Published Jun 3, 2022 11:49 AM
In the past, you used to have to shell out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to get a really great rifle scope. Thankfully, those days are gone. Advancements in scope technology have come a long way and what was once considered to be unobtainium by many is now fairly run of the mill for most.
With the cost of ammo increasing the way it has over the past couple of years, it has left many shooters with less money in their budget for a rifle scope. Thankfully, you can get a really nice rifle scope for under $500. In fact, there are a lot of different options to choose from at that price point without sacrificing quality. Sure, a $500 scope is unlikely to go head to head with a $3,000 scope, but that’s not the point. We’re looking for the best rifle scope under $500 and this list has some choices that any shooter will be pleased with.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Rifle Scope for Less Than $500
There are a lot of different rifle scopes on the market that cost less than $500, and many of them are suited to different needs. It’s important to think about what your must-haves are and what your nice-to-haves are. Even though you can get a great scope at this price point, you’re likely to have to make some sacrifices somewhere, so putting that list together first helps.
If you decide that your next gun-related purchase is going to be a sub-$500 scope, then here are some of the things you should think about before parting with your hard-earned money:
When looking at some of the scopes at this price point, it’ll be fairly obvious to see why they cost so little. That’s why it’s important to really look at the specifications and materials used in a scope. What metal is the tube made from? What kind of glass is in it? Will you have to worry about water, fog, or shock issues? Each of these little things in terms of build quality makes a big difference in the end.
Aside from helping you aim and make a good shot, what else does this scope offer, or how does it stand out from the crowd? Maybe it has an illuminated reticle, better glass than similar models, or is backed with a really good warranty. Any extras help stretch your dollars further.
The top end of our budget is $500, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend all $500 to get the best rifle scope. Do some model comparisons and see where one might edge out the other. Better yet: shop around and see if you can get your preferred store to price match, which will save you even more money and make your sub-$500 scope that much better.
Why It Made the Cut
The Vortex Diamondback Tactical will get you out to 1,000 yards comfortably without making your wallet uncomfortable.
- Magnification: 6-24x
- Reticle: Glass-etched
- Other Features: Waterproof, fog proof, and shockproof
- Great option for getting into the long-range game
- Exposed turrets allow for easy and quick adjustment
- It’s possible to inadvertently move the turrets if you’re not careful
The Vortex Diamondback Tactical 6-24×50 scope puts long-range shooting within the budget of virtually all shooters. Exposed turrets bring tracking performance previously unheard of at this price point, while the glass-etched reticle allows for an intricate design for precision shots that you can’t get in other reticle construction types. Even though it has tons of performance features and potential, it still has a relatively simple design which means it won’t be confusing to learn how to use for people who are just getting into the long-range shooting game and don’t want to spend a fortune to do so right away.
Best First Focal Plane Scope Under $500
Why It Made the Cut
Athlon’s Talos BTR scope delivers the benefits of FFP technology and Athlon quality at a price anyone can afford.
- Magnification: 4-14x
- Reticle: Illuminated MIL
- Other features: Nitrogen purged
- 4-14x magnification is perfect for hunting or distance shooting
- Illuminated reticle helps in low-light situations
- Etched reticle provides precision shot placement
- Won’t perform like a $5,000 scope
Athlon Optics is known for providing high-quality scopes, but they’ve often come at a high-quality price—especially when you’re dealing with an FFP scope. The Athlon Talor BTR 4-14×44 changes all of that. They’ve found a way to give you all of the quality features you expect to get with an FFP scope, like an intricately etched MIL reticle, in a package for a fraction of the cost. You still get excellent coated lenses that, when combined with the illuminated reticle, make for a perfect low-light shooting optic. The 4-14x magnification range is perfect for most hunting situations and people who want to experiment with reaching out a bit farther but don’t want to get a dedicated long-range scope.
Why It Made the Cut
The Sightmark Wraith offers cutting-edge night vision, video, and photo technology in an affordable package.
- Magnification: 4-32x
- Reticle: 10 options in 9 different colors
- Other features: Records video, takes photos, and has emerald or B&W night vision color profiles
- Can be used as a regular daytime scope, too
- Can save five different firearm profiles
- Comes with an infrared illuminator
- Different batteries are needed for use of scope and use of infrared
You probably didn’t think you could get a night vision scope for under $500. Well, you’d be wrong. The Sightmark Wraith 4-32x50mm Digital Riflescope uses a 1920×1080 HD sensor that provides full-color clarity in the daytime and an easy switch to night vision mode in classic emerald or black and white viewing options. A removable 850nm IR illuminator is included to provide better nighttime images and accurate target acquisition up to 200 yards. The Wraith also features a built-in camera allowing you to record and share videos as well as take still photos. Simply put, the Sightmark Wraith is an all-in-one night vision scope at an exceptional price.
Why It Made the Cut
The combination of multi-coated glass and a 50mm bell make the Vortex Crossfire II a solid budget option for low light performance.
