Affordable Optics: 5 Best Scopes Under $500
courtesy mfr
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It’s a question posed in gun groups on a regular basis: what’s the best rifle scope under X dollars? And just as regularly comes the stream of replies, most forgetting a minor detail beyond their own bias one way or another: application.

What’s the intended use of said budget-priced optic? How rigorously will it be used and on what gun? Because of those variables I’d be doing you guys a disservice if I tried to claim this was an all-encompassing list of affordable scopes. It isn’t, it’s just a few suggestions with various applications, depending on whether you need a hunting scope, an optic for your AR or something for longer range shooting. YMMV.

Affordable Optics: 5 Best Scopes Under $500
courtesy Leupold

Leupold VX-Freedom

This isn’t just one model it’s an entire line-up of affordably-priced scopes from one of my preferred manufacturers. It includes options for everything from ARs to Scout rifles to muzzleloaders; whatever your firearms preference might be you’re probably covered. Not only are they all under the $500 cap set for this roundup, they all start under $400 (customization can affect cost).

My experiences with the VX-Freedom line have been positive. The 4-12×40, specifically, is a good example of the line’s versatility and quality. Features include a 3:1 zoom ratio and a one-inch tube. The optic has both water-proof and fog-proof features as well. Click value is ¼ MOA. In addition, it’s made from 6061-T6 aircraft quality aluminum and has scratch-resistant lenses; it’s a well-made, durable optic. I wouldn’t purposefully beat it on trees or take it on a rugged mountain hunt, but for general purpose use it’s solid. This scope is a fantastic example of a product performing not only within but beyond its price point.

MSRP for the Leupold VX-Freedom 4-12×40 is a great scope at $389.99. MSRP varies by model.

Affordable Optics: 5 Best Scopes Under $500
courtesy Burris

Burris MTAC Riflescope 1-4x24mm

This scope from Burris was originally designed for CQB work but it’s also a viable option for hunters. Keep in mind most deer hunters don’t take shots outside 150 yards – if we’re being generous, really it’s more like within 100 yards – which means a short-range model is fine. The Burris MTAC Riflescope 1-4x24mm is available with either a Ballistic CQ or Ballistic AR reticle, various finishes, and as part of different kits.

The matte-black finish MTAC with a Ballistic AR reticle has features such as illumination, 1-4x magnification range, and 3.5-to-4.0 inch eye relief. Click value is ½ MOA and its total elevation adjustment capability is 130 MOA; windage adjustment capability is also 130 MOA. No parallax. It’s a nice short-range scope for your close-quarters rifle – hey, if you use an AR for home defense you’d better be doing some CQB training with it. Winging it is not the answer.

MSRP for the Burris MTAC Riflescope 1-4x24mm starts at $479 and it’s worth noting I’ve seen them for $399 online (scope only, matte black).

Affordable Optics: 5 Best Scopes Under $500
courtesy Bushnell

Bushnell Nitro Riflescope 2.5-10×44

Years ago when I went on my first feral hog hunt my rifle was topped by a Bushnell scope. Bushnell manufactures a wide variety of optics and other gear and is well worth a closer look. This particular scope, the Bushnell Nitro Rifelscope 2.5-10×44, is designed for reasonably close-range hunting (of course, you can use it at the range, too). Features include a Multi-X reticle, IPX7 waterproofing, and anti-reflection coatings on both lenses and prisms.

The Bushnell Nitro Riflescope offers good clarity and a nice field of view as well as good light transmission in low light conditions thanks to that big 44mm objective lens. It’s the magnification range that makes it a hit with hunters, though. This is a second focal plane optic with a side parallax adjustment range of 10. Eye relief is 3.6 inches. It has a 30mm tube and weighs in at 23.9 ounces so it isn’t overly heavy, which is always nice, and it has capped turrets, a feature I like. If you want an affordable optic that performs above its price point you should be looking at some Bushnell optics. And if you can, consider some of their higher-priced models. Their Tac Optics Riflescope for long-range precision shooting is an awesome optic but it’s more pricey.

