October 25, 2023
Much like computers, optical technology advances rapidly every few years. Also like computers, the advancements bring more modern features within the realm of affordability. A “budget” hunting scope might not have all the features of a scope like the Leupold Mark 5HD series right now, but 15 years from now? I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see technology we haven’t even seen yet at an affordable price. Even today, affordable scopes have features that were considered prohibitively expensive 10 years ago, which is the great beauty of a free market.
So, what are the main points to look for in a hunting scope? The first thing to consider is how far you feel comfortable to take an ethical shot on game. Rifle and bullet technology has grown to a level to make shots beyond 500 yards more than feasible, so you need a scope to match your needs. However, more magnification is not your friend with close shots. That’s why we’ve seen a rise in scopes that start with 1X or 2X magnification. In fact, an interesting trend is how many hunters are considering using a low-powered variable optic (LPVO) for their hunting needs. LPVOs were mainly created for competition and tactical use. At the 1X setting, they work a lot like a red-dot sight, and at their max magnification, usually 4X, 6X, 8X or 10X, they’re more than capable to reach out to several hundred yards. As it turns out, this makes a lot of sense for hunting, too. Game does not care where you prefer to take a shot. They can show up a few yards in front of you or hundreds of yards away, and an LPVO is ideal for rapidly changing distances. Besides the LPVO, there has been a rise in 2-10X scopes, and most of the manufacturers in this list offer something in that magnification range. A 2-10X scope has proven to be a great do-it-all scope magnification range.
After magnification needs comes image quality. I say image quality because too often we get hung up on “glass.” Glass is glass, and Grade A glass is Grade A glass no matter where it is made. Lens coatings make all the difference, and it’s important to find a scope with good lens coatings and image quality to see well at first light or late evening when you’re most likely to see game. Once you have a scope that has the image quality you expect at the magnification range you need, the final main consideration is the reticle. This is entirely personal preference, and there isn’t really a wrong answer as long as you can consistently hit your target. Magnification, image quality and reticle are the three main points, but every manufacturer has a few unique features for their scope lines. In this roundup, we’ve singled out some of our favorite scope models, but keep in mind that most of them exist within a product line, so there are always different options to fit your needs.
Leupold VX3-HD 2.5-8x36mm
No optics roundup is ever complete without a Leupold scope. While they’re known for great quality, that puts them at the top of the price spectrum. However, they do have many great affordable options that maintains their high quality. Namely, the new Leupold VX3-HD 2.5-8x36mm scope, which checks a ton of boxes we look for in a hunting optic. As expected, image quality is immaculate, especially important for late evening shots in the last few minutes of legal hunting light. The Leupold VX3-HD 2.5-8x36mm also features a zero-lock dial, optional throw lever, and premium construction. They biggest advantage of this scope is that you have the option to customize your turrets to your ballistics and environmental conditions. As the Leupold website says, “Once the custom turret is installed, simply range the target, dial to that number, and aim dead on.”
Sightmark Citadel 1-10x24mm LPVO
Sightmark is well-known for their digital night hunting optics, but they’ve recently made a big splash with its affordable Wraith Mini thermal scope. For traditional hunting optics, the Sightmark Citadel 1-10x24mm LPVO offers a lot of unique advantages. Many new hunters are building AR rifles that serve double-duty for tactical and hunting use, and a 1-10X LPVO can truly do it all for hunting, competition and tactical purposes. The Sightmark Citadel 1-10X is an incredibly affordable 1-10X scope with price point right at $400. It has a 30mm maintube, multi-coated lenses, illuminated reticle, aircraft-grade aluminum construction and adjuatable, capped turrets. At 1X, the scope works a lot like a red dot, which is ideal for close shots, and the 10X magnification is more than enough for ethical distance shots on game. Whether is deer, predators, hogs or big game, LPVOs are making more and more sense as a hunting optic.
