Last Updated on March 30, 2021
Modern technology allows shooters to make more accurate shots from farther than ever before. But it’s not just firearm technology that allows this to happen. Just as importantly, maybe even more importantly, is the aiming technology you’re using. While iron sights have been a staple for many years, scopes offer improved accuracy and magnification that makes it possible to see farther for those distant shots.
The problem with many scopes is their price. These devices can be prohibitively expensive. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to make an accurate shot though. In the following reviews, you’ll read about some excellent and accurate scopes that cost less than $500, bringing those perfect shots into focus for shooters of every budget.
|Best Overall||Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn Multi-X Reticle Riflescope||
|Best Value||CVLIFE Hunting Rifle Scope||
|Premium Choice||Vortex Optics Crossfire Riflescopes||
|Pinty Illuminated Mil-dot Tactical Rifle Scope||
|Simmons Fogproof Matte Black Riflescope||
Offering incredible performance at a reasonable price, the Bushnell Banner Dusk and Dawn Multi-X Reticle Riflescope is our favorite under $500. Durable and well made, this scope offers 100% waterproof and fog-proof construction, so you never have to worry about your equipment on those long, dreary days in the field.
No tools are necessary to adjust the windage and elevation; you can make the adjustments with your fingers. The fast focus ring will allow you to bring the image into crisp focus at any distance in just a few seconds. Meanwhile, zoom magnification from 3x-9x ensures that you can always get a clear shot on your target.
For the most part, this scope held its zero well. However, we did have to make slight adjustments every 1500-2000 rounds or so. It’s also a pretty sizable scope at about 14 inches in length. But it more than makes up for these shortcomings with its excellent low-light performance. The Dusk and Dawn Brightness multi-coated lenses bring in loads of light so that you can still make your shots at the low-light hours when the prey is most accessible.
Oversized and affordable, the CVLIFE Hunting Rifle Scope is one of the least expensive pieces of kit on this list. At nearly 16 inches long, it’s going to add a bit of bulk to your rifle. The extra pound of weight it adds to your firearm will also be noticeable. But part of the reason for the large size of this scope is the big 50-millimeter objective lens that takes in tons of light, allowing you to shoot comfortably in low-light conditions.
If you’re looking for versatility, you’ll find it in this scope. Zoomable magnification ranges from 6x-24x, providing tons of versatility and allowing you to shoot at distances that aren’t achievable with every scope. Helping you aim at various distances are multiple crosshairs that are each marked for specific ranges.
This is a budget-priced rifle scope. It offers excellent bang for your buck but isn’t quite on par with some of the scopes that cost several times more. For instance, getting it to focus will take more precision and time than on other models. It’s a bit finicky in that regard. But for the price, you’re getting an awful lot with the CVLIFE Hunting Rifle Scope.
Vortex Optics is one of the most well-known manufacturers of rifle scopes. Their products are consistently high-quality, and the Crossfire scope is no exception. This scope is quite a bit pricier than some of the other options we’ve tested, though still well within our $500 budget.
So, what do you get for the extra cost of the Crossfire scope? To start, you get the Vortex unconditional VIP guarantee warranty, which ensures that no matter what happens to your scope under normal use, it’s covered. But not much is likely to go wrong with your scope. The Crossfire can withstand high amounts of recoil and retains its zero well, even after hundreds or thousands of shots.
With nitrogen-purged weatherproofing, water and fog will never be a problem for this scope. The small 32-millimeter objective lens isn’t the best choice for low-light shooting, though it still offers excellent optical quality. There are also multiple aiming points, allowing you to easily and quickly aim for various distances using the 2x-7x magnification that this scope is capable of.
All of the scopes on this list are affordably priced, but the Pinty Illuminated Mil-dot Tactical Rifle Scope is even cheaper than most. You might expect that to mean poor performance, but that wasn’t the case in our testing. Despite the low price, we found this scope to offer quality optics and a good user experience overall.
Looking through the lens, you’ll get zoomable magnification from 2.5x-10x. You can choose from red or green reticles with five brightness settings to dial in the perfect level of illumination. Additionally, a built-in laser allows you to see where you’re aiming without even looking through the scope. Unfortunately, in sunlight, the laser has a limited range and won’t quite reach 50 yards. In the dark, you’ll get about 100 yards from it.
Altogether, this is a well-made device; especially given the low price. Nitrogen-purged weatherproofing ensures inclement weather is never an issue. It’s rather durable, though the mounting screws don’t like to stay put, which can cause the scope to lose zero as it shifts around. A few dabs of Loctite will solve this minor issue though, without incurring much extra expense.
