4 Outstanding AR-15 Scopes That Cost Less Than $400

   11.19.14

If you splurge on a 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500-KR, you’re not going to fill the crank case with reclaimed Crisco just to save a few bucks. A similar principle applies to optics. Even with AR-15 prices falling faster than Blockbuster’s stock price, you’re still probably going to spend north of $600 on a rifle. Don’t cheat yourself by purchasing an optic not qualified for the task. Cheap optics can give you headaches from fogging, poor light transmission, and inconsistent adjustment performance. Most frustrating of all are those times you can’t seem to zero your rifle, not matter what, until you find out the reticle in your scope is moving all over the place with recoil. Remember, friends don’t let friends buy those cheap no-name optics you see at gun shows.

Fortunately, you do’t have to spend more than the cost of your rifle on a quality optic. Here are some of my picks for high-quality optics that you can buy for less than $400—and usually a lot less.

1. Weaver Kaspa-Z Zombie

Before you start with the hate mail over including a zombie scope, hear me out. Besides, the dead could rise one day. Check out the audience on the Judge Judy, and you’ll see what I mean. Anyhow, my contacts at ATK pulled me aside some months ago and said “Do you want to know what one of our best-value scopes is?” Being completely supportive of saving money, I asked to hear the story—and got the full pitch, along with an evaluation sample of the Weaver Kaspa-Z Zombie optic. If you’re not into the whole zombie thing, that’s OK, as the markings on the scope are subtle. Most of the undead branding comes in the form of optional stickers.

Here’s why it’s on this list. Built on a 30mm tube, it gathers plenty of light. With a 16-ounce weight, it’s sturdy enough to use as an impact weapon. The 1.5-6x zoom gives you fast, close-range capability as well as precision out to the effective range of a 5.56x45mm round. The real beauty of this particular scope is the Z-Cirt reticle. It’s brilliant. Variable illumination (green of course) makes it easy to see in low light. The posts and hash marks serve as handy range estimation tools. For example, the solid center dot corresponds to a zombie’s head at 200 yards and the surrounding parentheses indicate the same target size at 100 yards. The first horizontal hash marks indicate a 20-inch spread (average shoulder width) at 400 yards. With all the ranging and ballistic drop compensation functionality, this reticle is still fast at short to intermediate distances.

Its MSRP is $299.95, but you can find one on the street for about $199.

2. Nikon M-223 1-4×20 BDC 600

The Nikon M-223 1-4x20 with BDC-600 reticle.
The Nikon M-223 1-4×20 with BDC-600 reticle. Image courtesy Nikon.

The M-223 is a one-inch tube model with pure 1x to 4x magnification—plenty for realistic 5.56mm ranges (unless your intended usage is small varmint hunting at the outer limits of ballistic performance). Turrets adjust in ½-MOA increments with a total adjustment range of 100 MOA. Its parallax is fixed at 100 yards, so any potential effect is negligible. Eye relief is generous at four inches, which makes placement on an AR receiver easy—especially with Nikon’s aggressively cantilevered scope mounts. Both one-piece and two-piece cantilever mounting options are available.

The reticle is developed specifically for 55-grain .223 Remington/5.56mm NATO cartridges and offers hold points from 100 to 600 yards in 50-yard increments. If you shoot heavier projectiles (like 77-grain bullets), you’ll have to establish your own hold point distances out past a couple hundred yards.

The Nikon’s MSRP is $299.95, but you can find this one for about $280. Check out other options in the Nikon AR family as you can find great deals on fixed power and higher magnification optics.

3. Hawke Optics Endurance 30 2.5-10×50

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the new AR-specific line of optics from Hawke Optics. I’ve used a number of their more traditional hunting scopes in the past and always found them to be an excellent value. Somehow, they manage to make a great optic with solid accessories at a reasonable price. For example, in the Endurance 30 2.5-10×50’s box you’ll find screw-on flip-up lens covers (those rubber ones that fall off drive me nuts), a screw-on sun shade, and a few other knick-knacks.

The Hawke Optics Endurance 30 2.5-10x
The Hawke Optics Endurance 30 2.5-10×50. Image courtesy Hawke.

But you don’t buy a scope for the lens covers, you buy them for performance. In my various scope Olympics testing sessions, I’ve moved point of impact all over the target using the windage and elevation dials and zeroing the turrets always brings the bullet right back to the center of the target.

I mention the 2.5-10x model here, but you’ll find several others in the new Endurance line from 1x up and a number of different reticle choices.

The MSRP of this one is $349.99 but you can find it for a bit less—somewhere around $319.99.

4. Bushnell 1-4x24mm

Bushnell offers a range of AR-specific optics ranging from 1-4x at the low-power end to 4.5-18x if you’re into long-range precision shooting. I had the opportunity to use a variety of these models on a prairie dog hunt a couple of months ago. After a few days of hard knocks in the back of ATVs and a whole lot of shooting, I came to appreciate the value of this line of optics.

The one I’d pick if I were limited to one is the 1-4x model. With a 30mm tube, it features the Drop Zone-223 BDC reticle which includes hold points out to 500 yards.

Bushnell's AR-223 1-4x
Bushnell’s AR-223 1-4x

You can find the 1-4×24 for about $160. For just over $100 more, you can get the Bushnell 1-4x 24mm Throw Down PCL model which offers a fold-down zoom adjustment lever, illuminated BTR reticle, and first focal plane design, so you can use ranging and ballistic drop features at any magnification.

These are some of the best buys on the market that I’ve tested recently, what have you found out there that’s a deal too good to pass up?

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.

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