Top 5 Affordable Rifle Optics

Back in the day, it was widely encouraged to spend an equal amount (or more) on your rifle scope as you would on your rifle. Thanks to higher supply and reduced manufacturing costs, affordable rifle optics are much more prevalent than they used to be. To be fair, the very best scopes still cost more than your rifle — sometimes by a few times.

Take heart, though. There are a number of scopes out there delivering excellent performance without us having to take out a second mortgage. Let’s examine a few here today. I’ll go over them briefly to give a decent overview of what’s out there.

Rifle Scope Usage

It’s best to figure out what we want to do with the scope before purchasing one. Is it for self-defense on a semi-automatic carbine? Perhaps a low-power or variable scope might work best. Hunting? Something variable, but with a bit more magnification might be better. Sniping? Again, a higher-power variable scope might work best. For CQB engagements, a red dot sight (RDS) might be just the ticket.

Will a scope give you additional skills? Not necessarily, but it will help you identify targets with a single aiming point. Rather than lining up two sights (front and rear), the shooter simply places the reticle on the target. So, while it might not make you a “better” shooter, it can help you make better shots. Scopes also help those with poor eyesight (such as those with aging eyes) see the target better.

Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6x24mm LPVO

Vortex has produced some impressive optics over the past several years. In addition to their great optics, their warranty is amazing—it’s a no-questions-asked warranty in which they’ll fix any problems immediately.

This scope has some impressive specifications, including a true 1x low power setting, which is great for close-quarter engagements. On the higher end, the 6x is great for reaching out to extended distances. The 30mm tube houses a 24mm objective lens. Measuring at 10.5 inches long and weighing 18.5 ounces, it’s not a tiny scope. However, it’s relatively compact and constructed from a single block of aircraft aluminum.

Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6x scope.
Vortex’s Strike Eagle 1-6x Low Power Variable Optic (LPVO) makes a great scope for an AR-15. The illuminated reticle and true 1x capability make it great for CQB and longer distances.  Photo: Jim Davis.

The lens coatings protect from dirt and scratches while the scope is waterproof, shockproof, and fogproof.

This Strike Eagle operates on the second focal plane, so the reticle stays the same size regardless of the magnification. The etched reticle remains visible even if the battery (CR2032) or electronics fail to illuminate it. The reticle resembles an upside-down horseshoe (which can be illuminated). When set at 1x, the reticle turns the scope into a red dot sight. There are various power settings for the illuminated reticle for both day and night. There are also various stadia lines for estimating range and providing holdovers for extended distances out to 650 yards.

The Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6x currently sells for $399.99. For the money, this superb scope represents an excellent value. A family member has this scope mounted on a Colt AR-15 carbine, and it’s a great fit.

Vortex Strike Eagle 1-8x24mm

This Vortex Strike Eagle 1-8x24mm is very similar to the Strike Eagle 1-6 described above, except with a little more magnification. It’s also powered by a CR2032 battery to illuminate the reticle.

This one measures 10.4 inches long and weighs 23.9 ounces, so it’s slightly heavier than its 1-6x little brother. For those few extra ounces though, you benefit from some additional magnification.

Vortex Strike Eagle 1-8x on a Savage MK II FV-SR .22 rifle.
The Vortex Strike Eagle 1-8x scope sits atop a Savage MK II FV-SR .22LR rifle. It makes for a fun and accurate combination. This scope would also be perfect on top of an AR-15. Photo: Jim Davis.

With 145 MOA in elevation and windage adjustments, there’s a lot of adjustment available. The turrets have protective caps that can be unscrewed. This scope is effective from room distances out to 600+ yards. The LPVO (Low Power Variable Optic) concept is proving to be very versatile.

The reticle is also an illuminated upside-down horseshoe. Because it’s etched into the glass, it can still be seen if the electronics are not working. It’s capable of acting like a red dot sight when set at 1x with the reticle illuminated.

The adjustments are fast, and the lenses are clear. I’ve mounted this scope on my Savage MK II FV-SR .22 LR rifle with this perfect combination being very fast and accurate. It would be perfect for mounting on an AR-15 or other semi-auto. This scope currently retails for $499.99.

Vortex Crossfire II 4-12x44m

I have a Vortex Crossfire II mounted on my Ruger American Predator rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor. Actually, it came with the rifle as a package deal from Ruger. This scope was my introduction to Vortex Optics. I was quickly impressed! Since this scope doesn’t have a huge price tag, I assumed it would be low quality. However, I was mistaken; the optical quality is surprisingly good. The adjustments proved repeatable and reliable.

