I’m going to break the best AR-15 scopes into two basic categories.
The first one is General Purpose “Jack-of-all-Trades” type AR-15 scopes. These are very versatile scopes that are perfect for almost any job including:
- 3-gun and other competition
- CQB to mid-range combat
- Home defense
- SHTF or TEOTWAWKI scenarios
- Plus almost anything else you can think of
The second category is for more traditional scopes. These scopes usually have 2-6 power on the low end and 9-20+ power on the high end. They aren’t as versatile as the general purpose scopes, but they’re what everyone thinks of when you say “scope”.
Best AR-15 Scopes for General “Jack-of-all-Trades” Use
Scopes with 1 power on the low end and 4 or 6 power on the high end are called “low powered variable scopes”. These scopes are ideal for almost any situation because of their magnification range.
On 1 power, 1-4 and 1-6 scopes are almost as fast as a red dot sight. And on 4 or 6 power, you have enough magnification to be accurate at several hundred yards. Even farther if you’re really good. (WWII snipers used 4 power scopes at 800 yards)
Basically, 1-4 or 1-6 scopes can cover the entire effective range of the AR-15 platform with only one optic.
There are better choices for close range (like red dot optics) and better for long range. (Like traditional scopes) 1-4 and 1-6 scopes don’t do anything perfectly, but they do a LOT of things well.
They are especially good for hunting and combat. In fact, the Military requested the first 1-4 scopes after the events chronicled in the movie Black Hawk Down.
From the mil side, the low-power variable scope was motivated by experience in the Oct 3rd, 1993 TF Ranger mission in Somalia. Back then the only optics in use on carbines were Aimpoint 1000s or ACOGs, both with distinct advantages. AARs (After Action Reviews) determined that many of the folks in that fight found that they needed the advantage of an RDS like the Aimpoint because of the close-quarters nature of the street fight, but also some level of magnification for positive target identification as their lanes will littered with threats and non-combatants. Having a marriage of the two would allow them to rapidly engage at close range while also being able to engage accurately at distance and ID targets further out.
Not much progress was made in that regard until the problem popped up again in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq. By 2004, the guys at the tip of the spear approached a few different optics manufacturers asking for this combo-scope, most failed to deliver to spec except S&B – and the Short Dot was born.
So here are some excellent 1-6 and 1-4 AR-15 scope options.
FYI: If you buy after clicking most of the product links on this page, I'll make a few pennies out of each dollar you spend. It's not much, but it keeps the website going and I would appreciate your support. 🙂
(ordered from highest to lowest price)
In my opinion, the Trijicon VCOG (Variable Combat Optical Gunsight) is one of the best general purpose AR-15 scopes you can buy. Every other scope in this category is a compromise to this one.
What makes it so good?
For starters, it has the best glass of any scope in this category (not surprising with its price tag). Trijicon scopes are famous for both their durability and clarity; this is no exception.
People often underestimate the importance of clarity. Clarity is better than power. An extremely clear 6 power scope will allow you to shoot better than a “meh” scope with higher power. The VCOG’s incredibly clear glass allows you to make hits much farther than its “mere” 6 power would suggest.
Trijicon built this thing like a tank and it can take an extreme amount of punishment.
It’s made from Forged 7075-T6 Aluminum, which is stronger than many steels and far lighter. You could probably use it to drive nails and only damage the finish. (though I wouldn’t recommend that). It’s also waterproof to 20 meters (66 ft.)
The Reticle is fantastic.
On 1 power, it looks very much like a Red Dot Sight and works very well at close range. On the higher powers, the built in range estimation system and bullet drop compensator (BDC) allow you to make hits out to 800 yards.
The scope is First Focal Plane, which means you can use the ranging and BDC features on any magnification.
The reticle is illuminated, and is powered by common-as-dirt AA batteries. The illumination is night vision comparable on the low end, and daylight bright on the high end. In bright daylight, it’s often better to turn the illumination off and use it like a normal scope.
One cool thing is that there’s an off position between all of the brightness settings. This allows you to have it just one click away from your desired brightness. It also has the mount integrated, meaning you never have to worry about leveling the scope when mounting it.
Putting all those features together, the Trijicon VCOG is one of the best AR-15 scopes you can buy.
This scope has become a favorite in the 3-gun crowd, and for good reason. While some might balk at the price, remember this optic was designed to compete with $2000+ optics. The Razor HD 1-6 simply blows cheaper 500 AR-15 scopes away (and most others around it’s price too.)
Again, I have to say that Clarity is more important than magnification.
While it doesn’t have high magnification, it has unbelievable clarity for it’s price. Like the VCOG, that extreme clarity means this scope can shoot much further than you might think.
The Razor HD also has a HUGE field of view, meaning the exact position of your head matters much less. In close quarters, this meas you can get on target faster. In fact, at least one 3-gun shooter was slightly faster with this scope on 1x than with a red dot sight.
That’s a HUGE accomplishment.
