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11 Best Rifle Scopes [Hands-On]: All Types & Budgets

It’s tough to find the right rifle scope for your purpose AND budget.

And it doesn’t help that most articles out there never even tried them in real life.

A Couple AR-15 Optics
A Couple Scope Options

Well…we’re here to help with hands-on experience, real view-through pictures, and even some videos.

By the end you’ll know what kind of optic to get and which specific model suits your needs and wallet the best.

Tested Long Range Scopes
Some Tested Long Range Rifle Scopes

Starting from low power variable optics to prism, hunting, scout, long range, rimfire, and even magnifiers.

Let’s get started!

What’s a Rifle Scope?

For the purposes of this article we’re going to define a “rifle scope” as an optic that’s magnified and meant to shoot a decent distance.

Scoped M1A and Beard Problems
Scoped Springfield M1A

If you’re looking for 1x red dots or holographic sights that are more suited for closer shots…

Budget Red Dots, Front
Budget Red Dots, Front

And fast transitions…

Check these articles out instead:

Top Holographic Sights
Top Holographic Sights

Looking to scope your AR-15…we’ve got an entire ginormous article dedicated to that.

All of the Prism Scopes
Lots of AR-15 Optics

Otherwise keep going and we’ll get you completely set up with the right glass!

Best Rifle Scopes

1. Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS: Best LPVO

Low Power Variable Scopes (LPVO) start at 1x to enable quick close-up shots and can go up to 4x, 6x, 8x, and now there’s even some 10x available.

My personal Goldilocks magnification zone is the 1-6x which I use for competition.

Best 1-6x Scopes
Best 1-6x Scopes

It enables CQB engagement and then I can quickly turn to 6x for up to 300/400 yards.

Anything higher like 8x or 10x gets a little more expensive and for my competitions…the magnification is actually a little too much and I have a harder time transitioning long-range targets.

And my favorite 1-6x LPVO is…

The Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS is affordable (~$290) for the glass quality, has a great reputation/warranty, and I love the reticle.

PA 1-6x in Action
PA 1-6x in Action

Check it out at 200 yards…

The reticle is well designed with the thick donut being really useful for close-up stuff and then nice elevation drops for farther distances.

ACSS Reticle
ACSS Reticle

It’s also illuminated and is fairly decent compared to other LPVOs but don’t go into it thinking it’s going to be a red dot.

Illuminated Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS Reticle
Illuminated Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS Reticle

Check out our full written review and also our YouTube video too:

And here’s a few places to pick it up:

290
at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Or if you want some cheaper or higher end LPVOs…check out our Best 1-6x Scopes article. But for best bang-for-the-buck…the Primary Arms takes it.

What’s your rating of the PA 1-6x?

Readers' Ratings

5.00/5 (4)

Your Rating?

2. Leupold 3-9x VX Freedom: Best Hunting Scope

Hunting scopes are built simpler and tougher to sustain the inclement weather and bumps/scratches it might encounter in the field.

My favorite magnification range is from 3x to 9x since you’re never going to be super close or super far from your prey.

The Leupold 3-9x VX Freedom has clear glass at both 3x…

VX Freedom at 3x
VX Freedom at 3x

and 9x…

VX Freedom at 9x
VX Freedom at 9x

Plus it can hold up to heavy recoil like on my 30.06 rifle.

Eye relief is also great so you don’t need that perfect cheekweld when the time comes for that one shot.

Here’s where to pick it up…

199
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

And be sure to get some scope rings with it. I match mine with Leupold See-Through Scope Rings that still enable you to use irons on most hunting rifles.

3. Primary Arms SLx 3: Best Budget Prism Scope

Instead of two pieces of glass at the front and back of a metal tube like traditional scope…prism scopes use…a prism that gives it a fixed magnification.

Primary Arms SLx3 Prism Vortex Spitfire Comparison
Primary Arms SLx3 Prism + Vortex Spitfire Comparison

There’s almost no moving parts so it’s more robust and smaller.

If you’re not really making tons of close-up shots (you still can with practice) and 3x magnification is enough…check out prism scopes.

My favorite budget prism is Primary Arms’ SLx 3 at around $290.

Primary Arms SLx 3 Prism
Primary Arms SLx 3 Prism

Clear glass, decent eye relief for a prism, and affordable price. Plus it has a nice ACSS-like reticle that’s slightly better for close-up shots.

Primary-Arms-SLx3-Prism-CQB-Reticle
Primary Arms SLx 3 Prism Reticle

See it in action here…

Check out our full review on other prisms and our YouTube video too.

Snag the SLx here:

290
at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

4. Sig Sauer Bravo 5: Premium Prism Scope

Want a little more fixed magnification and better glass?

The Sig Sauer Bravo 5 might be it.

Sig Sauer Bravo 5 Desert Shooting 1
Sig Sauer Bravo 5 Desert Shooting

There’s not too many optics anymore that make us say whoa. But the Bravo 5 did it with its insanely large field of view.

MegaView™

See it in shooting action…

Only downsides is that it’s a hefty boi at 23 oz…but you can lose the three Picatinny rails on the top and sides.