The Crossfire II features a one-inch, one-piece aluminum tube with a hard anodized finish. Measuring 13.4 inches long and weighing in at 15.6 ounces, it’s surprisingly light for the scope’s size. The lenses are multi-coated, while the scope is waterproof, fogproof, and shockproof.

Vortex Crossfire II 4-12x scope on Ruger American Predator rifle.
Vortex’s Crossfire II 4-12x44mm scope offers clear glass and great performance. Here, it adorns a Ruger American Predator rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor. The rifle and scope combination has proven to be a tack driver. Photo: Jim Davis.

The scope operates on the Second Focal Plane (SFP). The duplex reticle has hash marks for holdover and windage, which are helpful for extended ranges.

The Crossfire II retails for $169.99. For the quality, that is an excellent price.

Holosun HS510C Red Dot Open Reflex Sight

I figured I’d throw a red dot sight (RDS) into the mix here just to cover all the bases. These types of sights really shine at CQB distances. Holosun has put out decent optics for some time now, and they’re growing in popularity.

The Holosun HS510C has a housing made from aluminum and titanium, so it is lightweight. This sight’s 12 brightness settings (including two night vision settings) are easily controlled by buttons on the side of the unit. It is compatible with Picatinny rails, so mounting it is extremely easy — especially with its quick-detachable mount.

The battery life runs up to 50,000 hours. After a time of being idle, the sight goes to sleep and features “shake awake” technology, so you have to do nothing more than move it to wake it back up. This is a nice battery-saving feature. To further save the battery, a solar unit powers the sight during daylight hours, saving the battery for dim light conditions. The sight operates on a single CR2032 battery.

Holosun HS510C red dot sight.
Holosun’s HS 510C is a great red dot sight for close-range, fast engagements. Photo: GunMag Warehouse.

The window consists of multi-layer reflective glass lenses, which reduce any glare the shooter sees through the window. The sight weighs only 4.94 ounces, so it adds very little weight to the weapon.

This RDS is great on rifles, carbines, pistol-caliber carbines, and even shotguns. For an added bonus, the reticle/dot will co-witness with the weapon’s sights. The reticle consists of either a 2 MOA dot or a 65 MOA circle with a dot in the center. The user can choose whichever reticle suits their needs and switch back and forth with the push of a button.

I had one of these mounted on my carbine for a time, and it was a slick sight! When mounting the carbine, the dot just seemed to magically appear on the target. Brightness adjustments were very easy. All in all, this is an outstanding CQB sight.

As I type this, the retail price is $309.99, which puts it in the mid-price range of RDS. It represents a solid buy.

Leupold Mark AR 1.5-4x

I’ve always liked Leupold optics, as my first issued sniper rifle wore a Leupold 3.5-10x tactical scope. All the products I’ve used from this company proved durable and effective and never let me down.

Their 1.5-4x Mark AR scope is relatively light and compact, with a length of 9.2 inches and a weight of 9.5 ounces. It is waterproof, with the lenses coated for improved protection and light transmission through its 20mm objective lens.

The simple duplex reticle looks uncluttered. The power adjustment ring has enough tension that it won’t accidentally move on you but remains easily adjustable by the shooter.

Leupold Mark AR 1.5-4X scope on an AR carbine.
Leupold’s Mark AR 1.5-4x scope is perfect for short or medium-range encounters. The glass is amazingly clear. Photo: Sue Davis.

The click-adjustable elevation and windage turrets are marked in numbered increments so we can record the data. Calibrated for 55-grain rounds, the elevation turret easily adjusts out to several hundred yards with convenient yardage markings on the turret.

Because this scope adjusts down to 1.5x, it is good for closer engagements. While a true 1x would be the best for CQB, we can’t have everything. The 1.5-4x adjustment range certainly enhances our ability to score hits on targets out to a couple hundred yards. Unless you’re trying to be a sniper, this scope will probably cover most of your needs.

I picked this scope up for $188 at my local gun store a couple years ago and remain well-pleased with it.

Parting Shots

We covered several affordable rifle optics for everything from CQB distances out to several hundred yards. We’ve learned quality scopes and optics don’t have to break the bank. I’ve used each of these optics at one time or another and felt completely confident listing them here as viable solutions for readers. I found all of these scopes to be reliable, solid purchases.

Keep an eye on Vortex. They’re a company that’s really on fire. Furthermore, their warranty department is seriously helpful. A few years back, I had an issue with a scope, and upon contacting Vortex, they couldn’t do enough to help rectify the issue. Within a few days, I had a new scope from them. To be honest, I’ve never had better customer service. Regardless, you won’t go wrong with any of these scopes.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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