10 Best AR Scopes Under $500 (Long & Short Range)

Building an AR on a budget but can't decide which optic to go with? Inexpensive optics can be a very mixed bag, with some manufacturers cutting corners when it comes to durability, materials, and overall craftsmanship. But the good news is that there are also plenty of high quality optics available to suit your needs without breaking the bank, whether you plan on using your rifle for home defense, hunting, or recreational shooting.

To help you take the guesswork out of the equation, we've compiled a list of our favorite AR scopes available for under $500, ranging from home defense red dots to long-range scopes tailor-made with hunters in mind. But first, let's get a few important things out of the way.

A Word on “Budget” Optics

Before we get down to brass tacks, it's important to lay out our criteria for choosing the scopes on this list. Not everyone can afford to outfit their AR-15 rifles with a world-class optic, and for the overwhelming majority of shooters, that's not a problem—unless you are a professional competitive shooter whose livelihood depends on having access to the best of the best.

There is always a point of diminishing returns where spending more money isn't going to get you get you noticeable improvements in performance or quality.

That being said, you also don't want to go too far in the opposite direction—while there are plenty of optics available for $100 or less, the bulk of them are either knock-offs or scopes designed for airsoft, pellet guns, or paintball.

best optics for ar 15 under 500

In other words, not something you would want to potentially trust your life with.

It's also worth thinking about where you buy your scope, keeping in mind that old adage, “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” That Trijicon ACOG or EOTech that someone is selling for $250 in the local classifieds is probably not real, and if it is, there is almost certainly something wrong with it.

Likewise, buying from eBay or other questionable re-sellers runs a much higher risk of encountering counterfeit products or defective optics that are getting passed off as a “bargain” to unwitting shoppers.

We recommend sticking to trusted retailers with quality customer service, such as OpticsPlanet or even Amazon – just make sure you take a peek at the seller's feedback ratings or purchase from authorized re-sellers.

Choosing The Right Kind of Scope

We've worked hard to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to affordable AR scopes, but picking the right optic for your rifle is still largely going to depend on what you plan on using it for.

While more expensive scopes may be more versatile, budget optics that try to do everything tend to disappoint, which is why we recommend picking a scope that is tailored to a specific use.

The simple fact is that at the sub-$500 price point, you will always be making some small compromises, whether it's weight, quality of the glass, battery life, or quality of life features. (If that's not your style, we recommend increasing your budget and taking a look at our rundown of the best overall AR-15 scopes).

The good news is that the overall quality of budget-level optics have dramatically increased in recent years, which often makes those differences in quality so small that they can be hard to spot even side-by-side with a much more expensive optic.

Thanks to wider access to materials and rapid technological advancements, every scope featured on our list is durable, reliable, and offers excellent optical clarity. So before we jump in, let's take a brief look at the different kind of AR-15 optics and what situations they are best suited to.

PRODUCT

DETAILS

Products

BEST LIGHT RAPID TARGET

Athlon Optics Argos BTR 6-24×50 FFP Riflescope

Athlon Optics Argos BTR 6-24×50 FFP Riflescope

  • Diameter: 50mm
  • Magnification: 6-24x
  • Length: 14.1 in
BEST LIGHT WEIGHT SCOPE

Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 1-6×24 SFP Riflescope

Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 1-6×24 SFP Riflescope

  • Diameter: 24mm
  • Magnification: 1-6x
  • Length: 10.5 in
BEST FOR PRECISE TARGET

Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Scope

Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Scope

  • Diameter: 30mm
  • Magnification: 1x
  • Length: 5.1 in
BEST FOR MID RANGE

Bushnell Optics Drop Zone Reticle Riflescope

Bushnell Optics Drop Zone Reticle Riflescope

  • Diameter: 24mm
  • Magnification: 1-4x
  • Length: 5 in
BEST FOR LONG RANGE

Primary Arms SLX 4-14x44mm FFP Rifle Scope

Primary Arms SLX 4-14x44mm FFP Rifle Scope

  • Diameter: 44mm
  • Magnification: 4-14x
  • Length: 13 in
BEST FOR HUNTING

UTG 3-9X32 1" BugBuster Scope

UTG 3-9X32 1" BugBuster Scope

  • Diameter: 32mm
  • Magnification: 3-9X
  • Length: 8.11 in
BEST FOR LONG RANGE

Burris 4.5-14x42mm Fullfield II Ballistic Plex Riflescope

Burris 4.5-14x42mm Fullfield II Ballistic Plex Riflescope

  • Diameter: 42mm
  • Magnification: 4.5-14x
  • Length: 13.8 in
BEST FOR DURABILTY