Meopta Optika5 2-10x42mm
A scope with 2-10X magnification sits in a sweet spot for general hunting. A 2X setting is great for shots within 100 yards, and 10X magnification is more than enough to comfortably shoot to 500 yards. The Meopta Optica5 2-10x42mm is a wonderful option within the Meopta Optika5 line. It’s an easy-to-use scope that brings a lot of nice features at a great price point. The classic plex reticle is tried and true, and it has a nice, comfortable eye relief. Parallax is set to 100 yards, and image quality is ideal for early morning and late evening hunting. The magnification ring has great knurling or a throw lever that makes magnification adjustments easy, with or without gloves. Like most hunting optics, it uses capped turrets, so don’t worry about bumping your scope and throwing off your zero. Like all Meopta scopes, the Optika5 2-10x42mm is constructed with quality aluminum and will last a lifetime.
Burris Fullfield Series Scopes (6.5-20x50mm)
You can’t every go wrong with a good Burris scope, and the Fullfield and Fullfield IV series scopes are a tried-and-true line of optics with a lot of field use. Many of the scopes in this roundup are ideal for close- and mid-range hunting, but modern rifle and ammunition have necessitated the production of long-range hunting optics. It’s much easier to make ethical shots on game today with modern optics like the Burris Fullfield E1 6.5-20x50mm scope. Even if you don’t feel taking game with long shots, many hunters like to have extra magnification to make a shot, and this scope is a great option when you want to see more. The Burris Ballistic Plex E1 MV reticle is probably the most interesting feature for this scope, besides its magnification range. The reticle offers trajectory compensation to 700 yards, and it has holding points for wind, too. As expected, the Burris Fullfield 6.5-20X checks all of the quality boxes we look for in a hunting optics, so it’s definitely worth a look if you need a bigger scope for your hunt without breaking the bank.
Swampfox Tomahawk LPVO Series (1-4x24mm)
If you’re a hunter with an AR rifle that likes to pull double-duty for hunting or tactical use, an LPVO is the way to go, but you don’t always need an 8X or 10X magnification. If you know that all of your shooting will take place within 300 yards, then a 1-4x24mm LPVO like the Swampfox Tomahawk 1-4X LPVO is plenty of scope to get the job done. A 1-4X like the Tomahawk is incredibly lightweight and will leave the shelf for well less than $300. The Tomahawk has two different illuminated reticles to choose, and it even has a 30mm maintube, throw lever, dialable turrets and multi-coated lenses. That’s a lot of scope for less than $300. There are many instances for hunting or home defense where more magnification is not your friend, and a 1-4X LPVO can do far more jobs that most people even think to give them credit. The Swampfox Tomahawk LPVO series does include a 1-6X and a 1-8X if you absolutely need more magnification, though, so Swampfox has you covered for whatever you need.
Vortex Crossfire Series Riflescopes (3-9x50mm)
Vortex has pioneered quality optics at an affordable price, and the Vortex Crossfire and Crossfire II Series riflescopes are on rifles across the world because they are effective and affordable. It’s hard to pick just one, though, as there are options to fit every need. Scopes range in magnification from 1-4X LPVOs and 2-7X scopes to long-range 6-18X and even 6-24X scopes. If we had to pick one, the Vortex Crossfire II 3-9x50mm is one of the kings of midwestern deer rifles. Featuring the unique “Dead-Holt” BDC reticle, premium construction, clear multi-coated lenses, and resettable turrets, this is a scope that packs in a lot of features at an affordable price. Also, it’s hard to beat the Vortex Lifetime Warranty, which covers all the Crossfire and Crossfire II optics.
Hi-Lux 2-7x32mm Scout Scope
Don’t worry scout rifle and handgun hunters, we haven’t forgotten about you. We say with love you’re an odd bunch, but we have a great scope option for you guys, too, in the Hi-Lux 2-7X Scout Scope, which can pull double duty on some hunting handguns. Hi-Lux is probably best known for its unique line of vintage riflescopes, but they have an impressive line of red dots, long-range and hunting scopes as well. The 2-7X scout scope offers a long eye relief for hunters that like the scout-rifle setup, and that long eye relief is also necessary for handgun hunters. The Hi-Lux model features a plex or BDC reticle, light 10-ounce weight, flip-up lens covers and premium construction. Hi-Lux is a great example of a company that under promises and overdelivers, and you won’t be let down by any of their other hunting optics, either.
