Best AR-15 Scopes – 2024 Complete Overview

| Last Updated:
October 20, 2023

In order to maximize the platform's accuracy, most firearm enthusiasts use some optical sighting device.

The options for AR-15 rifle platform can be a little overwhelming and confusing, so we composed this guide to help you to select the ideal scope for your particular needs.

Comparison of the Best AR-15 Scopes

  • Ideal sized red dot reticle
  • The battery life of up to 10,000 hours
  • Best red dot scope for an AR-15 rifle
View Latest Price →
  • Features and illuminated reticle
  • Magnification of up to 4.5 times
  • Best night vision scope for AR-15 rifles
View Latest Price →
  • Objective measured at 50mm
  • Best long-range scope for an AR-15
  • Magnification ranges from 6.5 to 20 times
View Latest Price →
  • Magnification of up to 4 times
  • Made from high-quality aluminum
  • Best carry handle scope for an AR-15
View Latest Price →
  • Red/Green dot sight included
  • Best AR-15 scope under $200
  • Made from high-quality aircraft-grade aluminum
View Latest Price →
  • Best for AR-15 hunting
  • Objective measured at 42mm
  • Magnification settings from 3 to 15 times
View Latest Price →

For many, the progression of guns begins with a .22 rimfire, then moves to a shotgun and bolt-action rifle. For some folks, this gun evolution reaches its zenith with a semi-automatic rifle.

As you may already know, both bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles began their lives as infantry weapons for military organizations. Later, they were altered a bit for sporting and hunting use by civilians back home.

The traditional bolt-action rifle is typically considered more accurate and reliable than a semi-automatic. For decades, that was a factor of crucial importance for making a decision in which type of gun to invest in. But the choice of firearms – particularly rifles – tends to follow trends.

So right now, besides the bolt-action guns, others that are similar to military-style rifles are also popular, especially with soldiers returning from overseas. And the sales leader among modern semi-automatics is undoubtedly the AR-15 series. According to the National Shooting Sports Federation, around 5 million Americans own some version of an AR-15.

When it first appeared, the AR-15 was widely criticized in gun magazines and the popular press for being unreliable and having mediocre accuracy. However, fantastic developments in AR design have occupied the gun public’s interest over the last few decades. And AR reliability and accuracy have improved almost beyond recognition.

When the law-abiding citizen purchases a semi-automatic rifle, naturally he wants to know how to make the most out of the weapon. There are thousands of options for AR-15 improvements on the marketplace. But a primary upgrade for your AR, no matter its intended use, will definitely include the installation of a sight.

Why optics? On the one hand, these accessories allow us to see targets more clearly. But another reason lies in simplicity; it’s much easier to learn to shoot with a scope than with iron sights. Compared to the complexity of lining up the three elements with metallic sight – a rear sight with the front sight and target – when using a riflescope you only have to line up crosshairs with your target.

So What Do I Need For My Intended Use?

As previously mentioned, there are different needs for different shooters. Hunters do not need the same precision as target shooters. But the AR-15 is one of the most versatile guns on the market. When a sportsman pairs it with an appropriate scope, he makes it an accurate and efficient machine to take down game with as little pain and suffering as possible. You can read our AR-15 scopes for hunting buyers guide here.

Deer Hunting

For deer, caliber is essential and some of the medium-sized cartridges are a good choice. Hunting equipment depends on the particular species, life environment, and weather conditions.  Since deer are often in wooded areas, your range is going to be short. That means we don’t need the most powerful lenses available. Instead, a versatile and adjustable riflescope with low-to-mid magnification and a wide field of vision at 100 yards should cover your needs.


In short, lean toward a solidly built 3-9X scope with sharp 40mm or 50mm objective glasses and duplex reticle, and you will be well-outfitted for next deer season.

Varmint Hunting

Today, blind hunting of varmints is a popular and growing method. But it’s also is one of the most challenging hunting experiences available.

Your prey are fast, wary, and intelligent. They are often hunted in low-light conditions in close ranges below 100 yards. On the other hand, varmint hunting can also take you to the plains challenging your shooting capability at small targets from 400 yards away.

An all-purpose variable-power riflescope with a 3-12x range and a wide field of view with a large objective lens (in the 50mm range) should be well-suited for hunting in low ambient light. For this type of hunting, suitable reticles can be as simple as a dot or classic duplex or as complicated as a tactical Christmas tree-styled reticle.

