Muzzle-loading rifles have come a long way since the ye olde smoothbore muskets our ancestors used to kick the British back across the Atlantic.
Nowadays, these rifles are used mostly for hunting, which means that if you’re using one, you probably want a good scope on it.
But which scope to buy? Amazon is just packed with options and it can be difficult to choose between them.
I’ve been hunting with muzzleloaders for decades now, and in that time I’ve learned a thing or three about fitting out a smokepole with a scope.
Today, we’re going to go over everything you need to know about choosing the best muzzleloader scope, from why a good scope is so important, to the pitfalls and potential traps out there waiting to snare an unwary buyer.
And then of course we’re going to look at my recommendations on which scopes out there are worth your hard-earned dollar.
Oh, and if you just want the recommendations, you can check out each one below.
4.5 - 14 x
Leupold VX Freedom
3 - 9 x
Vortex Optics Diamondback
Aircraft Grade Aluminum
Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn Series
Nikon PROSTAFF P5
Aircraft-grade Aluminum Alloy
3 - 12 x
1.5 - 4 x
Still with me? Alright, let’s dive right in.
My History With Muzzleloaders, and Why You Need a Damn Good Scope
I got involved in advanced muzzleloader shooting big time when I first set up shop in South Dakota.
The problem was there were piles of deer to hunt, but state law would not, and still will not, allow the use of a rifle scope. Iron sights only.
Some states, like South Dakota, regard the muzzle loader as a “primitive“ weapon, and as such they don’t even allow an inline gun to be used when hunting in some cases, but keep everything at about the level of the flintlock and percussion cap models.
That is so basic that it is reminiscent of the mountain men that crossed the Rocky mountains hunting grizzly bear and, at times on the front range, buffalo.
In my early days prior to the Dakotas I lived in Minnesota, and muzzleloaders were so unreliable at the time that I never wasted a chance on a whitetail up in the big woods, because those tasty critters were few and far between in deep swamps and brush country.
Everything changed in about 1995, when I began hunting deer with muzzleloaders in earnest, along with some shooting industry folks, and got the chance to track deer in states that allowed rifle scopes to be used on about any kind of muzzleloader you cared to take afield.
Now it was game on as we tested primers, percussion caps, powders and bullets on almost all types of deer.
Gone was the primitive cap and ball setup, and it was replaced with bolt-action, or break-action muzzleloader rifle that could generate enough energy to drop a whitetail or mule deer out as far as 300 yards, depending on the shooter and the level of the powder charge being chambered.
What was also required at those kinds of ranges was a darn good glass sight. Enter the use of the high-grade big game rifle hunting scope.
Why You Need the Best Muzzleloader Scope Possible
There are a few things that muzzleloader hunters need to keep in mind when choosing a scope.
When selecting a scope for a muzzle loader the first thing you need to do is decide the task that the gun will be assigned most of the time. If you're shooting the new turn-bolt long range inline systems, the glass you select will parallel those used in centerfire metallic cartridge rifles.
If used on a traditional-style rifle heading toward a smaller and less expensive glass sight could be the ticket.
When moving into the longer range muzzle loaders today your scope sight needs to be able to stretch your effective sighting range, and also pull light during those almost pre-dawn and dusk hours of the day. Good light transmission is key during those parts of the day.
The same things go for shooting in adverse weather conditions. When it's cloudy and rainy out, you need better light transmission and image quality if you want a decent time with your target acquisition in these low-light conditions.
Game moves the most at these prime times, and take it from someone who has recorded all of his best trophy mule and whitetail at these times of day, it is important to know the difference between the high-quality scope options out there and the ones that’ll let you down when you have the trophy buck in your crosshairs.
Good quality scopes will have multicoated lenses to help with light gathering and to help protect your scope from damage.
Speaking of damage, muzzleloaders tend to have a good bit of kick, so the best muzzleloader scopes need to be able to tolerate that energy without losing zero. All the scopes on this list are fairly shockproof and will hold up to muzzleloader recoil energy.
Also, you don’t need a huge magnification range here. The best scopes for a muzzle loader will be somewhere near the 3-9x magnification range. Reticle-wise, you have your standard duplex reticles of course, which are typically okay for muzzleloaders, but you have some other options as well.
Some scopes like the Nikon Inline XR BDC and Nikon Prostaff P3 (which we’ll cover in a minute) have BDC reticles that help you judge bullet drop.
Best Scopes For Muzzleloaders: Based on a Lifetime in the Woods
Now that you know what you should be looking for in a muzzleloader scope, let’s take a look at what scopes you should look at first. These are all scopes I trust to bring home the bacon (sometimes literally), and they will all serve you well.
I’ve included a pretty good variety as well, so there should be something here for everyone.
1. Leupold VX-3i
This low grade photo was taken of me with a 200 pound 200 yard harvested whitetail buck at 20 below zero in the black of a moonless night, while shooting the Remington Ultimate Long Range Muzzleloader and this optic.
Leupold's VX-3i 4.5-14X50 is the updated version of the older Leupold VX-2, and makes use of the duplex crosshair that is very workable for muzzleloader ranges, and also has a very high grade of “ machine-set” glass that is press-fit versus glued in place, as many others are.
It has windage and elevation turrets with ¼ MOA adjustment knobs that are very repeatable when checked with a box rotation test, and a main tube of aircraft grade aluminum that keeps the scope lighter, but still more than tough enough for hunters in the field.
Between the 40mm objective lens and Leupold’s light management system for low light shooting, this is a solid choice for keeping a clean sight picture on a target when the light is fading fast. The fast-focus eyepiece also helps you get a clear view quickly and easily.
