More AR-15’s will be sold this year than anything else. The “Rifleman’s Rifle” now comes with a forward assist and ambidextrous magazine release. The AR 15 is here to stay and in a whole new array of calibers finding the best AR 15 scope for the job at hand can be a tricky beast. Overall considering the best scope is a delicate balance of price point, expectations, and the specific features for what you’ll need.
Basically a good AR-15 scope for under $200 will get you an entry level scope ready for action while spending just under $500 will get you a great quality optic that’ll last longer then you will and excel at any task.
Top 5 Best AR-15 Scopes
A hunter will need a different set up than a target shooter and the professional headed into harm’s way will need a separate kind of optics than a bed side defender. Sifting through reviews of the best AR 15 scopes will point you in the right direction but new scopes come out almost monthly.
The classics never change! A simple fixed power or low magnification scope will serve 80% of shooters well and a red dot is a great option for competitions or defensive carbines. Overall the market is flooded with god quality products and if you stick with name brands with respectable track records it’s hard to go wrong.
At the very least scopes for every job should follow a few basic premises:
- Small objective lenses
- Short overall length
- Low profile turrets and adjustments
- Bright crisp sight picture
- Ruggedized tough design
- Specialty hard to read reticles
- Overly large turrets and objective bells
- Heavy, bulk scope with more adjustments than necessary
- More magnification than is required
- Cheap brands with bad warranties
Defense & Competition
Defensive carbines and finely tuned competition guns have an almost unlimited supply of optics offered from some very good brands. Companies like Aimpoint, Leupold, Trijicon, Burris and Eotech churn out great products that can outlast the guns they’re mounted on.
The AR-15 is really a 0-300yd gun and they really ought to be outfitted with low magnification or red dot scopes. The reason behind having a low magnification optic is because the high speed shooting these AR-15’s are used for doesn’t lend itself well to high magnification. This is the real of the tactical scope and a “good AR 15 scope” isn’t good enough.
Red dot sights get the upper hand here because by design they’re parallax free and the simple designs are lightweight and low profile. In the hands of someone who is trained it is very easy to make 300 yard first round hits with a 4 MOA Aimpoint proving magnification can be nice, but isn’t always necessary. Some of the newer pistol sized and micro sights work great for an ultralight ar15 or a home defense gun that’ll never be shot past 20 yards.
For the guys that need to reach out a little further, small scout style scopes with low profile design are the norm for a good reason. Small scopes capable of 1-6x power with moderately sized objective bells of about 25mm make a great candidate for shooting out to the further reaches of many of the cartridges offered on the AR-15 platform. The scopes used for this most importantly need a simple reticle and true 1x power.
Having a new wiz-bang scope outfitted with a: reticle that has a hash mark for every conceivable situation you’ll ever see and huge “tactical turrets” made for snagging on every strap and buckle ever made that is made of steel and doubles a boat anchor won’t serve you well. Scopes, while useful and in many cases a necessity, are best when kept as simple as possible.
True professionals don’t need the extras.
Often called SPRs or DMR guns. They’re expensive and if you’re funding your own gun then hard line choices need to be made. A good piece of glass isn’t the place to skimp. This is the only place where high magnification and quickly usable turrets are needed. These guns deserve high quality glass loaded with sensible features matched for the range you plan to shoot.
True precision AR 15 rifles are a bit of an anomaly. AR-15’s weren’t designed as race guns or extremely accurate rifles, they’re for putting bullets down range quickly for sporting or for combat. The new generations of guns are more accurate than their old-school brother that got drug through the jungles of Vietnam but they still shoot around 2 MOA more often 3 MOA at best.
New barrel designs, better handguards, more consistent manufacturing and much better quality ammo has gone into building these accurate rifles and a well fit scope is the handle of the tool. While all this helps, it’s important to remember that magnified optics won’t make your gun more accurate and they don’t help you shoot better. All they do is help you see better and can simplify the aiming process.
Buy the best quality gun you can and match that quality to the scope. It doesn’t make much sense to spend $2,000 on a scope for a .22lr squirrel gun. Just like it doesn’t make sense to spend $200 on a $2,500 AR-15.
