A rifle scope is a shooting accessory used by a marksman to locate and target their quarry with deadly precision. As such, it is an essential part of any hunter’s gear, and it has marked advantages over the traditional iron sights present in all rifles.
The Top Rifle Scopes According To Price Category
Best Rifle Scope Around $1000
Vortex Viper PST
Bushnell Elite G2
The Nightforce SHV is one of the most robust, high performance and well balanced scopes we’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. Made out of aircraft grade aluminum alloy, it packs lots of high end features, such as a sophisticated 56mm objective lens, optimum precision and light transmission, rugged construction, weather and shock proofing, dual reticles, reliable adjustment controls etc., while also managing to keep its price below the $1000 mark.
However, you should note that it may be a bit wider / bulkier for your taste because of its 56mm objective lens diameter.
- You can find more of our recommendations on Vortex Scopes here.
What Is A Rifle Scope And How Does It Work?
If you don’t know much about rifle optics, you might get a little intimidated by the sheer variety available in the market. The type that’s right for you depends largely on the kind of shooting you’ll be doing. For instance, a deer hunter and a target shooter will require different types of scopes. Fortunately, you’ve got us to make life easier for you.
The most critical parts of the scope are its lenses. The larger one is called the objective lens, and it is present on the end of the scope that is farthest away from the rifle’s stock. It transmits light back towards the ocular lens, which is the one nearest your eye. The objective lens is housed in the objective bell, whereas the ocular lens is contained in the eyepiece. The majority of rifle scope lenses are fog- and water-proof.
How It Works
Rifle scopes operate on the same principle as telescopes. Light that passes through the objective lens gets focused on a point present inside the scope. The ocular lens then magnifies the light from the focal point. The image you see when you look through the scope is this magnified light. Rifle scopes also come with a cross-hair, which is also called a reticle. The cross-hair marker indicates to the shooter exactly where their shot will land once they pull the trigger.
Magnification, Parallax, Windage and Elevation
Certain scopes allow the shooter to view targets at variable magnifications. For example, your scope might let you view the target at 3x to 9x magnification. 3x magnification means that you’re able to see the target three times larger than you would with the naked eye. The powerring is used to adjust the magnification.
Most manufacturers set their scopes at a 100 yard (91.4m) focus. This means that, by default, aiming at a target 100 yards away will yield a clear picture. However, when you alter the magnification settings, a parallax error can result. This is when the scope’s aim changes when you change the position of your eye – the rifle can remain still but a shift in your position would make it look like your aim is off. Parallax error only becomes an issue at larger magnifications and won’t trouble most hunters at all. Some manufacturers produce scopes with variable objective lenses to compensate for the parallax error. You can find out more about parallax here, or watch the video below.
Rifle scopes also come with multiple controls which let you adjust the scope so that it aligns perfectly with your rifle. The windage adjustment and the elevation adjustment are the two controls which affect the sight of the scope. The windage adjustment alters the horizontal settings whereas the elevation adjustment modifies the vertical settings.
The main body of the scope is known as the tube. There are two primary diameter sizes for a rifle scope’s tube: 30 millimeter or 1 inch. You should be aware of the diameter of your scope’s tube so that you use the right mounting rings to fix the scope to the rifle.
Rifle Optics vs Sights
Before going any further, there is one point that requires some clarification – there are plenty of people out there who confuse rifle scopes with gunsights. As a rule of thumb, you should remember that rifle scopes offer some level of magnification, whereas gun sights do not.
Benefits Of A Rifle Scope
An obvious advantage of using a scope with your rifle is that you’ll be able to sight your target more easily. Also, it is much easier to line up the target in the scope’s crosshairs than it is with your rifle’s stock iron sights. You’ll even feel more confident when using a scope. As time goes by, your ability to utilize the scope to its maximum potential will become polished, which will make you a better shooter overall. This is probably the reason why most pros prefer rifle scopes over all other gunsights.
Boosting Self Confidence
Imagine having a sophisticated sniper scope attached to your rifle, combined with the right frame of mind. It would seem as if you could do nothing wrong – if it was a competition, you’d be scoring hit after hit. This is the confidence which a rifle scope instils in the shooter. It brings the target so close to you that you’re able to choose exactly where you want to place your shot! In other words, you feel in control of the entire scenario.
