Buying a reliable and precise rifle scope may seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re shopping for one on a tight budget. Rifle scopes largely vary in price, but your next purchase doesn’t need to be a splurge in order to get a precise and dependable rifle scope.
While the rule that “the more you pay, the more features you’ll get” does hold some truth, it doesn’t mean you can’t find rifle scopes with impressive features comparable to premium ones in the $500 range.
If you want to find the best rifle scope under $500, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve reviewed some of the best rifle scopes on the market today to help you find the one that best suits your needs.
|Vortex Optics Viper 6.5-20×50 BDC||6.5x to 20x||50||2.3|
|Athlon Optics Argos BTR GEN2 6-24X50||6x to 24x||50||1.9|
|Nikon MONARCH 3 BDC 3-12x42mm||3x to 12x||42||1.17|
|Nikon PROSTAFF 5 BDC 4.5-18x40mm||4.5x to 18x||40||1.06|
|Vortex Optics Diamondback 4x12mm||3x to 12x||40||0.9|
The 5 Best Rifle Scopes Under $500 in 2020
Now, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the specifications and advantages of each rifle scope.
1.Vortex Optics Viper 6.5-20×50 BDC – Best Overall
Vortex Optics Viper 6.5-20x50 PA SFP Riflescope Mil-Dot MOA
Finding an all-around excellent rifle scope that performs in different weather and light conditions for less than $500 may be a challenge, but not an impossibility. The Viper 6.5-20×50 BDC from Vortex is an accurate and powerful scope that offers premium features and quality for a budget-friendly price.
With a magnification range between 6.5x to 20x, you can easily use your scope between 300 yards to 1000 yards or even more. The image quality remains crisp at the lower range and even at the maximum zoom power of 20x, which allows you to shoot your targets from up to 1000 yards.
The scope features a customized BDC reticle that compensates for gravity’s effect on the bullet. This simplifies hunting and shooting at different ranges when estimating holdover is an issue.
The reticle sits on the second focal plane, which has the advantage of being easy-to-see even at the lowest magnification power. I was also very impressed by the fast focus eyepiece that helps the reticle rapidly focus and acquire the target.
The objective lens has a diameter of 50mm, which is higher than average. Combine that with XR anti-reflective multi-coating on the lenses, and you get excellent light transmission and crystal-clear optics.
The scope has many adjustable features for ease of use. It features a glass glide system that helps you to adjust the elevation angles seamlessly and ensures that your shot isn’t obscured. It also has capped turrets that allow you to quickly re-index to zero after sighting.
Another standout feature of the Viper 6.5-20×50 is its impressive build quality. It has a 30mm tube made from aircraft-grade aluminum, which performs much better in low light conditions compared to more common 1-inch tubes in this price range.
Moreover, the one-piece construction of the tube provides much-needed strength and maximizes alignment for better accuracy. It’s also argon-filled and O-sealed to ensure the waterproofness of the scope, meaning that you can use it in different weather conditions.
It also features high-density glass that you can only expect to find on higher-end models. This increases color fidelity and resolution for optimum visual performance.
The Viper 6.5-20×50 BDC is an accurate and easy-to-use rifle scope that comes with an array of premium features at a price that won’t break the bank. If you’re looking for an all-around solid scope, this is the one for you.
2. Athlon Optics Argos BTR GEN2 6-24X50 – Best for Low Light and Long-Range Shooting
Athlon Optics Argos BTR GEN2 6-24x50 Riflescope - APLR2 FFP IR MOA, Black
Athlon Optics may not yet be a household name in firearm optics, but the Athlon Optics Argos BTR GEN2 6-24X50 is certainly an impressive rifle scope that performs exceptionally well in low light conditions.
This scope boasts a magnification range of 6x to 24x, which is excellent for shooting targets from longer distances. However, since it can’t go lower than 6x, shooting smaller targets at shorter distances may be a bit more challenging.
The reticle is positioned on the first focal plane, which is a feature you usually only see in premium-priced models. This makes it an excellent choice for longer distance shooting since the holdover points don’t change regardless of the magnification.
The reticle also has an illuminated center, which makes it a pretty versatile scope that works well in bright light, low light, or even no light at all. It makes it pretty easy to lock in your target and maintain your holdover position.
Moreover, similar to the Vortex scope, the large 50mm objective front lens allows more light to be gathered, which increases clarity in low-light situations.
I was pleasantly surprised by the build quality of this scope. The glass is multi-coated and, therefore, very crisp and clear, which is something I didn’t expect at this price point. Moreover, there’s an additional layer of XPL coating that provides additional protection for the exterior lens from scratches, dirt, and oil.
As for the tube, it’s a sealed and argon-purged one-piece aircraft-grade aluminum. This manages to keep the tube dry and clean by stopping water and fog from seeping into it.
The Athlon Optics Argos BTR GEN2 6-24X50 excels in low light and long-range shooting. It would be an excellent choice for anyone looking for premium features for a modest price.
