Best Scope For The Money: Complete How To Buy Guide

many scopes stand

Are you looking for the best scopes for the money?

I'm sure you know this, but...

It turns out that picking the right scope gets hard because there are so many factors that go into the decision.

Here's the thing:

Scopes are complex optical instruments, and depending on what you need your scope for could totally change which scope you get.

best scope for the money

In this article, I am going to break down all of this complexity into a fantastic guide that will get you up to speed on everything related to scopes.

But that's not all...

I am also going to cover the best options for you for any type of scope you might need. I'll review the best ones and point you to resources if you want to learn even more.

First, let's check out a big picture summary view of the top choices. Then we will dive deep into what you need to know about scopes.

We will also go over the top scope brands. After that, we will review the best of the best.

Disclosure:   Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, where I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Best Scope For The Money Comparison Table

Image

Model

Specs

Reticle

Best For

Rating

Nikon P-223 3-9x40

Nikon P-223 3-9x40

3-9x40

BDC 600

AR 15

Nikon ProStaff 4-12x40

Nikon ProStaff 4-12x40

4-12x40

BDC

AR 10

Vortex Viper PST 6-24x50

Vortex Viper PST 6-24x50

6-24x50

EBR-1 (mrad)

Long Range

Celestron Ultima Zoom 20-60x80

Celestron Ultima Zoom 20-60x80

20-60x80

-

Spotting

Nikon ProStaff 3-9x50

Nikon Prostaff 3-9x40

3-9x40

BDC

Hunting

Burris 3-9x40 Fullfield II

Burris 3-9x40 Fullfield II

3-9x40

Ballistic Plex

308

Leupold VX-2 3-9x40

Leupold VX-2 3-9x40

3-9x40

Duplex

30-06

NightForce 5.5-22x50 NXS

NightForce 5.5-22x50 NXS

5.5-22x50

MOAR

Tactical

Sightmark Photon XT

Sightmark Photon XT

4.6x42

Selectable

Night Vision

Simmons LRF 600

Simmons LRF 600

4x

-

Rangefinding

Things To Consider

Now let's cover the major things that you need to know about scopes so that you can make a good and informed decision on which one to buy.

Scopes are often referred to as "glass" in the industry. This obviously comes from the fact that optics are typically made out of glass.

A few key things to remember before we get into the details is that you need to determine what distance you plan on shooting at, and also what the effective range of your weapon is.

Nikon P-223 3-9x40

There is no reason to get a high magnification scope that allows you to see far distances if your gun is not accurate enough to be shooting at that distance.

The desired distance will then help determine what kind of magnification that your scope should be.

Scopes come with a number designation that tells you their magnification capability as well as the size of the objective lens.

We will get into the details of why those are important next.

Magnification

Scopes come in many different magnification options where some are fixed, meaning only 1 setting of magnification, and others are variable, or multiple settings. For scopes, this number is given by the first set of digits.

For example, a popular scope is the 3-9x40, where the 3-9 portion means a variable scope that can have as little as 3x magnification and as much as 9x magnification.

The 40 millimeter (mm) designates the diameter of the objective lens. The objective lens is not the end you look through, which is the eye piece, but instead is the other end of the scope.

Another example is a fixed scope that is a 3x32, where the 3 means that the magnification always stays at 3x and the objective lens is 32 mm in diameter.

Keep in mind that distortions in the image start occurring after 10x and beyond, with a lot more distortions creating problems beyond 20x. One such distortion is parallax, and is described later.

Objective Lens

The size of the objective lens helps determine how much light makes it into your scope, which affects the brightness of the image.

Nikon ProStaff 3-9x50

For most purposes, a 40 mm objective lens works fine.

If you want to hunt during dusk and dawn, consider getting a bigger sized objective lens. 

A 50 mm objective can help give you better visibility in lower light conditions.

From a tactical standpoint, you don't want a big objective lens. 