Affordable Optics: 5 Best Scopes Under $500
Weaver Classic K-Series Riflescope

Weaver Classic K-Series Riflescope

Weaver is yet another manufacturer with a vast line of optics covering a wide range of glass needs. If you want a Weaver but need to keep the cost down, try the Classic K-Series Riflescope. The optic is machined from a single piece of aircraft-grade aluminum and made specifically to withstand heavy recoil. If you, like me, are a fan of big bores then this might be the glass for you. According to Weaver the Classic K-Series is so carefully crafted it can hold zero up to 10,000 rounds from a .375 H&H. Talk about tough – that is seriously impressive.

Features of the Weaver Classic K-Series Riflescope include a Dual-X reticle and superior multi-coated optics to reduce glare while enhancing brightness. It has a one-inch tube and is fixed power. Benefits of fixed power scopes include greater brightness and durability. It also means this is a fixed parallax scope. With fewer parts – and fewer lenses – a scope like the Classic K-Series 6×38 is able to hold zero more reliably and is less likely to sustain damage while hunting. It isn’t invincible but it is a definite pro to use a fixed scope under some circumstances.

Overall weight of this scope is 11.2 ounces and it is 11.4 inches long. This optic performs well within its price point.

MSRP varies by model; the Classic K-Series 6×38 has an MSRP of $260.95.

Affordable Optics: 5 Best Scopes Under $500
Trijicon AccuPower 3-0x40

Trijicon AccuPower 3-9×40 Riflescope

For this one I’m ignoring the MSRP and going by the actual sale prices posted by multiple dealers. It does have a higher MSRP but I’m seeing it online for under $500 so I’m including it. Trijicon makes some stellar optics and the AccuPower line is well worth listing.

The Trijicon AccuPower 3-9×40 Riflescope has a 3-9x magnification, as the name suggests, and 40mm objective. Eye relief is around 3.7-inches. One of the things I love is its LED-illuminated reticle which comes in either red or green. It has an MOA Crosshair reticle and is made to be used with the Bindon Aiming Concept (BAC). What is the BAC? It’s a methodology for aiming that was created by the late founder of Trijicon, Glyn Bindon. BAC is based on the natural binocular vision of humans and involves leaving both eyes open while shooting. Leaving your non-shooting eye open does allow for a broader field of vision and greater situational awareness, among other things.

Another feature worth listing is that if you set this optic to 9x you can use it as a BDC reticle.

The AccuPower line is excellent. Trijicon is a manufacturer I keep coming back to because their optics have stood up to serious torture during tactical training and hunts, all while holding zero and staying intact even when dropped and banged against solid objects. They make fantastic, high-quality glass. This optic has crystalline clarity and a broad field of view. It’s also versatile, relatively low-profile, and waterproof to 10 feet of water.

MSRP is technically $699 but EuroOptic has it for $462.65 so it’s out there under $500.

Affordable Optics: 5 Best Scopes Under $500
Acme Machine 4-16x44mm FFP Tactical Riflescope

Acme Machine 4-16x44mm Tactical Riflescope

This is an honorable mention of sorts since it puts our five-optic list at six. Acme makes good entry-level optics such as this 4-16x44mm rifle scope. This is a first focal plane optic with an illuminated reticle and clarity that exceeds its price point. The housing of the optic is nitrogen purged and O-ring sealed. Other features include a parallax setting of 100, an 18 MIL or 60 MOA adjustment range and a .1 MRAD or 1/4 MOA per-click adjustment. Tube diameter is 30mm and overall weight is 26 ounces.

I’ve used multiple Acme Machine optics in different settings and have found they do perform within the expectations of their price point. However, the clarity of the glass is better than many similarly-priced optics deliver. These are good scopes for AR builders on a budget. They’re fairly durable optics but I’ve had them lose zero if they sustain a solid blow (the same can be said for other brands in this price range and even beyond it).

The MSRP on the MIL dot reticle model and the MOA model is technically listed as $599.99 but both are typically sold at a sale price of $299.99. Check out the MIL model here and the MOA model here.

Here’s the thing about optics. Some gun owners believe glass is less important than the rifle itself, but in reality you should be focusing on glass over gun. Rather than sinking all your money into a high-end AR sink it into the best rifle scope you can afford. That said, it’s not always possible for us to buy pricey super-duper ultra shockproof whiz-bang optics with the most advanced multicoated lenses…so that’s where the good, more affordably-priced stuff comes in. There are many others aside from those listed above but this should give you a good start.

What sub-$500 optics do you recommend?

