Rifle Optics World Recommended Optics For AR-15
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When most of us think of the AR-15 rifle, we tend to automatically associate it with the .223 Remington/5.56 NATO cartridge which is an excellent choice for defensive/tactical purposes.
However, in recent years, several new and more powerful cartridges such as the 6.5mm Grendel, the 6.8mm SPC, and the .300 Blackout have been developed for this rifle platform and thus, by simply changing the barrel, the bolt, and the magazine, we can easily convert this rifle to one of several different cartridges that are suitable for both hunting and long rang shooting.
Therefore, when choosing an optic for your AR-15 rifle, the first question you must answer is what particular purpose do you intend to use your rifle for so that you can choose an optic that best suits your particular needs.
For instance, both red dot sights and holographic sights provide extremely quick target acquisition and thus, they are well suited for defensive, tactical, and simulated combat competitions.
On the other hand, if you intend to use your rifle for hunting or for long range target shooting, then a scope is often the best choice. However, it should also be noted that both red dot sights and holographic sights with small MOA dots do work well for close range hunting situations and some AR-15 specific scopes are also well suited for tactical or defensive purposes.
While there are also several manufacturers that produce both lasers and thermal imaging scopes that are suitable for use with the AR-15, this article will be specifically focused on reflex sights, holographic sights, and rifle scopes.
Best AR 15 Scopes Compared
Burris AR F3
Eotech 512 A65
Nikon P-223 3x32
|Objective Lens:||21 mm x 15mm||38 mm||30 mm x 22 mm||32 mm|
|Length:||2 in||5.1 in||5.6 in||8.1 in|
|Weight:||4.6 oz||7.8 oz||11.1 oz||12.2 oz|
|Product Page:||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
So, what features should a person look for when purchasing an optic for their AR-15?
1. Well, regardless of whether you choose a reflex sight, a holographic sight, or a scope, it should be made from high quality materials and feature quality construction. Therefore, it is often best to choose an optic produced by a well known manufacturer with a long established reputation for producing high quality optics.
In addition, it should be noted the when it comes to optics, the old adage “you get what you pay for” is most definitely true because it costs the manufacturer significantly more to design and produce a high quality optic than it does a cheap one.
However, that does not necessarily mean that you must spend $500 to $1,000 in order to obtain a high quality optic for your rifle!
It simply means that you need to determine what level of performance you require from your optic depending on the use to which you intend to put it and then choose an appropriate price range depending on those requirements.
2. Because the AR-15/M-16 was specifically designed to be a compact, lightweight, rifle meant to replace the previously issued M-1 Garand and the M-14 rifles, it would make sense to choose an optic that is both compact and lightweight as well.
3. Optics designed specifically for defensive/tactical use must be both rugged and durable so that they can withstand both minor and major impacts as well as the recoil generated by rapid and/or repeated firing of the rifle and still maintain their zero point and this is the main reason why they need to be made from high quality materials and feature high quality construction.
4. When choosing an optic for defensive/tactical use or for close range hunting, the ability to quickly acquire a target is of paramount importance and thus, both red dot sights and holographic sights are often the optic of choice for this type of shooting.
However, when shooting at longer ranges, quick target acquisition is not nearly as important and thus, rifle scopes with minimal to moderate magnification are often the best choice.
Now, when choosing a rifle scope, the ability to clearly see your target at various distances and in varying light and atmospheric conditions is of paramount importance and thus, such factors as the degree of magnification, the size of the Objective Lens, the size of the Exit Pupil, the size of the tube, the amount or eye relief, the type and number of coatings on the lenses, and the type of reticle it has all affect the quality of the sight picture.
At the end, regardless of what type of optic you choose for your AR-15, if you intend to use it in inclement weather, it must be both waterproof and fogproof; especially if it employs electronics.
However, one of the major flaws of all electronic sight has always been that they require some sort of power source (usually a battery) and thus, the life of the power source is also a concern.