Once again, versatility is the key word in varmint hunting. The right scope can go a long way to evening the odds and ensuring your success.

Big Game Hunting

Unlike punching paper downrange, ethical hunting means the hunter remembers that he’s dealing with a living being. He needs to know about calibers, kill zones, and vital organs to bring his prey down efficiently. For instance, the heart and lungs of African plains game are far forward compared to the anatomy of their North American or European cousins.

Your AR-15 isn’t your best choice for big game; let’s not make that mistake. But with the right bullet and in limited circumstances, it can serve in a pinch.

Big game hunting takes dedication and a level of seriousness. With that comes special care in the choice of equipment. The right optics can help properly place your shot, which in turn guarantees or at least increases the chances of a humane kill.

Hunting big game can involve close contact with dangerous species, so using optics with low magnification is common sense. Some experienced hunters recommend the 2-7x power range as one of the best options, with the 3-9x coming in a close second. A 40mm or 42mm objective lenses is a great choice.

The higher levels of magnification of 7 to 9 are powerful enough for 99% of hunters in the world because the longest shot will be between two and three hundred yards. Now, if you’re going to switch to a weapon more suitable for regular big game hunting, you’re going to have a bigger bore and far more recoil. So, you’ll want a scope appropriate for that gun, as well, and not whatever you have on your AR-15. The construction has to be from one piece tube with generous eye relief to help protect your face from the rifle’s recoil.


Recreational shooting and close-quarters plinking with AR-15 rifles are quite popular. They also don’t require high-end optics. For punching paper and range play at 100 yards, the modern sporting rifle owner can pick out a very affordable optic that’s proportional to the little “black rifle” and compact and lightweight as well.

With so many different kinds of AR optics, from red dot reflex and holographic sights for shooting at 25 and 50 yards to full-sized scopes for 100 yards plinking, you should know that the more you pay, the higher quality you get.

target shooting scopes

While some red dot sights may provide more-than-adequate clarity and accuracy, the low-powered line of AR-15 optics has garnered a lot of attention in the AR realm. The scopes on the lower end of the magnification scale, like 1-4x or 1-6x magnification, provide versatility and offer some excellent performance.  On 1x power, these compact options are almost as fast as a red dot sight. On 4 or 6 power, you still have good target acquisition with enough magnification to be accurate at several hundred yards.


Until now, aficionados in the 3-gun world have been looking for a red dot or holographic sight. More recently, scopes with moderate levels of magnification are becoming more common.

The growing market for low-power scopes offers a vast assortment of telescopic sights with a low-end in the 1x to 2x range. Not long ago a variable optics sporting 1-to-4 power was all the rage. With advancing technology, the new "minimum" seems to be 1-6x. A few 1-8x scopes are waiting at the door as the next horizon for 3-gun optics.

With “true” 1x (no magnification) at the low end, these models include an illuminated center dot that mimics a red dot sight for speed on close-range targets. An illuminated ballistic reticle allows shooting at mid-range targets.

Tactical Use

Of course, a gun that started as military assault rifle also has optics for tactical use. So, it’s perfectly understandable that every tactical rifle enthusiast should be looking at them when buying new optics for a semi-automatic rifle.

Holographic and red dot sights are intended primarily for close-quarter combat. They are often used by military personnel and law enforcement agencies. While the holographic sight has much bigger reticle and wider field of view than a red dot scope, they have no magnification and are much more expensive. Another tactical-style scope is red/green dot sight that is also perfect for snap shooting. It’s great for hunting varmints at close range or training for any urban survival scenario.

Low-powered variable or fix scopes have also gained an incredible amount of popularity within the military and law enforcement as well as civilians arming for home defense. These feature ballistic reticles and are perfect for engaging close-range targets or dangerous game, but they can also be used at longer ranges.

Review of the Best AR-15 Scopes

Now let’s have a look at some general types of scopes that are available.

Red Dot

Despite the preconceptions of many, most shooting scenarios can be handled with zero magnification. Red-dot sights featuring an illuminated dot on top of the picture are a good choice. In particular, if you will frequently be shooting moving targets, you should consider the red/green dot with its unlimited field of view.

Actually, the red dot sights are not scopes. However, they are used for the same reason as your iron sights. So you should also keep backup iron sights on the off-chance that the red dot sight fails. There are two different types of these sights, red dot sights (Reflex) and holographic sights. There are many red dots explicitly built for AR rifles.