Leupold VX-Freedom 1.5-4X20mm Riflescope

Leupold VX-Freedom 1.5-4X20mm Riflescope

  • Diameter: 20mm
  • Magnification: 1.5-4X
  • Length: 9.35 in
BEST FOR FAST FOCUS

Nikon P-Tactical .223 3-9x40 Matte BDC600

Nikon P-Tactical .223 3-9x40 Matte BDC600

  • Diameter: 40mm
  • Magnification: 3-9x
  • Length: 18.11 in
BEST FOR NIGHT VISION

Vortex Optics Strikefire II Red Dot Sight

Vortex Optics Strikefire II Red Dot Sight

  • Diameter: 30mm
  • Magnification: 1x
  • Length: 5.6 in

Red Dot Sight / Holographic Sight

A red dot or holo sight is an excellent choice for home defense or close quarters shooting.

Their high-visibility reticles, parallax-free aiming, and unlimited eye relief make target acquisition at close range a breeze, and while they may not be precise enough to make shots at 500 yards, they are also more than capable of handling most mid-ranged shooting situations. 

It's also worth noting that red dots are battery-powered, and while most modern optics have an impressively long battery life, it's still important to remember to swap them out periodically, especially in rifles meant for home defense.

Fixed-Power Scope

Best fixed-power scope offers only a single level of magnification, and for AR-15 scopes, that will typically mean a lower-powered optic designed for close-to-mid range shooting.

These scopes offer more precision than a red dot, especially at medium distances, but getting on target quickly can be a little trickier, which makes them more suited to recreational shooting or hunting than for self defense.

And because they usually have a simple construction and few features, you can get a surprising amount of bang for your buck out of a fixed-power scope.

Variable-Power Scope

A common choice for hunters and competitive shooters, variable-power scopes offer a wider range of magnification levels, allowing the user to switch between close and long-range targets.

Throw levers and fast focus eyepieces make this an even smoother process, though the more complex construction of these scopes means you will likely be sacrificing some optical clarity or features compared to a fixed-power scope or red dot sight at the same price point.

Now that that's all sorted, let's take a look at the scopes that made the cut for our list.

1. Athlon Optics Argos BTR 6-24×50 FFP Riflescope

best ar scope under 500

Athlon Optics' Argos BTR is an excellent workhorse scope with a build quality and features that are hard to find at this price point.

The first focal plane design and side parallax adjustment knob allows for precise holdover adjustments at any level of magnification, and the etched, illuminated mil-dot reticle is fine enough to avoid blocking targets at long range while also offering improved visibility in low-light conditions.

The Argos BTR features solid optical clarity for the price, with good contrast, no noticeable distortion, and crisp focus. 

The scope itself feels very solidly built, with a heat-treated single-tube construction that is waterproof and shockproof.

Athlon Optics Argos BTR

If I had to nitpick, the scope's eye relief is slightly less forgiving than some other scopes on this list, but in exchange you get a slightly larger field of view, which some shooters may even find preferable.

As well, the scope does lose a little clarity at the maximum magnification, but this is true of many more expensive long range scopes as well.

This scope comes available in both a MIL and MOA reticle, and your choice should largely depend on which one you prefer the look of, as both are more than capable of making the shot at any distance you are liable to be using an AR-15 at.

It's an especially attractive option for those who don't have a lot of experience making shots at 300-500 yards, since the reticle is simple, intuitive, and not cluttered with markings that might confuse a newer shooter.

Athlon Optics Argos BTR 6-24×50

The price of Athlon Optics Argos BTR 6-24×50 varies, so check the latest price at

2. Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 1-6×24 SFP Riflescope

best ar optics under 500

Another excellent all-around scope designed specifically with the AR-15's ballistic profile in mind, the Vortex Strike Eagle's versatile 6x zoom range makes it an attractive option for anyone who can't afford to purchase multiple niche-use optics.

