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What is the Best AR-15 Scope for SHTF?

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If you have an AR-15 or any rifle really, and you plan on using this in a defensive role should the need arise, you need to consider what is the best scope for your use. Even if you have the venerable AK-47, the scope that you use will greatly determine your capabilities after your natural skill and training have reached their limits. A good scope is a huge benefit in allowing you to accurately acquire a target and with a properly sighted rifle and good fundamentals hit what you are shooting at. There are many different configurations that are possible given the role you intend your AR-15 to be in but I wanted to discuss what I think are some of the best AR-15 scope options you have right now in order to help you hit what you are shooting at in a SHTF scenario.

Before I begin, let me state to everyone who is reading this that I am not trying to say any scope will make you a better shooter. No amount of money you spend on optics will make you a better shot with whatever rifle you have and there are people who can shoot better than you(or I) could ever dream with nothing more than iron sights. I understand this and so should everyone reading this post.

Scopes do enhance our abilities though by augmenting our ability to focus and select objects usually at a distance. You can’t ignore all of the other aspects of the shooting skills, but a scope does help. Another aspect to consider is cost. Will you get $1000 worth of value out of that scope you have your eyes on, or would something much less expensive be perfectly suited to your needs?

Different AR-15 Scope for different missions

A quality maintenance kit is a good idea when you no longer can go to Amazon for spare parts.

For the purposes of this article, I am only going to focus on Red Dot sights and Rifle scopes. What are the differences? The over simplified version is that Red dot sights usually have zero magnification and project a red (hence the name) dot onto glass for a heads up display instead of the typical cross-hairs, of where the bullet will hit. Assuming of course that you have the rifle sighted in to your sight.

Red dot sights are usually preferred in close quarter combat (less than 20 yards) situations where target acquisition speed is crucial. They are also designed to be used with both eyes open.

If you plan on pushing your rifle out to longer distances (50 to 300 yards), have older eyes or want the best lenses for low-light (not night vision) you are typically looking for a rifle scope that has some magnification factor and greater light transmission.

Red Dot Options for the AR-15

The EOTech XPS2-0 HOLOgraphic Weapon Sight is extremely rugged and durable. It’s compact size also leaves you more room on your picattiny rail for a magnifier if you want, but if you are buying a magnifier, why wouldn’t you get a dedicated scope? I understand options. Options.

EOTech’s are not cheap and this one is currently $499 on Amazon which is a pretty decent price, but you have to determine if spending this much on an optic is necessary for your skill level and what you plan on needing in a SHTF scenario. When I first started prepping I was convinced that I would need a red dot sight for close quarters, but my thoughts have evolved since then.

EOTech XPS2 HOLOgraphic sight.

EOTech XPS2 HOLOgraphic sight.

If you like the idea of Red Dot sites, but are trying to keep from spending a new car payment on one, the Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 is a much more economical option. I have one of these myself and while there are some things I don’t like about it (the adjustment knob is hard as hell to turn) it is a great little optic that gives me the same red dot feature for a much more reasonable price of around $80. Now, I am not comparing the quality of the Bushnell to the EOTech, but it is an option you could consider.

Bushnell Trophy TRS-25. Lower cost alternative to something like the EOTech.

Bushnell Trophy TRS-25. Lower cost alternative to something like the EOTech.

Moving away from Red Dot sites and going into scopes, another good option is the Nikon P-223 3×32. This scope was made specifically for the trajectory of the .223 Rem/5.56 NATO round. There isn’t an adjustable magnification with this scope, but once you have it sighted in at 100 yards, there are reticules for targets at 200, 400 and 600. It is nicely set up so that if your rifle is sighted in, and you have a target out to 600 yards, you can elevate the rifle to get the bottom reticule on the target and the ballistics should work out. One thing about this scope is the lack of magnification makes sighting in at 100 yards impossible without a shooting scope or someone to tell you where you are hitting. Once sighted in you won’t be able to choose between head or body really, but you should be able to hit them. For me this is a good balance of close quarters capability and long range assistance with the reticules. Target acquisition at long ranges wouldn’t be easy with this scope, but I could hit them.

