A good rifle scope may be the key to hitting your target. Whether you’re hunting or competing, your choice of scope can make all of the difference between success and failure.
There’s probably a few of you who know this first hand. You may have bought a scope, lined up the shot, and then missed. Perhaps the scope wasn’t as accurate as it claimed to be, or it didn’t magnify the target as much as you needed it to.
Whatever the case may be, it’s not the scope for you.
It’s all about the balance between you, the scope, and your firearm. But with so many scopes available, it’s hard to separate the good from the bad.
That’s where this buying guide will help. By the end of this guide, you’ll know what to look for in a scope, plus you’ll have a few suggestions to get you started.
Best Rifle Scopes To Buy In 2018!
Trijicon ACOG 4x32 BAC Dual Illuminated Scope - Best Overall Rifle Scope
The scope of choice for the United States Marine Corp (USMC), the Trijicon combines a low weight with exceptional accuracy.
A fixed lens scope, it provides 4x magnification. While this means it’s not ideal for distance hunting, it works brilliantly for target practice or for hunters who like to get up close and personal to their targets. The 32mm diameter lens has a large 36.6ft FOV, so you can see more of the target than you will with most lenses.
The crosshair impresses too, as it illuminates without the need for batteries. Instead, Trijicon uses a combination of fiber optics and tritium to keep the crosshair lit. Better yet, it adjusts to the conditions you’re shooting in, becoming brighter as the surroundings get darker.
That’s not all either, as the crosshair allows you to account for bullet drop of up to 800 meters. Couple that with the easily-reachable turrets for adjusting to wind resistance and elevation and you have a scope that hits the mark almost every time.
The aluminum alloy casing makes it one of the more durable scopes on the market, plus it keeps the weight down too. At less than 300g, this is not a scope that will compromise your shooting due to its weight.
Unfortunately, the 1.5-inch eye relief lets it down a little. You can’t use the scope on really powerful rifles, plus you may find the small relief prevents repeat shots.
This scope works well for most hunters, especially those who won’t take multiple shots in quick succession. It’s also ideal for when accuracy is a top priority. You get a clear image, wide FOV, and the illuminated crosshair offers plenty of help to account for bullet drop.
Bushnell Tactical 10X40 - Best Fixed Rifle Scope
You can’t get much better than the Bushnell Tactical if you’re looking for a fixed lens scope that won’t break the bank. Don’t let its affordability fool you either, as there’s a lot of quality on this package.
The scope has a 10x magnification rate, making it ideal for long-distance shooting. The adjustable mil-dot crosshair also plays a part here, as it allows you to adjust the scope quickly based on the wind levels and elevation. Of course, this does mean that it has a small FOV of 11ft.
While the crosshair isn’t illuminated, the 40mm lens should let more than enough light in for shooting at night. It’s also capable of handling wet conditions thanks to the RainGuard HD technology. This prevents the lens from steaming up during critical moments.
It’s sleek too, with the main tube having a one-inch diameter, though this extends on both the scope ends. You’ll have no problem accessing the turrets either, allowing for quick fingertip adjustments in the field. It has a large eye relief of 3.5 inches, so it can handle higher-powered rifles easily.
However, the crosshair does fall down a little in low-light conditions. Though the scope lets plenty of light in, the dark crosshair has a tendency to fade into the background.
Anybody who needs a quality fixed scope at a low price will gravitate towards this. It’s also a good choice for those who often find themselves shooting in rainy conditions. Plus the choice of crosshairs allow you to pick a favorite.
Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 1-6 x 24 - Best Variable Rifle Scope
Offering magnification between 1x and 6x, the Strike Eagle does a great job for close and mid-range shooting. Importantly, the higher magnification levels don’t cause a loss of image clarity, so it’s an accurate scope no matter which setting you put it on.
The 24mm lens means that the scope feels sleek when attached to your rifle. This allows for more comfortable shooting positions, though you’ll have to accept that it’s not a great choice for low-light shooting. Still, you get a good FOV, ranging from 116.5ft at 1x magnification, down to 19.2ft at 6x.
Having said that, you do get an illuminated crosshair that will help if you can account for the lens not letting in as much light as larger scopes. It’s sturdy too. The glass-etched crosshair has a layer of glass on either side to ensure it doesn’t crack.
