Riflescopes: Under $400

 

Updated in January, 2024

There is all sorts of stuff in this price range that I have not been able to get my hands on and many scopes that used to be real staples here are either discontinued or moved up in price.  I spent a lot of time looking at prismatics and other AR-type optics that are in this price range, but a bit less so when it comes to hunting.  For many conventional scopes, it is really hard to not recommend that you spend a little more money, especially with inflation.  Or look for something used.  Either way, lower priced scopes change very rapidly, so it is hard to be sure of the build quality.  That’s why I lean toward products that have been around for a little while, so that I know the track record.  That does not mean I won’t take a chance on a new product, but I do keep that as a factor.

 

General use hunting scopes:

Leupold VX-Freedom scopes are in this price range, but I am just not a fan.  I do like the tiny ultralight 2.5×20 fixed power scope from them.  Most of the Vortex Diamondback scopes nowadays are in the $250 range and I would really not overlook them.

Easily my favourite lightweight scope in this category is the SWFA SS Ultralight 2.5-10×32 if you can find it in stock.

For full size scopes, sometimes you can find Trijicon Ascent 3-12×40 in this price range.  Same for the Trijicon Huron 2.5-10×42.  Aside from that, Vortex Diamondback 3-9×40 or 3.5-10×50 would be my pick.  They have been around for a while and hold up nicely.

Specialty option here would be something like a scout scope.  Scout scopes have fallen out of favor and, for the most part, rightfully so.  When the scout scope concept came about, we did not have LPVOs and many rifles were still loaded with stripper clips.  However, there are still a few applications for scout scopes out there.  I have spent a lot of time with scout scopes over the years because of how much I used to shoot milsurp rifles.  If you do not want to butcher a milsurp rifle, but still want an optic, there are several good scout setups out there.  After spending an inordinate amount of time on it, I settled on preferring simple fixed power scout scopes in lieu of variables.  Thick an dvisible reticle is very importnat in this application, so my preferred option here is the Burris Scout 2.75×20 with its very thick plex reticle.  I like these on milsurp rifles and some leverguns.

 

Varminting, Tactical and Target Shooting:

If you plan to spend a lot time twisting turrets, the $300 SWFA SS is still the one to beat here in terms of bang for the buck, but if you want side-focus instead of rear focus, $400 gets you the SWFA SS 10x42M which is the side parallax version.  I would still not be itching to get into high magnification in this price range, but there are a couple of decent 4-16x options.  Vortex Diamondback Tactical 4-16×44 seems to soldier on quite consistently as does the related Element Helix FFP.

Arken SH4 Gen 2 4-16×50 lasted for a year in my recommendations, but I see so much variability in build quality, that I am yanking it off of here until I have more confidence in their consistency.  The one I have is quite good, but I had a chance to see several others that made me think that mine was cherry picked.

 

Low-range variables:

This has sorta become more of a tactical category, but it extends to other firearms as well.  My favourite for a long time was probably Burris RT-6 1-6×24 scope.  Delta Hornet 1-6×24 is another good option although Burris is a little less expensive.

Primary Arms just introduced the new SLx 1-6×24 with fiber illuminated Nova reticle.  I am exceedingly impressed so far.  That nuclear dot is a big deal and it is the one to beat.

I think Primary Arms is the one to beat here if you can live with a Chinese made optic.

 

Reflex Sights:

For $400 or a hair less you can do quite well here.  For narrow slide handguns, there is Shield RMSc, with 8MOA version being my favourite.  A larger dot is a vastly superior way to go for handgun red dot sights.

For wider slides, there is Shield’s RMSw (but it drifted up in price a little) and RMR cut  Holosun HS507C X2 with ACSS Vulcan has really impressed me.  Both work on carbines with appropriate riser, but Holosun does better here with a larger window and chevron reticle.  Still, I’d lean toward enclosed sights here like Sig Romeo4T and 4H or many others.

Leupold Deltapoint Micro is a rather “off the beaten path” option for handguns and I am surprised by how much I liked it.  It is basically a longer rear ghost ring sight that also functions as an enclosed red dot.

If you are looking to stay out of China, Shield Sights are made in the UK and the Deltapoint in the US.  Sig Romeo 4T is assembled in the US.  The rest are from China.

In many ways, the current trend is toward enclosed red dot sights.  With those, SwampFox Kraken has a lot to offer and is probably the best bang for the buck if you are looking for something that can serve on both handguns and carbines.  Burris Fastfire IV is quite nice and offers switchable reticles.

 

Magnifiers:

These days, you do not need to spend a huge amount of money for a very nice magnifier, with Sig Juliet4 4x probably being my favourite 4x for the money.  It is out of stock al the time though.  I tend to prefer 3x and 4x magnifiers in general.  My preferred 3x magnifier, Vortex Micro 3x, slots into the $300 category.  Primary Arms micro magnifier is much cheaper, but it might be able to compete here very nicely.  It also has an added feature of a ranging scale.  https://bit.ly/3Z72OgC

Higher magnification magnifiers have somewhat limited utility, but the Vortex 6x micro magnifier is pretty competent.  Primary Arms has a new GLx 6x magnifier that I have not tested it.

 

Prismatic Scopes:

In the past, all the inexpensive prismatic scopes have been of dubious quality.  That is no longer the case.

SwampFox Blade 1x and TriHawk 3x are well designed and robust.  Surprised the hell out of me, to be honest, but they work.
SwampFox Amazon Store  The 5x Saber rounds out the family of SwampFox large prism scopes and also acquits itself nicely.  It is MOA reticle only.  Otherwise, you would see me talk about it far more.

Primary arms GLx 2x prismatic is really superb.  If I was forced to stick with just one general purpose AR/AK optic, this might end up at the top of my list.  It found a permanent place on one of my AKs.

The three Primary Arms SLx Micro prismatics are really excellent given how small they are.  I have all three versions: 1x, 3x and 5x.  I can recommend all three.  Small prism scopes like these are best thought off as the next logical step up the magnification scale for people coming up from iron sights and red dots.

Large prism scopes like the earlier mentioned SwampFox Saber and a few other I’ll talk about in other price categories are more of a “LPVO alternative”, where you trade off variable magnificaton for better image quality and wider FOV.

Primary Arms has really focused on small prism designs that sacrifice some FOV, but deliver a lot of performance in a very compact package.

Both are viable approaches that are worth looking at, but they are at their best on different rifles.

If you go with an LPVO the cheapest decent single piece mount seems to be SwampFox Freedom Light for about $110.  It is not the best mount I have seen to date, but it is definitely better than serviceable and it has not given me any problem despite some fairly rigorous use.

In this category, you should be looking to add an offset and piggybacked red dot whether you are running an LPVO or prismatic.  I’d probably lean toward the prismatic with offset red dot if it is my wallet at stake, but PA’s new fiber dot SLx is making me re-consider it.

For offset sights, it comes down to a red dot or offset irons.  I was never big on offset irons, until I tried XS Sights’ XTI

For offset RDS, PA did something clever and offered this offset RDS mount for their SLx prismatic.  It works with MOS plates and seems to come back to zero well.  It travels with the primary scope, so it is a little different, but clever.

Some prismatics have integrated red dot mounts and there is a ton of standalone ones.  As a part of testing SwampFox’ Kraken, I started looking at SwampFox’ RMR-style Rebel mounts and they work well.

 Posted by at 11:04 am