Nikon P-223 3x32 - Great mix of functionality in a scope for the AR-15

Nikon P-223 3×32 – Great mix of functionality in a scope for the AR-15

For excellent magnification and much longer range, the Redfield Revolution 3-9x40mm TAC-MOA is a great scope with a very good price point of $265. No, this isn’t the same quality (or cost) as a Leupold or NightForce, but if you are looking to spend 1 to 2 thousand dollars on a sniper scope, you should be looking somewhere else for advice.

There are many more options depending on what you are looking for and this great video from Nutnfancy lists off many more options. I have added links to all of his suggestions below the video. What do you think is the best AR-15 Scope?

Best AR-15 Scope Suggestions from the video above.

Weaver 2.5-7×32 206
Burris Fullfield II 3×9 165
Bushnell Elite 3200 5-15×40 398
Burris 6.5-20×50 364
Nikon ProStaff 4.5-14×40 199
Bushnell Elite Tactical LRS 2.5-16×42  628
Weaver 6-24×42  355
Weaver  Classic 3-9×32  259
Weaver 2-10×38 209
Nikon M223 2.5-8×32 350
Nikon M223 3-12×42 398
Redfield Revolution 2-7×33 168
Redfield Revolution 3-9×40 185
Burris Fullfield II 3-9×40 185
Burris  Fullfield II 4.5-14×42  275
Burris Fullfield I 6.5-20×50 364

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  • LWJ

    Trijicon ACOG’s for the AR rifle and carbine. No batteries required, 4x, and built to last.

    • They are great optics aren’t they? I debate all the time about saving my pennies for one.

      • LWJ

        Very, they are worth the money. I have two and the most recent was a former USMC model. I would save up and get one.

  • Thomas Paine in the butt

    I picked up an Aimpoint for a decent price on eBay for my AR15. On the 308s I put Nikon Prostaff 3-9×40 with BDC reticle. Nice scope for around $140-.

    • Thanks Thomas. I like the ProStaff too, but I am starting to wish I had more magnification.

      • Thomas Paine in the butt

        ROFL…I was at the range for some group therapy with a friend and we had a discussion over magnification. He maxed the scope and I turned back.

        What I’d love to find is a 45° BUIS that uses a 3 dot tritium set up. I never could get the hang of the loop and post on the M16.

  • usmarinestanker

    Iron sights out to 500 yards or go home 😛

    I used an ACOG in Iraq mounted to my M16’s carrying handle and was not impressed. The magnification was nice in the urban environment of Fallujah or for viewing the tree line across the river when we were out in the ‘burbs, but as far as target acquisition went, I thought the scope got in the way. For me, it was more convenient than switching between binos and rifle, but I used my iron sights when it came time to put lead down range.

    • LWJ

      That sounds like an awkward set up on an A2. I prefer the flat tops now, but I do have a carbine with the handle and irons only. If I had three kidneys I would sell one for a thermal sight.

      • usmarinestanker

        It was awkward. I’m not a fan of the rail systems because it’s just not how I was trained and I don’t want to be tacticool. I’ve used traditional hunting rifles with scopes and did well, but in combat I’m going to stick with what I know.

        • LWJ

          I love the rail system! Let’s me mount my grip pod on my Troy.

          • Guest

            The Yote Carbine….

    • You are such a purist!!! 🙂

      I bought a rear flip up sight from La Rue Tactical, but I still have the standard front sight post that I want to remove and have flip-up front and rear. As it is, my post is always getting in the way (slightly) of my scopes so I have to raise them up.

      • Thorin

        I would love to have those flip up sights! But I’d have to change my gas block. So not gonna happen any time soon

  • Bob

    I have read the article and in my opinion its right on target, I have a few different weapons with different optics on them, its difficult to have an optic for every situation, I have the holographic, red dot, 3x9x30 Ilum, and I recently purchased the P-223 3x20x40mm, some are more expensive than others and they all perform well, my suggestion is when SHTF, any of the weapons that you choose to use, or if you find your self with the only option of being left with only one weapon, insure that your are proficient in that weapon and you are able to use the iron sights, if any of your optics happen to fail, you’ll be able to remove your optics, remember your zero and use the iron sights, back in the day we would use a sticky return address label, wright down the zero of the weapon and put it in the hollow pistol grip of the weapon, just a thought.

