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The Best Optics for AR15: Red Dots, Holographic, & Scopes

Best Optics for AR15

One of the most important accessories used with the AR 15 is the scope or optic. It helps you view your target and ensures your shot will hit its intended mark.

Now, you probably think traditional hunting scopes are good enough for modern sporting rifles like the AR 15…BUT, we beg to disagree. 

With so many types and models of AR 15 optics out there, it can be challenging to find the best scope for your AR 15.

Don’t fret! We’ll dive into the different types of optics for the AR 15, including our top picks for every type.

Red Dot Sights

Red dot scopes are one of the most popular optic styles for the AR 15.

Red dots are electronic sighting systems that use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to project an aiming point (usually red) from behind the objective lens.

How it works: The “red dot” is reflected off the lens and towards the shooter’s eye. The shooter can then position the red dot over the intended target before making the shot.

This type of optic is excellent for:

  • Close-range shooting
  • Engagements where speed and accuracy are required
  • Multiple or moving targets
  • Home defense situations as they can give you quick, accurate shots even through the haze of stress and adrenaline.

As of late, the term “red dot” has come to mean any optic, including reflex sights and holographic sights, that make use of a red reticle that projects onto the target. 

However, these holographic and reflex sights under this umbrella use vastly different technologies from red dot sights despite having more or less the same general functions.

Keep this in mind to avoid confusion in both theory and application!

Best Red Dot Sights

If you anticipate that you will be using your AR 15 mainly for close-range shooting or home defense, it’s best to invest in a red dot!

Here are some of our top red dots for Your AR15:

1. Aimpoint PRO Rifle Optic

BEST OVERALL RED DOT SIGHT

Aimpoint PRO Rifle Optic

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Aimpoint
  • Dimensions: 6.75 x 4.63 x 3.38 inches
  • Weight: 0.49 lbs

This is an excellent all-around red dot scope for your AR 15 that delivers superior performance even under the harshest conditions.

Let’s look at why we deem it as our best red dot sight:

  • 26 mm objective lens
  • 2 MOA red dot with 10 brightness settings
  • Practically indestructible 
  • Front and rear flip lens covers
  • Recessed lens openings 
  • Long-lasting battery life

Longevity & Durability

Are you the type to forget about leaving your scope on for long periods?

There’s no need to worry about that with this red dot sight because it can guarantee up to 30,000 hours of continuous operation on a single DL1/3N battery.

You can actually leave the scope on for 3 years straight and still not have to worry about losing power!

This compact scope is made of high-grade anodized aluminum and is virtually indestructible. This full mil-spec scope is bombproof, fog proof, shockproof, and even waterproof.

You can submerge this scope in water for up to 150 feet, and it will still work as usual. Meanwhile, the recessed lens openings help to protect the lens from snow, dirt, and fingerprints.

Mounting & Other Features

This scope comes with an included mount that has a removable spacer. This spacer can be used to achieve co-witness with iron sights on a flat-top AR. It can also be removed to achieve a lower profile on weapons without a straight-line stock.

You’ll be amazed by the attention to detail in this scope.

It comes with a clear rear cap which is great for when you need to shoot on the spot but don’t have time to flip up the caps.

Instead of removing the lens covers, you can simply look through the clear rear cap to see the red dot. There’s also no need to close one eye when honing in on your target!

Speaking of caps, the battery cover and adjustment caps have retaining lanyards to prevent losing them. You can tell that they really thought of everything and every possible situation.

Summary

This red dot scope is the perfect choice for everyone who owns an AR 15, regardless of whether you’re a beginner or experienced shooter.

HOWEVER, it is worth noting that this is one of the most EXPENSIVE choices out there at the time of this writing.

Despite this, we would say the expense is well worth it, given its fantastic quality and durability. 

Pros
  • Extremely durable
  • Long battery life
  • Easy to install
Cons
  • Expensive

2. Vortex Optics Strikefire II

BEST BUDGET RED DOT SIGHT

Vortex Optics Strikefire II

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Vortex Optics
  • Dimensions: 5.59 x 2.36 x 2.36 inches
  • Weight: 1.22 lbs

You may have heard of the legendary Vortex Optics, owned by a family of hardworking veterans in Wisconsin.

Just like all of the other durable, high-quality scopes from Vortex Optics, the Vortex Strikefire has made its solid mark as one of the BEST red dot sights on the market, especially for those on a budget.

What makes it stand out:

  • Multi-coated lenses for clean and unobscured sight pictures
  • 4 MOA green/red dot with 10 brightness settings
  • Night vision compatible 
  • Parallax adjustment
  • Fast focus eyepiece
  • Vortex Optics lifetime warranty

Reticle Features

A great thing about this AR 15 scope is that it is more than just a budget red dot sight.

The Vortex Strikefire II has two reticle options: A red or green reticle.

Both of these options come with ten brightness modes to maximize reticle visibility. Out of these 10, the lowest 2 settings are perfect for night vision shooting.

This red dot features a reticle dot with a 4 MOA diameter.

Yes, we can see that it may be too big for long-distance shooting with modern sporting rifles. However, when it comes to shooting fast targets at close range, this is just the bee’s knees.

Other Features

Turrets are adjustable with audible clicks at ½ MOA per click, giving you the precision you need to make that one perfect, accurate shot.

