Best Rifle Scope for Deer Hunting
If only you could try out every single deer hunting scope on the market and get a feel for your favorite one! But money is an issue since a quality rifle scope can cost hundreds to even thousands of dollars, depending on the brand and the features.
On the other hand, choosing the right kind of rifle scope is essential to your hunt, whether you’re hunting for competitive trophies, as a hobby, or even for food. You may only get one shot at your game, so you need to buy the right kind of scope the first time.
That’s why we decided to review the ten best deer hunting scopes on the market according to popularity and reputation. In this guide, we will list the best features of each scope, as well as any downsides, and give you our take on why it’s the best rifle for your situation.
Our Top Choice
The Leupold Rifleman Rifle Scope doesn’t have the most amazing features of our list, but if you’ve already bought the perfect rifle, it’s a companion piece you will be proud to attach. The Leupold has excellent light balance, a strong magnification system, and a guaranteed promise of quality.
The 10 Best Deer Hunting Rifle Scopes for Every Occasion
Let’s consider first some very advanced models that provide extra features, followed by more budget-friendly options.
1. Leupold Rifleman Rifle Scope
An affordable rifle scope that still offers the most competitive features
The Leupold 3-9x50mm Rifleman Scope focuses on light balance, especially in the twilight or dawn hours. Besides a 3-9 magnification system, the unit also has a 50mm objective lens diameter, which gives the hunter a larger exit pupil at 3.7 – 4.2 inches.
In low light situations, the scope provides maximum light and clarity along with solid construction. The wide duplex reticle and second focal plane allow for accurate shooting and a field of view from 13 to 33 feet at 100 yards.
Despite being relatively small and not too pricey, the unit is also durable and can withstand water, weather, shock, and fog. The Leupold Lifetime guarantee speaks to the quality of the lens system. The unit’s 1/2 minute-of-angle friction windage and elevation dials are also easy to adjust with a 56 range.
- Light balance and larger exit pupils for seeing clearly at all hours of the day
- Fair price and a quality 3-9/50 mm magnification system
- Lifetime warranty
- Wide Duplex reticle for excellent viewing from a distance
- Many of the best features are sold separately
An ideal choice if you’re hunting at dusk or dawn hours and built with quality in mind, as it has a large lens, and exit pupil, which will keep things bright at all hours. The scope’s rugged durability is also the talk of most reviewers, who never need a refund, thanks to the quality and lifetime guarantee.
Runner Up: Pulsar Thermion XP50 Thermal Riflescope
If money isn’t an issue, enjoy your hunt in style
Let’s put the Pulsar Thermion XP50 Thermal Riflescope PL76543 in its own “If money is not an issue” category. There’s no question high-end thermal scopes are expensive. But the scope’s 1,975-yard detection range lets you see deer from a distance in ways beyond glass scopes.
You pay a four-figure price for a 1024×768 HD AMOLED display that lets you see potential targets and get a built-in recording device with recoil activation. Now you can capture those pivotal moments on video for all those “pictures or it didn’t happen” hunting buddies.
The picture-in-picture digital zoom allows you to focus on a specific target while still keeping your clear field of view – no problems with “out of focus” surroundings. You will notice the difference immediately when hunting an elusive target.
- Picture-in-a-picture display, no loss of focus when zooming
- Auto-records when you shoot
- Five profiles and 50 zero saves so you can save time on recalibrating
- 13 reticles to customize your shooting style
- We’re talking thousands here, so don’t expect any big savings
It has excellent features, multiple reticles, and a cool video recording component. If you’re going to splurge and forfeit a great rifle for a great riflescope instead, this one is your winner.
Premium Choice: TN OPMOD ThOR LT 3-6x Scope
Most versatile imaging high-tech features
The ATN OPMOD ThOR Thermal Scope has a 1280×720 HD display for thermal imaging, handling day or night shots with ease. When preparing for a shot, you have a choice between white-hot (broad temperatures, long-range, mostly inanimate objects) or black hot, which lets you take a sharper focus on details.
The ultra-light rifle scope also conserves energy, allowing for over ten hours of continuous battery power – ideal for a long hunt. The product also comes with a Quick Detach Mount and can be moved from platform to platform without losing your zero.
The 68 MOA circle dot reticle is unique and considered by some to be one of the fastest on the market. Not only is the reticle fast, but it also has intuitive ranging capabilities.
- Black hot or white viewing
- Weather and recoil resistant
- Lightweight so can be mounted on many platforms
- Multiple reticle patterns and colors
- Still moderately expensive
Ideal for hunting all hours of the day, and with its great battery time and black/white viewing, you get full control for every situation that might come up. The product’s versatility is unmatched.
