Best Rifle Scopes Reviewed 2020: Top Brands and Options
There are all sorts of rifle scopes available to today’s shooter, from gun-specific models to all-purpose adjustable models. There are great options for every type of gun and every style of shooting. They range in price from $50-$5,000, which just goes to show how much variety there is!
We’ve compared hundreds of them, from all the leading manufacturers. We read expert reviews, hunting blogs, and compared all the important specs. We’ve also combed through hundreds of reviews from previous buyers who have spent time using these.
We’ve used this research to come up with guides to the best rifle scopes available today, and recommended a few great choices for common guns and shooting styles.
In this Guide
Top Related Article – Best Rifle Scopes Under $1,000
Best Rifle Scopes
|Best Rimfire Scope||Nikon P-Rimfire||Check Price|
|Best .22 Scope||Leupold FX-II Scout||Check Price|
|Best Scope for .308||Leupold Mark AR MOD||Check Price|
|Best AR-15 Scope||Nikon P-223||Check Price|
|Best Sniper Scope||Nightforce NXS||Check Price|
|Best Long Range Scope||Leupold VX-5HD||Check Price|
|Best Night Vision Scope||ATN Night Arrow||Check Price|
|Best Air Rifle Scope||BSA||Check Price|
The good news for hunters these days is, there’s a perfect scope for every shooter and every gun! However, it can be pretty darn tricky to figure out which one will hit the bullseye. After all, it’s not just about the quality of the scope. You’ve also got to make sure it’s a good fit for your weapon and your hunting style.
The marketplace is pretty hard for the average joe to navigate. The articles and reviews are full of jargon, and loaded with lots of dense technical specs. How do you know which model actually makes sense for your gun, in real-world terms?
Let us help you! We started this page to help our fellow hunters and shooters find the best options on the market without spending all your time and energy shopping when you could be shooting!
Here’s a quick look at the range of guides we’ve put together!
Best Rimfire Scope
Rimfire cartridges are inexpensive, low-recoil mainstays on the hunting grounds. Traditional wisdom will tell you that cheaper guns and ammo means you can get away with a cheaper scope.
However, since you can fire so many more rounds on a rimfire rifle without putting a hole in your wallet, you’ll want one that can handle being shot all day long! The best rimfire optics have adjustable parallax settings for shooting up close, and low power ranges which complement the ideal firing distances of rimfire cartridges. They’re just as durable as centerfire options, with shock-proofing and lifetime warranties.
Our top value pick for a rimfire-specific model is the Nikon P-Rimfire:
It’s a simple, effective solution for your rimfire rifle that’s just as budget-friendly as your gun! It’s also affordable enough for most buyers. All the same, it’s built to a standard of quality that you’d expect from a much more expensive model.
Its lenses are fully multicoated, and the tube is completely shock, water, and fogproof. It also has some great features just for rimfire rifles, like a low parallax setting and 3-9X power range.
We especially love the BDC reticle, which is specifically calibrated for .22 rimfire ammo and coordinates with Nikon’s ballistics app!
Best Scope for .308
The .308 is a powerful all-purpose cartridge that’s been a hunting mainstay for years. It has low recoil, it’s inexpensive, and it’s gentle enough to preserve the life of your rifle barrel.
Since it’s shorter and punchier than other cartridges, you need one that suits the .308’s unique flight dynamics. We recommend those with BDC reticles, since .308s drop quite a bit over distance.
You’ll also want solid windage adjustment. The ideal .308 scope is versatile and adjustable, with a low-to-mid power range.
One of the most effective options for .308 rifles is the Leupold Mark AR MOD 1:
The Leupold was actually designed for AR’s, as you can guess from the model name. Despite that, it makes a perfect companion for a .308. You can easily get it customized from the manufacturer, with BDC knob spec’ed out to .308 specifics.
The Mark AR MOD 1 has an ideal magnification range for the .308 (3-9x) with a nice wide focal range that lets in plenty of light. This one’s built like a tank, too. While all Leupold’s are usually quite impressive in the quality department, these are practically indestructible. Perfect for bigger guns!
The Mark AR is dead-simple to use, which is what we like on a .308 platform. Despite that, it packs quite a lot into its tube. There’s a firedot reticle for hunting at all hours, and the latest multicoating/purging tech inside.
Check out our full breakdown of the Leupold, and see the rest of our picks in our guide to the Best Scopes for a .308.
