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best ar 15 optics

Best AR-15 Optics & Scopes – Top 20 Recommendations & Reviews [ Red Dot Included]

Now that you have your new AR, the first thing most of us will want to do is to start upgrading it. While there are many trends in the industry covering all of the different accessories that can be attached to your AR 15, there is one that has stood the test of time for years. Not only has this accessory proven that it is not part of any fads in the industry, but it is the single most effective tool at improving your accuracy and speed on to the target.

Of course, optics are the single most popular upgrade to the AR 15. Optics can range in price from a few dozen dollars up to thousands of dollars, and they are almost all effective upgrades to your rifle. Whether you are interested in a red dot or a scope, most shooters would consider an optic to be the most important upgrade you can add to your rifle.

Because of the popularity of optics, there are currently hundreds of potential options for you as a shooter. More companies than ever are producing scopes for long range shooting, sniping, and hunting. The same could be said for red dot companies producing red dots for close quarters fighting, home defense competition shooting, and even for hunting.

With the AR-15 being the most popular rifle in the United States a vast number of these optics are produced specifically for the AR-15. They consider AR sights, barrel length and caliber. AR 15 owners have more optic selections than any other group of shooters in the world.

So, the real question is which one is the best AR 15 scope for you?

Before we can answer that specifically we need to consider several factors. Trust me it’s not near as simple as you just tossing an optic on your gun and hitting the range. With so many options out there, we really have several considerations we must make.

AR-15 Red Dot or Scope?

To determine which type of optic is best for your AR 15, we must first identify the differences between the two.

What’s the Difference?

Red dots or holographic sights are extremely popular for shooters as they provide an easy to acquire aiming point without providing magnification. These types of optics are an improvement upon traditional iron sights because they offer a singular point of reference for aiming rather than requiring the shooter to line up a front and rear sight aperture on the target. This means that you, as the shooter, will be able to acquire targets more quickly without the hindrance that parallax can have on the point of aim.

Parallax is can effect accuracy as minor differences in the position of the eye behind the rear sight aperture can cause inconsistencies in shot placement. This is one of the biggest detractors from using iron sights when other options are available.

Scopes provide magnification on targets, which will obviously make the target appear larger in the shooter’s field of view. This gives the shooter the ability to notice fine differences in point of aim at range. Magnification also allows the shooter to have a more precise aiming point when shooting at further distances. With iron sights or red dots, when shooting at far targets it is common for the front sight post or reticle to be larger than the target which will greatly increase the challenge of putting a well-placed shot on target.

Intended Use

The next question you will need to answer is how you intend to use your rifle. If you plan on primarily shooting targets less than 200 yards, you might not be interested in magnification. Having the wider field of view and ability to quickly acquire targets that red dots give you are likely going to outweigh the benefits of magnification that scopes provide.

If you are planning on reaching out further and hitting long range targets with your AR 15, the scope is likely the answer to your question. Predator hunters and precision rifle shooters will benefit greatly from magnification as these sports usually require excellent accuracy at long ranges.

How to Choose a Red Dot for an AR 15? 

While the concept of a red dot scope is relatively simple, there are many things you will want to consider when making your selection. First is the red dot itself. The best red dot scopes will have a small and crisp dot that make it easy for the shooter to make repeatable shots quickly. Some budget optics will have dots that are oblong shaped or look more like a starburst than a dot. This effect is easily amplified if the shooter has an astigmatism. This can be alleviated by using a holographic sight as their reticles are not affected by an astigmatism.

Build Quality

Build quality is always a concern with optics for any rifle, but with the AR-15 it can be even more important. One of the benefits of the AR 15 is the ability to make rapid follow up shots, and continuously shooting quickly will transfer shocks from the recoil to the optic and cheap red dots can be damaged if they are not constructed ruggedly. Also, AR-15 rifles are often used in situations that can cause the rifle to be bumped around; competition shooting, training, and hunting can all cause stresses that some optics simply can not hold up too. Be sure the optic you choose is up to the rigors of your shooting needs.

Battery Life

Battery life is another concern. Some of the best red dots on the market today are able to measure their battery life in terms of years rather than hours. If you are going to use your red dot for hunting or duty, the last thing you want is to see your dot fading away due to a dead battery when it’s time to make a shot. If your shooting is mostly recreational, battery life might not be as much of a concern for you. Keep in mind that most holographic sights will have significantly shorter battery life than traditional red dots.