The crosshair also allows for adjustments based on wind and bullet drop. However, it lacks the top line, which may make it difficult for novices to use.
It has a 3.5-inch eye relief, which makes quick-fire shooting easier. However, you may find that you have to lean in closer when shooting at higher magnifications. The scope also comes with a few useful accessories, including a battery, lens covers, and a cloth.
The Strike Eagle does a great job for close and mid-range shooting, and it’s not too bad with larger distances either. Hunters that need to find comfortable shooting positions will also appreciate the scope’s sleekness.
ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Riflescope - Best Rifle Scope Over $1,000
If you have money to burn, the ATN ThOR may be a great choice of rifle scope. It’s available in a range of models, with the base version costing about $1,800 and offering variable magnification between 1.25x and 5x. More expensive versions go up to almost $4,000, but also offer more range in magnification levels.
It’s all of the bells and whistles that really account for the high price tag thought. It has a heat-detecting sensor, which makes it ideal for use in low-light conditions. You won’t have to rely on the lens to let more light into allow you to shoot at night.
It also has a ballistic calculator built in, which helps you to determine the accuracy of your shot based on factors like distance and wind. Some may argue that this takes some of the skill out of shooting, but there’s no denying that it leads to greater accuracy.
It also doubles as a camera, as it has the ability to snap photos and record video in 1080p while you hunt. There’s even Wi-Fi connectivity, so you can livestream as you shoot. This allows you to use your mobile device as a viewfinder, though it’s also useless in areas where there isn’t any Wi-Fi.
Having said all of that, the digital zoom does mean that you may lose some image clarity at the higher magnification levels. It also gets quite hot if you use it for an extended period of time.
Anybody who wants a modern scope with all of the bells and whistles will fall in love with this. There are so many features to experiment with. Plus, it’s a great choice for YouTubers and bloggers who want to record evidence of their hunting exploits.
ATN DGWSXS520Z Xsight 5-20x Scope - Best Rifle Scope Under $1,000
Despite costing much less, ATN’s Xsight has many of the same features as their ThOR HD scope. You get the ballistics calculator and can record your shots in 1080p HD. You even get a larger magnification, which ranges from 5x to 20x.
What it doesn’t have is the ThOR’s night vision capabilities, but that doesn’t mean it’s not usable at night. The HD lens offers a clear visual in all conditions, with the scope capable of displaying over a million different colors easily.
It does require a pair of AA batteries, which last for about eight hours. You can use an ATN battery pack instead, but you don’t get that with the scope. The Smart Range Finder is also a nice touch, as it allows you to find a target and track its distance with a couple of clicks of a button.
It’s a weighty scope though, thanks to all of the tech that’s packed inside. It easily adds a couple of pounds to your shooting setup, so it may not be the best choice for those who need to pop a couple of rounds off quickly.
Those who want all the mod-cons but don’t have unlimited budgets will find a happy middle ground with this scope. It’s also great for novices, as the tracking features and ballistics calculator makes lining up shots easier.
Vortex Optics Diamondback HP 4-16x42 - Best Rifle Scope Under $500
Vortex Optics return with another sleek rifle scope that doesn’t skimp on quality, despite the low price. Capable of achieving magnification levels between 4x and 16x, with a clear image regardless of your choice, it’s a great scope for versatile shooters who like to vary the distance.
The 42mm objective lens diameter also allows enough light in for low-light shooting, though it’s not perfect. Dusk and dawn present a few problems, but it does the job well enough. The crosshair also has a unique dot design that helps you to account for wind and distance.
In addition to the high-quality lens, Vortex Optics has accounted for durability too. The glass all has a multi-coating of ArmorTek, which offers good scratch resistance. It’s also shock, fog, and water proof, so you can use it in most weather conditions.
The 4-inch sunshade helps a lot when hunting in bright conditions, as it reduces glare and offers a clearer image. Plus you get the protective caps and lens cloths that come with most rifle scopes.
However, it’s a touch on the heavy side, coming in at about two pounds. The sleek design may not force you to adjust your shooting position, but the added weight might. It also doesn’t like busy environments, especially if there’s a lot of brush around.
This is a great entry-level scope as it offers quality without burning a hole your wallet or purse. The varied magnification settings make it versatile, as does the protection against rain, shocks, and fogginess.
