Our priority is to help you find the best choice for your tactical rifle by providing you the best optics reviews on the web. Below are our top 10 choices, and keep reading if you want some additional options that we also like for the .223 platform outside of our top 10. If pressed for a favorite on this chart below, we personally favor the Nikon P-223 as the best of all worlds for the price, quality, and overall value.
Most Manufacturers have climbed on the AR bandwagon, and many companies have now begun offering optics specifically geared towards this particular rifle/cartridge combination. Optics with drop compensation systems designed for the .223, special mounting systems, and illuminated reticles are now par for the course and have become very desirable accessories for many shooting enthusiasts. Below is an overview of every sight we review in this guide. If you’d like a more in-depth look, keep scrolling past to get to the meat of the article.
Before we dive into our top choices, let’s take a look at some of the different models that are available out there and what you can expect when you start to shop.
Red vs. Green Dot
Red dot sights are intended for short or medium range sighting. In general, they are not magnified or are magnified up to 1.7x. The lack of magnification allows the shooter to keep both eyes open, maximizing their performance in tactical simulations and situations. These are simple sights containing only a concave lens with a metallic coating that only reflects red light. The “dot” reticle that is projected upon a target is the reflection of a light-emitting diode mounted inside the tube of the scope. The set-up allows you to see a red dot projected onto your target for quicker, more accurate acquisition.
Sight adjustments are simple to make. There are normally just two screws placed opposite to the coil springs for elevation and windage. Actual adjustment is made by operating the two screws to move the sight tube horizontally or vertically. Many manufacturers are trying to capture a larger market by offering different shape reticles, but these can degrade target acquisition. On the other hand, a larger dot does help some shooters who have astigmatism. The size of the dot is stated in minutes of elevation, MOA, to helper shooters find the dot size they prefer before buying.
Green dot rifle optics are basically the same as red dot sights. The main change is the color presented by the light-emitting diode. Some shooting situations may be benefited from the use of green, but, generally speaking, the change in color is a shooter preference rather than a target acquisition issue. As with all rifle sights, both red dot and green dot optics are affected by a phenomenon known as parallax. Parallax is the ”error” that occurs when one of two vectors that are parallel is used as a reference for the other.
This is a problem for dot sights because they are designed to reflect the LED image down the center of the tube. So, if the weapon is held incorrectly, the shooter may view the dot near the edge of the tube. This means the dot will not actually be aligned with the correct point of aim. Dot scope manufacturers attempt to account for this by using a concave reflecting lens, but, unfortunately, the lens can only do so much and aim can be affected over greater distances.
Variable Optic Rifle Scopes
The AR-15 can be used in a variety of situations, so a versatile sight may be better for some shooters. That versatility can be delivered with a variable model. The goal of the 1-4x and 1-6x optics is to offer a shooter quick sighting up close and precision for distance shooting. Close up, 1x offers a huge field of view, while the 6x can offer a shooter pinpoint accuracy up to 600 yards. With versatility, why not use a variable optic sight in every situation? Weight.
Where dot models are always light-weight, even easy to use on a pistol, variable optic scopes are quite heavy. Some models can weigh in excess of one pound. You will also need a mount, adding another 7-10 ounces, putting the entire set-up close to two pounds. That doesn’t sound like a lot on the face of it, but an additional two pounds can be rather difficult to support while firing accurately.
Here are some important features of a Variable Optics Rifle Scope:
To begin with, a quality variable optics rifle scope should feature capped turrets. You can only make adjustments to your sight after removing the cap. This does make sight adjustment a little more time consuming, but the turrets generally have a lower profile when they are capped, preventing them from snagging on your equipment. On the downside, some capped turrets lack a zero stop feature. If you do not intend to use your tactical rifle in the field, a low profile will not matter, so an adjustable sight with a zero stop may be fine for you.
