First of all, let’s make clear that when we talk about the best budget rifle scopes here, we are not talking about the cheapest. Rifle scopes, in turns out, are like dates: Good ones don’t come cheap. Shaping, polishing, and coating clear, distortion-free lenses takes time and precise equipment. So does machining the gears, springs, tubes, and lens mounts that comprise the guts of a scope. Assembling the package in a slim tube that is waterproof and shock-resistant takes patience, and expertise.
The point is: You can’t buy a new, useful scope for much less than $170. So when it comes to defining “budget” scopes, I’m making that the floor. But there are lots of good budget scopes for not a whole lot more than that. So, I’m also going to establish a price ceiling as $300, give or take a few bucks. Plus, since we’re talking practical reality here, I’m going to ignore manufacturer’s suggested retail; all the prices shown are approximate street price, or as listed on Amazon at the time of this writing. Here is a list of today’s top budget hunting scopes, plus everything you need to know to choose the right optic for you needs.
Best Rifle Scopes for Under $200
1. Hawke Vantage IR 3-9x40mm Rimfire | $170
Hawke Vantage IR 3-9x40mm Rimfire scope. Hawk Optics
Specs: Satin black finish, 15.2 ounces, 12.4 inches long, 1/4 MOA click value, 39-12.7 ft. at 100 yards FOV
Hawke is not a well-known name here in the States, but rimfire competitors across the pond have been using the company’s scopes to punch 10 rings and take podium finishes for years. Their Vantage line of illuminated rimfire scopes can be had with a variety of bullet-drop compensating reticles for .17 HMR, .22 LR, subsonic .22 LR, and .22 WMR rounds. The etched-glass reticle features both red and green illumination with five easy-to-adjust brightness levels to match ambient lighting conditions. Fingertip-adjustable windage and elevation turrets make for fast sighting-in.
2. Tract 22 Fire 4-12x40mm | $194
The Tract 22 Fire 4-12x40mm scope. Tract Optics
Specs: Satin black finish, 15.6 ounces, 12.1 inches long, 1/4 at 50 yards click value, 34 ft. at 100 yards FOV
One the fastest growing segments of precision shooting is rimfire competition. The relatively low price of admission is at least partly responsible, with competitive rifles and glass often costing thousands less than their centerfire counterparts. The Tract 22 Fire 4-12x40mm is an excellent choice for competition, hunting, or plinking. Although Tract’s rimfire models don’t have the same super-high-end Schott glass as their long-range centerfire scopes, many other top-end features have made their way over. The 1-inch tube is completely waterproof and fog-proof; it’s O-ring sealed and purged with argon, which is more resistant to temperature changes than the nitrogen traditionally used. Multiple layers of anti-reflective compounds are applied to every air-to-glass surface for bright, clear images, even in low light. Windage and elevation adjustments are precise, and the spring-loaded turrets let you reset your zero quickly. All of this is backed by the company’s lifetime warranty at a friendly price.
Best Rifle Scopes for $200 – $250
3. Burris Fullfield II 3-9x40mm | $224
Specs: Matte black or nickel finish, 13 ounces, 12.2 inches long, 1/4 MOA click value, 33-13 ft. at 100 yards FOV
This fine little riflescope combines a classic 3-9x deer-scope configuration with cutting-edge design and manufacturing. For the price, the optical clarity, light transmission, and ergonomics of this scope are second to none. Burris’s Forever Warranty protects you against damage inflicted by wayward horses and the elements. Turret adjustments are steel on steel—no plastic parts to cave under extreme use. Naturally, it is waterproof and nitrogen purged against internal fogging.
4. Bushnell Engage 3-9x40mm Illuminated | $239
Bushnell Engage 3-9x40mm Illuminated scope. Bushnell
Specs: Satin black finish, 15.6 ounces, 12.1 inches long, 1/4 MOA click value, 32-12 ft. at 100 yards FOV
Bushnell has updated its Engage line with an illuminated 3-9x40mm model and managed to keep the price affordable, to boot. The Multi-X reticle helps shooters get on target quickly in nearly any lighting conditions, thanks to its glowing dot with six brightness settings centered in the middle of the crosshair. Fully multicoated optics provide excellent light transmission for solid low-light performance. Other features include a fast-focus eyepiece, an integrated throw lever on the magnification selector, and Bushnell’s excellent EXO barrier on external lens surfaces to repel water, oil, fog, dust, and debris.
5. Redfield Revolution 4-12x40mm | $247
Specs: Matte black finish, 13.1 ounces, 12.3 inches long, 1/4 MOA click value, 19.9-9.3 ft. at 100 yards FOV
Reborn in Oregon under Leupold’s hand, Redfield is again building outstanding American-made riflescopes. Multi-layer vapor-deposited coatings on good lenses ensures plenty of light transmission, clarity, and color purity. With a magnification range of 4-12x, this particular scope is low enough on the bottom end for fast shots up close, and powerful enough zoomed in for work at extended ranges. Holdover points in the reticle add long-range precision. The Revolution is absolutely waterproof, fog proof, and shock resistant and covered by Redfield’s full lifetime warranty.