    • Thanks Bob!

      Always good to have options isn’t it?

      Pat

  • Adam Brock

    Something to not forget: 1-4x’s or 1-6x’s
    They offer all the magnification that you need to take shots as well as fast 1x setting.
    The 1x setting are really getting quite good, and I’m equal in speed to a red dot. I slow down a bit on target transitions but I would argue the clearer FoV (a much clearner border between where the optic and outside is) makes up for this.

    Some of the really good bag for buck ones:
    1-6x Primary Arms ACSS
    1-4x Burris
    I own both, the burris has amazing class for the price and a pristine 1x. It has a garbage reticle in my opinion. The 1-6x PA one has similar glass but ranges out to 6x where the quality of the class is arguable not sufficient (but still very workable). It has a ACOG quality reticle (which is why i swap to it).

  • Mike Lashewitz

    I have the Armalite 308 with a 20 inch 1/11 barrel and completed with an Osprey TA 10 4 x 50 IRF. Which I paid too much for, but am completely satisfied with. It is set out to 1000 yards.
    Purely competition at this point but someday if the stars are right I will have a chance at bagging a mulie. (Mule deer)

    We can all dream right?
    I miss living in Alaska and long range hunting.

  • Eastexkid

    Long range scope on an AR-15 is just silly unless you are just playing around. I bought a $40 Simmons 3-9×40 scope and can easily plug Dr Pepper cans at 300 yards with my 270 sighted at 100 yards. I now have another on one of my two ARs, the other has open sights. Also more than two ARs is a waste unless you are expecting to equip others as well as yourself in an emergency.
    In a shtf scenario their is no good reason to have a long range scope on an AR. Actually you will probably never need to take a long range shot unless you are planning on being a true American hero and kill unsuspecting people from a comfortable distance.

    • usmarinestanker

      I agree with everything except the “true american hero” snipe. Your comments on the AR not needing a scope are spot on.

      Being a sniper is not dishonorable; it’s tactical. If you were in a position that required killing, would you not do so from a safe distance? I’ve been there and I would choose distance over hand-to-hand or even a “fair” fire fight any day of the week.

      War is about overcoming the enemy trying to kill you while managing finite resources: your one life, your limited energy, and your limited ammo/supplies. Sniping, booby traps, and other tactics which kill/injure the enemy while keeping you and yours safely distant is just smart.

      • Eastexkid

        I agree with your assessment, but for it to be honorable it must be justified and since we have not fought a just and/or legal war since the American Revolution… well you get my drift. Especially when the sniper is a psychopathic liar as well. But that is another subject.
        My swipe was mainly aimed at those who think they will be marauders or something after the shtf and snipe people to get what they want. I call them murdering cowards. Sniping hardly plays into a defensive strategy, (which is most peoples plan), when it comes to your average home/bunker defense. Unless you get real lucky. I agree that booby traps are an important part of that defensive strategy though I don’t think anyone has ever been called a hero for setting a booby trap, but I could be mistaken.
        Their is a saying that all is fair in love and war. I don’t agree with the love part but in war their are no rules. It is kill or be killed however possible. Perhaps if we fought wars of necessity instead of these political wars then we could give praise where it is due without that nagging feeling of shame.

        • LWJ

          Bold statements, but my idea of a fair and just fight is clubbing baby Seals. A sniper is also a psychological weapon, just like a K9 handler and a trained working dog. They do wonderful things to people’s minds. Now go to a VA cemetery and tell me just how unjust it is.

          You should read John Stuart Mill,
          Principals of Political Economy. Now back to basking in Old Glory and Murica.