Various Types of AR-15 Optics
Reflex ( Red-Dot) Sights Breakdown
First of all, it should be noted that a reflex sight does not employ a laser and thus, no significant amount of light is emitted forward of the shooter.
Consequently, most “red dot” sights fall into this category due to the fact that they consist of an objective lens with a partial mirror coating which is used to project the reticle from a point behind the objective lens which is then reflected off the back of the objective lens toward the shooter’s eye.
However, due to the reflective coating, it should be noted that less light is transmitted through the objective lens than through a clear lens but, in most cases, this is hardly noticeable by the shooter because the reflective lens coating has been tuned to reflect only the wavelength of light emitted by the reticle projection system which is usually an LED.
On the other hand, some reflex sights make use of the ambient light which is gathered by a fiber-optic system while others are supplemented by a tritium beta lamp unit for use in low light conditions.
Therefore, because this type of reflex sight requires a wider bandwidth of light in order to project the reticle onto the objective lens, they tend to alter the color of the light passing through the lens coating a bit more than those that employ an LED to generate the reticle.
Furthermore, reflex sights are generally available in one of two different types consisting of the “heads up” style which incorporates only one lens mounted in a bezel with the source of the reticle contained in a small box positioned behind and below the lens and thus, they have an entirely different appearance from tube-type reflex sights.
Whereas, the other type of reflex sight incorporates a tube with a lens positioned at each end and thus, they appear similar to a scope.
In addition, it should be noted that due to their construction, the heads up style of reflex sight can usually be mounted lower on the firearm than tube-type reflex sights and therefore, many shooters prefer the “heads up” style over the tube-body style because they are far less bulky and, in many cases, are significantly lighter.
Plus, due to the shape of the objective lens, heads up sights generally have a wider field of view than tube-body sighs. However, due to their open bodies, the “heads up” type of reflexive sight is theoretically more easily damaged than tube-type reflexive sights.
Holographic Sights Breakdown
Also, it should be noted that holographic weapon sights differ from reflex sights in that the reticle is superimposed on your target picture via a laser which illuminates a hologram that is contained within the objective lens (not projected onto it) and thus, there is no need for a reflective coating on the objective lens.
Instead, a photograph of the reticle is taken which is then sandwiched between two layers of optical glass and illuminated by a laser mounted behind the objective lens which is then projected forward away from the shooter which creates a reticle image that is meant to appear at a virtual 50 yards in front of the shooter.
Also, at present, all holographic sights are of the “heads up” type which many shooters prefer over tube-body sights due to their lack of bulk and light weight.
Plus, the wider objective lens provides a significantly larger field of view than the field of view provided by round, tube-body, sights.
In addition, because the reticle in these sights is a hologram, they could theoretically be any size or shape but, EOTech has incorporated a 1 MOA dot (the smallest in the industry) combined with a 68 MOA circle which not only provides extremely quick target acquisition, it also provides greater precision at longer ranges than the 2 MOA or 4 MOA dots used on reflex sights.
In fact, at a distance of 200 yards, the 1 MOA dot only occludes 2 inches of the target whereas, the 2 MOA and 4 MOA dots occlude 4 to 8 inches of the target respectively.
When holographic sights are combined with a special 3x magnifier, only the target is enlarged while the dot remains the same size whereas, when a magnifier is added to a reflex sight, both the target and the dot are enlarged.
Rifle Scopes Breakdown
When choosing a scope for your AR-15, you should first be aware that they are available with either fixed or variable magnification and the reason that this is important is that fixed power scopes lack the moving internal parts necessary to increase or decrease the magnification and thus, they are tougher and more reliable than variable scopes.
Therefore, fixed power scopes with minimum to moderate magnification are often preferred over variable power scopes for defensive/tactical use whereas, variable power scopes are often preferred over fixed power scopes for long range shooting because the shooter has the luxury of time to adjust the magnification to match the range of the target.
