How to find the best scope for your rifle
Few things fill a person with pride like being out in the wild, looking down-range at a target, and hitting that target at an impressive range. So we gathered 22 rifle scopes, and after a month of testing, we think the Vortex Optics Razor HD II is the best rifle scope money can buy.
Its reticule is big and glass amazingly clear – we could see our target clearly even at the highest magnification with not even a hint of mirroring or mirage effect.
It gives you the kinds of high-end features you’ll want when shopping for a near $2,000 scope – like locking turrets and a visual rotation indicator, plus enough stability to hit targets up to 1,000 yards.
Rifle scopes come in a huge variety
Prices, options, sizes, and features vary greatly – but they’re generally all designed with one goal in mind – hit the target.
That said, depending on the price-point, you’ll find a tremendous gap in performance, features, and applications.
Scopes designed for long-range or competitive shooters will demand the clearest glass, specific kinds of reticules, and turrets to dial in every conceivable variable so you can hit targets much, much, further than lesser scopes.
Mid-range scopes will give you dependable performance for a wide array of applications – hunting, non-competitive target shooting, and the like. Budget scopes are ideal for upgrading beyond iron sights, for an initial upgrade on a new rifle, or for a child’s rifle.
They’re not as reliable as mid-range scopes (and you won’t get close to hitting a target a 1,000 yards) but they’re a basic improvement to any non-sighted rifle and can be fairly dependable.
How we structured this guide
We broke our recommendations out by grouped price points as that’s generally the first criteria for product selection – if you’re a competitive shooter you’re not in the market for a budget scope – and of you only have $200 to spend on a rifle scope you’ll probably skip the $2,000 options.
To come up with these expert picks we considered use-cases, features, construction, materials and overall value.
If there’s a rifle scope you love that we haven’t mentioned, drop us a line and we’ll do our best to review it when we update this guide.
Our Top Pick (Best Overall):
Who it’s for: The Vortex Optics Razor HD II is a competitive shooters scope.
It’s a great choice if you need a full-featured, long-range rifle scope that’s proven and allows for nearly unlimited tweaks to any variable – from windage, graduation, travel per rotation, infinite zero and more.
The Vortex Optics Razor HD II isn’t small, but if you have aspirations (and the rifle) to hit a target at 1,500 yards the Vortex is tough to beat.
Why it’s great: The Vortex Optics Razor HD II won our testers over with its premium build quality, unbelievably clear glass, turret feel, and huge 56mm lens.
It can be difficult to split hairs with scopes of this quality, but the Vortex hits the sweet spot of premium pricing without being over the top (scopes of this quality can be $4,000 or more) and truly feeling like it’s built like a tank.
It’s one of the first rifle scopes we tested that made you feel like there was no limit to how far you could push your shots.
It comes in six models and each offers premium, aircraft-grade single piece aluminium body tubes, which are o-ring sealed and argon purged – offering a shockproof, fog-proof, waterproof package that will allow you to take your distance shooting to the next level.
Flaws worth noting: Vortex makes great products but their customer service – while happy to resolve problems whenever they arise – can be a little difficult to get ahold of from time to time. We have also seen a few reports of internal condensation, which is an indication of a leak or flawed housing.
Their military discount – while steep and appreciated – will put you in line to receive your product once the quantities they allocate to MIL users are ready for market, which can take months. It’s also pretty heavy at 48 oz – or about 3 pounds of scope.
- Amazing optical clarity
- Easily adjustable & configurable
- Built like a tank
- Durable material
- Fog proof, waterproof & shock proof
- CS can be difficult to get ahold of
- MIL discounts put you at the back of the line
Who it’s for: Our premium scope runner up us the Burris Optics XTR II Rifle Scope, a scope that features precise adjustment and long-range accuracy in a relatively compact package.
It has a 34mm main tube, which yields crisp views of targets at any range, and provides sufficient power to introduce you to 1,000-yard shot ranges.
Smooth, precise adjustments
This rifle scope makes it easy to identify your targets with smooth windage and elevation adjustments and tactical-appropriate reticles with fantastic resolution and glass clarity.
Instead of fumbling through the learning curve of high-end scopes, the Burris offers a 5x zoom system, so target acquisition at longer ranges is quick and prevents unnecessary adjustments as you’re sighting your target.
You can align and focus your scope on down-range objects with just a few clicks, and the illuminated reticle makes it easy to focus – plus its brightness adjustments ensure you have the right level of contrast for your environment.