Additionally, Jerry Miculek (the wold champion shooter) designed the reticle. While it’s not as advanced as the VCOG reticle, it includes ranging and a BDC out to 600 yards while still being very fast in close quarters. It includes an illuminated center dot that mimics a red dot sight, and is bright enough to be seen in almost any condition.
Vortex also has arguably the best warranty on the planet. I can sum it up like this: “You break it, we’ll fix or replace it.” Or to quote from their website:
“If you ever have a problem, no matter the cause, we promise to take care of you.”
The Vortex Razor HD 1-6×24 is easily the best AR-15 scope in the mid-range, with the only downside being the weight. You’ll definitely notice the extra 25.2 ounces.
Starting the sub-$400 lineup is another Vortex Optics scope. They are famous for putting very good glass on their scopes for the money.
The Vortex Strike Eagle is no exception. At this price point, it’s hard to find better glass
The Strike Eagle has better (clearer) glass than most scopes twice it’s price. It’s not up there with the VCOG or even the Razor (not by a long shot) but the clarity is very good for the money.
The other very notable feature of this scope is the reticle. In fact, it’s almost the same reticle as the Trijicon VCOG, except the reticle is on the second focal plane. (meaning the BDC and ranging are only accurate on the highest power setting)
Like the VCOG, the horizontal lines in the reticle are the width of an average man’s shoulders at various ranges. That tells you not only how far away they are, but also how much the bullet will drop at a given range.
The large illuminated ring makes getting on target quickly a snap, and the BDC makes longer range hits fairly easy. The illumination does wash out a little bit in bright light. However in bright light the “crosshairs” will still work perfectly.
It has capped turrets and – while not bombproof like the more expensive optics – it’s very tough. Should you manage to hurt it, Vortex will be waiting with their industry leading warranty.
The Vortex Strike Eagle is probably the best AR-15 scope if you’re on a budget.
(NOTE: Vortex also makes a 1-8 power Strike Eagle. While the additional magnification is nice, quite frankly the reticle is crap. If they would’ve stuck with the original Strike Eagle reticle it would be a no brainer. But $100 more for two power and a useless reticle is a lot to ask.)
The huge selling point of this scope is the reticle. (which I’ll get to a minute.) Primary Arms is a fairly new player in the optics market, but they hit a home run with this scope.
While the glass isn’t quite as clear as the Vortex Strike eagle, it is very good for the money. Like the Strike Eagle, there is a little “fish eye” distortion around the edges, but not bad at all.
The illumination is reasonably bright, but will wash out in bright sun (though the “crosshairs” still work perfectly making that mostly a non-issue.)
The best feature of the Primary Arms 1-6 is the Advanced Combined Sighting System (ACSS) reticle. In my opinion, the ACSS reticle is the best reticle on the market.
It’s the best in my opinion.
What makes it the best are the features and the uncluttered look. It has the usual horizontal ranging and BDC features, but it also has vertical ranging for a human sized target, holds for shooting in the wind, and holds for leading a target.
The leading holds are calculated for the average man running with a weapon. I obviously haven’t tested it, but Primary Arms says they are accurate from 100 to 300 yards.
Comparing the Primary Arms scope to the Vortex basically boils down to this: The Vortex has better glass, the Primary Arms has a better reticle.
If your purpose is mostly target shooting or hunting, the clearer glass on the Vortex Strike Eagle will probably serve you better. Either way, you’ll have an extremely capable scope on your AR-15.
The Best Traditional AR-15 Scopes
(Again, from highest to lowest price)
A disclaimer first: these scopes are a little too large and heavy to qualify for a “walking rifle”. Personally, I would only use them on a bench rest rifle because of the size and weight.
However their optical clarity is unbelievable, on par with optics that cost $3500+
The first time I looked through one I was completely floored. I could literally see the veins on leaves that were 100 yards away. (and no, that’s not exaggeration)
But it gets better.
Thanks to the HUGE objective lens, the light gathering was spectacular. Looking through the scope made the world looker brighter even at noon. This scope would excel in low-light conditions. It will also allow you to squeeze every last bit of accuracy from even the best AR-15.
I won’t waste time listing every feature (because this article would double in length) but suffice it to say they got all the details right.
I will talk about the huge magnification range though.
3 power on the low end and 18 power on the high end is nothing short of amazing. You’ll have as much or as little power as you need for virtually any application. And with it’s incredible clarity, it would be a great scope for shooting at 1000 yards.
Possibly well beyond 1000 yards.
Also noteworthy is the reticle. It’s a “Christmas tree” style reticle that allows you to make long range shots without dialing your scope in. The reticle includes a grid of MOA-based dots that are small enough to not get in the way, but large enough to use. Once you figure out the drop and drift of your bullet, simply count dots, hold, and squeeze. It’s much faster and far less error prone than dialing your turret knobs for every shot.
These are incredible scopes and they have Vortex’s unconditional lifetime warranty should anything happen. Plus they compete favorably with optics that cost a LOT more. If you need a full power scope, the Vortex Razor HD 3-18×50 is an excellent choice that you won’t regret.