The main disadvantage of variable power scopes is that they are significantly heavier than fixed power scopes.
In fact, most variable power scopes weigh between 14 ounces and 18 ounces and, when you add a scope mount that weighs between 3 ounces and 10 ounces, the total added weight can be significant which tends to defeat the purpose of purchasing a compact, lightweight, rifle such as the AR-15.
Another factor to be considered when purchasing a variable power scope is whether the reticle is located in the First Focal Plane (FFP) or the Second Focal Plane (SFP) and, the reason that this is important is that when the reticle is located in the First Focal Plane, the size of the reticle increases or decreases as the magnification is increased or decreased whereas, when the reticle is located in the Second Focal Plane, the size of the reticle remains the same when the magnification is increased or decreased.
Therefore, with an FFP scope, the size of the reticle remains consistent with the size of the target whereas, with an SFP scope, the size of the reticle remains the same as the size of the target increases or decreases.
When using a range finding reticle, such as mildot or milliradian, scopes with the reticle located in the first focal plane enable the shooter to accurately determine the range of the target at any magnification but, when using a scope with the reticle located in the second focal plane, the scope must be set to the magnification specified by the manufacturer in order to accurately determine the range.
However it should also be noted that scopes with the reticle located in the first focal plane are often significantly more expensive than those with the reticle located in the second focal plane.
So, unless you are going to be ranging targets at long ranges where the increased magnification is necessary to see your target, the added expense of an FFP scope may not be worthwhile.
Another factor that should be considered when purchasing a scope for your AR-15 is the diameter of the Objective Lens, the diameter of the tube, and the diameter of the Exit Pupil because scopes with larger objective lenses, tubes, and exit pupils gather and transmit more light to the shooter’s eye which, in turn, provides a clearer sight picture in low light conditions.
Furthermore, when purchasing a scope for your AR-15 rifle, both the diameter of the eyepiece and the length of the eye relief should be considered because a large eyepiece makes it easier to quickly acquire a target and the length of the eye relief determines how close the shooter’s eye must be to the eyepiece in order to gain the maximum field of view available from that particular scope.
In addition, it should be noted that rifle scopes are available with many different types of reticles and some reticles are better suited for close rang use whereas, others are better suited for long range use.
For instance, dot, post, and duplex reticles are all relatively simple reticles that make it easy to quickly acquire a target at close range whereas, range finding reticles such as the mildot ( we teach how to measure range with those here ) and milliradian are far more complicated to use and Bullet Drop Compensated reticles (BDC) often have complicated displays that require a significant amount of use to become familiar with.
Last, when purchasing a rifle scope, you will need to decide between capped turrets and tactical style turrets and, the reason that this feature is important is that capped turrets generally have a very low profile but, do not enable the shooter to make quick adjustments to the position of the reticle to compensate for windage and elevation whereas, tactical style turrets have a high profile that make it very easy for the shooter to adjust the position of the reticle.
Thus, capped turrets are often preferred for close range use whereas, tactical style turrets are usually chosen for shooting at long ranges.
4 Top AR15 Scopes Reviewed
Although there are many different brands and models of AR-15 optics available from numerous different manufacturers, listed below are four sights that are particularly well suited for use on the AR-15 platform.
Best Heads Up Red-Dot Sight – Burris AR-F3 3 MOA
The Burris AR-F3 reflex sight with heads up objective lens combines the Burris FastFire III reflex sight with a Burris AR-F3 mount which features metal wings on either side of the objective lens to protect it from impact. Also, the 21mm x 15mm objective lens of this sight is made from high-grade optical glass for superior brightness and clarity and an index-matched, Hi-Lume, multicoating provides glare elimination and low-light performance.
- With a 3 MOA red dot and three manual brightness settings combined with one automatic setting that senses the ambient light level, washout is virtually eliminated.
- The 1x magnification is parallax free and allows the shooter to keep both-eyes-open for enhanced awareness and target acquisition.