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  1. How on earth did the Nikkon and Redfield scopes not make this list.

    I absolutely love the Redfield Revolution scopes….. The 4-12×40 or x50 is an outstanding option.

    • Because the sub-$500 Nikons are average at best and have a limited warranty. And Redfield is run-of-the-mill on its best days.

      What is missing is the Leupold Mark AR Firedot scopes. You can get better optics than the Freedom and a green dot at the center of the crosshairs for under five bills.

      • I’ve got the 3-9×40 Mark AR (on my .260) and seems like a quality optic for the $300 range, but the thing that drives me kind of nuts about Leupold is they’re too cheap to include such mundane luxuries as lens caps or resetable turrets. Actually the Mark AR does have resetable turrets, but you have to loosen 3 allen screws and you can easily bump it 1/10 mil when you tighten them back up. How much does it cost to manufacture a spring loaded ring that you can just lift up and rotate like everyone else does? I’d happily pay the extra $5.

        • lol i have the same optic, i hate how the turret does light up perfectly cant tell if its 0.1 or 0.2, i just use the mil dot reticle i have.

    • I’ve got the 2-7×33 Revolution on my AR. Clarity is probably pretty good for the price range, an I love the Accu-range reticle, but the windage turret’s kind of mushy and if you look at Redfield’s specs, it’s actually a 2.5-6.5x scope. And like Leupold’s other offerings they’re too cheap to throw in lens caps.

    • I have not had a good experience with Redfield scopes. I had a Revenge 4-12×42. Would not hold zero on my savage axis 308. While trying to re zero it the elevation turret came completely off. I tried to reinstall it with no luck.
      I will say this, their customer service is excellent. They payed for it to be shipped back to them for repair and then payed to ship it back to me. I sold the rifle with the scope for an axis 2.
      I am surprised no Vortex scopes made the list. I have had very good luck with them.

      • I don’t think they’re making the Revenge line anymore. Those where made in the Philippines. The Revolution line is made in Leupold’s factory. Not that the Philippines is a bad place to make a scope, the Nikon prostaffs are made there and they seem OK.

  2. Must be nice to live at an income level where 500 bucks for a scope is considered “affordable”.

    I understand the importance of quality, especially on something like optics, but let’s face it, these are solidly ‘mid-level’ for the majority of us poor bums who are raising kids, paying mortgage, insurance, car payments, etc. etc. ‘Affordable’ is something you take a few bucks out of the cookie jar and buy, these would require a concious effort to save towards for a lot of us.

    • Vic, that’s a tricky balance. I very much understand that 5 bills on something as esoteric as a scope is a tough nut for a lot of folks.

      That said, the guys with 50-500+ guns, that’s considered “affordable”. And there are a fair number here.

    • A scope should not cost more than the rifle it’s mounted on unless that scope is paid for by the taxpayers.

      I like Primary Arms as well. Currently looking at which of their ACSS scopes I want to put on an upper I built, either a 3x or 5x ACSS, can’t decide.

      • Rifle accuracy and dependability is only as good as the scope it has on it. I would rather have a $500.00 rifle with a $1,500.00 scope than a $1,500.00 rifle with a $500.00 scope.

        • Unless it’s select fire or gives out hand jobs under the bench or something, the only reason to pay $1500 for a rifle is to take out of the safe and look at it. (Nothing more useless than an ugly $1500 rifle BTW.)

    • A lot has changed in the decades since I started shooting, but one thing hasn’t — a serious rifle scope costs about the same as a serious rifle. The decision anyone needs to make is just how serious they need, want, or can afford to be.

      • I’d say the same about long-range shooting as well. With match ammo, even reloading is pretty expensive. How good can you afford to be?

    • +1, friggin adulting sucks! Hate that mortgage payment, managed to save up $300 and went with a .556 primary arms acss for my frankenbuilt AR. No regrets

    • Seems like they didn’t do much research. Shopping around can really do one good. On optics planet you can find a Leupold 1.5-4x, for 188$.

      • I shopped around and found a Weaver K6 for 139.99, sent the link to the wife December one of two years ago just to “help” with Christmas shopping! No regrets! That scope rules!

  3. I’ve used a number of Bushnell scoped with varying degrees of success. I’m looking to move to Leopold because I’ve seen the difference I’ve been missing all these years. Buy a good s open the first time or you’ll buy a second scope at some point.