Sometimes the accessories that come with the optic can be overlooked when shopping. Due to the design of the AR 15, most shooters will prefer their optic to be mounted higher than with traditional sporting rifles. This means that most red dots use a riser to mount onto the top of the receiver, elevating the optic to a more comfortable position for the shooter. Some red dots have the riser built in, some come with a riser, and some will require you to make an additional purchase to properly mount your red dot sight. 

How to Choose a Scope for an AR 15?

Realistic Range Expectations

Choosing the right scope can be more challenging. One must first determine how far they realistically plan to shoot. This can be dependent on the purpose of the rifle, the conditions you might shoot in, and the caliber of your AR-15. If you are shooting 5.56 or .223, 500 yards might be your limit. If your AR 15 is chambered in 6.5 Grendel, you could be shooting targets closer to 1000 yards out. If you are reaching out near 100 yards, you might be interested in maximum magnification in the range of 20x or more. If you are shooting at 500 yards and in, 9x might be more than enough magnification.

Variable VS Fixed Power

Do you need variable power zoom or fixed magnification? Variable optics are the most popular type of scopes as they give the shooter the ability to have a wider field of view at lower powers, or really blow up the target at higher magnification. Depending on what the difference is between the maximum and minimum magnification on your scope, this can sometimes affect the focus and parallax effect transmitted by your scope. Fixed power scopes are great for those who want a simple scope with 3x or 4x an are willing to trade the benefits of variable zoom for durability and simplicity.

Reticle & Magnification

The reticle in the scope can also play an important role in your scope selection. Many scopes have reticles that will help adjust for bullet drop at range, but the accuracy of these will be dependent on caliber the scope is calibrated for. Reticles can also help with adjusting for wind and help to estimate range to the target. While additional tools built into the reticle can assist with accurate shooting, they can sometimes complicate the view for the shooter and make target acquisition slower; worst case scenario is that the reticle is used incorrectly by mistake and actually causes a miss rather than assisting the shooter.

A popular choice of scope for the AR 15 is the Low Power Variable Optic or LPVO. These are great because they usually have a minimum zoom of 1x and a maximum of somewhere from 4x to 8x. This means that they will be effective for engaging close targets quickly and making precise shots at further ranges. These are excellent options for those interested in 3-gun competition, hunting, or duty use.

Extra Features

Many scopes will have exposed turrets to make adjustments for both windage and elevation. This is great for long range shooting applications because it allows the shooter to use the primary aiming point when wind and bullet drop have been accounted for instead of the less precise hold-off points that might be built into the reticle. For shots within 400 yards, these are usually not necessary and can often be more of a hindrance than a benefit. It’s usually recommended that scopes with these turrets be reserved for rifles capable of shooting beyond 500 yards. It should be noted that a common problem with budget scopes that have exposed turrets will not always have the most accurate adjustments built into the turrets. 

Features to Look for in Both Red Dots & Scopes

Regardless of the type of AR optic you choose, there are two features you need to look for in both options. These are durability and warranty.


A solid optic needs to be waterproof, shockproof, and fog proof. That’s the absolute minimum. Let’s break each of those down briefly.

  • Waterproof – Waterproof means a lot of things. Waterproof at a minimum means water cannot enter the scope under normal conditions. This means it can resist the effects of moisture in the environment and most rain. (Torrential downpours excluded.) Waterproof at a minimum is an O ring sealed scope. Some optics are also submersible to a certain range for a certain amount of time.
  • Shockproof – Shockproof means the scope can withstand the recoil and normal bumps and dumps of a gun’s life. Shockproof refers to the fact the scope isn’t going to fall apart after a hundred shots. It’s also going to resist losing zero or break when bumped or dropped from a normal height.
  • Fog Proof – This doesn’t refer to the external lenses, but to the lenses on the inside of the scope. If fog builds up on the inside of an optic just toss it in the trash, really, it’s done for. Fog proof scopes are sealed and then purged with a gas like argon or nitrogen to prevent fog from building up on the inside.


Warranty is going to be another major consideration. You want your optic’s investment protected and protected well. Always research the warranty and see what exactly it covers and how long it lasts, some scopes have certain warranties on electronics and others on optics.

