Do you want something that will help you increase the accuracy of your shots? Are you tired of constantly firing shots that miss the target? Then you must be looking for a scope. But most of these products seem to cost an arm and a leg nowadays. So is there really both quality and inexpensive product? You must be after the best AR 15 scope under 500.
This kind of scope makes the world of difference in terms of precision, and you don’t need to spend a ton of money either. The scope you need should meet the basic functions, like offering a clear view of your target, whether in full daylight or in dim light, enabling you to see all the details you need. Does that seem too good to be true? It’s not.
That’s because we’ll tell you exactly what factors to take into account when making your choice and because the quality is our top priority. So if you want to get a functional, resistant and affordable scope, read along.
Our Top Picks
|Bushnell Throw Down PCL||1-4x 24 mm||BDC||Fully multi-coated||Check price on Amazon|
|Burris AR-332||3x 32 mm||Ballistic/CQ||Multi-coated||Check price on Amazon|
|Zeiss Terra||3-9x 42 mm||Plex||Multi-coated||Check price on Amazon|
|Aimpoint PRO Patrol||1x 26 mm||Red Dot||Multi-coated||Check price on Amazon|
|Nikon M-308||4-16x 42 mm||BDC 800||Fully multi-coated||Check price on Amazon|
|Primary Arms Tactical||4-14x||Mil-dot||Fully multi-coated||Check price on Amazon|
|Burris Timberline||4.5-14x 32 mm||Ballistic Plex||Multi-coated||Check price on Amazon|
|Vortex Strike Eagle||1-6x 24 mm||AR-BDC||Fully multi-coated||Check price on Amazon|
Things to Consider Before Buying
The key consideration before acquiring such a scope, or any other gadget for that matter, should be your purpose. All the other features are related to this one, and we’ll discuss each of them below.
Magnification and Diameter
Consider the magnification of the scope before acquiring it. It will tell you how enhanced the rendered details will be, and consequently what you can use it for. A big magnification is great for smaller animals and a further distance, while a smaller magnification works for bigger animals and at a closer distance. Make sure the transition between magnifications is smooth, so you can have a more comfortable shooting experience.
The diameter, measured in millimeters, will tell you when you can use the scope. A large, 40 mm diameter, for instance, is great for dim light. But a diameter that large has another purpose: it works great with heavier caliber rifles.
The reticle type relates to your purpose too. For instance, a crosshair is better for target shooting or moving targets, while a dot is great for smaller animals because it doesn’t obscure them. A ballistic reticle is great for tactical purposes, and the BDC reticle that allows bullet drop compensation is amazing when elevation is an issue.
Also, consider the difference between a first focal plane and a second focal plane reticle. The first one is intended for shooting at longer distances and for tactical uses, while the second is best for mid-range hunting. And if you want a reticle that works for a long period of time, consider getting a scope with a glass-etched reticle. That means the reticle is built between two layers of glass, which protects it more.
You will need multiple layers of coating especially for an affordable scope because that enhances light transmission and renders brighter images. Needless to say, a fully multi-coated scope is even better.
The reason is that even if you buy a quality product, for under $500, the materials used will not be the top in their category. So you need to make sure that you minimize glare and fog some other way, like with a proficient coating.
Materials and Design
Even if you won’t get the epitome of technology, you shouldn’t settle either. The best scopes will still have a quality build, from sturdy materials like aluminum and a matte finish for a higher resistance to scratching. Some even have a gas purging, so they’re waterproof and fog proof.
Some scopes have a great recessed design that further protects their lenses inside the main body or fast focus eyepieces. Others will be sleek, light and compact, while others seem bulkier but still work great. Make sure the knobs and turrets are precise, easy to turn and that you get audible clicks.
There are plenty of extras to look after in a complete package. For instance, lens caps do wonders when it comes to protecting your scope well against all kinds of on-field mishaps. And a built-in mount is always a nice addition, and so is an included battery.
But you can also look after design extras, like fast power adjustments, long battery life or maintenance reminders. These show care to user experience, and they’re only surpassed by a good warranty. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most quality AR scopes in the affordable range.
Best Products on Today’s Market
All the products we’ll discuss work great, suiting different purposes and preferences, so you’ll be sure to get the right one for you.