Cost is surprisingly ok given its performance boost over the Primary Arms.

Again, check out our full review on other prisms and our YouTube video too.

5. Trijicon TA648 6x48mm: Best ACOG

The Trijicon series of ACOGs are the OGs of truly battle-proven prism scopes.

Ya’ Boy with an ACOG equipped M249 Helmand Province Afg 2009
One of our writers with an ACOG equipped M249 Helmand Province, 2009

Literally bombproof…the military has used them for 20+ years and it would be easy to choose the most often used TA31 4x32mm…

1090
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

So we got a few in hand…and shot the hell out of them.

Trijicon-ACOG-Models-Top-Down-View
Some ACOGs

Check out the full Best ACOGs article, but our favorite was the big boy TA648 6x48mm ACOG.

TA648 ACOG

Really meant for full auto machine guns…it made our regular AR-15 have almost no reticle jump due to its chunkiness.

Check it out in action in our YouTube video:

And if you’ve got the bones..snag it here…

1950
at OpticsPlanet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Otherwise for smaller more civilian friendly ACOGs…check out our Best ACOGs article.

7. Leupold VX-Freedom Scout 1.5-4x: Best Scout Scope

What’s a scout scope?

It’s the brainchild of Colonel Jeff Cooper of 4 Rules of Firearm Safety fame.

He envisioned an optic that would be low-powered, robust, but not heavy or bulky. One perfect for long treks and run-and-gun situations.

Triple Scout Scopes
Triple Scout Scopes

After testing a trio of the most popular scout scopes out there…my favorite is the Leupold VX 1.5-4x Scout.

The magnification range is enough for a scoutr rifle and the Colonel’s original purpose.

It’s also super light at around 9 oz when other scout scopes tested were 13-14 oz.

Leupold VX Freedom 1.5-4x Scout Scope
Leupold VX Freedom 1.5-4x Scout Scope

And has a nice reticle for both closer and farther engagements.

I also had the best eye relief with the Leupold for 1.5x and it was a close call for 4x.

If I could only choose one scout scope…I’d go with the Leupold.

M1A Socom16 with Leupold Scout Scope
M1A Socom16 with Leupold Scout Scope

Get it here…

But also check out our complete Best Scout Optics article.

8. Vortex Strike Eagle 4-24×50: Best Budget Long Distance Scope

Want to reach out past 500 yards? You’ll want something with a little more oomph in the magnification arena.

HBH Tank Trap Shooting
HBH Tank Trap Shooting

I typically call “long distance scopes” something along the lines of 4-24x or 5-25x.

9 Tested Long Range Scopes
Oh yes…we love long distance!

And my favorite budget scope (that is still great) is the Vortex Strike Eagle 4-24x.

Vortex Strike Eagle 4-24x
Vortex Strike Eagle 4-24x

Decent glass for the price of around $400. Plus you get Vortex’s awesome and fully-transferable lifetime warranty.

Strike Eagle 4x
Strike Eagle 24x

Very usable at 4x through 24x.

Strike Eagle 24x
Strike Eagle 4x

Note the Strike Eagle is second focal plane (SFP) so the reticle stays the same size as you zoom. The thickness is just right so it doesn’t such at either end of the spectrum.

SFP scopes are cheaper to manufacturer and the main downside is if you’re ranging you’ll have to calculate at one specific magnification (normally the max). For example one hashmark at 4x is definitely different from one hashmark at 24x.

Strike Eagle 4-24x Mounted
Strike Eagle 4-24x Mounted

Otherwise eye relief is fine at a standard 3.5 inches which is fine unless you’re shooting really hard recoiling rounds. And eye box is ok…but you’ll have to be a little more diligent in getting your eyes in the right place at max magnification.

The elevation knob was very hard to turn and the feel of them could be a little better. But keep in mind this is towards the budget end of scopes.

Strike Eagle Knobs
Strike Eagle Knobs

However the tracking test (where I move only the elevation/windage knobs to change targets) was great at 100 yards on my .308 DTA SRS bolt gun.

Strike Eagle Tracking Test
Strike Eagle Tracking Test

Overall the Strike Eagle is my favorite “budget” scope where you get decent glass and good performance. Some things could be better but it will get you some nice shots!

MOST AFFORDABLE
395
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Check out more of the Strike Eagle and others in our Best Long Distance Scopes article. But more if you scroll!

9. Vortex Viper PST II 5-25x: Upgrade Long Range Scope

What if I took all my complaints about the Strike Eagle and fixed them…and upgraded the glass?

Then I get the Viper PST II 5-25x which is my upgrade long range scope pick for around $1000.

Vortex Viper PST II 5-25x
Vortex Viper PST II 5-25x

It’s a first focal plane (FFP) scope so the reticle grows as you magnify. That means each hashmark at each magnification covers the same area.

The lines are slightly thin at 5x but still easy enough to make a crosshair hit.

Vortex Viper PST II 5x
Vortex Viper PST II 5x

And here’s 25x…

Vortex Viper PST II 25x
Vortex Viper PST II 25x

Eye relief is listed at 3.4 inches but feels better since the glass is better. And the eyebox is for sure more forgiving.

