We’re gonna talk about AR-15 scopes and I will give you my personal recommendations on the best scopes you can get today.
But let’s start from the beginning. A lot of people who just got into the whole gun world usually don’t end up with the scope they need. I wouldn’t blame them since there are so many scopes out there and people just aren’t sure what to buy. So even if my recommendations do not suit your needs, what I’m about to tell you will be invaluable.
The AR-15 is the civilian variant of the M16. It has many things going for it that a lot of people love. For one, it is light yet powerful and extremely customizable. I mean it when I say that almost every component of the AR-15 can be changed to suit your needs. For a light weapon, you would expect the recoil to be high, but that is not the case here. The recoil is quite low.
All of this makes the gun very easy to use with little training, which is exactly why the U.S. Army adopted the M16 into widespread use during the Vietnam War. The accuracy is nothing to scoff at, either. One can hit a target out at 150 yards without breaking a sweat. Pair that with a scope and you can accurately and consistently tap your target out at 600 yards. But shooting targets at 600 yards is a bit of a stretch.
When we talk about scopes, we need to talk about magnification. That depends on the range from which you are most comfortable shooting. Anything below 150 yards is considered close range, and you just want a scope with 1x to 4x magnification power.
Some people argue that you should use red dot sights at such a range instead, and I’m inclined to agree. The difference between a scope and a red dot sight at such a range is target acquisition speed. A red dot sight is about 30% faster, which can be the difference between winning or losing the competition or the gunfight.
But the advantages of the red dot fade away when you get farther than 100 yards. So that’s your magic number. Below 100 yards, go for the red dot. Above 100 yards, get a scope. Between 150-400 yards is the medium range, and you should use a scope with 5x-9x magnification power. Beyond 400 yards is long range, and you need a scope with more than 9x magnification power.
So you now know what magnification range would work for you. But what if your range changes? Get a variable powered scope. With this in mind, here are my top 5 recommendations for AR-15 scopes.
Table of Contents
I consider this to be the best all-rounder scope. The magnification power is 1x-6x. Of course, this is a bit weak if you are shooting above 400 yards, but not many people do that. The AR-15 is designed to be a short-to-medium range rifle, after all. The durability is excellent. You can use it in almost any climate without worry as it is shock, water, and fog proof. Overall, this scope is suitable for hunters and competitive shooters alike.
The glass is high-quality, without a doubt. It achieves the best light transmission thanks to the multi coated lens so you have a crisp image. This alone should make the scope at least twice more expensive than it actually is. But it gets better.
The folks at Primary Arms know their stuff and they understand that the reticle can make or break a scope. So they put together the ACSS reticle, which is their best second focal plane reticle. That means the scope functions as a red dot and a bullet drop compensator reticle simultaneously.
You have the clever engineering of the outer ring to thank for that. It works like a red dot for fast target acquisition but the center dot is designed for precise, long-range shots. So, this solves the problem of choosing between a red dot or a scope since this one does both without any drawback. The reticle is etched into the glass, mitigating the use of power until you use the illumination feature, which has 11 brightness settings.
The only downside to this scope is in the eye box. It is not that forgiving, although the eye relief is at 3.5”. The only way to get around this is to get yourself a proper cheek weld and practice, which shouldn’t take too much time.
The assorted knobs are smooth yet give you a click sound to let you know that you are dialing in as intended. The scope can hold zero right out of the box well. It does not have tactical turrets, but don’t let this discourage you from buying this scope. It is a very solid option.
Consider getting this one if you just want a scope for hunting. Nikon used their best glass on the scope and fully multi-coated the lens with their best lens coating as well. The result is a 98% light transmission. So you can pretty much see everything, even when there isn’t much light.
The magnification power also makes this scope an excellent option for hunting. You can tap your targets at 100 yards easily at the minimum 3x magnification. Crank it up all the way to the top at 9x and you can hit things at 600 yards. Even at 9x, the scope is crystal clear and parallax-free.
The BDC 600 second focal plane reticle is designed for the .223 Rem. It measures the trajectory and provides you with an accurate estimation of bullet drop. Although, they seem to have botched the bubbles a bit here as they are a bit small. If they are just larger, it would be a lot easier on the eyes and just as easy to sell this scope.
Speaking of eyes, the eye relief distance for this scope is 3.6” and it stays consistent no matter what magnification you are on. Durability is, again, excellent. The scope is rugged, water, and fog proof. Normally, that would mean extra weight for the scope. However, Nikon managed to keep it at 1.1lbs.
The knobs are top-notch. This time, the scope comes with tactical turrets specifically designed for hunting. You don’t have to uncap the turret whenever you need to adjust. You just dial in and move on, which can save you a fair bit of time. Plus, it holds zero well. The turrets also produce an audible click as you adjust.
Last but not least, the scope comes with Nikon’s Spot On ballistic match tech, which takes away the one thing that makes hunting tedious: guesswork. It provides accurate aiming points so you can just focus on the shooting and hauling the meat back to home base.
Some people call this the budget ACOG, and I’m inclined to agree. The multi-coated glass provides a crystal-clear image and a generous field of view. The EBR-556B Reticle has a measurement for the range and holder and is effective up to about 500 yards or so. Although the reticle is designed for the 5.56×45 cartridge, some people say that it also works for other cartridges such as the .223. Your mileage may vary.