Affordable Choice: Primary Arms Orion Riflescope
Best magnification options for an affordable brand
The Primary Arms Orion 4-14×44 Riflescope comes with a patented ACSS reticle, which helps estimate range for your targets without any math or book-searching necessary. You get a magnification range from 4x to 44x, along with the ability to quickly change the range and adjust windage and elevation turrets.
Make adjustments with your fingers, and never lose your shot. The parallax adjustment knob keeps the reticle free of parallax, which is the effect of an object appearing to be different when viewed from other vantage points. The image remains sharp even at long ranges.
- Easy to mount
- Adjust for windage and elevation with ease
- Parallax adjustment for sharp focus
- Water-resistant and fog-resistant
- Some complain the reticle is too small on lower power settings
The riflescope is easy to work with and for estimating range. Speaking of which, how about the power of its settings? From 4-14 x 44, meaning you can zoom in close and keep the same clear quality you need to track. These features, plus the affordable price, makes it a contender.
Budget Choice: Tasco 3-9×40 World Class Rifle Scope
Budget price but definitely not cheap
The Tasco World Class Rifle sounds like it delivers the best in the world. Maybe it does, at least, for the $50 price range. You won’t get anything too high tech for a budget riflescope, but the good news is that the Tasco still offers a 3-9×40 magnification system along with a 30/30 reticle.
Most reviewers agree this is a fine quality product at a low price. In fact, it has some of the better features of higher-end products, such as SuperCon coating for brighter images and a clearer picture, even in low light hours.
- Very low cost for any new hunter’s budget
- Basic magnification system included at 3-9×40
- SuperCon quality coating for brighter images even in less than ideal hours
- Black matte finish to reduce glare
- No warranty
- Fairly basic design
The most affordable option, and frankly, an excellent choice for the first-time buyer who is nervous about buying something too big too soon. The Tasco offers a decent magnification system and is constructed to last and resist every threat.
Other Options: Vortex Crossfire II Adjustable Objective Rifle Scope
Solid construction, reasonable price and a powerful magnification system
The Vortex Crossfire II has a 4-12×50 Adjustable Objective magnification system that gives you a very clear image for medium to long-range hunting. You can zoom from 4x to 12x and fine-tune the focus to eliminate distractions that come from parallax viewing problems.
The eyepiece has a fast-focus technology that lets you quickly target your game, while the multi-coated optics help to affect light transmission rates. The Vortex Crossfire II is ideal for hunting at any time of day, even peak hunting times of twilight and dawn.
The aircraft-grade aluminum construction is solid, and the finish with an anodized black matte finish cuts down on glare that could scare your game away.
- Adjustable objective for no parallax errors
- Multi-coated lens to assist in difficult sunlight hours
- Single piece and tube-like in size
- Clear through all zoom ranges
- Uses high rings to accommodate a bigger lens
Not the best zooming capabilities, but an excellent range with crisp light, thanks to its 4-12×50 AO system. Though a low-cost product, it receives enthusiastic reviews for its simplicity and lightweight design.
Other Options: Burris Droptine Riflescope
Best stealthing scope for the once in a lifetime shot
Named after the drop tine whitetail buck”, this riflescope is built for that once in a lifetime shot. The Burris Droptine Riflescope offers 4.5-14x42mm magnification and precision-ground glass with a multi-coated lens. The lens gives you excellent low-light viewing but without distracting glares.
The construct is solid but also double-spring tensioned, making it a lifetime product – with a warranty to back it up. The turrets are not only finger-adjustable when split-seconds count but are also made to be low-profile, so they don’t attract attention. The scope also has holdovers for faraway snapshots and a separate eyepiece and power ring.
- Forever warranty, even transferable to new owners
- Low-light viewing
- The double sprint tensioned for durability
- Finger adjustable turrets
- Fine quality at a reasonable price
- Magnification adjustment ring can be awkward to deal with
An excellent magnification system and a forever warranty make this a competitive product, even if it’s not the flashiest choice.
Other Options: Nikon P-Tactical Scope
Best New-Age Optics for Affordable Scope
The Nikon P-Tactical Scope scope works on multiple platforms and has a versatile 3x zoom ratio for providing a better field of view at the low end and more detail at the high end.
The MK1-MOA and MK1-MRAD reticles are made to match turrets and have directional indicators for easy viewing. They also have hash marks from 100 to 600 yards. Reticles match preferred calibers, and thanks to Spot On Ballistic Technology, they have exact holdover points and elevation adjustment for saving time.
