The Best AR-15 Scopes & Optics for 2021 [Red Dots Included]

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If you want to find the best AR-15 scope, then answer this question:

What’s your intended use? Here are the top 3: 

  1. Close Range (0-100 yards): For home defense, CQB or SHTF, get a red dot.
  2. Medium Range (0-500 yards): This is the most common use. If you hunt, plink, 3-gun or do some general field work, go for a low powered variable optic (LPVO)
  3. Long Range (500+ yards): For bench shooting, get a long range scope

I’ve covered the ideal scope for each use down below.

After more than 100 total hours of research and hand-testing dozens of AR-15 optics, I’ve found the Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6×24 (LPVO) to be the best ‘all around’ scope for most people. It can be used for close and medium range uses, and it’s the optic I personally use on my AR-15.


Best Overall
Vortex Optics Strike Eagle Second Focal Plane Riflescopes
1,925 Reviews
Vortex Optics Strike Eagle Second Focal Plane Riflescopes

• A true 1x on the low end adapts to a wide range of scenarios, letting shooters rapidly engage targets from point-blank to extended ranges.

• The magnification ring now includes a thread-in throw lever, and the magnification indicators can now be seen without coming off the scope.

• The new illuminated BDC3 reticle focuses the shooter's eye to the target faster and holdovers allow for immediate use out to 650 yards for targets of known distance.

The Strike Eagle 1-6×24 is super versatile.

I’ve used this optic for 3-gunning, target shooting and even hunting — and it has never let me down.

The scope’s glass is great, the reticle’s fast target acquisition is insane, the magnification is balanced, and it’s super durable. It even comes with lifetime warranty.


If the Strike Eagle is unavailable or if you’re looking for better glass and a daylight bright reticle, then go for the Viper PST 1-6×24.

The glass is really good (barely any side distortion), the capped turrets are audible and true, and the 10-setting brightness allows me to shoot in almost any condition. In fact, I’m able to clearly see the reticle in Texas’ scorching sun. 

However, the magnification ring is a bit stiff. To solve that, I recommend running a Scope Throw Lever. Besides that, the PST Gen II is worth every penny.  


Compared to the Strike Eagle and Viper PST, the Razor HD blows them out of the water.

Primarily used for 3-gunning and rifle competitions, the Razor has exceptional glass, a much wider field of view, a massive eye box, and a daylight bright reticle that is super easy to use. 

If you want the absolute best 1-6x scope and have the money to afford it, I’d highly recommend the Razor HD Gen 2.


Best Red Dot
Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Reflex Sight with QRP2 Mount and Spacer - 2 MOA - 12841
1,018 Reviews
Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Reflex Sight with QRP2 Mount and Spacer - 2 MOA - 12841
  • Designed to deliver premium performance under harsh conditions
  • 2 MOA dot with 4 Night and 6 Daylight brightness settings
  • Up to 3 years of continuous operation using one DL1/3N battery (included)

If you’re building your AR-15 for home defense or patrol, then get the Aimpoint PRO.

It’s widely used by law enforcement and military personnel. And for a good reason: it’s nearly bomb-proof, has clear glass, wide field of view, long battery life, the reticle is always on, and comes with everything you need straight of the box.


Best for Hunting
Nikon P-Tactical .223 3-9x40 Matte BDC600
464 Reviews
Nikon P-Tactical .223 3-9x40 Matte BDC600
  • The BDC 600 reticle offers Shooters unique open circle aiming points and hash marks from 100 to 600 yards
  • One inch body tube
  • Spring loaded instant zero resets turrets

The Nikon P-223 is my go-to hunting scope. 

I’ve used it to take down deer, boars and even varmints. With 3-9x magnification and a 40mm objective lens, I had no problem shooting out to 300+ yards — even in low light conditions like dawn and dusk. The reticle is also simple to use and accurate, a must when you’re out in the field. 

However, if you’re shooting less than 150 yards or hunting dangerous game, then I recommend going for lower magnification, like the Strike Eagle 1-6×24.


Best Budget
UTG 3-12X44 30mm Compact Scope, AO, 36-color Mil-dot, Rings , Black
2,315 Reviews
UTG 3-12X44 30mm Compact Scope, AO, 36-color Mil-dot, Rings , Black
  • 30-millimeter SWAT 3-12X44 IE tactical range estimating scope with mil-dot, full 36-color EZ Tap reticle
  • 30-Millimeter tube built on True Strength Platform: sealed and nitrogen filled, shockproof, fog-proof, and rain-proof
  • Best in class multi emerald coated lenses; integrated angled front sunshade complete with flip-open lens caps

If you can’t spend more than $150 on an optic, then I’d recommend the UTG 3-12×44. 

The glass is decent, the turrets are audible, it’s super durable, and the reticle is illuminated. It also comes with medium rings and picatinny brackets. 

At the price point, I’d personally spend the extra dollars and get a proven optic like Vortex or Primary Arms. However, if your wife is giving you the side, then this scope will do just fine.


When I used to do long-range shooting competitions, I used the Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50.

The glass is truly amazing, the illuminated reticle is set in the first focal plane and most importantly, the SCR reticle is ready for long-range precision shooting. It’ll easily hit over 1,000 yards.


Best for short-to-medium range
Vortex Optics Spitfire 3x Prism Scope - EBR-556B Reticle (MOA)
1,021 Reviews
Vortex Optics Spitfire 3x Prism Scope - EBR-556B Reticle (MOA)
  • The Spitfire 3x Prism Scope excels in close to medium range shooting applications where fast target acquisition and speed is of the essence. The prism based design allows for a compact optical system...
  • Fully multi-coated lenses with anti-reflective coatings offer bright views even in low light conditions. A selectable red/green illuminated reticle features five intensity levels to match the...
  • The reticle is etched directly on the prism ensuring shooters have an effective point of aim at all times regardless of illumination. A fast focus eyepiece adjusts the reticle into sharp focus.

The Vortex Spitfire is a budget-friendly Trijicon ACOG alternative that combines the best of both worlds… a red dot and magnified optic.

With a fixed 3x magnification, it can be used for short range and longer range engagements (like target shooting and hunting). Plus, you can use this during the day and at night — lasting up to 3,000 hours. The EBR-556B reticle is also calibrated specifically for the AR’s 5.56×45 cartridge. 

So if you need a fixed prism scope for short-to-medium range shooting that is both affordable and basically bombproof, I’d recommend trying out the Spitfire 3x.

Why should you trust me? 

Don’t.

Don’t believe anyone that runs a reviewing blog. Consider everyone is being secretly sponsored by scope companies. Use forums you trust as you read my review. Confirm all my sources and check Amazon reviews.

But what I can tell you is this:

I talk from experience — I personally own an AR-15 rifle (BCM Recce-16) that I use daily for plinking and target shooting. I’ve also tested almost every AR-15 optic on the market: red dots, holographics, LPVOs and magnified scopes.

That’s why my work has been featured on the industry’s largest magazines like The National Interest, Daily Caller, The Havok Journal, and more. You’ll also see me cited by optic manufacturers like Burris Optics and Bushnell.

I’m not saying all this to brag. I just want you to know that I did my research.

Speaking of research, it’s your right to know any potential biases that may have affected this review.

First, no optic company sponsored this post, sent me free optics, nor gave me a special discount. In fact, I don’t accept any sort of advertising as this usually leads to biased reviews.

I bought these optics either from Amazon or OpticsPlanet, and paid the same amount as any of you would. But why do all this?

First, to make money. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that I do all of this out the kindness of my heart. When you make a purchase through my affiliate link, I receive a small commission (typically between 1-4%). I don’t see what you purchase, nor does it affect the price you pay. With the money I make, I buy more optics to test and put food on my table.

Second, I enjoy doing this. I’ve been shooting guns for my entire life, and to have the opportunity to do this full-time is a straight blessing. So thank you.

With all that said, I hope you find the AR 15 optic that’ll serve you for life down below.

Read this before you buy 

Want to save money? Read this section.

Most newbies end up buying the wrong kind of scope. Why? Because they didn’t know what to buy. 

So to help all buyers from future headaches, here’s exactly what you need to know about choosing the best AR 15 optic.