- Magnification: 3-9x
- Reticle: Dead-Hold BDC MOA
- Other features: Waterproof, shockproof, and fog proof
- Dead-Hold BDC MOA Reticle has custom hash marks for windage and elevation to take the guesswork out of your calculations
- Lenses have a proprietary multi-coating to provide increased light transmission
- Resettable turrets are nice if you have to make future adjustments
- Only available in 1” diameter
The Vortex’s Crossfire II scope series may be considered entry-level, but their performance is anything but that. Vortex builds all of its scopes to an exacting standard and quality, and there are some great features in this scope. Most notable is the use of a proprietary multi-layer coating on the glass that reduces glare and reflections while increasing light transmission. When paired with the larger 50mm bell, the Vortex Crossfire II 3-9×50 scope allows for the best low light performance possible in its class. The Dead-Hold reticle has built-in custom hash marks to allow easy adjustment for windage and/or elevation so that you can make split decision changes with minimal effort on your part.
Why It Made the Cut
The Bushnell Banner 2 is a classic scope design from a trusted name that comes in well below the $200 price ceiling.
- Magnification: 3-9x
- Reticle: DOA Quick Ballistic
- Other features: IPX7 waterproof rating
- Comes with aluminum Weaver style rings
- Easily pairs with the Bushnell Ballistics App
- Classic 3-9×40 performance at an unbeatable price
- There have been some issues with the included aluminum rings
You might give the benefit of the doubt to a sub $200 scope, but what about a sub $90 scope? Don’t jump ship yet! You’ll want to retract that scoff after you try the Bushnell Banner 2 3-9×40 scope. With improved glass over the original Banner model, one-piece aluminum construction, an easy-to-use DOA Ballistic Reticle, and the ability to pair with the Bushnell Ballistics App, you can be sure to have the best performance possible out of a scope that you would expect to cost hundreds of dollars more.
Scopes can be a very personal accessory, with some people being very type-specific (SFP or FFP only, for instance) or loyal to only one brand or another. Not me. I’m like the archetype faceless corporation of the 21st century that will toss you aside and replace you at the drop of a hat if something better comes along. Essentially, what I’m saying is that none of the scopes I own are made by the same company and they’ve all got different features. I’m looking for the right scope for the right job. Period. Not the right scope made by XYZ company. When it comes down to picking the right scope for me, I evaluate products using the following criteria:
- Manufacturer: Some companies have better reputations than others, so is the manufacturer of this $500 scope known for making a good product?
- Reviews: I’m only one man with one opinion, but there are thousands of others out there who have tried a variety of scopes and left their reviews. If a product consistently gets solid feedback from hundreds or thousands of people, they can’t all be wrong.
- Cost: Is this scope a good value for the price, or are there other similar options that may be better overall when all the comparisons are made? Even though it’s “only” $500, is the scope in question actually worth that much?
Q: Is a 50mm scope better than a 40mm scope?
Determining if a 50mm scope is better than a 40mm scope isn’t as cut and dry as saying “bigger is always better.” In theory, a 50mm scope will gather more light and provide a crisper image even in low-light conditions. In actuality, there’s not much difference between the two sizes when it comes to that kind of performance so long as you’ve got a premium lens and coating in your 40mm scope.
Q: Do you chase the bullet when sighting in a scope?
Chasing the bullet when sighting in a scope is something you should not do. However, the phrasing of that concept can be a bit misleading. If you’re sighting in a scope for the first time and your shots are inconsistent and landing all over the place, you definitely should not try chasing the bullets. If you’ve fired your first series of 3-5 shots and they’re all grouping in the same tight area—not where you happen to be aiming—then yes, you can chase the bullet by keeping your scope on target and adjusting the crosshairs to the point of impact. This works in a pinch and will get you very close, but you should still take that adjustment as a starting point and hone in your sight picture from there.
Q: What range is a 3-9×40 scope good for?
The 3-9×40 scope is good for short to medium-range shots, which would be out to 200 yards or so. The 3-9×40 scope is one of the most popular configurations of all time because it shines in the ranges where the vast majority of people shoot and hunt. Cranked up to 9x power, targets at 200 yards appear no more than 25 yards away, and even at the lowest 3x power, a target at 100 yards appears only 34 yards away.
There will always be scope snobs in the shooting community. Some will say that everything under a certain price point is junk. Others will declare that you have to spend double the cost of the rifle to get a good rifle scope. Well, consider this: you can buy a .22-caliber semiautomatic Winchester Wildcat rifle right now for $249. Double that and you get $498. That would certainly be more than enough to spend on a scope for that rifle. In fact, I’d argue that you’d be better off spending just $100 on a scope and the other $398 on ammo.
There’s absolutely no shame in running a $500 rifle scope. As we’ve seen, there are plenty to choose from that are fantastic performers. Find one you like that has the features you want at the price you can afford and buy that scope. After all, the best scope under $500 will only improve your shot so much, the rest is up to you.