Nikon 8496 P-223 3x32 - Best Rifle Scope Under $200
Reliability is the obvious worry when you’re buying a rifle scope for less than $200. Many will tell you that you have to spend more to get real quality, but there are some good scopes out there if you know where to look.
The Nikon P-223 is one of them. It’s 3x magnification level makes it great for shooting targets up to 300m away. It’s capable of hitting targets at a greater distance too, though you may want to look elsewhere for true distance shooting.
It has great crosshairs too, thanks to Nikon’s Bullet Drop Compensator technology. This not only helps you to account for how the bullet drops during its travels, but also adjusts depending on the caliber of the bullet that you’re using.
Clarity is another thing that’s often missing from such inexpensive scopes, but that’s another area where the P-223 excels. The lens offers a crystal-clear view, even at the highest magnifications.
Nikon also use O-Ring seals to ensure there are no gaps between lens and casing. The nitrogen inside the scope also means you shouldn’t experience any issues with it fogging up.
This is a no frills package though, so you’ll likely have to purchase a separate mount to get it to fit onto most rifles. Furthermore, you’ll need some specialist equipment or a gunsmith to help you get it mounted properly. Still, once it’s in position, you’ll have a clear scope that keeps its zero for less than $200.
Another superb entry-level scope, this offers reliability and accuracy without a huge price tag. It makes an excellent choice as a quick replacement for a broke scope or as a spare for something more expensive. However, it’s also great for close and mid-range shooting.
Sightmark Photon XT 4.6x42S Digital Scope - Best Budget Rifle Scope for Nighttime Shooting
Nighttime shooting requires a combination of a large lens and, ideally, some infrared (IR) technology. The Photon XT offers both, as it has a 42mm lens alongside LED IR technology.
Think of it as a version of ATN’s more advanced scopes at a much lower price. It has similar recording capabilities, though you have to buy the equipment separately and the video quality isn’t quite as high as ATN’s offerings.
But that’s the bells and whistles. The Photon XT outperforms both in regards to comfort, being much sleeker and lighter. You won’t have to spend ages adjusting shooting position and elevation levels to account for the size of the scope.
It has a fixed 4.6x magnification and requires a pair of AA batteries to work. Unfortunately, most only last a couple of hours, so bring a few sets out with you. You can also attach a more powerful IR scope to it if the 830nm scope doesn’t do the trick.
It offers a choice of six digital crosshairs, so you can pick the one that best suits your shooting style. You also get plenty of eye relief, plus it has a range of accessories, such as a carry case and lens cloth.
This is a great choice for nighttime shooters who want something practical that doesn’t cost a lot of money. It also has some nice features, such as the video recording, though you may have to spend a little more to access them.
NightForce SHV 5-20x56mm Riflescope - Best Rifle Scope for Long Range Shooting
When shooting over large distances, you don’t want your scope to get fuzzy when you increase magnification. The NightForce SHV has excellent glass quality, which allows clarity of vision over really long distances. It’s also excellent for tracking, as the scope stays accurate regardless of any little adjustments you make.
Its magnification level ranges from 5x to 20x. At the top setting, this means that a target that’s 1000m away will only look like it’s 50m away.
There’s also very little difference in eye relief between the low and high magnifications. You still get about 3 inches, even if you’re on the 20x setting. This, coupled with the excellent tracking, means you get top-notch repeatability.
It’s durable too, as you would expect from a manufacturer that typically makes rifle scopes for use in wartime conditions. That durability does come at a slight price, as it ups the scope’s weight to 865g. However, that’s not so heavy that you’ll struggle too much adjusting for the weight.
The combination of an illuminated reticule and the 56mm lens diameter also mean this is an excellent scope for low-light shooting. It doesn’t have the IR capabilities of dedicated night vision scopes, but it should do the job well enough.
If you’re shooting targets at distance, this is the rifle scope for you. Stellar accuracy coupled with repeatability make it a great choice. Plus, you can trust NightForce scopes to survive through harsh conditions and the occasional drop.
Hammers 3-9x40AO Magnum Spring Air Rifle Scope - Best Air Rifle Scope
Air Rifles offer a great introduction into shooting, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on the scope. Hammers’ variable scope offers magnification levels ranging from 3x to 9x, making it a great choice for most air rifles.
Apart from the price tag, which is below the $100 mark, this scope comes with a one-piece mount system for 11mm mountings. This is what most air rifles use, so you can just pop it into place and get shooting. The three clamping screws keep it secure, while the single pin holds it in place.
