7 Best AR-15 Scopes and Optics [2020]

by Richard Douglas

Today you’re going to find the best scope for AR-15. 

Whether you’re looking for a great hunting scope or you’re on a budget, you’ll find your answer here. 

Let’s dive in!

Why should you trust me? 

Because it’s all I do. 

I’ve reviewed hundreds of scopes so far. In fact, my reviews have been featured on the gun industry’s largest sites like: 

  • The National Interest
  • American Shooting Journal
  • And more

I’ve also written on huge scopes manufacturer blogs like Bushnell, Burris and other sites. 

What you see down below is my expert analysis of the top AR 15 optic reviews on the market and my complete breakdown. 

Each of these scopes were bought from my own money. No outside scope manufacturer contribution was used to keep this review honest. 

So rest assured — what you read down below is my unbiased review of each rifle optic

With that, let’s get started…

Read 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.

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. 

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 is used for.

If you’re new to scopes (or unfamiliar), I highly recommend reading my ultimate guide to rifle scopes. After you’ve read it, you’ll be ready to choose the perfect magnification for your AR 15. 

Close Range (>150 yards)

The AR 15 excels in close-range combat. 

Most people use it for target shooting or hunting small game. If that sounds like you, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Magnification: 1 – 4X power

As an alternative, you can use an AR-15 red dot.

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. 

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

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.  

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

The 7 Best Scopes for AR-15

If you’re pressed on time, here’s a quick list of the best optics for AR 15:

  1. Primary Arms Silver Series 1-6×24 SFP – Best All Around Scope
  2. Nikon P-223 3-9×40 – Best Scope For Hunting
  3. Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope – Best Short-to-Medium Range Scope
  4. UTG 3-12×44 – Best Budget Scope
  5. Aimpoint Pro Reflex Sight – Best Combat Red Dot
  6. Vortex Sparc AR – Best Red Dot Sight Under $200
  7. Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 – Best Red Dot Under $100

1. Primary Arms Silver Series 1-6×24 SFP (Best Overall Scope)

Primary Arms 1-6×24 is the most well-rounded AR 15 scope I’ve ever seen.

Primary Arms Silver Series 1-6x24 SFP Rifle Scope

In fact:

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

Interested? Read on…

Glass Clarity & Reticle

Primary Arms Silver Series glass is incredibly clear.

Black Primary Arms ACSS Reticle

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.

Primary Arms 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 ACSS reticle.

Primary Arms Gen 3 1-6x24 ACSS Reticle

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.

Primary Arms ACSS reticle

How did they do it? 

The secret lies within the outer ring:

ACSS Reticle Explained

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

ACSS Reticle Illuminated

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

If you’d like to learn more on how the ACSS 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:

ACSS Reticle No Illumination

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).

Primary Arms Gen 3 1-6x24 Brightness Knob


Eye Relief & Eye Box


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.

Primary Arms Gen 3 1-6x24 Eye Relief

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. 


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. 

Primary Arms Gen 3 1-6x24 Rifle Scope

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.

Primary Arms Gen 3 1-6x24 Turrets

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). 

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

Tactical turrets. 

Most higher-end scopes (like the hunting scope below) include tactical turrets.

The reason? 

Tactical turrets help hunters make faster adjustments on the go. 

This is an absolute LIFE-SAVER on the hunting ground when every second is crucial. 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.

Primary Arms Gen 3 1-6x24 Magnification Ring

As I’ve mentioned in my Riflescopes 101 guide, 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 scope: 

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

Primary Arms Gen 3 1-6x24 Adjustable Eye Piece

So you can see why Primary Arms 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. 

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. 

With an AR 15 mount in-hand, it’s now time for my final verdict on the…

Primary Arms Silver Series 1-6×24 SFP: Is it Worth it?

If you’re looking for a solid scope for AR 15, then get a Primary Arms 1-6×24

Here’s why:

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

In other words:

You can’t go wrong with the Primary Arms 1-6×24 SFP. So what are you waiting for? Just pick one up and try it for yourself 🙂

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.

Nikon P-223 3-9x40 Best Medium-to-Long Range Scope

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

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! 


