As I’ve said before, the question we get the very most is, “What scope should I buy for my AR-15″. I decided to do a “Top 10″ list of AR15 scopes. I’m doing the list in terms of price, starting from lowest to highest. I’m also trying to show the best scopes at various price ranges. Like I say a lot, “Not everyone has $1200 to spend on a scope.” So this is a list of what I consider the 10 Best AR-15 scopes spread across price points from $120 to $1500! Also, this list is only for “scopes”, not holographic or red dot sights. Comparing holographics like EOTech to magnifying scopes is apples and oranges… two different applications. Ok… so here we go!
NcSTAR just released this Gen 2 version of their Mark III tactical scope and we really like it. Now we catch a lot of grief from “forum commandos” and other know-it-alls over this scope, but for general shooting, plinking, and hunting this is a really good scope. The quality is what you would expect from something like Bushnell, Simmons, etc – which are found on thousands of hunting rifles around the nation. But when it comes to tactical rifles, everyone says you have to buy a Leupold or Trijicon or some other $1000 scope.
Here’s the point most “forum commandos” and other “gurus” miss… MOST people who have AR15s, or other similar rifles, are not using them for combat. They’re killing beer cans on Saturday afternoon and the occasional wild hog. That’s what this scope is great at.
The 3-9x magnification covers most of your typical shooting situations. The glass is pretty good – not like a $1000 Leupold – but then again it costs less than $150! And when you figure most people are using this at less than 200 yards, the glass is good enough.
Like many manufacturers, Leupold has created their own line of scopes designed specifically for the AR-15. They come with Bullet Drop Compensating turrets for .223 55 grain bullets. So if you have a little more to spend – and get a whole lot more for your money, seriously consider a Leupold Mark AR scope. This is the 3-9x version, but they’re available in 1.5-4x, 4-12x and 6-18x as well.
Of course, the glass is very good and gives you a nice, crisp field of view. While a lot of AR shooters want something that “looks cool” on top of their gun, you can get this Leupold for under $300 and you’re just not going to get a better quality scope for less. The traditional scope design may not look at cool, but the performance more than makes up for its “old school” looks.
While the NcSTAR has Bullet Drop Compensation out to 500 yards, I think if you really want to shoot at 500 yards you need better glass. That’s what you get with the Leupold Mark AR. You are going to have a very sharp, crisp view that’s going to help you hit your target at 500 yards. Go up to the 4-12x or 6-18x and you’ll have the Adjustable Objective (AO) so you can focus the scope to the target for even better long range performance.
A few of the Mark AR scopes offer the Illuminated FireDot for low-light and night-time shooting. We like this illumination a lot better than the illumination on the NcSTAR. The NcSTAR illumination is simply too bright and washes out the scope under low-light conditions – but on the flip-side, you’re paying over $450 to get a Leupold Mark AR will the FireDot. There is always a balance between what you pay and what you get.
The Burris AR-332 is one of my favorite AR-15 scopes! I just can’t say enough good about it. If I had to choose one AR-15 scope under $500, I think this would be it. It’s a fixed 3x scope designed specifically for tactical rifles. It will mount to picatinny rails as well as AR-15 Carry Handle without any additional hardware.
It has a Circle Dot reticle with “holdover” points that can be used for a variety of .223 AND .308 bullets out to 600 yards. The reticle illuminates in Red and Green and appears black when not illuminated. If your battery dies, you can still see the reticle and use the scope. There are Picatinny mounting platforms on top and both sides for additional accessories. The eye relief is perfect when mounted on your AR-15 and target acquisition, even at close range, is very fast. If you’re shopping for AR-15 scopes, you should take a real serious look at the Burris AR-332.
New for 2012 is the Burris AR-536. It’s basically the same as the AR-332, but in a 5x configuration with a 36mm objective lens. If you like the AR-332 design, but want a little more than 3x magnification, then the AR-536 is a great choice. On the AR-332 I don’t see the need to add a Fastfire type sight on top, but with the AR-536 I think I would add a Fastfire sight on top for quicker target acquisition.
The Burris MTAC gives you a little more flexibility over the AR332 at it has variable magnification from 1-4x. The MTAC is new for 2012 and is the next generation of AR type scopes from Burris. A lot of companies make great scopes, but few seem to understand the “AR15 scope” market as well as Burris. As much as we promote them, you might think we’re getting some kind of “kick-back” (I wish!). Well, we’re not getting anything from them and the reason we promote them so much is because we are impressed with their designs for tactical rifles like the AR15. A lot of the other scope manufacturers just don’t get it.
