More specifically we are looking at low magnification scopes, red dot optics, and any option that has a magnification around the 1x – 5x range. These provide the best mix of quick target acquisition and accuracy over distance. When we look at the AR15, these are the optics that work best.
Some special attention should be given to mounting hardware considering the variety setups a person may have on their rifle. This will also cover some of the accessories available including backup iron sights. The idea is to present the entire spectrum of optics selection for your AR15.
If we have done our job well, by the end of this you will have chosen the perfect optic for your needs. Or, at a minimum, you will have a good idea of what to look for. The few we have selected have been chosen for their value based on budget and quality to serve a variety of uses.
- What Makes the Best Scope for an AR15
- How to Choose Between a Scope and Red Dot
- What to Consider when Buying a Scope for an AR15
- Top 5 scope for AR15 Comparison Table
- Best AR15 Red Dot Sights Compared
- Top 3 Backup Sights
- Top 3 Backup Sights
What Makes the Best Scope for an AR15
Red dots are fairly easy. Scopes can be a little more complicated so what does it take for a scope to be a good match for an AR15? You could go with just about any power and do ok but what lends itself best is a scope with a more moderate magnification.
While the round is considered effective to around 500 yards, bullet drop at that range is nearly 10 feet. This is not the type of weapon that does well over long distance. Having magnification that can get you to 300 yards with accuracy is all you need.
At the same time, you really don’t want to compromise your short range shooting. This is what the AR15 excels at. With more magnification, shooting ranges under 50 yards can be very challenging. Even finding your target at those ranges can be tough.
Therefore, the best magnification is probably around 3x – 5x. This is used in general, you could have a need for your rifle that would benefit from higher. However, if you use your AR15 in a tactical capacity or for home defense, these more modest magnifications are the best choice.
How to Choose Between a Scope and Red Dot
Since we are talking about low powered AR15 Tactical Optics, why not choose a red dot sight instead? This is a valid consideration. Many times, a red dot will be a better choice but there are some specific circumstances where a scope does have the advantage.
Red dots excel at fast target acquisition. There are no sights faster but this comes with a downside. Red dots have a center dot that is usually at least 3 MOA. This means the size of the dot is actually 3” in size at 100 yards.
If you take this out farther, that size will grow in proportion to range. If you add in the fact that the illuminated dot can have a halo effect around it that obscures the target, you can have issues. At 200 yards the 6” dot combined with its halo can obscure a 10-inch plate target.
If you plan on shooting much past 100 yards, a scope may be your best bet. It will slow you down but the crosshair or other reticle pattern will likely improve your distance accuracy. It will take you longer to get on target if speed is your concern.
A 3x scope is still fast but will be marginally slower than iron sights and will never compare to the speed you can get out of a red dot. This is not an opinion but a theory that has been proven time and again in combat and on the range. This is the sole reason that most military and police units have adopted red dots as a standard on their rifles.
What to Consider when Buying a Scope for an AR15
Scopes are a complicated piece of equipment. Luckily selection is not nearly as complicated as their instruction. There are a few points you should consider when choosing a scope. This is to ensure you get an appropriate optic for your rifle.
For ease, we will incorporate Red Dots into the selection process to allow a one on one comparison of some of the specifics.
When choosing the level of magnification, the more you have the slower you shoot at close range but the more accurate you CAN BE at range. There is no wrong answer as to how much power you need. If we break this down into categories:
Unpowered – these scopes have no magnification. This is the exclusive real of red dot sights. They could be called a 1x scope as they have only a 1x magnification. These are fast but only assist in accuracy at closer ranges.
Fixed Powered – Though it has become rarer, some scopes have a fixed level of magnification, say 3x. There is no adjustment, you are stuck at 3x. These tend to be more durable in their construction but are less versatile. This can be a scope or even one of the rare red dot optics that have slight magnification.
