Best Rifle Scope: Buyers Guide And Reviews For All Types Of Optics
To the layperson, rifle scopes seem like simple telescopes stuck to the top of a rifle or pistol, through which a shooter will see a magnified image of their target. While this is true, the purchasing of a scope involves considerations, which will make all the difference in comfort and accuracy.
The best rifle scope for you is one that allows you to aim your shot without causing eye strain, while maintaining a precision accuracy which will remain constant through continual use. When deciding to invest in optics, it is extremely important to research rifle and spotting scope reviews with the goal of making the best, most informed decision possible.
This decision must take into account the specific weapon with which the optics will be used, and how it will be used by you, the shooter. You will want to consider optics, adjustment options, field of view, and more before deciding on the perfect choice.
Our Top 3 Recommendations
The below three items are our highest rated scopes based on our extensive research and product tests. We have deliberately picked our favorite models from the low, medium and high end price range.
Our Rifle Scope Research Tips
If you are searching for the absolute best rifle optics for the money, you must first educate yourself as to the various different types of optics available on the market today.
Magnification power is one of the primary considerations when choosing the correct optics for your needs. This affects field of view and if you plan on taking shots at a relatively short distance, a smaller magnification power will suit you just fine. The further the distance, the higher power of magnification will be needed. As the magnification increases, the field of view will decrease.
This means that using a high-powered optics to shoot something 300-400 yards away will provide you with a greatly magnified image and a tight field of view, for greater accuracy. Other types of scopes are available for further customization of purpose and we provide extensive information on this in our detailed analysis.
Among other considerations of type are Reticles. Reticles are the elements in the optical view that pinpoint exactly where you want the bullet to hit. Once upon a time, cross hairs were standard on all scopes, but nowadays there are many different types available depending on your need.
Lens coatings and materials make up yet another category of rifle optics selection, which can make a huge difference when shooting in dry or humid areas, for example. It is important to know exactly what you are looking for and exactly what you plan to do with it once you acquire it.
Hand in hand with type is usage. The best rifle scopes in the world aren't going to help you if you are using the wrong one for the job. This is why taking your time to research various rifle scope reviews and product information is a key part of selecting the best product for your individual requirements.
There are optics available with variable magnification levels, with laser sighting options, tactical, sniper, varmint, hunting, competition, night-vision, and shotgun scopes to name just a few.
You have to ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you going hunting, or participating in a marksmanship competition with fixed targets or moving targets?
- Are you interested in nighttime or daytime shooting?
- Are you in an urban or rural area?
- Will you be hunting in dense woods or wide-open country?
These are all question that need to be answered in your search for the perfect option to help you achieve your goals.
Scope Features To Consider
In an effort to streamline the process of optics selection, the following list of features and use categories has been provided. Some of these have already been discussed above, while others are additional product research considerations. If you use a cross bow then we recommend you check out our designated crossbow scope section.
Different Scope Uses
How are you going to utilize your optics once you purchase it? The type of scope needed for squirrel hunting is vastly different in many aspects from the type you would use to go big game hunting in a forest with dense vegetation. Are you putting together a self-defense, tactical weapon for potential use in an urban environment? The intended use of your rifle dictates the type of scope you will need to choose.
The magnification power/level of various rifle scope candidates is an important factor when making your decision. If you're hunting big game in the woods, you might only use a 1.5X magnification level. However, if you're targeting big game across wide expanses of open land, you might be more interested in a magnification level closer to 18x! Some scopes will allow a long range from 2x to over 12 x, which provides flexibility.
Field of View
The amount of area you can see through your scope is an important consideration concerning every type. If you're hunting fast, moving targets, a wider field of view will enable you to follow and lead your target more efficiently, On the contrary, slow or stationary targets don't require as wide a field of view, which could actually be distracting. In these cases you will want to be able to zoom in very close.
Higher quality lenses and optics generally allow for more light to pass through the optics. This is generally considered to be a desirable quality, but some circumstances might call for tinting or polarization to cut down glare. Light transmission factors also become more apparent at higher levels of magnification. The higher the quality of the lenses the clearer the image you see will be. However, higher quality also means a higher price tag.
Adjustments made to windage and elevation are instrumental in marksmanship. Every shooter, no matter how good they are at their craft, needs to make small adjustments to their sights and scopes in order to fine tune their aim. Adjustments need to be made on windy days, and at farther distances, as gravity will affect the path of the bullet.
There can be slight differences between where your reticle is visually placed and where the bullet actually hits. This is called Parallax error and is generally small enough to not matter, but for long distance shooters and competition marksmen, extra elements of fine adjustment are available.
Rifle Optics Terminology Guide
Check out our terminology guide to help you decipher all the technical aspects of rifle scopes, including more detail about the above features. There are many technical aspects to rifles and knowing exactly what they mean will greatly help you in making an educated decision before you make a purchase.
Top Rated Rifle Scopes
In the world of optics, Nikon is one of the leaders, whether it is for DSLR cameras or rifle scopes. One of their scopes that stands out the most is the P223 3-9x40 because of its great price tag under $170 and more importantly the incredibly good feedback on Amazon: 4.7 stars from 400+ customers!
This particular model is ideal for sports shooting at longer ranges up to 600 yards, which also makes it ideal for game hunting in large open landscapes. However, for hunting in forested areas and maybe fast moving objects, this may not be the best selection.
At just under $200 it is also incredibly good value. Products with some of the same features range would retail for significantly more money. It is probably as close as you can get to a professional setup without the high-end price tag.
