How to pick the best budget scope for your AR-15
If you’re in a hurry or just want to know what we think is the best AR 15 scope under $100, we recommend the UTG BugBuster Scope as the best one.
Technology often has a fantastic trickle-down effect. Anti-lock brakes used to be fully optional – now they’re standard safety features. The same kinds of dynamics are at play in the world of AR-15 optics. You’d be surprised what you can get in an AR-15 scope under $100 – while these aren’t going to be as feature-packed as more expensive options, the truth of the matter is for a recreational shooter or someone who’s not interested in dropping half their paycheck on a new scope, rest assured – there are lots of options to consider.
That said – these scopes aren’t going to be all things to all people. In fact, you have to be realistic about what a budget scope can do – and you won’t find premium brands on this list – but if you’re going to drop your hard-earned money on a new AR-15 scope rest assured we’ve done thorough testing with experts to help ensure we can steer you in the right direction.
To find the best budget scope for your AR, we had a professional shooting instructor spend over 20 hours field-testing 18 pairs against his own $2,500 high-end rifle scope. After using our test budget scopes in the mountains and hills of Eastern Idaho, then on a mountain trip through Montana, he found that the UTG BugBuster Scope was the best of the test group, offering performance comparable to his premium scope on a few fronts for a fraction of the price. This means you’ll see hit more targets and spend less on gear than any of your shooting buddies.
The 6 Best Scopes for Your AR 15 Under $100
While these scope brands may offer household names, what they do offer many features that the bigger brands do – but at more budget-friendly prices. There are also a lot of options in the way of budget scopes – you’ll find scopes dedicated to huntіng, tаrgеt ѕhооtіng, ѕесurіtу, hоmе dеfеnѕе, аnd basic рlіnkіng as well as combo scopes which offer some additional functionality beyond a single purpose.
These are often scope brands that are Chinese or eastern in origin and are “made for Amazon” – meaning you won’t find them in your local guide shop. These brands offer buyers a fair value and many desirable features, but they’re ultimately most interested in selling through Amazon, so you can’t get a first hand take on these products in-store. Luckily Amazon has a pretty aggressive return policy, and these sellers are held to very high customer satisfaction requirements, so the best approach is often to use the Amazon seller & product ratings – along with the Q&A sections on these product pages – to get the next best thing to an in-store experience.
Or you can just read our guide – as we have done all the work for you.
Our Budget AR 15 Scope Recommendations
The UTG 3-9X32 1″ BugBuster Scope—along with nearly all of the other budget AR 15 scopes we tested—have benefited from incredible advancements in optical quality driven by the falling costs of precision manufacturing and optical technology. For under $100 you can get an AR 15 rifle scope that damn near matches products that cost hundreds, but probably not thousands, more.
The BugBuster’s optics aren’t its only strength: This is an exceptionally durable scope that easily withstood the humid, rainy, and hostile environment of the Eastern Idaho Sawtooth Range and harsh sun while range shooting in the Beartooth Mountains in Montana.
The focus dials adjust consistently and across a wide range of depths, making it easy to find the focal sweet spots, no matter the distance. Light transmission was solid thanks to what they term as an “Emerald Coating” on the tube, and it offered dual illumination with both red or green dot options which were easy to see.
With more than 2,600 reviews at the time of writing this high-quality budget scope maintains an incredible 4.3-star rating. While it doesn’t offer a lifetime warranty as you’d get with a premium scope, the BugBuster does offer a 2-year warranty which you can read here.
- Range mil-dot reticle
- Dual reticle illumination
- Much shorter than many budget scopes
- Adjustable objective
- Lockable/resettable turrets
- Shock, fog, and rain proof
- Potential for misaligned reticule
- Large reticule can obscure aim
If the UTG BugBuster Scope isn’t available, the CVLIFE Hunting Rifle Scope is a terrific choice at almost half the price of the BugBuster. Yes, this scope is almost 50% less than our top recommendation. It has a comparably wide field of view, however, it’s a much bigger unit and some customers have struggled to zero it in. That said, it’s a very popular budget AR scope and one that has a lot of the features that we’re looking for such as decent long-range capabilities, an objective lens, and easy adjustments for windage & elevation.
- Solid build quality
- Turrets have solid audible clicks and return to zero
- Size can make it cumbersome
- Some buyers had trouble zeroing the scope
- Can fog up
If you’re on an even tighter budget and are willing to see what kind of mileage you can get from a device with a 12% 1-star rating, you take a look at the Pinty 3-9X40 Red Green Rangefinder Scope, which is about 30% of the price of the BugBuster. The units that have positive reviews get almost all the performance, with only a slight compromise in terms of maintenance (how often you have the adjust the turrets etc. to maintain accuracy).