Variable 1x-3x – The most common range of magnification on older scope models used by the military as Designated Marksman Scopes. This has been slowly replaced as the most common choice but still exists. These are excellent scopes that do well up close and can still get shots out to 500 yards with ease.
Variable 1x-4x – This is one of the options that the 1x-3x scope has been mostly replaced with. It is an easy benefit to justify. You maintain close range speed but get a little more long-range accuracy. If you use a 1 4x scope for an AR15, you are probably right in the range of perfect magnification for speed.
Variable 1x-5x – This is also a common magnification that came from those early 3x scopes. At this magnification, you can have some issues at close range but you will have better accuracy at longer ranges. It is a good compromise if you plan more shots at long range than short.
Other Variable Magnifications – There are dozens of variable powered options. Some as high as 14x-40x. These are not a good option for an AR15 if they exceed more than about 10x max. The only time these are handy is for varmint hunting with an AR15.
Any good red dot or scope will be an investment and you need to make your investments last. Getting a scope that can handle the repeated recoil and conditions that you commonly shoot in should be important to you.
Even though the AR15 is low on recoil, the weapon is often fired in quick succession. Your scope can take a beating from all the jostling. Opt for an optic that is shock resistant. Most any optic will be but it is worth a double check.
At a minimum, your optic should be water resistant if not waterproof. If you use it for hunting or home defense, it may have to endure a variety of weather conditions. Plan your purchase based on its use but waterproof is always a good idea.
Depending on the range you shoot, you may want a reticle that lends itself well to distance. Something with some drop compensation is a good idea with an AR15 out past 200 yards or so. At 500 it is necessary.
Somewhere in the middle of the standard crosshair and a full BDC reticle is the Duplex. This has a change in line thickness that can be used as a form of BDC but mostly makes the crosshairs easier to see in lower light. The thicker lines help you find the crosshair while the thinner lines at the crosshair help with staying on small targets.
Even a red dot can have some verity in its reticle or dot patterns. This is usually reserved for hollow sights but many of these will have a selection of reticles. The dot is the most common but many people prefer a chevron or even the donut. This is a personal choice but one to be aware of.
With red dots, you should also consider the size of the reticle. This will be measured in MOA. 3 MOA seems to be common and is a good compromise. Anything smaller can be hard to see while those much larger can obscure targets. A good range is between 3 and 5 MOA.
Battery Type & Life
Though you may associate this with red dots, it can be a concern with scopes that have illuminated reticles. This can be an important consideration. No one wants their scope to become inoperable when they need it.
Battery type is often coin cell batteries but can be modern lithium batteries or even standard AA or AAA batteries. These vary in battery life themselves but more importantly, some of these batteries are more expensive or hard to find. The only thing worse than a dead battery is not being able to find a battery to replace it.
Battery life can vary greatly with red dots and scopes. Even the worst tend to have battery life in the hundreds of hours. Many will stretch into the thousands with the best being in the 10s of thousands. There is no simple answer as to what a good minimum is. Instead, gauge your use and decide if a particular optic has enough life to make it a reasonable choice.
Top 5 scope for AR15 Comparison Table
Water, fog, shockproof
Water, fog, shockproof
Water, fog, shockproof
Water, fog, shockproof
Water, fog, shockproof
Our Top 5 scope for ar15 recommendations:
1 Leupold VX-R
If you are looking for the best of the best, Leupold is going to be a hard one to beat. They have been in the optics game for generations and know what they are about. Their reputation is near perfect, their quality unmatched, and their durability some of the best in the world.
Made of aircraft aluminum, this scope does just about everything well. With its 1.25-4x magnification, you get great closeup speed combined with the perfect amount of magnification to get your shots out to 400+ yards with relative ease. At its lowest, it is hard to even tell there is magnification.
With quality glass that is second to none and fully multicoated for added vibrancy and contrast, this is all around an amazing optic. The lenses are some of the best on the market and work very well with the illuminated reticle. The FireDot reticle is Leupold’s own duplex reticle that works very well when you aren’t shooting distances were you need full BDC.
