Choosing a scope for any firearm can always seem to be an exciting a daunting task. Getting a new piece of equipment to outfit a rifle is always a great chance to learn about your firearm and what new technology is available in modern optics.
While every firearm has its own set of specific details you will need to consider, muzzleloaders offer their own set of challenges and requirements if you are looking for an effective and appropriate – the best muzzleloader scope for the task. Let’s explore some of the reasons you might want to use a muzzleloader, and what types of optics are appropriate for one.
Muzzleloaders have been growing in popularity in recent years, mostly for hunters who are looking to extend their seasons. Due to the relative lack of hunters who choose to use a muzzleloader, and the improvements in technology around muzzleloaders, deciding to expand your hunting repertoire can definitely extend your chances of bagging that trophy this year.
In many states, there are special seasons for large game that only allow muzzleloaders as a legal way of taking game. This is beneficial for several reasons; there are fewer hunters in the woods which relieves pressure on the game, this allows more time for a hunter to capitalize on their hard work done outside of season, and in some states this might allow for a larger bag limit if you choose to hunt more than one season.
Muzzleloaders used to be somewhat of an expert’s gun, but as the concepts have been modernized these have become extremely user-friendly tools for hunters. Polymer furniture, break actions, removeable breach plugs, and adjustable triggers have all decreased the barrier to entry for the average Joe to get into muzzleloading. While this article won’t help you choose a new muzzleloading rifle, my first experience in beginning muzzleloading was very easy and has been fruitful in extending my hunting season.
Special Considerations When Choosing Scopes for Muzzleloader Rifles
Looking for a scope to pair with your muzzleloader is a different undertaking than when shopping to outfit a modern rifle. Muzzleloaders are most commonly used for hunting, and they have much shorter effective ranges than rifles chambered in a modern caliber. Due to the relatively larger projectile and less powerful charges, the slower moving projectiles tend to drop off much earlier in their trajectory which alleviates the need for exposed turrets because you are unlikely to be taking aim at a target more than a few hundred yards away.
While muzzleloaders are not likely to use a charge with the ballistics capable of consistently hitting targets over 1000 yards, they do tend to have a relatively large amount of felt recoil. Most muzzleloaders also have very simple mechanisms throughout the gun, which means that there is likely little to no recoil management device built into the gun outside of a padded buttstock. This means that any optic placed onto a muzzleloader will need to have serious durability to withstand the heavy recoil that can be expected from regular use.
As we said earlier, most muzzleloaders are likely to be used in hunting applications. Since weather and light conditions can vary wildly during different hunting situations, there are some features you should demand in your muzzleloader scope. Waterproof, nitrogen purged scopes should be the standard for any hunting scope. It is also beneficial to look for scopes that use lens coatings that will help to further reduce fogging. Also, illuminated reticles will help the hunter in those early morning or late evening shooting hours when light is low.
Keep It Simple
Reticles in many rifle scopes are becoming increasingly complex and useful for the long-range shooter. As a hunter with a muzzleloader, you might want to look for something simpler. A simple duplex reticle will serve many hunters very well, but there are some scopes made specifically for muzzle-loading rifles that have reticles designed to help with ranged shots; if you want a graduated reticle, be sure to find one specifically made for muzzleloaders because bullet drop will be much different when compared to that seen in modern cartridges. Determine how far you are comfortable shooting with your muzzleloader, and then decide if you have the need for an enhanced reticle in your scope.
While tactical scopes with exposed turrets and parallax adjustment might be fully capable of handling the recoil of a muzzleloader, there will be features and functions of these scopes that are completely unnecessary for our purposes. While nobody will stop you from buying a $1000 scope for your muzzleloader, this simply isn’t practical. Unless you are very skilled with your muzzleloader and you are hunting in a specific scenario, you will be better served putting that money into your muzzleloader itself, or powder and ammunition for training. Or maybe even some other hunting equipment that will improve your overall system and increase your odds of success.
There is another consideration that you must take note of. If you are using your muzzleloader for hunting, you should consult your state and local laws regarding legal modifications for your gun. Some states do not allow any optic with magnification capability to be used with a muzzleloader during hunting seasons, so you may want to look at red dot or holographic optics with no magnification instead of a scope, or maybe even just some upgraded iron sights.
Depending on the areas you plan to use your muzzleloader, the game you plan to hunt, and your level of comfort with your muzzleloader you will want to choose your optic appropriately.
Best Muzzleloader Recommendations
Bushnell Trophy Muzzle Loader Scope
This scope is a very affordable option for those looking to improve their ability to identify and hit targets at range with their muzzleloader. With 3-9x magnification, users who have any experience with a hunting scope will find this optic very familiar. One of the great benefits of this scope is Bushnell’s rain guard coating that reduces fog, water build up, and improves light transmission through the lenses.