The 32mm lens means that you can use it in low-light conditions, though it’s not great for nighttime shooting. The mil-dot crosshair even means that you can adjust for wind and elevation, which is especially important given the lightness of air rifle bullets.
It’s also surprisingly sturdy, and should stay zeroed in even if you happen to drop your rifle. That sturdiness does come at a slight price with the turrets though, as they’re quite difficult to turn. As a result, it’s not the easiest scope for making quick adjustments in the field.
Air rifle enthusiasts will love this scope because of the low price point and excellent accuracy. Anybody with less than a .22 rifle should consider it. It also has a surprisingly large magnification considering that it’s an air rifle scope.
Buying Guide - The Basics of Rifle Scopes
Rifle scopes are optical devices that use telescopic lenses to help you get a bead on your target. The idea is to help you aim accurately over large distances. Furthermore, they can account for crooked sights on an old gun.
There are two major reasons for buying a rifle scope:
Lining up the crosshair on a scope is much easier than trying to keep your rifle’s front and back sights in line. This makes a scope easier to use than a sight, plus you shouldn’t have to account for crookedness.
Magnification plus a crosshair means you have more control over where the shot hits. For hunters, accuracy makes all the difference between bagging a clean kill and a messy one.
But those are just the basics. Every scope claims to offer simplicity and accuracy. You have to dig deeper to find the scope that’s right for you and your rifle. These are the key considerations.
The Magnification Level
A scope’s magnification level is essentially the limit the scope places on you. The number on the scope tells you how many times closer a target will appear when you use it.
For example, let’s say your scope has 5x magnification. This means the scope makes the target look like it’s five times closer to you than it actually is. A target that’s 200m away will thus appear to be 40m away.
You have a choice between two types of magnification:
Each has its benefits and drawbacks.
A fixed magnification offers simplicity. You won’t have to worry about adjusting the magnification level to find the right one. You can either hit the target or you can’t.
They also tend to be more reliable than variable scopes because the manufacturers focus on one magnification level. However, you obviously can’t adjust the magnification level depending on the shot. This means you have to close the distance, or move further away, depending on where the target is.
Variable scopes offer more flexibility, so you can take a position and adjust the scope before taking your shot. They’re also more versatile, meaning you can shoot in different weather conditions and on several types of terrain. However, this adjustability sometimes comes at the cost of accuracy.
Think about how and where you’ll use the scope before buying it. There’s no point buying a scope with high magnification if you’re going to spend most of your time taking short range shots. It’ll just over-magnify the target and make things more difficult.
The Field of View (FOV)
You can measure a scope’s FOV if you check how much you can see horizontally from left to right when aiming at a target that’s 100m away. The wider the FOV, the more of the surrounding area that you can see. This may alert you to potential obstacles coming from the periphery of the shot.
Generally, a large FOV allows for more accuracy in your shots. However, magnification obviously decreases the FOV.
The Build Quality
A poorly built scope may fail you at the crucial moment. Pay particular attention to the following:
- The materials used for the scope
- The quality of the glass
For the body, you don’t want a scope that’s cobbled together from different pieces of material. Ideally, you’ll find scopes made using a single piece of something like aircraft-grade aluminum.
Remember, each material has a different weight too, which affects your shot. Steel weighs more than aluminum, which means more compensation when shooting.
Check where the material meets the glass. You’re looking for tight seals there and around any knobs on the scope. This prevents water from seeping in and corroding the scope’s inner workings.
For glass, you need a bare minimum of Extra Low Dispersion (ED) glass, which most manufacturers use. Regular glass doesn’t do the job. ED glass offers a sharper image and better color definition, making it better than regular glass for picking out targets.
Some manufacturers use more modern glass types, such as Gorilla Glass or sapphire. You’ll find Gorilla Glass on the front of most smartphones, so rifles that use it get the same levels of scratch resistance and durability. Sapphire offers even more endurance, but it comes at a higher price.
The Objective Lens Diameter
Each scope lens has an objective diameter that determines how much light enters the scope. Typically measured in millimeters, the objective diameter determines which conditions you can shoot in. A small diameter works best during the day, but you’ll need a larger diameter to let more light in when shooting at night.