A big lens creates more of an opportunity for glare from your scope lens, giving your position away. Lens coatings can always help with this problem too.

Also remember that the bigger the objective lens, the more the rings you get for your scope will need to raise the scope off of the gun for clearance.

This can become a problem and make shooting very uncomfortable if you start having trouble aligning your eye with the scope while still getting a good chin to rifle fit.

Distance

A big consideration before getting a scope is to really nail down what distances you will be shooting at in the next 2-5 years or so.

Typically, most hunters will shoot distances less than 300 yards, which means that a popular 3x-9x magnification is perfectly adequate.

If you plan on shooting farther, then you need to consider which magnification is required for your needs and be aware that the price starts going up.

Field of View

The field of view (FOV) is the circle image that you can see through the scope of some space out in front of you. As your magnification increases, your field of view decreases, giving you less situational awareness.

There is a trade off of between being able to zoom in on something and also being able to see the bigger picture of the surrounding area.

Eye Relief

Eye relief is simply the distance your eye has to be away from the eye piece where you can see a full crisp image through the scope. The image should obviously be a perfect circle with no black shadows or obstructions, which is known as vignetting in the world of optics.

This distance is typically around 4 inches, but it depends on your scope. The distance determines how you mount the scope on your weapon.

It is also a concern for higher caliber weapons that will give more of a kick when you fire so that you don't hit yourself in the eye.

You don't want a scope that does not have enough eye relief for your caliber of weapon so that you can keep your eyes safe.

Reticle

Leupold duplex reticle

There are many reticles to choose from out there. Many manufacturers offer their own style of reticles.

Just remember that you can get the fanciest reticle in the world, but if you are not willing to learn how to use it effectively, what is the point?

Therefore, pick a reticle that you are comfortable with and that matches your performance level and needs.

A popular one these days is a bullet drop compensator (BDC), which has markings to help the shooter gauge how much the bullet will drop at certain distances and change the target location on the reticle by shifting the aim in their scope to compensate for a shot.

While BDC is popular, what most people are unaware of is that the reticle is calibrated for specific caliber and ballistics data that may or may not align with their gun. This can skew the effective use of the BDC reticle.

Those that are aware simply take note of the delta and remember to always take that into account for their shots.

Many manufactures offer software on their websites to help calibrate this for your specific caliber and ballistics data.

Focal Plane Reticle Position

There are two choices here: first focal plane or sometimes called front focal plane (FFP) or second focal plane (SFP). The terms refer to where the reticle is located in the optical system of the scope.

The thing you need to know is that for the FFP setup, the reticle changes size with the magnification and stays "relative" to the target in its markings.

In the SFP setup, the reticle stays the same size through magnification changes or while the target size changes. The markings are no longer relative, so you would need to do math to convert units.

For most of us, the FFP setup is now popular as there isn't any conversion math required.

Professional shooters that don't want a large reticle cluttering up the field of view on long distance shots prefer the SFP setup, and are aware of the math involved.

Minutes of Angle

Minutes of Angle (MOA) is a circle measurement unit at a specific distance. Typically, it is approximately 1 inch at 100 yards, 2 inches at 200 yards, and so forth.

Mils

A mil is short for milliradian, and has to do with circles and geometry. Typically, a mil is 3.6 inches at 100 yards.

Unit Conversion

mildot master

A great product out there that will help you tremendously on converting between MOA and mils, as well as long distance shooting calculations is the Mildot Master.

It is a slide table tool that lets you quickly convert between units and distance.

Forget having to do complicated math in your head or hand write it out. This tool is so awesome.

Check out the video below for a demo on the Mildot Master.

Turrets

Turrets are the knobs near the middle of the scope that you can use to make adjustments.

As for adjustment units on the turrets, usually, 1/4 minute of angle (MOA) is desired and perfectly fine.