This compact tactical scope can also co-witness easily with iron sights on a flat top AR 15, especially with the included offset cantilever mount.

Summary

This is great for shooters on a budget. It even comes with an auto shut down feature after 12 hours of idle time to help preserve the battery.

And on top of all that, it comes with the signature Vortex Lifetime Warranty: Unlimited, unconditional service and repair for as long as you need it.

We have a solo review of the Strikfire 2 if you want to learn more.

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Durable
  • Waterproof
  • Night vision compatible
  • Auto-shutdown after 12 hours
Cons
  • Manufactured abroad
  • Not ideal for longer ranges

3. Bushnell TRS-25

BEST FOR DEER HUNTING

Bushnell TRS-25

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Bushnell
  • Dimensions: 2.5 x 3.4 x 2.2 inches
  • Weight: 0.23 lbs

If you’re a beginner shooter with an affinity for deer, this is exactly what you need.

This is the original and the standard for the BUDGET red dot scope!

The Bushnell TRS-25 is one of the most popular beginner optics out there, not just for the AR 15 but even for handguns.

Check it out:

  • 3 MOA dot reticle with 11 brightness settings
  • Waterproof, fog proof, and shockproof
  • Red dot reticle
  • Affordable
  • Amber-Bright high contrast lens coating

Unique Features

Probably the most standout feature on this scope is its use of their Amber-Bright high contrast lens coating.

As the name implies, it generates a high contrast sight picture for rapid target acquisition. This helps you decipher between the different shades of brown in the environment.

You’ll be able to quickly and easily see the difference between the brown of the deer’s coat and the brown of the trees, making for a quick, accurate shot.

Adjustability & Durability

So, you were able to spot the difference between the deer and the tree. The next step, of course, is to take the shot.

But what if the reticle isn’t perfectly where you need it to be?

There’s no need to fear as any adjustments needed are a breeze with the easy-to-use target turrets that allow for quick and simple windage and elevation adjustment.

You need not worry about the harshness of terrain or the clumsiness of a beginner. This scope is nitrogen purged and o-ring sealed.

It can survive drops, bumps, and bounces. Even after shooting 500 rounds, you’ll find that this scope is still able to hold zero!

You don’t have to worry about losing battery either, as this comes with a long-lasting CR3032 battery for continuous operation.

Summary

This sturdy and robust budget red dot scope surprisingly retails for less than $100.

It is best suited for close-range shots.

Pros
  • Very affordable
  • Durable
  • Simple
  • High contrast sight picture
Cons
  • Manufactured abroad
  • Not the best for low-light situations

Holographic Sights

Holographic sights are often confused with red dots. However, it uses a different system compared to red dots.

While traditional red dots make use of LEDs to project a red aiming point that is reflected from the back of an objective lens, a holographic sight makes use of multiple lasers and mirrors to produce the reticle dot.

They are used mostly for shooting in close quarters by law enforcement and military personnel. Holo sights have also enjoyed a recent increase in popularity from civilians who prefer to hunt varmints at an even closer range with their AR 15.

Compared to a red dot sight, a holo sight has a much bigger reticle and an MOA with better range precision.

Because of the more complicated technology used by holo sights compared to red dots, they are often a LOT more expensive.

However, thanks to this same technology, holo sights are much more compact than red dots are!

Best Holographic Sights

Despite their similarities (and confusion) with red dots, only two reputable companies make holographic sights at the moment: Vortex Optics and EOTech.

However, we’re leaning towards EOTech for our top holographic sights:

1. EOTech 552

BEST OVERALL HOLOGRAPHIC SIGHT

EOTech 552

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Specifications:

  • Brand: EOTech
  • Dimensions: 5 x 1.8 x 2.25 inches
  • Weight: 1.45 lbs

Want to know how good this holo sight is?

Most US military and law enforcement agencies have ranked this sight as their #1 pick for holographic scopes.

Let’s see why:

  • 20 daylight settings with 10 night vision compatible settings
  • 68 MOA ring with 1 MOA dot reticle
  • Parallax-free
  • Extremely durable
  • Water-resistant

Superior Durability

This sight is best used for close-quarters combat and self-defense situations.

But does the thought of those kinds of situations scare you for your life and the life of your sight? Are you worried your sight will get all banged up and destroyed, thus not letting you use it properly?

That is not a worry with this scope at all. 

This scope is water-resistant and can withstand even the harshest of conditions. You can throw this around or even hit something with it (not recommended, but possible) without worrying about it losing zero.

A sight window covered by mud, blood, dirt, or snow won’t be able to stop this scope from being incredibly accurate. It even works when partially shattered!

This amazing durability on this rifle scope is one of the many reasons why it’s a hit with our brave men and women in the military and law enforcement.

Versatility

In addition to this, it has incredibly clear glass that is amazing for rapid target acquisition for short to medium-range shots.

You can use it in all possible situations and lighting conditions without any worries.

The unlimited eye relief and wide field of view also help put you at a tactical advantage. You can use this sight even with both eyes open while still having maximal situational awareness.

Adjustability

Adjustments are easy with elevation and windage turrets that adjust with ½ MOA adjustment clicks.

Unlike other sights that have capped turrets, the screws on the turrets are exposed and easily adjustable on the spot with a coin or screwdriver.

