Hunting, as well as any shooting, usually doesn’t always happen in perfect lighting conditions. You require a scope that can deal with such conditions. Therefore, for successful hunts and shots, you need a riflescope that’s set up to work in low light environments. Check out the best low light scopes below!
What Are the Basics of a Rifle Scope for Low Light Conditions?
Dusk and dawn are often the best times to hunt. Unfortunately, these conditions tend to limit accuracy and tracking with a scope that’s not one of the best low light rifle scopes that you can get.
To improve clarity in challenging light settings, a low-light rifle scope (check out our rifle scope reviews!) should possess the right features, starting with high-quality glass. Inferior lenses offer less resolution in the dark, especially near the edges. The image is also more likely to blur at high magnification levels.
Without first-hand testing, the best way to determine the quality of the glass is by looking at the cost of the optic and the coating used on the lens. The clarity of the glass is one of the biggest factors for setting the price of a scope. Budget scopes simply use cheaper glass and compete with any of the best low-light rifle scopes.
The coatings also impact the overall quality of the glass. Applying coatings to the lenses reduces glare and reflections while improving light transmission and image contrast which is important when you hunt and shoot with a low light scope.
The cheapest low-light rifle scopes have a single layer of coating on one lens surface. Fully coated lenses that you find with the best low-light rifle scopes have a single layer of coating on all glass surfaces. High-quality low-light rifle scopes have multicoated lenses with multiple layers on one lens surface.
As light transmission is essential in low-light settings, look for scopes with fully multicoated lenses. With full multicoating, multiple layers are added to every glass surface.
Objective lens size is the next detail that influences light transmission. A larger objective lens allows more light into the scope tube and to your eye. Sizes tend to range between 20mm and 72mm.
When hunting at dawn or dusk, opt for a 40mm or larger objective lens size. Keep in mind that a larger objective lens results in a larger low-light scope, which may not mount easily on some rifles.
Use a simple reticle, such as basic crosshairs or Duplex reticles. Trying to understand a complex reticle in the dark may keep you from taking a shot at the right time. You may also benefit from an illuminated reticle. The illuminated crosshairs make it easier to make out details and quickly line up your shot in low light settings.
What Magnification Do You Need for the Typical Use of a Rifle Scope in Low Light Conditions?
If you are shooting in low light conditions, you are most likely hunting. Target shooting and plinking are often daytime activities.
As most hunting involves ranges of 200 yards or less, rifle scopes with 1x to 12x magnification should cover most typical uses. 3-9x40mm is one of the most popular configurations for low-light hunting.
9x magnification should allow you to maintain your accuracy up to the effective range of the rounds in your rifle. 3x magnification is at the lower end of the scale but should help you nail shots within 100 yards or less.
If you intend to hit targets beyond several hundred yards, look for scopes with higher magnification, such as 10x or 12x. – How do range and magnification relate to each other?
Along with these options, some hunters may prefer a fixed scope. Fixed scopes come with a single magnification setting, such as 3x or 4x.
Fixed scopes are lighter and tend to deliver greater clarity at a lower cost compared to variable scopes. However, they are best suited for situations when you need to target a specific range as they cannot be adjusted.
Riflescopes are also available with magnification far higher than 12x. Long-range scopes for low light conditions may offer 15x magnification or higher. 15x is a little much for hunting deer (Have a look at the best deer hunting scopes) at closer to medium range but may be necessary to hit targets at hundreds of yards.
If you already have a scope that you use for daytime shooting, consider choosing a low-light rifle scope with slightly higher magnification. Low light settings limit light transmission and your effective range.
For example, if you currently use a 3-9x scope during the day, consider going with a 4-10x or 4-12x optic. The extra magnification should provide comparable results to the daytime hunting optic when used in the early morning or late evening.
What Are the Best Scopes for Low Light Hunting and Shooting?
Compare the following scopes to find the best low light scope for increasing your accuracy.
Vortex Optics Crossfire II 3-9×50 SFP Riflescope V-Brite Illuminated MOA
The Vortex Optics Crossfire II is a quality scope with a precise aiming point and illuminated reticle for low light situations.
Features and Details
The Vortex Optics Crossfire II comes equipped with many of the details that you should look for in low light scopes. It has a large 56mm objective lens and suitable eye relief of 3.8 inches.
The illuminated reticle improves clarity in low light settings. It uses the V-Plex format to eliminate the center dot. You also have the option of adjusting the brightness with 11 different settings.
The scope comes with fully multi-coated lenses, providing greater resolution and clarity when zooming in. However, you may notice that the image blurs slightly near the edges at 9x magnification.
The controls include finger-adjustable capped turrets for brightness, windage, elevation, and parallax correction. The turrets are also resettable to zero.
These features make the Crossfire II well suited for a variety of uses including varmint hunting, predator hunting, and target shooting.
- It comes at an affordable price for a quality scope.