Some scopes claim a 1/8 MOA adjustment, but most people can't shoot accurately down to that level of adjustment, so it often is not very helpful and doubles your number of clicks for adjustment.

Ideally, you want the units of your turrets to match the units on your reticle so that you don't have to convert back and forth on scopes where you plan on using the turrets to dial in shots.

For scopes where you only plan on using the reticle for shot adjustment, turrets are often set and forget during boresighting. Typically these turret knobs won't have marked units on them.

Elevation Adjustment Range

This has to do with the amount of adjustment you can make on your scope in the up and down, or vertical axis. Usually, 50 to 100 MOA is plenty of adjustment for most users.

Windage Adjustment Range

This is the side to side, or horizontal adjustment range.

Rings

Nikon P series mount rings

Rings are what you use to mount your scope to your gun.

Cheap rings usually cause mounting problems and may not give you enough adjustment to properly boresight your scope.

You should always get rings that will fit your scope and that are compatible with your gun.

Many people go with something like a picatinny rail system for their rings and scope. If you want some of the best options out there, check out our guide here on the top 10.

Optics Quality

Optics quality, or quality of the glass, relates to the optic material as well as the manufacturing process of how it was made. Higher quality usually means higher cost.

These days, even cheaper scopes have decent quality optics if you go with the more established brands.

Optics Coatings

Optical coatings have seen a revolutionary change over the past 20 years, offering a huge upgrade in optical performance. There are many types of coatings out there for different performance features.

Durability

Most of the time, once you mount your scope on your gun, using good gun safety techniques, your scope should not be seeing too much abuse.

However, if you are in a tactical scenario, it's a very different story given the demands of the situation.

Also, higher caliber guns will put more of a strain on scopes over time.

Depending on your needs, the handling of your weapon, and possible drops and accidents, you should consider getting a scope that is durable enough to survive its environment.

Temperature Range

If you want to use the scope in many different kinds of environments, be aware that you will need a scope that works under those conditions.

This could mean that you pay a little more and get a gas purged scope to prevent fog up.

Gas Purged

Since normal air contains a decent amount of moisture in the form of humidity, it is usually sensitive to temperature changes which can cause your scope lenses to fog up and degrade the image.

A common solution is to purge normal air out of the scope and replace it with a gas like Nitrogen or Argon, which are not as sensitive to temperature changes and therefore prevent the lenses from fogging up.

Holding Zero

U.S. Optics LR-17 3.2-17x44

When you first install your scope on your gun, you have to boresight it, which is aligning the scope to how the rifle shoots at a certain preferred distance.

The typical desired boresight distance is 100 yards for the average user.

Once you have fired some rounds and completely fine adjusted the scope, this is called "zero".

As time goes on after many shots, general wear and tear, and typical use, the scope should stay boresighted to where you originally set it to. This is known as holding zero, or remaining calibrated.

Parallax Adjustment

When you use a scope with more than a 10x magnification, distortions start to happen which can add up and affect your shooting accuracy.

A major distortion that is related to how your eye is aligned with the scope is called parallax, which needs to be adjusted for.

An adjustable objective (AO) puts the parallax adjustment on the objective lens. Another possibility that is popular is side focus knobs.

Examples Of Use

Military

Military snipers often use high quality 10x fixed scopes with mildot reticles.

Historically, variable magnification scopes have not been as high performing as they are these days, so the fixed 10x was a great solution for the military to reduce complexity and equipment issues.

Police

Police typically use variable magnification high quality scopes, but do not use mildot reticles. Their preference is to unclutter the FOV with a clean reticle, and take shots that are 100 yards or less in most cases.

Since their job deals delicately with civilian lives, they need to be able to clearly see their targets for any shots they take.

Best Scope Brands

There are many great scope manufacturers out there in the scope industry. Some companies focus on the lower to middle price range, while others offer products at the higher end price range.

Typically, the more you pay, the more features your scope will have and the more rugged its construction will be.

