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Published Sep 13, 2022 2:11 PM

In these days of conspicuous spending in the firearms category, dropping $1,500 on a best-in-class rifle scope is as easy as spending $3,000 on a rifle. Or $100 on a box of ammo. That’s fine if you’re mating a bespoke rifle to a very specific scope and load, but most of us end up swapping scopes between rifles, and we’re more interested in optics that can perform on a range of platforms, guiding an assortment of projectiles in a wide variety of shooting situations. I’ve rounded up nine do-everything scopes with basic reticles, usually in the second focal plane, simple controls, and good class. They generally lack illumination, parallax, or large magnification ranges. If you don’t have unlimited resources, and want a hard-wearing, versatile, affordable scope, read on for the best rifle scopes for under $500.

Best All-Around: Leupold VX-3HD 3.5-10×40 CDS-ZL

Leupold

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Why It Made the Cut

Tough, reliable, simple, and versatile, the bright VX-3HD is as useful on a precision rimfire as it is mounted on a high-end sheep rifle. The duplex reticle is fast, and minimal controls means fewer moving parts to fail over time or in duress.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 13.1 ounces
  • Magnification Range: 3.5-10-power
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 40mm
  • Tube Diameter: 1-inch
  • Turret Click Values: 0.25 MOA
  • Reticle Focal Plane: Second
  • Illuminated Reticle: No

Pros

  • Liberal mounting dimensions
  • Duplex reticle aids fast aiming
  • Push-button locking elevation turret
  • Customers can order ballistic-specific elevation dial
  • Premium glass and coatings
  • Excellent low-light performance

Cons

  • Duplex reticle not suited for long-range holdover shots
  • Parallax fixed at 100 yards
  • Turret clicks are mushy

Product Description

An American classic, the VX-3HD is extremely versatile and one of the best rifle scopes in this review. I have different iterations of this 1-inch model on a half-dozen different rifles, and in each instance, the scope is reliable and durable. It performs the simple, single task that we require of a rifle scope: It guides our bullet to the target, consistently and with style. The shortcomings of this scope are that it doesn’t have elaborate hold-over references, so it’s not a great choice for long-distance hunters.

For shooters and hunters who want to increase the range and capability of this accessible scope, consider buying a custom CDS elevation dial that conforms to the specific bullet dynamics of your pet load. With that addition—free for the first dial and $80 for additional dials—this simple scope can give shooters and hunters a boost in mid-distance precision. But even with the standard dial, this is a bright, simple, and extremely versatile optic.

Best Budget: Vortex Crossfire II 3-9×40

Vortex

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Why It Made the Cut

A very affordable scope, this simple optic has just enough windage and elevation references to give shooters the tools to make precise mid-distance shots.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 14.8 ounces
  • Magnification Range: 3-9-power
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 40mm
  • Tube Diameter: 1-inch
  • Turret Click Values: 0.25 MOA
  • Reticle Focal Plane: Second
  • Illuminated Reticle: No

Pros

  • Accessibly priced
  • Generous mounting dimensions
  • Parallax fixed at 100 yards
  • Large eyebox
  • Excellent warranty

Cons

  • Substandard glass
  • Parallax fixed at 100 yards
  • Mushy controls

Product Description

A bare-bones, do-everything rifle scope, this entry-level Vortex can guide bullets capably and consistently. Highlights include a handful of references on the horizontal stadia—for windage holds—and four holdover references on the vertical stadia. These simple hashes in the second-plane duplex reticle allow shooters a measure of precision in a platform that’s really built for speed, meaning it gives shooters the capability of making a fairly accurate shot in short order.

Besides the very appealing price, the element that recommends this 1-inch scope to this roundup is its excellent lifetime, fully transferable warranty. So even if this scope fails in its promise to guide your bullet with consistent precision, you can probably replace it with little liability. But my guess is that it will give shooters years of reliable service.

Best Lightweight: Maven CRS.1 3-12×40

Why It Made the Cut

With a winning combination of optical quality, athletic build, and accessible price, this charming scope has throwback attributes of reliability, simplicity, and durability. It’s not a precision optic; instead, it’s a contemporary classic that can perform several tasks adequately.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 14.2 ounces
  • Magnification Range: 3-12-power
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 40mm
  • Tube Diameter: 1-inch
  • Turret Click Values: 0.25 MOA
  • Reticle Focal Plane: Second
  • Illuminated Reticle: No

Pros

  • Light and compact
  • Parallax fixed at 100 yards

Cons

  • Fixed parallax limits long-range work
  • Bold styling too blingy for some hunters

Product Description

A stylish, no-frills scope from a direct-to-consumer brand, the CRS.1 is the bare-boned version of a new Maven platform. If you want side focus and a little more magnification, consider the 4-16×44 CRS.2, which also costs $100 more. For those who want to minimize moving parts but still have a bright, simple aiming aid, the CRS.1 offers a ton of mounting dimension on its 1-inch tube, responsive turrets tuned to ¼ MOA click values under protective caps, and a velvety power-changing dial that has just enough bling to add some pizazz to your rifle. 

