So, you have an AR-15 and want to extend its effectiveness. This could be to add range, increase shooting speed, or just fine-tune accuracy. There are a ton of tools to help you do exactly what you need but navigating the world of AR 15 optics can be tricky. That is why we are here to help you out!
From red dots to high magnification scopes, we are going to get into it all. First with a section devoted to helping you pick the best AR 15 scope for your needs and then a few suggestions on some optics in each category that we have personally found to be very effective.
Table of Contents
- Types of Optics for AR-15
- Optic Uses
- Best AR 15 Scope on the Market Review
- Red Dots & Reflex Sights for AR-15
- 1 Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic
- 2 Vortex Optics Strikefire II
- 3 Sig Sauer Romeo 5
- 4 Sightmark Ultra Shot Plus
- Best Holo Sights for AR-15
- 5 EOTech XPS3
- 6 EOTech 512
- Best Low-Powered Scopes for AR-15
- 7 Leupold VX-R
- 8 Vortex Optics Crossfire II
- 9 Nikon P-223
- 10 Burris Fullfield II
- Best Long Range Scopes for AR-15
- 11 Nightforce SHV
- 12 Vortex Viper PST Gen II
- 13 Leupold VX-3i
- 14 Nikon M-Tactical
- Editors Picks
- Back Up Iron Sights for AR-15
Types of Optics for AR-15
Red Dots & Reflex Sights
First of all, Red Dot Sight is not a specific type of sight but a family of sights that includes reflex, prism, and holographic sights. But we aren’t here to argue semantics. We are here to discuss scopes. Red Dot is common parlance for a reflex or prism sight so we are using it in that way.
Reflex sights are the most common type of red dot sight and are small, exposed sights that have no eye-relief and use a small illuminated dot as the aiming point. These types of sights have no magnification. So, what is the point? Increased shooting speed! These sights are very fast and can usually cut time between follow up shots by as much as 40%.
Prism Sights are the longer barrel type sights that often fall under the Red Dot moniker. These sights use prism rather than lenses to focus the eye down the scope. They do have eye-relief but are often more forgiving than any traditional optic. Usually the aiming point is a dot but this is not universal. They may also be illuminated but not always.
Reflex sights also increase shooting speed but can also add a small amount of magnification to assist in getting better ranged accuracy.
A holographic sight or Holo Sight can also fall under the red dot label and though they provide the same function, they go about it in a different way. Usually they will have a more complex reticle pattern with unlimited eye-relief. All holographic sights are illuminated just by the means by which they function.
Like red dot sights, holo sights increase shooting speed. Some people find them to be faster than a red dot but they can be less accurate due to the increased size of the reticle. These are a sight I prefer but many will argue in favor of prism sights or reflex sights.
Currently, EOTech owns the patent on the holo sight technology and was the only producer until recently. Trijicon just released an amazing holo sight but it’s not clear if this uses some new technology or they paid for rights from EOTech. Vortex has recently released its own holo sight but we haven’t been able to get our hands on one just yet.
These are the normal scopes seen on everything from hunting rifles to sniper weapons and they have a place on the modern AR-15. This could be anywhere from the low-powered scopes all the way up to high magnification options used for hunting coyotes, target shooting, or just getting rid of varmints. This is not even mentioning home defense capabilities.
Lower powered scopes are the most popular option on the AR 15 for their sheer versatility. They can easily extend the comfortable range out to well past 300 yards for hunting or tactical purposes. Some find they improve shooting speed though nowhere near what a red dot or holo sight will. For most people they do improve accuracy. They are also quite comfortable on the budget.
Many people will tell you that you don’t need more than a 6x scope on a round that has such a short range. This is false. There are ample reasons why you may want a traditional scope with power well into the teens or even into the 20x range. If you varmint hunt, this is a great option. It's also common for hog hunting to have powerful optics that allow very precise shots. Let’s face it, some AR 15s are very accurate and having a 24x scope will allow you to hit very small targets well past 300 yards and up to 500 yards. These are slow to get shots off but your shots will be very precise.