By far the most affordable scope and value for money is the UTG 300mm SWAT. With magnification form 3 to 12 x and a very compact design this scope will appeal to many different uses. Both hunters and target shooters will benefit from this very durable design. It is packed with features that are most often seen on much more expensive models and at a price under $130 there really is not much you can complain about.
Our detailed analysis highlights some of the limitations, but those are to be expected at this bargain price. You should also take into account that it has an average 4.4 stars from 500+ buyers on Amazon.
For the slightly larger budget between $200 and $250 this is the one optic that stands out the most. The great thing about this scope is its versatility, in that its magnification of 4.5x to 14x will make it suitable for various types of hunters and target shooters as well. The mil dot reticle and parallax adjustment will make it very appealing to target shooters as these are important features to consider.
At 44mm length it is longer than many competitors, but as you will be able to see our full product analysis this additional length gives it some significant benefits in optics and image quality. Amazon buyers have given it an average 4.5 stars which really puts it up there with the best.
This optic is well and truly in the Cadillac range of rifle scopes, and despites its price tag (over $400) it is an incredibly popular purchase on Amazon. Of all the products available, this has the highest average rating, which should tell you a lot about its popularity.
Designed with the input of former law enforcement professionals, as well as hunters, this patrol Rifle Optic has a combination of features rarely found on scopes, especially at this price level.
The 30mm tube is hard anodized for exceptional protection of the inner elements from bumps and knocks. The inner optics and circuits are designed in a way that will allow you to leave the sight turned on for a full THREE YEARS on one battery! This basically means that you will not be constantly checking your remaining battery charge. The front and rear lenses are retracted into the tube to provide protection from scratches and dirt and the front lens element is designed to be compatible with standard night vision devices.
If you are looking for a serious piece of equipment for you rifle, then this is exactly what you need to invest in!
While the most common uses of scopes have already been covered above, there are some very unique specialty features that some enthusiasts may require. This could be down to specific tactical requirements, personal preference or the need to have the best possible technologies to bring a competitive advantage.
The next sections will focus on night vision optics, which are commonly used in law enforcement, military and for serious preppers and home defense. Extreme long-range scopes would be common on sniper rifles, but are increasingly used for long range shooting competition. Finally, we’ll take a look at how lens coatings will affect the performance off visibility.
You’ve probably seen movies and documentaries about military or law enforcement topics where people use night vision headgear. While such equipment attached directly to the head is very effective, it can be a great hindrance and even lead to injury when not combined with the right optics.
Night vision goggles will generally be quite bulky and the recoil through a large scope can make contact with the goggles, causing facial or eye injury. An alternative is to use tactical rifle equipment that has night vision built in.
While these limit the field of view, which is illuminated, it can be a very suitable alternative that also costs significantly less than full headgear.
One thing to keep in mind is that such products are battery operated and this significantly increases their size and weight. Especially the weight can take some getting used to as it will impact the balance and handling of the rifle, so once you have such a device attached, make sure you spend some time getting used to the change in ergonomics.
Extreme Long Range
Military and SWAT snipers will be well used to practicing and preparing for extreme long-range shots. These would be in the range of half to full mile and take skills that an ordinary hobby shooter will not require.
But target shooting events throughout the country have all started increasing the distances they cover, with some very specialty competitive events being now held at up to one mile distances. At such ranges the commonly available ranges will not be sufficient.
In order to be able to zoom in far enough for such a shot you will need quite a large piece of lens equipment where the lens diameter, or aperture, increases and the number of lenses also goes up quite a bit.
This results in scopes that have quite large diameter tubes that are much longer than anything you would have encountered in a regular set up. The reason is that the more you magnify the more light needs to be made available, otherwise you end up with a very blurry image where the target cannot be clearly viewed.
Such products will often cost you upwards of $2,500 and you will have to check specialty gun stores to really get a good feel for what would best suit you.
Specialty Lens Coatings
One way to really improve the performance of you scope investment is to buy a model with high quality glass and fully coated lenses throughout the tube. In many cases manufacturers try to bring the price of their equipment down by only fully coating some of the lenses, but this will impact the amount of light throughput.
Essentially, chemical coating of lenses reduces how much light each lens reflects, thereby ensuring that more light gets through to your eye. This becomes increasingly important with models that combine multiple lenses to achieve high power magnification; up to 10% of light can be lost while it passes through a lens and specialty coating can reduce that to about 3%.
The downside is that such chemical coating is very expensive and the most effective materials and techniques are also the most expensive. Over the past years, many manufacturers have come up with new ways and the process has become a lot more affordable, but a properly fully coated lens system will set you back quite a bit.
The investment will be well worth it though as soon as you find yourself taking aim in low light conditions like dawn or dusk, or when hunting in wooded areas on a cloudy day. In such situations there is already very little light available, so making sure that more of it finds its way to your eye.
If your budget can stretch to fully coated lenses, then you will probably not regret the investment. It certainly will make much more sense to spend more on coatings than magnification, as in many cases high magnification optics will only be suitable for the most ideal light conditions. At a gun range that may well be fine, but if you regularly go hunting you will know that light conditions constantly change and can be the biggest factor in deciding whether you make the shot or not.
When it comes to researching rifle scope reviews in your search for the perfect companion to your rifle, pistol, shotgun, etc., it is important to remember that, as is true with most products, you get what you pay for! The better the lenses, the more it will cost. Certain brands are renowned for quality workmanship, but they can be pricey as well.
On our site we provide you with all the information you need on scopes from different brands for all types of budgets.