The scopes in this category will be heavy and most will be bulky. Look for scopes that use lightweight frame materials such as aluminum or titanium without sacrificing durability. An armored optic is needed for this class because if the scope fails the rifle is useless while set up for 600 yard shots.
A variable power scope is the best choice for this group because of the unknown distances the rifle might be used at. Don’t totally rule out all fixed magnified optics though. If you know you’ll be shooting at distance every time you’ll use your rifle then the 4x Trijicon ACOG sights are a great option because it allows for shooting at distance without making things too complex.
AR 15 hunting is becoming not only easier with the advent of new cartridges with better ballistics, but also mainstream and common. Many manufactures such as Remington, Bushmaster, Colt and Daniel Defense make hunting specific models. These models feature all the same great ergonomics and ease of carry as their tactical brothers but they’re specialized for chasing pigs or waiting out deer.
These models usually feature heavy long barrels that will shoot the same spot every day and large stocks for a repeatable cheek weld. These guns always usually free floated with comfortable handguards and refined hunting machines.
Optics for these guns can be tricky to buy for because the guns can be heavy and depending on the caliber the range is limited. The other problem with outfitting these guns is the accuracy; many AR-15’s and virtually all AR-10’s are capable of shooting long range cartridges, the accuracy of AR-15’s can reach out as far as these cartridges can.
Carrying heavy long rifle with a large high powered optic makes little sense if you can’t make reliable hits with your weapon at the ranges the gun is set up for. Find the practical range you plan on hunting, then select a cartridge that does this job the best and get the lightest and smallest scope you feel comfortable shooting through.
The best AR 15 hunting scope will have:
- A Simple reticle for snap shots at game
- Be bright enough to use every last minute of legal shooting light
- Be light and low profile
The light weight, low profile is important on hunting AR-15’s because they are carried a lot and shot very little. This combination means small tradeoffs can be made between features and carrying ability.
The Best AR 15 Scopes & Sights Reviewed
Below is a review of the best AR-15 optics the market has on offer in 2019. Although there are many others these are our top 5 picks, and you can read on to see why. There is a scope and sight at every price point.
Aimpoint Comp M4 – The Best AR Red Dot
Want the best the market has to offer? So did Uncle Sam, he bought the Aimpoint Comp M4. This is what the professionals carry; many militaries around the globe, many police departments, and more than a couple armed citizens. This unit is popular for three main reasons: it’s drop dead reliable, it’s extremely easy to use and it disappears once mounted up on the gun.
Red dot sights are by design extremely simple. The single red dot and the lack of moving parts or magnification make them easy to use. Especially in moving or awkward shooting positions the parallax free, infinite eye relief and clear, low profile sight picture make them ideal for peacekeepers all over the world.
On this particular model the 2 MOA dot is as small as practical, making it great for shooting out to a respectable 300 yards. The 2 MOA dot will paint a 6-inch circle on a target at 300 yards, about as accurate as a high quality AR-15. The sight by nature provides a reliable picture in any angle and it can be used in any lighting condition. It has 15 overall brightness settings including 7 nigh vision compatible modes.
Dialing in the red dot is easier than other scopes but can be a bit tricky because the adjustments are regulated for a ¼ inch of adjustment at 80 yards. This is perfect because with an AR 15 long-distance shots are rarely taken. The 80-yard adjustment is plenty and the tactile feeling of the scope adjustments is a definite positive once you get used to it.
The real place where the Aimpoint Comp M4 takes the cake is what’s required to keep it running. The design is made from the ground up to be a high performance, low maintenance optic. The alloyed aluminum metal construction makes for an extremely lightweight design without compromising strength. The body is big enough to make it effective with night vision without making it bulky or awkward. In fact, the bell of the scope makes it disappear when shot through. The idea behind a red dot sight is for fast shooting guns and this does it perfectly with its light weight and rounded compact design.