3. Nikon MONARCH 3 BDC 3-12x42mm – Best Versatile
Nikon is synonymous with quality and precision for many people, and the Nikon MONARCH 3 BDC 3-12x42mm is a testament to that. This versatile scope provides unparalleled degrees of preciseness from short to long ranges.
While considerably smaller than the first 2 scopes’ objective lenses, the MONARCH’s 42mm lens diameter is still enough to allow for the transmission of sufficient amounts of light for a crystal clear image.
To further ensure clarity of visuals, the MONARCH 3 BDC features fully coated lenses that keep reflections to a minimum and allow for 95% light transmission. Additionally, the scope has a side focus parallax adjustment to allow you to shoot from any position.
The BDC reticle has various built-in aiming points that you can use with Nikon’s Spot On Ballistic Match Technology. These points give you precise aiming points at different yardages. Moreover, the reticle is on the second focal plane, which is expected from a rifle scope at this price.
It features a magnification range of 3x to 12x, which is especially handy for short to medium-distance shots, and I found that the quality remained crisp even at 12x. I found this more than sufficient for shooting at 400-500 yards. However, if you’re mostly shooting at longer distances, you may want to consider other options with higher magnification ranges.
The scope is incredibly lightweight and portable, and carrying it around was a breeze, even when attached to a rifle. This, however, doesn’t at all mean a sacrifice to the build quality of the scope.
In fact, I was very pleased with the build quality of this model. The tube is made of aircraft-grade aluminum alloy. The tube is also nitrogen-purged and O-ring sealed, and this creates a barrier against any fluid leakage into the tube. And just in case anything goes wrong, Nikon’s lifetime warranty has you covered.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly versatile scope that will get the job done in various situations and won’t break apart, the Nikon MONARCH 3 BDC 3-12x42mm would be a great choice for you.
4. Nikon PROSTAFF 5 BDC 4.5-18x40mm – Best for Hunting
The PROSTAFF 5 BDC 4.5-18x40mm is an excellent hunting-oriented rifle scope from Nikon for under $500. It offers a host of advanced technologies to meet even the most demanding needs of hunters.
The scope boasts an impressive magnification range of 4.5x to 18x. I found the image quality to be very crisp and sharp, even at the highest magnification level. The image clarity didn’t suffer at all, unlike other rifle scopes that struggle with the higher magnification end.
Moreover, the lenses are fully multi coated with anti-reflective materials to ensure the utmost brightness and light transmission. Unfortunately, the objective diameter is 40mm, which is slightly lower than other scopes in the same price range. This kind of affects the image’s clarity in low light conditions but shouldn’t be a huge issue in normal daylight.
It features a patented BDC reticle with transparent ballistic circles. The reticle offers a clear field of view and is, therefore, incredibly beneficial for long-range shooting. Additionally, if you’re aiming at the crosshair itself, the reticle allows for a normal sight image that makes this scope excellent for shooting at close range as well.
With hunting scopes, enhanced reaction speed is the name of the game, and this scope certainly delivers. It features Nikon’s Quick Focus Eyepiece that gives you the ability to bring the reticle into focus for improved shooting accuracy quickly.
Furthermore, Nikon makes use of its Spot-On Ballistic Match Technology, which accurately compensates for the bullet drop effect. This gives target shooters precise aiming points on their reticle for more control and precise sighting.
Finally, it has generous 4-inch eye relief to ensure the safety of your brows even with the most extreme shooting angles and the bulkiest of rifles.
The Nikon PROSTAFF 5 BDC 4.5-18x40mm is a versatile choice for hunters who need a rifle scope that performs well both in short and long-range shooting.
5. Vortex Optics Diamondback 4x12mm – Best Short-Range Scope
Vortex Optics Diamondback 4-12x40 Second Focal Plane Riflescope - Dead-Hold BDC Reticle (MOA) , Black
Finding a quality rifle scope for short-range shooting may not be as easy as it sounds, but the Vortex Optics Diamondback 4×12 s is a dependable scope that offers top-notch image quality that’ll help you take your shot in shorter ranges.
The magnification range of the scope starts at 4x, which is great for close-range shooting and makes this model a great choice as an all-purpose hunting scope. However, with only 112x maximum magnification, it isn’t exactly geared towards long-range shooting.
Therefore, if you’re a target shooter or want to shoot your prey across long distances, you’ll be better off looking for another rifle scope within the same price range. Additionally, the field of view at maximum power is only 11.3 feet at 100 yards, which offers you a small viewing window to sight the target.
The Diamondback has a BDC reticle that sits on the second focal plane for extra versatility and effortless sighting of compact but distant targets. Additionally, the BDC reticle has a custom design that takes a lot of guesswork to correct the elevation and windage. This makes it ideal for hunters who expect to shoot at different distances.
