect-style rifle scopes shouldn’t be overlooked. True, they don’t have magnification, but when you’re hunting in dense cover, or you have moving prey, they work wonders. The reticle can be easily seen in any lighting conditions, which is another good bonus. However, make sure you skip any cheap imitations of high-end scopes – they’ll end up costing you a lot in the field.
Turrets and adjustments can make a difference in the field
If you’re following today’s market, you know that tactical-style turrets that are rapid adjusting are all the hype nowadays. Especially with long-range scenarios, they hasten both windage and elevation adjustments. You could always learn to rapidly dial-in dope, but if you want to master it, that’ll take time, patience and practice. Once you do, however, there’s absolutely no guesswork when you want to do to long-distance shooting. And you’ll manage with everything, from the worst to the best rifle scope.
If you do opt for a tactical-style turret, make sure it’s a higher end model. On cheaper rifle scopes, you won’t get the absolute consistency that’s required. One more thing you might not find is the true return-to-zero feature. You’ll also need to pay attention to the turrets themselves before you take a shot. You want to make sure the turret wasn’t rotated accidentally, especially if you’ve just taken it out of a case. If you don’t notice this, it will result in a miss or a cripple.
On a tactical style scope, you’ll find clicks in 0.1-mil. On non-tactical ones, however, the adjustments will be in inches, often ¼” or 1/8”. The mil-dot system is often preferred once you learn it, but it will take some dedication to get used to it. If you don’t want to do that, just get a standard turret where clicks are valued at a quarter inch.
We saved the best for last – make sure you have your budget in mind
When we’re discussing rifle scopes, the unfortunate thing is that fewer results in poor. Poor performance, poor accuracy, poor reliability. Get a cheap rifle scope, and you’re either going to be extremely lucky and get the best rifle scope you’ve ever used or (and this is much more common) it’ll ruin your whole experience. With a mid-range scope that’s still budget oriented, you can enjoy much more, and have a more reliable scope in your arsenal. Later on, as your skills progress, you can upgrade to a more advanced, and more expensive scope.
If you went through our list, you might be left wondering. We did include a few relatively budget oriented scopes, yes. However, they all come from manufacturers who have proven to know what they’re doing, and we tried and tested them, so they aren’t a lucky buy. You can expect the same performance that we got, and you’ll be more than happy with it.
At the end of the day, choosing the best rifle scope for you and your needs can be difficult. There are plenty of rifle scopes on the market, there are plenty of variables to consider, and your needs might not align with someone else’s. Therefore, it’s a highly individual thing, but you must keep many considerations in mind.
Regardless of whether you’re an experienced hunter or someone who’s just getting in the game, we hope to have helped you with both the buyers’ guide and the range of options above. We have something for everyone, and we did our best to help you make an informed buying decision when you’re looking for the best rifle scope.