A book could be written about its best feature. the battery life. For starters it lasts 80,000 hours under normal use. It grows to a whopping 500,000 hours if left on night vision mode. Topping off the battery shouldn’t ever be a problem because this scope, unlike many, takes a standard AA battery. The electronics in this scope is Aimpoint’s very finest and includes a high quality light reflecting surface and an internal voltage regulator to not waste any energy. This means that this Aimpoint can be left on for eight years without needing to change the battery.
The product ships with Aimpoint’s “Kill Flash” anti-reflective cover for the objective end of the scope. It works well and makes the scope caps offered by Aimpoint to be largely pointless. It also includes a mount and riser specifically designed for a standard ar15 flat top. It operates in any temperature you’re likely to ever see and can be dropped in water up to 150ft without worry.
Aimpoint designed this for heavy professional use and it includes a two-year warranty for cops and soldiers and an awesome 10-year warranty for personal shooters.
- Extremely lightweight and durable
- Fast, accurate and night vision capable
- The batteries are good for almost forever
- Can be mounted on many different guns and calibers
- The price is high for those in the market for budget optics
- The housing is thick and the unit isn’t as compact as newer models
- The battery housing sticks out and and get caught up
Nikon P223 3×32 – Best AR 15 Scope Under $200
The Nikon P223 3×32 represents great value and is the best AR 15 scope for the money by far. This scope brings many features to the table usually reserved for high dollar exotic brands. Nikon, the company responsible for this scope, is known for their high quality and affordable glass. The coating on this scope allows for 98% light transmission to extend shooting light for hunters or target shooters. The glass is fully multi-coated to make the target seem to be brighter and HD. Needless to say the specifically designed reticle performs like a champ and really pops out of the sight picture.
The reticle is what is a DBC calibrated picture designed for the 55gr 5.56 cartridge. This means that the sight after zeroed in is ready to rock and roll out to 600 yards with “hash marks” at 200, 400 and 600 yards. This of course works best with the 55gr load which is mostly useless at 600 yards but for the extreme marksman or highly skilled small game hunter it can be useful. In practice there is some variance between brands of ammo and rifles simply because of the difference in velocity, so pick your load and buy a case to have on hand.
The turret on the scope is small enough to not get in the way and has no sharp edges. The adjustment is ¼ MOA that feels positive when making adjustments to dial in the carefully designed BDC. The ¼ MOA adjustment is important for this scope because it makes it possible to really dial in the reticle. At the furthest a 5.56 ar 15 should be shot, around 300 yards, it still is only moving .75 inches per click.
A feature well thought out, and absent on many carbine optics, is the attention to eye relief. The non-critical eye relief brings a level of functionality to the scope and makes it easy to use. Not having to worry about being “Scope Slapped” or getting “Scope Bite” can make your groups shrink right up. The eye relief allows for more mounting options and shooting angles.
The price of this scope reflects the quality, a useable and attainable piece of equipment that will serve the hunter or target shooter well. The glass is crisp and clear and the reticle is well thought out and easy to use. The 3x power magnification is a simple design and the whole package seems well designed for small carbines and light weight rifles.
The length and width of the scope lends itself well to the light and fast nature of the AR-15 and the 3x fixed power makes it a nearly perfect scope for these rifles. The warranty is serviceable and can be relied on if you need to, but many shooters find these to be rugged and dependable optics tough enough for the next hunt or match. The total value of this scope is hard to beat at any price. This scope is a moderately priced workhorse of a product that other companies should use as a benchmark because this really is a staple in the market place for AR-15 shooters.
- Great value and very affordable
- Materials and construction are well beyond the competition
- Very good for coyote hunting or precision hunting
- Awesome glass and clear picture
- Specific to AR-15’s and the .223 cartridge
- The BDC is a bit cluttered
- The edges could be more rounded
Trijicon ACOG 4X32
It just makes sense to have military optics atop military style guns. This scope, manufactured by Trijicon, needs no introduction. The Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight or ACOG for short was an answer to the world’s firearm professionals who needed a rugged dependable scope with no frills and no compromises.
This particular model, the 4×32, was designed for the USMC adhering to their exact specifications. The scope comes in a wide variety of reticles made for all kinds of situations you may need it for. Primarily a war-fighting scope many features needed for precision shooting or for coyote hunting.