How about the knobs?

They are much more premium! Crisp clicks with the right amount of resistance.

Viper PST II Knobs
Viper PST II Knobs

Tracking was fine too…even with my oopsie by only going halfway sometimes.

Vortex PST II Tracking Test
Vortex PST II Tracking Test

The PST II 5-25x was also the scope I used at a PSA long range event.

HBH Going Long Distance
HBH Going Long Distance

Where I was able to hit 800+ yards on a 6.5 Creedmoor gas gun.

HBH 1000 and 1250 Yards
HBH 1000 and 1250 Yards

If you’re looking to start hitting 800+ as well…check out the PST II.

10. Primary Arms PLx 6-30x: Bang-for-the-Buck Long Distance Scope

Want to go even more above 25x and start playing with Japanese glass?

Primary Arms has got you with their PLx 6-30x scope.

Primary Arms 6-30x Platinum
Primary Arms PLx 6-30x

We’re going up in price and this bad boy is priced at around $1500. But it really is hitting in the $2500+ arena with its glass and controls.

The one I tested had a DEKA reticle which I didn’t really care as much as their Athena.

Primary Arms 6x
Primary Arms 6x, DEKA
Primary Arms 30x
Primary Arms 30x, DEKA

The DEKA was a little too thick at max magnification. But with the Athena it’s great.

Primary Arms Athena Reticle
Primary Arms Athena Reticle

Eye relief is 3.3 to 4 inches which is pretty normal and the eye box was pretty forgiving even at 30x magnification.

Very nice knob with quality subdued yet still audible clicks.

Primary Arms 6-30x Platinum Knobs
Primary Arms 6-30x Platinum Knobs

Plus great on the tracking test.

Primary Arms 6-30x Tracking Test
Primary Arms 6-30x Tracking Test

If you’re looking for a step up from Vortex that uses quality Japanese glass and is solidly batting at a higher pricepoint…check out the PA PLx series.

BEST BANG-FOR-THE-BUCK
1499
at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Now if you want to see more higher end stuff…check out our Best Long Distance Scope article.

But be warned it’s really a buy once cry once sort of thing!

12. Vortex VMX-3T: Best 3x Magnifier Under $200

Already got a red dot or holographic 1x sight lying around but want to shoot just a little bit farther?

You can always go for a magnifier that goes behind it.

3x Magnifiers
3x Magnifiers

And my favorite for under $200 is the Vortex VMX-3T.

Aimpoint PRO with Vortex 3x Magnifier
Aimpoint PRO with Vortex 3x Magnifier

Here it is in action behind an EOTech.

The glass is pretty clear and it had the best hinge mechanism out of all the ones we tested.

There’s now a shorter micro version but it’s currently $299. We’re working on a review of it soon.

See the other two cheaper contenders in Best 3x Magnifiers if you’d like…but we give the original version a solid recommendation.

Best 3x Magnifier
194
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Conclusion

That’s it!

All the types of distance-based scopes we could think of…let us know if there’s any other type you’d like us to feature.

And in the meantime check out all of the individual articles:

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9 Leave a Reply

  • Dave A

    Since you like the ACSS reticle on the Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS scope, you might want to look at the Primary Arms SLx 4-14x44mm FFP Rifle Scope - Illuminated ACSS-HUD-DMR-308/223, that uses the same reticle and is a FFP scope with great reviews for around $250. Well worth the look.

    1 second ago
  • Arthur

    Guys what about nikon black series first focal plane 6-24x50? I recently got it and mounted it but did not get a chance to use it yet. What are your opinion on those?

    3 days ago
    • Dredbar77

      Nikon make good scopes, but they have announced that they will no longer make rifle scopes due to their wanting to avoid identification with violence. So, this might affect a choice to purchase Nikon scopes.

      11 hours ago
  • Joe

    I'm really eager for that new Eotech 5 power flip up cause 3 power is just not worth it IMHO. 4 power is where it really matters for a flip up. I'd go 1-3 fixed magnification for near to mid range engagement. If your favoring 75-150 yard engagements, you'll really want a 4-6 power depending on your eyes. I have to be honest, so many optics setups make little to no sense in my experience unless your compensating for really bad vision, if you have moderately functional eyes I feel like 2/3 of optics seem to be optimized for usage models that simply don't exist. 3 power flip ups are probably the biggest gimmick on the market IMHO.

    3 days ago
  • JEFF HALL

    Not a single Athlon scope in here? I call shenanigans.

    4 days ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      We have a number of Athlon scopes we're currently testing, stay tuned :D

      4 days ago
  • Garry Felton

    Athlon Midas Tac. FFP 6-24 with crystal clear HD Japanese glass, audible turrets, Christmas tree reticle & fantastic tracking for $650. Absolutely the best value on the market.

    4 days ago
    • JEFF HALL

      I got an Ares BTR 4.5-27x for an astounding $430 on Amazon a while back. Ever since, I've been an Athlon believer.

      4 days ago
  • David Byrne

    Have you evaluated the new Burris Eliminator 4 with built-in Laser Rangefinder? Thx.

    4 days ago
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