Just keep the snag factor from the taller turrets in mind. A second feature to keep in mind is whether you want a sight with a first focal plane (FFP) or a second focal plane (SFP). A sight with FFP will keep the reticle consistent with the target size. Many shooters want the reticle to shrink at 1x and grow as magnification increases, allowing the reticle size to remain stable in relation to the target. An SFP will keep the reticle size consistent at all magnifications.
Shooters can not range a target except at the manufacturer’s recommended magnification. An FFP is a better sight in most situations; however, they are cost-prohibitive. The majority of these sights are more expensive than the rifles they are mounted on.
Long Range Fixed Scopes
Long Range Optics are used for Hunting, and with a tactical flair, they are commonly used for law enforcement and military training. Long-range tactical Optics are different than variable optics in the manner that they can be used at longer ranges, but they are sometimes set at a fixed magnification. This means what you will typically see is something like the Nikon P-223 which is our absolute favorite model for distance, quality, and price set to a fixed magnification of say 3x. Some scopes let you adjust them between 1-6x, or 1-4x but you will see these state they are 3×32 or 3×40. This doesn’t mean that the scopes are bad, it just means that you have a little less flexibility.
This is usually fine for most people as many shooters will pick up 2 different models – one for long-range and another for short-range. The advantages of owning two types of sights are obviously pretty simple. You get the flexibility of being able to slap on something for close-range practices and situations (like the military) or you get to throw on a long-range optic that will allow you to go target shooting or hunting on a regular basis.
The variable scopes do typically allow you to do both, but they usually come at a higher cost premium. Many shooters actually prefer to go this route just because it gives them flexibility with their other rifles as well. If you own an AR-10 and are out there shooting on a regular basis, finding two different types of optics is a great idea because you can have one for distance strapped to your AR-15 while the other at close range on your AR-10. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Best Long Range AR-15 Scope
Now that we’ve covered the difference between some of the different types of optics, let’s start with our favorite long-range optics choice. We’d compare this scope to some other models, but there isn’t really a purpose unless you want a variable or red dot model. The Nikon P-223 is hands down the best scope for the money if you are looking for something you can slap on your AR-15 and go. There isn’t another model that can really hold a candle to it unless you pick up a variable scope, and even some of those aren’t as accurate as the P-223. It’s user friendly and very easy to zero in. Some variable models have their benefits but the P-223 is hands down one of the best optics you can buy and we highly recommend it. Check out the details below.
Nikon P-223 3×32 Matte BDC
- The BDC carbine reticle provides a 200 yard Crosshair with "hash marks" at 400 yards and 600 yards
- One inch body tube
- Spring loaded instant zero resets turrets
If you are looking to place a sight on a rifle with a shorter barrel, such as the eighteen-inch barrel of an AR-15, the compact Nikon P-223 3×32 Matte BDC Carbine Scope may be the answer for you. Designed with .223 Remington/NATO 5.56 rounds in mind, the sight performs well in 3-gun, tactical, or hunting situations.
Pros of the Nikon P-223 3×32 Matte BDC Carbine Rifle Scope:
- Reticle: with the trajectory of the .223 Remington/5.56 NATO rounds(with 55-grain polymer tips) in mind, the reticle provides a 200-yard cross-hair with markings at 400 and 600 yards.
- Elite optics: the optics are multi-coated for additional brightness and target clarity. The sight is also nitrogen-filled and sealed with o-rings to ensure that it is waterproof and fog proof.
- Turrets: the turrets offer ¼ MOA adjustment and have offer zero-reset.
- Economical: one of the better-priced AR-15 scopes.
Cons of the Nikon P-223 3×32 Matte BDC Carbine Rifle Scope:
There is only one downside repeatedly mentioned about this sight: customer service from Nikon. Owners have stated that customer service reps are rude and some customers reported being hung up on. This can be avoided by ordering online, bypassing Nikon’s customer service department altogether.
