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.
Top Low Light Hunting 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.
But, if you like to live large, or you want to know what brands are going to do it best, feel free to browse our quick links to your potential low light rifle scope that will last a lifetime. You only live once right?
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!
|Swarovski Z6i||3-18X 50mm||4A-I||Over $2500||View on Amazon|
|Meopta MeoStar R1r||3-12X 56mm||C4||Under $1500||View on Amazon|
|Vortex Crossfire II Hog Hunter||3-12X 56mm||Illuminated V-Brite||Under $300||View on Amazon|
|Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn||3-9X 40mm||Multi-X||Under $100||View on Amazon|
|Barska Huntmaster Pro IR||3-12X 50mm||30/30||Under $100||View on Amazon|
|Weaver Kaspa||3-12X 50mm||Dual-X||Under $200||View on Amazon|
Top 6 Best Low Light Rifle Scopes
Swarovski Z6i 3-18X50
Why not top our lineup with the best of the best scope that can out-perform almost any scope on the market? Granted, it’s not a Z8i, but we did promise at least some affordability and the compromise is the Z6i!
Mount this Swaro to whatever predator rifle you want. It has a 4-point coil system with a 30mm tube to hold up to all the recoil you can dish out. It’s also going to hold zero and stay intact no matter what. So, when it gets tossed and tumbled in the bed of the truck from going in and out with each set you might hit this morning and tonight, rest assured your scope will be as reliable as it was the day you zeroed it.
To help with positive target acquisition, you have 3-18x, a large 50mm aperture, and an illuminated center-dot reticle. It goes without saying that it’s a Swaro, so you haven’t seen what good glass can do in low light until you’ve peered through one of these!
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!
Vortex Crossfire II 3-12X56 AO Hog Hunter
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 owner, be one with this low light champ. The hogs won’t like it, but you sure will!
Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn 3-9X40
Ah yes, an underdog makes an appearance in our lineup. The odds of already owning a 3-9×40 scope are more than likely. But, what about owning a 3-9×40 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!
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!
Weaver Kaspa 3-12X50
Weaver shouldn’t be underestimated because they’re a solid brand. This Weaver Kaspa 3-12X50 scope has what it takes to be a decent low light scope: fully multi-coated optics, large aperture, and it holds zero.
If you’re varmint hunting, feel free to mount the Kaspa to your .22-250 to take down that pesky coyote tonight. It’s super light-weight and compact, so it’s a great scope to pair with your scout rifle. When you’ve successfully taken down your prey in the last light of day, you won’t be underestimating the Kaspa any longer.
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 (NV) 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!