6. Sig Sauer Whiskey 3 3-9x 50mm | $250
Specs: Matte black or Graphite finish, 15.7 ounces, 12.3 inches long, 1/4 MOA click value, 33.9-11.3 ft. at 100 yards FOV
Although legendary gun company SIG is relatively new to building optics, you’d never know it by looking at its riflescopes. This is an exceptionally good-looking scope that shrugs off color and contour conventions. Glass, mechanics, and construction are all solid. It’s not quite as clear or distortion-free as the similarly priced Leupold, Burris, and Zeiss scopes, but it possess more modern styling than they do. Waterproof, fog-proof, and shock resistant, it’s a fine hunting scope for big game, predators, or varmints.
Best Rifle Scopes from $251 – $329
7. Leupold FX-II Scout 2.5x28mm | $262
Specs: Matte black finish, 7.5 ounces, 10.1 inches long, 22 ft. at 100 yards FOV
The Scout rifle concept—a short, handy semi-lightweight rifle with a forward-mounted low-magnification optic—is currently enjoying a resurgence, and few scopes are more perfectly suited for it than Leupold’s VX-II Scout IER. Constructed in a one-piece tube with a minimal number of moving parts, this scope is stout. It’s got just enough magnification for precise shots to 250 yards, and it adds minimal bulk to your favorite walking rifle. Plus, the lenses are clear as mountain air. Waterproof, shock-resistant, and fog-proof? Check, check, check. Finish available in matte black, silver, or gun metal gray, but only matte black comes in under $300.
8. Vortex Crossfire II 4-16x50mm AO BDC | $279
Specs: Matte black finish, 23.6 ounces, 14.2 inches long, 1/4 MOA click value, 25.3-7 ft. at 100 yards FOV
Vortex has become a household name for discerning long-range shooting enthusiasts. Although the company’s most capable long-range optics typically cost $1,000 and up, this sub-$300 scope offers performance worthy of the Vortex name. The scope features resettable MOA turrets compatible with custom Kenton Industries turret dials and it offers parallax adjustment. Built in a one-piece, anodized aircraft-grade aluminum tube using fully multicoated lenses, it’s a clear, robust, and reliable optic. Like the pricier Vortex optics, it’s waterproof, shock resistant, and nitrogen purged against internal fogging.
9. Leupold VX Freedom 3-9x40mm | $299
Leupold VX Freedom 3-9x40mm riflescope. Leupold
Specs: Matte black, Gloss, or Silver finish, 11.2 ounces, 12.6 inches long, 1/4 MOA click value, 34.6-14.6 ft. at 100 yards FOV
Leupold’s VX-1 and VX-2 were two of the most popular and best budget hunting scopes around. The VX-1 cost less and was a solid scope, but the VX-2 was simply an unbeatable value. The new VX Freedom replaces both in Leupold’s lineup, and the good news is that it features the same glass as the VX-2, and is generally designed to be an upgraded version of that affordable classic. If I had to choose just one optic from this list with which to deer hunt my days away, this would be it. Decades of American engineering and manufacturing perfection makes for a clear, bright, distortion-free riflescope that you’ll hand down to your grandkids. Several reticles are available, ranging from standard duplex to the uber-useful Wind-Plex. Finger-adjustable, tactile turrets make for easy, precise sight-in and field adjustments, and you can order a CDS dial matched to your ballistics. Nitrogen-purged against fogging, aggressively waterproofed, and very good at shrugging off shock, this scope will hunt harder than you ever can.
10. Riton X1 Conquer 6-24x50mm | $329
Riton X1 Conquer 6-24x50mm scope. Riton Optics
Specs: Satin black finish, 27.1 ounces, 14. inches long, 1/4 MOA click value, 16.8-4.4 ft. at 100 yards FOV
Riton is a newcomer to the optics world, but their initial offerings have been well received. The X1 Conquer 6-24x50mm offers plenty of magnification for hunters out West that may need to air it out a bit on antelope or mule deer, or pop a coyote in the next county over. Those looking to zero at long ranges will appreciate the approximately 67 MOA of internal elevation adjustment. The 1-inch tube houses high-density glass that delivers plenty of light, and is nitrogen purged to be waterproof and fog-proof. The push/pull locking turrets with windage and elevation reference marks are a nice touch for long-range work.
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5 Things to Look for to Get the Best Budget Rifle Scope
There are a number of great, affordable scopes on the market—so many that trying to choose one can be overwhelming. Here are a few key things to look at before you plunk your money down.
1. Objective Lens
More than any other factor, the diameter of the objective lens (the one opposite your eye) determines how much light a riflescope lets in. For scopes that will be used in low-light conditions, which is basically all hunting models, bigger is better. But only to a point. As the size of the lens increases, so does the distance that it must be mounted above the barrel. If the scope gets too high, it becomes difficult to achieve proper eye alignment, and accuracy can suffer. Scopes with very large objective lenses also tend to be heavy, bulky, and expensive. For hunting, 50mm is about as big as you’ll ever need to go, and if you’re looking for a general-purpose big-game model, 42mm or 40mm is probably a better choice.