How To Choose An AR-15 Scope

Some quick backstory:

The AR 15 is pretty much a civilian M16.

Vietnam M16A1 vs Modern AR-15 garand thumb
M16A1 vs. AR-15 (Garand Thumb)

It’s lightweight, low in recoil, powerful, and very customizable. That’s why the U.S. Army originally adopted the M16 — it excelled in the close-quarter jungles of Vietnam. 

M16 used in Vietnam

In fact, the AR 15 can hit 150 yards without a sight. Pair that with the best scope for AR 15 and you can easily hit targets up to 600 yards and over. 

That’s awesome. But let’s be real: 

You probably won’t be shooting that far out. If you are, you’ll probably want to get the best AR-10 scope instead. 

Otherwise, here are the top 3…

AR-15 Shooting Distances

Note: These ranges are based on the .223 (or 5.56 NATO) ammo. 

  • Close Range: <150 yards
  • Medium Range: Between 150 – 400 yards
  • Long Range: 400+ yards. 

Simply choose a range and move on. But what if you use more than one range? Don’t worry — I’ll cover that in just a bit. 

For now, just choose the right AR 15 shooting range(s) for your rifle. Once you have, it’s time to decide…

What Magnification Is Needed For AR15?

This is where most amateurs screw up. 

They either buy too much or too little magnification. The reason? Most people just don’t understand what magnification they need for their uses.

The next section will tell you how much magnification you need based on common uses, starting with…

Close Range (<150 yards)

The AR 15 excels in close-range combat.

Most people use it for target shooting or hunting small game.

Target practice with AR-15

If that sounds like you, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Magnification: 1 – 4X power

Alternatively, you can use an AR-15 red dot (covered below) for fast target close-range acquisition. For added magnification, you might want to read my best holographic sights guide.

In several tests, holos paired with magnifiers outperformed 1-4X low powered variable optics in speed.

I also like to practice close range battle (CQB) using my everyday carry pistol. If you believe in a similar philosophy, read my best pistol red dot guide.

Medium Range (150 – 400 yards)

This is the hunting range. Most people use their AR 15 to ‘protect the homeland’ from coyotes, foxes, and other varmints. 

Mini 14 Varmint Hunting

If that’s so, here’s the magnification you’ll need:

  • Magnification: Between 5 – 9X power

This will make your varmint problem go away for good.

Long Range (400+ yards)

The AR 15 isn’t built for this range. I personally don’t recommend hunting at this range. 

But if you must (or you target shoot), here’s the recommended long-range magnification: 

  • Magnification: 9X and up

Or you can check out my best long range scopes guide. Either way, this magnification is crucial for choosing the right scope for your AR 15 rifle. 

With all that said, here’s…

The Bottom Line On AR 15 Magnification

Don’t make the #1 newbie mistake and ignore this section. It’ll make finding a good AR-15 optic impossible. 

As a result, you’ll end up wasting your money on either too much or too little magnifications. That’s wasted money. 

Instead, I highly recommend you use this guide to your disposal. With that said, if you combine magnification — like short and medium range — get a variable powered AR scope. 

These type of scopes allow you to shoot from a variety of distances. I’ll cover a few options down below.

But before I do, you’re probably wondering:

Should I get a red dot or magnified scope for my AR-15. If you know the answer, skip the next section. Otherwise, read on…

AR-15 Red Dot Sights vs Scopes

The biggest difference between a red dot and scope is…

Target Acquisition speed. 

It’s true that scopes can acquire short to long range targets (LPVOs) with no issues. However, it comes at a cost:

Slower target acquisition speeds. 

You can see this in a head-to-head target acquisition test between a Primary Arms 4-14×44 scope and a standard red dot: 

ACSS-reticle-vs-red-dot-sight

(Red Dot: 3.15 seconds VS Scope: 4.05 seconds)

That’s about a 28% difference in speed. On the field, that’s a pretty big difference that can spell the difference between life and death (or losing a competition).

That’s why I highly recommend getting a red dot for short-range (<100 yards) quick target acquisition. It’s faster, easier, has unlimited eye relief, and lighter (they average ¼ the weight of a scope). 

But if you shoot further than that (>100 yards), then I recommend a magnified scope for your AR-15.

With all that said, I believe you’re ready to see the best AR-15 scopes list below. Let’s dive right in!

The 8 Best AR-15 Scopes and Optics

  1. Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 1-6×24: Best Overall
  2. Nikon P-223 3-9×40: Best Scope For Hunting
  3. UTG 3-12×44: Best AR-15 Scope Under $200
  4. Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope: Best Short-to-Medium Range Scope
  5. Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50: Best AR-15 Long Range Scope
  6. Aimpoint Pro Reflex Sight: Best Red Dot for AR-15
  7. Vortex Sparc AR: Best Red Dot Sight Under $200
  8. Bushnell Trophy TRS-25: Best Budget Red Dot For AR-15

1. Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 1-6×24: Best Overall

The Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6×24 is the most well-rounded AR 15 scope.

In fact:

You can use this optic for 3-gunning, target shooting and even hunting. 

Interested? Read on…

Glass Clarity & Reticle

Vortex Strike Eagle Series glass is incredibly clear.

VORTEX OPTICS STRIKE EAGLE 1-8X24 lens

Here’s why:

They first started off with high-quality glass. Then, they multicoated the lens to maximize light transmission. 

The results? Incredibly clear glass with a wide field of view worth 2-4X the price of the scope. 

And that’s not all you’re getting.

Vortex knew that a good AR 15 reticle was key to an unstoppable scope. So, they made the most innovative second focal plane reticle to date:

The BDC3.

Here’s what’s special about it: 

The reticle functions as both a red dot and a bullet drop compensator (BDC) reticle at the SAME time.

Vortex Optics Strike Eagle BDC3

How did they do it? 

The secret lies within the red ring:

VORTEX OPTICS STRIKE EAGLE 1-8X24 lens

That ring is made for fast target acquisition (similar to a red dot) while the center dot is for longer-range shots. 

So together, you can use the scope for short and long-range uses! 

If you’d like to learn more on how the BDC3 reticle works, feel free to watch this video:

Speaking of the reticle, I’ve got good news: 

The reticle doesn’t need battery to operate. 

The reason? They etched the reticle right into the glass. Here’s how it looks without illumination:

VORTEX OPTICS STRIKE EAGLE 1-8X24 sight

And that’s not all. 

They even included 11-brightness settings illumination with the reticle, so you can see the reticle bright and clear in any lighting condition (including low light conditions).

Vortex Strike Eagle Brightness settings

Eye Relief & Eye Box

3.5”. 

That’s the amount of eye relief you get with this scope. When I first saw that, I was excited because that’s almost the perfect amount of relief for an AR 15.

VORTEX OPTICS STRIKE EAGLE 1-6×24 Overview

However, there’s a catch:

The eye box isn’t that forgiving (as other scopes I’ve tested). 

The solution? Proper cheek weld and practice. 

With that, I was able to get the hang of the limited eye box in very little time. 


Durability

This scope’s built like a ‘Fury’ tank. 

Fury Tank

It’s completely shock, water and fogproof, allowing you to use this scope in nearly ANY climate or terrain. 

Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 1-8×24 Waterproof

Elevation & Windage Knobs

More good news:

The turrets are incredibly reliable.

Whenever I adjusted the ½ MOA turrets, all I felt was a buttery smooth turn followed by a clear, tactile ‘click’ sound.

VORTEX OPTICS STRIKE EAGLE 1-6×24 Knobs

Better yet was the scope’s ability to zero and hold zero (out of the box). 

In fact: 

It took me around 6 rounds to zero in the bullseye and I didn’t even need to boresight the scope (although I recommend you do for almost all scopes). 

VORTEX OPTICS STRIKE EAGLE 1-6×24 Turret

That said, I did find one little preference missing on this scope:

Tactical turrets. 

Almost all the best rifle scopes (like the hunting scope below) include tactical turrets.

The reason? 

Tactical turrets help hunters make faster adjustments on the go. However, tactical turrets aren’t needed. They’re just a nice ‘bell’ to include with a scope. 

