Last Update: November 2016
How to find the best AR 15 scope for the money…
The AR-15 has become one of the most versatile rifles available, with builds for the military, hunters & gun enthusiasts, it can be an effective rifle for close-range and long-range shooting. The capabilities match that of any long-range rifle. However, it is essential that you select the best AR 15 scope to match your needs. With the rise in popularity, the range of scopes has become enormous, which can often be very confusing and misleading for the ordinary rifleman. However, do not fear we are here to help guide you – no matter your budget, style or preference we will be reviewing the best, most effective AR-15 scopes for various budgets and styles.
10 Top Rated AR 15 Rifle Scopes
Below are our 10 best and most recommended AR 15 scopes currently available on the market, including various scopes from brands including Nikon, Aimpoint & Vortex. You will also find the consumer rating which is a score out of 5.0, with 1.0 being the lowest and 5.0 being the best rated.
A brief lesson in the history of the Rifle
There are not many things more American than the rifle. Though invented in Europe, the rifle was perfected in North America. In the early 1700s the Kentucky Rifle, then known as the Pennsylvania Rifle, was crafted by the German immigrant gunsmiths in what is now the states of Pennsylvania and Virginia. It was American militia members and Continental soldiers who taught the British Army a number of lessons with that same Kentucky long rifle in the American Revolutionary War.
Today, the rifle remains woven into the DNA of the United States. Nowhere can this be seen more than in the AR-15, the most popular rifle in the US. The AR-15 has a well-deserved reputation for accuracy, customizability, ease of maintenance, and more available parts than the number of items on a Chinese menu. Unlike its competitor, the AK platform of rifles, the AR15 can easily mount and incorporate a number of available optics. Choosing the best optic for your rifle depends on what your shooting style is, and how much coinage you can afford to pay for a scope.
What’s your shooting style?
First and foremost you need to consider the purpose of use that the scope will have, what do you plan on doing with your AR-15 once you have found the right optic. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to rifle scopes, while there are a few which could be used for various activities, the majority are designed specifically for a single type of shooting. Before beginning the process of choosing an AR-15 scope, you should take into consideration what your shooting style is.
- Do you shoot long range at targets past 500 yards?
- Do you prefer more tactical style shooting at 200 yards or less?
- Do you run a competition rifle and are in need of an optic that allows for faster target acquisition?
- Are you a Prepper that simply wants a reliable optic for if the lights go off and never come back on?
- Do you plan on using your AR for hunting?
Some optics can overlap different shooting styles, and most Mil-Spec equipment can shoot competition, be used in a tactical environment and is built like a tank. However, if you are setting up a rifle for long distance shooting, you’ll need to top it with dedicated long range scope.
If long distance shooting is your game, you may want to consider an AR-10 vs. the AR-15, chambered in .308 as opposed to the 5.56/.223. I’m not saying you can’t shoot a 5.56 out to 500 yards. You can. That said, the 5.56x45mm was designed to perform optimally at under 500 yards. With a competent shooter behind the rifle, an AR-15 chambered in .5.56/223 can and will consistently put groups in targets at 5-800 yards. However, if you are seeking an AR for dedicated long range shooting, I strongly advise an AR-10 chambered in .308/7.62x51mm.
The AR-15 and the AR-10 are very similar despite their different chambering, and most optics can be used on either rifle.
Best AR Optic Brands
Just as there are many different manufacturers of AR platform rifles, so it is with the optics we mount on them. Here are four great companies who make quality scopes for the AR.
Trijicon: Trijicon has built a solid reputation during the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for quality, well built, and long lasting rifle sights. Their systems are used by the US Military, British Armed Forces, Israeli Defence Force, and many other governments and agencies around the globe.
Leupold: The Leupold Company has been in business for 5 generations and produces a plethora of some of the finest shooting optics known to mankind. Leupold Scopes have also been to war, where their rugged construction, ability to hold zero and advanced technology has earned them great respect in many militaries across the globe. Leupold optics has a strong and dedicated following on the civilian and police market as well.
Millet: Millet sights have been around since the 1970s. Founded by a former engineer who had a strong eye for detail, Millet has been producing optics for hunters, shooters, military, and police for over four decades. In 2005, Millet was purchased by the Bushnell Company and continues to produce quality scopes and sights for today’s shooters.
Nikon: Nikon produced everything from high-end cameras to movie production equipment. Nikon also makes some of the highest quality outdoor equipment including binoculars and rifle scopes and optics. Many of the products offered by Nikon are very affordable for the average shooter.
NCStar: Founded in southern California in 1997, NCStar produces affordable optics. While not offering the high-end quality of Trijicon or other companies such as Leupold or Nikon, NCStars scopes are perfectly serviceable and can punch holes in targets nicely for a diehard AR-15 operator.