To my eye, this is a perfect companion to a flat-shooting ultralight mountain rifle and a hunter who intends to get within range to hold right on the target with the center of the classic German 4 reticle. But in case you need some holdover references for mid-distance shots, the CRS.1 provides three hashes that should get you on target out to 500 or 600 yards.

Best Throwback: Bushnell Elite 4500 2.5-10×40

Bushnell

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Why It Made the Cut

A bare-bones scope built on a 30mm tube with good glass and decent controls, this Bushnell is compatible with just about any general-purpose firearm, including lever guns and muzzleloaders.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 19.7 ounces
  • Magnification Range: 2.5-10-power
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 40mm
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Turret Click Values: 0.25 MOA
  • Reticle Focal Plane: Second
  • Illuminated Reticle: No

Pros

  • Appealing price
  • 30mm tube provides wide adjustment range
  • Duplex reticle delivers fast aiming
  • Excellent optical coatings
  • Ample 4.3-inch eye relief

Cons

  • Underwhelming glass
  • Lack of illumination limits utility

Product Description

In your father’s age, the standard variable-power scope configuration was 3-9×40. With a slightly wider magnification range, a beefier tube, and Bushnell’s excellent coatings, the Elite 4500 can be considered as a capable upgrade to the classic.

The Elite 4500 has more positive and responsive turret controls than many of its peers, and the glass is adequate for most near- and mid-range shooting tasks. Its greatest attribute may be its versatility; with the Multi-X reticle of our sample, the Elite 4500 is a suitable companion to just about any rimfire or traditional centerfire rifle, but its capability can extend to lever guns, slug guns, and even muzzleloaders, where magnified optics are allowed.

Best for Low-Light: Meopta MeoSport R 3-15×50

Meopta

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Why It Made the Cut

For the same price you might pay for a stripped-down rifle scope, Meopta offers a larger objective lens, side focus, and pin-point illumination. The cumulative effect is performance that you might expect in a scope costing twice as much.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 23.1 ounces
  • Magnification Range: 3-15-power
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 50mm
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Turret Click Values: 1 centimeter/100 yards
  • Reticle Focal Plane: Second
  • Illuminated Reticle: Yes

Pros

  • Excellent glass for the money
  • Best-in-class low-light performance
  • Expansive 90 MOA internal adjustment
  • Exposed pull-to-turn turrets
  • 10-yards-to-infinity focus
  • 30mm mounting rings included

Cons

  • Some shooters want covered turrets
  • Duplex reticle overly simple

Product Description

This excellent Meopta scope does just about anything you’d ask of a basic scope. It has a wide magnification range and very good glass and coatings. Its re-zeroable pull-to-turn exposed turrets turn without fuss or slop, and its center-point illumination and excellent side focus give it a range of utility that punches way above its pay grade.

The side focus, which brings targets from 10 yards to infinity into crisp focus, makes this a scope to consider for rimfire precision shooting matches, where targets can range from close-in to way-out. The 30mm tube adds a touch of European sophistication, and the 50mm objective lens soaks up light like a sponge. The MeoSport R is a little heavy, but its wide utility makes it one of the best rifle scopes under $500 for low-light conditions.

Best for Rimfires: Athlon Argos HMR 2-12×42

Athlon

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Why It Made the Cut

Packed with features, including illumination, side focus, and responsive turrets, the Athlon is at home on just about any centerfire rifle, but with the BDC reticle, it makes a very effective precision rimfire scope.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 19.8 ounces
  • Magnification Range: 2-12-power
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 42mm
  • Tube Diameter: 1-inch
  • Turret Click Values: 0.25 MOA
  • Reticle Focal Plane: Second
  • Illuminated Reticle: Yes

Pros

  • Versatile magnification range
  • Illuminated reticle
  • Side focus
  • Capped turrets
  • Good warranty

Cons

  • Underwhelming glass
  • Controls are mushy
  • Limited mounting dimensions

Product Description

Similar to Meopta’s capable MeoSport, the Athlon has more features than most scopes at this price point. Its best attribute is side parallax control that brings targets as close as 10 yards into sharp focus, a feature that’s useful for rimfire shooters who are often engaging close-in and far-out targets. The illumination is also worth a look. The second-plane scope is available with a standard duplex reticle, but opt for the BDC 600A reticle, which gives shooters holdover hashes out to 600 yards when the scope is on its highest power. The glass in the Argos HMR isn’t the best, but for most shooting situations it will provide a decent image and capably guide bullets of just about any caliber.