With turrets covered, let’s move onto…


Parallax & Magnification

This scope’s 1-6X magnification is nearly perfect.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is hands down one of the the best 1-6X scopes I’ve ever tested.

VORTEX OPTICS STRIKE EAGLE 1-6×24 Overview

As you already know, the AR-15 is a short-to-medium range rifle. Which means you shouldn’t get too much magnification.

The good news? 

That’s exactly what you’re getting with this scope. The 1X magnification allows you to nail short-range targets quickly with ease while the 6X helps you reach up to 550+ yard targets.

Here’s a video of HighJak shooting 300-600 yards with the PA 1-6x scope: 

The best part of it all? The scope remains clear and parallax-free REGARDLESS of the magnification (even at maximum).

VORTEX OPTICS STRIKE EAGLE 1-6×24 Reticle

So you can see why Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6X scope is such a great scope — it’s literally built for the AR 15 from the bottom up.

And that’s exactly why you need to get some proper…


Mounting & Rings

I went with an American Defense AD-RECON STD Mount. It was super easy to install and held zero perfectly fine. 

American Defense AD-RECON 30 STD Riflescope Optic Mount, Black
540 Reviews
American Defense AD-RECON 30 STD Riflescope Optic Mount, Black
  • Does not require proprietary tools for adjustment
  • Can be adjusted with your finger or a flat blade screwdriver
  • Lever can be configured to lock to the front or the rear

However, if you can’t afford it, then I’d recommend going with an Aero Precision Single Piece Mount. It’s lightweight, sturdy and affordable. 

Aero Precision Ultralight 30mm Scope Mount, Standard, Anodized Black
433 Reviews
Aero Precision Ultralight 30mm Scope Mount, Standard, Anodized Black
  • 6061 T6 extruded aluminum construction
  • MIL-A-Type 3 black hard-coat anodize
  • Ridged and lightweight

Summary

I can’t recommend the Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6×24 enough.

It’s got everything you need for your AR-15 rifle: clear glass, affordable, durable and accurate. For the price, I wouldn’t recommend any other scope.


2. Nikon P-223 3-9×40 BDC 600: Best Hunting Scope

The Nikon P-223 is the best hunting scope for the AR 15.

Best for Hunting
Nikon P-Tactical .223 3-9x40 Matte BDC600
464 Reviews
Nikon P-Tactical .223 3-9x40 Matte BDC600
  • The BDC 600 reticle offers Shooters unique open circle aiming points and hash marks from 100 to 600 yards
  • One inch body tube
  • Spring loaded instant zero resets turrets

It’s literally a deer hunting, hog killing, and varmint killing BEAST. 

You know why? Read on to find out, starting with…

Glass Clarity & Reticle

Crisp and clear.

Nikon P-223 BDC Reticle

Those are the first 2 words I thought whenever I looked into a P-223 scope. The clarity was similar to higher-end $600+ scopes. 

Nikon’s secret?

They use high-quality Nikon glass alongside the MOST expensive lens coating — fully multi-coated — giving the scope an unprecedented 98% light transmission.

Nikon P-223 Ocular Lens

As a result, you’ll see EVERYTHING with this scope (even in low light conditions). But what do you see inside the scope when you look through?

The BDC 600 second focal plane reticle.

It’s specially engineered for the AR 15’s most popular ammo (the .223 Rem). 

Nikon P-223 BDC 600 Reticle

What that means is it specifically measures the .223 Rem’s trajectory, giving you completely accurate bullet drop estimates.

BDC 600 Reticle Ballistic Information

However, there’s one thing I’m not cool with:

The BDC’s reticle bubbles are a bit thin. Here’s a reticle comparison with the Buckmaster 4-12×40:

Buckmaster 4-12x40 Reticle vs Nikon P-223 3-9x40 Reticle
Image: Jim J.

If the bubbles were a bit thicker, it would be an all-star hunting BDC reticle for the books. 

But that’s just me nitpicking. A lot of folks have zero issues with the bubble size.

That said, let’s move onto…


Eye Relief & Eye Box

It’s got a thick 3.6” of eye relief distance. 

That’s the perfect amount for the AR 15. 

The best part? 

The relief stays constant REGARDLESS of the magnification you use. Very cool! 


Durability

The Nikon P-223 is INSANELY durable. 

In fact, the scope’s rugged, water, and fog proof.

Nikon P-223 Solid Build

Typically when you have that combination, you pay the price in the weight of the score. Not in this case. 

The scope actually weighs only a mere 1.1 lbs — allowing you to move freely on the hunting trail. 

With that, we’re onto the next scope feature…


Elevation & Windage Knobs

The turrets are A-grade in my book. 

Why? 

Because Nikon included my absolute favorite kind of turrets:

Tactical Turrets.

nikon p-223 3-9x40 Windage and Elevation Turrets

Here’s why they’re great:

Tactical turrets are DESIGNED for the hunting field. That’s because you no longer have to uncap your turrets every time you adjust, leaving me with headaches the size of Mordor. 

Mordor

Instead, simply adjust the turret and go. No allen wrench (or nickels) needed. A huge time-saver on the trail!

Also, the scope’s super easy to zero. 

nikon p-223 3-9x40 Turret

Matter of fact, I was able to reliably zero within a record 7 rounds…and it held zero. 

So far so good, but how about the scope’s turrets themselves? They’re super high quality, being both repeatable and produce clear, crisp ‘click’ sounds when you adjust. Nice!

With that, it’s now time to move onto…


Parallax & Magnification

The 3-9X magnification is LEGIT for hunting.

For closer ranges, I used the 3X magnification and was able to hit targets up to 100 yards away with ease. 

While for longer ranges, I cranked the magnification up to 9X and hit targets up to 600 yards away. 

And here’s what surprised me: 

Despite going to such a high magnification, the scope remained completely clear and parallax-free. 

And my favorite part of it all?

Nikon’s Spot On Ballistic Match Technology.

Nikon P-223 Spot ON App

The app literally removes ALL the guesswork out of shooting and leaves the fun part…bringing home the meat. 

Speaking of fun, let’s discuss the most fun part of scopes…


Mounting & Rings

This scope needs a 1” mount to work with an AR 15.

So I used a Nikon P-Series One-Piece Mount

Nikon P-223 P-series Mount

It’s sturdy, inexpensive and most importantly…it gets the job done!

Also, the included string covers doesn’t do anything. So you should probably invest in some Butler Creek flip up lens covers (Eyepiece size: 19, 43.9mm) (Objective size: 31) to protect your scope’s lens from damage. 

Sale
Butler Creek Flip-Open Eyepiece Scope Cover, Size 19 (1.73-Inch, 43.9mm) , Black
666 Reviews
Butler Creek Flip-Open Eyepiece Scope Cover, Size 19 (1.73-Inch, 43.9mm) , Black
  • Truly ambidextrous, silent spring hinges won't spook game
  • Instant action lids pop open at the touch of a thumb
  • Performs from 40 to 120 Degrees F, weighs less than an ounce

And if you shoot in sunny conditions, I recommend getting a Nikon 40mm Matte Sunshade.

Nikon Model Sunshade Spotting Scopes, 40mm, Black
160 Reviews
Nikon Model Sunshade Spotting Scopes, 40mm, Black
  • Increases optical performance by reducing glare on the objective lens
  • Shields objective lens glass from scratches and moisture
  • Made of durable high grade aluminum

Summary

If you’re going to hunt with your AR-15, then the Nikon P-223 is worth EVERY penny. 

In fact, I actually believe the Nikon P-223 is underpriced for the high-end scope features it has like…

  • Light weight
  • Crystal clear glass
  • Fully multicoated lens
  • Tactical, zero reset turrets
  • The ‘Perfect AR-15 BDC’ reticle

…making it a killer bargain AR 15 hunting scope. For reference, most long-range scopes cost 3-4X more on average (as you’ve probably seen in my best scope for 6.5 Creedmoor guide).

And in case anything goes wrong, you’re 100% backed by Nikon’s lifetime warranty.

