Though it is an amazing rifle, the AR 15 is not suited to every occasion. It is quite versatile but is more specialized for medium range work at the most. It may be capable of reaching out to 500 yards but that is generally not an effective range considering the lighter bullet. Therefore, the best scope for AR 15 rifles should reflect more reasonable ranges.
While there are setups for the AR 15 that are capable of longer ranges, specifically those chambered in .308, we are talking about the standard 5.56mm ammunition for this article. For that specific caliber you are likely to more success with a scout scope setup that allows the AR 15 to use its versatility to hit targets at close to medium range quickly and accurately.
Our Picks For The Best Ar-15 Scopes
- What Should an AR-15 Scope Be?
- Best Scope For Ar-15 - New Products Updated
- AR 15 Scopes – Principles of Use
What Should an AR-15 Scope Be?
The most common AR 15 optics setup is a red dot of some nature. While this is a viable optic choice, for this article we are more concerned with AR 15 scopes. Meaning we may not want a high amount of magnification but we do want some magnification. You can shoot an AR 15 out to its highest effective range accurately with iron sights and maybe even with some red dots but you are far more likely to score a hit with a scope setup.
I would say the maximum magnification I would want to work with on a standard AR setup would be about 9x to 10x. Sure, you could go higher if you wanted something in more of a varmint rifle but for a tactical rifle or those for more everyday shooting, scopes pushing into the teens and twenties are far from ideal for such a light and small round.
With more reasonable magnifications, your choice of reticles in the scope is not a huge concern but I would still opt for some form of bullet drop compensation. The 5.56mm has quite a bit of drop even at 300 yards and being able to account for that is important, especially if you want to be able to make your shots quickly.
Another benefit of lower magnifications is frequently a larger field of view. This plays into the AR 15s strength of being able to transition and maneuver quickly. When you use a high magnification scope, you are pinched in tight to targets at closer ranges and locating adjacent targets can be tough. Lower magnification gives you a little more room to move, so to speak.
Some optics will even come with BDC reticles that are tailored specifically for an AR 15. These may be the best choice when it comes to AR 15 optics or at least those with magnification. The same goes for turrets as well. If you have turret adjustments, that’s fine but not necessary and some optics will have turrets premeasured for an AR 15s bullet drop.
I would say that the number one consideration other than magnification on an AR scope would be durability. An AR 15 is a hard use rifle and should be ready to handle that abuse. Even its accessories should be as tough as you can get and able to endure any weather you may have your rifle out in. It’s made to be mil-spec, your optic should reflect that.
Best Scope For Ar-15 - New Products Updated
1 Vortex Optics Strike Eagle
If you are looking for the best damn AR 15 scope under 300 bucks (at the time of writing) this is it by far. Vortex Optics is a hard company to beat and nearly impossible for the money. The quality and craftsmanship they put into each of their optics is astounding. There are scopes that cost twice the price that I wouldn’t trade my Vortex for.
One of the most amazing things about the Strike Eagle is its optical quality. Sure, it’s not hard to get a bright and crisp image out of a 6x scope but when you add great quality multicoated glass what you get is just about breathtaking. I have used and own scopes costing thousands and the difference between them and Vortex is minimal.
But to be among the best scopes for an AR 15, you have to be rugged and the Strike Eagle is a winner there as well. All of the glass is sealed in place and the whole optic is nitrogen purged. You will never have any issues with water, dust, fog or anything else. And it can take all the abuse you want to dish out. Slap this on a Barrett and it will still hold zero, shot after shot.
If you are simply looking for the best AR 15 scope for the money, this is probably it. I haven’t found anything to beat it yet. I even have one on a Ruger All-American that is my preferred coyote scope. It is the higher powered one though.
2 Nikon P-223
Nikon scopes are all quite good. When it comes to a tactical rifle scope under 150 dollars, my pick every time would be the P-223. Its high quality, deadly accurate, and very affordable. It may not have a lot of power but out to 200 yards or so, it’s never a problem.
What I love about this particular Nikon AR scope is the bullet drop compensation which is perfectly suited to those 55 grain rounds we all know and love. The reticle is perfectly tuned to give you accurate shots at 200, 400, and 600 yards with hash marks to help you get there.