Best AR-15 Scope
AR-15s are some of the most versatile guns on the market. They can be used at close range, and at distances out to 500 yards. Since these guns suit so many types of shooting, we’d recommend finding one that complements the versatility of the rifle. Our recommendations for these have adjustable power ranges, solid build quality, and looks that blend right into your custom AR-15 setup.
It’s an all-purpose, 3-9X with great build quality and a BDC reticle. Its range takes you out to 500 yards, without sacrificing your up-close field of vision.
Even though it’s more affordable than many of the scopes in the market, it features all the hallmarks of a great choice. It’s fully water and fogproof with nitrogen, O-ring seals, and fully multi-coated lenses–the same basic features you’d look for in a $1,000 model! We love how easy it is to use, and recommend it for any AR-15 shooters who do a bit of every type of shooting.
Read more on the Best AR-15 Scopes!
Best Sniper Scope
Tactical sniper scopes require the most powerful lenses paired with the most precise adjustment turrets available. The right combination of the two will allow you to make incredibly close shots at long distances, with room to adjust for windage and other environmental factors that really count when you’re sniping.
Our ultimate choice here is the Nightforce NXS:
This one is built to military specs, and is as close to professional-grade as you can get without breaking the bank! The lenses top out at 25X, which is enough power to shoot over 1,000 yards with precision.
Plus, there are precise MOA adjustment turrets for counteracting windage, drop, and elevation. While this one commands a hefty price tag, it has lots of smart features which make it worth the price for us, like a wide 100 MOA range of adjustment, extended eye relief, and an extra-big objective lens for giving you a wide field of vision even at the highest power setting.
Read more on the Best Sniper Scopes![
Best Long Range Scope
Long range guns should be complemented with scopes that are just as powerful and precise as they are! The best long range models have tactical knobs, technical reticles, and plenty of magnification power up to 15X. You’ll also want durable ones that can handle the kickback of big, long-range guns.
While many long range models run over $2,000, we’ve found a nice range that shows you don’t have to break the bank to shoot long distance!
One of our favorites here is the Leupold VX-5HD:
This American-made option provides a pretty hefty power range at a midrange price. The construction on this one is pretty superb, with argon/krypton water, fog, and shock-proofing, as well as a proprietary new multicasting on the lenses. We love the power range on this one because it maintains a solid low end while still taking you out beyond 500 yards. There’s also an illuminated mil-dot reticle and a technical twilight lens system. The best part is the nice, wide field of vision–7.6 ft at 100 yards!
Read more on the Best Long Range Scopes!
Best Night Vision Scope
Night vision rifle scopes allow you to hunt in the darkest conditions with ease. They’re perfect for shooting hogs, as well as eliminating varmints and rodents around your property when they’re on the prowl. The best ones give you a powerful imaging tube with a reasonable power range. We also recommend looking for Gen+ models, which have many of the same features as higher Gen models with lower price tags.
Our midrange choice for a night vision scope is the ATN Night Arrow:
This solidly built option has all the important build features you need, like water and fogproofing, as well as protection against overexposure in the imaging tube.
The imaging tube in this one is a Gen 2+, which provides close to the same function as a Gen 3 with a much smaller price tag. The Night Arrow has smart features like automatic brightness control, diopter correction and two-tone reticle design which set it apart from the competition for us.
We also love the fixed 4X lens set, which gives you more reach than traditional night vision scopes!
Read more, and see our other recommendations for night vision scopes here!
Best Air Rifle Scope
Air rifles are prized for their accuracy and cost-effectiveness. They’re a unique set of weapons, and present their own set of challenges to the scope shopper. Because of the double recoil produced by firing an air gun, you’ll want a super shock-resistant scope with reinforced adjustment turrets and rubber seals. We also recommend finding one with an adjustable objective, so you can adjust for parallax to shoot competitively at close range.
One of our favorite air rifle scopes is this model from BSA:
It’s easily accessible to most shooters. For the price, it’s surprisingly well-equipped.
The variable 3-9X power range covers the abilities of an air rifle easily, with adjustable parallax and fully multicoated lenses. It comes with a nice, simple reticle with clear, easy to use markings.
And, most importantly, it’s extra durable. All the adjustment workings are encased in rubber, and it is covered by a lifetime warranty.
Read more, and see our best air rifle recommendations.
