You’re in the stand. The sun is going down and you think you see movement. It's still legal shooting hours, but there at the edge of the wood line, everything is shadow and dark.
Now is when you must have the best low-light rifle scope so you can tell if that shadow is something worth shooting, just a shadow, or something that needs to walk.
As the science of optics has improved over the years, so have the best low light scopes. Today's optics are a far cry from what we used to shoot 30 years ago.
But that doesn’t mean they’re all of equal quality or equally well suited for every possible use. So how do you know what low light scope is right for you and your needs?
It doesn’t have to be difficult.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know to choose the best rifle scope for your low light shooting needs. We’ll start with some background information on what exactly low light scopes are before moving on to the things that you should consider when making your choice.
Then we’ll go over a few of the best scopes for low light hunting currently on the market to help you get started with your search.
Objective Lens Diameter
Vortex Optics Crossfire II Scope
NightForce ATACR Riflescope
Zeiss Conquest V4
Bushnell Banner Riflescope
Burris Fullfield II Riflescope
Monstrum G3 FFP Rifle Scope
ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Rifle Scope
3 - 14 x
Ready to get started?
What Makes a Scope Good In Low Light?
Low light scopes are exactly what they sound like: scopes especially well suited for performance in low light conditions. That means that low light scopes have to be good at both light gathering and light transmission so that they get the most out of whatever light is available.
To achieve this, there are a few features that low light scopes tend to have.
First, they generally have a large objective lens (the front lens) and, by extension, a large objective bell.
Okay, maybe not that large.
A 20 mm bell with the best quality optics in the world is not going to gather as much light as a 55mm bell with poor glass. The larger lens just allows more light to enter the scope in the first place.
So I guess size really does matter.
Still, no matter what size the objective lens is, some light is lost as it passes through glass. High-end glass will deliver more light to your eye than poorly made glass. Anti-reflective lens coatings also help reduce that loss, though there’s no eliminating it entirely.
A larger body tube is also better for light transmission. A one-inch tube is less effective at channeling light than a 30 mm and even less effective than a big 34 mm tube.
Finally, an illuminated reticle is easier to see. In low light conditions, an unlit reticle can blend into the shadows, while a lit reticle lets you see exactly where the center is. As many animals can't see red, using that color won't spook them when you turn it on. All colors can light up the tube. Anything but red may be enough to alert your target.
How Do You Choose the Best Low Light Scope?
We talked about the benefit of a large objective lens diameter already, but larger objective lens sizes come at a cost. The drawback to a big front end is you need tall scope rings. That pushes the scope up, forcing you to make cheek weld adjustments when shooting. You have to decide what degree of trade off you’re comfortable with.
Similarly, we also already talked about the importance of glass quality and glass surface coatings, but it goes beyond just light transmission. High quality glass prevents image and color distortion and generally improves image clarity. Lens coatings can help with color fidelity and image contrast.
Magnification also matters. Your scope should have the right magnification strength for your needs. 3-9x is generally considered a versatile range, but it really depends on what you plan on using the scope for. The smaller and farther away your target, the stronger the magnification you need.
You also generally want stronger magnification for long range shooting and target shooting than you do for hunting, since you want a larger field of view for the latter and most shots you make with a hunting scope won’t be as long range.
Magnification also makes a difference for light transmission. As you zoom in on a target, the zoom creates an effective restriction for the light by narrowing the exit pupil. The main tube stays the same size, but how much light enters the scope is reduced. Think of it like this: a straw cannot push as much water as a garden hose. It’s not an exact analogy, but it works.
Because of this, a small belled scope with a low magnification can be just as good as a big bell scope on high magnification when it comes to low light performance.
Of course, none of this will magically make your sight picture clear and bright or make that 8-point appear like he's standing in an open field at noon. The best low light scopes will give you a few more minutes of shooting time on either side of the twilight clock and that could be the difference between success and going home empty-handed.
Now let’s move on to the scopes themselves. We’re going to cover several different price ranges from the more affordable prices on up to some expensive options.
Best Low Light Rifle Scope
1. Vortex Optics Crossfire II 3-12x56 AO Hog Hunter Scope
Let’s start with the Vortex Optics Crossfire II Hog Hunter Scope.
It has a megaphone 56 mm front lens. It’s like a black hole; it will suck in the light and channel it right down to the 30 mm tube. Multi-coated glass lenses further cut the light loss.
Frankly, at the 3x magnification level, this scope delivers more light than your eye can effectively process. Don’t worry, you won't be blinded, your eye is merely going to disregard all the extra light. As you zoom in, you may see a gradual darkening in the first few adjustments. By the time you reach 12x, even a bad set of eyes like mine will notice a difference.