It is a specialized tool; starting with the all aluminum housing, the scope was designed from the ground up to be a solid piece of equipment but not a dead weight with crosshairs. The materials used in this scope are what really sets it apart. The whole scope is made from top notch metal, glass and rubber that is assembled by craftsmen. Of course this adds to the price but having to buy just one optic for the whole life of your gun is a true value.
Of the many different reticle designs offered in the ACOG the most popular is the red chevron. The chevron, sometimes called the Christmas tree, has a glowing red dot and graduations out to 800 yards calibrated for the XM193 5.56NATO round out of the 14.5 inch m16A4 rifle. That means point of aim and point of impact can be the same out to 800 yards with the same sight.
The Christmas tree of chevrons is, by far, the easiest of the BDC offered by the big manufacturers. Other designs offered include red dots, green dots, and different BDC offered in different calibers, including .300blk. These reticles come in scopes of different magnification from 1.5x power all the way up to 6x power. All of these are fixed but Trijicon does offer a newer model VCOG that is adjustable.
One of the coolest features of the ACOG is the marriage of fiber optics and tritium for a scope that never needs batteries, automatically adjusts brightness to the environment and is guaranteed to last 15 years. Since only the prism moves in the system the entire scope is made more durable than just about any other scope on the market.
The final quality of the ACOG that makes it a great scope is a scientific theory called the bindon aiming concept. This is that if you keep both your eyes open while shooting a bright red dot will super impose over the eye without the dot and allow for both eyes open shooting. Having both your eyes open while in a gun fight can save your life by having more situational awareness. Check this video out for demonstration:
The only real downside to this scope is the price. It’s expensive, even by scope terms. No one ever complains about the value of this optic, just the price. Everything from the most rugged design on the planet, to the15 years of guaranteed illuminated reticle, the anti-reflective coating on the optic and the dozens of different options for reticles and magnification makes it very hard to beat this optic at any price point.
- The most durable optic on the planet
- Won’t ever need batteries
- Fixed magnification, open eye shooting and long eye relief make it a great gun fighting sight
- The whole scope is outfitted with anti-reflection coatings
- It’s very expensive (over $1000) and could be priced too high for those looking for a budget scope, although it is worth every penny
- The higher magnification sights can be large and a bit heavy
- The scope has a lot of edges to get caught on
Leupold Mark AR MOD 1 – Best AR 15 Scope Under $500
This scope is among the best for really pushing the limits of what the AR-15 was designed for. It’s great for hunting, awesome at target shooting and a great optic for competitive shooting. The Leupold Mark AR Mod 1 is a scope designed specifically to be used on ar-15 rifles. While set up for the standard 5.56NATO cartridge it can be used on any rifle.
The main selling point of the optic is the impressive magnification and features that have been delivered in such a small package. The scope is adjustablefrom1.5x-4x power while staying completely clear and vivid throughout the entire magnification range. The scope is outfitted with special features to minimize glare from the sky and reflective surfaces, making this the best AR 15 scope for coyote hunting , because it takes into account not only the amount of light transferred but also the quality of the light.
The one-inch tube is great because it keeps the package small, really small, but still bright, really bright. It also keeps mounting options open because one-inch tube size for a scope is much more common than most tactical 30mm tubes.
If you chose a cheap scope with bad lenses it defeats the purpose of having a magnified optic because a heavy boat anchor of a scope ruins the reasons for using an ar15 in the first place. The lenses of the scope are fully multi coated with almost unbeatable light transmission and crispness in low light. And the quality of glass Leupold is known for is present in this scope. The duplex reticle is what it should be; simple, fast and easy to use.
The turrets on the scope are positive, not too easy to engage and stay where you put them, just as a hard use optic should. They’re also very clearly marked. The whole scope is clearly designed by shooters who use their optics, because they have everything they need, nothing they don’t and they’re never in the way, keeping in the theme of light weight and high speed use.