The 30mm main tube is sealed and purged to keep the internals free from fog. Combined with water and shock proofing, there is nothing about this scope that is second rate. It is made for the tactical shooter and hunter and will perform anywhere you take it.
Leupold is synonymous with amazing scopes. This is among the best made anywhere at any price making it a great hunting scope for AR15 enthusiasts. Of course, it will work for most any need you have in the tactical realm too.
Vortex has taken the scope market by absolute storm over the last few years. You could probably populate a list of the best scopes and cover only Vortex Optics. If you haven’t had a chance to see one of these in person, you really need to. They are top notch.
If you want an amazing budget scope for AR15s or any other rifle, Vortex is the answer. This is easily the best AR15 scope under 300 bucks. While you are at it, this is also the best AR15 scope under 200 bucks. It can’t get much better than that.
The optical quality of the Diamondback if phenomenal with low dispersion glass that has a full multicoat treatment. Even in lower light levels, you get a bright and crisp image that makes target identification easy. This actually makes it about the best scope for coyote hunting expeditions.
On top of that, the Diamondback is tough as hell. It is fully water, fog, and shockproof for rough use in any environment you can imagine. Even full submersion won’t cause an issue. It is completely sealed and purged for an inert atmosphere inside the 1” tube.
With its Dead-Hold BDC reticle which is a modified duplex reticle, you can get some ranging out of this scope. It maxes at 5x so that could come in handy. When it comes to AR25 scopes Vortex has nailed it. This is easily one of the top contenders on the market.
The ACSS stands for Advanced Combined Sighting System and does exactly what it says. The reticle of this scope is tuned to work with the 5.56 round of the AR15 but can also perform on 5.45x39 and .308 Winchester. Combine this with a cantilever mount and you have an optic that can serve multiple roles.
If you are looking for a scope for AR 15 deer hunting, whether you use the AR or step it up to a .308, this is an all around good option. The glass is quite good and the full multicoating makes it even better. Combined with a max 6x magnification, you can get plenty of range for any hunting or shooting needs.
This is about the perfect scope for those who want a decent short range rifle but with the occasional long range shot. Gauging bullet drop is simple and quite accurate. The illuminated makes this easier with multiple settings for low light to the brightest noonday sun.
Made of rock solid 6063 aluminum for maximum toughness, you would have to try to break this scope. It is fully water and fog proof with a sealed and nitrogen purged 30mm tube, it is made for harsh environments. It is also shockproof for those days you just want to unload a bunch of ammo, it will hold its zero.
It even comes with a lifetime warranty that covers almost anything that could happen to this scope short of intentional breakage. If you mess it up or they messed it up, you will get a free scope on them. What more could you ask for than a company that stands by its products like that?
Weaver is one of those companies that have been overshadowed by the newer technology. They have made scopes for years and been used by both military and police forces in the past. This is really a shame as Weaver is a high-quality scope and preserves its reputation even though it is now owned by Bushnell.
The V-3 is one of those classic patrol optics in a 1-3x magnification that works out perfectly for most uses. The low profile makes this a good scope for an AR15 with carry handle mounts. The more than generous eye relief keeps your head in perfect position for this type of forward mounting.
The glass is super clear from edge to edge and uses one of the oldest and most trusted multicoat technologies in the world. They have even coated the glass exteriors to prevent scratches and damage. This combines well with the ruggedness of this scope.
Other features that make this hard-coat aluminum scope a true rugged option are its full water and fog proofing treatment. It is purged and sealed with bedded lenses that make it fully shockproof. This is true gem of a scope that performs any task you need.
From long range to short range, the transition is easy. You may not be able to make the farthest shots with the more reasonable power but within reason, you can hit targets out to 300 yards or more with little issue. The Dual-X duplex reticle works for these ranges well and makes this a great go-to tactical scope.