Bushnell Optics Throw Down PCL Scope
Weight: 1.1 pounds
Dimensions: 9.5 x 3.8 x 3.1 inches
Specific features: 1-4x, fully multi-coated, illuminated FFP bar reticle, 11 brightness levels, Throw Down Power Change Lever, 0.1 Mil target turrets, anodized aluminum alloy
Best use: Short-range, big game hunting
The Bushnell Optics Throw Down PCL Scope is great for short-range shooting or for hunting bigger game because it has a 1-4x magnification for enhancing details up close. We appreciate its fully multi-coated lens the most seeing it as an effort from Bushnell to provide a crispy clear image even at an affordable price.
The bar reticle is illuminated, and you have 11 different levels of brightness, so you can use this sight in different lights. On the other hand, the settings for very bright light are not that good, although you probably won’t need them. The reticle is first focal plane, so that’s more appropriate for tactical purposes and hunting, including holdovers to a maximum distance of 500 yards.
The Throw Down Power Change Lever is another feat, you can use it confidingly when you need to adjust the power fast. The target turrets are very precise with a 0.1 Mil per click, but they’re very high profile so that might inconvenience you. We also love the manufacturing out of anodized aluminum alloy, which makes this scope weather-resistant.
- Bright images
- Fast power adjustments
- Bright light settings don’t work
- High-profile target turrets
Related: To mount this scope on your AR 15, you need a resistant mount, like the CCOP MNT-1516 High Profile AR-ArmourTac Rifle Scope Mount Rings. This is a one-piece sturdy mount with incorporated 30mm rings, so you have the proper height for the Bushnell scope.
Burris 300208 AR-332 Prism Sight
Weight: 0.88 pounds
Dimensions: 12 x 6 x 6 inches
Specific features: 3x 32 mm, ballistic/CQ lighted reticle, multi-coated, waterproof, integrated lens covers, built-in Picatinny rail
Best use: Tactical
The Burris 300208 AR-332 Prism Sight is great for tactical purposes seeing as it has a very accurate ballistic/ CQ reticle for exactly these purposes. Furthermore, this is an illuminated reticle that can be adjusted according to the environment you’re shooting in. However, you should know it’s a pretty small reticle, and it might appear to lean on one side.
The 3x magnification is great for bigger animals or bigger targets since you won’t see particularly enhanced details. The 32 mm diameter is good for dim light conditions, though it could be better, so it helps that you have an illuminated reticle. We appreciate the reliable, waterproof construction too, so you can use it regardless of the bad weather, but the eye relief could be bigger.
The multi-coating applied to the lens increased image brightness, and you have a minimal glare that won’t inconvenience your shooting. We love that you have valuable included extras, like the built-in lens covers and the Picatinny rail mount. Besides, the fact that you can mount it with no problems on the carry handle of your AR is definitely a plus.
- Minimal glare
- Clear glass
- Small reticle
- Canted reticle
- Short eye relief
Related: Although this scope has minimal glare thanks to its multi-coated optics, you can ensure you get an even brighter image with the Burris ARD-332 Anti-Reflection Device. This inexpensive little gadget was specially manufactured to go with this Burris scope, so you can use it confidingly.
Zeiss Terra Riflescope
Weight: 1.5 pounds
Dimensions: 15.5 x 4 x 4 inches
Specific features: 3 – 9x 42 mm, Plex reticle, multi-coated, matte finish, anodized aluminum body, ¼ MOA turrets, aluminum turret caps, waterproof, European design, 90 mm eye relief
Best use: Mid-range shooting
The Zeiss Terra Riflescope is the perfect scope for mid-range shooting thanks to a versatile and adjustable 3 – 9x magnification. We also appreciate the large 42 mm lens diameter which maximizes light transmission so it can be used in dim light conditions with no issues. The Plex reticle is very accurate for shooting multiple targets in different lights, but the adjustments are quite stiff.
The multi-coating applied to this scope has anti-reflective properties too, which means you’ll have no glare and extremely bright rendered images. The whole construction is great with a strong anodized aluminum body and a matte finish, rendering a waterproof scope. Even the turret caps are made from strong aluminum, so you can rely on their durability.
We love the slim European design, as well as the generous 90mm eye relief. The ¼ MOA turrets are quite precise too, on par with the 0.1 Mil turrets the Bushnell scope offers. However, the turrets are not adjustable to zero.