Best for Hunting
Nikon P-Tactical .223 3-9x40 Matte BDC600
464 Reviews
Nikon P-Tactical .223 3-9x40 Matte BDC600
  • The BDC 600 reticle offers Shooters unique open circle aiming points and hash marks from 100 to 600 yards
  • One inch body tube
  • Spring loaded instant zero resets turrets

3. UTG 3-12×44 30mm Compact Scope: Best AR-15 Scope Under $200

The UTG 3-12×44 is hands down the best budget AR 15 scope I’ve ever used.

Best Budget
UTG 3-12X44 30mm Compact Scope, AO, 36-color Mil-dot, Rings , Black
2,315 Reviews
UTG 3-12X44 30mm Compact Scope, AO, 36-color Mil-dot, Rings , Black
  • 30-millimeter SWAT 3-12X44 IE tactical range estimating scope with mil-dot, full 36-color EZ Tap reticle
  • 30-Millimeter tube built on True Strength Platform: sealed and nitrogen filled, shockproof, fog-proof, and rain-proof
  • Best in class multi emerald coated lenses; integrated angled front sunshade complete with flip-open lens caps

The reason? Keep on reading starting with the…

Glass Clarity & Reticle

For a cheap AR-15 scope, I wasn’t expecting much in the glass department.

However, the UTG’s glass was actually not bad (considering the price). It turns out the scope’s glass is multicoated, allowing for increased light transmission.

UTG 3-12x44 Fast Focus Eyepiece

But…how about the reticle? 

It’s a second focal plane Mildot reticle. Here’s how it looks:

UTG 3-12x44 Etched Reticle

Mildots are great for beginners because they’re easy-to-use yet useful enough to help improve your accuracy. 

Why is that? Mildots estimate distance and holdover with their tiny dots like this:

Mil-Dot Reticle

So you can make accurate long-range shots. 

You know what else is cool? The reticle doesn’t need a battery to work. That’s because its etched into the glass. 

And if you need illumination, they’ve got one of the most overkill illumination coloring systems I’ve ever seen — allowing you to choose from over 36 different colors.

(A plus for low light conditions).

UTG 3-12x44 EZ Tab Knob

So if you’re into personalization, this is great for you. And what’s even better is the scope ‘remembers’ your previous illumination setting with a click of a button. This is great for fast target acquisition.

UTG 3-12x44 Red Reticle

Put another way: 

You get personalized reticle illumination at a click of a button. 

And with that, we’re onto our next feature…


Eye Relief & Eye Box

Most cheap scopes skimp on eye relief.

The result? 

You’ll end up looking like Mad Eye Moody within the first hunt:

Mad Eye Moody

However, that’s not the case with the UTG 3-12×44. It turns out they put on a solid 3.4” eye relief. 

Although that’s not perfect, it’s not bad either for using an AR 15 without being too uncomfortable. 

Enough said. Let’s move onto…


Durability

While I was testing the UTG 3-12×44, I accidentally dropped my gun (and scope). 

Despite the rough hits it endured, the scope still held up beautifully without sacrificing the zero. 

I thought it was a fluke until I read up about the scope’s completely shock, rain, and fog proof ‘True Strength Platform’ build. 

UTG 3-12x44 scope durability

This makes the scope insanely durable. 

But as a result of this hefty build, you do get some added weight — a hefty 24 ounces of weight.

Although that indicates a higher-quality build, the weight may be a problem for people that move their rifle a lot (like in hunting). 

If you do, I’d definitely recommend not going with this scope as it’s going to weigh you down on the trail…HARD. 

(Believe me, I would know)

Instead, go with either of the scopes from above. That said, it’s time to move onto…


Elevation & Windage Knobs

“Darn it!” you scream in anguish. “I missed my deer again!”

The reason? 

Because you probably had to manually uncap your turrets to adjust. 

What if there was a better way? 

Enter: Tactical turrets.

UTG 3-12x44 Turrets

These turrets remove the unnecessary uncapping your turrets step and get you straight to making the adjustment step. 

The result of this change? You bring home more meat. 

And if you want to bring even more meat home, look at a scope’s zeroing ability. For the UTG 3-12×44, the zeroing is LEGIT. 

UTG 3-12x44 Dials

Let me explain:

It took me quite a few rounds to zero in, but when I did…the scope locked it in. That’s mostly thanks to the lockable and resettable turrets — which are usually found in high-end scopes. 

It also produces loud ‘click’ sounds when you adjust.

It’s due to these turrents that I recommend the UTG in my Best Ruger 10/22 scope guide. So it passes the turrets test, but how will it fare on the…


Parallax & Magnification

“Will the magnification work?” I thought.

UTG 3-12x44 Magnification

That was the only burning question on my mind when I put the scope out for the stress test. 

To find out, I throttled the scope from the lowest magnification all the way to the max. 

And the results surprised me:

The magnification is fairly clear (and mostly parallax free) — even at the highest 12X magnification. However, there was a bit of fuzziness at the highest magnification. 


Mounting & Rings

This is a huge pocket reliever:

UTG has included medium profile rings with thumb-screw picatinny brackets…completely free!

UTG Rings

And get this:

These rings are REALLY well built. 

UTG 3-12x44 Rings

Matter of fact, you won’t need any other rings unless you have one of two things: 

A flip up back up iron sight (BUIS) or a DPMS AR-15. 

In either case, you’ll need to buy some higher rings like the UTG pro 1” high rings. These rings fix the incompatibility problem.

Sale
UTG 1'/2PCs High Pro LE Grade Picatinny QD Rings: 22mm Wide , Black
347 Reviews
UTG 1"/2PCs High Pro LE Grade Picatinny QD Rings: 22mm Wide , Black
  • 4-Screw High Profile "Tiger" Rings Precisely Machined From Aircraft-Grade Aluminum Alloy With Anodized Black Matte Finish
  • Robust And User-Friendly Quick Detachable Lever Lock Fully Adjustable To Fit On Any Pica Tinny Rail
  • High Quality Synthetic Protective Tape Applied On Rings Internal Surface For Maximum Protection Of Your Scope

With all that said, it’s time for the ‘secret’…


Other Features

As a whole…this scope is by far the top valued scope package on the market. 

Out of the box, it has everything you need like…

  • Flip Open Lens Cap 
  • Medium Profile Rings
  • A solid scope

…and for all you’re getting, this scope is priced well. It also come with lifetime warranty: 

UTG Lifetime Warranty

So if your scope ever breaks on you — they’ll fix it for free. This helps stretch your dollar to the fullest over the long-run.


Summary

If you’re looking for an AR 15 budget scope, then get the UTG 3-12×44. Here’s why:

You get a well built scope with decent glass, no parallax, tactical turrets, illuminated reticle, and everything you need to mount (and protect) the scope…out of the box.

Although it doesn’t have the glass of a Primary Arms or Nikon, it’s not bad considering it costs less than $200.

Best Budget
UTG 3-12X44 30mm Compact Scope, AO, 36-color Mil-dot, Rings , Black
2,315 Reviews
UTG 3-12X44 30mm Compact Scope, AO, 36-color Mil-dot, Rings , Black
  • 30-millimeter SWAT 3-12X44 IE tactical range estimating scope with mil-dot, full 36-color EZ Tap reticle
  • 30-Millimeter tube built on True Strength Platform: sealed and nitrogen filled, shockproof, fog-proof, and rain-proof
  • Best in class multi emerald coated lenses; integrated angled front sunshade complete with flip-open lens caps

4. Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope: Best Short-to-Medium Range Scope 

The Spitfire 3X Prism Scope is the best short-to-medium range scope.

Best for short-to-medium range
Vortex Optics Spitfire 3x Prism Scope - EBR-556B Reticle (MOA)
1,021 Reviews
Vortex Optics Spitfire 3x Prism Scope - EBR-556B Reticle (MOA)
  • The Spitfire 3x Prism Scope excels in close to medium range shooting applications where fast target acquisition and speed is of the essence. The prism based design allows for a compact optical system...
  • Fully multi-coated lenses with anti-reflective coatings offer bright views even in low light conditions. A selectable red/green illuminated reticle features five intensity levels to match the...
  • The reticle is etched directly on the prism ensuring shooters have an effective point of aim at all times regardless of illumination. A fast focus eyepiece adjusts the reticle into sharp focus.