The reticle itself is etched into the glass, so no power is needed unless you want an illuminated reticle. For that, you can choose between red or greens that can be switched with a flick of a switch. You also have a brightness knob that has 5 settings. The downside is the battery life, which is around 250 hours on high and 3,000 hours on low. So, I highly recommend bringing some spare batteries if you use this scope.
The scope comes with a fast-focus eyepiece to help you adjust the reticle faster. You just turn a knob to focus the reticle. Simple as that. The magnificent is fixed at 3x, which is effective up to 500 yards without any issues. If you want to use this scope for 3-gun, there is a little rail at the top for a micro red dot as well.
While we’re on the subject of knobs, let’s talk about the elevation and windage knobs. The turrets are easy to adjust and produce a click sound. It doesn’t come with tactical turrets, so you need to take off the cap to adjust. The steel tether prevents you from losing the cap. The scope is easy to zero and it holds that zero well.
The biggest downside to this scope is the eye relief, which is at a measly 2.8”. Not ideal at all. But, there are a few ways to overcome this problem. You can remove the flip-ups and move the scope back a bit further, or get a collapsible stock. The eye box is quite forgiving, thankfully.
The Spitfire 3x is built like a tank. It is water, fog, and shockproof. Unlike the UTG, these features do not come with extra weight. The scope is only about 15oz and quite compact.
Next up is the UTG. If budget is your biggest concern, you can’t really go wrong with this one as it comes under $200. Of course, at that price point, anyone would expect the manufacturer to cut some corners, but that is not the case at all here. What put this scope on the list is the lack of compromises that could make this scope feel cheap and underwhelming.
The glass is certainly not the best in the world, but still very solid at its price point. It is multi-coated to enhance light transmission and the second focal plane Mil-Dot reticle is etched right into the glass. The reticle itself is perfect for beginners as it is easy to use while still giving you information to help you hone in your shots with their tiny dots.
Magnification is also not the best, but again I can’t complain much when the scope is that affordable. You get 3x-12x magnification to work with. It is quite clear and largely parallax-free, even when you crank it to the maximum 12x magnification, but you might notice some fuzziness at that level.
Since the reticle is etched into the glass, you don’t need to use power most of the time. You do need a battery if you need to use the illuminated reticle. What surprised me is the fact that you can customize the color of the illumination with 36 colors to choose from, and it remembers your previous setting with a click of a button. The eye relief distance is at a generous 3.4”, which is not all that bad.
The durability is excellent as always. It can withstand a lot of abuse without losing the zero. The scope is shock, rain, and fog proof. The downside here is that these features make the scope heavier. This one weighs in at 24oz, quite hefty.
Given how the only real sacrifice they have to make is in the weight department, I highly recommend this scope as an entry. I cannot recommend this scope to anyone who moves their rifle a lot since you will feel the weight after swinging your gun around after a while.
But that is really it for the downside. The scope comes with tactical turrets for quick on-the-fly adjustment without fumbling with the caps. The zero is solid and it holds surprisingly well. The knobs produce an audible click sound during adjustment, which is a nice touch.
As if the price point is not competitive enough, UTG decided to do one better by including a flip-open lens cap and medium profile rings in the box, and also a lifetime warranty. The durability is already excellent, but even if your scope breaks down, you can get it fixed for free.
For these reasons, it is really hard for me to not recommend this scope. It will serve you well so long as you don’t mind the extra weight.
This scope is loved by everyone, be it the law enforcement, hunters, competitive shooters, and even the military.
Let’s start with the glass. It is very clear and comes with a First Focal Plane Special Competition Reticle and MOA ranging which is accurate regardless of the magnification level. The reticle itself is engineered for long-range shooting and looks great even at 3x and 15x magnification. It has a wide variety of estimations and measurements to help you nail your shots with pinpoint accuracy.
The reticle is illuminated, and there are 11 brightness settings, 4 for day, and 7 for night, which pretty much covers every light condition. The reticle is designed in a way that helps with ranging targets with ease. You can tell at a glance that a lot of thoughts are put into designing the scope.
The eye relief comes at 3.5”-4.3”, pretty generous. The eye box is also very forgiving. You can look through the scope for a long time without any discomfort. The T5Xi is on the heavy side, but it is justified with its build quality. It is a rugged scope made from aircraft-grade aluminum and is O-ring sealed and gas-purged. It is waterproof, fog-proof, and shockproof.
Speaking of sight, the magnification ranges from 3x-15x, making it perfect for pretty much every range. It does beat out on other scopes with its 15x magnification. Another nice feature I found here is that the adjustable diopter has a lock to prevent displacement when you accidentally bump into something.
The assorted knobs are buttery smooth and produce click sounds as you turn them. The scope also features a parallax adjustment in case you ever run into that problem.
A neat little feature here is the zero-stop feature, so you can go back to the scope’s zero in a flash. There is a little kink in the system, though. When you jump to zero, it actually stops about .3 mils past it, so make sure to dial it up. Other than that small inconvenience, the scope holds its zero very well even after sustaining recoil and drops.