When sighting in the scope, the adjustment knobs don’t require any tools which is a nice touch. This scope was designed to handle the recoil of a modern muzzleloader and had a super rugged one-piece tube design. The power ring moves smoothly and easily for quick adjustments when hunting, where the target may only be in position for a few moments.
One addition that could be done away with is the graduated reticle. While many shooters prefer a little more information in their reticle to help with longer range shots, they are not going to be effective on a muzzleloader. Bullets and powder charges are going to change the ballistics wildly depending on the preference of the shooter, and in this application, a complicated reticle is unlikely to be accurate and is probably just adding white noise to the shooter.
Traditions 3-9x40mm Black Powder Scope
Traditions is a company that makes products specifically for the black powder and muzzleloader market. If anybody knows what needs to go into a muzzleloading scope, it should be these guys. One of the benefits of this scope is the extreme value you get. For under $50 you are going to get exactly what you need in a hunting scope for your muzzleloader, and nothing you don’t.
The scope comes with a simple reticle that will give the shooter a clear, unobstructed, and uncomplicated view of the target when getting ready to take that shot. The one-piece tube design also offers the shooter the confidence that this scope will continue to hold zero shot after shot, and through the bumps expected when carrying a rifle through the woods during hunting. All aluminum construction also helps to save weight for those long treks through the wilderness.
The reticle on this scope does have graduations, but Traditions did us the favor of letting us know what specific charge and projectile they expect it to be accurate for. If you choose to use this load you will find it helpful, and it just happens to be one of the most common loads used by hunters.
Thompson Center T/C 9948
Another clack powder and muzzleloader specific company, Thompson Center makes a wide variety of muzzleloaders and muzzleloading accessories that vary from the budget friendly to the professional grade quality.
This specific scope is aimed straight at the muzzleloading hunter who appreciates value. This is the first scope on the list that comes with rings included. Not only does it have rings, but it even comes with mounts for the rings. This is important because many muzzleloaders do not come with a pre-installed rail system for simple installation of a scope, but the mounts are tapped to attach easily to most Thompson Center muzzleloaders with no modification. Reviews also state that there is compatibility with some other brands as well, such as some CVA models.
This is a simple scope that comes with everything you need to put rounds on target for under $100 with your muzzleloader. The reticle is a simple duplex design that provides the shooter with an uncomplicated sight picture, regardless of the load you prefer when hunting. The lenses are clear and provide a crisp view when looking at targets under 200 yards. If you are looking for a complete package to get your muzzleloader ready for hunting, this is probably the simplest option you will be able to find on this list.
Leupold should be a name you are very familiar with if you have experience with high end rifle optics. The VX-Freedom is a model from them that comes with the high-quality components found in top tier rifle optics, but with features that are paired perfectly your muzzleloader.
Aircraft grade aluminum construction rock-solid components allow Leupold to offer their lifetime warranty, even with the harsh recoil expected from muzzleloaders. The excellent quality glass and lens coatings offer a super clear sight picture that is fog-proof and collects extra light, extending shooting time further than competitors’ scopes can offer. The glass is not only ultra-clear and fog proof, but also resists scratches as it is constructed in the same manner that their military grade optics are.
The Ultimate Slam reticle in the scope is a proprietary design from Leupold that makes target acquisition easy but does give the shooter some reference points to adjust the point of aim with some data from previous engagements without cluttering up the sight picture.
Other features such as tool-less adjustment on the windage and elevation continue to check the boxes on what shooters want in their hunting scopes. The fact that you are able to get all of these features, with military-grade quality for under $300 shows that Leupold can do more than make professional grade scopes, but that they also have their ear to the ground for the hunters who also want quality optics for their firearms.
Every once in a while there comes a product from somewhere you’ve never heard of that ticks all the boxes for a specific market. Konus is not a brand that you are likely to hear in conversation about the highest quality scopes available on the market, but this brand is trusted by muzzleloader manufactures like CVA as preferred optics for their firearms.
This scope is designed to withstand heavy recoil and hold zero while doing so, and it does these things well. The scope offers a very simple reticle with just a little extra flair with a diamond shape around the duplex reticle to help the shooter’s eye put the crosshairs on target quickly without creating unnecessary clutter in the sight picture. The reticle is also engraved into the second focal plane which further helps to improve the ability to retain zero during regular use or heavy recoil.
A one-inch tube and generous three-inch eye relief offers a wide field of view at range. Tool free adjustments for windage and elevation are a nice feature not always found on budget optics. If you are looking for a budget muzzleloader scope, look no further.