- Generous eye relief
- Stiff reticle brightness adjustments
- Turrets can’t be adjusted to zero
Related: We recommend the Carl Zeiss Victory Ring to help you mount this scope on your AR 15. With a medium height and a 1-inch diameter, this will accommodate both your scope and your rifle very well. The main reason why we love the Carl Zeiss mounting system is that the two rings included in the package are very reliable, light and easy to set up.
Aimpoint PRO Patrol Rifle Optic
Weight: 0.49 pounds
Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.6 x 3.4 inches
Specific features: 1x 26 mm, always on, 3 years continued functioning, 2 MOA red dot, service date reminders, battery change reminders, hard-anodized aluminum, 30 mm tube, band-pass multi-coating, modular QRP2 mount, co-witness, torque-limiting knob
Best use: Patrolling
The Aimpoint PRO Patrol Rifle Optic is great for patrolling seeing as you get a 1x magnification which doesn’t render enhanced details. That might be a disadvantage when you want to hunt smaller animals at a bigger distance, but the advantage for patrolling is the accurate depth perception offered.
The 26 mm lens diameter is pretty basic for dim light conditions, though you’ll have perfect vision thanks to an extremely bright 2 MOA red dot reticle. Again, this might prove a disadvantage because the reticle is always illuminated and always very bright. However, the battery lasts for three years without you having to change it.
And even if a battery change might be required faster, you still have reminders for that. You also get maintenance reminders, so this is a very user-friendly scope. We love the sturdy construction of the 30 mm tube, that’s a hard anodized aluminum for perfect resistance to most on-field conditions.
Even the multi-coating that’s band-pass is great since it can be coupled with various night vision gadgets. You get an included modular QRP2 mount which allows co-witness sights, but this isn’t really sturdy compared to other mounts. What we really love about this scope is its torque-limiting knob which prevents over-tightening, as well as the recessed lenses design to fully protect them.
- Amazing battery life
- Maintenance reminders
- Precise reticle
- Weak mount
- Always on
- Very bright reticle illumination
Related: The Aimpoint 12239 Kill Flash ARD can protect the lenses of this scope even more. With its honeycombed design and its ability to fit inside the Aimpoint Pro tube to accommodate its recessed construction, you can make sure it’s the perfect lens protection.
Nikon M-308 Riflescope
Weight: 0.31 pounds
Dimensions: 15.4 x 4.8 x 3.1 inches
Specific features: 4 – 16x 42 mm, BDC 800 reticle, quick-focus eyepiece, fully multi-coated, fog proof, waterproof, shockproof
Best use: Versatile shooting
The Nikon M-308 Riflescope is the perfect scope for all sorts of hunting trips, thanks to a wide magnification range that allows you to enhance details as much as you need between 4 and 16 times. On the other hand, the eye relief is pretty lacking for the bigger magnification.
Even the 42 mm lens diameter is large enough to allow enhanced light transmission and very bright images even in lower light conditions. And since you get such a large objective, you can make sure this scope will be the perfect fit with various large caliber rifles.
But the feature we love the most about this scope is its quick-focus eyepiece. Thanks to this you can get instant target acquisition and extremely fast shots.
The lens is fully multi-coated which is great for rendering very bright images. It has quality construction and you’re getting a scope that’s waterproof, fog proof as well as shockproof. However, the windage and elevation turrets aren’t that durable if you force them a lot.
- Small eye relief at bigger magnifications
- Flimsy turrets
Related: We recommend the Nikon Monarch Riflescope Sunshade that works very well with this scope seeing as it accommodates optics with a 42 mm lens diameter. The main purpose of this sunshade is to protect your scope from glare, particularly in bright conditions, but it’s good for dust and rain proofing it too.
Primary Arms Tactical Scope
Weight: 1.43 pounds
Dimensions: 12.9 inches length
Specific features: 4-14x, etched Mil-dot FFP reticle, no illumination, fully multi-coated, 0.1 Mil click adjustments, parallax adjustment knob, 109-83 mm eye relief, shockproof, waterproof, fog resistant
Best use: Versatile shooting
The Primary Arms Tactical Scope is another great scope for versatile shooting, just like the Nikon M-308, but at half the price. With a similar magnification range, this scope will enhance the details you need to see between 4 and 14 times.