Best First-Focal Plane: Sightmark Presidio 3-18×50 LR2

Sightmark

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Why It Made the Cut

The rare long-distance precision scope that retails for under $500, this feature-packed option from Sightmark will get shooters of just about any budget ringing distant steel.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 30.8 ounces
  • Magnification Range: 3-18-power
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 50mm
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Turret Click Values: 0.1 MRAD
  • Reticle Focal Plane: First
  • Illuminated Reticle: Yes

Pros

  • First-plane tree-style reticle
  • Exposed tactical-style turrets
  • Throw lever
  • Zero stop
  • 6-step illumination
  • 25 mils of internal adjustment

Cons

  • Disappointing optics
  • Very stiff controls
  • Limited warranty

Product Description

Shooters of limited financial means should give their attention to this full-featured precision scope from Sightmark that retails for around $400. The Presidio has everything that the major brands offer shooters, from a very capable first-plane reticle with plenty of elevation and windage references, oversized exposed turrets to make field adjustments easy, and a zero-stop that allows shooters to return to their zero without tools. Other noteworthy features include a 15-yards-to-infinity focus, 6-step illumination, and a throw lever to make magnification changes easy. How does Sightmark deliver so much utility for such an accessible price? The glass is flinty and shows lots of optical aberrations. You can expect to get some flaring and peripheral distortion. However, the center of the lens—where most shooters spend most of their time—is clear and sharp. In a field with mostly second-plane, hunting-style scopes, this is a full-featured standout.

Best Tactical: Sig Sauer Tango-MSR 1-10×28

Sig Sauer

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Why It Made the Cut

You might have to hunt a bit to find this one for under $500, but for a scope that offers excellent close-in and precision aiming and mates up with just about any Modern Sporting Rifle, this battle-worthy optic has lots of utility.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 20.4 ounces
  • Magnification Range: 1-10-power
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 28mm
  • Tube Diameter: 34mm
  • Turret Click Values: 0.5 MOA
  • Reticle Focal Plane: Second
  • Illuminated Reticle: Yes

Pros

  • Monster magnification range
  • 100 MOA internal adjustment
  • Daylight-bright reticle
  • 11-illumination settings
  • References for long-distance work
  • Mates with any 34mm unimount

Cons

  • Second-plane reticle limits utility
  • 34mm tube is bulky

Product Description

When we got this sample, its retail price was quoted at right at $500. It’s gone up in price since, but it makes an appearance in this roundup because it offers so much utility for a reasonable price. Configured for Modern Sporting Rifle platforms (hence, the MSR in its name), the Tango can engage targets at extremely close range, especially with the illuminated half-horseshoe reticle providing a fast aiming point, almost like a red-dot optic.

But what gives the Sig added value is the tree-style reticle that offers six holdover references and windage holds. When tuned to the trajectory of a standard .223 or .308 load, the Tango lets shooters move from personal-defense work out to mid-distance precision shooting. The 11-step illumination is extremely useful, the platter-sized turrets are precise and easy to turn, and the throw lever makes zooming from close-in magnifications to 10-power a cinch, even with gloves.

Best for Mid-Distance .223 and .308 Rifles: Hawke Vantage 30 WA 4-12×42

Hawke Sport Optics

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Why It Made the Cut

Light, bright, affordable, and with a second-plane reticle tuned to the trajectory of standard .223/.308 loads, this scope gets shooters and hunters into mid-distance precision without a lot of cost or fuss.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 19.9 ounces
  • Magnification Range: 4-12-power
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 42mm
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Turret Click Values: 0.25 MOA
  • Reticle Focal Plane: Second
  • Illuminated Reticle: Yes, red and green

Pros

  • Holdover references tuned to standard loads
  • 130 MOA internal adjustment range
  • Wide-angle optics
  • Exposed tactical turret option
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Turrets can turn inadvertently
  • Reticle utility is limited

Product Description

This is a scope purpose-built for shooters who want to engage mid-distance targets with a minimum of adjustment. Instead of a first-plane reticle, with tons of elevation and windage references, Hawke’s “Marksman” reticle in the second plane offers aiming points that can step shooters out to 600 yards, using standard .308 and .223 loads. In order for the geometry of the reticle to work as designed, it must be ramped all the way up to 12-power, which is a lot of magnification for some shooters, but not nearly enough for the longest-distance steel target shooters. That “Goldilocks” nature of the Vantage is its defining feature. It’s just right for a number of tasks but not really perfect for either close-in or way-out shooting.