But because we started out with so much light, there’s still enough available at the higher magnification strengths to allow for good visibility.
Vortex lists this version of the Crossfire II as a "Hog Hunter" model, mostly for marketing purposes and because of the reticle. Some people believe they need that "hog" designation when they go after wild bacon. True, hogs are twilight and nighttime feeders, especially when pressured, but deer do the same thing. And so do a lot of other game animals.
Branding aside, it is a great scope and comes fitted with waterproof o-rings, and of course it comes with Vortex’s amazing transferable lifetime warranty.
The reticle is a set of crosshairs that stop short of crossing. Instead, it has a red dot in the center. As this scope is in the second focal plane, the dot stays the same size you zoom in. This style of reticle is very popular among hog hunters, though it’s not essential.
Click adjustments are a respectable 1/4 MOA.
Vortex Optics Crossfire II Scope
The price of the Vortex Optics Crossfire II Scope varies, so check the latest price at
2. Trijicon AccuPoint 2.5-10x56 - Best Rifle Scope For Low Light Condition
The Trijicon AccuPoint family includes several scopes, all of which are suitable as low-light scopes. The scopes with the larger objective lenses, 56 mm in this case, are the best. The large bells come with a green or amber light in several reticle choices.
This one is in green with a MRAD dot reticle. The combination makes this the best all-around choice for this scope family, at least in my opinion.
The reticle is illuminated with tritium. On the one hand, that means you never need a battery. On the other hand, it means as the tritium decays over the years, it becomes less and less bright.
This Trijicon scope measures in millirads instead of MOA. But once you sight the scope in and learn the bullet drop on the reticle, it will not make a difference.
One of the great features of this scope is that it starts at 2.5x magnification and then zooms up to 10x. That gives you great range and when you back it down, it gathers a lot of light.
The tube is 30 mm. The glass is multi-coated to improve the light-collecting ability.
The price of the Trijicon AccuPoint varies, so check the latest price at
3. NightForce ATACR 5-25x56 Riflescope
Nightforce builds tough, high quality scopes and the NightForce ATACR is no exception.
This scope has a 34mm aircraft-grade aluminum tube attached to the 56mm objective lens. Combine that with the multi-coating on the glass throughout the scope and you will understand why this scope excels at light gathering.
The main reason this scope is third on the list is that the zoom begins at 5x and reaches out to 25x. Even with this marvelous scope's single-piece 34mm tube, cranking the magnification to maximum is going to shuttle a lot less light to your eye than a scope with a lower zoom range.
Make no mistake, this a long distance optic. You have 35 Mils of elevation adjustment, a side-focus parallax adjustment, and a hard zero stop for when you need to dial in your elevation and then go back to your zero.
It’s available as either a second focal plane (SFP) or first focal plane (FFP) scope. The illuminated MOAR-T Reticle is just about the best you can find. Windage hash marks reach across the tube while elevation marks start halfway up and go to the bottom of the mil-dot reticle.
Throw in the fingertip turret adjustments with their Return to Zero function, and you have a scope that is worthy of the world's top snipers (and it is used by military snipers). Click values are 1/4 MOA and you get 30 MOA per revolution. This makes it a great option for long-distance varmint hunters as well.
It is also one of the most robust scopes on the market and is totally waterproof, shockproof, and fogproof. That, coupled with the forgiving eyebox and excellent eye relief also makes it a great option for a large-caliber big game rifle.
The price of NightForce ATACR varies, so check the latest price at
4. Zeiss Conquest V4 4-16x50mm
When people get serious about optical glass, they go to Zeiss. This company makes lenses for far more than just sporting optics.
The Zeiss Conquest V4 slides in behind the Nightforce because of the magnification levels. If this scope started with a smaller beginning zoom, it would be higher on the list.
The scope’s magnification starts at 6x and goes 24x. Even with the sterling glass, the coatings and the 50mm bell, it is just not going to bring in quite as much light as the Nightforce.
The 30 mm tube makes a difference in that too. The average shooter probably can't tell the difference, but it is there.
Once you get beyond that, you get fingertip adjustable turrets with 1/4 MOA adjustments andReturn to Zero functionality for in-field work.
The scope comes with two lighted reticle choices, a Christmas tree and another ballistic reticle with more standard hash marks that is almost as generous as the Nightforce reticle.
Zeiss Conquest V4
The price of Zeiss Conquest V4 varies, so check the latest price at
5. Bushnell Banner 3-9x50 Matte Multi-X Riflescope
This scope series has several models, but this particular model is the best for low light because it offers the biggest bell, 50 mm, and a lower magnification range, 3-9x, compared to its brothers in this series.