Best Red Dot:
Burris - Fastfire III Red Dot Reflex Sight


  • Great for all kinds of applications
  • Easy to install; takes a few minutes
  • Compact and rugged; doesn’t make the rifle look bulky
  • Windage and elevation adjustments are easy using a coin
  • Very lightweight; doesn’t add any additional weight to the rifle


  • Doesn’t fit Weaver rails
  • Battery life might be a little suspect
  • Some fitting may be required if installed on a Picatinny rail
What Recent Buyers Report

New buyers were happy with this product. One user was able to sight it in at 100 yards fairly quickly before shooting targets situated at distances from 250 to 300 yards out. He was able to hit them quite accurately with tighter shooting groups to boot. Another thing the new users liked was the compact size and durability of the scope itself.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This has a reflective lens, which is standard for red dot scopes. For the most part, it’s used for daytime purposes and even some low-light use. So, if you’re out at the range or out in the field, you’ll rely on the red dot to get the job done if you want to hit your shots consistently and accurately. Whether you want to hit bullseyes or kill shots, this scope can do you some good either way.

Who Will Use This Most 

This will be likely useful to those who are usually target shooters. Whether they’re doing it for casual or competitive purposes, it’s the kind of scope that will make your AR-15 a little bit more accurate while shooting at targets from impressive ranges. Don’t be surprised if you can easily and consistently hit targets from 300 to 400 yards out.

Bottom Line

If you need a red dot scope that will make your AR-15 rifle more accurate and dependable, the Burris Fastfire III Red Dot Reflex Sight might be your cup of tea. Once you install this on your rifle, you won’t be able to get enough of shooting off as many rounds as possible.

Night Vision

Night vision scopes work predominantly in the infrared spectrum as light-enhancement devices. When equipped with one or more reticle pattern, night vision rifle scopes are great with any AR rifle. They help provide reliable shots on predators or wild hogs in deep dark.  

Due to industry development, night vision optics are classified into a few quality levels, ranging from Generation 1 to Generation 4 (also known as Gen 3 FLAG). The newest, Generation 3 and Gen 4,  offer extended use and excellent light intensification. But they can be very expensive and out of reach for a lot of hunters. As with most things in life, you should choose the cheapest item that still satisfies your needs. In that way, Gen 1 and Gen 1+ night vision scopes offer shooting range from 70-150 yards. They provide superb image quality at a (relatively) meager price.

Best Night Vision:
Armasight Vulcan 4.5X 3P MG


  • Easy to install on most rifles
  • Works in most extreme weather conditions
  • Easy adjustments for windage and elevation
  • Illuminated reticle makes low-light usage a lot easier
  • Super durable construction will protect your scope’s zero settings from shock


  • None available
What Recent Buyers Report

Most of new users of this product were hunters in search of a scope that was great for varmint and predator hunting. They got their wish and more with this excellent option. Not only could they use it during the daytime hours, but it also excelled during the night while they were hunting for varmints or coyotes. One user said he was able to knock down a coyote that had been hassling his livestock for quite some time. He managed to get a kill shot from about 150 yards out.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This product can work around the clock in many hunting applications. You could simply hunt deer during the day or hunt for critters that might be destroying your property during the night. Either way, it’s a scope that you’ll put to good use for any given time of day and hunting application. Plus, you have some pretty good night vision to work with. So you’ll see a lot better during the night, depending upon the illumination settings.

Who Will Use This Most 

Of course, this will likely be put to good use by all kinds of hunters. It can be used during the day, night, or both. Either way, if you’re looking to knock down predators or varmints at night and deer or other game during the day, this could be your kind of scope for all your hunting adventures. 

Bottom Line

If you want an optics solution for your AR-15 that can work around the clock, the Armasight Vulcan will be the one that will take your hunting abilities to new heights. No predator, varmint, or whitetail deer will ever stand a chance against you and your rifle once you’re able to install this. It’s tough, bright, and reliable every single time you use it. 

Long Range Scopes

While the majority of hunting scopes cater to the mainstream huntsman, long-range optics offer a certain amount of elitism and specialty. The same goes for an AR-15 or AR-10's long-range riflescope. When utilized in the right hands with skill, ethics, and the proper load, they can shoot precisely at distances beyond 500 yards.