- With a 115 MOA elevation adjustment and an 86 MOA windage adjustment, this sight can be zeroed with a wide range of calibers and cartridges.
- The Burris F3 mount is specifically designed to provide enough height to enable co-witnessing with iron sights when mounted on flat top receivers and, it contains a storage compartment under the mount for carrying an extra battery and wrench.
Best Tube-body Red-Dot Sight – Aimpoint PRO 30mm
The Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic was specifically designed to meet the needs of professionals in the field and thus, it was designed using input from both current and former military and police professionals.
Therefore, this sight features a hard anodized aluminum body with recessed lenses to help protect it from impact and the front lens features a unique band-pass coating that enables it to be used with all generations of night vision devices.
Also, the modular QRP2 mount features a removable spacer that indexes the sight at the optimum height for co-witnessing of the iron sights on AR-15/M-16/M-4 carbine rifles. In addition, it features a 38 mm objective lens and a 2 MOA red dot for fast target acquisition and accuracy at close to moderate ranges and the Advanced Circuit Efficiency Technology (ACET) provides 30,000 hours of continuous use from a single battery.
Plus, with 6 daylight settings and 4 night vision device settings, washout is virtually eliminated. Last, the front lens opening is threaded to enable the use of the matching screw-in anti-reflection device (ARD) and it is compatible with all generations of night vision devices. Read full review…
Objective Lens: 38 mm
Tube Diameter: 30 mm
Length & Width: 5.1 in. x 2.2 in.
Weight: 7.8 oz.
Eye Relief: Unlimited
Reticle: 2 MOA red dot
Brightness settings: 6 daylight settings/4 NVD settings
Electronics: mACET technology
Battery life: 30,000 hours
Waterproof/fogproof Submersible to 150 ft.
MSRP: Not listed on the manufacturer’s web site
Best Holographic Sight – EOTech 512-A65 65 MOA Circle-Dot
The EOTech model 512 is their most popular holographic weapon sight (HWS) and is ideal for defensive/tactical purposes but, it should be noted that this model is not compatible with night vision devices (model 552 is compatible).
However, it does provide unlimited eye relief with no parallax and the rectangular, heads up, objective lens combined with a 28 meter field of view enables the shooter to keep both eyes open for enhanced awareness.
Plus, the 1 MOA red dot combined with the 68 MOA circle provides extremely quick target acquisition and enhanced accuracy at close to moderate ranges. In addition, an anti-reflective coating on the objective lens combined with a wide range of brightness settings virtually eliminates washout of the target.
Last, unlike other electronic sights, the EOTech model 512 operates on two AA batteries and is compatible with either alkaline or lithium batteries. Full review here…
Objective Lens: 1.2 in. x 0.85 in.
Field of View: 28 m @ 100 yd.
Length & Width: 5.6 in. x 2 in.
Weight: 11.1 oz.
Eye Relief: Unlimited
Reticle: 1 MOA red dot w/68 MOA circle
Brightness settings: 110,000 to 1
Battery life: AA Lithium 11,000 hours/Alkaline 600 hours
Waterproof/fogproof Submersible to 10 ft./Yes
Best AR-15 Specific Rifle Scope – Nikon P-223 3 x 32mm BDC Carbine
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that they have designed a series of high quality rifle scopes meant specifically for use on the AR-15. However, for close range shooting, the Nikon P-223 3 x 32mm BDC Carbine scope is an excellent choice because it incorporates features designed specifically for the .223 Remington/5.56 NATO cartridge such as their Spot On Ballistics Match technology which works in conjunction with their BDC reticle and the 55 grain, polymer tipped, .223 caliber round to provide shooters with an easy means of determining the correct aiming point.
However, the reticle is also adjustable over a range of 100 MOA so that the shooter can tailor the scope mate with the specific round that they are firing. Plus, it has an unusually large eye piece and generous eye relief for quick target acquisition and a large Objective Lens, a large Exit Pupil, and a 1″ tube combined with a multi-layer coating on the Objective Lens for superior light transmission and an extra clear sight picture.