The glass is multi-coated to reduce light deflection in the glass down the 1-inch tube.
The reticle is a simple duplex. Turret adjustments are 1/4 MOA.
You’ll see Bushnell Banner scopes sometimes listed as Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn, but they’re the same thing.
Bushnell Banner Riflescope
The price of the Bushnell Banner Riflescope varies, so check the latest price at
6. Burris 3-9x40mm Fullfield II Ballistic Plex Riflescope
The main shortcoming keeping the Burris 3-9x40mm Fullfield II Ballistic Plex Riflescope from appearing higher on this list is that the reticle isn’t illuminated.
The 40 mm objective lens is also a little smaller than we’d like, but this scope is still miles above most other scopes at its price point.
The glass is coated with Burris' "Hi-Lume" treatment that improves its ability to direct light down the 1-inch tube. The 3-9x zoom is OK on the low end and really all you need for the upper end.
The capped hunter turrets have 1/4 MOA click values. The simple BDC reticle is in the second focal plane. The scope itself is waterproof and recoil resistant.
One of the other good things about buying a Burris is the warranty. It lasts forever and transfers to new owners, no questions asked. I generally will not buy used optics, but will if the company offers this type of warranty, like Burris, Nightforce and Leupold do.
Burris Fullfield II Riflescope
The price of the Burris Fullfield II Riflescope varies, so check the latest price at
7. Monstrum G3 6-24x50 FFP Rifle Scope
Unlike many of the other scopes we’ve talk about so far, the Monstrum G3 6-34x50 has a first focal plane reticle.
That means that as you zoom in, the crosshairs get bigger too. For ballistic reticles, like the one on this scope, that means that the holdover and windage marks are accurate at all magnification levels. The reticle is also illuminated.
The Monstrum has a 50 mm objective lens, but the starting zoom at 6x is one reason this scope is so far down on this list.
The turrets allow in-field adjustments but also lock into place so you only make adjustments when you mean to.
The scope has a 30 mm tube which helps with light transmission. The lenses are fully multicoated, which also helps.
Monstrum G3 FFP Rifle Scope
The price of the Monstrum G3 FFP Rifle Scope varies, so check the latest price at
Night vision scopes are not the same as low-light scopes. A low-light scope will help you shoot a bit earlier and later in the day, but they don’t collect or transmit enough light for night time shooting. In fact, night vision scopes are also often not usable during the day time. Their infrared sensors can actually be damaged by exposure to too much visible light.
We have one exception.
8. ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope
The ATN X-Sight 4K Pro scope is good for day and night hunting, as the name suggests. When it gets dark, flip to night vision and you are still in the hunt.
The night vision is distance limited and as it gets darker, you may need to add an infrared illuminator. You'll have to make the call on when you switch from the regular scope to night vision as the light fades.
The objective lens is 50 mm and the scope has a 30 mm tube.
Unlike the rest of the scopes in this list, the ATN X-Sight is a digital scope and comes packed with additional features, like video recording, a built in ballistic calculator and rangefinder, a programmable reticle, and WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity so you can connect your scope to your mobile device to stream or transfer recorded video.
A major drawback is the battery life. ATN says you can expect 18 hours of use from the lithium-ion internal power supply. Charging time is six hours.
ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Rifle Scope
The price of the ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Rifle Scope varies, so check the latest price at
Low light conditions are going to vary, sometimes even within 100 yards. I have hunting stands deep in the woods where I hunt and as the sun goes down, it gets dark in a hurry. I've left these stands unable to see anything through my scope, but when I get out to the field, I can see all the way across.
Under these conditions, the ATN is an ideal choice. My shooting lanes down in the woods are 75 yards and less. With the ATN, I could still shoot down there as legal shooting hours were in effect. Back at my truck, I could use the day scope to reach across the field to tag a deer or hog.
Sitting out in the open field at the edge of the woods, I'm using a regular scope with as big a front bell as I can stand on my rifle.
Down here in south Georgia, we can get long shots, but only across a field. Nearly all the deer I've killed were under 50 yards. I've got two at 125 yards. I don't need a lot of magnification (except for my bad eyesight). If I were to hunt some places out west, where shots of 500 or more yards can happen regularly, then I'd need a higher zoom factor.
Regardless, a big front lens and a big tube make a difference.
So what do you think of these low light scopes? Do you have your eye on one to add to your favorite rifle? Let me know in the comments. And if you’re looking for something that will let you shoot at night, check out our list of the Best Night Vision Scopes and for budget options, Check out our list of best night vision scopes under $1000.