Get the Best AR-15 Scopes
Magnified optics (scopes) are a great option for shooters who want to be more accurate with their rifles at greater distances than a traditional red dot will allow.
However, there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to AR 15 scope selection – what works well for fast target acquisition at 100 yards will not be effective for precision marksmanship at 700 yards. Consequently, you should choose your AR 15 scope based on its intended use.
These top picks are broken into five specific categories:
- Unpowered, fixed range
- Powered, fixed range
- Variable magnification (3:1)
- Variable magnification (5:1)
- Powered, variable magnification
While these rifle scopes are recommended, we encourage further research before making a purchase so that your decision matches your specific needs.
But for each category, here is our top selection and a lower price alternative with similar performance characteristics, as well as a high standard of expected quality:
Note: All images from Amazon. All links redirect to Amazon. We’ve found that Amazon offers the best pricing on AR-15 scopes.
|Category||Top Picks||Budget-Friendly Alternatives|
|Unpowered Fixed||Leupold FXII (4x)||Nikon P-223 (3x)|
|Powered Fixed||Trijicon ACOG (4x)||Vortex Spitfire (3x)|
|Variable (3:1)||Swarovski Z3 (3-9x)||Burris Fullfield II (3-9x)|
|Variable (5:1)||Leupold VX5-HD (3-15x)||Nikon Monarch 5 (3-15x)|
|Powered Variable Magnification||Trijicon RS24 AccuPower (1-4×24)||Vortex Optics Strike Eagle (1-6×24)|
Unpowered Fixed-Range Scopes
Top Pick: Leupold FXII (4x33mm)
The FXII may be on the lower end of Leupold’s pricing spectrum, but it performs as a product from a high-end optics manufacturer should. The FXII weighs a mere 9.3 ounces, is 100% waterproof and fog-proof (thanks to Leupold’s proprietary nitrogen-sealing process), and offers crisp adjustments in ¼ MOA increments for windage and elevation. Like all Leupold products, it is covered by their Full Lifetime Guarantee, meaning they will repair or replace it for free, regardless of whether you are the original owner or not. In a nutshell, the FXII is a bulletproof choice for those who want a simple fixed-magnification optic.
Budget-Friendly Alternative: Nikon P-223 (3x32mm)
Comparatively, the Nikon P-223 was designed specifically for the trajectory of a .223/5.56mm 55-grain, polymer-tipped NATO round. The multicoated optical system provides up to 98% light transmission, making it an excellent choice for dawn and dusk shooting. Windage and elevation adjustment is in ½ MOA increments. Like the FXII, the P-223 is waterproof, fog-proof, nitrogen-sealed, and is covered by a lifetime repair/replacement policy.
Powered Fixed-Range Scopes
Top Pick: Trijicon ACOG TA31-G (4x33mm)
The Trijicon ACOG has been in service with the US military since 1987. This rugged, combat-proven optic features a bullet-drop compensating reticle with dual illumination – fiber optics provide illumination in daylight, and tritium at night. The ACOG’s glass lens is multi-coated to provide superior light transmission and image clarity with no distortion. It can also be used as a CQB sight when shooting with both eyes open, and is waterproof up to 328 feet.
In short, the ACOG is built to perform in the worst extremes, making it our top pick for powered fixed-magnification optics.
Budget-Friendly Alternative: Vortex Spitfire 3x (3x32mm)
There are a number of powered fixed-magnification optics on the market, but the Vortex Spitfire 3x prism scope is one of the most popular. This compact optic provides 3x magnification, a reticle that is visible with or without illumination, and adjustable brightness settings for the reticle. The Spitfire is waterproof, fog-proof, and features multi-coated lenses for maximum light transmission. All Vortex products are covered by an unlimited, fully-transferable lifetime warranty.
Variable-Range Scopes (3:1)
Top Pick: Swarovski Z3 (3-9x36mm)
The Swarovski Z3 is a traditional hunting scope with superb lens clarity that offers the highest possible performance in all light conditions. This simple but rugged optic is machined to the most extreme tolerances – approximately 1/8 of a hair’s breadth – and provides razor-sharp, high-contrast images with maximum color fidelity. It’s rated from -4 to 131 degrees Fahrenheit. It is compact and lightweight, with windage and elevation turrets that are adjusted in precise ¼ MOA increments. For all of these features and more, the Z3 would be an ideal hunting optic for your AR-15.
Budget-Friendly Alternative: Burris Fullfield II (3-9x40mm)
The Burris Fullfield II is one of the most awarded scopes in the shooting and hunting industry. It’s renowned for high-grade optical glass with excellent brightness, clarity, and light transmission. This waterproof, fog-proof, shock-proof workhorse is also covered with the Burris lifetime warranty, making it an excellent choice for the budget-conscious shooter.
Variable-Range Scopes (5:1)
Top Pick: Leupold VX5-HD (3-15x44mm)
Once again, Leupold makes our list, this time with the VX5-HD. This versatile and adjustable optic is a top performer in the 5:1 scope category.
The bright, clear sight picture, fiber-optic reticle illumination, and special lens coatings provide the maximum amount of light transmission possible for low-light shooting. It is water-, fog- and shock-proof, featuring a Ballistic Aiming System to help you master long-range shooting. The built-in motion sensor will power down the optic after 5 minutes of inactivity and power back on when you pick up the rifle again. In short, it’s a high-end smart scope for shooters who want top performance in a variable-magnification optic.
Budget-Friendly Alternative: Nikon Monarch 5 (3-15x42mm)
If the VX5-HD is outside of your price point, consider looking into a Nikon Monarch 5. This 5:1 scope has the same general specifications as the Leupold, but without all of the fancy electronic bells and whistles. It has a bullet-drop compensated reticle, extra-low dispersion glass for superior image contrast, and multicoated lenses for maximum light transmission. Like the Leupold, it is water-, fog- and shock-proof, and is covered by Nikon’s lifetime repair/replacement warranty.
Powered, Variable-Range Scopes
Top Pick: Trijicon RS24 AccuPower (1-4×24)
Seven different reticle options are available for this second-focal plane scope, which weighs in at a fraction over a pound. Choose either green or red LED illumination, though the reticle is etched into the glass as well.
In this product category, the combination of magnification and a powered reticle leads to many price tags over $1,000, while Trijicon’s own VCOG can cost over $2,000.
The Trijicon RS24 stays in the $600-range, weighs 16.2 ounces, and still allows you to shoot with both eyes open.
Budget-Friendly Alternative: Vortex Optics Strike Eagle (1-6×24)
Vortex launched the Strike Eagle in 2015, and it’s been a public favorite ever since. Now available for right around $300, the product uses a proprietary AR-BDC reticle, etched into the glass and illuminated, with 11 power options. At maximum brightness, the reticle is purported to last 150 hours, though a spare battery compartment is built into the windage cap.
The Strike Eagle has a lifetime warranty and weighs 17.6 oz (not as heavy as others on the value side). Complaints on the product mention not liking the reticle, lenses or maximum brightness. Improvements on that quality can be paid for in other products, but for the price the Strike Eagle is hard to beat.
One Last Tip
If there’s anyone that knows the AR-15 platform, it’s the US military. As a special offer for our readers, you can get the Official US Army Manual for AR-15/M4/M16 right now – for free. Click here to snag a copy.