There’s no need to fiddle with any caps that you need to remove and can lose.

Summary

However, the downside to this scope is that it is pretty EXPENSIVE and can be bulkier than other sights, especially red dots and prism sights.

Pros
  • Water-resistant
  • Extremely durable 
  • Holds zero despite everything
  • Easily adjustable
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Bulky

2. EOTech 512

BEST FOR BEGINNERS

EOTech 512

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Specifications:

  • Brand: EOTech
  • Dimensions: 8 x 6.5 x 3.5 inches
  • Weight: 0.68 lbs

While EOTech is known to be the gold standard for holographic sights, the 512 is their most popular model, and for a good reason.

It is the standard and most basic of holo sights. The EOTech 512 is simple and easy enough for beginners to use and succeed with. 

However, don’t let the simplicity of this sight fool you. It has everything you need, and more:

  • .85 objective lens
  • 20 brightness setting
  • Incredibly accurate
  • User friendly 65 MOA ring with 1 MOA dot reticle
  • Waterproof, shockproof, and fog proof
  • Virtually indestructible 
  • Parallax-free

Durability

If durability were an optic, it would definitely be this one. This USA-made sight is water-resistant for up 10 feet and will never let you down no matter how much you run around with it.

It also runs on 2 AA batteries — one of the most common and most accessible batteries to find! This makes it really easy to find replacements if you’re in a tough spot.

Versatility

The unlimited eye relief on this gun sight ensures you can get as close as needed to the scope without having to say goodbye to your eye. 

With a field of view of 30-100 yards, this is also a great rifle scope for hunting varmint at close ranges or for training in an urban environment.

The generously sized window, together with the clear, non-reflective glass of its lenses, allows for easy and fast target acquisition.

The rear adjustment buttons that are compatible with both left and right-handed shooters help with this as well.

HOWEVER, it is worth noting that this is NOT a night vision sight. 

We talk more about this sight in our 512 vs. 518 comparison guide.

Pros
  • Water-resistant up to 10 feet
  • Simple and easy to use
  • Very durable 
Cons
  • Can't be used at night

3. EOTech EXPS3

BEST FOR VERSATILITY

EOTech EXPS3

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Specifications:

  • Brand: EOTech
  • Dimensions: 3.8 x 2.3 x 2.9 inches
  • Weight: 0.70 lbs

This is another one of the best and most versatile sights out there. It’s great for shooting from sun up to sundown and can be used for both casual and competitive shooting.

In fact, some military personnel named this as one of the best sights for speedy target acquisition in close quarters!

Let’s put our sights on this sight:

  • 68 MOA Circle with 1 MOA red dot 
  • Waterproof, fog proof, and shockproof
  • Hardly any recoil 
  • 20 reticle brightness settings with 10 night vision compatible settings
  • Wide field of view
  • Unlimited eye relief

Brightness Settings

This sight really stands out because it’s the only one with absolutely no tint on its glass lens. You heard us right — the glass is clear and bright on its own without the help of any additional tinting.

It has 20 brightness settings, and of these 20, the “standard” or regular brightness setting as found on other sights is set at level 12.

If the “standard” is at level 12, you can just imagine what the other 19 settings are like. You can go from a barely visible dot to one that is practically blinding, depending on the lighting conditions you’re shooting in. 

In addition to those 20 brightness modes, this optic also has 10 other settings which are compatible with night vision devices from Gen I all the way up to III+.

You’ll be blown away by the range and versatility of this scope that is up for everything!

Downsides

A drawback to this sight would be that it takes a long time to turn on. You’d think that a sight of this price tag would have an always-on feature just in case sh*t hits the fan.

While it doesn’t have an always-on feature, it does have an auto shut down feature, which automatically shuts down the sight after four or eight hours, depending on the mode you use. 

It’s worth noting, however, that the buttons used to choose whether you want an automatic shut down at 4 or 8 hours are also used to change the reticle’s intensity.

If these buttons are used at any time during shooting, the shutdown time is automatically reset.

Another downside is that it has a battery life of only 600 hours when on level 12 brightness. 

Pros
  • Durable
  • Extremely versatile
  • Auto shut down
Cons
  • Short battery life

Prism Scopes/Fixed Magnification Scopes

Fixed power scopes, also known as prism scopes, are different from red dots and holo sights as they can magnify the sight picture, unlike the aforementioned two.

As the name suggests, a fixed power scope or prism scope has one fixed magnification or power level. You can’t adjust how little or how much you want the magnification to be once you’ve got it.

Prism scopes make use of a single glass prism to magnify the sight picture. This simplified system means that prism scopes are more compact than other traditional scopes.

They’re IDEAL for shorter AR 15s with limited rail space!

Best Prism Scopes/Fixed Magnification Scopes

Prism scopes or fixed magnification scopes, sometimes referred to as ACOG sights, typically have fixed magnifications between 1x-5x.

Because these magnifications tend to be lower than standard rifle scopes, they are better suited for short to medium-range shooting up to 600 yards.

Here are our top recommendations for your AR 15:

1. Trijicon ACOG 4x32mm

BEST OVERALL PRISM SCOPE

Trijicon ACOG 4x32mm

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Trijicon
  • Dimensions: 8.5 x 8.5 x 5 inches
  • Weight: 2.2 lbs

We start our list off with the very prism scope the United States Marine Corps used for their Squad Designated Marksman Rifle.

