Best Rifle Scope for Deer Hunting: Our Top 7 (Including Low Budget Options)
Last Updated: May 12, 2020
Deer hunting isn't just a favorite, American pastime, it's also a primal lifestyle for so many who depend on the meat, fur, and hide to provide a living.
So, what's the best scope to fill your tag and put some game meat on the grill?
If you were to ask any of the 15 million hunters in the United States who take to the timber and open fields for their tucker, you might hear a few of the same scopes mentioned over and over again.
We're here to confirm that some scopes really are worth the hype!
QUICK LIST: 7 Best Rifle Scopes For Deer Hunting In 2020
- Leupold VX-3i3.5-10X40mm
- Swarovski Optik Z5 3.5-18X44
- NightForce SHV5-20X56mm
- Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27X50
- Vortex Diamondback 4-12X40mm BDC Reticle
- Vortex Viper HS Long Range 4-16X50
- Nikon Buckmasters II 3-9X40mm BDC Reticle
Best Deer Hunting Rifle Scopes
|Leupold VX-3i||CHECK PRICE|
|Swarovski Optik Z5||CHECK PRICE|
|NightForce SHV||CHECK PRICE|
|Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27X50||CHECK PRICE|
|Vortex Diamondback||CHECK PRICE|
|Vortex Viper HS LR||CHECK PRICE|
|Nikon Buckmasters II||CHECK PRICE|
Top 7 Best Rifle Scopes For Deer Hunting
When you think about what the "best" means, your mind might wander over to exposed turrets, FFP reticles, thick tubes, and long-ranging systems that you may never need in your hunting lifetime. These scopes kill it out in the field, but it might end up being the death of you if your other half ever sees how much you spent on one.
Not really looking for multiple zeros, parallax correction, or long-range specialty features? A normal hunting rifle scope is right up your alley too with our diverse lineup. But, how much is it going to cost you?
Tons of deer have been taken down with mediocre scopes, but there's also plenty more that are described as "the one that got away" because you didn't spend enough. But, the reality for many hunters is the fact that they don't have two grand, a grand, or even $600 to spend on the best scopes for hunting.
This is where we come in to show you what top dollar can buy you if you can afford it, and what scopes "make-it" more than "break-it" out in the field when your budget is cash-strapped. Since newbies are typically going to be the ones discovering their own personal standard, brands they want to be loyal to, and how much they want to spend on a scope, we'll impart to you some of the best advice we can offer:
"Buy your rifle to 'suit' your scope. Spend as much as you can afford plus a little more on your scope."
For you old timers, have fun upgrading with some of the newest scopes the industry has to offer. You might just fill all your tags this season with hyper-accuracy that's worth bragging about for decades. The proof is in the rack that's mounted to your wall and not in your story-telling memories.
1. Leupold VX-3i 3.5-10X40
Every hunter can trust Leupold to dish out a scope that's perfect for their needs and their hunting style. Looking for a scope that caters to the "normal" or standard style of hunting deer? If sub-250 yards sounds like your kinda style, our searches led us straight to the VX-3i.
With 3.5-10x magnification, you have as much power range as you'll need to get extremely accurate for your distances. While you might associate lower power range with daylight shooting, this Leupold ups the ante with some low light leverage: the Twilight Max Light Management System and Diamondcoat 2 formulas.
If there's a scope that offers maximum quality in its baseline fundamentals, it's this VX scope. Better yet, it's one of the most affordable buys in the series. You now never have an excuse not to top your rifle with quality when this scope is priced so low!
2. Swarovski Optik Z5 3.5-18X44
It's not the most expensive rifle scope we could suggest, and it's definitely not the top-of-the-line scope from the brand. But, the Z5 is one of the most affordable Swaro scopes with as much pimp and flair you could as for.
Everything about it is top-notch from its ballistic turret and 4W illuminated reticle to its 4-point coil system. It has the type of repeatability, robustness, and accuracy that you can only expect from a world-class brand like Swaro.
With both low (3.5x) and high (18x) magnification ranges, this scope will be enable you to take down deer a mere 75 yards from you to those long-distance ranges that might seem too taboo to mention. Versatile. Functional. Dependable. It's a number one scope for sure.
3. NightForce Optics SHV 5-20X56
Hunters who buy NightForce know how important it is to spend more on your scope or at least equal to what you spent on your rifle. They know that a quality scope is what will land you your trophy rack at the end of the day.
The SHV is made for the shooter, hunter, and varminter, and there is nothing shy about this scope. With a huge 56 mm objective lens, 30 mm tube, and a serious illuminated MOA reticle, no deer can hide, strut, or leap away from you ever again.
If you're serious about long range shooting, the SHV is a NightForce. NightForce is the definition of putting those "beyond" distances into reach. Deer too far? Not anymore!
4. Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27x50
Athlon made a strong entrance into the optics industry when they came out with high-quality products for half the price. Having high-performance options on an average budget means a lot and that's exactly what Athlon Optics is about and out to provide. The Ares BTR 4.5-27x50 rifle scope is just one of Athlon's best scopes that deserves its 15 minutes of fame in our lineup.
- Glass-etched/FFP reticle
- HD glass
- Zero Stop
- One-piece construction
- Mushy turrets
For under $1000, it's hard to believe the Ares BTR has every feature you can comparatively see on a scope twice its price. First off, we're looking at a high power scope with 4.5-27x magnification. Specialized glass coatings include Wide Band Fully Multi-coated coatings and an external Xtra Protective Coating.