The diameter also affects the size and weight of the scope. For example, a scope with a 32mm diameter won’t let enough light in for shooting during dawn or dusk. However, it does make your rifle easier to handle and can sit closer to the rifle’s bore.
Larger diameters mean the ability to shoot in low light conditions. However, these larger lenses elevate your scope, making it harder to shoot comfortably.
Go for a smaller diameter if you’re looking for speed and won’t be shooting in low-light conditions. Larger diameters work best for nighttime shooting when you’re aiming at stationary or slow-moving targets.
Also, see if you can find a light transmission percentage on the scope. Most scopes achieve about 90% light transmission, though the very best can get up to 95%.
There’s not much else you need to know about light transmission. A low percentage limits the conditions you can shoot in and leads to a foggier image through the scope.
Also called the reticule, your scope’s crosshair basically tells you where your shot will hit your target. Typically, you’ll have a choice between the following crosshairs:
Duplex is the most basic crosshair. Four lines extend from the outer edges of the scope, getting thinner as they approach the center point. This change in thickness has a purpose, as it helps with aiming when shooting in low-light conditions.
Duplex crosshairs work well if you’re using a scope with 10x magnification or below and intend to shoot targets less than 500m away.
Mil-dot crosshairs look similar to duplex crosshairs. However, the thinnest parts of the crosshair lines also have spacing marks running alongside them. This allows you to quickly adjust your shooting angle, allowing you to account for different wind speeds and elevations.
These are a better choice for those shooting targets over 500m away.
These aren’t the only two crosshairs. Some crosshairs allow you to make even more accurate adjustments for things like bullet drop over a distance.
Generally speaking, the more distance the shot has to cover, the more thought has to go into the scope’s crosshairs.
Line thickness is another consideration. It’s easier to see thick lines when there’s lots of foliage to break through. Thin lines tend to get lost against busy backgrounds. However, increased thickness means less precision.
This refers to the distance between the scope and your eye when shooting. It’s an important consideration because that distance determines the power of the rifle you can use.
Having a short distance between eye and scope will come back to bite you if you’re shooting a rifle that has a large recoil or uses high caliber bullets. At best, you’ll end up with a black eye after taking the shot. However, it’s not uncommon to hear of people breaking their orbital bones because they didn’t consider eye relief.
Ideally, your scope will offer a couple of inches of eye relief. This creates a more comfortable shooting position and decreases the possibility of injuries.
Most manufacturers coat their lenses. Typically, the coating will allow more light in while reducing glare. Many also improve contrast, which makes it easier to pick out your targets.
However, some manufacturers use lens coatings to cover up issues with shoddy scopes. You may see scopes that claim to have full coating, or even full multi-coating. This means the manufacturer has applied the coating to every piece of glass in the scope, sometimes several times.
But that doesn’t improve the quality of the lens. A good lens with a single coating will always outperform an inaccurate lens with several coatings.
Your Own Needs
A rifle with a high magnification level won’t do the job if you shoot targets at close range. A huge lens diameter only adds weight to your setup if you’re shooting during the day.
Here’s the point. Even a high-quality scope won’t do the job if it doesn’t mesh with your shooting conditions. Know what you need your scope for before considering any options.
All of these factors play a role in your rifle scope buying decision. However, there are also some intangibles that may determine the best choice for you. For example, only you know what sort of weight you like from the scope, or which crosshair type you may prefer.
Furthermore, you’ll buy based on what you need the scope for. As a result, these reviews run the gamut of scopes across several different categories.
The Final Word
As always, what you need from your scope is always the main consideration before choosing a rifle scope. Those who spend a lot of time shooting at night will lenses that let more light in or some IR functionality. People shooting over long distances won’t get much use out of a scope that has low magnification levels.
That’s why this article has broken down the various reviewed scopes into different categories. Check each one to see which scope offers what you need for your particular shooting circumstances. Even a high-quality scope won’t do the job if it’s not suited to the environment that you shoot in.
On a general level, each scope on this list offers excellent accuracy. They all zero in on targets well, with most also offering superb repeatability. They’re durable, offer clarity of vision, and should help you improve your shooting skills.
It’s difficult to choose a “best” scope due to many variables that you have to take into account when buying. However, the Trijicon ACOG 4x32 BAC Dual Illuminated Scope stands out because of its durability and quality. It’s great over shorter distances, plus the adjustable crosshair and large FOV make it a great choice.