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If you're a predator hunter, then you know how important good glass is for a successful hunt. Game will bed down to escape the heat of the day and rise playful and hungry during dusk and dawn.
These hunting hours can make it difficult for hunters to see prey, let alone take a well-placed shot. What's the given? To give up? Heck, no! You need a good low-light scope. The kind of scope that can show you what's several yards in front of you when you can't see a darn thing.
What scopes are best for low light hours? Let's shed some light on the matter.
QUICK LIST: 7 Best Low Light Rifle Scopes In 2021
- NightForce ATACR 5-25X56 F1
- Vortex Viper HS 2.5-10x44
- Meopta MeoStar R1r
- Vortex Crossfire II Hog Hunter - Best Under $300
- Sig Sauer Whiskey3 - Best Under $200
- Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn - Best Under $100
- Barska Huntmaster Pro IR
Top Low Light Hunting Rifle Scopes
|NightForce ATACR||CHECK PRICE|
|Vortex Viper HS||CHECK PRICE|
|Meopta MeoStar R1r||CHECK PRICE|
|Vortex Crossfire II Hog Hunter||CHECK PRICE|
|Sig Sauer Whiskey3||CHECK PRICE|
|Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn||CHECK PRICE|
|Barska Huntmaster Pro IR||CHECK PRICE|
Top 7 Best Low Light Rifle Scopes
Getting into position before pre-light dawn hours are a must if you're going to increase your chances of being stealthy and catching some mature buck unaware. You might even head out a few hours before nightfall and set-up for the soon-to-be grazing passersby. To get those last-minute shots in during legal light, you've got to have a scope that can transmit as much ambient light as possible.
What would that kind of scope look like? Big objective lens, maybe an illuminated reticle, and definitely awesome glass. If you don't spend enough on your scope, you may as well go home or stick to popping off groundhogs in the broad light of day.
However, while we'd like to indulge you by only featuring the crème de la crème of low light scopes, we'd only be creating a wish list that might never be a reality for the average hunter. To provide as much practical information as possible, we'll also throw a few underdog scopes in the lineup that have proven their worth to real hunters out in the field.
For those on a budget, we've recommended tried-and-true scopes that have held up well in the field. While price is a good indicator of quality, you might be surprised that some price-friendly brands can do it right and are the exception to the rule. In turn, this means landing a bargain-counter scope that can spot your trophy buck when the naked eye fails you!
1. NightForce ATACR 5-25X56 F1
Deer and coyotes aren't the only critters that demand the best quality glass from a rifle scope come low light. There are other types of creepy crawlies and critters that law enforcement, military, and other tactical shooters are hunting once twilight rolls in. Regardless of time of day, the ATACR is the professional scope of choice if you want to shoot like one.
- FFP reticle
- Digillum illumination
- MOAR reticle
- Wide MOA adjustments
ATACR scopes have never been in the affordable price range and they never ought to be. These scopes are the best of the best when it comes to owning low light champs of the night. This model has high power of 5-25x with a huge 56 mm objective on a whopping 34 mm tube body. As you can guess, it's not your lightweight scope at 38 ounces. You best have some muscle strength if you're mounting this to a big, bad-boy rifle.
Adjustment range is like everything else on this scope - extreme. With 120 MOA elevation and 80 MOA windage travel, nothing is beyond your reach. Each revolution offers 30 MOA. Expect to see usable detail no matter the time of day with the scope's ED glass, illuminated MOAR reticle, and the reticle sitting in the first focal plane.
Use the ZeroStop to swiftly get back to zero, and take advantage of the power throw lever to zoom in or out of the sight picture. Make use of the included sunshade and lens covers NightForce kindly throws in.
Extreme long-range precision is this scope's expertise, and precision is even more important to achieve when light conditions are set against you. It's situations like these that calls for a NightForce. It's situations like these that justifies buying an ATACR.
2. Vortex Viper HS 2.5-10x44
If you’re looking for a dependable, multi-purpose, low-light champ at a decent price point, the Viper HS 2.5-10x44 scope is a refreshing option.