The etched, illuminated reticle features both a convenient horseshoe for rapid, combat-effective shots at close and medium ranges and a finer crosshair for longer-range shooting, and the second focal plane design means that the reticle maintains its appearance throughout the entire magnification range.

The Strike Eagle is built tough, with a waterproof, shockproof, and fogproof design that will hold up to the elements— and for extra peace of mind, the scope is backed up by Vortex's standard lifetime warranty.

The quality of this scope's glass is impressive, holding its own against high-end scopes that cost twice as much or more. The eyebox might be a little on the tight side, but as long as you get in the good habit of practicing a consistent cheekweld, it's not a problem.

At extremely close ranges you may notice a very slight fisheye effect through the lens, but in my experience this completely disappeared after roughly 20 feet, after which it felt like true 1x at the low end.

And while the first generation Strike Eagles lacked this feature, the newer ones come from the factory with a throw lever for fast, smooth magnification adjustments, which is a very welcome addition to a scope that already had excellent value for the money.

Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 1-6×24

The price of Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 1-6×24 varies, so check the latest price at

Check out our Hands on review for Vortex strike eagle 1-6x24mm scope. If you want to know more about it.

3. Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Scope

best scopes under 500

The Aimpoint PRO (Patrol Rifle Optic) comes in right under the budget limit for this list, but it's worth every penny if you're looking for a rugged red dot sight for home defense or other short range applications.

The PRO's 2 MOA red dot offers a clear image and allows for enhanced speed on target even under stressful situations, and the transparent rear lens cap means you can grab the rifle in an emergency and accurately aim with both eyes open—hopefully this is a feature you'll never have to use, but it's a small detail that points to the care that Aimpoint puts into their designs, even at a budget price point.

 It is also worth noting that the lower illumination settings on the PRO are night vision compatible.

The Aimpoint PRO is built to last, with an argon-purged housing that is not only shockproof, fogproof, and waterproof, but rated for total submersion up to 150 feet for those who demand the utmost durability in all weather conditions.

Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Scope

The battery life for this optic clocks in at a very impressive 30,000 hours—for those who don't feel like doing the math, that's 3 years.

The PRO comes with Aimpoint's QPR2 mount, which offers a rock-solid return to zero without any risk of damaging or deforming your picatinny rail.

Another nice touch is the included spacer, which can be removed or adjusted to set absolute co-witness with your iron sights for that extra peace of mind.

The Aimpoint PRO is an exceptional close-range optic, and while you won't be scoring hits at 500 yards with it, it certainly deserves a spot at the top of the list for anyone who is in the market for an affordable home defense option.

Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Scope

The price of Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Scope varies, so check the latest price at

4.Bushnell Optics Drop Zone Reticle Riflescope

best optics for ar 15 under 500

If you are looking for a super-affordable optic for a mid-to-long range AR build, look no further. Bushnell's Drop Zone Reticle scope shines in the 100-500 yard range, offering crisp bullet drop compensation markings calibrated for .223 / 5.56 ammo and turrets with a 0.1 mil click value that are both precise and satisfying to use.

This scope is designed to be sighted in at 100 yards, and while it is certainly usable at closer ranges, the BDC markings and the optic's hefty weight make it a little less maneuverable and a little slower to acquire targets than I would like for close quarters shooting.

But if you're looking to ring steel targets at 500 yards with ease, you would be hard-pressed to do better at this price.

Low-light performance suffers slightly thanks to the narrower 24mm objective lens, but otherwise the Bushnell Drop Zone Reticle scope has clear glass, an intuitive (if slightly thick) crosshair, and a durable construction, making it a top pick for recreational shooters on a tight budget.

Bushnell Optics Drop Zone Reticle

The price of Bushnell Optics Drop Zone Reticle varies, so check the latest price at

5. Primary Arms SLX 4-14x44mm FFP Rifle Scope

best ar 15 rifle scope under  500

The Primary Arms SLX is another great scope from a company that has already cemented itself as one of the best sources of quality optics at bargain prices.

The scope features a patented first focal plane ACSS Orion reticle that stays true through the entire magnification range, and the design of the reticle itself is worth talking about.

Built-in bullet drop compensation markings, quick ranging and windage hold markings calibrated for coyote and deer-sized targets, and 2.5, 5, and 10 mph wind holds all combine to create a scope that is tailor-made to take the guesswork out of hunting, even when shooting at moving targets.