Best .22 Scope
The .22 LR is an all-time favorite rifle for target practice, varmint control, and for teaching new shooters. These guns are simple, effective, and excellent for shooting up close around your property. The best .22 ones have low-range power and low parallax settings.
Since these rifles tend to be hand-me-down heirlooms, we’ve also recommended options that are very durable and come with lifetime warranties that you can pass down with your gun!
Our top quality pick here is the Leupold FX-II Scout:
This Guns and Ammo staff favorite is a fixed power model designed to last. It’s very popular among shooting instructors for its durability and ease of use.
We really like the fixed low power range for shooting with a .22, since you get a nice clear field of vision and enough range to shoot out to 300 yards. It’s specifically designed for the .22, and fits in unobtrusively on the barrel.
The scout design makes it easy to acquire a target without fiddling with adjustments. If you’re going to be doing short-to-mid-range hunting and shooting, this is the scope for you!
Read more on the Best .22 Scope.
Why scopes are so important:
Scopes allow for precision and accuracy over distances far beyond what most shooters can do with an iron sight. They add power and range to complement your rifle, and allow you to use it to its fullest extent!
Scopes also allow you to adjust and compensate for environmental factors like windage, elevation and bullet drop, which are beyond the vision power of the naked eye.
If you’re shooting without a scope, it’s impossible to make long range shots safely or accurately. Even at relatively close distances, shooting “blind” is a surefire way to waste ammo and time. Scopes help you get the most out of each box of bullets, and they help you get the absolute most out of your firearm’s range as well.
How to Buy the Best Rifle Scope for the Money
What does a good scope do?
Its primary purpose is to magnify your target, in order to provide a safer, more accurate shot. They also offer better visibility than iron sights, since they accentuate natural light for better low-light shooting. And, of course, the magnification is a big plus.
Lenses: (The most important feature on any scope is the lens set.)
How to read lens specs:
When you’re looking at the options for sale, you’ll usually see the brand, model name, and a set of numbers (e.g. 4-12x30mm).
The first number indicates the power of the primary lens. If there’s a single number, that indicates a fixed power scope. Two numbers indicate a variable power scope. In terms of power, the number represents how much the scope magnifies an image.
For instance, 4X means that the scope shows you an image at 4X the size it’s seen by the human eye.
The second number indicates the size of the objective lens. This lens basically dictates your field of vision. It’s the piece of glass at the business end of the rifle stock, and it’s responsible for letting in clear, bright light with minimal reflection or blurring.
The larger the objective, the bigger your field of vision will be. A larger objective allows more light in, and provides an overall better view. Some common objective sizes are 30mm, 33mm, 40mm, etc. Wider objectives are especially important at long distances, since powerful focal lenses tend to transfer light poorly.
Like the power lens, some objective lenses are adjustable. You’ll see this marked on the product with the letters “AO.” These adjustable objective lenses allow compensation for parallax, an optical defect which can occur between the lenses at very long and very short distances. This is especially important over 10X power, where parallax can wreak havoc with your precision shots.
What kind of power range do you need from your scope?
The key to translating great specs into great results is to choose the specs that are best suited to the actual hunting and shooting that you’ll be doing.
Low power variable scopes, or fixed power scopes, are ideal for short-range shooting and close up hunting of dangerous game. Those that have magnification power in the 2-4X range are more than enough to hunt within 150 yards or so.
Lower power ranges are best for short- to mid-distance shooting, since they provide a nice, wide field of vision. This is especially good for hunting in close cover and brush, since you can acquire a target more quickly.
Variable scopes with a middling power range (2-7X, 3-9X, etc.) provide you with a bit more range without sacrificing low end field of vision. They’ll be powerful enough for shots out to 300+yards, and will suit the ideal range of most all-purpose rifles. For most hunters, a 3-9X scope will more than serve your needs!
Higher power scopes are best for long-range hunting and tactical shooting. If you’re a tactical shooter, or like to hunt across wide plains, you’ll want one with a power range that tops out between 12-25X.
These scopes are meant for sniper shooting, and for hunting big game at distances over 500 yards. High power scopes allow for more precise placement of the target on larger, dangerous game, as well as pinpointing varmints out past 400 yards.
However, these guns tend to skip a bit of low-end power, and bottom out around 5-6X. That means you’ll have less flexibility to hunt up close. Of course, you won’t be hunting within 50 yards with a high-powered rifle, anyway.