Leopold’s “Gold Ring” warranty covers everything you should need it for, should you ever even need it. The company boasts there’s more precision optics in use by the US military that came from Leupold than any other company, and there’s a reason. They build in America, they have pride in the products they build and they use the highest quality materials they can get their hands on. Regardless of price they’re a good buy and should be put at the top of any list.
- Extremely compact with round edges
- Very crisp reticle and clear glass
- Lightweight without compromise
- Best AR 15 scope for 600 yard shots
- The small objective lens can be slightly dark
- The lip on the front of the objective lens can be hard to clean and can collect debris
Vortex SPR Spitfire
This optic is a doozy. Most things that try to be a jack of all trades become a master of none but this might be a case of an awesome marriage of features. The SPR Spitfire comes from Vortex, a company known for off-the-wall ideas done right. There’s really nothing on the market quite like this to compare it too.
The idea is simple, take the best attributes of a red dot sight and take the best features from a scope and cram it into as small a package as physics will allow. Most companies do this by having two stand-alone units, a standard red dot and a magnifying module mounted behind it that flips in and out of the way when you don’t need it.
Vortex did it differently they etched the reticle into the glass, like a holographic sight and then added a laser and a magnifying lens at modest power. The package is small, just under 6-inches long and a tad heavy at just under a pound.
For a 3x power scope it’s a little bulky but with the addition of the laser illuminated BDC set up for 5.56 and integrated mount makes it a different story. This scope, red dot hybrid comes with a laundry list of features; everything from scope caps, a choice between red or green illumination, generous eye relief, long battery life and sensible controls that are easy to use but don’t stick out.
Among its best features is the simplicity of the BDC reticle. It offers holdover marks out to a whopping 500 yards. It makes sense to have range with its 3x power magnification and with this scope it’s really easy to reach out. The market is littered with hard to understand and even harder to use reticle designs and it’s nice to see a product that is simple and adjustable.
The final product is weird at first look, an odd ball daydream of armchair commandoes, but the designers and shooters at Vortex put out this awesome product and it performs extremely well. The only hit is the critical eye relief and the parallax of the sight. This cannot be avoided due to the magnification but the parallax is set at 100 yards which makes sense as they intend this sight to be used to reach out.
Vortex is an interesting company with great products and a self-proclaimed “legendary warranty.” They make quality products and if you ever manage to break something they’re known for doing the right thing and helping you get it fixed or getting a new one.
- Arguably the best magnified electronic sight available
- Easy to use and hard to break
- A little heavy for an optic of its size
- The battery life suffers compared to others in its price range
- The critical eye relief can be costly if the rifle needs to be used quickly
Red Dot Vs. Scope for AR-15’s
This debate can be heated on all sides and there is a clear winner for AR-15’s. Red dot and low magnification sight are superior for the AR-15 because they complement the light and fast attributes of the rifle while not trying to make it into something it’s not.
Red dots have the upper hand when it comes to fast and accurate shooting at close to medium ranges but fall short when at longer distances where magnified optics can be a huge advantage. Magnified optics, even on true 1x power, are harder to shoot at close ranges because they have to account for parallax and for eye relief.
Parallax is the apparent shift of the sight picture as you view through the scope off center. The reticle will appear to shift and throw your aim off. Red dot sights don’t, for the most, have this problem because they aren’t magnified optics with curved lenses.
If you have to shoot while moving, or from an awkward angle a magnified optic is inferior.
The only time a magnified optics justifies is while hunting and target shooting. For a general use gun, they’re just too hard to shoot through while moving or at an awkward angle but while target shooting or hunting you’re anticipating shot and have time to set up.
Usually if you’ve selected an AR 15 carbine then you’ve made the decision that you’ll need a light and fast weapon. Having to line up a critical eye relief high magnification sight can be a cumbersome proposition with a carbine.
Hunting and shooting matches aside, almost all AR 15 shooters won’t need a variable magnified optic for their rifle. For example, take a 2 MOA red dot. The 2 MOA means that at 100 yards the dot will be covering up 2 inches, at 200 yards 4 inches, 300 yards 6 inches and at 400 yards 8 inches. The majority of shooters don’t have access to ranges past 200 yards and AR-15’s aren’t designed for use past 300 yards.