This is built in to Nikon’s world famous glass that is crystal clear and uses their quite revolutionary multi-coat so you get the best image possible. It may only be a 3x scope but images through it will pop! Making it among the best scout scopes available.
Along with being sized perfectly for an AR 15, this scope is very robust. The once piece tube is dry nitrogen filled to prevent moisture and fog from intruding while being rigid enough to prevent anything from becoming displaced when firing. For an AR 15 scope under 150 bucks, this thing is a tank!
If you are on a budget but still want quality, this is a solid choice for an AR 15 optic. You will be perfectly satisfied as long as low magnification fits with what you want your scope to do. Most people underestimate what a 3x scope is capable of until they give one a solid run.
3 Bushnell Optics Drop Zone
When it comes down to AR 15 optics under 150 bucks, options are pretty slim if you want something well-made and dependable. Luckily Bushnell does offer a few that qualify without making any sacrifices. Don’t be fooled by the price, this is a suburb quality scope that performs as well as many costing significantly more.
With a little more power than the Nikon, this scope offers similar features with Bushnell’s own spin. The reticle and turrets are tuned to a .223 round and carry over well to the 5.56mm. Out of a 16” barrel AR, I was dead on at 350 yards which is the farthest I can shoot at the local range. But where this scope shines is in the extended eye relief which makes it great for anything from CQB out to 100 yards or so.
All Bushnell optics are very durable, waterproof, and fog proof. They resist shock well and can take a good bit of abuse. This is combined with glass that has made Bushnell a market leader in optics for decades. This may only be a 1x – 4x scope but the image is amazing and even targets at 300+ yards pop out of the terrain for easy engagement.
While this may not be my first choice in optics, for the price you will not go wrong. For a home defense rifle, this is exactly what you need and works well if you like shorter range varmint hunting as well. Don’t be dissuaded from this optic for the lower price. It is really a worthy consideration that will go very well with shorter barreled AR 15s.
4 Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn
When selecting a wide variety of scope sights as applied to the AR-15, the selection can be almost endless, but with some extra thought you the buyer can find exactly what you're searching for with ease. An example of a modestly prices scope, but a unit that will in most cases outlast the shooter the Bushnell Banner series has a great deal of appeal.
At 16.4 x 2.5 x 3.12 the scope is a bit large, but when this transfers to pushing the .223 round to some additional range limits ( 600 yards plus by example), the added glass size can be of some major help down range. The optics associated with this scope are above average for a lower end price point rifle scope. That stated, this scope is well built as I have shot them on a number of our test rifles here at Ballistics Research & Development for as many as 25 years on the some bench rest test rifle. Some models in this brand have been also used on heavy recoiling shotguns 12 gauge 3.5” magnums ( turkey guns ) for almost as many years as the previous example, but to be sure they are all still allowing the shooter to send the mail downrange with extreme accuracy. In effect, Bushnell builds good scopes for the brush busting tree line stalking deer, varmint, or small game hunter.
This scope uses the 3X9 magnification package and mounts the 40mm bell housing. This transfers to good light gathering abilities, and with the DDB multicoated lenses system the scope will return a clear bring image display.
Eye relief on the scope is measured at 3.3 inches which is ample for larger caliber rifle cartridges. The scope retains a total weight of 0.81 pounds making it workable in terms of good balance on the AR-15’s platforms receiver.
The sub-tensions on the scope maintain the use of the Bushnell Multi x reticle, and the capped turret adjustments will click off at ¼ MOA for both windage and elevation. Be advised that Bushnell has other models listed under the Banner series as well. Regardless of the model, when you buy a Bushnell Banner you're buying a sold basic sporting class hunting scope.
5 Leupold VX Freedom 1.5-4x20mm
Here we have the classic AR style scope as offered by Leupold. The US Army just turned to the scope sight based on a Sig design very much like the model illustrated here. TANGO6T is a military scope lacking the expanded forward bell housing, and runs an additional 6x in magnification. With the military's involvement in the rethinking of the AR-15 glass sight system, the turn to this Leupold scope on the civilian market is an open and shut case.
This scope makes use of a capped turret using ¼ MOA adjustments for windage and elevation. The scope can handle three hundred hard targets in the game hunting field with ease, and knowledgable hunters that shoots well can push the scope sight a bit further. Being the scope is being set to the Ar-15 cartridge size matters here and the .223 Rem is not designed to be sent to overly long ranges.