The MTAC has long eye relief, about 4 inches, so getting lined up on target is really fast and you don’t need to crane your neck around trying to see through it. The 1-4x is nice as you can adjust magnification for the situation. I recommend leaving it on 1x and then adjusting up from there if needed. The MTAC has the same reticle at the AR332 and works equally as well for 5.56 and .308 rifles. It does not come with any mounts and we recommend the Burris PEPR mount. You can get the MTAC in a package with a mount and the Fastfire, but I really don’t see the need for a reflex sight on top when you have a scope that can be set to 1x.
OK, so what do you do when you need a lot of magnification, but you don’t want to give up your ability to make fast, close range shots as well…..? That’s a question we’ve been working on for some time. We also wanted to keep the price reasonable enough that most shooters could afford it.
Well… we call it the Longbow Package using the Burris 4.5-14×32 Timberline scope, a Quick Release Burris P.E.P.R. mount, and the Burris Fastfire on top. (and just for the record, we at Valhalla Armory originated this package. I guess Cabelas and a few other copycats are offering now.)
This is for you guys who want to shoot out to 500 yards, but still need to make close range, rapid reaction shots. Think about rural law enforcement, military designated marksmen, or just plain old coyote hunting. You never know where the target might pop up… 15 feet or 400 yards! This scope package covers it all!
The 4.5-14×32 Timberline offers 3.75 to 5 inches of eye relief! And combined with the PEPR mount, it places the scope perfectly for fast target acquisition and comfortable shooting. It also features an adjustable objective so you can focus the scope specifically on your target and comes with Burris’ Ballistic Plex Reticle so it works equally as well on .223 or .308 rifles.
The Leupold VX-R Patrol is my favorite choice of a mid-priced scope for the AR-15. I saw it at the Shot Show and was very impressed. The illuminated reticle is battery powered but uses fiber optics to adjust brightness. Additionally, it as a motion sensor built into the scope so as soon as you pick up the scope, the reticle turns on. After 5 minutes of no activity, the reticle turns off by itself.
With 4 inches of eye relief, the VX-R patrol is fast on targeting and comfortable to shoot. The VX-R Special Purpose reticle instantly puts you on target. It’s only 9.5 inches long so it makes a nice, compact package on M4s. The MARK AR was Leupold’s first step into lower priced AR15 scopes, but I think this VX-R really hits the mark. The MARK AR is OK… The VX-R is really cool!
I look at the VX-R Patrol as a scope for the serious shooter who wants quality and performance, but just doesn’t need one of those “Navy SEAL” grade combat scopes that cost twice as much as you spent on the rifle.
This is really an “all-purpose” AR-15 scope. It features a true 1x to 4x magnification so the target acquisition is super fast. I love the ballistic reticle as well. Burris offers a package with this scope, a PEPR mount, and a Fastfire II, but I don’t see the need for a mini red dot mounted on top of a scope that has a 1x magnification as well. It just seems overly redundant. Maybe on a 2-8x or something with more magnification, but on a 1-4x I just don’t see the need for the extra red dot on top.
The XTR is Burris’ top of the line tactical scope. It’s built to withstand harsh, rugged conditions and continue performing. With 3.5 to 4 inches of eye relief, it’s perfect on an AR-15. As soon as you bring the gun up, you’re on target. If you need a scope that can take a beating, this one’s a great option.
You see how hard it is to just pick a few AR-15 scopes?!!! I really like the Leupold MARK 4 MR/T scopes. You can get a 1.5-5×20 or 2.5-8×36. Each is available with different reticles and options for illumination. On the 2.5-8x, you have the choice between the M1 style (tall) turrets and the M2 (low-profile – as shown above) adjustment turrets. I prefer the M2 low profile turrets as it allows you to mount a mini sight on top like a Leupold DeltaPoint or Trijicon RMR. I know, I know…. I’m a big fan of putting mini red dot sights on top of scopes, but I believe that’s how you get the most out of your AR-15. It’s such a flexible rifle and you can do so many things with it, you might as well get all you can out of it.
Anyway… back to Leupold scopes! I’ve never been a big fan of the Leupold CQ/T. It’s a great scope, but I just don’t think it’s worth $900. If you’ve got $900 to spend on an AR-15 scope, there’s better options – like this MR/T 1.5-5x – might as well get the extra magnification for the same money. And I’d take an ACOG over the CQ/T any day.
The Leupold MR/T series is a great choice for someone needing variable magnification in a professional grade scope.
