The Best Rifle Scopes Under $500

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The Best Rifle Scopes Under $500
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During college, I worked in a gun shop. I heard (and saw) a ton of strange things while scrambling to earn rent and not blow my entire check in the used section. Of the things I heard, I remember one particularly wealthy and eclectic regular who claimed he would spend significantly more on a scope than he would the hunting rifle he bought it for. As the person responsible for writing up his lengthy sales tickets, I can confirm that he pretty much lived by this rule. However, I realize that’s not feasible for most folks (myself included).

The days of new $300 rifles are long gone. A handful of rifles, like Ruger’s American, will run you around $500, and that’s considered “budget” now. Even if you were to adopt a generous 1:1 ratio of scope-to-rifle price, you’re looking at a $1000 setup, and not everyone can afford (or needs) that.

I imagine the majority of hunters don’t need the glass and reticles of scopes that inhabit the premium category. Luckily, if you just need a scope that can help you point and shoot during the last minutes of legal shooting light, there are plenty of solid “budget” options. And the best rifle scopes under $500 will help you do this—and more.

Testing the Best Scopes Under $500

For this review, I tested nine scopes under $500. These prices do not necessarily reflect MSRP, which means you might see them listed for more than $500 in some places. I realize that retailer loyalty doesn’t matter when it comes to price; everyone has a different budget, and any savvy shopper will price-check before pulling the trigger.

I tried to include a variety of scopes in this “budget” category. Scopes in this review resemble classic hunting scopes. Others are tailored toward precision shooting, while a few fall somewhere in between. Whether you’re hunting your grandfather’s ladder stand or spot and stalking out West, you should find at least one scope in this review that fits your needs.

I judged each scope’s performance on four categories: optical performance, controls, versatility, and value. For every category, each scope received a score from 1-5, with 5 being the highest.

Optical Performance

To judge each scope’s optical performance, I went to the range and tested their lowlight and resolution capabilities. I observed a white steel target with a black center dot at 300 yards for the lowlight portion of the test. I then scored each scope’s ability to distinguish that dot in fading light. For the resolution, I observed a campaign sign at 100 yards and noted each scope’s ability to distinguish between the smallest letters in bright and lowlight settings. I also assessed each scope for edge-to-edge clarity and color fidelity.


Scopes received a score based on their controls, which included turret clicks, magnification adjustments, reticle tracking, and/or illumination. I noted how each scope’s turrets and focus controls turned and whether they were responsive and/or mushy.


Because scopes represent significant investments (even under $500), I also considered the versatility of each scope. That is, how easily each scope could be used for multiple hunting and shooting applications or switched from rifle to rifle. I also included mounting in this category and considered whether or not a scope offered liberal mounting options and/or would require extra/special rings.


The value category considers each scope’s price in relation to the three previous categories. I also factored in included accessories like flip-up lens covers, sun shades, throw levers, and, most importantly, warranty.

The best scopes under $500 we recommend

Field notes from the MeatEater Crew

How to Choose the Best Rifle Scope Under $500

Rifle scopes over $500 range from good to premium. But even under that amount, there’s a significant divide from one end of the budget spectrum to the other. Obviously, your budget will determine this. After that, you’ll want to consider your hunting/shooting needs and what type of warranty each manufacturer offers. Whether you’re spending $200 or $2000, you’ll want to ensure your investment is covered should something happen to it.

You’ll also want to consider if you need a general scope or something more precise. For instance, are you looking for a scope that you can easily swap between hunting rifles and various cartridges? Or do you need a scope that can maximize your shooting capabilities with ultra-precise references and custom turrets? These questions should inform your buying decisions.

Final Thoughts

The best scopes under $500 might not excel at everything, but some of them can serve multiple tasks well. I realize that $500 might mean “premium” for a lot of hunters and shooters (myself included). The good news is that there are plenty of solid options well below that price that should last you a lifetime.

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