It all comes down to what you want your rifle to do! That is a good idea to break down.
Here are a few of the common purposes different optics are applied to and what works best for those uses. This is a good way to narrow down what you need if you don’t already have a good idea of what to look for.
The 5.56mm cartridge is fairly small but as found use for deer hunting as well as hogs, predators, and all manner of small game. Some people object to its use on larger animals but with a well-placed shot with a good, lethal round it can do the job.
For the hunter, a lower powered scope is probably the most popular but red dots and reflex sights are becoming more popular. Especially those with magnification. In the dense eastern woodlands, having an optic that increases target acquisition speed drastically improves shot placement on moving targets.
The idea of the CQB has often been related to the lower powered traditional scopes but this is likely not the best tool for the job. The prism sight, reflex sight, and holo sight are really the best tools for the job. They are purpose-built to be fast and accurate in tight places. Avoid magnification as a general rule.
The one argument against this is battery life. If you get a good scope that will not be an issue as many have very long battery lives and features to ensure the batteries don’t run down. There are even sights that have a non battery option so you never have to worry about it. Ever.
Competition – 3 Gun or Combat Action
If you are shooting a competition that is based on speed of engagement, you should be able to figure out what scope you need. It’s the same as home defense as the type of shooting is often very similar. You want a red dot or holo sight for sure. This will cut down your time by seconds in even the stiffest of competition.
Some people do use low-powered scopes and they can improve time with practice but they will never stand up to the speed increase of a good reflex or holo sight. For 3 gun, this is the way to go.
Competition – Long Range or Precision
If you are trying to hit small or distant targets the only way to go is with a higher magnification long range scope. How much magnification depends on you and the type of competition. This should only make sense. Don’t take a scope meant for speed to a competition that needs patience and precision to win.
Low-powered scopes can be used for some of these competitions if the range is short to medium. For a 100 yard shot, they are a good choice. For 300 yards or more, I would go with higher magnification.
If its all for fun, pick what you love. For me, I like a big scope with a lot of magnification at long range. I like skilled shots. For some, its speed shooting. There is no better or worse optics if it's just doing what you love.
Best AR 15 Scope on the Market Review
Let's look at a few of the scopes, red dots, holo sights, and reflex sights that we love. You may not go with one of these but at least you will know what to look for.
Red Dots & Reflex Sights for AR-15
1 Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic
The number one pick for law enforcement around the world has been the Aimpoint for years. The PRO is the first to be specifically designed for their needs. This is the pinnacle of what a prism scope can be. Fast, lightweight, perfect for the carbine style AR 15. For home defense, this is number one all the way.
Usable day or night with varying intensity levels, the Aimpoint is an impressive piece of technology. It has no on button but will run solid for 3 years on a single battery. When its time to change, it will give you a reminder in plenty of time. Or just change it out on January 1st of each year like I do and never worry about it.
The reticle is a simple 2 MOA red dot that is very fast on target acquisition and good up to 100 yards before it starts to become a problem. Even past that, the rifle is accurate but like all red dots, the reticle can start to wash out after a while. Still, this is perhaps the most accurate red dot out there.
2 Vortex Optics Strikefire II
To be honest, this is an Aimpoint clone but one made by an outstanding company. While it may be second to the Aimpoint PRO, it is far from a cut-rate sight. This is a high-quality piece of engineering that has a few features the Aimpoint doesn’t. It also comes in with a slightly lower price tag.
To help with day/night shooting, the Strikefire has both red and green settings. In this case it’s a larger 4 MOA dot which can help with visibility a little but can be harmful to ranged accuracy. For most ranges you will shoot with a red dot, it won’t matter but its something to keep in mind.
The real difference is in battery life. The Strikefire runs an impressive 6000 hours off a single battery. But when compared to the near 30,000 hours for an Aimpoint, this is a little paltry. If you want a good optic for the money and can’t spring for the Aimpoint PRO, this is the best bang for the buck.