Unlike other Burris Optics competitors, the zoom, windage, and elevation adjustments worked flawlessly in our tests, offering responsive micro-adjustments with the scope’s turrets. The XTR II weighs 32.10 oz – or just a blip over 2 pounds, which is light relative to other high-end scopes out there, so you should have no problem lugging it through the woods mounted to your favorite rifle.
- Clear, premium glass
- Solidly durable
- 5x zoom & illuminated reticle
- Lighter than other options
- Can be fickle without signature Burris mounting rings
Who it’s for: The NightForce COMPETITION rifle scope is, from a quality perspective, probably the best overall scope we tested. It’s a premium rifle scope that’s truly precise. The NightForce COMPETITION is tough, superbly clear, and almost shockingly well engineered.
Why it’s great: The NightForce COMPETITION impressed our testers with how repeatable good shots were with it. We did a round of box tests – adjusting to center on 4 stacked 8” boxes at 100 yards, then moving the reticle 8 MOA to see where the reticule landed on a known measurement. We consistently saw our reticle land about 1/2″ from the box junctions. Super consistent and predictable. After 40 shouts our center aiming point was the size of a quarter, which is impressive for at any price.
Flaws worth noting: The main reason we didn’t give the overall recommendation to the Nightforce was due to its lack of an illuminated reticle, and the price – at about $2,400. We found that it was an impressive performer, but there are equally impressive scopes available for less of an investment that offers additional features. But that said if the most important thing to you is performance this Nightforce is one to look into.
- Incredibly well-engineered
- Non-illuminated reticle
Fantastically useful reticle
What makes the Viper PST Gen II great? For starters, the reticle. A lot of long-range shooting and using scopes, in general, involves informing your shot with the features of the reticule.
The PST has a highly functional, intuitive reticule with detailed hold points, but it really shined with its lack of clutter and super clear glass. It gave us really useful visibility for both long-distance shooting and distance ranging.
Smooth target transitions
Transitioning between targets and adjusting from shot to shot was quick and easy with the PST.
It also transmits light very effectively – many rifle scopes may have difficulty mustering the light needed to brighten the distant object you’re trying to target.
Another challenge is the inverse of this situation, when you’re aiming into dark, dense vegetation, a situation in which you need all the brightness your scope can give you.
The Viper PST Gen II performed well on both fronts. For example, several other scope models we tested would not allow us to differentiate target sizing beyond 200 yards – especially when contrasted in different light conditions – with a very bright or very dark background.
With the Viper PST Gen II, targets with bright backgrounds (such as bright open fields) were easy to see – as were targets in dark foliage and shadow, making for a great hunting scope.
- Super useful reticule
- Incredible clear glass
- Bright and clear at a variety of magnifications
- Usable focal plane
- Some users wanted for more eye relief
- Windage set screws can be fickle
During testing the Leupold VX-5HD in the Oregon Wilderness and southern Montana, a few rifle scopes proved very good at providing clarity under harsh conditions with high magnification, including the Vortex Optics Viper PST Gen II and Zeiss Carl Optical Conquest HD5 (our other two recommendations at this price point).
Twilight HD gives you more shooting time
Neither the Vortex nor the Zeiss model had a feature like the Twilight Max HD Light Management System the Leupold boasted.
This feature adds up to 30 minutes of shooting light beyond sun-down, and in our tests, it performed very well – giving our testers an average of about 25 minutes of useful shooting time. The glare reduction was as good as other scopes in this range.
The illuminated reticle was also useful in lowlight shooting and we really liked the Motion Sensor Technology – which automatically deactivates the reticule after 5 minutes of inactivity – but reactivates with movement. Our tests showed the reticule deactivated and reactivated as promised – which should do well to extend battery life.
The lens clarity on the Leupold was top notch
With incredibly sharp images even at maximum magnification – easily as bright as any other scope in this range – but we felt at times almost as if we had tunnel vision, likely because the field of view was around 15 percent narrower than that of the Vortex.
These field-of-view differences proved more noticeable when trying to maintain awareness when ranging, and there a few times we couldn’t move from target to target as easily with the Leupold as the Vortex – which had otherwise excellent glass.
- Very clear glass
- Well designed
- Twilight feature is useful and adds up to 30 minutes more shooting time
- Slightly smaller field of view can create slight tunnel-vision
Like the Vortex and Leupold, the Zeiss Carl Conquest HD5 scope was optically sharp (as you might expect from a company that’s well known for their glass), well constructed, and easy to focus quickly both near and at range.