There are some great choices in each of the price ranges, and it really comes down to what you need your scope to do and what type of environment you expect your scope to hold up to.

Let's cover some of the more well known companies and brands out there.

Nikon

Nikon is a company that has been around for almost 100 years and has focused on making high quality optics products for the outdoors.

They make several product lines of scopes focusing on rifles, the AR platform, and even pistols. Their Buckmasters scope line was very popular, but was phased out.

Now, the Prostaff product line offers fantastic value in quality at very competitive prices. Their Monarch line is their more top shelf products that have a lot more features for a higher price.

Leupold

Leupold has its origins back to the early 1900's where the business started out as a family operation. The company focused on outdoor survey equipment and innovated its way into gun optics.

The Plainsman, the first fog proof scope in America, was launched in 1947 and became a huge success. Since then, Leupold has created many more amazing products.

They have several product lines, including the VX series and the Mark series.

One great selling point is that all Leupold scopes are designed and made in America.

Bushnell

Bushnell is another great company that has been around for over 65 years. They are an industry leader in high performance sports optics and their company focus is on providing the highest quality in their products.

Their products range from sports, hunting, birding, and even stargazing. Their Elite series of rifle scopes are very popular and offer a wide range of options for hunters.

UTG

UTG is a brand by the company Leapers, Inc. The company started out as a garage starup company and over the last 2 decades, built itself into a very successful operation.

While the regular UTG scopes are made overseas, the UTG Pro product line is made in the USA. The products are typically on the lower cost end, but still have decent quality.

Many people like picking up a UTG as their third scope or more if they are avid shooters and have many guns.

Nightforce

Nightforce optics is a high end scope company that combines precision optics with extreme rugged durability. They torture test their designs to ensure that the scopes perform under the worst of conditions.

Their scopes are so durable that they are classified as tactical scopes, and the military buys a lot of them for combat.

The ATACR (advanced tactical riflescope) and the NXS are very popular product lines.

U.S. Optics

U.S. Optics is another premium scope company. Over the past 25 years, they have continually focused on design innovation and great engineering.

Their products are great for military, law enforcement, competitive shooting, and high performing hunters.

The naming convention of their products is simple where there are short, medium, and long range designated by SR, MR, and LR to keep things basic. These scopes are very rugged and will last a very long time.

Top Scopes

AR

The AR is one of the most popular gun platforms in the world today. What most people are buying right now is the .223 AR 15 and the .308 AR 10.

I am going to cover the best optics for the AR next. Out of all of the AR optics reviews, these are the most popular scopes.

AR 15

Nikon P-223 3-9x40

With all of the choices out there for the AR 15, a crowd favorite is the Nikon P-223 3-9x40. It has a 3-9x magnification range that gives you a lot of versatility in your shooting.

It also has the BDC 600 reticle that is tuned for the .223 Remington caliber to aid you in taking longer shots.

If you are looking for more of the best ar optics for the money, check out a thorough review I wrote on the topic.

AR 10

Nikon ProStaff 4-12x40

For the AR 10, the Nikon ProStaff 4-12x40 is the way to go.

Most shooters go with the 4-12x mag range scope configuration for this particular setup.

There are many great features on this scope like a 3.7 inch eye relief, fog and water proof, BDC reticle, and great clarity.

I created a review of more scopes for the AR 10.

Long Range

Vortex Viper PST 6-24x50

The Vortex Viper PST 6-24x50 is a great option if long range is your game.

A mag range of 6-24x gives you the ability to reach out and touch targets.

It has an enhanced battle reticle (EBR). The turret and reticle units are matched so that you can adjust each shot however you see fit.

There are other choices for long range as well.

Spotting

Celestron Ultima Zoom 20-60x80

The Celestron Ultima Zoom 20-60x80 is a great balance of performance with price.

It has a magnification range from 20x to 60x, giving you a nice capability at either the shooting range, or on the hunt.