Of course, we can’t leave out Bushnell. They are one of the most recognized brands on the market and with good reason. They have been producing excellent scopes on a budget for decades. This is one in a long line of good scopes for prices that are very easy on the wallet.
If you need an AR 15 scope under 100 bucks, this is the go-to. With a reasonable 1.5-4x magnification and good quality glass, you will have no complaints. It also benefits from a multicoat specifically formulated to give better visibility in low light conditions.
These scopes are really purpose made for the hunter to take prey at dawn and dusk when they are most active. It will also function perfectly well in the rain or any other condition with its water and fog proof design. Any abuse you want to dish out it should shrug off.
The Multi-X reticle is a modified duplex that works well at reasonable ranges but has no BDC if you are looking at maxing out the 5.56 round. It was never designed to do that. What it was designed for was putting you right on target out to 300-400 yards. It does this without sacrificing short range shots.
With a fast focus eyepiece and easy adjustment knobs, the end user was definitely considered with this scopes design. Everything about it caters to the hunter and shooter. If money is tight, this is among the best scopes you can get!
Best AR15 Red Dot Sights Compared
CR2032 / 5000 Hours
Dot - Red
Water, fog, shockproof
CR2032 / 1000 Hours
Dot - Red
Water, fog, shockproof
CR2032 / 3000 Hours
Dot - Red
Water, fog, shockproof
1 Vortex Optics Sparc 2
If you want the best red dot scope for an AR15, you need look no further than Vortex. One of two models they offer, the Spark is the most advanced and lightweight of the two. It is built to the exacting specifications of any Vortex optic and is of the highest quality.
The Sparc is one of the most popular red dots on the market right now and with excellent reason. The optic itself uses multicoat technology usually used on the highest powered scopes to prevent glare and reflectivity. This ensures a quality image every time.
With ten brightness settings, this optic is simple to use and easily visible no matter the conditions. With battery life at 300 hours for the highest setting to over 5000 on the lowest, you can rest assured that your rifle is ready when you are.
This sight will cowitness if you are after a scope for an AR15 with fixed front sights. It is even night vision compatible if you are getting high-tech. With a full lifetime warranty to boot, this is the best deal on a red dot anywhere. Guaranteed.
2 Primary Arms Micro Red Dot
What was the predecessor in popularity to the Vortex, the PA Micro is still an outstanding optic. The battery life is the only thing that separates the two. Rather than the upwards of 5000 hours with Vortex, you will cap around 1000 with the PA.
Still, this 11 level illumination scope still has more battery life than is really reasonable. It can easily be seen from low-light to noonday without any issue. With the angled front lens, the dot is easy to see and will float perfectly visible any time you need to use it.
All of the toughness features of the Vortex red dot are still here. It is just as rugged and waterproof as any red dot out there. It will stay fog free in all but the roughest weather. This is a great budget red dot for those who still want all of the quality of a more expensive model.
It may only have a 1-year warranty but it is fully covered for that year and will generally be covered longer unless you abuse it. It does cowitness well and has three levels that are night vision compatible. Any way you cut it, this is still a great product even if it falls a little behind the Vortex.
3 Bushnell Trophy TRS-25
If you were to look for the best selling red dot on the market today, it may surprise you to know that it is made by Bushnell. When most standard scope makers were still spinning their wheels over red dots, Bushnell jumped right in. This experience combined with their company mission has produced an amazing red dot for a surprisingly low cost.
This optic is built like some of the most expensive out there with multi-coated amber lenses for the best contrast and view when hunting. It has amazing battery life and infinite brightness between its highest and lowest settings. The dot is crisp with proper settings and easy to see no matter the conditions.
With full waterproofing including a dry-nitrogen purged interior, nothing gets inside this optic. Fog, dust, everything that could damage it is locked out. With enough shock resistance for a 12 gauge, your AR15 can do nothing to harm it.
