The AR-15 from Colt is the successor to the ArmaLite AR 15 (ArmaLite Rifle #15). In 1959 ArmaLite sold the design and naming rights to Colt who then produced a slightly modified version they dubbed the M-16 which first saw service in the jungles of Vietnam and in time became the U.S. Army’s standard issue rifle.
Today, Colt uses the designation AR 15 to denote their semi-automatic, civilian and law enforcement version of the weapon. They say “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and if that’s true the AR-15 is one of the most admired weapons in history as there are a slew of AR-15 clones on the market today produced by the likes of Bushmaster, Wilson, Baer, Rock River, Olympic Arms, and Panther.
Let’s Look at the Top 5 Best Scopes For AR 15.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Best Scope
- 2 What are Red and Green Dot Rifle Scopes?
- 3 Difference Between Variable and Long Range Scopes
- 4 What is Key Factor Between Budget & High-End Models?
- 5 Our Favorite AR-15 Tactical Scopes
- 5.1 1) Nikon P-223 3×32 Matte BDC Carbine
- 5.2 2) Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight Riflescope, 1 x 25mm
- 5.3 3) Leupold 111412 Mark 4 HAMA Rifle Scope with DeltaPoint and Flat Top Mount, 4X24-Millimeter, Black
- 5.4 4) Aimpoint Carbine Optic (ACO) Sight
- 5.5 5) Vortex Optics StrikeFire 2 Red/Green Dot 1x Sight with Cantilever Ring Mount
The Best Scope
When it comes to determining the optimal scope for the AR-15 there are almost as many opinions as there are AR-15 owners. The difference of opinion, however, typically boils down to the fact that the AR-15 is one of the most versatile weapons ever produced. Shooters today use the AR-15 for a dizzying array of activities including:
- Big Game Hunting
- Home Defense
- Competition Shooting
- Deer Hunting
- Patrol Car Rifle
- Fun and more…
As such, expecting one answer to the question “What is the best scope for my AR-15?” is like asking “What is the perfect Christmas present?” It depends on what you’re looking for.
Below we’re going to go through some of the factors that go into choosing a rifle scope and then select what we believe to be the 5 best AR-15 scopes on the market today.
What are Red and Green Dot Rifle Scopes?
If you’ve watched an action movie at any time in the past decade or so, chances are you’ve watched a scene where a red laser dot appears on the good or bad guy, indicating someone has them in their sights. This red dot scope that has become such a movie staple simply replaces the cross-hairs of the traditional scope with a spot of red laser light.
Being small lasers, however, such a scope needs a power source and most laser scopes utilize a small lithium battery that typically provides up to 6 hours of “on” time.
The newer, green dot scope is gaining more converts daily as they’re purported to be brighter and easier on the eye than standard red lasers. As with all things, though they are not without a downside and in this case, the “con” is that the green dot scope will drain your battery more quickly than a red dot scope and, as of this writing, they’re also more expensive. The green dot has also drawn some criticism for being harder to pick out than the more vibrant red.
Difference Between Variable and Long Range Scopes
A long range scope can provide extreme magnification (up to 40x or more) for targets far afield and tend to be fairly heavy and on the expensive side. If you plan to do long range target shooting or varmint hunting there’s no substitute for a high-quality long range scope.
It’s also not unheard of for shooters to use a 4x fixed scope which enables them to hone in on just about anything within 250 yards; although such a scope won’t be of any use if your target moves into close quarters.
Speaking of close quarters, if you work for law enforcement or are a more traditional hunter you may want a variable scope. This way if the buck is in your face, you’ll be able to get a clear shot and, if you miss, you can still scope it as it tracks away.
An oft-cited weakness of the variable is actually a human weakness and not the fault of the scope. That is that often times a shooter will forget to adjust the magnification as the target closes or pulls away.
What is Key Factor Between Budget & High-End Models?
The major difference between a high-end scope and a budget scope typically comes down to one thing: optics. Just as a more meticulously engineered camera lens will cost more than a discount lens, a scope with superior optics is going to set you back more than a scope with poor or middling optics.
In addition, while some less expensive scopes may provide more than adequate clarity and accuracy, they’ll tend to break down sooner and with more regularity than a well-engineered scope, simply because they’re engineered to less precise tolerances from lower quality materials. Some signs that your scope is on the fritz include:
- Sudden change in click values.