- The illuminated reticle allows for faster targeting.
- The durable construction should offer years of use.
- It includes fully multi-coated lenses for greater clarity.
- The image may blur around the edges at full magnification.
Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn Multi-X Reticle Riflescope
The Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn riflescope is built specifically for low-light settings. It is also one of the most affordable recommendations.
Features and Details
The Banner Dusk & Dawn Riflescope from Bushnell includes 3-9x magnification and a 40mm objective lens, which are standard options for a low light scope.
The optic is also equipped with a fast-focus eyepiece and waterproof/fog-proof construction. The 3.3-inch eye relief is a little closer to the lens compared to other options, which may not work well for rifles with a lot of recoil. It is commonly paired with .22 caliber rifles.
A unique feature is the patented Dusk & Dawn Brightness (DDB) multicoating used on the lenses. The coating is intended to enhance clarity and brightness when dealing with limited visibility. While you get enhanced resolution at dusk or dawn, you may still notice blurring at high magnification levels.
For a budget riflescope, the Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn stands out for its reliable performance compared to other scopes in the same price range. It holds zero for consistent targeting and remains clear when using the lower magnification levels.
- It is one of the most affordable choices.
- The fast focus eyepiece allows for quicker target acquisition.
- The patented DDB multicoating improves clarity in low light settings.
- May blur when using the higher magnification levels
- Does not have an illuminated reticle
UTG 3-9X32 1″ BugBuster Scope
The UTG BugBuster Scope packs a lot into a bulky tube. This is another budget scope with a variety of useful features for shooting at dusk or dawn.
Features and Details
The UTG BugBuster Scope includes 3-9x magnification and a 32mm lens. The 32mm objective lens size is a little small compared to other low light scopes. You get slightly less light transmission.
To compensate for the smaller lens, the low-light rifle scope has an illuminated reticle. The dual red/green dot allows you to quickly align your shot even without adequate lighting.
Instead of a standard Duplex reticle, the scope is equipped with a range estimating mil-dot reticle. It also includes parallax correction from three yards to infinity.
If you are planning long-range shooting, these features are useful. However, you may not need parallax correction or range estimation when hunting at 100 yards or less.
The one-inch tube is completely sealed. It is also nitrogen-filled, making it shockproof, rainproof, and fog-proof.
- One of the cheaper rifle scopes for low light circumstances
- Dual red/green illumination
- Flip-open lens caps and detachable rings
- Lockable and resettable turrets with 1/4 MOA adjustments
- The bulky, heavy design may not work well with lighter rifles.
- It does not include fully multi-coated lenses.
Leupold VX-3HD 3.5-10x50mm Riflescope
Leupold is a trusted rifle scope manufacturer, making some of the top-rated scopes on the market including the VX-3HD low light hunting scope. It provides several features to help deliver more light and a clearer image.
Features and Details
The Leupold VX-3i is the predecessor of the VX-3HD. The HD glass makes it an amazing low light rifle scope and includes patented Diamond Coat 2 ion-assist lens coating. This improves light transmission and resistance against abrasion. With less glare and more light, the image remains clear even when using the full magnification level.
The scope has a 3.5x to 10x magnification range, which should suit most typical uses. It also has a 50mm objective lens. The larger lens helps to gather more light. However, the real advantage comes from the Twilight Max Light Management System.
The light management system reduces glare to enhance the quality of the image, resulting in additional hunting time. When used properly, the scope can deliver up to 20 extra minutes of shooting light. One of the components is that you get fully multi-coated lenses with the VX-3HD.
- Fully waterproof, shockproof, and fog-proof design
- Precise 1/4 MOA finger click adjustments that hold zero
- A light management system that delivers greater light transmission
- Does not come with mounting rings
Nikon PROSTAFF 5 BDC Riflescope
While most people recognize Nikon as a camera manufacturer, the company also makes quality rifle scopes. The PROSTAFF 5 BDC Riflescope includes a few exclusive features found only on Nikon scopes.
Features and Details
The Nikon PROSTAFF 5 includes a Nikon lens, patented BDC reticle, and original multicoating layers. The fully multi-coated optics are clear in most lighting situations except nighttime making it one of the best low light rifle scopes available today.
The scope includes 3.5x to 14x magnification, which is much more than you need for close- to medium-range hunting. However, if you want to maintain your effective range past several hundred yards, you may find the higher magnification levels useful.
The image does blur slightly when using the top few magnification settings. The blur is not severe but it is noticeable.
- It provides a higher magnification range compared to other recommendations.
- You receive maximum brightness from a reasonably priced rifle scope.
- The adjustments are easy, thanks to spring-loaded zero-reset turrets.
- It includes a fast-focus eyepiece to keep the reticle focused at a set distance.
- You may notice a slight blur when zooming to the full magnification level.
Zeiss Conquest V4 3-12x56mm Riflescope
The Zeiss Conquest V4 is a convenient option for almost any rifle with easy-to-use capped turrets and a lightweight design.