- Rangefinder reticle makes distancing easy
- Fits standard 20mm picatinny rail
- Very clear right out of the box
- No parallax within 100 yard
- Quality control and final fit and finish are hit and miss
- Outside of 100 yards you might need to estimate the bullet drop
Another contender, the Monstrum Tactical 3-12×42, has relatively solid construction and were among the lighter scopes we tested, at 1.4 lb (the BugBuster weighs an ounce or two more). Monstrum Tactical makes a wide array of tactical & rifle products include a number of higher-end scopes (at least 10 models with some well into multiple hundreds of dollars) as well as a huge line of accessories like scope mounts, picatinny rails, and hardware – almost all of which is rated 4 stars or more. This scope appears to be the budget option in their range, and benefits from the trickle-down of technology found in high-end scopes.
Optically, the Monstrum Tactical sight picture is crystal clear and magnifies nicely. Mounted on our test AR it worked great, had shot some consistent groupings out of the box. We could see all the down-range targets very clearly and it stayed on target after zeroing. We found that it also had good scope rings with enough room for a 45 degree mount on top.
- Very clear
- Good magnification
- Can be fragile when mounted on bigger calibers
- Reports of faulty adjustment knobs
- Long overall size
This Pinty was among the smallest budget scopes we tested – coming in at just under 1.3 lbs. It offered excellent clarity – and we thought this would make an excellent first scope for transitioning from iron sights and for close-range use due to the 2.5 low-end magnification. It was the closest to a red dot sight of all our test scopes. The first unit had an issue after about 30 rounds (the front lens was loose) but the manufacturer sent us a replacement straight away – so they proved to have responsive customer service. The new unit was fine and easy to mount on our 22LR and 556 AR. This scope has a nice laser which makes zeroing in a snap up to 100 yards. It worked well in our tests and held over more than 100 rounds.
Naturally, these budget scopes don’t have the build quality of higher-end models, but in exchange, this Pinty offers a solid value and a lot of the features you’d find in much more expensive models – just make sure you pick up some Loctite.
- Very clear optics
- Dual illumination
- Laser for zeroing in
- Responsive customer service
- Quality control seems to be hit or miss
- Geared towards smaller calibers
- Challenging to get tight shot groups
While the list of premium brands available under the $100 price point is very limited – these lower-end products can struggle to be durable enough to survive hard knocks and higher caliber firearms without alignment issues. We found the Bushnell Banner model to have a nice mix of features and positive ratings, plus it was the lightest scope we tested (less than a pound) and has the premium brand name that many people value. This is a hunting scope, so it’s designed to excel in the low light conditions of early morning & dusk. It’s slightly more than the much for just a bit more (at just under $100) but it’s very functional if you don’t mind long eye relief, offers excellent optics, rugged waterproof and fog proof construction, and improves visibility in low light conditions markedly.
- 6 inches of eye relief
- Very clear optics
- Excels in low light conditions
- Fog & waterproof
- Fickle to zero in
- Requires re-zeroing every 1,500 rounds or so
- Light crosshair is hard for some people to see when ADS
- Long at 16”
Who should consider these recommendations?
People setting up a new AR 15. When you’re setting up a new kit you should absolutely get as much gun as you can afford, which means if you’re working on a budget the accessories will need to be less than premium. A budget scope gets you something more than iron sights and allows you to get some rounds through your rifle, but are cheap enough that you don’t need to skimp on the area that matters the most – your firearm.
Young shooters. If you’ve got a son or daughter who wants to start shooting it’s best not to drop several hundred dollars on top-end kit. It’s the same reason you don’t buy your kids a $1,500 laptop – they’re tough on stuff. A $50 scope will give them the basics without risking too much. Once they’ve got a handle on how to treat & maintain a scope you’ll feel much better about upgrading their optics beyond a budget scope
Gifters. Absolutely no AR 15 enthusiast will frown at getting a new scope for the holidays. They look great once unwrapped and are a lot like a dish set – nobody knows what you paid for it!
Budget AR 15 Scope Roundup
Here are all of our recommendations one last time. Be sure to check them out over on Amazon and read through the review and Q&A sections get a good sense of what they’ll offer you before adding your scope or any other accessory (like a grip or bipod). If you’re in the market for optics check out our scope reviews, guide to the best rifle scopes, tips for selecting the best pistol red dot sight, selection of recommended rimfire scopes, long-range scope guide, and best budget AR-15 scopes.