Just as a note, an AR-10-style rifle is an excellent big game and predator-hunting tool if you use the right caliber. But beside the right caliber, you’ll need superior optics and range-finding equipment, too.

Magnification level is a significant aspect of this optics niche. Some shooters divide long-range hunting and long-range target shooting scopes. Hunting scopes include 4-16X, 5-20X, 5.5-22, or the 6-24X power. Target scopes use 18x, 36x and even 40x for long-range shooting.

Magnification is not the only essential feature to get you out to those long-range distances. Additional features include a full-internal adjustment range with a ballistic turret and parallax adjustment. Further, long-range shooters prefer a large, 56mm scope bell with FFP and the ballistic reticles like BDC, Mil-Dot, or Christmas-Tree Reticles.

Long-range shooting implies fully multi-coated lens and superb, crystal clear glass; this, in turn, means that long-range hardware is more costly than standard riflescopes. Of course you always have to consider your budget, but stick with a quality brand that pumps out the exceptional glass. You may end up investing more in your scope than in your rifle itself, which is not unusual. Some people spend three times as much on the glass.

Best Long Range Scope:
Vortex Optics Viper 6.5-20x50


  • Easy to install; only takes a few minutes
  • Fits long-range rifles like the Creedmoor 6.5
  • Adjustments for windage and elevation are smooth
  • Super durable and will protect zero settings from shock
  • Quick and easy focusing reticle makes for quick target acquisition


  • Turrets may stick sometimes
  • Might be a little weighty at first
  • Might be a little blurry at higher magnification settings
What Recent Buyers Report

As expected, most new users were quite satisfied with this scope. Like the Leupold, one of the first things they have noticed was the all-around durability. The aircraft-grade aluminum made it impossible for shock, fog, or water to destroy it. Even better, the zero settings were easy to set and retain through many rounds. This excelled more as both a hunting scope and a target shooting scope. 

Why it Stands Out to Us 

Vortex Optics is known for being one of the best scopes when it comes to durability. If anything, it has an excellent combo of durability and clear image quality forged together to make one excellent riflescope for the AR-15. If you want something that will give you nearly a lifelong period of reliable service, this scope might be just what you’re looking for.

Who Will Use This Most 

This will be a great option for those who may not be able to afford something high-end like a Leupold. Not only that, it might as well be your best possible option if you want something that can go the distance. It will serve its purpose as a great hunting or target shooting scope for the newbie or seasoned AR-15 shooter. No matter where you fit in, this scope will be useful for many users.

Bottom Line

The Vortex Optics Viper is probably one of the best AR-15 scopes in the business, especially for something that will allow you to reach out and touch something from some impressive distances. If you want sharp, accurate, and reliable shooting at distances beyond 500 yards, this scope could be exactly what you’re looking for.

Best AR-15 Carry Handle Scope:
Trijicon ACOG


  • Great for various purposes
  • Easy to install on most rifles
  • Easy to sight in
  • Elevation was dead on right out of the box
  • Super durable against shock and impact


  • Expensive for most budget shoppers
  • Might be a little too short for some users
  • Highest magnification might make image quality fuzzy
What Recent Buyers Report

This scope was built for new users who utilize their carry handles that are attached to their AR-15 rifles. As expected, the scope itself was easy to install on their handles and stayed sturdy for a long time. One user said that it was the only scope he’s used for his carry handle since some others tend to not stay in place for a long time.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

A carry handle might be used for decoration on most AR-15 rifles. But it can also be put to good use as a scope holder. Sure enough, you’ll need a scope that can easily fit a carry handle. This scope will fit the bill. Not to mention, it gives you all kinds of illuminating power that will help you out with many applications in both daytime and low-light settings. If you need a scope that will give you reliable service throughout all times of the day, this may be the ideal scope for you. 

Who Will Use This Most 

This scope will likely be used by hunters since it has illumination features. This is especially true if you’re a hunter that wants to land a bag limit by the time the sun is up or down. Don’t count it out as useless in a daytime setting though. It has a reticle that will give you a sharpshooting ability like nothing else.

Bottom Line

The Trijicon ACOG Rifle Scope could be right up your alley if you want something that can excel as a really good hunting scope for your AR-15. Plus, it can easily attach to most carry handles. If you want a scope that will look good and puts a carry handle to work, you might have found one with this.