Features and Details
The Zeiss Conquest V4 low light scope has one of the widest magnification ranges. You can zoom between 3x and 12x. As with similar scopes, the wider range is not necessary for all situations but helps with long-range shooting.
The scope only weighs 21.9 ounces, making it one of the lighter scopes in this category. You also get a massive 56mm objective lens. The large lens gathers lots of light, providing a clear and crisp image.
The scope also has a high-quality Carl Zeiss lens with patented LotuTec and T coatings for greater brightness and contrast. Overall, these features deliver more clarity at dusk or dawn.
- The lightweight design is useful during long hunts.
- It provides a wide range of magnification levels for close, medium, or long-range.
- It includes durable construction for rugged use in any environment.
- Not everyone needs 3-12x magnification even though it is fitting the most used magnification for hunting.
Primary Arms SLX 1-6x24mm SFP Rifle Scope Gen III – Illuminated
The Primary Arms SLX includes an illuminated reticle and durable construction to provide a reliable option for hunting at dusk or dawn.
Features and Details
The Primary Arms SLX low light rifle scope features 1x to 6x magnification, making it a suitable choice for close- to medium-range shots. With 6x magnification, you should not have trouble focusing on a target at 200 yards.
The optics are clear even at 6x magnification. You should not notice any blurring near the edges of the reticle.
For enhanced lighting, the scope includes an illuminated reticle. It uses an ACSS reticle for 5.56, 5.45, and .308 rounds, allowing marksmen to adjust for bullet drop compensation, range, and wind.
The objective lens on this low light scope is only 24mm, which is on the small side. You get a little less light transmission and a smaller field of view. However, the scope still performs well in low-light settings.
- The 3-15x magnification range should suit deer hunting and varmint hunting.
- The image remains clear at any magnification level.
- It includes generous relief, measuring 3.5 inches.
- Some hunters may not need the ACSS reticle.
- The scope is a little heavy, weighing about 1.7 pounds.
ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope
The ATN X-Sight 4K Pro is a unique low light rifle scope as it comes equipped with an HD video camera and night vision mode (similar to the Photon XT Digital night vision sight).
Features and Details
The X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope comes with 2.5 to 10x magnification and a 56mm lens. You get a wide range of magnification levels and a larger objective lens, providing more light. However, the X-Sight is more than just a standard low-light scope.
The included video camera records a full 4K HD video. It can capture millions of colors and high-resolution video even in low light conditions. It also automatically records, thanks to the Recoil Activated Video (RAV) feature.
When looking through the camera lens, you get a couple of extra features including a ballistic calculator and night vision mode (like the Nitesite RTEK NV sights).
- The HD camera automatically records your shots.
- The night vision mode on the camera provides clear images in any conditions.
- The ballistic calculator is a useful feature for long-range shooting.
- If you do not plan on recording your shots, this scope is overkill.
- Adding an HD camera to a scope increases its size and weight.
Trijicon TR22 AccuPoint 2.5-10x56mm Riflescope
The Trijicon TR22 AccuPoint is a high-performance low-light scope built for challenging lighting environments. You get superior components in a durable design for long-lasting use.
Features and Details
The TR22 AccuPoint includes 2.5x to 10x magnification. This range exceeds some of the other options, which may be useful for longer ranges.
The construction is durable and includes fully multicoated lenses. The scope has superior light-gathering abilities, delivering a clearer image.
You also get an illuminated reticle. Unlike most of the other recommendations, the TR22 uses battery-free illumination. Fiber optic technology and a tritium phosphor lamp eliminate the need for batteries while providing automatic brightness and contrast adjustments.
The low-profile turrets and battery-free reticle result in a slimmer profile. It fits nicely on most rifles without becoming cumbersome or clunky.
- It offers crystal-clear optics at any magnification level.
- It holds zero perfectly even in rugged conditions.
- The large objective lens size helps increase brightness.
- It includes battery-free illumination and automatic brightness levels.
- It is relatively expensive compared to other recommendations.
- The scope is a little heavy and may become cumbersome.
Conclusion – Best Low Light Rifle Scope
Use any of the rifle scopes discussed above to increase your ability to shoot at dawn or dusk. The Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn stands out as the best low light optic for those with a tight budget. For less than $100, you get a reliable scope for close- to medium-range shots.
The Vortex Optics Crossfire II is a step up. It costs a little more but offers greater clarity and resolution. However, it still suffers from blurring at full magnification.
If you want superior performance in low light settings but have a limited budget, try the Leupold VX-3HD riflescope. It features a unique ion-assist lens coating and quality glass. Combined with the Twilight Max Light Management System, you get up to an extra 20 minutes of light and less glare.
One of the overall top recommendations for the best low-light hunting scope is the Zeiss Conquest V4. It comes with a high-quality Carl Zeiss lens and high-performance lens coatings for more brightness and contrast.