This means at 400 yards if you put the dot on a target the size of a basketball; not only will you hit it you’re now fighting the accuracy of the AR 15 design. Semi-automatic guns have to built to loose tolerances that let the gun operate but that means they aren’t as accurate as their single shot or manual repeater cousins.
Most AR-15 rifles will reliably shoot 2 MOA, some even 3 MOA, and putting a scope on the gun won’t change the fact you’re shooting within an 8-inch circle at 400 yards with a cartridge that really wasn’t designed for anything past 300 yards.
1 Inch vs. 30mm Tube
If you go by the gun shop lore all scopes need a 30mm scope body for every reason from they look cooler to the military uses them and so should we. The difference between a 30mm tube and a 1 inch is largely a tradeoff between cost and size.
Scopes made with wide bodies of any size are made that way because the bigger tube means they can gather and transmit more light and bigger lenses can be used for better magnification. Everything about the scope gets bigger starting with the tube; the price, the weight, and the lenses.
The wide body scopes cost so much more because there’s a lot more materials in the scope. Upgrading to a 30mm tube from a 1 inch means you’ll use 30% more of everything because the cross section of the scope increases exponentially.
The wider body also means the scopes will get mounted higher over the bore axis than other scopes and on some rifles with low stock combs this can be a problem. This isn’t always a bad thing though, on AR-15’s that are going to be wearing back up iron sights scopes will be mounted tall anyway to clear the rear sight so this may be an efficient use of space.
All things being equal, the wider scopes gather more light and perform better at longer ranges. The tradeoff is if it’s necessary for an AR-15. On 99% of cases a 1inch scope body is the better option. The reasons the 30mm and up scope tubes were invented isn’t what the AR 15 is good at.
Eye relief on a scope or sight is the distance from your pupil the scope must be for the sight picture to be in focus. This is a big deal, especially on rifles for defense or dangerous game hunting. We can separate eye relief into two groups; critical and non-critical:
Critical Eye Relief
Critical, or constant, eye relief scopes require a precise distance from your pupil to the scope. These scopes are favored by precision shooting and long range hunting crowds because it is commonly found on scopes with huge zoom adjustments. The constant eye relief means they don’t have to move their head while zooming in magnification on a target.
Critical eye relief becomes a problem on rifles that will get fired from offhand positions and awkward shooting angles because the exact placement of your head may be extremely variable. Especially while moving or shoulder transitions critical eye relief can be a nightmare to shoot through. Not many scopes have critical eye relief and almost none designed for hunting or for AR-15’s will have it, but be sure to check before you buy.
Scopes intended for strictly target shooting or hunting can have critical eye relief but look for scopes that have ample eye relief and mount on rifles that have little recoil to keep from getting scope bite. Keep in mind the terrain you’ll be using your scope in as well, if shooting steel courses with long competitions at medium or short ranges the benefits of having a rigid shooting setup might not be worth it. Like-wise outside of situations such as coyote hunting quick shots at passing game is needed and this type of shooting doesn’t lend itself well to critical eye relief scopes.
Non-Critical Eye Relief
Non critical eye relief is the preferred feature on a scope, especially a scope when mounted on a fighting rifle, because you avoid “scope shadow.” Scope shadow is the black ring that surrounds the crosshairs when you view a scope from the wrong angle or the incorrect distance from your eye. This apparent black ring can totally obstruct your view of the target and make your rifle useless. Here’s an example of scope shadow:
Non-critical eye relief scopes have liberal tolerances in the difference between your eye and the eye piece making quick and awkward shots a world easier. Non-critical eye relief scopes typically will have at least 2 or 3 inches of range where if viewed directly there will be no scope shadow. This also means that while dialling in and out magnification you won’t need to crane your head and neck to see your target.
The only drawback to non-critical eye relief is in high end scopes made for tactical or precision shooting; they can be less clear and less defined than scopes made with critical eye relief. Non-critical eye relief is still a necessity for anyone who needs a fast gun and most, if not all, AR-15 shooters need exactly that.