BSA: BSA is another producer of affordable, but very serviceable rifle scopes. BSA has built everything from aircraft and STEN submachine guns to anti-tank artillery for the British Military in World War II. Today, BSA no longer manufactures military equipment but produces affordable, quality optics and outdoor equipment for shooters around the world.
AR-15 Sight Options
There are so many choices out there if you are looking for an excellent optic to mount on your AR. I have chosen three, and that was very hard. Almost any product made by the above manufacturers for an AR is a good option, but alas I had to choose three. Here are my choices. I have listed them at 3 price points.
$1300: My first choice is the Trijicon ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight) is my first choice. The reason I have chosen this marvelous optic is because of its unique and reliable design. The ACOG is self-luminous through the use of both fiber optics and tritium. Tritium is radioactive hydrogen and has a half-life of 10 years. The sight is fielded by the USMC and is truly built like a tank and waterproof up to 100 meters. Not that you should be taking your AR-15 swimming. Illumination is 4x. The ACOG is a great sight for shooters seeking to build or buy a high-quality AR-15, with a mind towards tactical shooting, prepping or even competition.
$500: At the $500 price range, I have selected the Leupold Mark AR Mod 1. The Leupold is easily the most accurate optic I have selected, even with its tactical orientation. It can be dropped down to 1.5 magnification and can be taken up to 4x for longer shots out to 3-400 yards if need be. Leupold has a high standard of quality, and the Mark AR lives up to all expectations. A great option for the shooter who wants quality, but can’t quite afford an ACOG. The Leupold is a great choice for both tactical and competition shooters.
$70: One optic I have been quite impressed with, is surprisingly the $70 BSA Tactical Weapon 4 x 30mm Rifle Scope. I have found that this optic will put rounds on paper, and do so consistently time and again. I have also found the quality to be much higher than expected. The BSA comes with a Mil-Dot reticle, and according to the company is both water and shock proof. I didn’t bang it against a brick wall during testing, but I have seen these sights abused and still function flawlessly.
Types of AR-15 Optics
Holographic sights are designed for close quarter’s combat and instinctive shooting. Holographic optics are popular with the military with the Eotech being a favorite for special forces and combat arms troops. These optics make it much easier to rapidly place rounds on target.
Holographic optics are not necessarily designed for precision marksmanship. They are designed for rapid fire situations, situations where seconds can mean the difference between life and death or winning or losing a competition.
Holographic sights are available for most budgets, with the more expensive Eotechs being built to military standards, and the cheaper Sightmark brand for those on a budget.
The AR 15 platform is often underrated regarding its range and capable precision. In fact, Marines are required to qualify yearly at 500 yards with their rifles on man sized targets. Attaching telescopic scopes makes it much easier to place shots on targets at long ranges, and while this is important when punching paper, it’s much more important when hunting.
The variable magnification options on telescopic scopes can also make your optic much more versatile. For example, the Bushnell AR Optics 1-4x scope is perfect for ranges up close and personal at 1 and 2 power, but can easily extend you overall range when cranked up to 4.
Reflex sights, their use is pretty much in their name. These optics are designed for rapid firing shooting and walk hand in hand with holographic sights. Many reflex sights can be considered holographic sights, and many holographic sights can be considered reflex sights.
Reflex sights have a much broader definition than holographic sighs, though. Reflex optics as designed for rapid close quarter’s shooting and can be equipped with AR rifles, handguns, and shotguns. These optics include tube style red dot optics, miniature red dots, and holographic optics.
Some reflex sights like the Aimpoint Comp M2 are full sized and designed to be primary optics. Then miniature RX30 by Trijicon acts as an excellent offset back up optic for a longer ranger scope. Reflex optics are designed to be simple and fast, giving up precision for speed.
What are the best AR-15 brands?
As brands have begun manufacturing optics specifically designed towards the AR-15 it is not uncommon to find scopes which have drop compensation systems purposely designed for the .223 as well as unique mounting systems & illuminated reticles all of which have become a sub-set of standard features for many rifle enthusiasts.
Trijicon & Millett
Two of the best brands on the market, but they come at a price
Trijicon is known for it’s fantastic ACOG series of optics. This series has contracts with the Marines, Army, and several dozen states, local, and federal police agencies. Trijicon designs optics to go to war, and not the only g to warm but too win them. Trijicon does not produce a hundred different optics but focuses on their core series, and occasionally produces an extremely well-built optic. If you are looking for a Trijicon be prepared to spend some money, but know you are getting quality.