I have no affiliation with Vortex Optics and they didn’t pay me to include their scopes on this list. However there’s a reason so many of them made the list.
The Vortex Viper PST line is fast becoming a favorite among shooters because Vortex Scopes have very good glass for the money.
If you would like an exhaustive review (with exhausting detail) of the Viper PST scopes, you can find one here. I’m just going to hit the highlights.
There are a few reticles available in the Viper PST line, but arguably the best is the “EBR-2C reticle” (link to pictures). Like the other Vortex scope above, it’s designed to let you range your target and then hold instead of having to dial the elevation and windage.
You simply measure the range of the target using the MOA or MIL system (they’re available with both). Then look at a ballistics chart and hold where you bullet will impact at that range and wind.
It’s much faster and less error prone than dialing your scope in for every shot,
You can also get the scope in either First Focal Plane (FFP) or Second Focal Plane (SFP).
In a FFP reticle the crosshairs stay the same size relative to the target, which means they appear to change size when you change the power. That means you can use the ranging and BDC features on any power.
In a SFP, the reticle stays the same size relative to you. However, the ranging and BDC features will only be accurate on a single power (usually the highest).
The FFP and reticle on the Vortex Viper PST 3-15×44 give it a LOT of flexibility for longer range shooting. It’s an excellent choice for a mid-range optic.
Leupold has been making scopes since the end of WWII and their considerable experience shows in all of their optics. They have scopes that compete with the best in the world, but today, we’re talking about their entry level scopes: The Leupold VX-1 Series.
I won’t gush about the VX-1’s glass because it’s not gush worthy… Until you look at the price tag.
These are entry level optics that score very well (in their price range) for clarity, eyebox, brightness, and virtually every other metric you can measure them by. I won’t pretend these are the best scopes made (they are an entry level scope) but they’re a strong contender for best in class.
It’s VERY hard to beat them for the money.
Leupold has managed to get an almost cult like following among shooters. It earned that following with great products and excellent customer service.
I’m sure that Leupold’s full lifetime Guarantee helped to create that following. It’s nice to know that no matter what happens, the company stand behind their products. Plus, they are American made which is unique to scopes on this list.
Also, there’s a touch of class on Leupold scopes. The simple black with the gold rings will lend some elegance to your AR-15 as it helps you shoot bulls-eyes.
Even the Best AR-15 scope is completely useless unless you can mount it to your rifle. Here are the best options for mounting a scope to your AR-15.
(Again, from highest to lowest price… mostly)
This is easily the best AR-15 scope mount you can buy. It’s the Porsche or Ferrari of the scope mounting world.
The LaRue LT104 mount is absolutely bombproof and is used by the military and law enforcement. You can remove and re-mount it as many times as you want and it will never lose it’s zero.
However you only need this mount if you’re going to remove and then re-mount your scope regularly.
If you’re going to just mount the scope on your AR-15 and leave it there, (like most people) you don’t need the extra cost. In fact, I literally spared no expense building my own AR-15 and I didn’t use a LaRue mount.
I went with something else because I didn’t plan to remove the scope ever, much less regularly. Go LaRue if you want, but realize you probably are better served with one of the options below (unless you plan to re-mount your scope regularly.)
I use this on my own personal AR-15 because it’s very lightweight at only 3.3 ounces. It also mounts rock solid and is very reasonably priced.
One of the things I like best about the Aero Precision mount is how easy it is to attach. Most scope mounts slightly twist the scope as you tighten the screws down. This leads to a frustrating back and forth as you try make it level when the screws are fully tightened.
I didn’t have that problem with this mount though. The scope went on easily and has remained 100% rock solid ever since.
Ounce for ounce and dollar for dollar, this is one of the best AR-15 scope mounts you can buy.
Also (and I realize this is vanity talking) but I like that there’s a big “A” on the side of it. (Remember, this is Abe’s Gun Cave)
It’s a little heavy at 8.7 ounces, but they build these very tough. It’s also ideal for mounting a micro Red Dot Sight on top because of the picatinny rail on top of the rings.
The Burris PEPR mount was the undisputed king of budget AR-15 scope mounts before the Aero Precision ultralight mount came along. It’s still a VERY strong contender, with it’s weight being the only downside. However, I think the Aero Precision mount is better in every way… Unless you want to mount a red dot on top of your scope.
And again, you could mount something on top if you ever wanted to.
If you would like the Quick Detach capability, but don’t want to shell out nearly $300 for a LaRue mount, the Burris PEPR QD mount is the perfect solution.
Everything I said about the standard PEPR mount applies, except this mount will come off your rifle quickly if the scope is damaged. (or if you just want it off.)
It will not return to zero like the LaRue mount.
However, it also costs half as much and very few people actually need return to zero capability anyway.
A high quality AR-15 is a very versatile and effective weapon system. This list of the best AR-15 scopes should give you some equally versatile and effective options to make the most of your rifle.