Bushnell Prime Series (1-4x32mm)
Bushnell has grown and evolved a lot in the past few years, and they now offer literally everything you could want in optics at literally every price level. If you want the best in long-range precision shooting, the award-winning Elite Tactical Series has some of the best options on the market. Sometimes you just need something simple and affordable, though, and Bushnell has you covered with its Prime series of riflescopes. They have a lot of options for magnficaion, but the 1-4x32mm Prime scope has a lot going on for a scope with a price point that’s just $140. Even at that price point, the Bushnell Prime 1-4X still has fully multi-coated lenses, exclusive EXP barrier technology, capped turrets and the Bushnell Multi-X reticle. When weight is a concern, this scope only weighs 13 ounces, but it’s still plenty durable for your hunts. The Prime 1-4X is perfect for close-range hunting, but if you need a bit more scope, Bushnell has tons of options, and they won’t let you down when it matters.
Trijicon Huron Series Riflescopes (2.5-10x40mm)
Trijicon products always sit at the top end of the price spectrum, but the Trijicon Huron Series arguably isn’t overly expensive, though it is the most expensive in this roundup. Within the Huron series, the Trijicon Huron 2.5-10x40mm scope stands out as an awesome option. Truly, the 2-10X scopes of the world stand out as the perfect magnification range for general hunting purposes. The Huron line also includes a 1-4X, 3-9X and 3-12X model, too. Trijicon is known for its extreme durability, and the Huron line is no exception. Trijicon scopes have to go through some extreme quality control tests, which includes drop testing, water immersion and vibration testing before they’re deemed ready for the field. The magnification ring is known to be smooth and easy to adjust, and the 2.5-10X has a forgiving eye relief. The BDC Hunter Holds is a nice upgrade from a simple plex reticle, making the Huron 2.5-10X a great one-size-fits-all option for general hunting.
GruBee Wolfpup Baby Redfield Replacement 4X Scope
Redfield scopes were once one of the most popular budget scopes on the market, and they left a massive gap in the market for hunters who wanted a simple, no-frills, lightweight, easy-to-use scope. Fortunately, a replacement option is available from GruBee in the Wolfpup line. One thing that makes the Redfield replacement Wolfpup scope stand out is that it uses a three-quarter-inch maintube, like the original Redfields. The big manufacturers simply don’t make those anymore, feeling that there is no desire for a scope with a maintube less than one ince in diameter. However, there is certainly a segment of the market that enjoys these smaller scopes for their appropriate fit on older rifles and the nostalgia. The Grubee Wolfpup scopes are available with several different reticle options and mounting rings, since you won’t find many ¾-inch rings anymore. Despite their small size, the Wolfpup scopes meets the quality standards of the day and feature multi-coated lenses, nitrogen-purging, and a complete lifetime warranty.
SIG Sauer Whiskey4 3-13x44mm
The SIG Sauer Whiskey4 3-12x44mm scope is perfect for hunting that want a touch of tactical features in their hunting optics. The turrets are dialable for hunters that preger dialing over holding on game, and they feature the SIG Sauer LockDown zero system that offer a rapid return-to-zero zero-stop. The BDC reticle is available with our without the illuminated Hellfire reticle, and it even includes some flip-up lens covers. The Whiskey4 has adjustable parallax controls, too, which is a rare feature on affordable hunting scopes. Using an optic in the winter with heavy gloves is always a concern, and the included throw lever negates any issues with trying to fumble for the magnification ring. The 3-12X model is a great do-all, but the Whiskey4 series is available in other magnification ranges, too.
About the Author
Jack Oller is a U.S. Army veteran, having served in the Military Police with one deployment to the Camp VI Detention Facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has extensive firearms training from military and civilian schools and is a passionate shotgun shooter and hunter. Jack has an English degree from Illinois State University, and he started his career in the outdoor industry as Associate Editor for Guns & Ammo magazine. After Gun & Ammo, he worked as Brand Manager for Crimson Trace and now is the Digital Editor for Firearms News.
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