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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?