Mid-tier but offers performance and savings
The primary difference between this Zeiss and our other recommendations is that the Conquest HD5 is technically a mid-tier scope with a listed maximum range of 800 yards, so it can be found for $300 less than the Vortex and Leupold.
If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly but still high-end scope (and aren’t interested in shooting beyond 800 yards) this may be the scope for you.
Stunningly clear glass
In terms of optics, the Conquest HD5 offers a view remarkably similar to that of the Leupold.
Both scopes have crystal-clear optics that stay sharp right up to the edges of the field of view even at maximum magnification. The Zeiss is a German product, and the build quality certainly shows with the HD5.
We also really liked the Rapid-Z 800 ballistic reticle, which is designed for magnum calibers and flat-shooting cartridges, so hunters will find a lot to like in this scope.
- Brilliant optics
- Clear up the edge of field of view
- Designed for hunters & magnum calibers
- Rated for 800 yards which is less than some competing scopes
The Best Rifle Scopes Under $500
Top Pick (Best Under $500):
The Vortex Optics Crossfire II was one of the lighter scopes we tested, as 21 ounces (or a pound and a half).
In addition to being lightweight, the Crossfire II offers excellent light-transmitting glass, which is both a hallmark of Vortex scope and crucial for getting clear on distant or obscured targets.
Comfortable eye relief & clear glass
It also has nice long eye relief, a fast-focus eyepiece that makes getting on target quick and easy, and higher-end features like multi-coated lenses and resettable MOA turrets.
Mid-tier rifle scopes often don’t offer the light-transmitting ability of premium models, so for very long-distance shooting or lower light shooting situations, you’ll still want to consider a scope from a higher tier that can offer a brighter sight picture.
But for most shooters most of the time a sub-$500 rifle scope can meet all your needs – and the Crossfire II is an exceptional value in this price range.
- Long eye relief
- Transmits light well
- Resettable turrets
- Struggles with longer distance performance
- Not a low light scope
- Better for smaller caliber/non-magnum
Almost got the top nod in this category
The optics on all the sub-$500 rifle scopes we tested are good quality; all have spring-loaded zero-reset turrets with some kind of coarse knurling so you can grip and adjust even with gloves on; most waterproof/fog-proof/shockproof, which means you can bump them around a bit, and (possibly) even drop your rifle with them mounted, and they won’t be knocked out of alignment.
Still, when the dust settled on the range time with this sub-$500 scope group, the testers were almost impressed enough with the Nikon M-Tactical to give it the top nod.
Not light but the quality is impressive
The M-Tactical isn’t exactly light compared to other scopes in this range at 20 ounces (although it is less than half the 48-ounce weight of the many Vortex Optics Razor HD Gen II , our top premium pick).
Avoids tunnel vision
Many lower-tier scopes—in particular those offering higher magnification—can have “tunnel vision” due to a narrow field of view that makes locating targets difficult at range.
Optically, the Nikon M-Tactical offered a wider field of view than a number of the other scopes we tested, with target shapes, colors, and foreground/background balance appearing natural and easy to navigate even at higher magnifications.
Low contrast turret markings
A curious usability choice by Nikon was the low contrast turret markings – rather than using a clean white they used a kind of tan, which makes the turret settings very difficult to read, but maybe that’s the idea with a “tactical” product – subdued markings and no real logo give it a more tactical look.
- Good field of view
- Clear at higher magnifications
- Turrets markings are low contrast and hard to read
If you want a mid-tier rifle scope that can provide the feel of a more premium scope but you don’t want to spend what it takes to get the absolute best light transmission or 1,000-yard range, the Leupold VX-3i is a high-quality option.
Benefits from Leupold engineering prowess
This Leupold model is one rung above their entry-level VX-Freedom scope, which means it’s the lowest-priced option that offers their Twilight Max light management system, which adds up to 30 minutes of additional shooting time (this is the same as on the much higher-end VX-5HD).
No HD glass but you get a lifetime warranty
It also doesn’t offer the Leupold HD glass and is limited to 3:1 zoom ratio, but offers quality glass, Leupold’s legendary lifetime warranty, and at just 12 oz this was one of the lightest scopes in our mid-tier test group.