Last, it also feature spring loaded, Zero Reset, tactical style, adjustment turrets that enable the shooter to make extremely quick adjustments to the windage and elevation and then return to zero by simply pressing down on the turret and then releasing it. Full review here…
Objective Lens: 32 mm
Exit Pupil: 10.7 mm
Field of View: 35.6 ft. @ 100 yd.
Eye Relief: 3.4 in.
Eye Piece Outside Diameter 41mm
Parallax Setting: 100 yd.
Reticle: BDC Carbine
Overall Length: 8.1 in.
Weight 12.2 oz.
Feedback I have received every day since the launch of this AR-15 buyer guide has been overwhelming. I receive tens of messages a day where people ask for my recommendations on what AR-15 scope should they buy that matches the specific criteria and expectations they have. Unfortunately, most of the messages come through the contact form not through comment section where everyone could see my reply.
So, to save my and yours time I will list common questions with my replies here ( I have formatted some messages for better readability ):
Budget $300, scope for 50-400 yards?
Q:My budget is around $300 and where I’m looking to shot will vary from 50 and 400 yards. Most popular brands I see all the time are Nikon and leupold. I was thinking like this: http://amzn.to/1RwTPLg. What you think?
A: It is definitely not a bad choice, but for 50 to 400 I would be looking for something more versatile like 4-12x. Also, since you have budget around $300 then remember that quality optic is an investment and don’t be afraid to max that budget out. In your specific situation, I would choose Leupold VX-2, it has 4-12x magnification and Leupold is very well known for its quality glass and is definitely one of the most respectable optic companies out there.
Red-Dot sight for hog hunting?
Q: Long time gun fan, but new AR-15 owner. My MP15 is without sights so far, but now that I am looking to do some hog hunting I think I need a red-dot sight. Any recommendations for newbie like me?
A: It depends on your budget and do you want to use sight for only hog hunting? Usually when it comes to red-dots Aimpoints is great IF you have the budget, but they are quite expensive too. However, since you are looking for a hunting optic you really cannot cheap out on durability and lens quality. I would generally recommend something with slight ( 1-4 ) magnification for hog hunting. Most of the wild hog hunting is done under 100 yards so red-dot can theoretically work too. So, I would recommend Aimpoint H34L or if it is too expensive take a look at this.
For coyote hunting, up to 300 yards, budget $300?
Q: Recently got a new rifle and mostly looking to do some coyote hunting alongside with a bit of range shooting. I am looking optic that would leave me comfortable up to 300 yards and it should be in $300 price range . So far what I have looked for is mainly Leupold products, especially Mark AR. The problem is that 3-9x magnification goes higher than I need. I have checked articles about coyote hunting optics, but all the recommendations involve products out of my budget zone.
A: During coyote hunting you have to be comfortable making kills 250+ to even 500 yard range. Of course, it depends on habitat. In some places most of the coyote hunting can occur under 100 yards too. What is extremely important when coyote hunting is the scopes ability to gather light because you will be hunting in low light situations. So lens coating + size of objective lens is important. So, I would go with Leupold VX-2 series, 3-9x or even 3-5-10x will work fine.
Good 2.5x AR-15 scope?
Q: Can you recommend me good 2.5x or even 1-4x scope for my ar15. I am going to be using it in my farm for predator hunting. I think the furthest I will be shooting is around 125 to 150 yards. I have really strict budget, $500 so please don’t recommend anything over that. Basically I am looking for compactness and quality while staying in my budget range.
A: Basically what we want here is a low magnification optic for all around purposes. For 125 to 150 yards you don’t really need powerful magnification, actually you can even cover that area with 1x red dot. However, since you are looking for something magnified then Leupold FXII 2.5×20 is definitely great choice. Weighs 6 oz (!) and is 8 inches long overall. On top of that, you get to spend half of that budget on ammo.