        • AirborneSoldier

          Why don’t you man up and name the sniper you have a problem with…Let us guess… Chris Kyle? “Pathological liar”? Huh?! What did he lie about? I STILL believe him and others over the pathological idiot who used to govern Minnesota, if that is to whom you refer.
          Too many preppers are cheap. Most of these scopes will not be durable to last long in a SHTF scenario. The P-223? Save and get the M version. Etc. Leapers for SHTF? Laughable. Go with combat proven stuff. Quit being cheap. Most of you buy the most expensive seeds you can find, but you wont put big bucks into staying secure? Sad. OBTW, are you going to engage an enemy in open, mowed fields at high noon? Likely not, I hope, so also please consider how well your scope allows you to see at dawn/dusk, and in thick woods. Consider the ACOG, Zeiss Conquest, Meostar by Meopta, etc.

          • IMHO

            You are apparently having trouble understanding the conversation. The subject is maximum effective range, NOT low light shooting. But to appease your rant I will address that as well. I have had my first “CHEAP” Simmons scope for about eight years and it has performed flawlessly. I have shot deer through woods in the rain and in the open through fog. I can see well beyond 100 yards in moonlight. And by the way, inexpensive does not mean cheap.
            Like I said I have shot/sniped deer through the woods but that is way different than having a firefight in the woods. In a fire fight in the woods a scope is pretty useless for what should be obvious reasons.
            For longer shots you should have a good long range rifle, not your AR. In closer combat, red dot or holographic sights have proven superior.
            Lastly, you seem to be a brand name dweeb who thinks that spending more money will make you a better marksman and that thinking will get you nowhere fast. I will put my “cheap” AR Sport against ANY AR you have in your arsenal. Cheap doesn’t mean poor and expensive doesn’t mean better.
            Oh and anyone who lies about shooting looters from the top of the Superdome or killing people at a gas station and then the cops just letting him go or yes, even punching Ventura in the face meets my definition above. Kris Kyle was a psycho liar and I am not afraid to say it and yes it is obvious that is who I was referring to. He deserved what he got cause what goes around comes around and I am glad someone shut his lying mouth.

            • killerasteroid

              I think you are way out in left field on the war and sniper stuff but agree with you on the Simmons scope. I have a $45 3×9 32mm Simmons on my 22 bolt action Mossberg boyhood rifle and I can pump shots into a quarter sized area at 50 yards using no tripod (I rest the barrel on my clenched fist atop a table surface). Imagine what could be done with a tripod…. SO…it’s the shooter more than the scope.

              • IMHO

                Thanks. They are good scopes no matter what the label freaks say. Also my bipod is key to my long range accuracy. Love it. Actually I may have gotten too dependent on it and really should practice more longer range shooting from the kneeling and standing positions.

        • killerasteroid

          So you are saying that WWI and II were not just wars? Really?

          • IMHO

            I would say forget what has been beaten into our brains since we were born. To the victors go the spoil AND the writing of history. Just consider some different historical perspectives. Also for an example of how the victor writes history consider this scenario. “If Japan had succeeded in defeating the U.S. then the history books would be filled with stories of how the U.S. tortured and starved Japs in concentration camps.”
            Or put it this way: “When in your life has our government Not lied through their teeth every time they open their mouth?”
            Question everything.

    • AirborneSoldier

      When those cans are shooting back at you in low light, you will re-think your budget priorities. Just sayin’…

  • NRP

    EOTech with a quick release or Iron Sights, a magnifier on an AR15 is foolish for anything but showing off at the range or puffing up on a Blog. An AR15 is not a 1-2000 yard sniper rifle. Keep it real people, use the tool for what it is made for. If ya need a scope for 200 yards you need to get some glasses, unless your shooting dimes and trying to show off.

    • LWJ

      An AR type rifle also makes for a good DM platform. The scopes also aid in rapid acquistion of targets. A magnifier is just another tool to use.

      • NRP

        Well as you have told me about opinions
        Not that yours is any better than mine, or any worse.
        I don’t claim to be an “expert” but I do listen to others and form my own ideas on what I want and have.
        The EO or Iron sights are what I want on my AR15’s while putting a scope on the LAR-8 works better for me. But since the article is about what works best on an AR15……..