The Trijicon Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight is not just one of the BEST fixed power scopes out there, but also probably the best tactical scope you can find.

This fixed scope is designed to fill the gap between an infantryman and a long-range sniper, so you know it’s perfect for medium-range shooting.

Check it out:

  • 32 mm objective lens
  • 4x magnification
  • Waterproof, fogproof, bombproof, and shockproof
  • Extremely rugged
  • Green reticle
  • Lifetime warranty

Durable and Versatile

As a scope made to withstand the stress of battle, the Trijicon ACOG is housed in forged 7075-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum alloy, making it virtually indestructible.

This scope has a bright green reticle that is illuminated WITHOUT any batteries.

Instead of using batteries like most other traditional scopes do, the ACOG is powered by fiber optics at day and by tritium at night. This is great for off-grid or SHTF scenarios.

The ACOG also boasts a massive field of view. This prism scope is designed specifically for shooting with both eyes open, allowing you to retain peripheral vision and situational awareness. 

Summary

The only downside to this is that it is a VERY expensive option. It is a tactical scope, after all.

However, if you are a serious shooter who wants an extremely tough, accurate rifle scope that will never die on you, then this investment is very much worth it. 

Pros
  • Very durable
  • Not powered by battery
  • Amazingly accurate and easy to use
Cons
  • Expensive

2. Vortex Spitfire

BEST BUDGET PICK

Vortex Spitfire

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Vortex Optics
  • Dimensions: 4.7 x 8.6 x 3.3 inches
  • Weight: 1.01 lbs

Got your heart set on the Trijicon ACOG but don’t have the money for it?

Allow us to glue the shattered pieces of your heart back together with the Vortex Spitfire, which has been hailed as the “budget ACOG.”

But is it REALLY deserving of this title?

Check it out:

  • Affordable
  • 3x magnification
  • 30 mm objective lens
  • Fully multi-coated lenses
  • Illuminated reticle
  • Parallax adjustment
  • Shockproof, waterproof, fog-proof, and bombproof
  • Multi height mounting system 
  • Vortex lifetime warranty

What We Love

Something revolutionary about this AR 15 rifle scope is that it combines short-range fixed magnification with red dot technology. 

This prism scope is also compact and lightweight, designed to give you the most that it can without having to give you unwanted bulk.

One thing we really love about this is the etched reticle that makes it practically impossible to break without destroying the entire scope.

You’ll need to be extraordinarily careless and clumsy to break this one!

Not only is the reticle practically indestructible, but it is also visible 24/7 regardless of battery level. It’s even good for people with astigmatism!

The EBR-566 Enhanced Battle Reticle comes with a choice of either red or green illumination with five brightness settings. You can use it even during low light conditions.

You need not worry about fuss either, as switching illuminations is as easy as flipping a switch.

With a wide field of view paired with a fast-focus eyepiece, you can really be assured of incredibly accurate shots regardless of range with this AR 15 scope.

What We Don’t Love

One downside to this scope, however, is that this prism scope doesn’t have a particularly long battery life. If used consistently on LOW, it can only give you 3000 hours, and 250 hours when on HIGH. 

As this scope runs on CR 2032 batteries, it may be a good idea to always keep some on hand.

Another downside to this scope is the limited eye relief of a sad 2.8″, making it a bit tight for the AR platform.

Many shooters have found that they needed to remove their flip-up iron sights to use this scope. 

Pros
  • Good dupe for the ACOG
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Extremely durable
Cons
  • Short battery life
  • Limited eye relief

3. Nikon P-223 3x32mm Carbine

BEST FOR 300 YARD SHOOTING

Nikon P-223 3x32mm Carbine

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Nikon
  • Dimensions: 14.25 x 3.15 x 3.15 inches
  • Weight: 0.76lbs

Nikon optics are well known in the shooting community for their quality. The P-223 is no outlier to this reputation.

This AR 15 scope has fully multi-coated lenses and is compact and lightweight, making it the ideal optic for light and short AR 15s.

Here are the specifics:

  • 3x magnification
  • 98% light transmission
  • Parallax elimination
  • Wide field of view
  • Waterproof, shockproof, nitrogen-filled tube
  • 32 mm objective lens

Usability

This optic is fitted with a bullet drop compensator reticle (BDC) that is perfectly calibrated for a .223 round.

The main crosshair in this sight is set up for a 200 yard zero. You need not worry about farther distances either, as this has additional marks for 400 and 600 yards.

Adjustability

While the main crosshair in this sight is set up for a 200-yard zero, any additional adjustments needed are not a problem!

The large, easy-to-use windage and elevation adjustment turrets make any necessary adjustments at precise ½ MOA clicks for the perfect shot.

If you mess up your adjustments badly and need to go back to the original zero, there are no problems to be had with this scope.

Simply lift the windage and elevation turrets to return back to zero without moving the reticles.  

It is also worth noting that this is best for shots at 300 yards.

Pros
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Contains zero-reset function
Cons
  • Manufactured abroad

Variable Power Scopes

Variable power scopes are probably one of the most versatile scopes out there. This is also probably what people refer to when describing a “traditional scope.”