Our Recommendations for AR-15 Optics

Bushnell TRS 25

 Bushnell Optics TRS-25

The Bushnell TRs 25 is a compact AR 15 sight that is designed around the AR platform. This miniature sight features a 25mm objective lens and comes with a riser to make it proper AR height. The TRS 25 weighs a mere 6 ounces and features 11 different brightness settings. It’s a simple and effective red dot that uses a standard CR2032 battery. The TRS 25 is a parallax free design, and is also water, shock, and fog proof.

The TRS-25 is perfect for close range competition shooting, and its small size helps keep the guns nice and light. It’s also at a great price and it’s hard to beat the Bushnell warranty.

Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn

 Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn Multi-X Reticle Riflescope

For a scope that will get you on the range or in the hunting field, this 3x-9x power scope will get you there for under $100. With glass clarity that is usually expected from scopes at a much higher price point, there is incredible value built into this scope.

Proprietary coating on the lenses of this scope allow for extra light gathering capability that will keep you effective at all hours of the day. For those who are looking to consistently hit their mark at range of 300 yards and beyond, this is an excellent place to start.

Vortex Sparc

Vortex Optics SPARC Red Dot Sights

The Vortex Sparc AR red dot sight is a budget priced full sized red dot sight from an outstanding company. Vortex produces fantastic optics, and this won’t be the last time we see them here. The Sparc comes with a mount and shim kit that allows the optic 1/3rd cowitness or absolute cowitness with AR height sights. The Sparc can last 300 hours at its brightest and 5000 hours at its dimmest setting.

The Sparc even features compatibility with night vision devices! The Sparc AR Red dot is an outstanding optic that’s an outstanding value.

Bushnell AR Optic

 Bushnell AR Optics, Drop Zone Reticle Riflescope

Bushnell’s line of AR optics have been generous to the AR 15 platform. These optics are built and designed around the world’s most popular rifle. The AR Optics FFP is an amazing tactical optic. It uses a bullet drop compensator dialed in for the standard AR 15 and 5.56/22 Remington round. The AR optics FFP is also a first focal plane scope that makes tactical shooting a breeze.

This is a variable scope with a 1 to 4 power magnification and uses a 24mm objective lens. To help you rapidly navigate that magnification range you get a throw lever that makes transitions rapid and easy. The reticle is illuminated and has 11 different settings. This is an excellent competition and tactical scope.

Primary Arms SLxP3

 Primary Arms SLxP3 Compact 3x32 Gen II Prism Scope

The Primary Arms Prism is a fixed power 3x scope that utilizes the ACSS 5.56 reticle. This is a bullet drop compensating reticle that allows you to reach out and touch a target with very little effort. This reticle is considered by many to be the perfect blend between giving the shooter a ton of information while maintaining simplicity in the field of view. The optic has 12 brightness settings and is designed with the AR 15 in mind.

It’s compact, reliable, and very easy to use. Best of all its priced substantially lower than some similar products that are touted by tactical elitists.

Vortex Strike Eagle

 Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 1-6x24 Second Focal Plane Riflescope

If you are looking for a scope to get you into serious 3-gun competition, this is an excellent option. The scope has excellent glass clarity. True 1x power at the lowest magnification makes it easy to engage near targets, with the ability to quickly transition to far targets with 6x magnification.

The BDC reticle is calibrated for 5.56 or .223, making it effective for the vast majority of AR 15s. Waterproof and shockproof construction will keep your scope running through even the most punishing conditions.

Vortex Crossfire II – Best for Deer Hunting

Vortex Optics Crossfire II Second Focal Plane

The Crossfire 2 is perfect if you are looking to outfit your AR 15 rifle for hunting. The AR 15 is a great hunting rifle and topped with the right scope it can be a deer slaying machine. The Crossfire 2 from Vortex is a 2 to 7 power optic that takes advantage of the AR’s close and long-range potential. The Crossfire 2 is machined from a solid block of aluminum and is rigid and strong. It’s water, shock, and fog proof and built to last.

The Crossfire 2 uses a hash mark reticle for bullet drop and wind calls and are designed to be used at the 7 power. It is a lightweight, affordable, and well-made hunting scope that’s perfect for the AR 15 with just under $200.

Leupold VX-3i – Best for Coyote Hunting

Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x50mm Riflescope

Coyote hunting can be an especially challenging sport as it requires long range precision, and quick shots on target. This scope will give you up to 14x zoom to zero in on the small vital area of coyotes, and the 50mm bell will help keep your field of view wide to survey the field even while zoomed in.