The scope I built from aircraft aluminum type 5051-T6 and the system is equipped with the Leupold Twilight Light Management System. This lens system will increase your shooting light and time by about 10 minute on each side of the day when every premium minute counts.
Elevation adjustments on this scope number 125 MOA, / 36.4 MIL. That is a wild number for such a mid range priced optical system. Using the Duplex cross hair sub-tensions on this scope shooters plinking at grass rats to even 450 yards with the .223 Remington are still in the game.
Weight 9.6 oz, with an eye relief in inches at 4.517-3,74.
6 Leupold Service Rifle VX-4.5 HD 1-4 x24mm
With a very slight move, but into a different grade level of a rifle scope, and designed expressly for the AR-15 / M-16 platform. Leupold offer's the Service Rifle Scope with its special features that designate it as a police -military adaptation, and also designated by the NRA for their “Service Rifle “ competitions.
The scope carries the Duplex CDS reticle and come in a soft matte finish. Like other Leupold system the scope uses the "Twilight Max HD Light Management System”, and gives the shooter more shooting light at both ends of the day. ( Up to 30 minutes. )
Lens quality on this scope is best in class and reduces edge to edge glare and rainbow effects of sunlight as well as other negative sources.
The scope is built as an ultra light weight system but retains solid construction so as to eat recoil and keep the system in check. This counts in a combat style rifle or a varmint hunters open country and mountain service rifle. The scope meets the need and also returns very positive results down range. Believe me friends, I don’t cover junk, and as such you can take what I am saying about Leupold optics to the bank.
This Leupold retains a 30mm tube that is built tough and carries internals that are also beefed up to withstand rugged use in the field or on the range. Designed and machined right here in the USA.
7 Vortex Optics Crossfire II 30mm
In the Vortex line the Crossfire II carries the lighted reticle system, capped field turrets, and 1-4 x24 magnification. This scope is an AR fitting package and as such will retain the speed and balance associated with the military assault rifle.
Be advised that the Crossfire line in the Vortex inventory is extensive therefore keep this model separate from the many others when buying a specialized scope for the AR 15 rifle. The scope is set up in the second focal plane ( SFP) and the ¼ MOA turret clicks can be returned to true zero after zeroing the rifle on the range. The sub-tensions consist of a V-Plex format using a centered dot ( lighted .) This makes the scope ideal for low light or no light shooting situations. I have shot this system on raccoon hunts lacking any ambient light what so ever, and also gunning kangaroo down under over a several year period. ( Commercial hunting. )
The main 30mm tube on this scope is of a one piece construction using high end aluminum materials. The weight of the scope is 15.5 ounces, length 9.8 inches, with an eye relief of 4.0 inches. In terms of general use this scope can fit the needs of many shooters using the AR-15 platform.
8 UTG 3-9X32 1” BugBuster
Not every rifle scope needs to be in the several hundred dollar range. This little package is clearly workable for the Saturday morning shooter that ants to use the AR platform, but is not thinking about hitting the high country or deep swamps in search of some trophy critter.
The BugBuster retains it own set of Weaver style mounts as part of the selling package. The upper turret knob is open and adjustable for elevation, while the side knob is a capped system.
This scope uses a one inch tube, with lockable and return zero turret settings. The turrets clicks at ¼ MOA, and the sub-tension are set up with a Mil-dot lighted reticle. The green and red illumination ( dot ) is made for flexible field use being set up for day or night function. In short a great deal is being offered for the money spent in this sub compact glass sight package. Be advised however that based on materials cost and functional engineering, this scope is not considered by this writer as the end all in budget optical system. In effect you're getting exactly what you're paying for. This is a fun unit, but not set up for professional or advanced shooting situations being sport or otherwise.
This scope comes with two sun shades, bases and rings, lens caps both ends, and batteries for the power up of the reticle unit. The package is a ready to shoot system.
9 Monstrum 3-9x32 Rifle Scope
This scope package includes low profile scope rings, detachable throw lever, battery and lens covers.
This is a tactical style scope that uses the illuminated reticle, and the main tube is built of aircraft grade aluminum ( type 6061 .)
This scope is designed and ranged to 400 yards, with a magnification of 3-9 power. Objective size 32mm, and the main tube is a one inch diameter.