Best Tactical AR-15 Variable Rifle Scopes
Now that the basics are out of the way, we can move on to the important stuff, reviewing some of the top optics on the market. Below you are going to find our favorite variable models before we start jumping into the red dots, green dots, and other close-range AR-15 optics that are out there on the market today. This is a fantastic list to get you started and as you will see, many of these have a happy user base and have performed very well making them the best of the best in 2017 and going forward.
Vortex Optics Crossfire II
- The 2-7x32 Crossfire II riflescope is one of many configurations in the Crossfire II line. The...
- With long eye relief and an ultra-forgiving eye box, you'll be able to quickly get a sight picture...
- Anti-reflective, fully multi-coated lenses provide bright and clear views for the user; Max...
The Vortex Optics Crossfire II offers many of the features that you need to stay on target at any range. Some of the pros of this model are:
- Multi-coated lenses: the multi-coating process produces high-contrast images.
- Water and fog-proof: both are essential when hunting or shooting in adverse conditions.
- A single piece made from aircraft-grade aluminum ensures this scope can hold up in tough conditions
Cons of the Vortex Optics Crossfire II:
The Vortex Optics Crossfire II is a solid sight in most situations. The only downside is that this scope does not come with flip-up scope covers. The scope does come with two caps attached by stretch bands to protect the lenses of the scope when not in use.
Bushnell Optics Drop Zone Reticle Riflescope
Bushnell may be the best known and most trusted name in shooting-related optics. Every product offered by Bushnell provides shooters with optical precision, uncompromising performance, and rugged reliability. The Bushnell Optics Drop Zone Reticle Riflescope takes those concepts to another level for the AR platform.
Pros of the Bushnell Optics Drop Zone Reticle Riflescope:
- Field of view: this model allows you 110/33 at1x and 36/11 at 4x.
- FFP: the FFP offers outstanding low-light performance and accurate holdovers up to 500 yards.
- Adjustments: the turrets feature a .1 mm click value to put you on target with pinpoint accuracy.
- Bright images: the optics are multi-coated to reduce glare and produce bright images.
- Durable: made from anodized aluminum the sight is rust-proof, hard to scratch, and all apertures are sealed against the elements.
- Affordable: this is a very affordable model for shooters who intend to fire their rifles frequently.
Cons of the Bushnell Optics Drop Zone Reticle Riflescope:
- Reticle: the reticle is very dim in the day time, almost disappearing at 1x.
- Warranty: this model is not covered under Bushnell’s standard lifetime warranty. It does have limited lifetime warranty coverage on most parts. All electronics are excluded from coverage.
Nikon M-Tactical .223 4-16X42 Rifle Scope
- Engineered for the .223 Reminton/5.56 NATO round w/55 gr polymer tipped bullet at 3240 fps
- 30mm main body tube
- Spring-loaded instant zero-reset turrets with coarse knurling
Nikon has long been on the cutting edge of optics and lens technology. Those interested in maximizing their value for their tactical rifle will find the Nikon M-223 1-4x20mm to be an excellent choice. This model is compact, comes with a lifetime warranty, and has return-to-zero finger-adjustable turrets. return-to-zero capability is especially handy with cartridges like the 233 Remington that require fairly large adjustments for long-range shooting. The return feature allows the user to turn any adjustments back to where they started without marking up the turrets or wasting time with arithmetic. The M-223 within the reach of most shooters and will save a lot of time out on the range. The Nikon M-Tactical .223 4-16X42 is further proof of Nikon’s skills and mastery. Here are a few pluses of this scope:
Pros of the Nikon M-Tactical .223 4-16X42 Rifle Scope:
- Reticle: the BDC 600 reticle was specially developed to accommodate the trajectory of the .223 Rem /5.56 NATO round with 55-grain polymer tip bullet.
- The reticle offers open circle aiming points and features hash marks between 100 and 600 yards.
- Turrets: the easy to use turrets are hand adjusted at increments of ¼ MOA.
- The turrets feature a spring-loaded zero-reset, so they hold adjustment even in rugged conditions or after repeated recoil.
