With today’s optics selection, you are almost spoiled for choice when it comes to scopes. Choosing the right scope can be a challenge but for most people, all you need is something with a modest amount of power to meet your goal. This is where the best scout scopes come in.
We aren’t talking about the long-range game here. We are talking about adding better precision and speed to your short range shooting game. If this appeals to you, carry on reader! We have a solid guide on what to look for and some of the best examples on the market right now!
Who Uses Scout Scopes?
There are three types of shooters who typically find scout scopes to be the best option for their needs. All of these shooters have one thing in common: Speed. They need to be able to recognize and get on target as quickly as possible. The scout scope is the natural tool for this task.
Hunters are among the most common users and these low-powered optics are perfectly suited to the task. When you have to worry about seeing through dense vegetation and hitting a moving target, low power is your best friend. With a little added accuracy is just a bonus.
Competition shooters have used these types of scopes for years in 3-gun competitions and other short to medium range shooting sports. These are timed events so getting on target fast and getting an accurate shot off is key to placing well. The scout scope is a solid answer to these problems.
Home defense and CQB tasks are the reason the scout scope exists. They take a rifle best suited to the task of close quarters and allow you to extend its accurate range by double or more. The best options do this without compromising the short range engagement. Red-dots have become very popular for this task but have yet to fully replace the highly useful scout scope.
What Type of Firearm?
Scout scopes are my favorite optics choice for most situations. I have dedicated long range guns but most rifles I have with magnified optics have low magnification. You will find that most guns, unless they are specifically made for precision shooting, are good options. But here are some specific choices I prefer.
Rimfire rifles are top of the list for my first pick. I love a .22 with an optic around 6 power or so. These allow you to get a little extra accuracy when picking off varmints around the farm. It also makes plinking much more fun. Great times for challenging shots and good practice for your other rifles.
Lever guns, especially big more models like those shooting .45-70 and similar calibers tend to really benefit from this type of optic. Most scout scopes have longer eye relief making it safer to use them on firearms that have heavier recoil. That aside, most of these guns are made for hunting and that is always a good match-up.
AR-15s and similar tactical weapons are naturals here. The military uses them with low-powered optics for extending range. Often these will be on designated marksmen’s rifles who are charged with the duty of getting a little more reach at longer targets. While it will work on any variant of these rifles, its best suited to ones with a longer barrel and a little additional accuracy.
Shotguns can also benefit from optics such as these. Usually this is for slug guns which are common sights around turkey and deer seasons. Again the long eye-relief is a big benefit here to deal with the old 12ga. Sometimes red dots are used but from experience, I will take the lower powered magnification any day!
What Makes a Good Scout Scope?
The hallmark of a good scout scope is the magnification. While there is some debate on just what levels constitute this type of equipment, all agree that it is the lower power. Generally, anything with a max power of 7 or less is acceptably classified here.
Some will have very low magnifications. On a fixed power scope, this could be as low as 2 or 2.5x. Just enough to get you a little more precision at moderate ranges. On variable power, some can go down in power to 1x, meaning they have no magnification on the lowest setting. This can increase precision but is typically not as useful as those with a better range of magnifications. My personal favorites go from 2x to 7x or somewhere close to this.
In addition to power, there are a few other things you may want to look for. These are guidelines that I use in my personal selection process. Depending on what you want from your optic, some of these may be less important to you. Some may be very important to you.
Depending on the weapon I want to use it on, the eye-relief will be different. For a low-recoil rifle, it can differ very little from a standard scope. The 2” to 3” range is a good bet. This makes it easier on rifles like the AR-15 to get your cheek placed correctly on the stock and your eye right where you want it.
For shotguns, I do want more buffer but with a good recoil pad, I don’t find even a 12ga to need that much extra eye-relief. I am comfortable at 3” to 4” as a minimum. Some shotguns do require the scope be mounted farther forward. In this case you may need much higher eye-relief.
Rifles with a stiff recoil like the .45-70 and other big bore cartridges can have very stiff recoil depending on the load. These are a perfect match for a scope with long eye-relief. I am good with going as high as 7” on these rifles. More if the scope sits really far forward as it does on some Winchester models.
While the standard crosshair works well, it may not be the best choice for you. There are a variety of patterns and many of them have merit on a low magnification scope. If you like the standard crosshair, stick with it. It will serve you well. If you want something a little different, here are some good options.
My personal favorite when it comes to hunting and other tasks requiring speed is the circle reticle. These are unsuitable for getting precision accuracy but they are great for getting on target quickly and making a good, solid hit at closer ranges. Some will have a dot in the center which does help with getting better accuracy on smaller targets.
There are duplex reticles that are basically crosshairs with slightly thicker lines that make them easier to see. This also improves shooting speed. These are a good option and if you hunt the deeper woods, they can make a big difference in getting on target and getting your shot off.
BDC reticles are a good option on more powerful scopes but many are just not necessary for a low powered model. The additional markings make things very complicated and sometimes harder to get a good point of aim. The exception to this are BDC scopes that only have a small number of markings below the crosshair for bullet drop. Those can be quite effective.