The lenses are the most important parts of a riflescope, so make sure you choose the best glass you can afford. Extra low dispersion, commonly referred to as ED, glass is the best you can get. ED glass minimizes chromatic aberration to provide true-to-life colors and sharp images. Some lenses are called high definition, or HD, but this doesn’t refer to the type of glass, but rather an indication of the image quality rendered. The coatings applied to the lenses also affect image quality by improving light transmission and adding scratch resistance. Simply put, the more coatings the better. Go for a scope in which all exterior lenses are covered in multiple coatings.
How much magnification a scope should have depends on the game you’re pursuing, and the range at which you’ll be shooting. For most big-game hunters, taking deer-sized animals out to 200 or 300 yards, the traditional 3X-9X or 4X-12X is plenty. Open-country hunters, as well as those targeting smaller quarry such as predators and varmints, can benefit from greater magnification. Advances in scope design have given us even greater zoom ranges, and now you can buy a scope that goes from 2 power all the way up to 20, which is a boon to those who hunt multiple species with the same rifle. These are expensive, however, so expect to pay a premium for them.
4. Gas Filling
Filling a scope with an anhydrous gas displaces water vapor, which prevents it from fogging up. Nitrogen is typically used for this, but a growing number of manufacturers are turning to argon. Argon has a larger molecule than nitrogen, which means that it’s less likely to effuse through a membrane or a seal. Argon is also more resistant to temperature changes than nitrogen. That said, no matter what your scope is filled with, if you move between environments with a big temperature gradient, the exterior will fog.
5. Main-Tube Diameter
Not long ago, virtually every hunting scope had a 1-inch main tube, but as shooters continue to push the distance envelope, scopes with 30mm or even 34mm main tubes are becoming more common. A larger-diameter tube gives the reticle more room to move, which increases the range of adjustment. Bigger tubes are also sturdier and let a bit more light through. On the negative side, they (and the rings used to mount them) tend to be heavier and costlier, so take this into consideration when shopping. For typical hunting scenarios, a 1-inch tube is more than adequate.
Read Next: 11 Best Cheap Binoculars for Serious Hunters
How to Mount a Rifle Scope
Mounting a scope properly lays a foundation for straight shooting. A scope that isn’t solidly affixed to your rifle can shift around, moving your bullet’s point of impact. Fortunately, scope mounting isn’t difficult to do yourself.
We’re assuming, before you begin, that your rifle is drilled and tapped for a base or bases and you’ve bought the correct base(s) and rings for your model of rifle. Rings come in three heights — low, medium, and high — to fit scopes with varying sizes of objective lens. As a rule, the lower you can mount the scope over the bore, the better. Be sure you can work the rifle bolt freely at whatever height you choose.
It’s easiest to mount a scope on a rifle that is held securely in a padded gun vise. If necessary, you can improvise a holder by cutting notches in either end of a stout cardboard box.
1. Prep the Scope and Gun
Clean any grease off the screws, screw holes, and bases with Outers Crud Cutter or lighter fluid. Wipe the metal dry; then lightly oil the top of the receiver where the base will sit. Set the base on the receiver. Put a drop of medium-strength Loc-Tite on each screw (don’t use the strongest stuff, which can only be undone with heat). With a screwdriver that is the same blade width and thickness as the screw slots, turn the base screws down as tight as you can.
2. Install the Scope Rings
Install the bottom halves of your rings per the manufacturer’s instructions. With Redfield, Leupold, and some other brands, the front ring attaches to the base through a socket arrangement that requires twisting the ring 90 degrees. Never use your scope as a lever to twist the ring; you can easily bend the tube. Instead, use a length of 1-inch wooden dowel or pipe.
3. Set the Scope Onto the Rings
Lay the scope onto the bottom halves of the rings. Attach the top halves of the rings, but don’t tighten the screws yet; you’ll want the scope to slide back and forth and rotate so you can adjust the eye relief and the cant. Don’t make the mistake of setting the scope too close to your eye, or it will hit you when it comes back under recoil. Most scopes have 3 to 4 inches of eye relief; that is, they are designed to be set 3 to 4 inches in front of your eye when you are leaning into the rifle with your head forward on the stock. Position the scope accordingly.
4. Adjust to Perfection
Now, adjust the cant to make sure the scope’s crosshairs are truly vertical. With the gun in a vise, use a small level to check that the rifle itself is not leaning to one side. Then, sight through the scope at a straight line you’ve checked with the level, such as a door jamb or window frame. Turn the scope to line the crosshairs up with the vertical line.
5. Tighten to Secure the Scope
Tighten the ring screws. They should be snug enough to hold the scope securely, but they needn’t be cranked down as tightly as the screws that hold the base to the receiver. With split rings that have screws on both sides, tighten the screws alternately, so the gaps between the rings come out even.