- Multi-coated optics: multiple layers of coating offer brightness and clarity at any time of the day.
- SpotOn: this optic is available with Nikon’s SpotOn software or phone app.
Cons of the Nikon M-Tactical .223 4-16X42:
There aren’t many complaints about this scope, but some would say that with Nikon’s rapid expansion, that the customer service could use some improvement.
UTG 3-9×32 Compact CQB Bug Buster
- 1 Inch Tube with Emerald Coating for Maximum Light Transmission, Premium Zero Lockable & Resettable...
- Range Estimating Mil-dot Reticle for Optimal Aiming and Shooting Performance, Adjustable Objective...
- Red/Green Dual Illumination for Versatile Applications, Large Field of View and Most Accommodating...
UTG is well known in the shooting world for offering solid scopes at affordable prices. The 3-9×32 Compact CQB Bug Buster AO RGB is another solid offering from the company. Here are a few of the reasons why.
Pros of the UTG 3-9×32 Compact CQB Bug Buster AO RGB Scope:
- Clear optics: the optics are emerald-coated for 95 percent light transmission. The sight is sealed and nitrogen filled to ensure that it is shockproof, fog-proof, and rainproof under any conditions.
- Compact: the tube is only 25.4 mm long and the scope has a total weight of just 13.9 ounces.
- Zero lock and reset: even after repeated recoil, you will stay on zero with every round.
- Reticle: this model features a mil-dot reticule for optimal performance.
- Durable: this sight is manufactured from anodized aluminum, features 2-inch sunshades, and flip-open lens covers.
Cons of the UTG 3-9×32 Compact CQB Bug Buster AO RGB Scope:
- Reticle: the quality of the reticle is not at issue, but many buyers have noted that they have received their sight with a rotated reticle. There seems to be a major flaw in the manufacturing process.
- Battery door: the battery door is located in an adjustment knob. When you adjust that knob, the door opens. The sight should be manufactured with a way to lock the battery door.
Our Favorite Red & Green Dots
Below you will find an extensive list of the most budget-friendly models in the green and red dot categories. Any of these optics will make fine choices for your tactical rifle. We will kick things off with the Vortex StrikeFire Red Dot Scope which is our favorite.
Vortex StrikeFire Red Dot Scope
- The Strikefire II Red/Green Dot is a rugged, reliable red dot sight that is at home in a variety of...
- Fully multi-coated lenses provide a clean and bright, unobscured point of view. Unlimited eye relief...
- The single-piece chasis is compact and lightweight but still delivers shockproof performance...
When you need fast action and quick target acquisition, the Vortex StrikeFire Red Dot Scope could very well be the answer for you. This is a great lightweight scope that allows you unlimited eye-relief in every situation.
Pros of the Vortex StrikeFire:
- Magnification: the StrikeFire is a 1x magnification sight, allowing you the unlimited eye-relief you need in tactical, quick-fire situations.
- Lightweight: the StrikeFire weighs a scant 7.2 ounces. A weight that will never interfere with your shooting ability.
- MOA of adjustment: this scope can be adjusted in ½ MOA increments and has a maximum elevation and windage adjustments of 100 MOA.
- Dot size: 4 MOA.
- Parallax free beyond 50 yards.
- Mount: the sight has a standard low-profile mount, but a high mount can be swapped out to allow use of the iron front sight as a back-up.
Cons of the Vortex StrikeFire:
There are two common complaints about this model. The first is that it does not power-up in cold weather; cold weather is defined as anything below 40 degrees. The second is with the on/off button. Many reviewers have said the button is either too touchy for practical use or so stubborn they have trouble turning the sight on. Either way, the sight becomes frustrating and a touchy on/off switch can cause you to drain the battery unexpectedly. We personally have not had that problem, we are just letting you know that others have encountered such an issue.
Bushnell Trophy TRS-25
- Matte black featuring a 3 MOA Dot reticle with 11 brightness settings; Mounts easily on most...