In fact:

Some call it a ‘budget ACOG’. Is it true? 

Read on and decide for yourself…

Glass Clarity & Reticle

The fully multi-coated glass is bright and clear with a wide field of view:

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope Clear Glass

The EBR-556B Reticle is amazing. 

EBR-556B Reticle

It’s a uncluttered BDC reticle engineered for the AR 15’s most popular cartridge:

The 5.56×45.

It measures the holdover and ranging right in the reticle itself…for up to 500 yards. 

In other words: 

Accurate longer-range shots. 

Some people have claimed it works for the .223, 300 blackout cartridge and more. But you know what’s my favorite feature? 

The etched reticle. 

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope Etched Reticle

That means the reticle is ‘carved into’ the glass. 

This gives 24/7 visibility, regardless of your battery’s condition. It even works for astigmatism. 

This makes it superior to red dots (which require a battery to work). You can even switch between a red or green reticle.

Here’s how red looks:

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope Red Reticle

And green…

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope Green Reticle

… easily switchable in the flick of a switch to see in low light situations. 

Even better, you can control the brightness with the 5 brightness setting knob:

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope Brightness Knob

But be warned: 

The battery life doesn’t last long. 

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope Battery Life

(3,000 hour battery life on low and 250 hours on high.) 

Just keep some extra CR 2032 batteries at hand. That’ll save you a few headaches 😉 

Speaking of headaches, there’s another headache-saving feature…the fast focus eyepiece.

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope Fast Focus Eyepiece

This makes adjusting the reticle focus much easier. 

Here’s how it works: 

(Basically, you turn a knob so you can focus the reticle.)


Eye Relief & Eye Box

This is the scope’s biggest con…

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope Eye Relief

Its 2.8” eye relief.

This can be a bit tight for the AR platform. But, it can be remedied by using either one of two solutions: 

  1. Remove the flip ups and move the scope a bit further back on your rail. Or…
  2. You can just get a collapsible AR 15 stock

Many have found they had to remove their rear MBUS sights. But that’ll depend on your rifle and build setup. 

Besides that, the eye box is relatively forgiving. The field of view is decent (not the largest). 


Durability

The Spitfire 3X is built rugged.

It’s shockproof, waterproof and fogproof…without the nasty added weight. 

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope

The Spitfire Prism weighs a mere 15.4 ounces. It’s also quite compact, measuring in at 5.5 inches in length or half the size of a usual scope. 

Vortex Spitfire Prism Scope

In short:

You get the magnification of a scope without the extra baggage. 


Elevation & Windage Knobs

The ½ MOA turrets themselves are knurled and straight forward to adjust. 

Vortex Spitfire Scope

Simply bring a coin or use the integrated ledge, take off the cap, and adjust. 

But what if you lose the caps? Well, that’s no longer a problem thanks to the steel tethering feature. 

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope Tethered Turrets

The turrets also produce clear tactile “click” sounds when adjusted. It zeroed in easy with only 8 rounds at 100 yards. 

After zeroing, it was dead center accurate. And it held that zero well. 


Magnification & Parallax

It’s a fixed 3X magnification scope. 

It works anywhere from 15 yards up to 500 without an issue (including parallax adjustment). Since it’s magnified, it works great for aging eyes. 

The awesome part? 

You can even use a red dot alongside the Spitfire.

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope Offset Picatinny Rails

Simply throw on a micro red dot — like the Vortex Viper — on the top offset rail. 

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope with Viper Red Dot Sight

That’s great for 3-gun setups.


Mounting & Rings

There’s a mount included for free. 

It’s a base clamp designed to mount on a picatinny rail. 

Vortex Spitfire 3X Base Clamp

It even comes built-in with a mount riser that’s removable.

However, there’s one problem with it… 

There’s no quick detach mount for the Spitfire 3X yet. So if that’s a must feature for you, then go for another scope. 


Summary

The Spitfire has the functionality of a red dot and fixed power scope in one package…without the price tag. It’s got:

  • Clear bright glass
  • Rugged build quality
  • Fast focus eye piece
  • Long battery (3,000 hrs. on low)
  • AR 15 BDC reticle (etched & illuminated)
  • Short-to-medium range magnification 

Come to think of it, it’s a budget-friendly Trijicon ACOG alternative. And one of the best compact scopes for AR 15.

It even comes backed with Vortex Optics VIP unlimited lifetime warranty. Break it and they’ll fix it for free. Pretty solid. 

Best for short-to-medium range
Vortex Optics Spitfire 3x Prism Scope - EBR-556B Reticle (MOA)
1,021 Reviews
Vortex Optics Spitfire 3x Prism Scope - EBR-556B Reticle (MOA)
  • The Spitfire 3x Prism Scope excels in close to medium range shooting applications where fast target acquisition and speed is of the essence. The prism based design allows for a compact optical system...
  • Fully multi-coated lenses with anti-reflective coatings offer bright views even in low light conditions. A selectable red/green illuminated reticle features five intensity levels to match the...
  • The reticle is etched directly on the prism ensuring shooters have an effective point of aim at all times regardless of illumination. A fast focus eyepiece adjusts the reticle into sharp focus.

5. Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50: Best AR-15 Long Range Scope

The Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50 is one of the best AR-15 long range scope.

In fact, I’ve used this scope for long-range firing competitions with my Recce 18 KMR-A Precision Rifle, and it’s still my go-to scope to this day.

The scope is favored by the military, police, competitive shooters, and hunters alike. By the end of this review, you’ll know if the Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50 is for you.

Let’s get started!


Glass Clarity & Reticle

Crystal Clear – in the same league as Nightforce, Schmidt-Bender, and other 1000 yard scopes.

This Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50 is equipped with a First Focal Plane Special Competition Reticle (SCR) with MOA ranging accurate at every magnification.

The SCR reticle was specifically designed for long-range precision.

This is a Mil Radian based reticle that features 2/10th mil windage holdoff, ½ mil holdovers, 1/10th mil ranging brackets, and Quick reference mil callouts.

The reticle is perfectly sharp, even at the lowest and highest magnification values.

The Steiner T5Xi also features an illuminated reticle, 7 night and 4 day levels, perfect for dark targets and/or low light conditions.

Ranging targets were easy – this reticle was well thought out for sure.


Eye Relief & Eye Box

The Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50 has 3.5″-4.3″ of long eye relief.

The scope comes with a wide field of view. I feel like I could spend all day behind the scope.


Durability and Weight

The Steiner T5Xi is 13 inches long and 29 ounces.

The scope tips the heavier side of the scale but with its exceptional quality, I’ll take the weight with a smile.

Thanks to its aircraft-grade aluminum, gas-purged and O-ring sealed construction, the Steiner T5Xi is just as rugged as any battle-tested ACOG.

The scope is fully shockproof, fog-proof, and waterproof, submersible up to 33 feet.


Elevation & Windage Knobs

The Steiner’s tactile elevation and windage turrets are solid and reliable. The clicks are crisp and audible.

The 34 mm tube gives you a larger range for adjustments: 34 mils for elevation and 15 mils for windage.

The scope’s elevation turret comes with a zero-stop feature, meaning you can swiftly return to the scope’s zero.

One thing about this zero stop is that it actually doesn’t stop at zero. It stops .3 mils past it. If you’re spinning really fast, remember to dial it back up.

Within the first 5 rounds, I was able to zero the scope without issues. Even with the heavy recoil and accidental drops, the Steiner held zero like a champ.

Also, the accuracy of tracking is dead-on reliable, even after firing 200 rounds.


Parallax & Magnification

The Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50 sports a 3-9x variable magnification and 50mm objective, making it great for long-range shooting.

The best part?

The adjustable diopter comes with a lock.

With most diopters, you usually back them out for your vision and somewhat just “floats”. It can get accidentally bumped or displaced when you’re mounting your rifle. This second ring prevents that.

The larger diameter also made it easier for me to locate moving targets.

The Steiner sports a Low Profile Side Parallax Adjustment that goes from 25 yards to infinity.