Crystal-clear clarity, multicoated optics, high magnification, and parallax control put the SLX in the same league as scopes that cost twice as much, and there are only minor eye relief issues at the highest levels of zoom.

Notably, there is no fisheye distortion even at the lowest magnification, and the .25 MOA click adjustments match the reticle to make sighting in and adjusting for range simple at all magnification levels.

While some might find the reticle too busy for general-purpose use, anyone who is building their AR-15 with hunting in mind is sure to appreciate the precise crosshair, consistent BDC, and other quality-of-life features this scope has to offer.

Primary Arms SLX 4-14x44mm FFP

The price of Primary Arms SLX 4-14x44mm FFP varies, so check the latest price at

If you want to know more about Primary Arms 4-14x44mm scope, Check out our detailed review.

6. UTG 3-9X32 1" BugBuster Scope

best ar scope under 500

Not everyone is looking to use their AR-15 for home defense, hunting, or competition use, and if you are simply looking for an extremely affordable scope that will let you familiarize yourself with a new rifle or simply enjoy your time at the range putting rounds on paper or, the UTG BugBuster offers robust performance in a compact package—and it's also the most inexpensive optic on our list.

Despite its price, the BugBuster doesn't skimp on the important qualities—clear optics, parallax adjustment (a definite rarity at this price), and an illuminated mil-dot reticle with range estimating hashmarks make it a simple but effective option for shooting inside of 250 yards, though it really shines in the 25-100 yard range.

The BugBuster also comes with a pair of heavy duty quick-release rings and a 2-inch sunshade that helps reduce glare or distracting reflections when shooting in the direction of the sun, and while the scope isn't as bright or sharp as some of the other choices on this list, the BugBuster is more than adequate for a recreational shooter who just wants a reliable, quality optic at the lowest price point possible.

UTG 3-9X32 1" BugBuster Scope

The price of UTG 3-9X32 1" BugBuster Scope varies, so check the latest price at

Want to know more about that scope? Check out our detailed UTG bug buster 3-9 x 32mm review

7.Burris 4.5-14x42mm Fullfield II Ballistic Plex Riflescope

best ar 15 for 500 dollars

Another great option for long-range target shooting and hunting is the Burris Fullfield II, featuring their new “Ballistic Plex” reticle with trajectory compensation markings and cascading dots to quickly adjust for wind.

The reticle is crisp and more than adequate for precision shooting at the top end of the AR-15's effective range, and the reticle markings are helpful without being obtrusive or making the sight picture too busy.

The scope's glass is much clearer than you'd expect at this price, with excellent sharpness all the way to the edges and a hi-luminosity multi-coating that improves light transmission while reducing glare. The scope is also threaded for a sunshade, which comes highly recommended if you do a lot of shooting during the midday hours.

The rest of the scope is similarly well-built, boasting a solid one-piece nitrogen-purged tube that is waterproof, shockproof, and fogproof, while the scope's internal spring-tension system allows it to hold a steady zero even if it takes some bumps.

At 1.5 pounds, the Fullfield II is definitely on the heavy side, but the scope is well-balanced enough that you aren't likely to notice on most AR setups.

Burris 4.5-14x42mm Fullfield II

The price of Burris 4.5-14x42mm Fullfield II varies, so check the latest price at

Check out our detailed Burris fullfield II review for more similar options.

8. Leupold VX-Freedom 1.5-4X20mm Riflescope

best optics for ar 15 under 500

Leupold is renowned for the clarity and durability of their scopes, and while most shooters probably associate them more with bolt-action hunting rifles than with a platform like the AR-15, they have quickly proven themselves up to the task with this quality scope.

Thanks to the scope's excellent light management system, the VX-Freedom collects a genuinely surprising amount of light for its size, letting you squeeze in some extra shooting time when the sun starts to set.

The glass is as clear, sharp, and distortion-free as you'd expect from Leupold, and the optic is available with two reticle choices: the more traditional duplex crosshair, or a unique “pig plex” reticle that allows for faster target acquisition at closer ranges at the expense of a slightly less precise crosshair for long distances.

As the name suggests, the pig plex reticle is a great choice if you plan to do some hog hunting or simply want to get on target a bit quicker at shorter ranges.