Unlike a red dot or holographic sight that doesn’t provide magnification, and unlike prism scopes that offer only one fixed magnification, a variable scope is capable of giving a range of magnification.

This allows the shooter to zoom in on long-range targets and zoom out on closer ones. This makes them ideal for medium to long-range encounters.

A variable power scope is excellent for hunting, 3-gun competitions, and tactical shooting.

However, variable power scopes are bigger and bulkier than other types of optics.

Here are the other things you need to know about them:

#1 Magnification

Magnified scopes usually have a series of numbers in their designation.

The two numbers before the “x” refer to the scope’s magnification range.

If it says 1-3x, for example, that means that the magnified scope in question can magnify an object from 1 to 3x its actual size.

A scope with magnification of 3-5x would mean that it could magnify an object from 3-5x its actual size, and so on and so forth.

#2 Objective Lens

If the numbers before the “x” indicate the scope’s magnification range, then the number after it indicates the objective lens diameter in millimeters.

In general, magnified scopes with a larger objective lens allow for  MORE light transmission, resulting in a clearer and brighter lens picture, especially under low light.

However, it is worth noting that the larger the lens, the heavier and bulkier the scope will be. As such, it is not recommended to get a large objective lens on a compact and lightweight AR 15.

#3 FFP vs SFP

There are two models of variable power scope for the AR 15: The FFP and the SFP model.

FFP or First Focal Plane refers to a scope that has its reticle on the first focal plane:

  • This means that the reticle changes size with the scope as it zooms in and out. Regardless of the magnification level, the reticle size remains consistent with the target size. 

SFP or Second Focal Plane refers to a scope where the reticle is on the second focal plane:

  • This means that the reticle doesn’t change size with the magnification.

A good way to remember which does which is to remember this little line:

If it’s first, it follows. If it’s second, it stays.

So how do you know which one to use?

If you often find yourself shooting in long distances wherein you would need a quick follow-up shot after, it would be best to use a reticle on the first focal plane.

Take note that an FFP scope is NOT recommended at closer ranges against dark backgrounds.

In such situations, it’s best to get an illuminated reticle on the SFP, which is better for visibility regardless of magnification.

Best Variable Power Scopes for Short-Range Shooting

Short-range shooting is classified as shooting that is between 0-100 yards.

Shooting in this range usually includes shooting for home defense or close-quarter combat.

Here are our top picks for the best AR 15 scopes for shorter ranges:

1. Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 1-6x24mm

BEST SHORT-RANGE VARIABLE POWER SCOPE

Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 1-6x24mm

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Vortex Optics
  • Dimensions: 10.5 x 1.77 x 1.77 inches
  • Weight: 1.2 lbs

The Vortex Optics Strike Eagle is another great offering from Vortex Optics.

However, unlike Vortex’s other tactical style AR 15 scopes, the Vortex Strike Eagle has a more traditional look without sacrificing the top-of-the-line technology that Vortex is known for.

Let’s take a look at the features: 

  • 1-6x magnification
  • 24 mm objective
  • Shockproof and fogproof
  • Fast focus eyepiece

Notable Features

This AR 15 scope is made of aircraft-grade aluminum, making it just as durable as it is versatile.

It’s also specifically designed for an AR 15 that’s fitted with a reticle with bullet drop compensation that has been calibrated to .223 rounds.

The Strike Eagle can magnify an image from 1 to 6x its original size. Reflection is minimized with the fully multi-coated lenses for a crisp and clear sight picture.

Are you worried about the reticle breaking with repeated recoil? 

You can rest easy knowing that the reticle is etched directly into the glass for ensured durability. 

Another great thing about this scope is that it has traditional adjustment screws instead of regular turrets. These screws are covered with protected caps to ward against damage and help give the scope a lie profile.

Summary

The Vortex Strike Eagle is, by far, one of the best all-around low powered variable optic (LPVO) for most shooters.

It’s perfect for 3-gun games, hunting, and target shooting. 

Best of all, it comes with a lifetime warranty!

We also have a dedicated review on the Vortex Strike Eagle if you want to learn more before buying it.

Pros
  • Durable
  • Minimal reflection
  • Lifetime warranty
Cons
  • Takes up a lot of space on the AR 15 rail

2. Bushnell AR-15 Optics FFP 1-4x24mm

BEST FOR LOW-LIGHT SHOOTING

Bushnell AR-15 Optics FFP 1-4x24mm

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Bushnell
  • Dimensions: 2 x 12 x 2 inches
  • Weight: 1.12 lbs

This AR 15 scope stands out because of how it handled a common problem among smaller scopes: A dimmer sight picture around dusk and dawn.

This causes problems as the target may be visible, but the reticle may not be so visible.

Bushnell fixed this problem by providing a red focal plane reticle illuminator and a new illumination control system.

Reticle brightness is quickly and easily changed with the help of a throw-down lever that allows you to quickly change the intensity.

What else does this scope have? Let’s take a look:

  • 24 mm objective
  • Fixed parallax adjustment at 100 yards
  • Compact
  • Fully multi-coated optics

Notable Features

If you prefer smaller scopes but want one with suitable illumination to keep hunting through twilight and beyond, this is the scope for you.