- A point of impact suddenly is different even though using same click inputs.
- Uneven horizontal or vertical tracking.
- Change in the amount of resistance in the scope when clicking.
- Rattling sound from scope when moving the gun.
- Reticle shifts noticeably from the center of the view.
There is no “ideal” point at which cost and quality find a perfect balance, but in general, scopes are like any other piece of precision technology in that the more you pay the higher the quality. To be sure though at the very high-end any advantages are likely to be appreciated only by a few scope connoisseurs.
Chances are if you go with a mid-priced scope you’ll probably get all the optics you need without having to pay for esoteric qualities that may never actually come into play while you’re shooting.
Our Favorite AR-15 Tactical Scopes
Without further ado here is our list of the 5 best AR-15 tactical scopes on the market today.
1) Nikon P-223 3×32 Matte BDC Carbine
You might imagine a company like Nikon, with a long tradition of creating some of the highest quality cameras and camera lenses on the market, is going to produce a quality scope and you’d be right. The P-223 3×32 Matte BDC Carbine is a fixed 3x tactical scope best suited to a range of 300 yards or under that provides both superior speed and accuracy. Target acquisition is typically fast and most shooters will notice and appreciate the wide field of view the scope provides.
Nikon also provides a downloadable app they call “Spot On” which will take everything from ammo type to weather conditions to caliber and more into consideration and provide you an opportunity to achieve accuracy you may have thought was out of your range.
- Consistent eye relief regardless of rifle weight, obtuse shooting angles or heavily recoiling cartridges.
- Up to 98% light transmission and maximum brightness from the fully multicoated optical system.
- 1/4 MOA hand-turn, zero reset turrets. Precise click reticle adjustments get you on target faster and allow you to maintain settings regardless of recoil.
- Fully sealed O-rings provide a high degree of waterproofing/fog proofing.
- Developed for .223 Rem /5.56, 55 grain, polymer tipped NATO round. Provides 200-yard crosshairs and “hash marks” at 400 and 600 yards.
- Larger than some other scopes.
- Lack of quick release.
The Nikon P-223 3×32 Matte BDC Carbine is one of the best rifle scopes available for the AR-15 when price, build quality, and performance is considered as a whole. Most shooters will find it easy to work with the P-223 and those that download Nikon’s “Spot On” app may never want to use another scope. All in all, you should enjoy a superb, high-quality shooting experience whether at the range or in the field.
- Fully Multicoated Optical System: Provides up to 98 percent light transmission and maximum brightness from dawn to dusk
- 100-yard Parallax Setting: Eliminates parallax for precise shooting
- Generous, Consistent Eye Relief: Keeps your brow safe even with the heaviest recoiling cartridges and severe shooting angles
2) Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight Riflescope, 1 x 25mm
The Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot 1×25 is built for fast target acquisition and superior accuracy even in difficult environmental conditions.
The Amber-Bright optics help the shooter quickly distinguish between target and flora even in the low light of dusk or dawn. The scope is also fully waterproof which of course means fog proof as well, and boasts shockproof construction and a nitrogen filled housing.
- Attractive price point far below other scopes of comparable performance.
- Simple, rugged but lightweight construction.
- Easy to remove when you want open sights.
- Easy to re-mount and zero in.
- Excellent all-weather performance.
- Red dot retains high visibility in all light conditions.
- Battery life has been called into question by some.
- Brightness may not be easy to adjust.
- Some may consider the light weight of the scope to be a negative for rifles.
It’s pretty hard to justify dropping serious coin on more expensive sights when something as affordable as the TRS-25 provides such excellent results. If you’re purchasing your first scope you can’t go wrong with this baby. Durable construction, all-weather performance, and red dot targeting at a great price.
- Matte black featuring a 3 MOA Dot reticle with 11 brightness settings; Mounts easily on most picatinny rails and is compatible with pistols, shotguns, rifles and muzzleloaders
- Waterproof construction: O ring sealed optics stay dry inside, even when totally immersed in water. Parallax - 50
- Shockproof construction: Built to withstand bumps, bangs, drops and the rough and tumble environment of the field
3) Leupold 111412 Mark 4 HAMA Rifle Scope with DeltaPoint and Flat Top Mount, 4X24-Millimeter, Black
Engineered for carbine platforms the Leupold 111412 Mark 4 HAMR (High Accuracy Multi-Range) is a rugged, compact scope designed for the mid-distances.