As you get adept at shooting with your rifle, you’ll want to shoot further and with deadlier accuracy. Soon, taking targets from your iron sights won’t do – and that’s when you’ll know you need a sniper scope. Since it brings the objects much nearer you’re able to aim and take down targets farther afield. In fact, modern sniper scopes let you adjust their ocular to match your eyesight so you don’t have to fuss about with your spectacles in the field!
Rifle Scope Buying Guide: How To Choose A Rifle Scope
Buying the perfect rifle scope is no piece of cake, but once you’re done reading, you’ll have a strong handle on rifle scope basics and the things you need to remember when going out shopping for one. Incidentally, there’s quite a bit to learn. Here what to look for in a rifle scope:
The magnification is a measure of how much larger (closer) an object appears through your scope compared to the naked eye. A 10x magnification means that the target appears 10 times closer, so if the target is 100 yards away, you’ll be able to see it as if it were only 10 yards out!
Scopes can have either fixed or variable magnification. If you’re using a variable magnification scope, it is normally recommended that you start with a lower magnification since an excessively high magnification for a close range target will narrow your field of view and reduce the light entering the scope, making the shot difficult instead of easier! Here are some tips on choosing the right magnification type for your scope:
|Variable mag e.g. 3 to 9x and so on||Versatility allows it to cover a range of distances, light, terrain and weather conditions||Not as reliable as fixed magnification|
|Fixed (aka straight power) mag e.g. 3x, 4x etc.||Greater reliability and asier to use, e.g. a .22 rifle with a fixed 4x magnification||The use is restricted to one type of shot so there is no way to alter its range|
Field Of View (FOV)
This refers to the area visible through the scope from right to left at a range of 100m. Generally, a wider FOV translates into a better result. Field of view changes with magnification – it gets smaller as you increase the mag and in reverse. For instance, a 3-9x variable scope (which is great for hunting or stalking) may have a 10m FOV at 3x but at 9x, the FOV might reduce to under 5m.
Objective Lens Diameter
The objective lens’s diameter determines how much light is going to enter the scope as well as how efficiently light will be transmitted across to the ocular.
The greater the diameter, the larger the amount of light entering the scope so that you’re able to better use it in gloomy or dimly lit conditions. However, each objective diameter size, from the smaller 32mm, to the midrange 40mm to the larger 50mm, comes with its own pros and cons. The best course of action is to pick the largest objective diameter whose weight you can easily manage. For most hunters, a 32mm to 40mm objective diameter will transmit sufficient light.
The reticle’s purpose is to aim the rifle using the scope. There is an ever increasing range of styles available and it is generally up to your preference what you choose. The reticle also aids the shooter in estimating the distance/range as well as the wind range.
The most common (conventional) form of reticle is the crosshair which can either be thick or fine.
Note that subtention is the amount of physical space covered up by the crosshairs on a target i.e. a scope subtending at .1 inch at 100 yards and a 7x magnification covers up .1 inch of the target on those settings.
There are several other types of reticles available in the market, as mentioned above and a very complete guide here. The most frequently used ones are tabulated below:
Parallax adjustment lets you focus more precisely on distant targets at very high mag settings. It is essential when shooting at ranges larger than 100 to 150 meters, particularly when using high mag scopes such as 10x or greater, where even the slightest of sighting errors could result in considerable inaccuracy. Parallax adjustments are normally found on the scope’s objective, although some of the pricier models come with a side focus that is more practical and easier to handle.
Turret adjustment is vital for accurate targeting, especially in contests. The largest turrets are involved in adjusting the crosshairs present in the scope. The turret housing is present in the middle of the tube of the scope. Most scopes are made with ¼ Minutes of Angle (MOA) turrets, which are reliable turrets for most shooting applications, even though 1/8 MOA intervals allow for more precise adjustments.
A 100 meter range is optimal for sighting your scope. If the aim is an inch too low at this range, a scope with ¼ MOA must be adjusted by 4 clicks in the direction of the ‘up’ arrow present on the turret.
- Turrets are less desirable in hunting environments where they may get snagged or knocked in woodland / bush, so hunting scopes normally don’t come with turrets.