Windage and elevation adjustments are made quickly and accurately with the exposed turrets with a 0.1 mil click value. 

Another great feature of this is the Throw Down PCL power change lever that can be set at two different heights, offering a range of customization to suit your own unique needs.

Summary

This is an incredibly durable scope that can survive abuse and extreme conditions all on its own.

However, if ever something does happen, it is covered by the Bushnell Lifetime Ironclad Warranty that is fully transferable. 

You will find this to be an excellent AR 15 scope regardless of whether you’re using your AR 15 for target shooting at a target range or on the hunt. 

Pros
  • Customizable
  • Great for low light shooting
  • Durable
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Easy adjustments
Cons
  • Expensive

3. Vortex Optics Razor HD Gen II-E 1-6x24mm

BEST SIGHT PICTURE

Vortex Optics Razor HD Gen II 1-6x24mm

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Vortex Optics
  • Dimensions: 5.2 x 13.9 x 4.8 inches
  • Weight: 1.2 lbs

This rifle scope from Vortex Optics has nothing short of a huge fan base that includes predator hunters, recreational shooters, and even 3 gun competitors.

Here’s a sneak peek:

  • 1-6x magnification
  • 24 mm objective lens
  • Shockproof, waterproof, and fogproof
  • Wide field of view
  • Huge eye box

Topnotch Quality

It gets all these accolades from the remarkable optical quality that it has.

The high density, extra-low dispersion glass and fully multi-coated lenses maximize light transmission and guarantee a clear and bright sight picture.

The unique illuminated reticle on this AR 15 scope with a center dot allows quick and accurate shooting for up to 600 yards.

You are also assured of durability with this AR 15 scope. It’s made of a single piece of aircraft-grade aluminum alloy with a hard-anodized finish to protect against bumps, scratches, and the elements!

Summary

If you want a good scope for your AR 15 for 3-gun games, then this is definitely the best AR 15 scope for you. 

Pros
  • Very durable 
  • Quick target acquisition
  • Extremely clear sight picture
Cons
  • Crosshair may split

Best Variable Power Scopes for Medium-Range Shooting

Medium range shooting refers to shooting between the range of 0-500 yards and is the most common type of shooting for AR 15.

Here are the best AR 15 scopes we recommend for medium-range encounters:

1. Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9x40mm

BEST MEDIUM-RANGE VARIABLE POWER SCOPE

Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9x40mm

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Leupold
  • Dimensions: 14 x 3.4 x 3 inches
  • Weight: 1.2 lbs

If you want the absolute best scope for hunting, look no further than the Leupold VX-Freedom, which is the standard riflescope for whitetails.

Take a look here:

  • 3 – 9x magnification
  • Twilight Max Light Management System
  • Matte black finish
  • Fogproof and waterproof
  • Scratch-resistant lenses

Top-Tier Sight Picture

What really sets this AR 15 scope apart is the exclusive Twilight Max Light Management System from Leupold.

This unique system ensures crisp clarity, even in low light conditions, by balancing glare light transmission and color contrast.

This, combined with the quality glass provided that Leupold is known for, makes for an incredible sight picture for easy breezy beautiful Covergirl shooting. 

Summary

This scope made from 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminum is extraordinarily durable and made specifically to handle rough hunting with the AR 15.

This is affordably priced while still boasting an impressive 3-9x magnification range without sacrificing the quality of the optics. 

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Good sight picture
  • Durable
Cons
  • Can be hard to adjust

2. Nikon Prostaff 3-9x40mm

BEST ZOOMING CAPACITY

Nikon Prostaff 3-9x40mm

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Nikon
  • Dimensions: 0.04 x 0.04 x 0.03 inches
  • Weight: 1 lb

This incredibly versatile hunting scope gives you excellent quality without the incredible price:

  • 9x maximum zoom
  • Rugged and simple 
  • Shockproof and waterproof

Adjustability

Zeroing adjustments are done easily through the screws underneath the protective caps that move at ¼ MOA increments with audible clicks.

Magnification power is easily controlled with a ring in front of the eyepiece.

Performance

This fully multi-coated optical system with 98% light transmission boasts a BDC reticle that helps you aim into the distance.

This, combined with the quick focus eyepiece, allows for rapid target acquisition and deadly aim. 

A great thing about this is that it can gather light like a larger scope without the downside of weight and bulk.

With its bright and clear sight picture, this is the perfect scope for hunters with a reliable zoom capacity. 

Pros
  • Excellent sight picture 
  • Simple to use
  • Compact
Cons
  • Manufactured abroad

3. Bushnell AR-15 Optics 3-9x40mm

BEST FOR ZOOMING IN

Bushnell AR-15 Optics 3-9x40mm

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Bushnell
  • Dimensions: 5 x 5 x 5 inches
  • Weight: 1.31 lb

This scope has all the features of little Bushnells with more magnification and light gathering ability.

Boasting the same excellent optics and rugged construction as other Bushnell scopes, this scope stands out with its higher zoom range and an objective lens with nearly three times the lens area of other scopes. 

What else does it have?

  • 40 mm objective
  • Side parallax adjustment
  • Waterproof and shockproof
  • Exposed turrets

Notable Features

Adjustments on this scope are quick and precise with ¼ MOA clicks. It even has a parallax turret located on the left side of the tube.

