Buyer’s Guide to Rifle Scopes
When you start slogging through the internet to find the best rifle scope for your needs, one thing hits you right away: way too much information! It has to be that way, though, because there are so many options and potential combinations for you to choose from.
As it turns out, the abundance of choices is a good thing, and a guide such as this one will help you dig through the basics. As to the specifics – whether you are seeking a scope with a variable power adjustment, an aiming reticle that lights up when targeted, or a pressure-sensitive adjustment knob – armed with the information below and a true hunter’s determination, you can customize to your heart’s content.
Old-school shootists who have labored for years to perfect their sighting capabilities using only the iron sights on their rifles sometimes wonder why anyone would want to spend money on a rifle scope or red dot sight. There are a few excellent reasons:
- Improved accuracy – It is very true that a rifle scope will not improve your innate ability to aim. That’s not what they are designed to do. Their one and only mission in life is to enable you to see the target better. If you are in a shooting situation where your aim has to be right, one of the available AR 15 optics upgrades, such as a good rifle scope or a red dot sight, is essential. When you really want predictable results in any kind of weather, terrain, or conditions, these devices will do the trick.
- Good eyes – Seasoned hunters agree that the scope represents the eyes of the rifle. The “glass,” as the scope is often called, can be adjusted to enhance the user’s vision, just like a pair of high-powered spectacles.
- Ease of focus – Anyone who has ever tried to line up the iron sights on a rifle knows how tricky this can be. Using the two irons to sight in on a target forces your eyes to focus not only on the target, but also on the two sighting planes, often favoring one of the sights. Without practice, or with an unfamiliar weapon, this can make your aim even worse than it might have been without the iron sights. A rifle scope or red dot sight can completely bypass the problem of triple-plane focusing, allowing you to hone in on the target more accurately.
- Speed – A scope also makes the critical task of focusing on the target quicker than iron sights, resulting in less frustration, and more bull’s-eyes.
Pro-and-Con Comparisons of Rifle Scopes Vs. Red Dots
- Rifle scope advantages – Rifle scopes have been around a lot longer than red dot sights and are tried and true. They offer more accuracy and versatility than red dots at long distances, especially the scopes with variable magnification.
- Rifle scope disadvantages – Using a rifle scope is slower than sighting down with a red dot system. Rifle scopes also weigh more than red dots, a real disadvantage in some circumstances. Users also tend to experience more parallax errors than they would when using red dots, and eyes-open focusing favors the dots, rather than the scopes.
Red Dot Technology
- Red dot advantages – Almost universally, red dot sights provide a distinct advantage in accuracy over rifle scopes at close ranges. They are faster. Users never have to take eye relief into account, and parallax errors are minimal. These gadgets are lighter weight than rifle scopes. And red dot users can keep both eyes open when they aim, too.
- Red dot disadvantages – Compared to rifle scopes, red dot sights are inferior in long-range shooting. There are other disadvantages that crop up with specific types of red dot optics, such as low lighting that makes the dot or reticle hard to see.
Consumers who are still on the fence about whether to get the scope or the dot can take some comfort in the suggestion to just go ahead and buy both. Your gun will almost certainly allow both options, and you can simply mount the one that makes the most sense at the time.
Most-Popular AR 15 Scopes
The very best AR 15 scope is always going to be the one tailored to your specific needs. There are so many optics options and combinations of upgrades that it is counter-productive to list them all. Below is a list of the ten most-popular AR 15 optics available on the market at this moment. As with all products offering a wide range of choices, any such list will change rapidly time and the inevitable innovations. This listing will nevertheless give you an idea of how much AR 15 scopes are liable to run you.
- Nikon P – .223 (3 x 32): Price range of $75-150
- Aimpoint PRO: Price starts at $225
- Acog Scope – .223 (4 x 32): Price starts at $225
- Vortex® Strike Fire (economic red dot sight): Priced at $75 or less
- Leupold 111412 (Mark 4): Price starts at $225
- Busnell AR – .223 (1-4 x 24): Price range of $150-$225
- Nikon P – .223 (4-12 x 40): Price range of $150-$225
- Redfield Counterstrike Red Dot: Price range of $75-150
- UTG Bug Buster (3-9 x 32): Priced at $75 or less
- Simmons Predator (4.5-18): Price range of $75-150
Many rifle scope reviews and red dot sight reviews offer the good-sense suggestion that shooters avoid running out and spending more than they can afford to get the very best rifle scope or top of the line AR red dot. This is excellent advice, especially since there are bottom of the line AR 15 scopes that work well enough for many users.
Once you’ve decided on a few brands that look good for your needs, do a point-by-point comparison of some crucial characteristics besides price.
Options to compare include:
- Magnification power – Your best bet for choosing the right scope magnification depends entirely on the way you use your rifle. Generally speaking, the longer the shooting distance, the higher the magnification. Intuitive shootists prefer lower-strength scopes like a 4x or 6x, and the long-distance users, who need better accuracy as opposed to faster focus, will usually go for a 16x and above.
- Fixed or variable magnification – Unless you find yourself in the middle of an armed conflict and don’t want to have to remember what your current magnification is, a variable rifle scope is usually the better choice, because it provides a choice of magnification strengths. If you need speed, however, go with a fixed scope.
- Parallax errors vs. parallax-free rifle scopes – Parallax in a rifle scope is to be avoided, if possible. It causes an illusory movement of the sighting dot or reticle, making the target seem out of focus. It is possible to adjust for parallax, however. Some scopes are set for a parallax-free shot at 50 or 100 yards, and others provide an adjustment knob mechanism.
- Eye relief – Eye relief is usually defined as “the maximum distance between the rifle scope and the eye.” A high degree of eye relief is very important if your rifle has a heavy recoil.
- Type of reticle – The options are seemingly endless here, and personal preference rules. The most popular are the BDC, or “bullet drop compensator,” the duplex, and the mildot reticles.
In determining your best scope for an AR 15, moderation is the key to shooting satisfaction. If you find a rifle scope review that advocates borrowing a scope in order to try it for yourself before you buy it, you should pay attention to the rest of the information in that review. Trying out your optics choices before ordering them is by far your best approach to making a final decision.
Almost invariably, if you buy the best AR 15 scope you can afford without going overboard, you can’t go wrong.
Miscellaneas – Fun Facts About Rifles, Scopes, and Dots
- About Magnifiers for Sighting – Magnifiers as optic devices have been around since they were first mounted on the weapons used way back in World War Two.
- About the AR 15 Scopes – Contrary to the word on some streets, the “AR” in AR 15 does not mean “assault rifle,” or even “automatic rifle.” It stands for Armalite, a division of the original makers of the semi-automatic rifle. Colt bought the rights from Armalite and took over its manufacture in 1959, for a military contract. It wasn’t until 1963 that the AR 15 hit the market for sale to the public.
- About Red Dot Sights – These cunning rifle-sighting devices appeared on the scene around 1990, and have been improving ever since. They show the user a small red- or green-colored figure, such as a dot or a reticle, which appears to hover right on the target. This is an optical illusion, but that does not mitigate its effectiveness in the least. The shooter’s brain interprets the dot as “out there,” and focuses accordingly.