If you need a red dot under 50 bucks, this is the red dot for you. It has all of the quality you could want combined with some features you only see on the highest end models. Bushnell has done this right and that is why it’s the bestselling, and maybe best value, red-dot on the planet.
Top 3 Backup Sights
It does you little good to have a quality scope if you don’t mount it with the proper hardware. All of the red dots above are ready to go out of the box but your scope is going to need rings or a one-piece mount. Don’t skimp here, you will regret it.
The most surefire method of mounting a low-powered optic to your AR15 is with a one piece mount. When it comes to that, nothing beats the cantilever mount. It gives you the ability to adjust your mounting position behind the receiver for better eye relief.
Not all mounts of this type are created equal. The lever design can put a lot of strain on the mounts, if you don’t get one of good quality, it could cause a wobbly scope and throw your aim off. In addition to this, the rings may not be properly aligned which will make your scope impossible to zero.
This hard-anodized aluminum mount is precisely the quality you need. It is lightweight, durable, and fits all 30mm scopes. If you need a 1” mount, Vortex makes those as well but only in their PRO line. You will pay a little more but it is a quality mount.
If they are made incorrectly, they can cause issues with accuracy over time or even prevent you from being able to zero. These rings are premium quality with a great hold on the scope that won’t damage it. A little lapping job will make them even better.
With a total of 4 screws per ring, this is the most solid mount possible for your AR15 scope. It will never move and never come off. These are available in either a 30mm or 1” variety. Make sure you get the correct ones for your scope.
The last thing you may need to mount your scope is a carry handle mount. If you prefer the classic AR15 design but still want a scope, this is just something you have to do. Luckily you can get a good quality rail for cheap. A decade ago, these cost over a hundred bucks.
There are a lot of options, most of which are adequate quality. This happens to be a good quality carry handle rail that is about as cheap as they come. Good quality for cheap means excellent value.
Made of solid machined aluminum and not pressed makes this a very strong option. It accepts all Weaver style bases or even STANAG rings if you went that route. All in all, this is a good setup for your carry handle AR. It's even see-thru so you can still use your iron sights.
Top 3 Backup Sights
We are nearing the end. There is only one more piece you need for the perfect AR15 setup. Sometimes things go wrong with optics and you need your sights. When this happens, you better have some backup sights ready to go.
These are the standard for what a backup iron sight needs to be. These are the most popular by far and are standard on a lot of rifles from most major companies. For most people, these will do everything they will ever need.
Made of a high-impact polymer, these are as tough as they get while being nearly weightless. They are easily adjusted to get your rifle hitting correctly. They mount to the standard rail.
All it takes is the time to clamp them down and get them zeroed. They are spring loaded so they are out of the way when you don’t need them but flip up with the push of a button. No one does it better.
If you did want to go a little above the Magpul sights, there is the Diamondhead. These have a more unique look that suits many rifles well. They give it that little something different.
But looks are not the only difference. These also have a NiteBrite glowing front post for low light use. This can be a good thing to have but not often necessary. If this is important to you, these are one of the few brands to offer them.
Otherwise, they are the same composite poly that is durable and lightweight. They flip up on a button press just like the Magpul. They even have a lifetime warranty.
If you are on a tighter budget, you can always go with a milled aluminum sight. They are actually a little less durable than poly but not enough that most people will notice. The ones offered by Ozark Armament are very good quality and very affordable.
These are made to be low profile and flip up when needed. They are spring loaded so deployment is fast. The milling is quite good though not perfect. This only affects the appearance and not the function.
Ozark has made flip up sights for years. They are a popular, no-nonsense sight that is quite a good value. They may not be my first choice but they are a good choice.
And that is the full setup. No matter your budget, you can get a good optic setup for less than most people think. Even if you were to go with the most expensive options on this page, it would be a good value and wouldn’t break the bank.
Of course, there are plenty of optics companies that produce products that are better in some way or another. But when you combine all of the features and factor by cost, I would bet my money on any of these optic choices any day.