Still, the scope is light and nimble enough to fit a wide variety of rifle platforms, and the red-and-green illumination is bright and useful. The reticles are flinty but turn with assurance. In all, it’s a very capable rig that costs well under $400.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Rifle Scope Under $500

If you’re in the market for a rifle scope under $500, your first consideration is to make sure you’re not buying low-priced junk. I say that because some brands deliver scopes at this price point by stripping them of features and building them around sub-standard glass. The scopes in this roundup all have high-value elements, just maybe not all the features you’d expect on a scope costing twice as much.

Among the features you need to insist on at the $500 level: fully transferable lifetime warranties. You want to ensure that your investment is protected in case of some performance failure. Second, make sure it’s a scope that you can swap between firearms. The real value of this class is its versatility, and it’s nice to be able to move from hunting rifle to rimfire plinkster to slug gun.

The best riflescopes under $500.
Each scope covered in this review was used in the field. Bill Buckley

FAQs

Q: What rifle scope has the clearest glass?

In this roundup, which is admittedly a small fraction of the scopes on the market, the Maven CRS.1 and the Leupold VX3-HD have the brightest, most clear glass based on our testing. We put each scope through a battery of tests to measure optical resolution and brightness, and those two have excellent glass and best-in-class coatings that maximize low-light brightness and tame flaring.

Q: What scope magnification do I need to shoot out to 300 yards?

I like to boost my magnification to 8-power or even 10-power to shoot out to 300 yards. It’s not that I need that much magnification to see my target, but that optical horsepower helps me place my shot precisely. However, remember that as you increase magnification, you decrease the field of view. In other words, the image gets bigger, but narrower. That matters if you’re trying to keep your eye in the scope as you shoot. If you want to be able to see your impact, lower the magnification, which will widen your field of view and allow you to still see your target, even as your gun moves under recoil.

Q: Is a 50mm scope better than a 40mm scope for most rifles?

Every aspect of optics comes with a trade-off. More magnification means a narrower field of view. A bigger objective lens means that the scope weighs more and must be mounted higher on the rifle. I mention that because the answer of 50mm vs. 40mm will depend on your needs. If you’re going to hunt a lot at dawn and dusk, when light conditions are grainy, a 50mm objective will deliver more light to your eye, making images appear brighter because the exit pupil will be larger compared to a 40mm. However, a 50mm scope is so much larger in diameter than a 40mm that you’ll probably have to mount it on high rings, whereas a 40mm can often be mounted on low or medium rings. The higher the mount, the harder it can be to maintain a good cheek weld on a rifle with a standard low comb. But, at the end of the day, I generally prefer 50mm scopes for most deer and target hunting, 40mm scopes for mountain hunting.

How I Picked the Best Rifle Scopes Under $500

Some of the scopes in this roundup are new for 2022 and were included in the rigorous evaluations of Outdoor Life’s annual optics test. For those, which include all but the Leupold VX3-HD and the Vortex Crossfire, I measured optical resolution on my resolution range, scored low-light performance against their peers, and measured the precision and repeatability of the reticle and turrets. For the Leupold and Vortex, I have been hunting and shooting with both scopes for several years, and base my evaluation of their merits on my significant time with them in the field.

But for each scope, I rate their ability to perform a series of shooting tasks, engaging targets at 20 yards, then at 100, and in 100-yard steps out to 600 yards. For each distance, I evaluate the reticle, image, and turret controls.

I also make a subjective determination of optical quality, looking for distortions, optical aberrations, and any distracting jags of light. And I determine how quickly and precisely I can use the reticle.

Lastly, I assessed the extras, including the accessories that it ships with and each submission’s warranty.

Final Thoughts

You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a capable rifle scope. The best rifle scopes under $500 in this roundup all have good glass, capable controls, and reticles that can place bullets from close to pretty far. They may not have all the elaborate references of a precision scope, or the battle-proven turrets of extreme tactical optics, but these should provide years of service for hunters and target shooters alike.

The best aspect is that these scopes are so utilitarian that you can easily swap them from one firearm to the other, which to my mind is the very definition of versatile.