  4. For 170 bucks I topped a Ruger American with a Redfield. State of the art? No. Something to brag on? No.

    But out to 300 yards, my practical limit, it will kill a deer or yote just as well as the higher end rigs. I don’t do competitive shooting or long range stuff.

    If I want to do long range stuff I squint and put nail polish on the sights on my Mosin Nagant.

    • “If I want to do long range stuff I squint and put nail polish on the sights on my Mosin Nagant.”

      Thank you for that! You made me smile and feel good today! My Mosin Nagant is capable of center of deer accuracy at 100 yards. But it only cost me $35 back-in-the-day, so using the rule of thumb that a scope should cost the same as the rifle, I guess I need to look for a $35 scope (LOL)

  5. The Vortex Diamondback Tactical 6-24×50 can be had for well under 500 bucks if you shop around and use discount codes. It’s an FFP, has above average glass, and passed the box test several times in several calibers. Add in the Lifetime Warranty and it’s a solid optic at a fair price. I love it. Also a big fan of Primary Arms stuff. I love the higher end glass best, but my wallet doesn’t agree.

  6. Primary arms acss 1×8 scope is a very good scope for under 500.00 and a good red dot at 1× , can’t go wrong with this scope.

  7. There are a lot of sub 500 Scopes on the market these days.

    Vortex has been my usual scope for the budget brand manufacturer.

    This year I picked up an Acme Machine scope that was featured here and two Riton Scopes during the BOGO sale.

    All 3 scope does the job for the under 400 price range.

  8. While the author states he is making suggestions the article is actually an opinion editorial and needs to be labeled as such. No criterion, no standards, nothing used to base a selection except under $500, and a lot of names missing. Just more click bait.

  9. When I retired I bought a Winchester Model 70 chambered in 300 WINMAG and so I decided to get a top of the line Leupold scope that cost me almost as much as the rifle. My 30-06 had a $250 Bushnell on it. I liked the Bushnell better and at the ranges I shoot at, out to 500 yards, I can’t tell the difference. I can see the need for a precision scope at very long range or in competition where the difference between winning and losing is measured in millimeters. For the rest of us it’s did you hit the kill zone? If the $250 scope allows you to do that it’s a good scope for you

  10. Bushnell does or did make a 6-24×50 for street price of $250. I have 1 and it has an xmas tree reticle that ive used out to 800 yds on steel with a 308. Vortex makes same configuration at $400. I have 1 if those also. 6-24x is swiss army knife of rifle scopes. Pretty much much do anything out to 800-1000yds. A little skimpy for bench rest competition but other than that an all round good scope configuration.

  11. How about the Osprey line of scopes, I have 3 of them an I also have Burris, Athlon, and Vortek an I will tell you the Osprey scopes are my favorite for the money.

  12. 1) Vortex. Every optic I own except one is a Vortex for good reason.

    2) The one optic I love for Deer is my Redfield 2-7×33 Accu range, when I had it on my 300 blackout the crosshairs were 100 yard super Sonic and the bottom of the main circle was 100 yard sub Sonic with the lower dot being 200 yard sub Sonic that was an awesome combo. I now have that optic on a Ruger American 7mm-08 and want to try 500+ yards this spring.

  13. List the damn country of origin. And if it is chicomland (PLA) then put it in RED font (or leave it out). The day to be financing the R&D/factories of the SOBs who are going to be shooting at our kids is PAST.

  14. Discovery Optics os another to be looked at. FFP, great glass and lifetime warrenty. Sub $300 range for their top line. I have their next to top shelf and its a
    4-14×44 ffp, Side paralax focus, pop/lock turrets.

  15. Hey Kat you should do one of these on “best scopes under $100.” No, I am not kidding. Why? Because in some parts of America (they tend to have mountains and banjos), we test EVERYTHING in and to the maximum of reality (sometimes intentionally, very often through foolishness), and we find that there are actually many VERY “cheap” scopes that hold up just as well in the wild as the $500 ones. There are even some that fog less. I say this as a person who owns and or has tried almost every variety of scope, even high dollar ones.

    • Red dots or the knockoffs on Amazon type of optics?

      This one was difficult to keep to the five. As the complaints above mention I would have liked to include Vortex, for one. Had to narrow it down. That’s just how it works.