        • LWJ

          The EOTech is great for cqb and with a magnifier you can also turn it into a 3x scope in a pinch. Very nice to have if you live in a place that has a good mix of urban and rural. It is nice to be able to try to maximize the range of an AR type platform and the right optics can aid in that. I love trijicons in low light conditions because the reticle is pretty bright and it is very easy to pick up on.

  • YaRt

    An Eotech holographic is NOT the same as a “red dot”.
    There is a reason they cost 10x the price of a red dot.

  • BobW

    When I still owned guns, I liked the Nikon P223 3×32 BDC on the AR platform. It augmented my aging eyes without being too much for close range. I felt that by the time the targets were so close the scope was ineffective, that I should be point-shooting anyway.

    I also had an inexpensive BSA 4-ish MOA red dot that worked suitably well. At $40, it was clear, had 11 brightness adjustments on the red dot, and seemed to stay zeroed. The mount wasn’t the strongest, and I suppose under combat sitations, it would take a beating, but for plinking at the range, it worked well.

    I do have a question for the Trijicon ACOG crowd. Can you really justify spending $1k+ on a sight for plinking? When I purchased the P223 scope, it was a birthday present, and I was greenlighted to buy an Aimpoint T1 or similar sight, but just couldn’t justify the outlay.

    I understand the value a good optic can bring to a hunt or range session. I just can’t see a $1k+ purchase on a weapon that gets sketchy beyond 300m. While I understand there are many who can score hits beyond 300m, I can’t see how one can justify taking a shot like that in ‘the after.’ Far too much unknown to be deciding you are Judge Dredd incarnate, rendering life and death decisions out to 600m with your slightly accurate AR. At 600m, people look like ants. They look like squirrels through a 9x scope at the same range.

    This is why I swapped all the guns for sharp sticks. My IFF will have gone off well before they are in my 25m range.

    • LWJ

      You get what you pay for, and the Trijicon is a great varmint scope. With a good round my carbine is pretty decent on man sized targets out to 400 meters. The rifle will be good to about 500 meters. To each his own but having the ability to reach out and touch somebody is not a bad thing either.

      • BobW

        I understand that the Trijicon is a great product. I also understand that ‘you get what you pay for…’ but only buy that to a degree. I guess I’m questioning the procurement of $1k+ optics nested in the concept of prepping.

        I love a sexy optic almost as much as I love a new gun. It just seems to me that unless you are committed to combat patrols, there are more cost effective options that provide acceptable performance for 1/4 to 1/6 the cost. The commentary isn’t about being cheap. Its about balancing dreams with reality. Developing a rainy day stash is super expensive. Unless there is nothing left on my list, I find it excessive to drop $1,100+ on an optic when Sig or Nikon optics can provide suitable levels of performance, and leave >$900 left over to procure other items, like that Solar system, body armor, etc..

        • LWJ

          Perhaps I am further along in my preps then you are. But I did not spend more than a grand on each of my Trijicons. Different perspectives but if your going to get a pc, then what are you getting ready for?

          • BobW

            Great point, LWJ. I’m not prepped out, so it makes no sense to me. If I’m done, or switch from prepper to future marauder, then an ACOG could make a lot more sense.

            I’m sorry that I don’t know what a pc is, but you are right in that it all depends on what you are getting ready for. I’m not preparing for sustained combat ops. I’m target shooting with my kids, with an eye toward the future.

            • LWJ

              A PC is a plate carrier. Something to consider as a future purchase, if your so inclined. Everybody has their own tastes when it comes to gear. I like the mid priced stuff, Trijicon, Sig, Colt etc. I don’t see how that makes one a raider though.

  • Frank

    The Israeli MSE is by far the best scope. The Eotech, Trijicon and Aimpoint will all get you killed.

  • Thorin

    What about adding the eotech magnifier behind the sight? That’s one of my setups and I love it! Best of both worlds!