Some reticles are illuminated in whole or in part. This can be a great feature to add if the price is right for your budget. It does wonders to make it easier to see in low-light situations and can improve target acquisition speed.
Weight and Durability
Another great feature of most of these scopes is a low weight and comparatively high durability. Since most of the weapons we use for these low powered scopes are lightweight to begin with, you don’t want to add too much on top of them.
Durability is a little easier to get on these smaller optics. The shorter size makes them more rigid to begin with and smaller lenses are harder to crack than larger ones. This said, you still want all the best durability features like water and shock proofing. Some fog proofing is also a great idea if you plan on hunting.
Leupold FX II Scout
Primary Arms Silver Series
Vortex Optics Diamondback
Vortex Optics Crossfire II
Nikon P-223 M
Duplex W/ BDC
Bushnell Trophy Scout
Top Scout Scopes
Leupold FX-II Scout
If you want a simple fixed power optic that doesn’t skimp on quality, Leupold is the way to go. This is modeled on one of their classic designs but made with modern materials and processes. The end result is a scope that has amazing quality and durability while being lightweight. This is a testament to Leupold’s manifesting abilities.
At only 2.5x, this is a very low magnification scope. The fact that it is variable does hurt its versatility but it adds simplicity and, with less moving parts, there is less to go wrong with this scope. This excels for turkey and deer hunting where it is fast and accurate with a duplex reticle.
The FX Scout model only weighs about half a pound but has all of the durability you need. It’s fine on any rifle up to a 50 caliber and works on even the meanest twelve gauge. It’s completely fog proof and waterproof. Leupold pioneered the dry nitrogen filled scope and it has kept this practice up with every scope it produces. There are tougher scopes but not by much.
Primary Arms Silver Series
Before Vortex hit the scene a few years ago, Primary Arms was already making waves for producing stellar quality optics at an affordable price. Though all of their optics tend to be quite good, their silver series is simply amazing and for an outstanding price! They may not top our list but with the features they have, it’s a very close call.
This particular model is a variable powered 1-6x scope with an illuminated chevron reticle. This combination is fast, accurate, and made to be battle ready. If you want a step up from your iron sights, you can’t do a whole lot better! This scope’s reticle is designed for the7.62mm or .300 Blackout. It will do best with those calibers but I have used them on .308. Other models exist for other calibers.
With a sealed battery compartment and full waterproofing, you shouldn’t need to worry about using this in the field. The lenses are fog proof and the whole scope is shockproof to pretty much any caliber you would ever put a scout scope on. It may be designed for CQB but it works very well as a hunting scope. Definitely one to consider.
Though Burris lacks the popularity of other long-time scope manufactures, they are right up there with Leupold and Nikon while being a little better generally than Bushnell. Likely their lack of popularity is due more to marketing than any other factor. Every Burris scope I have ever owned has been high quality and durable for the cost.
This is a fixed power scout scope that is designed with the hunter in mind. The magnification is a constant 2.75x which does the job of getting you the extra range, accuracy, and speed without being overpowered. It is on the low end of scope power but for a scout scope this is a good average point. Combined with a very thick ‘Heavy plex’ crosshair, this is a unique and quick combo.
Durability is not what I would call Burris’ strong suit but they are no pushover either. I wouldn’t want one of these to be standing between me and the enemy in combat but I would be fine with one on a hunting rifle. Even for a potential home defense optic, this would do fine. It is waterproof and shockproof but is a little light so you have to watch banging it around too much.
We need to throw this Leupold in the mix even though we already have a better one. Why? Because this is one of the most affordable, high-quality Leupolds on the market. You won’t get any cheaper from Leupold for sure and it may fall a little shy of their higher series but the VX are amazing scopes. This particular model is not a traditional scout scope but does the exact same job just as well as any other similar optic would.
I have to say up front that this is the optic I currently use on my level action and it has held up very well. It’s a 2-7x which is my favorite magnification range. It has an illuminated firedot reticle with full crosshairs and a fast aim circle for close range. If you need a great scope for deer hunting, this is about as good as it gets! Even in dull, dim woods the optics are clear and your aim is sure.
This has all of the features you would expect from Leupold. It has multi-coated optics including one layer that resists both fog and smudges. It's fully sealed and waterproof so you never have to worry. Even shock and dust aren’t concerns. It may not be as heavy bodied as some mil-spec optics but I would trust the VX-1 anywhere I go. Its also backed by Leupold’s amazing warranty!
Vortex Optics Diamondback
It seems strange to ever see Vortex this low on the list and maybe they should be higher. It's hard when the quality is so close. For the money, this is probably the best buy on this list. Depending on when and where you get it, these are often under $200.00 and probably worth twice this amount when it comes to quality and durability.
I like this 1.75-5x magnification range for AR15 style weapons and other smaller calibers that really aren’t intended to shoot more than 300 or 400 yards. At a person-sized target, you do have enough magnification to get out that far. For smaller targets, the dead-hold BDC reticle does wonders out to 100 yards or so. This isn’t the fastest combination but its quicker than iron sights, especially at smaller targets and longer ranges.