      I have a feeling I would quickly kill anything with a seriously low price point. And lest anyone misunderstand I am seriously broke and cannot afford fancy optics myself.

      • Yes, those would be interesting, too. No, I was meaning cheapo stuff from the big box stores and Cabela’s and Bass Pro and whatnot. These are actually the most-used scopes in the U.S.. Standard magnifications like you did above. Or you could do cheapo 3x9s. You will be really surprised. I have almost all these scopes above in variants of some type, but there are very inexpensive scopes that hold up just as well as some of them.

  16. Some years ago the American Rifleman had a feature on the rifles of Finn Aagaard, a well respect professional hunter and writer who could have any scope he wanted. I was collecting old El Paso Weaver scopes at the time and near as I could see from the pictures all his rifles were scoped with low power Weaver K scopes.

    • Hey Tom… yeah Weaver is one I feel, personally, should always be mentioned. They have a broad range of scopes and some good stuff in their line.

  17. I’m a big fan of the Cabelas Covenant line of scopes. Good glass clarity for the money, FFP, and a really nice reticle for under $300. Only available in MOA, and I wish they would offer a MIL version.

  18. My .30-06 and .338 have Leupold Vari-X II 3×9-40 scopes on them. About $20 new 20 years ago. Old school, basic, no frills, built like tanks. American made. They got it done until 2 years ago, when I scoped an elk on the edge of a meadow at dusk, and couldn’t pick up enough light to count points. Time for something that will get more light to my aging eyes. Picked up a Vortex Diamondback 3×9-44 that’s noticeably brighter, but I haven’t done any testing yet. Or maybe I need to start carrying parachute flares and a launcher.

  19. I purchased a Vortex Crossfire II (4x12x44) for under 200 dollars. Got it on my Savage 7mm. So far it has been really good.
    Another budget scope was a BSA Catseye. Had it on a 308 and it was a really good optic for 100 dollars

  20. My wife bought me a 270 rem bolt action ADL in 1994 I topped it with a tasco 3×9 wideview both from walmart. I have only sited it once and that was when i put it on I still hunt with it and last year made a 238 yard shot Every year i fill my freezer with it. I have 4 other rifles with nikon or leupold on them but my Remington is my favorite. I feel very confident when i pull that trigger.

  21. I’ve had so many of the scopes mentioned here, and still own a few of these as well. The Vortex are great, but the cheaper models like the strike Eagle and Diamondback just feel exactly as described, cheap. The Leupold Mark AR is great, my favorite features being how lightweight they are and the motion activated fire dot, but the turrets are a bit sloppy and turn too easy. I’ve in fact sent my mark AR back to Leupold twice for illumination repairs though. The Weaver is not a half bad scope however it has limited elevation travel, but the better model here would be the 3-10 power tactical. Burris makes some awesome scopes, however until you get into their XTR ii (and soon iii) series they just feel cheap, weak turrets with novice level reticle options. Primary arms? Not awful, it’s certainly affordable but in reality it’s just some bulk Chinese gear.

    So what’s cheap without feeling cheap? Like so many others have mentioned… it’s SWFA. The SS series is hands down the best optic you can buy under $500. With fixed power options under $300 they are a clear winner. Crisp distinct clicks on turrets, ridiculous amount of elevation travel, Japanese glass, MIL and MOA options, reliable tracking, 50BMG rating, and a lifetime warranty. If you catch a sale you can get a deal on a 3-15×42. I personally have 2 of the FFP model in 3-15×42 and it is a powerhouse for the money. Sure I have significantly higher end glass, but I don’t care what your budget is, when you have many rifles to outfit with optics you have to save money where you can. SWFA all day long folks. I’d say Vortex second but the SS series is very comparable to the Viper line of scopes.

  22. Glad to see me Weaver K6 on the list. Call me simple, but for my needs it’s above and beyond. All the wanna-be Chris Kyle’s in the world may disagree, but I think Mr. Kyle could have accomplished his feats of awesomeness with a lowly K6

  23. I’ve got a Bushnell Nitro 3-12-44 replacing the Bushnell Legend 3-9-50 that went bad haven’t hunted with it yet will be it’s fir deer season coming up later in 2019 hope it’s as good as it’s reviews say about it it sure clear and easy to focus on my target time will tell any feedback is greatly appreciated


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