Mounting & Rings

For mounting, I highly recommend the Steiner T-Series Scope Rings w/ Bubble Level 34mm-Medium.

The Steiner T5Xi Includes everything else: a throw lever, tenebraex lens covers, CR2450 battery, Allen wrench, and a Sunshade.


Summary

If you’re looking for the best long range scope for AR-15, get the Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50.

It’s got clear glass, illuminated reticle set in FFP, ample eye relief and magnification, and a rugged body – everything you can ask for in a long range optic.

To top it all off, the scope is backed by Steiner’s Heritage Lifetime Warranty. You can have it repaired or replaced without charge if it breaks or arrives defective. No card or receipt needed.

The Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50 will undoubtedly give you excellent long-range performance in the field.

Best Red Dot Sights for AR-15

If you shoot no more than 100 yard targets, then you need the best red dot sight possible. 

Simply put:

They’re the best short-range AR-15 optics. They acquire close range targets several seconds faster than scopes. 

But which is the best red dot for AR-15? Look down below. I’ve found some of the best AR 15 red dots for the money on the market. 

Read on…

6. Aimpoint Pro Reflex Sight: Best Red Dot for AR-15

Aimpoint Pro is the only combat-proven red dot on this list. 

Best Red Dot
Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Reflex Sight with QRP2 Mount and Spacer - 2 MOA - 12841
1,018 Reviews
Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Reflex Sight with QRP2 Mount and Spacer - 2 MOA - 12841
  • Designed to deliver premium performance under harsh conditions
  • 2 MOA dot with 4 Night and 6 Daylight brightness settings
  • Up to 3 years of continuous operation using one DL1/3N battery (included)

Here’s what you get:

  • Clearest Red Dot Glass
  • ‘Desert Bright’ 2 MOA Dot
  • Milspec Type-3 Durability
  • Night Vision Compatibility
  • ‘Toolless’ Quick Detach Mount 
  • Longest Battery (3 years continous run-time)

In fact, it survived a raging house fire…

Aimpoint-Pro-survived-fire

…and it still worked with no problems.

This kind of ‘bomb-proof’ durability is the reason why law enforcement agencies and militaries still rely upon Aimpoint worldwide.

If that’s the kind of quality you need, then don’t hesitate buying the Aimpoint Pro.

Best Red Dot
Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Reflex Sight with QRP2 Mount and Spacer - 2 MOA - 12841
1,018 Reviews
Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Reflex Sight with QRP2 Mount and Spacer - 2 MOA - 12841
  • Designed to deliver premium performance under harsh conditions
  • 2 MOA dot with 4 Night and 6 Daylight brightness settings
  • Up to 3 years of continuous operation using one DL1/3N battery (included)

It’s the red dot I personally use on my AR 15.


7. Vortex Sparc AR: Best Red Dot Sight Under $200 

The Vortex Sparc AR is the best overall AR-15 red dot on the market.

Best Red Dot Under $200
Vortex Optics SPARC Red Dot Sight Gen I - 2 MOA Dot (SPC-AR1)
778 Reviews
Vortex Optics SPARC Red Dot Sight Gen I - 2 MOA Dot (SPC-AR1)
  • The Sparc sight features a 2 MOA daylight bright red dot that is quick to spot and paints your target regardless of lighting conditions or background. The dot returns to the last intensity used when...
  • High quality, fully multi-coated lenses offer up a clean, wide field of view. With unlimited eye relief and parallax free, the sight gets you on target fast.
  • Rear-facing controls offer quick access and are viewable from the shooting position.

In fact:

It’s survived a direct 12-gauge shotgun blast…

AR-15 red dot survived shotgun

….and STILL held zero with zero functionality problems. 

What makes it so tough and reliable? Read on to find out. 


Red Dot Reticle

Take a look at this field of view:

Vortex Optics SPARC AR field of view

It’s crystal clear. It doesn’t have the ‘green glass tint’ that other reflex sights have. 

This is due to the fully multi-coated lens setup. This increases light transmission and yields a crisp view of the target.

Sparc AR red dot lens coating

The red dot is pretty standard in dot size. They call it ‘2 MOA’ large but you get the idea — you’ll see the dot when you shoot.

That said, there’s one small drawback: 

The eyebox (viewing box). 

It’s a bit smaller than other red dots I’ve tested (like the Burris Fastfire III). Yet, I’ve been able to use it with zero problems. 

But for some people they may prefer bigger eyeboxes. If that’s you, then get the Aimpoint Pro. Otherwise, read on.


Build Quality

The Sparc AR is the most durable AR reflex sight I’ve ever tested. 

Vortex Sparc AR optic

(And I’ve tested dozens of red dots!)

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the Sparc AR survived a direct hit from a 12 gauge shotgun… 

AR-15 red dot survived shotgun

…and STILL held zero with no problems. 

Vortex Sparc AR Torture Test

It’s also waterproof. 

Vortex Sparc AR waterproof

After being submerged for an entire day under freezing water…it still turned on with no issues. If that didn’t impress you, wait until you hear about the ice test. 

The Sparc was frozen in a big block of ice:  

Vortex Sparc AR block of ice

And it still worked with no issues.

So it’s true: 

The Sparc AR is completely shock, water, and even fog proof. 

But this aircraft grade aluminum durability comes at a cost: 

The SPARC AR weighs 7.5 ounces. In comparison to the other AR red dots on this list, this makes the Sparc AR one of the heaviest and bulkiest.

AR-15 red dot comparisons

(It’s about the size of a Trijicon MRO)

With all that said, 7.5 ounces isn’t much — especially when you consider the ‘shotgun proof’ durability. 


Battery Life

Although the battery life isn’t Aimpoint Pro good, it lasts for a while. 

Matter of fact, it can last up to 5,000 hours (or 208 days) of continuous operation on the lowest setting. At the highest setting — which is rarely used — you’ll last about 300 hours (or about 2 weeks). 

Put in practical terms:

You’ll get MONTHS of worry-free battery life — maybe even longer with the 12-hour automatic shut off feature. 

But what if months of battery life isn’t enough for you? Then upgrade to the Sparc AR Gen 2 for an extra $50. 

This upgrade basically gives you Aimpoint Pro battery life. This gen can easily last up to 50,000 hours (or about 6 years) of continuous operation on the lowest setting. 

Very impressive. But you know what I like the most? 

The simple battery replacement. 

For most red dots — like the TRS-25 — you need to use a specialized CR2032 battery. 

In comparison, the Sparc AR only needs a common AAA battery

Vortex Sparc AR Red Dot AAA battery

This saves you A TON of time, money, and headaches in the long run. 


Windage, Elevation & Brightness Knob

The turrets are very reliable. Simply take off the cap…

Sparc AR Red Dot Elevation and Windage knobs

…flip it around and adjust:

It adjusts in 1 MOA increments. This is a little larger than the standard ½ MOA in other red dots, but it works fine for the AR platform. 

How about adjusting brightness? 

It’s cake. Simply click the left button to increase brightness…

Sparc AR adjusting brightness

…and the right button to decrease brightness. That’s it.

There are 10 different brightness settings to choose from that work well in low light condition.

And here’s the part I really like: 

The AR ‘remembers’ your last brightness setting and boots with it. This makes for quick operation. 


Mounting

Mounting’s included along with a riser. 

Sparc AR with riser

The riser allows for either one of these co-witness iron sights setup:

  • Absolute Co-witness 
  • Lower ⅓ Co-witness

This saves you a bit of cash. Even better, they’ve included ‘built-in’ lens caps that are actually decent. 

Vortex Sparc AR flip caps

Together you save a fair bit of money that can be used on accessories. 


Special Features

Vortex put in a premium ‘Aimpoint only’ feature… 

Night vision compatibility. 

Vortex SPARC AR night vision compatible

So if you varmint hunt at night with night vision goggles (like me), you’ll be able to use the Sparc AR with no problem.

For long range night time operations, I recommend reading my Best Night Vision Scope guide.


Summary

If you’re looking for a military-spec red dot at a bargain, then buy the Vortex Sparc AR. 