The Trijicon ACOG is synonymous with AR-15 scopes. Besides the Colt 4x scope, you might say the ACOG is the original AR-15 scope. Within the ACOGs, I prefer the TA11 series for the longer eye relief. The TA11 ACOGS have 3.5x magnification with about 2.5 inches of eye relief. Compare that to the TA31 series with 4x magnification and only 1.5 inches of eye relief. You can probably tell from this article that eye relief is a big deal to me… and it is! I admit it. It’s one of the factors that really determines if I’ll use a scope or not. For me, longer eye relief equals faster target acquisition…. maybe it’s just me.
Anyway… I’ll give up the 1/2x magnification for the longer eye relief. With ACOGs you really have a lot of choices when it comes to reticles, but as I’ve used a few, I prefer the Chevron found on the TA11F and I also really like the Horseshoe reticle on the TA11H. Here’s a side by side comparison of these two reticles:
I can’t really decide which one I like best. I like the Chevron as it gives you a very precise aiming point, especially at longer ranges. The Horseshoe reticle is designed for CQB, or Close Quarters Battle, and is supposed to have faster target acquisition. For me it might be a little faster, but it’s hard to tell. ACOGs are available now with either Red or Green illumination. Green has become very popular, but I prefer red. I think red stands out better and easier for the eye to pick up. I know… some scientist says the human eye detects green faster, but red works better for me. Maybe that means I’m not human. I don’t know….
The TA11 series is worth the extra money over the TA31 series. If you’re buying an ACOG, what’s an extra $100 bucks? You can also get the TA11 with an RMR sight on top. It comes with a crosshair reticle so I would just buy the TA11F or TA11H and then add the RMR on top. Speaking of the ACOGs with RMR sights on top, I don’t know why Trijicon uses the battery powered RMR sights on them. I prefer the dual illuminated RMRs because you don’t have to worry about turning them on/off or batteries. My personal pick for the best AR-15 scope in the world would be the Trijicon TA11F or TA11H with the RMR 08 mounted on top. This setup isn’t offered by Trijicon. You would have to purchase each item separately. For me, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
It used to be if you wanted a very high end combat scope, the Trijicon ACOG was your only choice…. no longer true. The Leupold HAMR now gives you another option. The Leupold HAMR is a 4×32 combat scope. As I said in the beginning, this list is not organized by what I think it the best. It’s organized by price and the Leupold HAMR actually costs a little more than the Trijicon TA11 series. Everyone wants to know if the HAMR is better than an ACOG. “Too early to tell”, is my answer. The HAMR is brand new. While its made by Leupold, we expect it to be nearly perfect, it doesn’t have a lot of field experience like the ACOG has. I believe it will prove to be just as reliable as the ACOGs.
Unlike the ACOGs, it does require batteries for illumination. Without batteries, the reticle appears black like any other scope. Under daylight conditions, this isn’t a big deal, but at night, it could be a problem if you lose battery power. Eye relief is slightly longer than the TA11 ACOGs at 2.7 inches. It’s also shorter than the TA11s. The HAMR is 5.5 inches long, while the TA11 ACOGs are 8 inches long. The TA31 ACOGs are 5.8 inches long.
The HAMR has a mounting plate on top for Leupold’s DeltaPoint mini reflex sights and you can purchase the HAMR and DeltaPoint in a combination kit. Here’s a picture of the HAMR with DeltaPoint mounted:
I think the HAMR is a serious competitor to the ACOG. I must say that I still lean a little towards the ACOGs just from years of working with them. Maybe I’m a little biased toward the “new kid on the block.” One thing I can’t figure out is why it’s so expensive. Why does a 4x scope, without Tritium or Fiber optics, cost $1300? I called Leupold and asked them this same question. Their answer was “You can drive your Ford F150 over the top of this scope and it will stay zeroed!” Well, I don’t know if that’s really true or not, but a lot of the cost is because it’s built so incredibly tough. Additionally, the optics and clarity of the HAMR are better than anything in its class.
Think of Leupold’s LR/T series of sniper scopes. Take that kind of optical clarity and resolution and shrink it down into one tough little combat scope and that’s the HAMR. Mount the DeltaPoint on top and it might just become my favorite AR-15 scope over the TA11 with RMR mentioned above.
I hope this gives you more insight into the murky topic of AR-15 scopes. It’s really hard, if not impossible, to define what is the BEST scope for the AR-15. There’s some great scopes out there for less than $300. As I always say, you don’t have to spend $1200 to get a great scope. If your life depends on a scope, $1200 is cheap! But most people’s lives don’t depend on their tactical scope so I’ve tried to include other options as well. Please comment and give your opinions of my list. I’d like to get your feedback.