Cheap Scopes

In tough economic times, it is good to know there are plenty of scope bargains available.

A good friend of mine, who stays in a constant state of financial duress, saved up his pennies, put off the creditors for a month, and purchased a new rifle. He called and asked a tough question of his friend the optics editor.

"Man, I need a cheap scope," he said. "What's the best one?"


I launched into my standard diatribe of how the optic should cost as much as the rifle, and that the scope is probably the most important part of the accuracy equation--all things he had heard and read before. My buddy broke it down, plain and simple.


"Dude, I have $300 to spend, and that's it," he said. "What's the best cheap scope out there?"

With all the bad economic news and fun budgets getting smaller and smaller, inexpensive optics is a subject that needs exploration. Living very near a Bass Pro Shops store, my friend has the distinct advantage of going to a sporting goods store and looking through scopes that cost anywhere from $50 to $2,000. I gave him a list of things to look for and think about, and I hope it will help Shooting Times readers who want good glass at a great price.


It's In The Glass
Scope performance begins and ends with the quality of glass contained within the tube. If the glass is trash, the image you see through that scope will be more of the same. At one time, a manufacturer's ability to get its hands on good glass was the logjam that slowed production and raised prices. The great news for shooters is the proliferation of manufacturing houses that can turn out precisely ground lenses. Factories in Asia are punching out good lenses faster than you can say, "chopsticks."


Onto that glass must go coatings, and these coatings are what really do the work. Coatings cancel out natural reflections that distort images, tune color so that red is red and green is green, and often protect the lens from scratches. Most scopes have coatings simply because they would be almost unusable without them. Generally speaking, the more coatings a lens has, the better it will perform. Tip even the cheapest scope on end, and the lens will have a green, blue, yellow, or red hue. But all coatings are not created equal, and the better the coating quality, the more expensive it will be.

The lens and coating quality test is pretty simple. Pick up a scope and look across the store. If the colors you see with the naked eye are replicated in the tube, the manufacturer did a pretty good job with color tuning. Next, look into a darkened corner and see if you are able to pick out details you were unable to see before peering through the scope. If the image is brighter and more detailed, the coatings are doing a good job of transmitting light. Remember that no optic, no matter how expensive, gathers light. They simply transmit it. How well they transmit it is a function of coating quality.

If the about-to-be-purchased riflescope is variable power, dial the power ring high and low while looking around the edges for sharpness. If the image falls apart around the edges at one end of the power range, you should probably move on to another scope. After all, you cannot hit what you cannot see.

This simple Bushnell Banner Rimfire scope cost only $50, but it has provided more than two decades of flawless performance.

Keep It Simple
Just like cars, scopes can come plain vanilla or with lots of extras. These are things like target turrets, illuminated and specialty reticles, parallax adjustments, etc. The less money you spend on a scope, the fewer extras it should have.

Companies that make high-end target and tactical glass have the engineering know-how and manufacturing capability to put extras into their scopes and make them work every time in any weather condition. As the price comes down, something has to give, whether it is in the materials or engineering. While the extras might look really appealing on a budget-priced scope, there is a good chance something will break or not work as well over time.

After you get a scope home, there are some things you should check right off the bat. If the scope has target turrets, shoot the square to make sure it tracks. After first checking the warranty's coverage, drop the scope in a tub of water to check for leaks before mounting it on an all-weather rifle.

Even at a certain price point, if a scope is trash right out of the box, you might have wasted both time and money.

That is not to say there are not some fantastic bargains out there. When accused of being an optics snob, I simply point to one of my favorite rifles--I received it for Christmas when I was nine years old.

The Remington 581-S is in near-perfect condition, despite thousands of rounds, hundreds of hunts, and a pile of dead squirrels that would not fit in the bed of my pickup truck. It wears a Bushnell Banner Rimfire 4X 20mm that cost a whopping $49.95--if memory serves--that I bought to replace the first one that finally quit tracking after five or six years of hard service. After almost two decades, the scope is as bright and clear and as fog proof as the day it was delivered. I have changed the zero exactly twice and will only touch the adjustments again when my supply of CCI Small Game Bullets finally runs out.

The ability to produce less expensive optics has allowed several companies to cater to specific segments of the shooting world. My good friend down the street has a nifty Savage bolt-action chambered for .17 HMR that wears an inexpensive scope with target turrets specifically calibrated for that cartridge. The little rig is on the money and did not cost a fortune, allowing for the allocation of an extra case of ammo.

Cheap scopes are essential for shooters like me. With a wife in medical school, it pays to know which brands perform for less money. I have had stellar luck with Bushnell, Nikon's ProStaff series, Sightron, Leupold's VX-II series scopes, and Weaver, among others. Their field performance was exceptional, and the price was right. It pays to spend the money on a riflescope, but there are certainly deals to be had.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

James Tarr runs through the 3-Second Headshot drill.

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Big bore semiauto or a lever gun? We look at the futuristic .450 Bushmaster and how it compares to the tried and true .45-70. ISS Prop House gives us the rundown on the guns used in Enemy at the Gate. We ping steel with a .300 WinMag at over a mile.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Shooting Times editor Joel Hutchcroft provides a comprehensive list of ideal Father's Day gifts. Accessories

Shooting Times Father's Day 2019 Gift Guide

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 07, 2019

Shooting Times editor Joel Hutchcroft provides a comprehensive list of ideal Father's Day...

Burris has expanded its top-of-the-line Veracity hunting riflescope line with new 2-10X 42mm and 3-15X 50mm RFP (rear focal plane) models. Optics

Burris Veracity RFP Riflescopes

Jake Edmondson - June 04, 2019

Burris has expanded its top-of-the-line Veracity hunting riflescope line with new 2-10X 42mm...

Daniel Defense has blazed a new trail with its first-ever bolt-action rifle, the Daniel Defense Delta 5. Rifles

Daniel Defense Delta 5 Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 31, 2019

Daniel Defense has blazed a new trail with its first-ever bolt-action rifle, the Daniel...

Harvey A. Donaldson may be best known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp wildcat cartridge, but during his lifetime he was popularly called the “pioneer benchrester.”  Gunsmithing

Harvey Donaldson: Pioneer Benchrester

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 07, 2019

Harvey A. Donaldson may be best known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp wildcat cartridge, but...

See More Trending Articles

More Optics

With everything from new riflescopes through red-dot handgun sights to rangefinding binoculars, there are plenty of fresh new optics for 2019. Optics

30 New Optics for 2019

Steve Gash - August 23, 2019

With everything from new riflescopes through red-dot handgun sights to rangefinding...

TRUGLO has a new series of red-dot optics designed for close-quarter, fast-sight acquisition scenarios. Two optics are offered: IGNiTE 30mm and IGNiTE Mini. Optics

TRUGLO IGNiTE Mini Red Dot Optic

Jake Edmondson - June 10, 2020

TRUGLO has a new series of red-dot optics designed for close-quarter, fast-sight acquisition...

Manufactured in the USA, the EOTech EXPS2 HWS provides extremely fast reticle-on-target acquisition out to 300 meters. Optics

EOTech EXPS2 Holographic Weapon Sight Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - March 16, 2020

Manufactured in the USA, the EOTech EXPS2 HWS provides extremely fast reticle-on-target...

The Trijicon MRO (Mini Rifle Optic) is now offered with a green dot. Optics

Trijicon Green Dot MRO Review

John D. Oller - March 01, 2019

The Trijicon MRO (Mini Rifle Optic) is now offered with a green dot.

See More Optics

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now