It’s got:

  • Clear Glass
  • Crisp 2 MOA Red Dot
  • Adjustable Brightness
  • Long Battery Life (300 – 5000 hours)
  • ‘Shotgun Proof’ Construction
  • Mounting Included Free

Put another way: 

The Sparc AR is one of the best budget red dot sights under $200 for your AR-15. It’s also backed with Vortex’s lifetime VIP warranty. So if the red dot ever breaks on you, they’ll fix it free of charge. 

If the Sparc sounds like it’s for you, feel free to pick one up here: 

Best Red Dot Under $200
Vortex Optics SPARC Red Dot Sight Gen I - 2 MOA Dot (SPC-AR1)
778 Reviews
Vortex Optics SPARC Red Dot Sight Gen I - 2 MOA Dot (SPC-AR1)
  • The Sparc sight features a 2 MOA daylight bright red dot that is quick to spot and paints your target regardless of lighting conditions or background. The dot returns to the last intensity used when...
  • High quality, fully multi-coated lenses offer up a clean, wide field of view. With unlimited eye relief and parallax free, the sight gets you on target fast.
  • Rear-facing controls offer quick access and are viewable from the shooting position.

Want longer battery life? Invest $50 more and get the second generation here: 

Sale
Vortex Optics SPARC Red Dot Sight Gen II - 2 MOA Dot , BLACK
829 Reviews
Vortex Optics SPARC Red Dot Sight Gen II - 2 MOA Dot , BLACK
  • The updated SPARC features rugged construction that’s still compact, with a lightweight form-factor. The 2 MOA dot is as easy as point and shoot - it’s quick to acquire in close-quarters, but fine...
  • With up to 700 hours of battery life on the highest setting, 50, 000 hour on its lowest, and night-vision compatibility at the lowest two settings, the SPARC red dot will keep working in a variety of...
  • Increased light transmission with multiple anti-reflective coatings on all air-to-glass surfaces. Unlimited eye relief for rapid target acquisition. 12 illumination settings allows shooters to change...

Need some magnification? Then get the VMX-3T magnification. It gives you power of a LPVO with the target acquisition of a red dot.

However, if you want the bar none cheapest red dot for your AR-15 that still delivers quality performance, then this next option might be for you…


8. Bushnell Trophy TRS-25: Best Budget Red Dot For AR-15

People always ask me:

“Are cheap red dot sights any good?”

My answer? YES!!

I say it all the time — you don’t need to spend $100+ on a quality red dot. You can get it for a fraction of the price.

Enter: The Bushnell TRS-25. 

Best Budget Red Dot
Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight Riflescope, 1x20mm, Black
11,479 Reviews
Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight Riflescope, 1x20mm, Black
  • Matte black featuring a 3 MOA Dot reticle with 11 brightness settings; Mounts easily on most picatinny rails and is compatible with pistols, shotguns, rifles and muzzleloaders
  • Waterproof construction: O ring sealed optics stay dry inside, even when totally immersed in water. Parallax - 50
  • Shockproof construction: Built to withstand bumps, bangs, drops and the rough and tumble environment of the field

It’s the best red dot sight for AR 15 for the money. It’s got:

  • Durable
  • Bright, crisp reticle
  • Lightweight (only 3.7 oz.)
  • Works with most picatinny rails
  • Holds zero (500 rounds and still strong)
  • 11-illumination brightness settings (For all lighting conditions)

It even comes with an integrated rail mount for out-of-box action. That’s why I recommend the TRS-25 in my Best Rimfire Scopes guide — it’s such a good red dot.

That said, I do recommend investing in a UTG Med-pro 1” High Mount if you prefer shooting more upright. It’ll also enable ⅓ lower co-witness. 

Sale
UTG Hi-Profile Compact Riser Mount, 1' High, 3 Slots , Black
2,380 Reviews
UTG Hi-Profile Compact Riser Mount, 1" High, 3 Slots , Black
  • New Gen. Riser Mount for Rifles with Picatinny/Weaver Rail
  • 1.6" Long Picatinny Rail with 3 Slots
  • Side Plate with Spring Tension for Quick Easy Installation

But what if you want more magnification? Then get a UTG 3X Magnifier. The glass is clear, the magnifier is rugged, and it’s cheap. 

Sale
UTG 3X Magnifier with Flip-to-side QD Mount, W/E Adjustable , Black
3,613 Reviews
UTG 3X Magnifier with Flip-to-side QD Mount, W/E Adjustable , Black
  • Broadband Multi-coated Lens to Provide Crystal Clear 3X Image, Wide Field of View - 30% Bigger Than Comparable Models from Other Brands.Compatible Rail-Picatinny/Weaver.
  • Windage/Elevation Adjustability for Optimum View Centering. Refer user manual for list of compatible manuals
  • 42mm Center Height for Most Common Dot Sight Combination, Innovative Flip-to-Side Mechanism for Quick Transition between 1X and 3X Image.Objective Diameter:25mm;Field of View @ 100 yards:45'

In short:

The TRS-25 is the best budget red dot for the AR-15. Stack that with a high mount and UTG 3X Magnifier and you got yourself a solid CQB build for under $150.


That said, you really can’t go wrong with ANY of these options. After all, I’ve hand and torture tested a lot of AR-15 scopes on the market. 

The result? These optics came out on top. That’s not a surprise considering each of these rifle scopes have hundreds of rave reviews on Amazon. 

So there’s no way you can go wrong.  But let’s say you do go wrong with the scope and you want to return it. Could you still return it? 

Yes you can thanks to Amazon’s 30-day Money Back Guarantee. In other words: 

You can use this scope for 30 days risk-free. And if you don’t like it, simply return it back to Amazon for a refund.  

Disclosure

How I Get My Scopes

I paid for each (and every) scope I’ve reviewed in this guide. I paid the same amount as any other customer on Amazon. No ‘reviewer’ scopes were provided. 

External Financial Contributions

I have no financial ties with any of the scope manufacturers in this article. I don’t receive any contributions — in any form — from any scope manufacturer. 

In fact, I don’t accept advertising on my site. 

Affiliate Links

I do make money through small affiliate commissions. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. You read my in-depth guide.
  2. If you like a product, you can choose to buy it using my affiliate link (at no extra cost to you).
  3. I get a small commission (1-4%) that I use to put food on the table and keep the site running, ad-free.

Now It’s Your Turn

I hope you enjoyed my top scopes for AR-15 guide list. 

Although it took me a few weeks to draft up this scopes guide (alongside the Best Scope for 308), it was worth it because I finally found the right scope for me.

Now I want to turn it over to you: 

Which rifle scope will you pick for your AR 15?

Let me know by leaving a quick comment below. And if you have any other scopes to recommend, feel free to let me know down below. 

And thank you to all members of our military, in all branches, past and present, living and dead. 

53 thoughts on “The Best AR-15 Scopes & Optics for 2021 [Red Dots Included]”

  1. What about the AR-15/10 ACOG TA31 with ACSS Reticle. If one of the main reasons for having an AR-15/10 is to “protect” the homeland from “all enemies, foreign and domestic) then speed, accuracy, reliability and durability are critical. The ACOG is battle tested and it just works. Essentially it automatically ranges and calculates bullet drop, wind correction and target lead…all without the shooter really having to think about it once some experience is gained. Yep, it’s expensive but what’s your life, or the lives of your family worth?

    Reply
  2. On my 10.5″ barrel Defense AR I went Eotech3 NV IR Laser with the QD 3x flip over magnifier and Troy Industries front and rear Iron back up’s. On the 20″ barrel AR I went with the Nikon P-223 on a QD Mount, Matech Mil-Spec Rear Sight and a front rail mount A2 sight. The new 16″ barrel AR I recently purchased will be set up for night shift with Thermo imaginging or Flir as I haven’t made up my mind and Troy Indusries front rear Irons.

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  3. Enjoyed the article. I have the P-223 BDC 600 and as you stated ….it is a DEAD ON scope. I tack drive at 100 to 300 years consistently. I looked at the (Amazon) link for eye piece protectors. Amazon has 2, #19 eyepieces (41.8 and 43.9). So which one is the correct? Also, do you have a recommendation for an objective lens cover with honeycomb or sunshade for the objective lens of the P-223 BDC-600 (I hunt several places where the sun is either rising or setting right in my face) and want to prevent lens glare.