When you start to look at durability, this is where Vortex really begins to shine. Not only is this purged and sealed to prevent moisture, condensation, dust, and fog from getting in but the O-ring seals keep everything remarkably stable. The whole scope is scratch resistant and tough as nails. I would take and use this scope in any environment out there with no hesitation.
Redfield used to be a good optics company on their own but since being picked up as a part of the Leupold label, they have gotten better. They may not be equal to a true Leupold scope but they have a significantly lower price point and easily enough quality to match. If you need something on a budget that is tough and well made, the Redfield Revolution is a good option.
This compact scope is the preferred 2-7x and uses Redfield’s own Accu-Range reticle. This is a modified bullet drop reticle that works well out to moderate distances. It matches well with the power of the scope and works best with calibers that are a little heavier like a .308, .300 BO, and similar. This is not to say it will not work for any other caliber. I have shot many of these on Ruger 10-22s over the years.
When it comes to durability, remember this isn’t a Leupold. That said, it is fully water and shockproof. You can use it on pretty much any caliber you like without damage. It is fog resistant but not fog proof. It does have excellent light transmission almost equaling a Leupold but the toughness falls a bit short.
They may have had some mixed reviews over the years but I really like Nikon as a company. I think their optics have always been quite good and the new direction they have gone recently has greatly improved how good their scopes can be. Easily one of the best selling scopes of all time, the Prostaff series has stood the test of time and is now available in a scout style scope.
Again, we have a solid 2-7x magnification, not a lot more to say about that. The Prostaff uses Nikon’s own Nikoplex reticle which is just a dressed up name for a standard duplex reticle. It’s a good option for a scope in this range and will do the job perfectly well. It's easy to see in dim light and does make accurate shots a little easier at medium distances.
I admit to not having a ton of experience on this particular scope but I have owned and shot dozens of Nikon Prostaffs over the years and they have all been consistently good. They are durable, sealed and purged which is amazing for a scope this price. They are tough and can take a beating. There are many worse scopes you can buy for more money. This is a good middle ground if you want something quality without spending much.
Vortex Optics Crossfire II
This is just a wonderful piece of kit for the price. You can often find one for under $150.00 and it is well worth that price. That could be said for most Vortex products out there but for a scout scope, this is doubly true. All things considered, this is probably about the best bang for the buck out there. It has a good mix of everything you could want.
Still in that 2-7x range but with this scope, the optics are near perfect. It uses Vortex’s take on the duplex reticle which is one of the better ones out there. The thinner section is very small allowing you to get a good point of aim even when you can’t see it clearly. But that isn’t the best part! The best part is the almost 9.5 inches of eye-relief. I use this scope on a .45-70 frequently with no worries. Its mounted well forward of anywhere it could hit me.
All Vortex scopes are made to the same specifications. This one may be one of their low-end models but it has all the same features of the high-end models. Waterproof, fog proof, shockproof. The full deal. What it lacks is the same quality control. This may sound bad but with the Vortex VIP warranty, there is no worry. You will be taken care of on the rare chance you get a dud.
Nikon P-223 M
We already talked about a classic Nikon but this is one from their new lineup. The new direction that Nikon is taking their optics for the 21st century. This represents a big leap in quality and a reduction in price. And this little gem of a scout optic is a perfect option on the right platform. You only want this on your M4 or other 5.56mm firearms. Personally, I like this on a Ruger Mini-Carbine.
To be best suited to its caliber, this is a fixed 3x. I really like this for an M4 profile weapon. It has enough power to get you out a ways but not so much that it slows you down up close. There is no need to fiddle with the power, just get it dialed in and go. The reticle is a modified Duplex design with some bullet drop markings etched in specifically for the 5.56mm cartridge. No guessing, just great shooting.
While durability was never the hallmark of the classic Leupold design, these new scopes are doing much better. This optic is fully water and fog proof with O-ring seals and nitrogen purged. It is not shockproof to the standard of some scopes but is more than adequate for the caliber it was designed for. With its size and weight, it’s a great matchup if you want something light and fast.
Bushnell Trophy Scout
So, for the last spot, we finally bring in Bushnell. While it may not be the very best out there, I am positive that more deer have been taken through Bushnell scopes than any other brand out there. These sell by the thousands every year and function very well. They may be a little less durable but for the price, you aren’t going to get any better if you are on a tight budget.
We are back in that sweet spot of power, 2-7x and with a Bushnell’s Multi-X reticle. This is just a standard duplex reticle with a different name. It will work as well as any on the market in this respect. Optically, you are guaranteed to be surprised for the price. For those who want a good scope under $100.00, this is as close as it gets!
Durability is surprisingly good on such an affordable option. Its perfectly sealed and water, fog, dust, and shockproof. This was made for the woods and does very well there. You should have little worry taking this into the most extreme environments. It may not have the lifetime of some of the better options but it will last you for years. If it doesn’t, Bushnell has one of the best warranties out there.
Some people dream of long-range shooting, for them the high powered scopes are really what is called for. For those who need something to make things a little more efficient at moderate ranges, this is the realm of the scout scope. The design and format are tried and proven time and again by hunters, competition shooters, and even the military. If you haven’t tried one of these on your favorite mid-range rifle, it's about time you did.