Legendary Leupold glass quality will give you the clearest image possible while using proprietary lens coatings to gather as much light as possible. A simple duplex reticle will keep things easy with an image that is not cluttered up with unnecessary information that can often be overwhelming in hunting situations.

Trijicon ACOG – Tactical Optics

 Trijicon ACOG 4 X 32 Scope

The ACOG is the chosen combat optic of the United States Military and has served for over a decade and through two wars. The Trijicon ACOG is a fixed four power optic that is extremely compact and lightweight. It’s also one of the toughest optics on the market and provides an illuminated battery free reticle. The mix of fiber optics and tritium forms a solar like power source that brightens the reticle.

The Trijicon ACOG scope features one of the best bullet drop compensators in the business. It goes all the way out to 800 meters and from experience I can say it’s dead on.

EOTECH Vudu – Tactical Optics

EOTECH Vudu 1-6x24mm Precision Rifle Scope

For unmatched performance in an LPVO, there are few scopes that can compete with the VUDU. This scope offers a lens quality equal to that of some of the best long-range scopes on the market, while offering military grade durability.

Innovative reticle designs also give you the option to get the best features you need for your specific application. The illuminated reticle also ensures that you will be able to put rounds on target, regardless of ambient light.

For a military grade LPVO, this is the only choice we recommend.

Leupold Mark Mod 1 – For Long Range Shooting

 Leupold Mark MOD 1

The Leupold Mark MOD 1 is the scope for those who have or are building a Special Purpose AR 15. The Special Purpose rifle is made for long range shooting and therefore features a strong magnification range. This particular model is the 3 to 9 power model and is perfect for taking those long-range shots. Leupolds are favored by the military’s designated marksmen on their M16 rifles.

The Leupold Mark MOD 1 uses a mil dot reticle that was designed by the Marines. The Mark MOD 1 is a precision driven scope designed to give you the most accuracy possible.

Monstrum G2 – For Long Range Shooting

 Monstrum G2

If you are looking to get into the long-range game on a budget, this is the scope for you. This scope has the exposed turrets you want to practice putting in your own DOPE for those first-round hits at range. Even though this scope is value oriented, the turrets track surprisingly well. The scope also features parallax adjustment to maintain focus and accurate shots all the way through the full range of magnification.

The reticle on the scope is graduated in MOA, so it will remain useful regardless of your caliber of choice. While the lenses to have a small amount of blur at the edges, for right around $200 this is an excellent option for those looking to go the distance on a budget.

ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Vision Rifle Scope

 ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope

ATN is an industry leader in consumer night vision scopes. This scope puts night vision capabilities within reach of the layman at a price point under $600 without skimping on the capabilities.

The on-board ballistic calculator and laser range finder makes it simple to put the first round on target every time. Dual stream technology allows you to stream your scope’s feed to your mobile device while simultaneously recording to an on-board SD card. The scope also has an impressive 18-hour battery life, which is almost unheard of in thermal scopes today.

ATN ThOR 4 Thermal Scope


Affordable thermal imaging capabilities can be challenging to come by, but ThOR series scopes answer the call. The traditional scope shape of the scope allows for flexibility in mounting options, so you get to configure the scope the way you want. The ability to record and stream your scope’s field of view is a welcome addition for hunters who want to remember the moment they take game or share the moment with their hunting partners.

This thermal scope will also help you to become a more effective predator hunter by giving you the edge during no-light conditions that no other technology can offer.

 Aimpoint CompM4s – Red Dot Reflex Sight

 Aimpoint CompM4s Red Dot Reflex Sight

Aimpoint invented the red dot and has continued to perfect the concept. Since we are focusing on the AR 15 we are going to choose the Aimpoint COMP M4s. This optic was designed with the AR 15 in mind and was adopted by the United States Army as their general issue optic. The Aimpoint M4 is an energy high end optic that’s tough enough to go to war and come back, and even go one more time.

The Aimpoint M4 lasts up to 8 years on a single AA battery and is completely submersible. The scope is great for tactical and competition use. It’s also night vision and magnifier compatible, and co-witnesses perfectly with an AR 15 height sights.

Vortex Optics Strikefire II Red Dot Sights

 Vortex Optics Strikefire II Red Dot Sights

For high quality red dot performance without the price tag of military grade equipment, it is hard to beat the value of the Strike Fire. This optic offers a crisp and clear red dot with durability and performance for the some of the most demanding enthusiasts.