Additionally, it has multi-coated lenses to increase overall light transmission and reduce glare without target illumination. Moreover, it delivers bright colors and crisp image quality thanks to its 40mm objective lens, 1-inch tube constructed from aircraft-grade aluminum, and high-quality low-dispersion glass.
Finally, this rifle scope doesn’t disappoint when it comes to durability and quality of construction. It’s both sturdy and ultra-lightweight with waterproof and fog proof sealing, and it can withstand impact and different weather conditions.
The Vortex Optics Diamondback 4x12mm offers top of the line specifications that make it a great choice for anyone seeking a scope for hunting and close-range shooting.
What to Look for When Buying a Rifle Scope?
Generally speaking, rifle scopes are pretty expensive, which is why 500 bucks may not seem like much if you consider the prices of rifle scopes on the market. However, for many people, it can still be a hefty investment.
Therefore, before making a purchase, you should keep some key factors in mind in order to ensure that the rifle you end up with will suit your needs.
Fixed or Variable Power
Scopes with fixed power offer a specific level of magnification power, which can’t be adjusted. This provides a sharper and brighter image to help you easily pin your target. They’re the cheaper option, and they’re generally sturdier and easier to use than variable scopes since you won’t constantly be adjusting the power.
Those with variable power, in contrast, are more versatile. They allow you to adjust your magnification based on the type of target and its proximity to you. This means that you can use the scope for both short and long-range shooting. Unfortunately, they can’t offer the same level of clarity as fixed ones.
Keep in mind that the benefits of magnification are subjective to your scope’s optical quality. Generally speaking, low-powered configurations are suitable for tactical shooting, hunting small game, and shooting in close ranges for up to 300 yards.
Conversely, for long-range shooting, you should look for the highest-powered scope you can find. A long-range scope should typically have a maximum magnification power between 14x to 25x.
The reticle is the visual marking pattern built into the eyepiece that helps you locate your target. There are 3 common reticle patterns:
Duplex: It looks like a thin crosshair at the center that gets thicker the further you are from the center. It’s effective for moving targets.
Mildot: It’s a modified duplex reticle with 4 dots on each axis that help you estimate the distance between you and the target. It’s suitable for long-range shooting.
BDC: It has markings on the downward crosshair that help you compensate for the effect of gravity on your bullet in the air.
After deciding on the type of reticle, it’s important also to consider the focal plane. Rifle scopes have their reticle either on the first or second focal plane.
In the case of a first focal plane reticle, its size slightly changes to make up for decreased or increased magnification levels, which improves the accuracy of its holdover points. However, it may be somewhat difficult to use at extreme distances if you’re not used to it.
However, the size of a reticle on the second focal plane doesn’t change when you switch between magnification settings. This is the most common type in scopes under $500.
Objective Lens Diameter
The size of the objective lens determines how much light it will be able to gather. The larger the lens, the more light can be transmitted through it, and therefore, the better the optic quality.
However, keep in mind that the bigger the lens, the heavier it will be, and the more likely you will give away your position due to the reflected light.
The coating on lenses reduces the amount of light that escapes the scope while being transmitted, enhancing image clarity and ensuring optimum visual performance. There are 4 types of coating:
Coated Lenses: One surface is covered with one layer of coating. They’re the least expensive.
Fully Coated Lenses: All glass surfaces are covered with one layer of coating.
Multi-coated Lenses: One surface is covered with more than one layer of coating.
Fully Multi-coated: All glass surfaces are covered with multiple layers of coating. They’re the most effective and expensive.
Eye relief is the furthest distance from the lens that would still allow you to see a full, unobstructed view through the scope. This determines how close your face and the dominant eye will be to the scope when a bullet is fired.
Since rifle scopes have powerful recoil and one wants to end up with a black eye, the more generous the eye relief, the less likely you’ll be to injure yourself.
Scopes in this price range should normally be water, fog, and shockproof. You can find scopes made from solid materials such as aircraft-grade aluminum. Some scopes feature tubes that are argon-filled and O-sealed to further protect from fog or any water that might seep into the tube.
Also, look for low-dispersion glass that offers good light transmission, which will greatly affect your visuals’ clarity.
And finally, at $500 territory, your scope should have precise adjustments and a good spring system to maintain zero easily.
While not a critical factor, it’s always a good idea to check if your rifle scope comes with a manufacturer’s warranty against defects. Some manufacturers offer lifetime warranties against regular damage.
When shopping for a rifle scope on a budget, you can still find some great deals. However, deciding on the absolute best rifle scope under $500 requires figuring out exactly what you need it for.
If you need an all-around great rifle scope that seamlessly works in both short and long ranges, then the Vortex Optics Viper 6.5-20×50 BDC would be the perfect choice for you.
If you’re primarily going to use your scope for hunting, then the Nikon MONARCH 3 BDC 3-12x42mm would be your best bet. However, if you’re leaning more towards long-range shooting, then I suggest checking out the Athlon Optics Argos BTR GEN2 6-24X50.