The real feat for such an affordable price is the etched Mil-dot reticle that has a front focal plane design, meaning you can use it for long range and tactical purposes. Besides, the reticle stays true no matter which magnification you’ll choose, but you should know it’s not illuminated for use in poor light.
Apart from that, the 0.1 Mil click adjustments are very precise and easy to make so you can sight it in quick. We love the parallax adjustment knob the most, though, because it ensures you’ll get bright, clear images with no parallax. The full multi-coating helps in that department too.
Another great thing is the generous eye relief, ranging between 109 and 83 mm, that makes this scope easy and comfortable to use. The construction is very sturdy, being shockproof and waterproof, though it’s only resistant to fog.
- Parallax free
- Generous eye relief
- Reticle not illuminated
- Not fog proof
Related: The Primary Arms 4-14x Sun Shade is great for this scope seeing as it will protect it from glare in direct sunlight, also making sure no dust, debris or raindrops can mess with your image. So this is the perfect thing to get if you’re going to use this scope in difficult weather or terrain conditions.
Burris Timberline Riflescope
Weight: 1.87 pounds
Dimensions: 11.3 x 2 x 2 inches
Specific features: 4.5-14x 32 mm, ballistic Plex reticle, 1-inch tube, one-piece design, matte black finish, adjustable objective, reinforced quad-seal gas, index-matched HiLume multi-coated, waterproof, fog proof
Best use: Medium/long range shooting
The Burris Timberline Riflescope is great for medium or long range shooting thanks to its wide magnification range between 4.5-14x. That, along with the ballistic plex reticle, means you’ll get quick target acquisition and awesome holdovers. The 32 mm lens diameter is also pretty good for dim light conditions.
The 1-inch one-piece tube construction is great since it’s durable and difficult to break. The matte black finish applied as a coating for the housing is what minimizes the risk for any on-field scratches, while the reinforced quad-seal gas construction proofs the scope against water, shock, and fog.
The multiple layers of coating applied to the lenses not only protects them but also renders brighter images. We love the hunter turrets that are very precise and easy to turn, as well as the lifetime warranty that guarantees you a reliable product. The main disadvantage to this scope is that the 5-inch eye relief can sometimes be too much.
- Clear glass
- Amazing focus
- Very long eye relief
Related: The Burris Signature Zee Rings are just what you need for mounting this scope on your AR 15. These rings won’t crush or scratch the scope since they have soft grips and are wide enough to be accommodating. Plus, they work with any airgun and rimfire rifles, as does the Burris Timberline.
Vortex Strike Eagle Rifle Scope
Weight: 1.1 pounds
Dimensions: 10.5 inches length
Specific features: 1-6x 24 mm, AR-BDC second focal plane illuminated reticle, glass-etched reticle, fully multi-coated, one-piece 30 mm tube, Vortex hat included
Best use: Short/ medium range hunting
The Vortex Strike Eagle Rifle Scope is good for the short or medium range because it has a 1-6x magnification that suits these sort of distances better. However, the 1x is more like a 1.5x, it still magnifies things slightly, though you can keep both your eyes open.
The 24 mm diameter is arguably small for increased light transmission, but this scope is fully multi-coated which helps in that regard. It also renders particularly bright images since all the layers of coating are anti-reflective. On the other hand, although the images are clear, you get a bit of a fisheye effect at the 1x.
The reticle is what we love the most. It’s a second focal plane type, so it’s good for the short and medium range shooting, and it’s glass-etched so it will work well for a prolonged time. This AR-BDC reticle is great for holdovers, estimating range and wind correction, and it’s also lit for dim light use.
The 30 mm tube is made from one piece, so it’s particularly durable. And if all that doesn’t convince you, maybe the included Vortex hat might.
- Amazing reticle
- Bright images
- Improved accuracy
- Not a true 1x
- Fisheye effect at 1x
Related: The Vortex Switchview SV-4 Throw Lever might be just the thing you need for this scope. You attach it very fast to the magnification ring and then it improves the transition between different consecutive magnifications.
Whether you want a very versatile scope like the Nikon M-308 or one that’s better for the short range like Vortex Strike Eagle, we’ve got it all. With different reticle patterns for different targets, and with a large variety of extras from lens caps to hats, you can take your pick.
We’ve listed the pros and cons of each product, and you can revisit the table at the beginning of this article to take a more effective decision. Afterward, we’d be happy to hear your thought process and what you ended up choosing. The comments are right below!