Best AR-15 Scope Under $200:
Vortex Optics Strikefire 2


  • Easy to install; only takes a few minutes
  • Stays sturdy and reliable after 1000 rounds
  • Weather-resistant; can handle the worst conditions
  • Super durable; protects your zero settings from shock
  • Red dot is fairly accurate in most low-light conditions


  • Dot sight may be a little bigger than expected
  • May take a little while to sight in than some scopes
  • Some of the illumination settings may be a little too bright
What Recent Buyers Report

A lot of new buyers had nothing but good things to say about this scope. They were quick to notice the durability of this scope along with the sharp red and green dots that allowed for accurate and precise shooting. One user said that it was easier for him to make his kill shots in low-light conditions than it was in broad daylight using the red dot reticle.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

Once again, the Vortex brand returns with another scope that is proven to excel in many applications. The red dot is used mostly for low light conditions while the green dot kicks into the clutch in broad daylight. Either way, it’s a scope that is proven to be tough, reliable, and can increase your hit probability in target shooting and hunting. If you need a scope that will boost your accuracy considerably, this one might be quite fun to use.

Who Will Use This Most 

This scope will likely be used for multiple purposes. But it will likely excel as a hunting scope because of the illumination settings. So if you’re after some varmint and big game and want to land one at dawn or dusk, this scope will allow you to make sure you don’t go home empty-handed. 

Bottom Line

The Vortex Optics Strikefire 2 is durable, reliable, and is one of the best scopes that will be able to work almost around the clock to make sure you're able to hit your targets quickly and consistently from many distances. Don’t be surprised if this scope lasts you many years or maybe even decades.

Best for Hunting: 
SWFA SS 3-15x42 Tactical Rifle Scope

No products found.


  • Durable and built all-around tough
  • Easy to install; only takes a few minutes
  • Easy to adjust for windage and elevation
  • Reticle makes for accurate and precise shooting
  • Some of the magnification settings are quite effective


  • None available

What Recent Buyers Report

This scope is tough as nails, according to many new buyers. One user says that it feels and works like a tried and true tactical scope. He was able to make quick windage and elevation adjustments on the fly and managed to consistently hit targets from as far as 400 yards out. New users have also been able to use this for both hunting and target shooting purposes.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This scope is the closest you can get to handle all high-stress situations (i.e. tactical). Like any other tactical scope, they are built tough and provide clear image quality. They are even easy to sight in. It usually takes a few minutes before you're ready for action. On top of that, it has a reticle that will allow for pinpoint accurate shooting. So whether you’re hitting bullseyes or a big game target, you know that this scope will come through in any given situation when time is not really on your side. 

Who Will Use This Most 

This is a scope that will likely be best for target shooting and hunting applications. No matter what, you have a scope that will hold zero after many shots and reach out at some impressive distances. If you want an AR-15 scope that might be the closest thing to military-grade as possible, this might be right up your alley.

Bottom Line

The SWFA may be great for tactical applications, hunting, or target practice. Either way, it’s a scope that is built to be tough and can be a sharpshooter’s dream. If you want something that will make your AR-15 look like a force to be reckoned with, this tactical scope might be the one thing that’s missing from your rifle. 

1-4x Scopes

High magnification is a good option for specific applications. But for some situations, it could be overkill, especially if you end up needing to make a follow-up shot. A smaller and more lightweight scope falls into a special category.

These low-power scopes are more popular and find wider use in other parts of the world. But in the United States, 1-4x scopes are considered somewhat specialized tools and almost strictly in the realm of short to medium-range autoloaders such as the AR-15.

1-4x or 1-6x scopes offer little magnification and are commonly used for fast target acquisition, firing at short distances and firing at high rates. By starting at 1x, a shooter has the choice to use their scope like a Red Dot sight for instinctive, split-second, aiming precision. Modest levels of magnification up to 4x provide more than enough power to shoot a few hundred yards accurately.

Best 1-4x Scope:
Leupold VX-2 1-4×20

Leupold scope


  • Durable construction
  • Great for many applications
  • Easy to install; only takes a few minutes
  • Easy adjustments for windage and elevation
  • Useful for both daytime and low-light settings


  • None available

What Recent Buyers Report

One of the things that new buyers of this scope noticed right away was its superior durability. It was so durable and airtight that no fog, water, or shock could ever affect it. It even keeps its zero settings in place even through hundreds, if not thousands of rounds, according to one user. The image quality was excellent and adjustments for windage and elevation were smooth like butter. 