Tube Diameter, Length and Weight
Tube diameter, length and weight of the rifle scope impact both its efficiency and portability. A 1 inch tube diameter is sufficient to handle most scenarios. Scopes incorporating 30 millimeter tube diameters are more robust and can be adjusted more using the turrets, which is handy when using higher mags or shooting at longer distances.
Weight and length are critical to those in need of a light weight rifle. A lightweight rifle will be useless if you combine it with a heavy scope. There are scopes as light as 227gms present in the market, but the average weight lies in the 340 to 397 grams range.
- Don’t combine lightweight rifles with heavy scopes
- Larger tube diameters are better when combined with higher mags or when shooting at a longer distance.
This is the percentage measurement of total light which can pass through the scope. Only the most advanced scopes can achieve a rating greater than 95% while the vast majority only makes it as far as 90%, depending on the magnification as well as the objective lens size.
Having a scope with good light transmission will enable you to hunt through dusk, and will provide you with a clearer, brighter image even in fully lit conditions, thereby enhancing your focusing and targeting ability, and making sighting targets a lot more comfortable. Poor transmission of light results in a foggier image, especially as dusk sets in or when the magnification is too high.
Eye Relief Distance
This is the distance from your eye to the ocular lens (i.e. the lens closest to your eye), when the whole FOV is visible through the rifle scope. It changes with respect to the power of the scope.
Low Powered Rifle Scopes
- Greater Eye Relief
High Powered Rifle Scopes
- Can be quite critical in terms of eye relief distance and the eye’s alignment with the tubes center
Eye relief greater than 12 cm is rare – its value lies commonly between 70 and 90 mm.
- It is vital that the eye relief of the scope is greater than the recoil of the rifle, else the kick from the rifle may lead to a blackened eye or a nasty gash across the eyebrow.
A larger exit pupil will make the head’s position with respect to the scope less essential for accurate targeting.
Exit Pupil Calculation
Exit Pupil = Objective Lens Diameter / Magnification Level
Simple Example: 10x mag on a 40mm objective diameter will have an exit pupil of 4 millimeters.
- An exit pupil of 2 to 3 millimeters is normally sufficient for daylight conditions while a minimum of 5 millimeter exit pupil is needed for hunting in dim light.
A rifle scope must always be sealed against water and fog, and the majority of all scopes today come with coated lenses. The coating serves the following purposes:
- Glare reduction
- Enhanced light transmission
- Sharpened contrast
The lens glass’s quality and coating is of greater importance than the number of coatings applied:
|Coated||Fully coated||Multi coated||Fully multi coated|
|Single coating on a minimum of one lens surface||Single coating on all outer glass surfaces||Multiple coatings on a minimum of one lens surface||Multiple coating layers on all external glass surfaces|
- A high end lens with a quality single coating will produce better results than a cheap but multi-coated lens.
Repeatability refers to the ability of the scope to accurately shoot the target time after time without requiring any adjustment. You also need to consider how quickly the scope settles after adjustment. A superior quality scope will settle immediately whereas cheaper scopes normally require settling in by either shooting a few rounds or by tapping the scope.
The scope of the rifle is an essential piece of equipment since it allows the marksman to precisely see where they need to place their bullet. An unreliable, low quality scope will ruin their chances of an accurate hit, so it is advisable to spend as much as possible on your scope.
The light transmission, lens glass and coating are crucial in this regard, and manufacturers like Schmidt or Swaroski offer some excellent optics. Besides these high end brands, there are also those which furnish the needs of mainstream users e.g. Simmons.
What To Expect Under Different Price Ranges
These scopes are best for amateur hunters, or those who are just starting to use rifle optics other than the standard gunsights. Of course they’ll provide the basic magnification function of a rifle scope, but don’t expect them to be ruggedly constructed or easily tunable (if they are tunable at all, that is). Their adjustment rings will lack the finesse of the pricier models, so it is advisable not to use them in the field.
- Interested in a rifle scope for your 22? Check out our recommendations.
Moving up the price range, you’ll find that these scopes retain the features of their less costly cousins while adding protective features such as weather resistance and a more sturdy construction. The lenses will have protective coatings, and the adjustments will be easier and more accurate e.g. ¼ MOA. These scopes will also typically come with manufacturer warranties. For a mainstream hunter / marksman, a scope in this price range will do just fine.