Parallax for AR-15 Scopes
Parallax is the apparent shift of a target based on the perspective you view through a lens. In lay-man’s terms; if you look through a scope any way except at a 90 degree angle the lens will bend the light and distort the target image. This is extremely important to hammer out before you buy a sight for your gun.
All magnified sights will have some degree of parallax. The parallax is usually set at a distance suitable for what the sight was designed for. Scopes such as 1.5x normally have a parallax setting of 50 yards meaning the parallax is properly adjusted for at 50yards.
Some high powered or high end scopes that have magnification of 6-20x or 12-30x have adjustable parallax settings that you can dial up and down to compensate for the parallax of long range shooting. These scopes while available are hardly needed for an AR-15 optic. Parallax starts to become a problem when shooting at extended ranges where intermediate cartridges cannot be used anyway.
The final consideration for an AR-15 is that most, the vast majority, offered dot style zero magnification optics are parallax free. One of the reasons red dot and holographic sights are so popular is the simplicity of not needing to worry about parallax adjustment or looking through a scope directly. Just paint the target with the red dot and the bullet will go there, provided you do your part.
Scope Height Mounts & Bases
Looking at how a shooter mounts their scope can tell you a lot about how well they knows their weapon, especially AR-15’s. Bolt action rifles are easy to set up, just mount the scope according to the eye relief and your preference and you’re good to go.
On an AR-15 it can get a bit hairy because of the literally thousands of options available to mount optics and sights. As a rule of thumb it’s best to mount your optics on an AR-15 as far away from your face as you can get away with while not moving the mount off the upper receiver.
The reason for this is twofold; moving the sight far away from your face means the housing of the sight takes up less room meaning you have more situational awareness, and moving scopes away from your face keeps you from getting scope bite if you crane your neck too far forward when you get excited. Another happy by-product of moving the sights forward is making room for a full sized set of back up iron sights if your rifle needs them.
The reason behind keeping the optic mounted to the upper receiver is making sure the handguard won’t rotate or vibrate and ruin the point of aim for your rifle. It has happened more than once that people mounted dot sights ”scout style” way far forward and the handguard moves slightly throwing off their aim at the range or during a match.
To really get your scope away from your face take advantage of cantilever style mounts as it can save several inches of space in some cases. Regardless of the style of mount you choose be sure to buy a quality mount from a well-known brand. Cheap mounts lose their zero because under vibration and torque they come loose and make your gun inoperable. To be double sure this won’t happen always torque screws to manufacturers specs, only use rings and bases designed for your optic and Loctite every screw.
Loctite can be a dirty word in many circles but it is vital to make sure your $700 scope doesn’t bite the dust at the range. It doesn’t have to be the super permanent adhesive but the semi-permanent thread locker should be used on all accessory screws for optics and mounts.
Having the correct magnification for a scope is critical. If you purchase a scope with more magnification than you need then this makes the scope overly large and heavy. Even if it’s only a few ounces, small differences in weight distribution can throw off the rifle.
Especially scopes with large objective bells that have to mounted far above the bore axis for clearance, the odd balance can make off hand and moving shots extremely difficult. This off balance rifle won’t shoulder well and will point awkwardly. The awkwardness of the rifle will make fast shooting and off-hand shots somewhat impossible.
Having more magnification than you need means more than having an odd rifle, it can mean a totally unusable rifle. First, when done using any rifle with a magnifying optic it’s good form to dial back the magnification to the least amount of power available. This keeps you from needing to shoulder the rifle quickly and not being able to see the target because the magnification is too high.
The other problems associated with having too much scope come from parallax, over size and weight and just downright cost. Like most things in life, and especially firearms, less is more. Define exactly what you need and buy exactly that. With the wide array of magnification and options available there’s no reason to compromise.
Ballistic Compensated Reticles
Spider web looking super reticles are all the rage these days with the “tacti-cool” crowd. They promise to be able to predict where a bullet is going to impact based on the terminal ballistic calculations of the bullet and cartridge combination.