- Includes Twilight Max feature
- Good field of view
- Lifetime Warranty
- 3:1 zoom will limit usability options
The Best Rifle Scopes Under $250
Top Choice (Best Under $250)
The Vortex Optics Crossfire II is the sub-$250 best rifle scope you can get. It allows you to avoid sacrificing the kinds of features that you’ll really need at the range or in the field.
Fast target acquisition
It made for the quickest downrange target acquisition in this price range and some of the clearest full magnification visibility of all the scopes we tested in this range.
Vortex offers some truely high-end scopes and some of that technology has trickled into the other products.
Higher-end features that add versatility
The Crossfire II features the adjustable objective and dead-hold reticle found in higher-end scopes, so it can give even higher-end scopes a run for their money.
We could see our shot placement clearly from 300 yards out, so up to 24 magnification, we had no issues with its performance. Beyond 24 there was some blurring around the edges of the glass, but otherwise, this scope is a true performer.
- Very clear glass
- Holds zero nicely
- Fast target acquisition
- Can get blurred edges beyond 24 magnification
The reasonably-priced Monstrum G2 is ideal for day shoots or travelling, when you want good-quality optics but might not want to haul out your premium glass.
Solid & functional
Everything worked—the magnification was smooth and clear, an adjustable objective lens made honing in on down-range targets easy, and focusing was quick and surprisingly accurate at any magnification.
Of course, this is not the scope for serious, competitive, long-range shooting or any application requiring exceptional detail (plus it was far and away the largest scope we tested). But if you want inexpensive, functional, 50 magnification rifle scope for under $200, this is the scope for you.
- Good glass
- Solidly clear through all magnification ranges
- AO lens
- Very large
If you prefer a slightly lighter scope the Nikon P-Tactical (the down-market version of higher-end M-Tactical) is a great choice if the Crossfire II is out of stock as it offers very similar performance.
Sharp visuals in a lighter package
The P-Tactical offers sharp visuals and is an easy-to-use choice. After the Crossfire II these our testers second favorite for 50-300 yard shots.
Like the Crossfire II, the P-Tactical features crystal-clear optics (even slightly better than the Crossfire II around the edges at maximum magnification) and predictable focusing with the turrets, all in an approachable package that can be found for $100 less than the Vortex.
Low contrast turret markings plague the Nikons
The one potential issue is the turret markings – which the P-Tactical shares with the higher-end M-Tactical – they’re low contrast and hard to read post-adjustment.
- Clear glass
- Shares features with higher-end Nikon models
- Turrets markings are low contrast and hard to read
How to select the right rifle scope for you
Rifle scopes aren’t really optional – they’re one of the most performance-oriented additional you can make to any rifle with which you want to shoot at distance.
Plus any scope will be subject to a lot of stress by virtue of the firearm’s recoil. We found it helpful to establish some foundational rules to ensure you select the right scope for you.
Clearly, if you’re not in the market for a premium scope, there’s simply no reason to browse anything beyond your means (unless you simply want to drool over them.) Price point really establishes the basis for your available options, which is why we organized this guide with price point in mind.
The magnification power that you select depends on the kind of shooting or hunting you will be doing. If you tend to hunt in close cover, a low-power fixed scope, such as a 4X or a variable that starts at 3.5X or even lower will give you the best field of view and fastest target acquisition. If you’re a long-range target shooter, you’ll want more magnification power. This will allow you to see prey or your target clearly at 400 yds or more.
At a minimum, you’ll have 2 turret options – windage (the side turret) and elevation (the top turret). You want turrets that are smooth to operate and actually adjust the windage and elevation to the degree the turrets indicate. A 3rd option would be parallax adjustment, which allows you to correct parallax misalignment at various ranges. Critical for long-distance precision shooting, many premium scopes will enable you to adjust parallax from 10 yards to infinity (maximum range).
Each of these rifle sights offers advantages for different users, but our top pick is the Vortex Optics Razor HD II. It offers unbelievable clarity, gave us tight groups at any yardage, and made us feel like better shooters all around. It also has all the features that we look for:
- Clear, high -quality glass
- Unbelievable stability
- Fantastic light transmission
There are quite a few options out in this category, but we hope this article steers you in the right direction. If you have any questions or feedback please drop us a line. If you’re in the market for optics check out our long-range scope reviews, guide to the best rifle scopes, tips for selecting the best pistol red dot sight, selection of recommended rimfire scopes, and best budget AR-15 scopes.
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