Budget Minded Hunter
These scopes are for enthusiasts who are ready to pay extra for premium quality and uncompromising performance. Scopes in this price range will be able to make fine adjustments in the field, possess superb weather shielding, and a greater objective diameter for crisper visual output. They may also come with multiple reticles to facilitate in aiming, and the reticles may be illuminated. They’ll also have more extensive warranties. These scopes will have everything a hunter requires.
- Did you know? Hunting licenses are available in Walmart for as cheap as $15 for a year.
The best hunting scopes you can find. You’ll only want to buy a scope in this price range if hunting/marksmanship is your sole, dedicated hobby. These scopes will have a greater magnification range and even finer adjustment controls but beyond that, even a professional hunter will have no way to justify the extra cost!
Top Rated Rifle Scope Reviews and Ratings: The 5 Best In Any Price Range
Simmons TruPlex Reticle Rimfire Riflescope
- Truplex Reticle
- Fully Coated Optics
- 3.75″ Eye Relief
- One Year Warranty
The Simmons 22 MAG Series Rifle Scopes carry on the tradition of being the most popular Rimfire Scopes in all of America. Incorporating Simmons’ patented TrueZero adjustment system as well as a QTA (quick target acquisition) eyepiece, the Simmons 22 MAG 3-9×32 Rimfire Rifle Scopes deliver unrivalled performance at their price point.
These rifle scopes are made around the new TrueZero adjustment system. This is Simmons’ replacement for the conventional gimbal/biasing spring design, and uses a flex erector system instead. This flex erector is solidly affixed to the body of the rifle scope and delivers unmatched stability. The TrueZero dial design uses a state-of-the-art ball bearing and spring detent mechanism which results in firm and audible clicks – giving you total confidence in the knowledge that your adjustments are both accurate and repeatable.
The scope also packs a QTA fast focus eyepiece, which you won’t find on any other brand. This new eyepiece design provides as much as 4 inches of constant eye relief so you don’t have to close up on the scope as you increase the magnification. The new design also delivers the largest eyebox available throughout the whole range of magnification which results in greater horizontal and vertical, as well as frontal and peripheral movement behind the scope.
The 3 to 9x 32 scope has excellent optical features for its price – exceptional light transmission, glare control, contrast and clarity. The HydroShield Lens coating ensures a clear picture in any weather condition. Each power ring and eyepiece diopter adjustment is equipped with Simmons SureGrip Rubber Surfaces.
What We Liked
- Very Low Cost
- Adjustable Parallax
What We Didn’t
- Problems Holding To Zero
- Windage and Elevation Controls Left Much To Be Desired
- After Several Hundred Rounds Of Usage, The Reticle Finally Came Apart
Recommended For: People looking for an inexpensive scope, using it to hunt small game.
Nikon P-223 3-9×40 BDC 600 Rifle Scope
- BDC Reticle
- Fully Multi-Coated Optics
- 3.6″ Eye Relief
- Limited Lifetime Warranty
A versatile 3 to 9x magnification range makes the Nikon ® P-223 3-9×40 BDC 600 scope an ideal hunting companion for your rifle. The BDC 600 reticle has been designed to match the trajectory of the 5.56 NATO /.223 Rem round and features unique, open circle aim points and has marks from 100 to 600 yds. It also packs a fully multi-coated optical system which transmits 98% light and has maximum visibility from dawn to dusk, which is a huge plus for us, especially for the price range it lies in.
The scope is o-ring sealed and nitrogen filled to make it fog proof and waterproof, even under severe weather conditions. A consistent, generous eye relief is provided so aiming with the scope is easy regardless of the mag setting. The parallax is set to 100 yards for precise shooting, and the ¼ MOA hand turn tac-style turrets zero in quicker and remain set in spite of repeated shots. The ease of use goes further – there’s a zero reset turret feature which makes field adjustments simpler so you can focus on the game rather than the settings!
What We Liked
- Full Features
- Affordable Price
What We Didn’t
- Problems Holding To Zero
- Windage and Elevation Controls Left Much To Be Desired
Recommended For: Shooters and hunters looking for a fully featured scope at an affordable price.