3 Sig Sauer Romeo 5
Sigs optic division has been making a lot of waves in the optics world. By all accounts, everything they make is very high quality as you should expect from such a renown company. In our experience, the Romeo 5 is an unexpected gem of a scope. This thing is tiny, accurate, and very easy to shoot.
With a total of 10 illumination settings for the Romeo 5’s 2 MOA dot, you can use it day or night and at reasonable range. It comes ready to mount to an AR 15 whit no additional mounts needed. It even has night vision capabilities if you are so inclined to get a bear of NVGs to go with it.
There are two great things about the Romeo 5. First it's under $200.00. Second it has a 40,000-hour battery life. That is 4 and a half years on a single battery! And it's not constantly on. It turns on by motion. While this sounded a little sketchy at first, it turns on and runs for an hour before turning off again. There aren’t any issues with it going off when you need it. Slap this on a 300 Blackout for some real fun.
4 Sightmark Ultra Shot Plus
While Sightmark may not be among the best companies, it always shows up in the top rated categories by actual users. It isn’t the most impressive sight but look at the competition! For a serviceable red dot that can be had for under $100.00 this is a good option with no doubts.
The Ultra Shot has a variety of reticles available in red or green to suit any situation you may need. It's solidly built and quite durable despite its design. All in all, this is a very fast optic though the size of the reticle can cause issues with ranged accuracy.
The main downfall of the Sightmark compared to those above is battery life. You will get a maximum of 1000 hours out of this sight but it does have an auto-off feature to preserve that. It isn’t a bad sight and if you are on a budget, it's one that will do the job well. Just not as well as some of those above.
Best Holo Sights for AR-15
5 EOTech XPS3
The newest holo sight by EOTech, the XPS3 is the culmination of the technology that started the holographic craze. In truth, the differences are rather small but notable. The most notable is the size and weight. This is the smallest and lightest holo sight you are going to get.
Battery life on a holo sight is less than other red dots by a large margin. The XPS 3 will run about 600 hours on a battery and has an auto-shutoff in case you forget. The tradeoff is the reticle pattern you get with a holo sight. The circle/dot pattern may be the fastest reticle out there as well as the most precise.
This works by using a 68 MOA ring for close in work and a central 1 MOA dot for getting out past 100 yards or more. I have hit targets at 300 yards consistently with my EOTECH on many occasion. Mine is on a carbine which it mounted to with perfect cowitness to my iron sights.
6 EOTech 512
This is the EOTECH that started all and my personal favorite model they produce. The one I have is probably close to 15 years old and still functions perfectly just like it did the day I bought it. It is a little larger than the current run and a little heavier but it’s cheaper by a fair margin as well. It also has a longer run time at about 1000 hours.
Occasionally these pop up under $300.00 but will usually run a little over. This is a great price for such a good optic. It has 20 brightness settings for shooting in any condition and uses the same ring and dot style as the new EOTECH. This has proven to be such an excellent reticle that it has endured for over 20 years.
For the price, you simply won’t beat this sight. If you shoot 3 gun, this is a great option for your AR and can even work well on a shotgun. I highly recommend checking out one of these sights. Especially if you don’t have the cash to drop on the newer models.
Best Low-Powered Scopes for AR-15
7 Leupold VX-R
What’s not to love about Leupold? Personally, the VX series has been my favorite fun of Leupold optics in years. They are compact, durable, and highly capable optics that simply perform. They are also American made and that has to stand for something!
The low-powered 1.5-5x scope when matched with their own firedot illuminated reticle is fast. This is probably the fastest low-powered scope on the market today. This is a perfect match for any of your ARs but can really stand out on one with a 20” barrel that can really show off its accuracy.
It is fog proof, waterproof, and shockproof. This is an optic that will last a lifetime without compromise or loss of performance. Leupold may not be my favorite scope company but this is by far my favorite low-powered scope and one well worth checking out!