Made specifically for rimfire .22 rifles, the Simmons Matte Black Riflescope is an affordable piece of gear that’s a bit limited in application. While it will work on firearms aside from just a .22, you won’t want to put this on anything shooting large caliber projectiles; the recoil will be too much for the scope to handle.
Still, using this scope is a pleasure for several reasons. It’s got a QTA eyepiece, which stands for quick target acquisition. This means it offers plenty of eye relief, allowing you to aim from wherever you’re comfortable, without getting too close to the scope. The SureGrip adjustment screws make it easy to adjust windage and elevation without tools while you’re in the field. However, the soft clicks of the wheels don’t lock into place, making it more difficult to zero in properly.
At just 11 ounces, this is one of the lighter scopes we tested. Fully-coated optics help this scope achieve a clear image, while parallax correction ensures that parallax is never an issue. The HydroShield lens coating ensures you can get a clear shot in any weather, while the built-in weatherproofing keeps your scope safe from the elements.
Compared to most of the scopes on this list, the Athlon Optics Argos BTR Riflescope is pretty pricey. It’s also quite sizable at a length of 17 inches. And with a weight of just under a pound, it’s certainly not one of the leaner options. You’ll definitely notice the extra size and weight that this device adds to your rifle.
Still, there’s a lot here to like. This scope offers premium weatherproofing that’s argon-purged, rather than the cheaper nitrogen-purging. Argon purging provides a superior seal for enhanced protection against all weather conditions.
Looking down the lens, particularly when you’re in a lower-light environment, you’ll notice that the image is quite bright thanks to the large 50-millimeter objective lens. Additionally, this scope offers impressive magnification that can zoom in to 24x, offering an up-close view of far off targets.
With a name like BugBuster, the obvious implication is that you’ll be so accurate using this scope that you can staple bugs to the wall with your shots. It’s a great name for a scope, no doubt, but we didn’t achieve that degree of accuracy using it. Mainly, this was due to the zoom magnification. When you zoom in, your point of impact shifts significantly, requiring you to zero your scope every time you alter the magnification.
Despite our issue with the zoom magnification, there was a lot we did like about the BugBuster. First, it’s fully sealed and nitrogen purged, so it’s rainproof and fog-proof. Furthermore, it’s shockproof, so it can handle bumps during transport as well as significant recoil.
Another nice feature of this scope is that it will function with no battery installed, you just won’t have any illumination for the reticle. You can still see the reticle in this state, but two batteries do come with the scope for your convenience. Our only other issue with this device is the limited eye relief. You have to be pretty close to the eyepiece to avoid dealing with copious parallax.
Riflescopes can get pretty expensive. All of the scopes on this list are under $500, but the Sightmark Wraith HD Digital Riflescope barely makes the cut. It’s at the very top of the price range and definitely the most expensive option on this list. But do you get improved performance for the price over cheaper models? In some ways, yes. But overall, we weren’t impressed with what we got for the amount we spent.
On the surface, the 16x magnification of this scope seems impressive. However, once you realize that most of the magnification is digital zoom, it’s no longer such a great number. Only 2x of that magnification is optical; the remainder is digital. Digital zoom can get quite grainy, and well, digital. The image you get with digital magnification is not as clean and clear as true optical magnification.
But you do get night vision on this scope, with options for classic green or black and white modes. Additionally, this scope is capable of HD video recording and photos. It’s pretty hefty at nearly two pounds though, so you’ll be weighing your weapon down substantially. Plus, this bulky device will increase the profile of your gun.
The Simmons Whitetail Riflescope is clearly meant to help you take down your next deer. It’s built for field use, offering waterproof, fog-proof, and even shockproof protection. You’ll never have to worry about weather destroying your scope if this is what’s mounted to your firearm.
With a 32-millimeter objective lens, it’s not letting in as much light as we’d like. Because of this, low-light performance suffers. Thankfully, you do get spacious eye relief of about four inches. Parallax didn’t seem to be an issue.
At 4x magnification, you’re limited in range when using this scope. It’s also pretty hefty, adding an entire pound to your rifle. All that said, it’s a rather affordable piece, which is one thing that many will find attractive. Even so, we think there are better deals to be had in the same price range, so we’d steer clear of this one in favor of other models like the CVLIFE Hunting Riflescope.
Nikon is known for making quality optics, though you’ll more often find them on cameras than rifles. We had high hopes for the P-Tactical Riflescope, but we weren’t too impressed with it during testing. Granted, it holds zero well and offers multiple aiming marks for shooting at various distances. But we found more flaws than positives when using this scope.
First, this is not a cheap scope. It’s several times the cost of other models on this list. It’s also quite heavy, weighing in at more than a pound; enough heft to make your rifle feel less maneuverable.