Millett is the tinker tailor of the firearm’s optic world. Millet may not be a company that is extremely popular, but for those in the know Millet is a name associated with quality. They do not produce a large line of optics, but they demand absolute perfection from their optics, and perfection is expensive, but worth every dime.
Nikon & Leupold
Excellent, affordable long-range scopes
Nikon is involved in everything optic related. This includes everything from rifle scopes to binoculars, to cameras and camera lenses. In term of firearm optics, they produce a variety of different optics for handguns, rifles, slug guns, and muzzleloaders. Nikon sticks to producing long or medium range optics for their customers, and this focus allows them to produce excellent well-priced optics.
Leupold is one of those names that can instantly be associated with optics. Leupold optics are the choice of Marine Snipers, as well as the choice for police, and hunters, and even plinkers. Leupold produces optics that range anywhere from 1,400 to a mere 200 dollars. The wide price range is not representative of quality, whether you spend 200 dollars or a 1,000 dollars you are getting an amazing optic.
NCStar & BSA
Cheap and cheerful, great for punching holes in paper
There is a special place in the world for things designed just for fun. There are just for fun guns, and there are just for fun optics. NC Star and BSA both produce relatively inexpensive optics designed to be used as plinkers. These optics are simple, cheap, and fun to plink around with. They also allow you to try different concepts without investing several hundred dollars. For example, do you want a red dot? Are you sure? Do you want to spend the money on an Aimpoint and later find out red dots, in general, aren’t for you? Of course not, however, NC star and BSA may not offer optics for duty, but they offer optics for fun and training.
What’s your budget?
AR-15 Scopes: sub $1,000
Trijicon AccuPower – This 4-16x 50mm variable optic is excellent for precision marksmanship and is a Trijicon optic that is under 1000 dollars. This excellent optic is perfect for hunting, or precision paper punching. This optic is designed for precision, but is still built to be rugged and ran hard.
Aimpoint CompM4 – Interested in using what the military uses? The Aimpoint CompM4 is an issued optic with the U.S. Army and has served in both Afghanistan and Ira2q. This red dot optic is built for combat and is durable, precise, and proven around the world. It’s easy to say that this optic is probably the best option for close quarters use on a carbine.
VX-R Patrol – Made by Leupold this magnified, telescopic sight is designed for a patrol carbine. Police find themselves in a versatile job and need a versatile optic. The VX-R Patrol optic is variable from 1.25x to 4x, allowing it to be a capable close quarters optic, or for placing precision up to 500 yards when a flick of the magnification control.
AR-15 Scopes: sub $500
Eotech 512 – The Eotech holographic series is one of Eotech’s most popular optics. This can be considered their flagship optic and is in widespread use with the military and law enforcement around the world. The Eotech is built to take a beating and has served our troops overseas for nearly a decade. The Eotech 512 is a wonderful optic and can be had for fewer than 500 bucks. It’s perfect for any AR 15 carbine.
Aimpoint Pro Patrol – This red dot optic by Aimpoint was designed with input from professionals around the world. The Pro Patrol optic is designed to co-witness the sights on a standard AR 15 rifle. The Pro Patrol uses a 2 moa red dot, which is small enough for precise shots, but large enough to be used quickly. The Aimpoint Pro Patrol optic is designed to be tough and precise and is available on a relatively low budget.
Burris AR-332 – A purpose built AR optic for the Burris is a fixed power optic, with a 3 power magnification. The reticle is built with holdovers for both range and wind holdovers and is still small enough to be used as a close quarters combat optic. The Burris AR is an excellent optic that often hovers in the 350 to 400 dollars and is a great value.
AR-15 Scopes: sub $200
Vortex Strikefire – The Vortex Strikefire is a red dot optic with a tube style frame. The Vortex Strikefire is an excellent budget optic and is built to a much higher standard than what is expected of most budget optics. The Strikefire is designed for close quarters and works well in that role. The optic is solid enough to withstand 1000 rounds of powerful .375 H&H magnum rounds.
Bushnell TRS 25 – The TRS 25 is a red dot optic built by legendary optic’s maker Bushnell. The TRS 25 could be considered by some as a miniature red dot but is a little larger than most normal miniature optics. The TRS 25 uses a 3 MOA red dot for rapid close range shooting. Bushnell packed a ton of features into the TRS 25, including multi-coated optics, high contrast lens coating, 100% waterproof, shockproof, and fog proof.
Simmons ProSport – The ProSport is a variable optic with magnification coming in between 4-12 power, with a 40 mm objective lens. The Simmons ProSport is designed with hunters in mind and it shows. A simple crosshair designed for slow, but precise shots, and quite a bit of magnification. The Simmons ProSport is an excellent optic for those looking to wield their AR rifle for hunting varmint, predators, or deer.