Put this with the rapid focus eyepiece and smooth zoom ring, and you get a quick, easy, and deadly scope that holds its zero no matter what. 

A drawback of this, however, is that it is extremely EXPENSIVE.

Pros
  • Easy to adjust
  • Durable
  • Holds zero well
Cons
  • Expensive

Best Variable Power Scopes for Long-Range Shooting

Long-range shooting is defined as any shooting beyond 500 yards. For shots at this level, it is best to get a long-range scope with higher magnification power.

Here are our best long-range scopes for your AR 15:

1. Nikon P-223 BDC 600 4-12x40mm

BEST LONG-RANGE VARIABLE POWER SCOPE

Nikon P-223 BDC 600 4-12x40mm

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Nikon
  • Dimensions: 4 x 15.5 x 3.5 inches
  • Weight: 1.1 lb

This is definitely the best AR 15 scope for long ranges. 

With a fully multi-coated optical system that provides up to 98% light transmission, you can be assured of a clear and bright sight picture!

What else does this have?

  • Generous and consistent eye relief
  • 100-yard parallax setting
  • Waterproof with a nitrogen purged tube and O-ring seals

Performance

This reticle uses the BDC pattern, a series of hash marks and rings below the central crosshairs, calibrated for a .223 round.

This allows for easy aiming and excellent precision for up to 600 yards.

Adjustability

Zoom is easily controlled with a ring in front of the eyepiece and is easily adjustable with a large stud that can be rotated even with gloves. 

The audible clicks on the adjustment turrets eliminate any guessing games as to whether or not you could make the necessary adjustments.

If you have any problems with your adjustments, fear not.

You can simply lift the spring-loaded caps to reset your scope back to its original zero.

What really stands out about this is that this scope is compatible with Nikon’s Spot On app, which allows you to get a customized aim point/range table after entering bullet weight and muzzle velocity. 

Pros
  • Easy to adjust
  • Compatible with the Nikon app
  • Durable
Cons
  • Manufactured abroad

2. Bushnell AR-15 Optics 4.5-18x40mm

BEST FOR MAGNIFICATION

Bushnell AR-15 Optics 4.5-18x40mm

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Bushnell
  • Dimensions: 12 x 10 x 6 inches
  • Weight: 1.34 lb

If you want magnification, this scope’s got it. 

It doesn’t magnify to just 8x the image size or 10x the image size — it magnifies all the way to a whopping 18x magnification! 

If you’re planning to hunt at longer ranges, this is the long-range scope for you:

  • 40 mm objective lens
  • Shockproof
  • HD optics clarity

However, it is worth noting that as the light fades, it will be harder and harder to use the full zoom range of this scope. 

Pros
  • Very powerful magnification
  • Excellent clarity during the day
Cons
  • Can be hard to use in low light

3. Carl Zeiss Optical HD5 – 25x50mm

BEST FOR LONG-RANGE HUNTING

Carl Zeiss Optical HD5 - 25x50mm

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Specifications:

  • Brand: Carl Zeiss
  • Dimensions: 2 x 2 x 14.17 inches
  • Weight: 1.66 lb

Besides their beer, Germany is known for its top-of-the-line technology and engineering.

Get a taste of German ingenuity on the field with this incredible German-made scope:

  • Sleek, compact design
  • Enhanced image quality
  • Limited lifetime warranty
  • 50 mm objective lens 
  • 25x maximum power

Long Range Performance

Some may think that a 50 mm objective is way too big for an AR 15. There are also others who think that 50 mm is the perfect size for light to come in to spot hogs at dusk.

Regardless of where you stand, what is without question is that HD5 is an extremely versatile scope that you can use at various distances.

The problem with this, however, is that it can definitely NOT be used in close quarters. Although, it can be used in conjunction with a red dot scope and is best used for long-distance coyote or varmint hunting.

Pros
  • Very versatile
  • Excellent for longer ranges
  • Durable
Cons
  • Can't be used in close quarters

Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best Optics for Your AR 15

Of course, you can’t just spin a wheel to decide what kind of optic to use for your AR 15.

Optics are quite the investment, after all.

Let’s look at how to choose the best AR 15 scope for you and your lifestyle.

#1 Intended Usage

“What am I using my AR 15 for?”

That is the first question you should be asking yourself when looking for the best AR 15 scopes.

Different AR 15 scopes are used for different reasons and suit different needs.

For example, an AR 15 used for military purposes would have very different requirements compared to an AR 15 used for hunting.

Some types of hunting, for instance, won’t even need a scope. If you’re just blasting away annoying little critters at short range, you’ll do well with just a red dot sight or even iron sights.

However, if you’re planning to shoot at a long range, you may need a better set of quality optics. 

A general rule of thumb:

If you plan to use your rifle at a short range, whether for close-quarters combat, self-defense, or pest control, then a red dot or holo sight would be better for your rifle.

However, if you plan to do some serious critter control or go hunting, it might be better to find a scope with magnification that can do better at various ranges.

Take note, too, of your hunting style.

Do you prefer to hunt distant, moving targets in wider areas? Is your ideal target a small, fast animal?

If so, then a fixed magnification scope may be the best AR 15 scope for you. 

However, if you like chasing your target down, especially large land animals or fast birds, it’s best to get a variable magnification scope. 