8 Vortex Optics Crossfire II
When Vortex set about making a low-powered scope, they didn’t mess around. They did their research on what made the best models and then improved upon them. Not only does this have everything great about Vortex but it has everything you could want in a low-powered scope.
The 1-4x powered scope is a good choice for short range to medium range shots that still need an element of speed. I highly recommend these for hunting and they are perhaps the best overall for home defense. The low power lets you use them indoors without restricting your view if you use them out in the open.
Like all Vortex optics, the lenses are amazing, it is highly durable, and it even has an illuminated reticle. I’m not sure you could break this scope short of really putting some effort into it. It may have a cheap price but it doesn’t have any cut-rate components. It’s a solid as they come.
9 Nikon P-223
Occasionally you get those people who are weight obsessed with their AR 15s. It can be a very light rifle and if you want a very light optic to go with it, its hard to be the Force XR. A scope that weighs under a pound. Despite the weight, this is still a very durable scope.
Fixed power optics are rare these days but this one is set at a solid 3x which is a great option for those shooting under 300 yards. If this is you, you will find this scope perfect for your AR-15 as it was designed to function specifically for that round. No messing about with dialing in or estimating bullet drop.
Despite the small size and low weight, this is one of the most durable scopes Nikon makes. It is fully water and fog proof as well as being tested on rounds much tougher than the 5.56mm. It is optically perfect and a good price if you are on a budget. Even if you aren’t on a budget, it's still an amazing scope.
10 Burris Fullfield II
Burris is one of those companies that never really achieved the popularity they deserved. They are right up there with most of the midrange brands like Nikon and Bushnell but just never got the recognition. To your benefit, this often means the price is a little better and if you are after a good low-powered scope on a budget, this is well worth looking into.
With a power of 2 to 7x, you can easily take close shots or get out to well past 200 yards with reasonable accuracy. This is a good choice for a lot of hunters, especially those that hunt in underbrush and overgrown areas. I have used this successfully for coyote on numerous occasions.
All in all, I would rate the optical quality of the Burris to be very good. It isn’t top of the line but it can get away with that considering the lower magnification levels. Durability is on par with any midrange optic. It is more than capable of standing up to field use and can handle most shocks very well.
Best Long Range Scopes for AR-15
11 Nightforce SHV
When it comes to a long range scope, you are going to have a very hard time beating a Nightforce. They are optically perfect and well known for being nearly indestructible. Combine this with the best quality control on the market and you have a scope that will do everything it was meant to do and never give in.
There are several different SHV models but the 4-14 is probably the best matchup to the AR 15. It has a BDC reticle in MOA measurements that matches with MOA adjustments on its turrets for ease of dialing in range. 500 yards is an easy go with this scope and with practice, you can get farther.
Of course, it's waterproof, fog proof, and strong enough to handle a .50 caliber recoil so you have no worries about using it. This is a good long range hunting scope and even better on the competition field. Performance aside, it will turn heads just out of reputation.
12 Vortex Viper PST Gen II
This is probably the best scope on the market under $1000.00. That is saying something in the flooded optics market but its very true. Vortex is hard to beat when it comes to performance and price. That is one reason you will find so many listed here. We aren’t getting a kickback from the company, we just love the products.
There are several options when it comes to power and reticle pattern but our preference is the 3-15x in the EPR MOA reticle. This gives you matching adjustments and a good power range suitable for the AR-15. Like the Nightforce, this can get you to 500 yards and beyond with very little issue.
Like all Vortex optics, this is sealed, purged, and watertight. No fog issues, and perfectly clear optics no matter the conditions outside. You simply aren’t going to get a better scope for the money. Stepping up above that 1k mark is the only way to make much improvement.
13 Leupold VX-3i
We spoke a little about the VX series above, well this is my favorite VX optic out there. It has all of the Leupold quality and is the perfect match to the AR platform. It even comes in at a price that is very hard to believe from the legendary Leupold and Stevens company.