    Thank you! Henry

    Reply
    • Hey Anthe, I’m glad my article helped you guys buy the right scope 🙂

      Once the scope arrives and you take it for a spin, feel free to come back and leave a comment detailing your thoughts on it!

      Reply
  4. Great article on these options for AR in 223 or 556

    Looking specifically for best unit for ruger AR 556 pistol
    In 350 Legend for 100-125 yd hunting. Thank you for any recommendation.

    Reply
  5. Have you checked out the Sig Romeo 5 Red Dot? I’ve seen it pass all the endurance tests you mentioned for the Vortex Sparc AR, including the 12 gauge blast, and it can be had for like $160. I love mine, might be worth a look…..

    Anyway, thanks for the effort you put into this article, nice job!

    Reply
    • Hey Steve, I have indeed. And you’re right: It’s awesome.

      I’m actually working on an AR-15 red dot update, which will include more red dots (including the Sig Romeo 5).

      Thank you for the compliment — I really appreciate it! Thank you for leaving a comment, Steve 🙂 Hope to see you around!

      Reply
  6. Even as updated in May 2020 you are still showing the Nikon P-223 which doesn’t seem available to purchase anywhere anymore. Plus Nikon stopped making scopes because they don’t want to be associated with guns. I have several Nikon pieces of glass and always liked them. Seems like you’d have to find this one in stock on a shelf somewhere.

    Reply
    • Thank you for bringing that up Shane 🙂

      I’m actually currently working on an update to add new scopes/red dots. The Nikon P-223 will be off the list since, as you’ve already mentioned, they’re discontinued.

      Reply
      • I am seeing a Nikon P-Tactical 223 still available and it looks like the same scope. Are you aware of anything to make me not think this is just some new version of the same scope?

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        • I picked up the TRS/Riser/UTG Magnifier from ur links. However the .83 riser looks low and doesn’t quite line up with the magnifier (Little low). I think you need the 1” riser to line up perfectly….

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          • Yep, the 1″ riser gives you a 1/3 co-witness. The 0.83″ gives you an absolute.

            The 1″ should align perfectly 🙂

        • They’re pretty much the same optic.

          The Nikon P-223 and Nikon P-Tactical .223 only differ in reticle availability, body build and optical glass.

          Being that the P-tactical .223 is the remodeled version of the P-223, the P-tactical has all the updated modifications made.

          Reply
  7. When will you be through with trying to put fear in people of a virus that is 99.8% survivable if you catch it? Most people realize this is another attempt to take out our president through wrecking the economy. Guess what? It is not working. See you in November

    Reply
    • How’d your November (and December and January) go Daniel?
      Trump wrecked himself and
      your math is way off, perhaps a 6th grade refresher is in order.

      Reply
  8. I did a lot of research and came up with two contenders, the Leupold Freedom RDS and the Aimpoint Pro. I was in the military in the 80’s and the M16 I shot had only iron sights, when I heard that the Aimpoint Pro cowitnessed very well with iron sights and had a long battery life with dust covers and a tooless mount I just went ahead and bought it. Installation was very easy and zeroing was even easier. The glass is so clear it looks amazing. I felt I made a great buy!

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  9. Great diligence with your research. It helped a “newby” like me understand and decide what was best for my needs. Appreciate you sharing. I will be buying based on your recommendations.

    Reply
  10. Loved your article it really helped me out a lot ,this is all new to me and this was very helpful. Thanks keep up the good work 👍.

    Reply
  11. I just purchased a Diamondback DB15 .223WYLDE DB 15″ mlok rail and 18″ mid barrel.
    I am thinking of getting the UTG-3-12 X 44 SCOPE.
    Will I need the UTG-Hi-Profile Riser Mounts for my rifle?

    Reply
  12. Richard,

    thank you so much for the article and the great information! I’m working with a .350 legend, 18″ barrel AR and was really interested in the Nikon P-223, Leopold Freedom, and Vortex Strike Eagle 1-8x…My budget’s probably right around $400…What are your thoughts and recommendations, even if not one of the ones listed here? We are planning on deer hunting in brush with nothing longer than 200-250 yard shots max…mostly in the 100-200 yd range…I sure appreciate any help you can give us!

    Reply
  13. Thanks for the detailed article. Just for clarification, is your review ranking in order of preference (ie. #1 is BEST, #7 is the bottom of the best)??

    Reply
  14. Greetings Richard,
    All I can say is…..Scopes Field is hands down one stop shopping!!! A plethora of extremely important information, that I didn’t even realize I needed until I came across this site. I’m a brand new shooter and my first firearm purchase was for self/ home defense, my second one is strictly for entertainment and my sister and I are having a blast. between the two of us we’ve spent nearly $3500 on AR-15 pistols…. we are not big game hunters nor any where near pro shooters, so I don’t need to go crazy on sights for these things…..I just need to be able to 1. SEE my targets downrange @ 75yds! and 2. of course OUT SHOOT her!! (LOL) you’ve helped me understand what I’m looking for and most importantly…. why. excellent source of information. Thank you

    Reply
  15. You have blessed the community with this kind sir! I have owned and been upgrading my AR-15s since college in the late 90s. I use a flip-up magnifier with an Eotech. One thing that caught me off-guard after installing the magnifier was the increased size of the reticle. It seemed huge, and threw my long distance shots off considerably more than I would have thought.

    If you feel you have gained great accuracy and familiarity with your scope reticle, be prepared for it to be blown up in size when you flip up your magnifier. Takes a bit of getting used to!

    Reply
  16. Shopping for an ar, dot optics, front vertical grip & bypod at least. Don’t mind paying for reliability. So far that seems to start just under $1K. I think i want things like full m-lock guard, flip up hard sights & maybe see through or fold over optics with all returning to zero. Riser for optics maybe. Dont mind buying off your links if it helps you. Not sure why but i wanna like that Aimpoint Pro Reflex sight, ard & lens covers. Should i add a magnifier? Dont hunt but would if necessary & may always need to dispatch a dangerous coyote. Malicious people could always threaten. Unlikely any of those foreseeable needs would surpass short to medium range but ya never know & would definitely practice at longer ranges. Sold one i had for several yrs. 1 in 16 rh twist hb & a 3×9 Leupold. Now i wish i had not. Would be interested in your opinion on the rifle as well. I don’t know personally but gotta believe the dot optics give quicker target acquisition than a scope. Not interested in any that self comp. It will be zero’d at probably 36 – 50 yrds & anything else will be pure Kentucky windage. Wish i knew a little more about what i should be looking for. Thanks, Dan g.

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  17. Did you review the Primary Arms SLX 3x as part of this consideration? I’ve seen a lot of reviews for the Vortex and the Primary Arms and was curious what your preference was.

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  18. Hi Richard. Great article. I do need some help. I have a Smith & Wesson AR15 Sport II that has a A2 fixed front sight. I really like the Primary Arms SLX 1-6x24mm SFP Gen III. I am trying to find a mount to use so the A2 front sight is not in the way of the view through the scope. This is for target shooting between 100 – 400 yards. Do you have an opinion on the Crimson Trace CSA-1309 3-9x 40mm? What mount would you suggest for this scope on the same AR15?

    Reply
  19. Based on your research and recommendations I am going with the UTG 3-12 30mm. I have an Anderson AM 15 5.56/2.23, 16″ wylde stainless steel barrel. If this is not a suitable scope, I may go with a Leupold. I like value and performance.

    Reply
  20. Enjoyed the article but the vortex optics were so bad I returned mine. It was really bad the higher the brightness, looked like a star burst. I’ve gone with the leupold freedom rds. I have a leupold range finder and it works great, golf or hunting.

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    • Great article and VERY helpful for first time AR buyer struggling between magnification and red dot realizing you can have both. Thank you!

      Reply
  21. Thank you for the great article 8 Best AR-15 Scopes. Because of the information I was able to decided on a scope for my new AR. Being new to the AR world, I found your information very heipful. Thank you.

    Reply

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