Weight 13 ounces, water and fog resistant and the scope carries a full one year warranty. The reticent sub-tension on this scope makes su of a range finder set of hash marks. This makes for fast hold over if required at longer range limits.
10 SIG SAUER- INC. SCOPE MIL-GOV
A new Sig scope in a civilian version of the new military model and it is called the Sig Sauer SOI61231 Tango6T. The 1-6X24, 30mm uses HDX optics, extra low dispersion glass ( ED ) combined with a high transmittance clarity .5x super zoom, fast focus eye piece, and night vision illuminated reticle settings with a lock illumination dial. This scope is a direct mate the the US Army version of the scope and as such will carry with it strength Mil Spec core parts and glass.
This scope is somewhat larger than others, but when set to the Ar platform and cartridges like the 224 Valkyrie are being chambered the added scope power and ranging ability can be a real asset to the shooter. This scope is pone that I use on a several AR platform weapons as a test base system. That answer that my scope need to perform or they are worthless to me when reviewing industry product, or developing data regarding the ballistics associated with different ammunition manufactures. As such TRACT is a brand that I follow and use in my work, and to be sure they offer a good deal of quality for the money. This scope retains SCHOTT HT ( high Transmission glass ) that is known for its ability to return clear sharp images out to 1000 yards when required.
The scope retains fully m8ulti-coated glass (lens system) and has an optical 4X zoom with a large eye box as well. The scope is fast to get on fleeing targets. The scope will produce a consistent 3.5” eye relief regardless of the power setting.
Windage and elevation adjustment are sharp and clock off using ¼ MOA graduations. Easy to zero without tools and a zero rest is also built into the turret system. This is a military open turret scope design. As previously indicated the scope is designed to allow the shooter to stretch for the long shot versus being confined to shooting inside 400 yards by example.
The main tube size is one inch allowing for a wide range of rings and bases. The main tube is gas sealed against water or fog, and I can attest to the fact that the scope holds up under adverse field conditions. I have three of these and they all produce great field results while staying on one piece during the hard use process.
This manufacture will stand behind this scope for its lifetime regardless if it second hand or not. Buying a new scopes me service and backup all the way across the glass sight systems life span and yours.
Again somewhat over sized, but designed for AR-15 cartridges that are in the super high performance class.
AR 15 Scopes – Principles of Use
The scope you use for an AR 15 functions as any other scope would but for a tactical weapon, the scope serves more as a designated marksman role. Its goal is to extend the accurate range of the weapon, not turn it into a sniper rifle. Which would be a poor role for such a small caliber weapon.
The effective range of an AR 15 is only about 500 but in a more realistic sense, its closer to 300. It may be able to hit 500 on a perfect day but that is a hell of a shot. You scope should be used to make 300 yards shots quickly and effectively. Shots to 500 yards and greater are better reserved for higher powered rifles with heavier bullets and more powerful optics.
While doing this, your scope should not drastically lower the speed in which you can change from one target to another. That is why the red dot is such a preferred optic for the AR. It can easily move from target to target quickly and accurately. Unfortunately, most red dots make shooting past 100 yards or so more difficult due to their reticle size. They just aren’t precise enough for any distance.
If you think critically about those last two paragraphs, you see the role that an scoped AR best occupies. Ranges under 100 yards are covered effectively by red dots and those greater than 300 to 500 are better served by heavier rifles. Its that area between 100 yards and let’s just say 400 yards that are the perfect niche for an AR with a scout scope.
The AR 15 is an outstanding platform, one that has been used effectively for almost 60 years by the U.S. military and for varying amounts of time by more militaries the world over than any other model of firearm ever created. There are thousands of police forces that issue these weapons and millions in the hands of citizen shooters. It is an outstanding tool that is versatile in use and incredibly reliable, accurate, and effective.
The addition of short range optics to the AR is a relatively new movement. Some military roles saw scopes powered around 10x on AR 15s but those were very rare. Now, many military and law enforcement units are seeing the value of optics in the range of 4x or 6x to occupy roles where more precision is needed without fully compromising the short range potential of the rifle.
This is a very effective role for the AR 15 that has caught on to shooters around the country and lead to a feverish search for the best scope for AR 15 platforms. We have narrowed down the possibilities to some of the best options no matter your budget. If you can’t find an optic that suits you here, you may not find one anywhere.