All the same, there’s a downside to high-power lenses. More powerful magnification lenses limit your field of vision. Also, the more powerful the lens, the less well it transfers light. Remember that if you sacrifice too much low-end power, you’re impeding your abilities to shoot at close range.
High-power scopes can also impact your rifle’s ergonomics. These scopes are larger and heavier, and as a result, you’ll have to have higher mounts and be prepared to haul a bit more weight around in the field.
For most shooters, we suggest starting with a scope that has a solid low end, and then looking upwards to decide on the top end of a variable scope.
The vast majority of shooters don’t need scopes above 10-12X, and most hunting takes place at ranges that need only 3-9X. Of course, you’ll want to choose a range that best suits your shooting!
Variable lenses versus fixed lenses:
Variable lens sets allow you to change the power (magnification) setting on a scope. This allows you to get a wider range out of your scope, and means you can use the same scope for different types of shooting–or even different guns.
Common scope ranges are 3-9X, 4-12X, and 5-20X. Variable scopes are more expensive, but offer a versatility which lets you use them on multiple rifles.
Fixed lenses are more limited in terms of range, but offer improved durability and a wider field of vision up close. They’re also a great choice for low-range rifles and new shooters. They’re simple to learn, and pretty hard to mess up. Plus, the parallax settings on these scopes tend to be much lower, which lends itself to shorter-distance shoots.
When you’re looking at product descriptions, you’ll see a few phrases very frequently. These refer to coatings on the lenses.
- coated (lenses are each coated on at least one surface)
- fully coated (lenses are coated on all surfaces)
- multicoated (lenses are multicoated on at least one surface)
- fully multicoated (lenses are multicoated on all surfaces)
What do these coatings do?
All lenses are coated in some form. Coatings add a scratch-resistant outer layer, and resist stains and smudges. They also reduce glare, reflection, and other troublesome image glitches due to stray light.
The more advanced the coating, the better. Modern multicoatings improve color definition, image resolution, and allow for better peripheral light to translate to your field of vision.
Multicoated lenses are the best, but they’re more expensive. Thankfully, even most budget scopes now have full multicoatings at a reasonable price!
The reticle is the target or crosshair design on a lens which allows you to sight-in your target.
Reticles are available in a few common designs. The most popular reticles follow a simple duplex designs, with recognizable crosshairs. There are also more technical reticles available, with markings to help you adjust for environmental factors like windage, elevation, and parallax.
Most types of reticles are available with an illumination setting. These are useful for shooting in dawn/dusk light, when black lines aren’t very visible on your lens. Look for adjustable brightness settings, and multiple color options. These features will help you choose the right visuals for your shooting environment.
Duplex reticles are a familiar sight to most shooters. They’re simple and easy to read. Most duplex reticles have simple crosshairs, which widen at the edges of the lens for better visibility in low light settings.
Some makers offer more advanced duplex designs, which have hash markings for making adjustments. While duplex reticles are low-tech, they’re very user-friendly and much easier to see when the light isn’t great.
BDC or Bullet Drop Compensator reticles help account for bullet drop over longer distances. This is especially convenient for rimfire or .308 cartridges, since these types of ammo suffer from a fair bit of drop over distances.
If you’re going to buy a scope with BDC markings, check to make sure that the drop markings are appropriate to the caliber of your gun. They make very good all-purpose scopes for AR-15s or similar guns.
The best BDC reticles include wide drop circles with narrow borders. These are nice because they fit around your target without obscuring your vision in the target area.
As a general rule, these aren’t super accurate over 500 yards.
MOA or minute-of-adjustment reticles are a technical, grid-style design which works with traditional adjustment turrets. They’re technical, but not military-standard equipment like the mil-dot.
These reticles are fairly intuitive to use, since they use the same unit of adjustment as most turrets. You can adjust for windage, elevation, and drop using the same units as you use on BDC or duplex reticles.
Most adjustment turrets are generally marked off in .25 MOA clicks anyway, so you won’t have to adapt to a new measurement system.
Mil-dot reticles are the most technical style available. They’re standard issue in the military and armed services, and provide superior adaptability to account for altitude, bullet drop, windage and more.
Milradians are even more precise than MOA adjustments. However, these reticles should be paired with mil-dot adjustment turrets. Otherwise, you’ll have to do some unit conversion on the fly.