As with all Leupold scopes, the VX-Freedom comes with a lifetime warranty, but I wouldn't expect to need it—the scope feels very sturdy and Leupold's torture testing process puts scopes through their paces in much harsher conditions than most shooters will ever encounter.

It is worth noting that the scope doesn't include rings, so be sure to put some of the money you'll save by buying this scope towards a high quality mount.

Leupold VX-Freedom 1.5-4X20mm

The price of Leupold VX-Freedom 1.5-4X20mm varies, so check the latest price at

9. Nikon P-Tactical .223 3-9x40 Matte BDC600

best ar under 500

While it is undeniably designed with long-range shooting in mind, the Nikon P-Tactical BDC600's versatile 3:1 zoom ratio and crisp BDC reticle makes it a solid workhorse option for all but the most close-range applications.

At low magnification, the field of view is impressively wide, and the second focal plane design means that the bullet drop compensation markings won't be cluttering your sight picture until you are zoomed in enough to actually need them.

Like Nikon's other budget-range scopes, the P-Tactical's glass is clear and noticeably brighter than most of the competition, making this a solid choice for hunters who enjoy getting up early or staying out late when lighting conditions would hamper a lesser optic.

Nikon P Tactical .223

The turrets allow for fine 1/4th MOA adjustments and feature a spring-loaded design for instant-zero reset, which is not a feature you see often at this price and will really make a difference when it comes to zeroing in your scope.

The aircraft-grade aluminum alloy tube construction and o-ring sealed internals make for a durable shockproof, waterproof, and fogproof scope, and while it's certainly not the lightest scope on this list, it does manage to shave off a few ounces compared to most other affordable options in this magnification range.

As well, Nikon's multi-coating process is some of the best you'll find on a budget, cutting down glare without sacrificing brightness or contrast.

Nikon P-Tactical Matte BDC600

The price of Nikon P-Tactical .223 3-9x40 Matte BDC600 varies, so check the latest price at

10. Vortex Optics Strikefire II Red Dot Sight

best ar optic under 500

The Vortex Strikefire II is a lightweight red dot sight ideal for a home defense carbine or as a low-cost optic for those who want to dip their toes into 3-gun or other competition shooting. It made an appearance on our list of best scopes under $200, and even faced with more expensive competitors it still manages to carry its weight.

The lenses are fully multi-coated to reduce glare and prevent abrasion damage without limiting light transmission or impacting clarity, and the dot can be switched between red or green at 11 levels of illumination (two of which are compatible with night vision), giving you plenty of brightness on even the sunniest days.

One of the Strikefire II's best features is just how ergonomic it is—the controls are placed on the rear of the optic for easy access on the fly, and the included cantilever mount gives you enough room for the red dot, a magnifier, and a set of back-up iron sights all on the same picatinny rail.

Adding to this, the Strikefire II skips the cheap batteries that come with many budget red dot sights and comes equipped with a CR2 battery that lasts an incredible 80,000 hours at a medium brightness setting.

If you're looking for a no frills, high quality red dot that can take a beating without losing zero, the Strikefire II is hard to beat, and its close-range performance stacks up admirably against optics that are significantly more expensive.

Vortex Optics Strikefire II

The price of Vortex Optics Strikefire II varies, so check the latest price at

Parting Shots

The world of budget-friendly AR-15 optics has come a long way in recent years, but there are still plenty of duds, cut corners, and counterfeits that risk wasting your time and money or even potentially putting you or your family in danger if they can't be relied upon in an emergency.

This list represents some of the absolute best rifle scopes for a budget build, sourced from manufacturers with a reputation for quality and reliability and vetted through hands-on testing by not only Hunting Mark, but thousands of satisfied owners around the world.

Even if you end up choosing a scope that isn't on our list, the features we've looked at on these optics will give you a great starting point and a baseline idea of what you should expect for your money, allowing you to make an informed decision based on your budgetary constraints and your own personal shooting needs.

Do you have experience with any of the scopes on this list? Did we leave off one of your favorites? Sound off in the comments below and let us know what you think!

If you're still shopping around for a new scope and willing to stretch that price range a little farther—or if you're just looking to find your next upgrade—be sure to take a look at our list of best overall AR-15 optics

References:
  1. Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Scope Photo mygunculture.com
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