It's built for long-range use with its 24 mil of elevation and windage adjustment travel. The glass-etched APLR3 mil-based reticle is easily readable with its illuminated center. It's in the first focal plane for accurate use at any magnification range.
Low light conditions pose no problem for the Ares BTR since it has an illuminated reticle, large 50 mm aperture, and ED glass for HD quality. The Zero Stop feature allows you to return to your zero without looking, and of course, it's fog, water, and shockproof. It hasn't been nitrogen-filled because it's been argon-purged - a luxury feature indeed.
While the turrets track accurately and are consistent and repeatable, some users report adjustments are not crisp enough for their liking - too fluid and easy to click. However, this would have to be something you'd need to check out in person before down-thumbing the Ares BTR.
All in all, the Athlon scope is well worth the price and worth buying - we wouldn’t place it in our lineup if it wasn't!
5. Vortex Diamondback 4-12X40
This is the perfect example of what a deer hunter will want in a rifle scope. You have a little more reach for flexible shots over a 3-9x40 and an uncomplicated BDC reticle. With quality optics, fast focus eyepiece, light weight, and full weatherproof housing, you won't be left wanting.
The Diamondback is about as simple as you can get without compromising on overall quality. That's why we love Vortex and many other buyers do too.
To take down deer within comfortable ranges that don't require advanced, long range ballistics and state-of-the-art tech, this scope will get 'er done.
Vortex knows how to deliver value. Do you know how to jump on it?
6. Vortex Viper HS Long Range 4-16X50
It might seem like overkill to put this on your rifle for sub-200-yard deer hunting, and it is. But, if you're taking longer shots than this, or you hope to be, the Viper HS may be your ticket into actually making those long shots count and not as an unintentional warning sign to deer to get the heck out of there.
The Viper HS is a favorite for deer hunters who appreciate the robustness of the 30 mm tube, its zero reset and tactical turrets, and Vortex's iconic optical clarity. The attractive element of the Viper is the quality, features, and magnification offered in this price range. For these reasons, the Viper HS Long Range scope should be on your wish list if you want value in your scope buy!
7. Nikon Buckmasters II 3-9X40
If you're going to go as bottom-dollar as you possible can, then do it with Nikon. You want to be very brand-specific if you're on a tight budget. You're very fortunate there's a quality option in the market for you penny-pinchers. The Buckmasters is your no-frills buy, but you can trust that you'll make your shot since this is made specifically for deer hunters.
With 3-9x magnification, you have comfortable, mid-long range shots made easy. The BDC reticle with see-through dots make taking those shots even easier. While clarity quality may be a tad compromised, a bit of a blurry image is okay. You don't need the kind of sharpness expected to resolve the difference of a tick from a deer louse fly on the deer's coat, but you do need to be able to tell the difference between a stump and a deer rack at 150 yards.
With this Nikon on your rifle, you can depend on more quality than you can imagine versus the cost out the door to get it. Again, you're darn lucky there's a Buckmaster available to you!
What to Look For in a Rifle Scope For Deer Hunting
While we've mentioned a few top-end brands, we've also tried to keep the lineup relevant with alternatives for those on a budget. However, whether it's a $200 scope or a $2000 one, you always want to look for a scope's ability to retain zero and provide repeatability. They should also provide better than average optical quality and be somewhat waterproof and dustproof. More expensive and long-range units should provide turret accuracy.
Opting for a cheaper scope may be the best decision for your hunt. They'll be good for hunting terrains where there's a lot of light like during the day. More expensive scopes may be better suited for low light hours where you need that extra quality. As you can see, your hunting style also plays a role in how much you think you need to spend versus how much you want to spend.
Here's where we give you an idea of what features you'll need to confidently depend on your scope day-in and day-out for many hunting seasons to come.
- Quality glass - To have the best, it will cost you. But, if you're restricted to a tight budget, try to be brand-specific.
- Quality coatings - This should be the same as how you shop for glass. The higher quality glass, the higher quality coatings it will have. Be brand-specific if you're buying a cheaper scope.
- Magnification - Clarity and sharpness is always going to be better at lower power. Try to stay under 10x when shopping for scopes under $300.
- Repeatability - It doesn't matter how much your scope costs, if it holds zero even after eons, it's an excellent scope. However, spending more doesn't always mean you're being guaranteed repeatability. Review scopes to get an idea of their track record. This also might mean being brand-specific.
- Turret/reticle accuracy - Pay attention to accuracy, clicking quality, and reticle movement when you sight-in to ensure windage and bullet drop corrections will be right where you need them to be. This is a must for higher-end scopes and not recommended on budget scopes.
- Low light quality - If you know deer are more active around dusk and dawn, you're going to want a scope with high quality glass, coatings, and large aperture.
- Cost - Those hunting further distances in strenuous conditions like low light will want to invest more in their scope. Those hunting during daylight hours for sub-200 yards can get away with more affordable options.
- Warranty - Most scopes come with a limited lifetime warranty these days. If you're putting in quite the investment into your scope, you might want to be brand-specific to ensure you get the customer service and repair/replacement coverage you deserve and expect.
Many Prey, One Scope
Hunting deer has been done for eons. It's primitive, fulfilling, and it provides. While you don't specifically need a scope for deer, one for bears, and one for coyotes, a good deer scope should be able to cater to many hunting applications.
The trick in finding the right one that's going to be versatile enough is to pay attention to magnification ranges to determine how far your hunting yardage is, and to always spend on quality where it matters most - with the glass.