Why it Stands Out to Us 

Leupold is one of the few brands best known for making very durable scopes. It is one of the higher-end brands that will be best known for its durability and even its image quality. Plus, every Leupold scope is backed by a lifetime warranty. So if you want a scope that is built to last, this could be exactly what you’re looking for. 

Who Will Use This Most 

This will likely be used by hunters, target shooters, and even competitive shooters. No matter how you use your AR-15 rifle, you’ll have a scope that will work hard and help you consistently hit your targets every time. If you want something durable, clear in image quality, and useful in so many ways, this could be the kind of scope that is worth investing in.

Bottom Line

The Leupold VX-2 Riflescope might be your best friend out in the field or the range. Install this scope on your AR-15 and you’ll get one that will keep the zero settings in place for a long time. No matter how many rounds you fire off, you will be amazed by its ability to stay dependable and reliable.

What’s the Best AR-15 Scope?

Let’s be upfront here: we’re not going to answer that question right away. Together, we need to look a lot more deeply.


The AR-15 was originally designed as a weapon of war, but as a modular weapons platform it can be scoped and customized for a whole range of purposes. It could be adapted for varmint hunting, big game hunting, long-range precision shooting, home defense, close-quarters combat, and informal plinking.

As we can see, each of these applications, ranging from small pest control to taking out 500-pound feral hogs to urban combat, require different optics performances to enable successful rifle engagement.


Once you have decided why you need a scope, you have to think about what your average distances will be. Each of the examples we gave calls for different features and performances. There are areas where you can make a compromise, of course. For instance, shooting varmints and big game calls for a powerful, dual-purpose, variable scope in the 3-12x or 4-16x range with a big bell.


A larger objective bell offers a great image in low-light conditions when you’re after moving varmints. This lets you stay out longer after sunset when many of these critters come out of their dens. But you’ll also be able to target larger prey from 400 yards away.

Home defense and close-quarters combat may require entirely different types of optical devices, as magnification is less critical and a larger field of view is vital. For that kind of purpose, you might want to look at riflescopes that have lower power, such as the 2-7x or 1-4x, or red dots and holographic scopes.

What Are The Factors That Go Into Choosing a Scope?

Let’s go into a bit more detail at what you need to consider in choosing a scope.


As we’ve said, the AR platform has the near-infinite number of applications with diverse demands. So there are many factors a scope buyer should consider to harmonize optics with an intended mission.

While many AR fans already realize that more magnification is not always better, it’s good to start by saying it again. It all depends on how you’ll use the scope and rifle. And too much can really be a bad thing in this case.

Our first principle is that below 10x magnification is the best for off-hand shooting or following targets. It’s generally strong enough for most recreational hunters and basic target shooters.  

At the opposite end of the spectrum, hunting in large open spaces and long range shooting can call for a high-powered 12x, 24x or even 40x magnification telescopic sights. In those cases, you probably need a supported position, such as prone or bench shooting.

In real-life situations, that means that a hunter in the woods would have a very hard time making a shot with a 32x scope. On the other hand, a bench rest shooter would be under-equipped with a 3-9x scope for a target at 1000 yards.

Also, many shooters use a red-dot for close-range shooting. However, many knowledgeable shooters prefer a low magnification scope of 1x-4x in power for those situations. Without magnification, these scopes can be used like dot- and reflect-style sights. But they can also give you extra magnification at mid-range for taking 100-300 meter shots.

Field Of View

The field of view (FOV) is tightly linked with scope magnification, and you always trade viewable area for magnification. Practically, a low-power scope allows a wide field of view, which is vital if your targets are going to be moving or if you have to fire faster follow-up shots.

Also scopes using a higher level of magnification would have the darker target picture due to the amount of light that can pass through it.  Otherwise, the rule of thumb is that larger objective lenses and higher diameter tubes (30 or 34mm) allow more light to enter the scope, thus making the image brighter.

Exit pupil

The exit pupil relates to how much light some scope gathers. It’s calculated simply by dividing the objective lens diameter by the magnification. For example, in the case of a fixed power 7x56 riflescope, the exit pupil is 8mm – that is, 56 divided by 7. That gives you a good exit pupil for low-light conditions, where the minimum is 4 mm – so this would work well!

tighten up your shot with a bolt upgrade

Of course, there are the trade-offs in performance.  Since our eye's pupil expands in low-light conditions, that means we will need a bigger exit pupil to provide an appropriate amount of light.