- Waterproof construction: O ring sealed optics stay dry inside, even when totally immersed in water....
- Shockproof construction: Built to withstand bumps, bangs, drops and the rough and tumble environment...
The Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 is designed to ensure mid-range precision and fast target acquisition in any lighting conditions.
Pros of the Bushnell Trophy TRS-25:
- Its price makes it a solid choice for anyone on a budget looking to pick up a red dot sight
- It’s a very versatile sight since it can be attached to a pistol, shotgun, or AR. You can choose to swap it out to a different firearm if you’d like unlike other sights made specifically for the AR-15
- Compact: the key to finding the right sight on a rifle with a short barrel is size. The TRS-25 is only 2.4 inches long and weighs a mere 3.7 ounces.
- Mounted: this sight uses a Picatinny mounting system, so it is compatible with any rail mount.
Cons of the Bushnell Trophy TRS-25:
- The max brightness setting seems that it isn’t enough when the sun is out in full force, however, we do appreciate the ability to change the brightness, unlike other sights. We just wish it was brighter.
Aimpoint PRO-Patrol Rifle Optic
- Designed to deliver premium performance under harsh conditions
- 2 MOA dot with 4 Night and 6 Daylight brightness settings
- Up to 3 years of continuous operation using one DL1/3N battery (included)
Aimpoint entered the riflescope market-making high-quality reflex sights right off the bat. It didn’t take long for the company to realize that some shooters required a red-dot scope, thus the creation of the Aimpoint PRO (Patrol Rifle Optic). The PRO was designed with tactical shooters of all skill levels in mind, but with an eye on affordability as well.
Pros of the Aimpoint PRO:
- Always on: the red dot is always on so that a shooter does not have to fumble with a switch in tactical situations. To accommodate this feature, the PRO has a long-lasting battery. You can expect a single battery to last for up to three years.
- Dot size: the red dot measures 2 MOA for easy target acquisition at any distance.
- Lens covers: the sight features hinged lens covers for protection and loss prevention.
- Compact: the sight is approximately five inches long and only weighs 7.8 ounces.
Cons of the Aimpoint PRO:
- Large knob: several owners have complained that the side adjustment knob is too large. It interferes with the bolt release.
- Magnifiers: a common complaint is that the ocular lens is a bit small, making it difficult to marry the optic to a magnifier.
Most Popular Tactical Model
- Model Number 170680: VX-3i 3. 5-10x40 millimeter with Duplex reticle and Matte finish
- 100% Waterproof, fogproof, and shockproof.
- DiamondCoat 2: Ion-assist lens coating for higher light transmission and the greatest level of...
If your rifle is going to be used more for varminting or small game hunting, there’s no reason not to choose an optic built for hunting applications. The Leupold VX-3i 3.5-10x40mm is a fine choice for the shooter who wants a quality product geared towards varmint hunting. This particular model of Leupold offers all the built-in quality and ruggedness associated with the Leupold name.
Clarity and resolution are always good with Leupolds, and this model’s 4-12 magnification range means that you’ll be able to pick out small targets, like gophers, at longer ranges. Given the low recoil of most tactical rifles, there is a tendency to skimp a little when it comes to choosing a varmint hunter, but a high-end rig like the Leupold VX-II will help to milk every last bit of accuracy out of the rifle. Spending a bit more upfront will lead to more fun in the field later on.
Many shooters are beginning to discover that the AR-15 lends itself particularly well to coyote hunting. The diminutive .223 cartridge packs enough punch to put these small canines down but is easy on the pelt if you wish to turn a small profit from your outings. Generally speaking, any optic designed for basic big game hunting is the one to choose for a coyote rifle, and the Zeiss line of Terra optics makes for an economical, quality choice for the coyote hunter.