This optic also comes from the factory with a cantilever mount to help you put the dot exactly where you want it for maximum performance. 

EOTECH XPS2 – Holographic Sight

 EOTECH XPS2 Holographic Weapon Sight

It can’t be a great AR red dot list without tossing on an Eotech. The Eotech was designed and built for AR 15 and AR style weapons and feature an outstanding absolute co-witness. The Eotech Circle and dot reticle makes this a versatile and easy to use optic. The XPS2-0 model is the compact model, which is small in size, but big in value.

The Eotech XPS2-0 is lightweight, and compact, but still compatible with magnifiers. The XPS2-0 offers a nice and wide field of view and makes engaging moving targets nice and easy. The Eotech is currently in use by the Marine Special Operations community and has served overseas and been extensively proven.

Vortex Optics Razor AMG UH-1 Holographic Sight

 Vortex Optics Razor AMG UH-1 Holographic Sight

Many budget optics on the market claim to be holographic sights when they are actually prism scopes. The UH-1 uses an innovative design to bring true holographic technology to the consumer. The fully enclosed design makes has a look that makes it seem larger than it really is, but its actual dimensions are extremely similar to that of other holographic sights.

The optic gives you an extremely crisp reticle through very clear glass and no parallax distortion to through off your shot, allowing you the ability to accurately put rounds on target from even the most compromising shooting positions.

Troy Battle -Iron Sights

 Troy Industries Micro HK Style Front and Rear Folding Battle Sight

If you need to use iron sights for your purposes, or simply prefer them, there are few better options than the Troy Battle Sights. These sights are extremely solid and hold a zero much greater than most competitors. The front sight post on these sights is just the right size to remain visible in low light conditions while helping to improve accuracy over most stock sights. The rear sight aperture has the option for day light and low light shooting.

Magpul MBUS – Iron Sights

 Magpul Industries USA MBUS Front & Rear Flip Up Backup Sight GEN 2 - 247-248 Made In The USA

For a more palatable price point, Magpul’s back up iron sights have been the go-to option for irons on AR 15s for years. The combination of the reasonable price point and the proven performance are the reason that these sights are so popular. The sights are lightweight, yet sturdy enough to maintain zero through the rigors AR 15s are likely to run into.

Mounting Your AR-15 Optic

When mounting a red dot or a holographic sight, you will usually want to place the optic as far forward on the upper receiver as is comfortable for you as the shooter. Because these types of optics have unlimited eye relief, this should not affect the shooter’s ability to view the reticle. This will help increase accuracy by placing the aiming point closer to the muzzle and will open up the field of view for the shooter.

Scopes should be mounted where the shooter is comfortably able to achieve a full field of view in the scope at the maximum magnification. Because magnified scopes have limited eye relief, mounting the scope too far forward or aft can make it challenging to use the scope throughout the full range of magnification. 

Regardless of your optic choice, ensure that no part of your optic’s mount is in contact with the rail system or front handguard. This can cause unnecessary forces on the optic that can throw off accuracy. For some scopes, this might require the use of a cantilever style mount. 

Zeroing Your AR-15 Optic

Most shooters prefer to zero their optic to be precise at 100 yards. This might vary based on the intended purpose for your rifle, but the steps will be the same regardless of the distance you prefer to zero at.

To zero at 100 yards, aim at the center of your target and fire a volley of 3-5 rounds.

Sometimes you might not be able to find your rounds on the target at this range, which is why it can be beneficial to have your optic bore-lighted before heading to the range; if you don’t have access to a bore light, you might want to zero at a closer range, and then repeat at 100 yards. After you locate your group on the target, note the difference between the point of aim and the point of impact and make the appropriate adjustments to the optic.

Repeat this process until your point of impact is on the bullseye. Regardless of your shooting ability, keep in mind that it is not uncommon for the AR 15 to shoot groups as large as 5 MOA (5 inches wide at 100 yards) due to the capabilities of your rifle’s components. This can be better on high end AR 15s, but it is unreasonable to expect your entire group to be touching at 100 yards with most AR 15s. 


The Verdict

These are our top choices for the best AR 15 scope. The AR 15 is an adaptable platform designed for quick and easy shooting. With an optic you’ve added a force multiplier to your rifle. Remember, shoot quick, and shoot straight.

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