While we do like that there are multiple aiming points, they actually make the reticle too convoluted. It’s overpopulated, making it more difficult than necessary to pick out your proper aiming mark. This scope is intended for shooting at distances, so the marks are preset for distances from 100-600 yards. Consequently, the scope doesn’t focus properly when aiming at close targets. Despite the weight behind the Nikon name, this is a scope we’d bypass. We feel it has too many flaws for the price.
At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what features you might find on a rifle scope under $500. But how do you compare these features between different models and which features are most important? If you’re still unsure of how to answer these questions, then this buyer’s guide is for you.
Riflescopes might seem like simple devices on the surface, but these are powerful tools that come equipped with many different features. Each feature is important, but how important it is to you will depend on your needs. Read about each of these important features and determine what you need in each category. Then, find the rifle scope that best meets all of those needs.
Magnification is essentially the reason you’re using a scope on your rifle at all. If you didn’t need to see your target larger and clearer, then you’d be fine using iron sights. But the magnification provided by a rifle scope allows us to see farther, which, in turn, enables us to shoot farther.
The type of shooting you do will determine how much magnification you need. For closer shooting of under 100 yards, something with 20x magnification will likely be overkill. For shooting beyond 200 yards, a 4x magnification scope will be woefully insufficient. Determine how much magnification you need before you purchase a scope.
Of course, you might not always be shooting at similar distances. This is where zoom magnification comes in handy. Scopes with zoom offer a range of magnification levels. For instance, you might have a scope with 4-9x magnification. That means you can zoom in anywhere from 4x magnification to 9x for a closer view.
If you only target shoot and never plan to take your gear out in inclement weather, then weatherproofing might not be the most important feature for you. But hunters and anyone who plans on braving the elements will find that quality weatherproofing is an absolute necessity.
The last thing you want is to have your scope die because of a little rain. But argon or nitrogen-purge weatherproofing will offer protection against both water and fog, ensuring you’ve always got a clear shot.
Some scopes are rather large while others are compact. Naturally, a large scope will add quite a bit of bulk to your firearm and increase its profile. A smaller scope will have less of an impact on weapon size and maneuverability.
But size isn’t the only factor here. Often, larger scopes are also much heavier. This can also affect the maneuverability of your gun. Especially if you’re a person who shoots or carries your gun for long periods, the extra one or two pounds that a heavy scope adds to your loadout will add up over time.
If a scope doesn’t hold zero, it’s not going to do you much good. Even great scopes might need an occasional adjustment. But for the most part, your scope shouldn’t need much tinkering once it’s zeroed in. A high-quality scope will allow hundreds or thousands of shots while firmly holding zero.
The reticle in your scope can have a pretty drastic effect on your aiming. Some scopes are basic, offering just standard crosshairs, a dot, or both. Other scopes also offer multiple aiming points for easy aiming at various distances.
The size of your reticle is also important. A large reticle can make it difficult to aim precisely since it takes up too much of the target. Conversely, a reticle that’s too fine can be equally difficult to aim because it’s harder to see.
Most modern scopes feature illuminated reticles that will light up brightly when activated. Many will also allow you to switch between red and green. Some of these scopes offer many brightness levels for you to choose between, adjusting the brightness for day or evening shooting.
If you shoot much during dawn or dusk, the times that many prey species are most active, then low-light performance is going to be of utmost importance to you. A large objective lens will help with gathering as much light as possible, allowing you to take shots at times when other scopes might leave your target in the dark.
Of course, low-light performance can be taken to a whole new plane with night vision. Night vision scopes allow you to shoot when light is scarce. Many will offer multiple night vision modes, such as classic green or black and white. These can be great for anyone who hunts at night, or in the early morning hours when there’s not much light to utilize.
Even within a $500 budget, there are tons of great rifle scopes available. In the process of writing these reviews, we tested quite a handful. But after all was said and done, three models had earned their place at the top of our list.
The Bushnell Banner Dusk and Dawn Multi-X Reticle Riflescope was our favorite overall. It offers zoom magnification from 3x-9x with a 40-millimeter objective Dusk and Dawn Brightness lens, which allows for superior low-light performance. The fast focus ring makes it easy to focus at any magnification and finger adjustable windage and elevation eliminate the need for tools to get the scope zeroed.
If you’re on the search for a budget-priced scope without many sacrifices, we recommend the CVLIFE Hunting Rifle Scope. Not only is it priced affordably, but it offers great features such as 6x-24x magnification with multiple crosshairs for easing shooting at various distances.
At a bit higher price, the Vortex Optics Crossfire II Riflescope offers some excellent characteristics, such as nitrogen-purged weatherproofing, multiple aiming points, and the Vortex unconditional VIP guarantee warranty that protects your scope from normal use.
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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