These specialized reticles usually have somewhat complex designs used to shoot at a known distance without having to use a holdover, instead there’s a crosshair for every range the reticle is designed for. Some designs have graduations for every 100 yards, others every 200 yards with a smaller mark for each 100 yard increments.
It is very important to get a BDC you instantly understand and practice, practice, practice. Big game is missed and wounded every year because hunters go into the woods with rifle and scope combinations they aren’t familiar with and miss when it really counts. These reticles aren’t for everyone but can be a very useful tool in a pinch for shooters who learn to use them.
These calculations are meticulous and very specific. So specific that if you don’t have the exact cartridge, bullet, rifle, and weather as the scientists who made the reticle you’ll be off. How off your combination is, is what makes these reticles worth a shot. (Pun intended)
Some companies such as Leupold make custom turrets and BDC combinations to your specifications to be as close as possible to your set up. If this isn’t an option or your set up changes slightly the best BDC scopes have finer windage and elevation adjustments than most scopes. Normally most scopes adjust at 1 click per 1 MOA but BDC scopes will normally adjust at 1/2click per MOA making it easier to dial in the scope to your rifle.
Once you find a load combination that works well with your scope stockpile that round. Even year to year ammo companies change the components, powders and methods they use to produce the same box of ammo. These brands may be the same on the box but inside it may be very different. If you can stockpile a case of ammo that works well with your BDC, rifle, and game that you’re using it to hunt you have a huge advantage in the woods or on the range. Be sure to try and snag the same lot number for all the boxes; it may sound extreme but in the end it’s well worth it.
Back Up Iron Sights
This is a dogmatic subject. should I put backup iron sights on my gun? Most AR-15 owners will reply a resounding YES! But are they really needed? Like most things guns, it depends. Virtually every gun could have them and there’s certainly no reason why they shouldn’t be on a rifle.
So what are back up iron sights? Back up iron sights are metal (usually) sights that are normally aperture sights like those traditionally found on the original M16, and M14 rifles. These sights normally are spring loaded and flip up when needed. Other styles are built into the carry handles of old school rifles or the gas block of some carbines.
While there’s many styles of backup iron sights they are all there for one reason. Back up iron sights are needed because optics fail more often than irons do. While true that iron sights also fail, they’re a worth-while investment for rifles used for defense or for dangerous game.
When lives depend on firearms there needs to be 100% reliability, or at least as close as possible. But for rifles that only get used at the range for plinking or for coyote hunting there’s little need for back up iron sights.
Back up iron sights need some forethought as well. You need to sight in, and preferably co-witness, your iron sights and have a way to use them in a pinch. This means that quick detach bases need to be on your optic because tools might as be a world away if you need them quickly.
The other kind of back up sights are normally competition oriented but are gaining popularity quickly. They’re 45 degree or sometimes called offset sights. They’re a mount, or set of irons sights, that are mounted on the upper receiver of a rifle that allows you to have a mini red dot or iron sight off to the side of your main optic.
This can be a godsend for shooters running a high magnified optic as their primary and a red dot as a secondary for closer ranges. This has been around in the most common form of mounting a mini red dot to the top of a scope, like an RMR on top of an ACOG.
The jury is still out on how effective these sights truly are. They seem like a good idea, but many people are missing the point. They don’t make sense if your primary optic is useful within 150 yards or so because tilting your rifle to the side makes for awfully awkward shooting position. Some of the funniest pictures on the internet are of the guys who run an Eotech as their primary optic and a mini red dot as they’re backup.
In Scope Conclusion
A lot of factors go into choosing the correct optic for your rifle. The best coyote hunting scope will have a rugged high powered magnification and large objective bell for gathering shooting light. A tactical or fighting scope will be parallax free with non-critical eye relief and ready for duty at any moment.
With the wide array of scopes available on the market there’s a ton of options available to the shooters of today. The best AR 15 scope mount with a good AR 15 can do wonders even if it’s not the tactical scope on the cover of the magazines that everyone lusts for. While there’s a lot of junk available, if you stick to well-known brands, buy from a reputable source, and read AR-15 scope reviews it’s hard to go wrong.