The Vortex Diamondback is not a specific muzzleloader scope, but it is a proven hunting scope with rugged durability. When this scope is paired with Vortex’s V-Plex reticle, it becomes an incredible value for hunters using nearly any firearm.
As with most Vortex products, the lenses are coated to prevent fogging, water accumulation, and scratches. The coating also helps to improve the light transmission through the lenses making shooting during low-light easier. One-piece tube design helps the scope live up to its claim of shockproof durability.
The adjustments to elevation and windage are tool-free, accurate, and repeatable. This scope for under $200 has become a mainstay in Vortex products, and it’s no surprise we find it in the Diamondback.
Nikon Prostaff P3
Nikon has been one of the leading manufactures in hunting scopes for years now, and it only makes sense that they would add a muzzleloader scope to their lineup. In this scope you can expect many of the features and the high-quality construction found in other Nikon products.
Crystal clear lenses and fog proof coatings give the shooter an excellent sight picture with looking down range. This is further improved by the one-inch main tube that helps to extend the field of view at range.
Nikon does include their BDC 300 reticle in this scope. This reticle incorporates a traditional duplex design with a few reference points for bullet drop at range. The reticle is calibrated for a 150-grain charge with a 250-grain projectile, so you will need to do some experimenting at the range if you prefer a different combination.
A unique feature on this scope is the turrets for elevation and windage adjustment. They are covered with caps, but once the caps are removed, they perform like exposed turrets with zero stop capability. If you plan to experiment with difference loads and charges, this could be a great feature to set your muzzleloader back to your hunting zero without cause for concern.
While there are better made red dot sights on the market, if you are looking for a simple red dot for your muzzleloader there are few reasons to look further than this fan favorite optic. The value of this optic comes up over and over in conversation and top 10 lists because it offers sturdy construction and a crisp red dot for quick target acquisition.
With excellent battery life, this optic is a great option for hunters who plan on leaving their red dot on for days at a time during the hunting season. The adjustable brightness also allows the shooter to acquire targets in both bright days, and low light conditions.
The TRS-25 is waterproof and fog proof and will mount to any picatinny or weaver style rail. It uses the common CR2032 battery, so when the optic does finally die it won’t be a problem getting if fired back up again. The unlimited eye relief, parallax free red dot, and light weight make this an excellent option for muzzleloader hunters who plan on taking game from 150 yards and nearer.
This optic as become a mainstay for hunters since adoption by the military in the mid-2000’s. Due to the incredibly rugged construction, ease of use, and relative value the EOTECH 512 has been finding its way onto high recoil hunting firearms in increasing frequency.
One of the benefits is that the optic uses AA batteries which can be found in nearly any store, so keeping this optic running will never be an issue. The optic mounts low and has its weaver rail attachment integrally built into the base so there are no extra parts to purchase if you have a mounting rail already on your firearm.
The reticle on the 512 has become legendary as a close quarters and medium range targeting system and has been copied by many. The 68 MOA ring that surrounds the 1 MOA dot can be used to quickly acquire targets or as a reference point for bullet drop or moving targets. The 1 MOA dot provides a very precise aiming point when finding your mark for that perfect shot placement.
With the proven military service of this optic, and the widespread use on all varieties of firearms, you can mount this to your muzzleloader with confidence that it will hold zero through the most abusive of conditions.
Connecticut Valley Arms Durasight Fo
If you are in an area that requires more traditional sights, or you prefer iron sights but would still like an upgrade there is still an option for you. Theses fiber optic sights are a bolt-on replacement for existing sights on most CVA and Traditions muzzleloaders. Replacing your original sights with these should require no further tools than a screwdriver.
You will immediately see an improvement in your sight picture as the green rear and red front dots pick up light and glow back at you in a way that traditional iron sights cannot. The fiber optic tubes work even in low light conditions extending your shooting hours beyond what you are probably accustomed to with black or painted sights.
One complaint that people with this style of sight is that the front sight can come loose due to the design, but a small amount of glue can alleviate any concerns you might have. In my experience, the benefits outweigh any potential concerns.
Muzzleloaders, like all hunting firearms, can often be limited by the eyesight of the shooter. The ability to improve your vision and precision using a quality optic will not only improve your odds of taking game in the field but will also improve your confidence when taking the shot. Whether you are outfitting your first muzzleloader or looking to put together a high-end hunting system, there is something for you in this best muzzleloader scope list.
L.P. Brezny is a highly respected and experienced shotgun expert and author with over 50 years in the industry and testing lab. He has contributed to numerous firearms publications, including Wildfowl, Shotgun Sports, and Varmint Hunters, and is a regular columnist for Gun Digest and AmmoLand News.