I covered some different options in another article.

Hunting

Nikon Prostaff 3-9x40

For hunting, the Nikon Prostaff 3-9x40 is unrivaled in quality versus price.

The 3-9x mag range with a 40 mm objective is perfect for most hunters.

The Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) reticle is a nice touch that will put you at an advantage in the wild.

This scope is also fog proof, so it will always perform when you need it to the most.

Depending on what you plan on hunting, other scopes might work even better for you.

308

Burris 3-9x40 Fullfield II

The Burris 3-9x40 Fullfield II is a top winner for the 308. It has a 3-9x mag range with a 40 mm objective lens. The scope is both water and fog proof.

It also has a Ballistic Plex reticle, which is the perfect mix of a classic hunting crosshair with trajectory compensation all in one.

It turns out the Fullfield II is just one of many nice scopes to choose from.

30-06

Leupold VX-2 3-9x40

The Leupold VX-2 3-9x40 is the top choice for your .30-06 rifle.

It has a magnification range of 3.2x to 8.8x with a 40 mm objective lens. It is water proof and fog proof.

The scope is has an aircraft grade aluminum frame and high quality optics for maximum durability.

I have a more detailed review of this scope.

Tactical

NightForce 5.5-22x50 NXS

The NightForce 5.5-22x50 NXS is by far one of the best when it comes to tactical.

With its 5.5-22x mag range and 50 mm objective, it performs at the highest level.

Its MOAR SFP reticle is very popular due to its 1 MOA markings and precision.

There are a couple of other options in the tactical arena.

Night Vision

Sightmark Photon XT

The Sightmark Photon XT is an excellent choice when it comes to night vision.

It uses a near infrared illuminator and camera to help you see up to 120 yards in complete darkness.

It is a 4.6x fixed zoom scope.

If a thermal scope is more your preference, I've got you covered here.

Rangefinder

Simmons LRF 600

The Simmons LRF 600 is a fantastic rangefinder with its 600 yards max range.

It can effectively range trees at 400 yards and deer at 200 yards.

The unit performs well and is at a great price. It uses a 9 Volt battery for power.

I cover other rangefinders in detail in another article.

Buying Guide Tips

The biggest tip to remember in picking the right scope is to consider getting good enough quality so that the scope lasts you a long time, and at a good price.

If you stick to well established companies, then you should be fine here. Remember that usually, really cheap scopes under $100 don't last long or don't work well.

Another tip is to think through how you want to use the scope distance wise, and then pick a magnification range that is well suited for that preferred distance.

Remember to pick a reticle that you are comfortable using. You can get all of the hash marks in the world on your reticle, but if you don't know how to use them or don't enjoy using them, they are worthless.

Also, some scopes have turrets designed just for sighting the gun in, then getting locked down.

While other scopes have turrets that can be used for dialing in each shot if you prefer. Pick a scope based on your own personal preferences.

Best Scopes For The Money

The Vortex Viper 6.5-20x50 is a fantastic option that performs well if you want to shoot long range .

Here, the Bushnell Elite 3-9x40 takes the cake for its quality and versatility for the average shooter.

The Nikon Prostaff 3-9x40 is your best option at this price range and serves most hunter's well.

Conclusion

To put it all together, we covered many of the factors that go into choosing the right scope for you. We discussed things like magnification, durability, field of view, and reticles to name a few.

Bushnell The Truth

We also went through and looked at the top scopes for many different applications.

Each of these scopes are very popular, loaded with features, and at a great price for the value.

Scopes like the Nikon P-223 3-9x40 for the AR 15 are definitely the way to go.

It has one of the most popular magnification configurations and an effective BDC 600 reticle.

I hope this guide helped you in deciding which scope is right for you. Whether your hunting deer or other big game, remember to get a decent rifle as well. Your scope can only do so much.

Before you head out to the range next time, make sure you have the right bag to store all of your gear.

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