- Board power range
- Great glass
- 30mm tube
- Dead-Hold BDC reticle
- Thin center crosshairs
This Viper HS may be small compared to the larger 56mm low-light champs available, but you don’t always need a bigger scope to acquire maximum rifle scope brightness. Larger apertures usually mean higher power, and with higher power comes faster degradation of effective range and image quality.
When you’re in the treestand, thick woods, or even open-plain hunting at last legal light, you need great glass, maximum usable exit pupil, and a working magnification setting that allows you to do it all.
Enter here the 2.5-10x44 Viper.
ED glass, build integrity, and light weight – the Viper has it. If you’re typically sitting within the 4-8x power range, you’ll be right at home with the scope. At 6x power, you’re only compromising 1mm of exit pupil that you could acquire with a 50mm scope at 6x. But you’ll be paying more in cost and weight for the larger size.
The Dead-Hold BDC MOA reticle is simple, easy to employ, and you have some windage and bullet drop references on board to work with. The center crosshairs are thin, but the outer posts are slightly thicker but do not inhibit full use. An illuminated center dot could make it even more effective. While it’s not an in-your-face scope that would strike you as a low-light performer, it certainly qualifies. For a scope under $500 and worth every dime, it’ll pay for itself when you’ve filled your tag minutes within last legal light.
3. Meopta MeoStar R1r 3-12X56
Meopta deserves a lot more recognition in the American market. Their optics are right on par with scopes like Zeiss, and they have an advantage over all those world-class brands - price.
This scope is lacking nothing, and it's a low light legend! The fast focus eyepiece with the glass-etched, illuminated center-dot reticle helps to acquire a sight on your target instantly. The large objective lens allows in as much ambient light as possible, and your target won't be washed out once the last rays of the sun disappear. With seven brightness control settings, you can manage the illumination to suit your vision, preferences, and lighting conditions.
The MeoStar is built to withstand harsh abuse with its 30mm tube. It's built to provide a crystal-clear image no matter the hunting conditions. It's also built to impress. As far as we're concerned, it nailed it!
4. Vortex Crossfire II 3-12X56 AO Hog Hunter - Best Under $300
If it's feral hogs that have you up popping off rounds at night, then you will want the Crossfire Hog Hunter scope. It features an illuminated center-dot reticle with V-Brite that will provide an unparalleled, crystal-clear sight picture that you didn't know you could buy for this low price!
You get a 30mm tube body, an adjustable objective for parallax correction, and more than enough adjustment travel range for taking shots in low light conditions. There's a whole lotta hoo-ha thrown into this scope that you just can't pass up for the price.
If you want to finally be a Vortex scope owner, be one with this low light champ. The hogs won't like it, but you sure will!
5. Sig Sauer Whiskey3 3-9x40 – Best Under $200
When you’re looking for a hunting scope, you need a scope that can perform during daylight hours and show up during dusk and dawn. The Whiskey3 may be a budget alternative, but it’s affordable and can provide reliable, all-round performance.
- Quadplex reticle
- 80 MOA travel
- Fast-focus eyepiece
- IPX7 rated
- No accessories included
An illuminated reticle could make all the difference on a low-light scope, but it does crank up the price a bit. If you’re looking to get by without batteries and still get enough light to make shots at last and first legal light, a 3-9x40 will get it done.
However, not just any 3-9x40 will do. This Sig Sauer was made in the Phillipines, has LD glass, and FMC optics. Glass quality is more than decent enough to make those last-minute shots.
Although it has a 1” tube, it has tons of MOA travel, and you can also upgrade your elevation turret to a custom-etched ballistic turret. This may be a crucial perk for you since the QuadPlex reticle is limiting but is limiting in its own right. The duplex reticle has a purpose and place in the optics industry, like for hunters who shoot within 200 yards. Does this sound like you?
The Sig scope has excellent features such as a European fast-focus eyepiece, nitrogen-purged optics, and O-ring sealed chamber. The scope can hold its own in the field and still make sure you have sharp sights to do the deed in bright daylight or twilight.
It’s hard to find a trustworthy scope with a budget of $200 or less. Don’t settle for some unknown brand. Trust Sig.
6. Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn 3-9X40 - Best Under $100
Ah yes, an underdog makes an appearance in our lineup. The odds of already owning a 3-9x40 scope are more than likely. But, what about owning a 3-9x40 scope that has Dusk & Dawn Brightness (DDB) multi-coated coatings? Unless you already have this scope, chances are you don't.
This little guy can hold its own out in the field. It might not have all the fancy trappings that you'd see on a Swaro, but it does have quality where it matters most - glass and coatings. With the addition of DDB coatings, the Banner certainly has an edge for those critical windows of first and last daylight.
It holds zero, is designed to withstand heavy recoil, and it's compact and lightweight. If you want simple because simple gets it done, the Banner is your buy!
7. Barska Huntmaster Pro 3-12X50 IR
The Huntmaster Pro isn't a bad-looking scope. It almost has a tactile appearance with its additional dial on top of the eyepiece. What's that for anyway? It's the illumination knob for the illuminated reticle. That's right! A scope under $100 sports an illuminated reticle with 10 brightness settings. It's a center-lit cross that will help you get dead-on when deer like to blend in with their surroundings.
Hogs, coyotes, and all sorts of critters won't be able to get past you if you're wielding this scope tonight. With a large 50mm aperture, all-purpose reticle, and fully weatherproof and shockproof build, the Huntmaster Pro will have your back in the tree-stand or in the blind!
What to Look For in a Low Light Scope
When the sun starts going down or if hasn't yet come up, you're going to be struggling to make out details in the dark. Being able to discern antlers from brush or a bedded doe from a tree stump will make all the difference in the hunt - it's a make-it or break-it kind of deal.
What you'll need is enough mag power to zoom in on specific features. Big objective lenses have a role to play in the low light game. Illuminated reticles might be the must-have feature you'll need. But, most of all, it just comes down to good ol' glass. Scratch that - transcendent glass! The better the glass you can buy, the less likely you'll need to depend on other features that can complicate low light hunting.
We should take a minute to talk about exit pupil. If your rifle can tolerate a 50mm or bigger objective lens that's great. But, exit pupil will determine how much of that transmitted light your eyes can use. If the minimum amount of exit pupil is around the same size as your dilated eyes at night, you'll be in the right ball park - despite the objective lens size. For more on this topic, check out our "Objective Lens Diameter: Does it Matter?" article to get some perspective.
- Quality glass - This is the #1 feature to look at when buying a low light scope. Budget for the best of what you can afford plus some.
- Quality coatings - Coating quality should be in line with overall quality of the scope and glass.
- Magnification - Low light shortens your effective shooting range. Excellent glass with extra mag power will help you nail longer shots. Otherwise, 3-12x will be more than sufficient.
- Objective lens size - Bigger can be better, and apertures will be larger than 40mm. Note: the larger you go, you might have to think about higher mounting rings and the issues that come along with that.
- Reticles - Because of the shorter shooting range during low light, a simple crosshair is more than sufficient. Complicated reticles can complicate a shot taken in the dark.
- Illuminated reticles - If you're out earlier or later than most hunters, an illuminated reticle is a must-have.
- Cost - Budget for as much as you can. Be brand-specific when buying top-notch glass.
- Warranty - Most scopes will come with a limited lifetime warranty that's good enough. If you want to buy excellent customer service in the mix, be brand-specific.
Low Light or Night Vision Rifle Scopes?
Traditional low light scopes are different to night vision rifle scopes. NV is a whole breed of its own as you get into resolution, displays, and even thermal imaging. If you need the kind of dependability a NV scope can provide, check 'em out here.
They can be used in total darkness with the aid of an IR illuminator, or for extra covertness, upper Gen 3 scopes can provide surreal bright and clear images of prey several hundred yards away with only the moon and stars to work with for light. Of course, local, state, and federal regulations will vary for nighttime hunting, so be sure to check out the policies.
But, if you have a low light beast of a scope with you tonight, chances are, you'll be taking home your trophy rack that you nabbed at the last light of day. There's nothing more invigorating than that when you have good glass to depend on!