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. 


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. 


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 (and close-to-long range shooting. That’s why I recommended it in my mini 14 scopes guide).

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) (Objective size: 31) to protect your scope’s lens from damage. 

And that’s it. Now for my verdict on the…

Nikon P-223 3-9×40 BDC 600: Is it Worth it?

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…

  • Crystal Clear Glass
  • Fully Multicoated Lens
  • The ‘Perfect AR-15 BDC’ reticle
  • Light Weight
  • Tactical, zero reset turrets

…making it a killer bargain AR 15 hunting scope.

And in case anything goes wrong, you’re 100% backed by Nikon’s lifetime warranty. With that kind of warranty, there’s no reason NOT to get a Nikon P-223 3-9×40.

3. Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope (Best Short-to-Medium Range Scope) 

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

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope Best Short-to-Medium Range AR-15 Scope

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). 


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. 

Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope Review: Is it Worth it?

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

It’s got:

  • Short-to-medium range magnification 
  • Etched ‘No Battery Required’ Reticle
  • Clear Bright Glass
  • AR 15 BDC Reticle
  • Illuminated Reticle 
  • Long Battery (3,000 hrs. on low)
  • Rugged Build Quality
  • Fast focus eye piece

Put another way:

It’s a budget-friendly trijicon ACOG alternative. 

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

Sound good to you? Then feel free to give the Spitfire 3x a try. It’s of the best compact scopes for AR 15.

Otherwise, let’s move on…

4. UTG 3-12×44 30mm Compact Scope (Best Budget Scope)

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

UTG 3-12x44

The reason? Keep on reading starting with the…

Glass Clarity & Reticle

For a budget 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…


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. 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. 

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 almost a STEAL. And believe me, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a scope overdeliver this much. 

And if that wasn’t enough for you, UTG decided to sweeten the deal by including a 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.

And now it’s time for my final verdict on the…

UTG 3-12×44 30mm Compact Scope Review: Is it Worth it?

If you’re looking for a AR 15 budget scope (or 308 scope), then get the UTG 3-12×44. It’s hands down the best sub $350 scope on the market.

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 $100.

Simply put: You couldn’t ask for a better budget scope.

And let’s face it: 

When using expensive scopes, you’re always subconsciously stressing about your ‘babies’ health. With the UTG 3-12×44 30mm, you save yourself that stress because it’s cheap.

So if you’re looking for a budget scope, then grab yourself a UTG 3-12×44.

Best Red Dot Sights for AR-15

If you shoot no more than 100 yard targets, then you need a red dot. 

Simply put:

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

However, before you make the purchase, let’s first break down the difference between…

AR-15 Red Dot Sights vs Scopes.

It really boils down to one thing: 

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: 


(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 red dots for short-range (>100 yards) quick target acquisition — especially for AR pistols. It’s faster, easier, has unlimited eye relief, and lighter (they average ¼ the weight of a scope). 

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…

5. Aimpoint Pro Reflex Sight (Best Combat Red Dot)

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

Aimpoint Pro AR15 Combat Sight

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…


…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

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

6. Vortex Sparc AR (Best Red Dot Sight Under $200) 

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

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 as 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’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.

Vortex Sparc AR Review: Is it Worth it?

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: 

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

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…

7. Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 (Best Red Dot Under $100) 

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

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. 

However, I recommend investing in a UTG Med-pro 0.83” High Mount if you prefer shooting more upright. It’ll also enable ⅓ lower co-witness. 

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. 

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.

If you’re interested in the TRS-25, feel free to read my in-depth review here.

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 5 scopes came out on top. That’s not a surprise considering each of these 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. So…what’s the wait for? Just choose a scope and give it a try. That’s the only way you can find the scope that works best for you.  


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, 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. 


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You left out an obvious choice for the AR-15/10: An 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?

Mike Souza
Mike Souza

Affordable sights….


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.

Henry E Miller
Henry E Miller

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


Great info…I’m now interested in the Primary Arms scope


Great info. My husband and I just got an AR 15 and your article helped a lot with picking the right scope.