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How much Scope Magnification do You need for an AR-15 Rifle?

The AR-15 is an all-around tactical rifle. The uses of this weapon are almost as infinite as the number of scoping options that you can put on the rifle itself. When choosing how much magnification to use for your AR-15, there are a few things that you will need to ask yourself first.

What power of Magnification Do You Need For an AR-15 Rifle?

What Style of Shooting will you be doing?

When deciding the level of magnification to get for your AR 15 for your scope, you will need to know what your primary shooting style is going to be. Deer hunting is far different than home defense and close-range shooting.

If you’re getting a AR 15 for long-range precision shooting, then your scope magnification is going to be far higher than if you are getting a AR 15 because you are a doomsday prepper. With so many different uses for a AR 15, there are varying answers about the right level of scope magnification to use on the rifle.

The reason the style of shooting is going to affect your choice of magnification is because of the following scoping elements:

  • When on the move the wobble is magnified. If you’re shooting from a bench in or lying position, the magnification wobble will not be noticeable. But standing your crosshairs start to shake and shimmy all over the place. The higher the magnification, the greater the wobble.
  • The higher the magnification, the smaller your field-of-view will become. If you have high magnification your ability to find targets down range is going to diminish. Ammoland (https://www.ammoland.com/2015/08/best-ar-15-scopes-how-what-to-choose/#axzz4pADBrNP1) points this out in the case of the Bushnell Elite Tactical SMRS 1 – 6.5×24 optic. At the true one power setting, you can see an area of 105.8 feet wide through the scope. When you crank the magnification up to 6.5 power, you only see an area 16.3 feet wide. This will greatly hinder the close styles of shooting. Though the smaller field-of-view would not be a problem for a long-range precision shooter.
  • A heatwave is increased at higher magnifications. If you’re seeing a lot of heatwaves, it is because of the light diffraction. Your optic is only going to enhance the Mirage effect that you’re seeing and can cause you to be off-target.

Many times, a skilled shooter with the AR 15 won’t need anything but iron sights for shots up to 400 m. If you’re having trouble hitting shots below 400 m, you may think about seeing a shooting instructor gain additional skills with your rifle.

You can take the money you would spend on an expensive scope to get real-time tactical training. This type of training will not only make you a better rifleman but a better shooter with almost any weapon.

UTG 3-12X44 30mm Compact Scope AO 36-color Mil-dot
UTG 3-12X44 30mm Compact Scope AO 36-color Mil-dot

Best Tactical Scope under $500

If you are using your AR-15 mainly for hunting then you have to take lighting into consideration. Many successful hunts are not happening in bright sunlight.

You need an AR-15 scope with good performance in low-light conditions. That usually means that you need a scope with a larger objective lens diameter and high-quality glass and lens coatings.

The downside of using AR-15 scopes with a larger objective lens is that these scopes are heavier. This can negatively impact the balance of your firearm and also make it harder to drag your weapon around when you’re on a hunt.

Many AR-15 setups will result in having heavy recoil. Your scope’s eye relief has to match that. Most modern scopes have eye relief in the 3 to 4 inch range. That should be sufficient eye relief for most, if not all, AR-15 configurations you can think of.

Red Dot Sight or Magnified Scope?

Once you know the style of shooting be doing, you can choose whether or not you’d like a red dot or magnified scope.

Using Red Dot Sights with the AR-15

The red dot or reflex sights are not magnified, but they superimpose red dots on the reticle and allow you to keep both eyes open when shooting. This is especially important with tactical shooting and close-quarter shooting where your peripheral vision is going to be not only necessary but life-saving.

Not all AR 15 shooting requires magnification. In fact, in some instances magnification, that narrows your field of view could be a detriment to your skills as a shooter. If you’re using a carbine style AR 15 it’s likely you need faster mobility and are going to benefit from a red dot or holographic sight.

If you are using an electronic optic like red dots then consider adding iron sights to your setup. You can set the iron sights up for absolute or 1/3 co-witness to keep aiming capabilities should you run out of battery on your holo sight or red dot.

Is the Vortex Strikefire 2 a good RDS for AR-15’s?

Magnified Scopes for the AR-15

For magnified scopes, you have options of the first focal plane or second focal plane scopes. Keep in mind with a first focal plane scope the reticle is going to grocery magnification making for easier sighting.

However, second focal plane scopes are typically less expensive and can allow you to purchase better-quality glass.

Scope Magnification Level

The magnification level that you need for your scope, again, will depend greatly on the style of shooting you’ll be doing. With Field of View adjustments and wobble considerations by magnification is anything greater than six times is probably going to be a waste on a AR 15. Some of the best ACOG and fixed magnification scopes for the AR 15 only go up to 4X magnification.

If you’re doing long-range competition shooting, you may need the 6X magnification to hit those long-range shots. But for anything other than competition shooting a 6X magnification is probably going to hinder your ability to hit on target and it will interfere with your target acquisition.

The best thing for magnified scopes for moving targets such as deer is going to be something that easily adjusts from the true one magnification to 4X. The fast adjustment from true one magnification allows you to have the widest field of view to sight your target and then magnified to get into the kill zone.

Slower zooming scopes are not going to be good for deer or other moving objects because you will not be able to sight the target. In short, if you’re looking for a variable scope, then a 1-4x or a 1-6x is typically a good choice for the AR-15.

The Best Scope For You and Your AR-15!

When it comes to finding the best scope for your AR 15 you are going to have to look at your use case. Take the last six months of shooting with your AR 15 and see how you used it most often.

If nearly every time you took your AR 15 out you were in a tree stand hunting for deer with a range of 100 yards, then that’s your use case. If the last six months you spent practicing for a marksman competition, then that’s your use case. This is how you’re going to choose the best scope for you.

Looking for a red dot for your AR? Have a look at our evaluation of the best red dots for AR-15‘s!

Final Thoughts to find the Best Scope Magnification for your AR-15

Now you know your use case, typical range, and what kind of magnification level is best for your type of shooting. Keep in mind, you don’t always need magnification on your scope, and sometimes magnification can hinder target acquisition.

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What power of Magnification Do You Need For an AR-15 Rifle?
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Aaron Bennett