These reticles are the best choice for shooting over 300 yards. Be aware that there tends to be a learning curve when you start working with a mil dot system, since all other reticles are paired with MOA turrets.
One note on technical reticles: many manufacturers offer ballistics calculation apps to make math easier in the field. For example, Nikon’s Spot On app coordinates scope settings for any caliber ammo. You can also find scopes with cheat sheet cards, which accomplish the same thing.
All scopes have some form of adjustment turrets atop the tube. These are usually for adjusting focus, and compensating for parallax, windage, and elevation. These adjustment turrets tend to be the most delicate parts of the scope, since they are moving parts and precision instruments.
The best adjustment knobs feel solid and secure under your fingers, and provide very definite clicks as you change settings. There shouldn’t be any wobble or cheapness as you turn them.
Tactical vs. capped turrets:
Generally speaking, every scope uses adjustment turrets that are either capped or tactical designs. Tactical turrets have exposed, raised knobs. They have markings which are easier to read, and lend themselves to long distance, precision shooting.
However, their raised, exposed design makes them a bit inconvenient for down and dirty woods hunting or walking through brush. Capped turrets are the best solution to this problem. They have low-profile, rounded caps to reduce the chances you’ll accidentally knock them out of alignment.
Spring coils and zero-stops:
Spring coil systems are a cushioning mechanism for rifle scope instruments. Basically, they keep a bit of tension behind each knob, so that the setting doesn’t change when you fire. Spring cushioning keeps your knobs still in the face of recoil, and keeps things in focus if you accidentally drop the gun. Similar systems are available in rubber, but these are generally confined to air rifles.
Who needs spring cushioning? It really comes in handy for bigger, more powerful rifles, whose kickback is severe enough to rattle turrets. It’s also a handy feature for rimfire rifles, which tend to be fired more frequently than centerfire rifles (since they’re inexpensive and great for target practice).
And, of course, it’s essential for air rifle scopes, since air rifles have so much kickback.
A zero-stop is a metal locking feature which locks the turret into place at a given setting, rendering it immovable. This is especially handy when you’re lugging your gun around, as it keeps all the moving parts still.
Pretty much every scope on the market is built from a simple aluminum tube. It looks pretty straightforward, but there are a few key design aspects that you’ll want to pay attention to as you shop for a scope.
The tube construction:
Look for tubes made from a single piece of aluminum. One-piece tubes are much stronger, and have no weak points. Plus, there are no cracks to allow moisture or fog between the lenses.
On the outside, you’ll want a smooth matte finish. While there’s nothing really wrong with a glossy scope, most hunters prefer a tactical, flat black finish.
Matte coatings don’t reflect light, which can alert deer to your presence. Plus, many shooters like the military/tactical look of matte finishes. The finish should be scratch and corrosion resistant, so that it’ll last the life of the scope.
Purging and Proofing:
Inside the scope tube, you want to look for three “proofs”: moisture-proofing, fog-proofing, and shock-proofing. The key features for these are seals at either end of the scope, and a “charged,” gas-filled interior.
Most scopes are sealed with rubber O-rings at each end, to keep moisture and fog out. Rubber O-rings, as opposed to metal, are also a good shock absorber.
Beyond this, many tubes are purged with a gas compound, which replaces air with a moisture-free alternative. Nitrogen is the most common, and it gives you moisture and fog proofing with reasonable shock protection.
Newer, high-end scopes use argon and krypton gases to further improve light dynamics and shockproof the scope more effectively against temperature changes.
While lenses come in all sorts of sizes, scope tubes all fall into two sizes, 1” or 30mm. 1” is the common standard in the USA, while 30mm is par for the course in Europe and abroad. 1” scopes are more compact and are more familiar to most shooters.
These days, 30mm scopes are becoming more popular here at home, since they allow for larger lenses in the tube and offer a stronger structural integrity.
Eye relief is the distance between the end of your scope and your eye when you’re sighting down the barrel. A closer eye relief allows you to get a better view through your scope, and feels more natural.
However, if you get too close, you’re in danger of getting knocked by recoil.
That’s why generous eye relief is especially important on powerful, long-distance guns. You want at least 3” of eye relief for most guns, and somewhere around 4” for the heavy hitters. As a general rule, aim for something in the middle, such as 3.5.”
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