Both the 3-9 and 4-12 Terras will work for nailing down coyotes, and the prices on them are surprisingly low for Zeiss products. These models can be mounted very low on the .223 and have a slim profile that comes in handy, as coyote hunting is oftentimes more vigorous than varminting. Of course, the Terra line has all of the Zeiss quality that people have come to expect and comes with a very nice warranty. Lower in price than traditional Zeiss offerings, the Terra line represents an opportunity not to be missed.
- Popular and premium traditional hunting riflescope at an affordable price
- High-grade optical glass provides excellent brightness and clarity with lasting durability
- Quality, precision-ground lenses are larger than those of comparable scopes, for better light...
If you’ve decided to get an AR-style rifle in a caliber more suited to big game hunting, like the 6.8 Remington or other available wildcat cartridges, then a model like the Burris Fullfield II 30 3-9x40mm is the one for you. As its name implies, the Fullfield 30 has a 30mm tube which allows for a wider range of adjustments to accommodate the trajectory variations you’ll run into when switching uppers from caliber to caliber. The Fullfield 30 also has a pleasantly compact design that will keep the overall package manageable for brush hunting or whatever you find yourself doing.
Ruggedness, quality, and excellence make the Fullfield 30 a very flexible option that is hard to pass on. There are other 30mm, tube models, on the market, but the Burris represents the best balance between quality and price. Many of the new cartridges for these platforms require considerable flexibility in an optic and in the long run you’ll be happier getting a scope with plenty of flexibility built-in.
Wrap Up & Recommendations
Thanks for taking the time to check out our reviews and we hope that you’ve found them helpful when it comes to figuring out what the best AR-15 Scope is for your own shooting habits. Typically speaking, the Variable Range scopes should be used at longer ranges, while red and green dot optics should be used primarily by people looking to shoot at short ranges. We’ve done our best to make sure that we have provided you a review article that will give you all the details that you need to choose one of these great rifle scopes. You can also check out some of our other reviews if you want to take a look at a few of the other models out there that are considered to be solid scopes, but we just didn’t include them here due to the fact that we didn’t want to run out of room!
The AR-15 rifle scope that you choose will come down to your shooting frequency, type of shooting done, and the usual conditions that you shoot in. Having said that, we have two scopes that we would recommend to shooters.
Variable Optic Pick: Bushnell Optics Drop Zone Reticle Riflescope
This is a durable scope built for avid shooters. It offers a great field of view, FFP, and Bushnell lens technology. The .1 mm click value on the turrets ensures that you are able to hit what you are aiming at, at any distance.
Red/Green Dot Rifle Scope: Aimpoint PRO(Patrol Rifle Optic)
- Designed to deliver premium performance under harsh conditions
- 2 MOA dot with 4 Night and 6 Daylight brightness settings
- Up to 3 years of continuous operation using one DL1/3N battery (included)
Aimpoint has been making solid rifle scopes for decades. The Aimpoint PRO is arguably the best scope the company offers. The PRO is compact, lightweight, and features a clear rear lens cover so that you can acquire a target without having to fumble with the covers. It is not the least expensive option on the market, but it is designed for a lifetime of tactical use.
While there are many scope choices for today’s active shooters, these are our favorites that every tactical rifle enthusiast should be taking a look at when buying a new optic for their rifle. Not only are there companies not mentioned here that make AR-specific options, but the companies mentioned above have many additional models and configurations. Beyond this, many manufacturers now produce units that augment other models to increase magnification, add night vision functionality, or supply a red or green dot. One of the great things that have come out of the proliferation of the ArmaLite tactical rifle is that optics choices have broadened, prices have dropped and the quality of AR-specific choices has improved. Much like finding the best Mosin Nagant scope, finding the right choice for your rifle can be a complicated process.
With our vast experience in firearm optics of every caliber, we are confident that any of these optics could be the best scope for your AR-15 rifle and that no matter what, you won’t go wrong by choosing any of them. What once only made up a small portion of the overall market has now become a big deal to manufacturers who are striving to produce more and more interesting products to cash in on this new market. If you’re looking for an optic for your rifle, there has never been a better selection and there has never been a better time to find a great deal.