Leupold VX-2 3-9x40mm Rifle Scope
- Duplex Reticle
- Fully Multi-Coated
- 3.7″-4.2″ Eye Relief
- Full Lifetime Guarantee
The Leupold VX-2 3-9x40mm scope covers everything you’ll ever require from a rifle scope. Designed for budget minded hunters and shooters who don’t want to compromise on the essentials, the scope is what you call a ‘one-size-fits-all’: finger adjustable click elevation and windage dials, tactile power indicators, and settings for dimly lit scenarios are all part of the package.
In fact, this was one of the few scopes which balanced price and performance so well that it caught us by surprise several times. The Leupold VX-2 is waterproof, and provides optimum clarity, brightness and contrast so you’re able to take the best shot regardless of field conditions.
There are four lens coatings applied to allow for superior light transmission, and all in all, it is one of the most dependable products available in the market right now.
What We Liked
- Warranty Is Impeccable
- Quarter MOA Click Elevation and Windage Adjustments
- MultiCoat 4 Lens Coatings For Excellent Transmission Of Light
- Accurate Even After Repeated Shots.
- Comes In Seven Reticle Styles (for extra $)
What We Didn’t
- Eye Protection Rubber Ring Not Included
Best Rifle Scope For The Money: Budget minded hunters that don’t want to miss out on the essentials. An all around excellent scope at a mid-range price.
- MOAR Non-Illumintated Reticle
- Broadband Multi-Coating
- 3.15″-3.54″ Eye Relief
- Limited Lifetime Warranty
This scope is a direct response to enthusiast requests for a Nightforce scope with a blue-collar price – it may not pack all the features of the pricier models, but the quality is unchanged. The SHV (Shooter Hunter Varminter) scope might seem a bit large for stalking whitetails through timber, but is excellent for seeing how far your rifle can go.
The Nightforce SHV manages to stand tall even in some of the harshest, most unyielding climatic conditions, delivering quality and precision. The objective lens determines the light transmission, resolution and exit pupil size, and the scope itself is crafted from solid bar stock 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminium alloy.
The SHV is a combination of unparalleled optical precision and construction that can endure recoil from the highest caliber bullets, shocks and temperature changes. A zero tolerance lens secures the optical elements from moving in any direction under any condition.
There are two dependable reticles for versatility in aiming, and elevation and windage turrets, although lacking a Zero Stop, give consistent adjustments. The scope makes no excuses about its lack of compaction, but more than makes up for it with its 56mm objective lens that provides excellent light transmission even at the verge of darkness.
The scope is one of the most dependable and performance oriented models present in the market and is reflected in the price.
What We Liked
- The Quality Of Its Cousins But Just Not As Many Features
- Excellent Dependability And Performance In Its Class
What We Didn’t
Recommended For: One of our best rated rifle scopes. This is for serious hunters who are ready to up their game and are wanting unrivaled visibility.
Schmidt Bender Classic 3-12×50 Rifle Scope
- Illuminated Options
- Coatings Tailored For Individual Lense
- 3.15″ Eye Relief
- 10 Year Warranty
If you’re a traditionalist and are looking for something that stands tall among the competition, this could be it. Backed by German workmanship and tradition, this scope has been made for hunting from elevation and long range. Thanks to its 50mm objective lens, it has solid low light capabilities, so you’ll be hunting from dawn through dusk. The reticle, located in the first focal plane, changes size as the magnification is varied.
The Klassik is waterproofed and nitrogen filled to perform reliably even at low temperature. Multicoated lenses and the rugged construction ensure that the scope can safely be used even on the most powerful of hunting rifles. The scope comes with a warranty period of ten years, as well as an extra 20 years of service and maintenance guarantee.
What We Liked
What We Didn’t
Recommended For: People with deep pockets, that live and breath hunting and shooting. This is the gold standard.
You will have, by now, started to appreciate how complicated the world of rifle optics can be. And rifles scopes are only one aspect of it – red dot sights, laser sights and tactical sights are a whole different ballgame!
The best way to approach the problem of buying your rifle scope is being clear on the features you want and seeking them out.
Hopefully, we’ve equipped you with enough knowledge to sift through the jumble and find the one that’s best for your needs.