Reticle Type

After choosing the optics and the variable power range, a customer has to select from the variety of reticles offered by the manufacturers. There are dozens of different reticle patterns on the market today, from simple crosshairs through center dots all the way to Christmas-tree style reticles and complex grid patterns.

The average shooter doesn’t need these complicated reticles. Plus, more often than not with hunting optics, keeping it simple is the best way to go.

The three most common types of reticle are the Duplex, BDC, and the Mil-Dot. The Duplex and its variations such as the German No. 4 are simple and straightforward reticles that do what they are designed to do – draw your eye to the center.

Another type of hunter reticle incorporates bullet-drop compensation data on the lens, and they are appropriately called Bullet Drop Compensating (BDC) Reticles. Their design is suited explicitly for common calibers of the AR, and these reticles would be enough for that 400-yard shot.

Finally, the Mil-Dot is tactical-style graduated reticle is better suited as a range-finding aid. Generally, it is intended for special-purpose military and law-enforcement use.

One of the leading improvements of recent years is the illuminated reticle that provides shooters with fast target acquisition in lower light and against tangled backgrounds. The lighted thin crosshairs are perfect for improving visibility in day or nighttime use. But inexpensive versions feature reticles that are too bright and ruin any low light capabilities your eyes have developed. Be on the lookout for this if you’re buying a scope with illuminated reticles!

SFP vs. FFP Reticles

Another point to consider is the focal plane. This refers to different positions for the reticle within the scope. The majority of modern scopes have Second Focal Plane (SFP) reticles. These stay the same size in relation to the overall image size, allowing for a further magnification. In other words, the reticle doesn’t get magnified when everything else does.

Scopes using the second focal plane are useful in low-light environments, which limits their usability. But when used with a BDC reticle, they will need to be cranked to maximum magnification for their reticles to be fully utilized.

On the other hand, the size of the First Focal Plane reticle scales up and down as the magnification changes. The front focal plane is used primarily for tactical purposes because you can use the reticle at any power level and keep accurate measurement markings.  The first-plane reticle is also good for long-range hunting since it enables accurate shots at multiple magnifications. Today, high-end optics manufacturers are switching to the front focal plane models as they clearly surpass their predecessors.

Fog, Water and Shock Resistance

When using your scope in harsh weather, the optics have to be fog proof, waterproof, and shockproof. This can be achieved with the well-built seal on the outer lenses paired with multiple coating layers on all air-to-glass surfaces. Today, with modern technology, purging scopes with nitrogen or argon is almost a standard process. Having these resistances should go without saying.


The mirage effect is the optical distortion caused by heat waves rising from the overheated rifle barrel directly in front of the scope. Many benchrest shooters experience it particularly at higher magnification levels. Actually, the mirage at just 100 yards can become surprisingly distracting and can easily cause misses. As the simple and cheap solution, many shooters use a mirror shield that deflects image-distorting heat waves that come off a hot barrel after multiple shots.

Elevation And Windage Adjustment

For long-range shooters, rapid adjustment of elevation and windage is of vital concern. Nowadays a favorite choice is “tactical”-style turrets for quick tuning and 30-mm tube scopes, since they offer more internal adjustment range than a standard 1-inch scope (for the metrically challenged, 30 mm is almost 1.2 inches).

Nevertheless, the right scope for hunting will allow for pinpoint accuracy with little to no adjustments, so you should avoid over-adjustment. It can cause more issues than any other problem. Plus, while the ability to make adjustments is good, shooters have to make sure they do not dislodge the turrets, or their shots will be off.


There are many different AR scopes to use in varying scenarios. A basic rule to follow is that scopes from reputable manufacturers are extremely unlikely to have any issues.

For most of us, a budget drives most decisions, but you shouldn’t settle for cheap, low-quality scopes that will not last an entire magazine without breaking or losing zero. Choose wisely.

Michael Lutes

Michael Lutes is the managing editor and owner at Gun Mann. He is a veteran, gun enthusiast, 3 gun competitor, and 2a advocate. Mike has a passion for innovation and education across the industry to create great content, training, and insights from the best and brightest.