Several years ago, I shot a buck at 200 yards about five minutes before shooting hours closed with the Remington Ultimate .50 cal boltgun and this optic.
Between the 50mm glass and 14x magnification, even at that very late hour I was able to pinpoint the deer's nose for an elevation hold over point, and send the bullet straight through the heart
This Leupold scope is designed, built, and sold right here in the USA, which doesn’t hurt either. It also has a lifetime warranty, like all Leupold scopes.
2. Leupold VX Freedom
The Leupold VX Freedom 3-9X40 could almost be considered the American standard in hunting rifle scopes. The 3-9x has been around almost forever, and it can do the job in almost all cases, on any and all high-powered rifles, and in this case muzzle loaders as well.
I shoot the scope on a Thompson Center Pro Hunter break-action .50, and have taken a number of good bucks with the muzzle loading system.
This Leuopold uses their Tri-MOA reticle system and is coated matte black, and it uses an aircraft-grade aluminum main tube that is gas-purged with waterproof o-rings.
Glass in this scope is designed around the Twilight Management System, and like the previous model reviewed it will add up to 10 minute of both morning and evening shooting time in low light conditions.
Overall, this is one of the most basic and simplest to use scopes you can buy.
3. Vortex Optics Diamondback
The Vortex Diamondback 4-12x40 scope is more than capable of taking charge of any muzzleloader bullet in 45 or 50 cal that you would consider sending at a deer (or whatever) and helping you put it in the right spot.
This scope has a Dead-Hold BDC reticle and that means the ability to see through the glass and use a sub-tension system that will compute hold over at longer range shots.
With the Vortex Diamondback scope series you’re getting into a much budget-priced realm, but rest assured, Vortex builds a good product. The Diamondback and Crossfire II lines are their entry-level products, but are both still excellent options, and some of the best values in the shooting industry, alongside brands like Holosun and Simmons.
In fact, many rifle builders offer this scope on new rifles as a combo rifle/optical system bundle, and these are folks who aren’t going to make their own products look bad by putting sub-par glass on top.
The fast-focus eyepiece is easy to use, and the metal to metal turret settings are sharp and will offer a zero return after you dial in your adjustments and need to return to your original zero.
The scope uses a solid one-piece main tube, and is totally waterproof and fog proof with a purging system applied to the housing. This is a solid budget priced scope for all general use on any muzzle loader set up for glass sights.
4. Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn Series
In my inventory of hard working, field-tested scopes at Ballistics Research & Development, I have several glass sights that hold some kind of records in terms of performance.
The Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn 3-9x40 is one of them.
I have shot two of these scopes for better than 50 years to date, and have never turned a single knob since the original zeroing half a century ago.
That is a world record of some kind to be sure.
Bushnell Banner series are scopes that are built for the working hunter around the ranch or in the deer woods. In terms of a muzzleloader, these are great scopes for hunters in timber country, or most areas east of the Mississippi river.
The 3.3 inch eye relief provides enough distance to allow for the heavy recoil from those muzzle loaders that will burn up to four sticks of propellant for super velocity loading, and the tube will pull light very well with the 40mm objective lens.
This scope uses the “Multi X” reticle, with a ¼ MOA turret adjustment.
5. Nikon PROSTAFF P5
The Nikon PROSTAFF P5 3-12x42SF is another excellent muzzleloader scope option that will stand up to years of use in the wood.
It has fully multicoated lenses and a nitrogen-purged tube to keep everything fogproof in changing weather conditions.
The aluminum tube is also internally reinforced to be as shockproof as possible to maintain your zero in the face of the heavy recoil of your muzzleloader.
Finally, this scope makes use of Nikon’s Spot On Ballistic Match Technology that can be calibrated to work with most any load.
This is the updated version of the BDC 300 reticle, and it can help you make longer shots by giving you BDC holdovers that eliminate the guesswork of trying to make a shot using “Kentucky windage”.
6. Leupold VX-Freedom 1.5-4x
This final scope being presented here is a smaller Leupold scope that will work out well for smaller muzzle loading rifles. Some of the examples include the T/C break-action types, and many other of the same or like design.
The Leupold 1.5-4x is better as a woodlands scope than an open country model. In general this scope will handle most needs of muzzleloading rifle shooters with ease, especially in close-in situations.
It has a ¼ MOA turret adjustment, is waterproof, and retains the usual Leupold quality in glass that pulls light and returns a good clean sight picture.
Built like most Leupold scopes of 6061-T6 aircraft aluminum, the scope is lightweight, low light workable, and will last the life of the shooter.
A Note About Red Dots
I know what you’re thinking...red dots? On a muzzleloader? Well, yeah. Muzzleloaders are a fairly close-range option, and if you’re somewhere like the Deep South where most shots aren’t going to require you to reach out much past 100 yards or so, a red dot makes a lot of sense, especially for a brush gun.
The wide field of view you get with a red dot is also really great for those fast, close-range shots.
If that’s something you’re into, be sure to check out our list of the best red dots before next hunting season.
Muzzleloading rifles present an interesting and exciting challenge to hunters, and with the right glass on top are just as capable as more modern designs.
These muzzleloader scopes are all an excellent value, and will serve anyone well.
On top of that, most of them have a lifetime warranty, which should be enough to put any fears to rest when it comes time to choose. They have all done well by me over the years, and I have every faith that they will continue to do so.
What do you think of these muzzleloader scopes? Do you have a favorite? Is there one you like more than others? Let me hear from you in the comments. And if you’re looking for more muzzleloading content, check out our list of the best muzzleloading rifles.