Combat ready and engineered to provide fast target acquisition in all light conditions, the Mark 4 may be the scope that redefines versatility at the middle of the rifle scope price range, in spite of the fact that it’s a fixed power scope.
- Compact, durable and combat ready.
- Scratch resistant DiamondCoat lens coating.
- Superb mid-range performance in all light conditions.
- Crystal clear optics.
- High-quality eye relief.
- Illumination switch can be tricky.
- Non-adjustable mounting device.
- Limited rail utility.
- No kill flash option.
An excellent fixed range scope for the money that’s tailor made for combat or for those who spend serious time in the field where weather conditions can often impose themselves on tech. No fancy-pants “elegant” design at work here. The Leupold 111412 Mark 4 HAMR looks as tough as it is and is the one scope you’ll want to take with you whenever you wander off the range.
- A versatile 3:1 zoom ratio erector system that is ideal for virtually any situation.
- 1/4 MOA precision finger click adjustments for windage and elevation offer absolute repeatability and dependability over a lifetime of extreme use.
- Absolute waterproof and fog proof integrity – each is ready for a lifetime in the field, in all conditions.
4) Aimpoint Carbine Optic (ACO) Sight
The Aimpoint Carbine Optic (ACO) sight comes ready to mount right out of the box. Utilizing a 2 minute of angle (MOA) red dot the ACO allows for rapid target acquisition and superior accuracy at a variety of distances.
The ACO was designed with sports shooters in mind and its 30mm sight tube is paired up with a heavy duty, fixed height mount engineered for a peerless co-witness experience. Aimpoint also offers a full line of accessories.
- Exceptional battery life (up to 1 full year).
- 100% waterproof/fog proof.
- Vibrant red dot sighting with 9 brightness settings.
- Unbox it and mount it.
- Hard to beat Aimpoint build quality.
- A bit pricey, but in this case you get what you pay for.
Any sporting rifle owner would be wise to pony up for this Aimpoint Carbine Optic 1x sight. Its peerless combination of proven design features and premium optics mean the ACO will come through under any conditions. You can also customize your scope with a full line of Aimpoint accessories available from a variety of online vendors.
- Aimpoint quality and performance at an entry-level price
- 2 MOA dot with 9 low light and daylight brightness settings
- Includes mount configured for absolute co-witness with standard height sights
5) Vortex Optics StrikeFire 2 Red/Green Dot 1x Sight with Cantilever Ring Mount
The StrikeFire2 provides fast and easy target acquisition and max field of vision. Reliable, durable, feature rich and affordable, the StrikeFire 2 is a no-nonsense choice for novices or experienced shooters who want a high-quality red dot sight.
The scope is easily adjustable through rear-facing controls and features 10 dot intensity settings with the lowest 2 being night-vision compatible. Waterproof and fog proof, the StrikeFire 2 will be everything most shooters need.
- Easy of adjustment.
- Ready to go out of the box.
- Targeting dot can be changed from red to green to accommodate changing conditions.
- Lightweight yet durable and built to tight specifications.
- Zeroes easily.
- Non-removable lens cap.
- Certain mounting rails can significantly increase weight.
- Some have questioned its waterproof qualities though it wasn’t an issue for us.
Unquestionably a great red/green dot scope for beginners the Vortex Optics StrikeFire 2 Red/Green Dot 1x Sight has also proven its worth to experienced shooters as well.
Multiple in-deployment functions and a range of useful features make for a scope that should be in every shooter’s bag, and lightning fast target acquisition makes it ideal for law enforcement types who may need to deploy their weapon in a hurry.
- The Strikefire II Red/Green Dot is a rugged, reliable red dot sight that is at home in a variety of shooting applications. It allows the shooter to operate between two dot colors and ten brightness settings to easily adjust for changing conditions.
- Fully multi-coated lenses provide a clean and bright, unobscured point of view. Unlimited eye relief allows for rapid target acquisition.
- The single-piece chasis is compact and lightweight but still delivers shockproof performance withstanding both recoil and impact. Nitrogen purging and o-ring seals ensure fogproof and waterproof performance.
Well, there you have it. Our choice for the top 5 best AR-15 scopes on the market today. We hope you found this information informative and useful and thanks for checking in.