At 4.5-14x, this is the range of all the distance scopes we have on this list. We just like this range of power for most AR shooting. It is the most versatile when it comes to having a little fun, shooting competitions, and diving into hunting. This is a preference for hog hunting for sure!
One of the things we love about Leupold is the availability to get custom dials. You can send them your ballistics and they will get you dials that will put you right on target without the guesswork. That and the optical quality but that should go without saying. If you are on the fence about a Leupold this is the one to try.
14 Nikon M-Tactical
Let's kick this back around to Nikon for one more great distance scope. This time one under $500.00 for those on a budget. Also, one that is designed for the 5.56mm round and ready to send that out to the maximum effective range with no issues what so ever.
The upgraded M-Tactical comes in a variety of powers, either a 4-16x or a 3-12x. Both are a good choice so it really depends on what your needs are. Just make sure you get the one of the 5.56 and not the one for the .308 or you won’t get the benefits of the matching zero-reset turrets.
Being a part of the new and improved Nikon tactical lineup, these are far more durable than the Nikons of the past. They have all the same great optical quality that you could expect from the Monarch series and improved features for the tactical shooter. For a budget model, this is the long range scope to go with.
With so many scopes out there, we thought it would be fun to include a few that we love for specific purposes. If you didn’t find what you were after above, see if any of these are more your style.
Hunting – Bushnell AR Optics Dropzone
If you want a good 3-9x scope that is great for hunting almost anywhere in the country and can be effective for deer, hog, coyote, and small game, look no further than this little Bushnell. It's effective and very cost efficient.
When it comes to durability, this thing can handle the weather and occasional bumps and bangs. It's even designed to work with your AR ballistics. When it comes to just a good scope for a good price, this is a hard one to pass up.
Tactical – Trijicon ACOG
The ACOG should need no introduction. This is the legendary tactical optic used by the military for years. It's just gotten better with age. Truly, it's hard to find an actual combat proven optic available to civilians but this is the one you can guarantee to be available. They are immensely popular and for good reason.
Though this qualifies as a red dot sight, it takes no battery. It will burn for years and years without fail. It uses a chevron reticle that, when properly sighted in is very accurate. It can even be set to range out to 800 meters though your bullet isn’t that effective that far away. Best of all, it's built for the 5.56mm round.
ange – Nightforce BR
This is included mostly for the fun of having a big scope. Though the AR is not the normal home for this beast of a scope, it is fun to play with. At 12-42 power, you get the ultimate precision at any target at any range you can conceivably hit. For sheer fun, there is little better.
Strap this to an AR with a 20” barrel and get to the range. Be warned that you will have to use a rest if you crank the power up. This scope is so powerful it can wobble all the way off the target if you try to do it unsupported. It's all worth it when you put 5 rounds in a tennis ball at 550 yards.
Back Up Iron Sights for AR-15
If you are going to run a red dot or holo sight, make sure you have a set of irons in case something goes wrong. There are several brands that are worth looking at but these are our favorites.
There are two different types of MBUS but the polymer ones are more affordable and have given us no issue. I personally own about 6 sets of these and they are all doing fine no matter the abuse they have been put through.
What’s to say? They go on easy, are very accurate, and work every time. For the price, these are really the best bet. They are also easier to get than the metal ones which can be tricky to find.
Troy Folding Battle Sights
If for some reason the Magpuls don’t do it for you or you just have to have metal, go with Troy. Their sights are phenomenal if a little on the pricy side. Just stay away from the diamond shaped ones. They are not as easy to use as one would think.
The HK style sights are a very good option all around. They have a good shape and set your AR apart from every other model out there.
Though I have ran ARs for years with no optics, they just aren’t as effective without them. No matter what purpose you lend your rifle to, there is an optic that will make it better. Hopefully this article helps you pick the best AR 15 scope you need and that suits you best. There are tons of options, if we narrowed it down at all, we have been successful.