#2 Cost

You were probably told growing up that money doesn’t grow on trees.

This would be a good thing to keep in mind when choosing an optic for your AR 15.

How much dough can you afford to spare?

While this may be a downer, it would be best to look into scopes within your budget.  

Another good benchmark to decide how much you should spend on an optic would be how much experience you have with your rifle.

If you’ve shot less than 1000 rounds with your AR 15, it is best to spend no more than $500 on an optic. 

Why?

If you are still practicing, it would be better to focus on your technique first instead of getting an expensive scope and relying on it for your shots, thus not fully developing your marksmanship.

If you’re still new, it would be better to put that money into ammunition.

#3 Type of AR 15 Rifle

It is important to consider the type of AR 15 rifle you have, not only for optics but also for all types of hardware you wish to equip on it.

What kind of rail or fittings does your rifle have? 

It’s best to get an AR 15 with a flat top receiver with a rail, as this makes mounting the scope so much easier.

The most common rail you’ll find on AR 15s is a 1913 rail that runs through the receiver’s length. 

However, some rifles have a carrying handle cast on the upper receiver. While it is still possible to mount a scope onto such a rifle, it is incredibly difficult, uncomfortable, and limits the optics you can choose from.

This also plays into whether or not you will be able to co-witness with iron sights. 

#4 Other Features

Are there any special conditions you’ll be shooting in? Will you be shooting in low-light conditions the majority of the time? Or will you be shooting in daylight?

It’s important to take these into consideration. If you’re planning to use your rifles mostly at night or in other low-light conditions, you should get a night vision scope or a sight that can let in more light. 

If you’re planning to use a red dot or holo sight and have a bigger house where an intruder would have more places to run and hide, you might want to get a magnifier that would extend the dot in the distance, thus eliminating the need for other optics in the heat of the moment.

Consider whether or not the optics you choose are compatible with these features or not before making a purchase.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Difference Between a Red Dot and a Scope?

The biggest difference between a red dot and scope is the target acquisition speed.

While both are reliable AR 15 optics, a scope often has a slower target acquisition speed than a red dot despite the better range.

This was tested out by pitting a Primary Arms scope against a traditional red dot on the field.

It was found that the scope was 28% slower than the red dot.

We recommend getting a scope good for longe range encounters while getting a red dot for CQB and SHTF situations that require less range and more speed.

Are Red Dots Better Than Holographic Sights? Which Is Better?

Yes, we understand. Red dots and holo sights can be confusing as they are very similar.

The main difference is really in how they work.

But when it comes to application, how do you choose which to use?

They have more or less the same application, don’t they?

Aren’t they both best if you want to engage close-range targets?

Let’s clear that up a bit with a simple pros and cons list:

Red Dot

Pros
  • Simple design
  • Lightweight
  • Compact
  • More affordable
  • Longer battery life
Cons
  • Can't function with a broken or obscured lens
  • Likely for parallax distortion
  • Forces eye movement between target and optical plane

Holographic Sight

Pros
  • Allows the shooter to focus on the target and reticle simultaneously
  • Fewer parallax issues
  • Faster for CQB
  • More compatible with magnifier
  • Can function with a broken or obscured lens
Cons
  • Bulkier
  • More expensive
  • Shorter battery life

Basically, if you want a more compact scope and don’t worry so much about durability, you should go for a red dot.

If, however, you anticipate that you will be in adrenaline-fueled situations that require less reflex time and possibly a lot of action, it is best to go for a holo sight for your AR 15.

How Much Magnification Should I Get for My Scope?

If you intend to shoot for up to 100 yards and focus on stalking small game, close-range targets, or for home defense, then a magnification of 1-4x is best for you.

If you intend to shoot up to 200 yards and focus on hunting in closed areas (e.g., forests, mountains) and stalking large game, then a magnification of 5-8x is best for you.

If you intend to shoot beyond 200 yards and focus on hunting in open areas such as deserts and fields, then a magnification of 9-12x is best for you.

Should Beginner Shooters Get an Expensive AR 15 Scope?

It may be tempting to jump straight into the expensive optics if you are a new shooter.

After all, wouldn’t you want the best optics out there? Wouldn’t starting your shooting journey on a high quality start you on the right habits?

And our answer to that is, NO.

Starting your shooting journey on advanced and expensive optics will only cause you to rely on their accuracy or get you all confused with the different settings.

Being too reliant on their accuracy would mean that you won’t properly develop the proper skills needed for shooting.

On the other hand, being thrust into the shooting world with advanced scopes with all these settings can cause many deadly and painful accidents.

It is best to get a budget AR 15 scope and invest in ammunition if you are a beginner.

Trust us, with the amount of learning you’re going to be doing, you’re going to need a lot of ammo. 

Conclusion

There are a lot of optics on the market for your modern sporting rifle, such as the AR 15, making it difficult to pick the absolute best AR 15 scope for you.

However, don’t be afraid to try out new AR 15 scopes! Especially if you have the money for them.

Just make sure NOT to jump into it. Ensure that the AR 15 scopes you are trying out are compatible with the kind of shooting you do, as well as YOUR lifestyle.

We hope this guide helped you decide what AR 15 scopes can and cannot be used for your AR 15!

 

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April 19, 2022 - Added 1 new article link

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