- Unique open circle aiming points with the BDC reticle
- Easy to see hash marks that represent 100-600 yards
- Spring-loaded instant zero resets for fast operation
- Elevated windage/elevation turrets
- Some complaint the reticle is hard to see in some conditions
Its unique open circle aiming points will be appreciated by some, not so much by others. But it’s hard to deny the 100-600 yards range is great for the medium price category.
Other Options: Bushnell Engage Riflescope
Long-range scope that doesn’t skimp on the best features
The Bushnell Engage Riflescope has a 30mm tube and comes in multiple magnification sizes, from 2.5-10x44mm to 6-24x50mm. The scope has a deploy minute-of-angle reticle with 1-MOA windage and elevation hash marks for easy tracking. Reticles allow for easy visibility for short or mid-range shooting.
The Toolless Zero Reset Locking Turret makes it easy to dial in the scope, and no other tools are needed for locking in or releasing. You can adjust settings with a side-mounted dial while the protective lens is coated to repel water, oil, fog, dust, and debris. The anti-reflection coating lets you see with true color and high brightness for clarity.
- Not cheap but not too expensive
- High magnification options and superior reticles
- Multi-coated lenses for optimal viewing
- Locking turrets that don’t budge unless you make them
- No warranty
Not just constructed to last, but coated to get the best image possible, while staying resistant to the elements. It’s not quite affordable, but also not as expensive as the high-end models. This could be your next buy after a cheaper novice product.
Other Options: Steiner T5Xi Tactical Rifle Scope
Best choice for competitive-level hunting
The Steiner T5Xi tactical rifle provides the ultimate in accuracy thanks to a 3-15x50mm magnification system, an oversized 34mm tube, and long-range vision thanks to illuminated etched glass.
The Special Competition Reticle puts the product in a competitive category, offering extended illumination area and windage and holdover lines. Ranging brackets (1/10) allow for more precise ranges, while the Second Rotation Indicator helps keep you focused by automatically changing the mil numbers on the scale after 120 clicks.
Its accuracy makes it ideal not only for competitive deer hunting but also, in the company’s own words, “ideal even for law enforcement”…you know, if there was a crazy deer wanted by police. The high price of the Steiner T5Xi justifies its clarity and long-range tactical abilities.
- Special Competition Reticle for long-range competition
- Sharp image clarity and multi-coated lens for light transmission protects from low-light settings
- Never-Lost turrets thanks to Second Rotation Indicator
- Lifetime warranty and no receipt needed
- Some do complain about parallax problems, though the company is excellent about replacing products
It’s hard to deny the quality of a deer hunting scope that could easily pass as a law enforcement tool. The magnification system is excellent and the clarity is unmatched. A lifetime warranty is the least they could do for such a high price tag.
While reputation and durability are a good start, the most important features are the technical aspects, including details on the lens and the reticle.
Choosing the Objective Lens
You can’t go wrong with a larger lens when you go deer hunting, and so larger lenses tend to be more expensive than a smaller lens. The larger the lens, the more light can come through, and that means clearer images.
The number after the X is the diameter (across) of the lens in millimeters. The term objective refers to the glass at the front of the scope. The objective lens gathers light and focuses it on producing the image. The larger the lens, the more light is allowed in for a brighter image.
Just remember, the larger the lens, the heavier the scope. That could be a problem for lighter rifles. It may be too heavy for you to carry or possibly too awkward to carry around and aim without alerting your target.
Larger lenses also require higher mounting rings. Otherwise, it can cause vision-accuracy problems and discomfort against your cheek.
Reticles refer to the fine lines inside the eyepiece that are used for measuring. These lines give you an aiming point at the center, letting you know where to shoot. Crosshair reticles are made out of wire, but most reticles are glass-etched. Glass-etched reticles carry a reputation as being stronger and unbreakable.
Reticles can be very different in design. Some are made for hunting, and some are ideal for other shooting activities. There are also different reticles for hunting many animals, large, medium, and small.
Besides having an accompanying laser-rangefinder unit, the most expensive reticles tend to have special technology to improve vision in low lighting situations. Illuminated reticles are also more expensive but give you a better shot in the dusk and dawn hours.
Understanding Bullet Drop
A bullet-drop-compensation reticle is a special ballistics reticle that gives you a “true point of aim” when firing at a known distance. The BDC compensates for “bullet drop,” which is the projectile’s vertical distance below the line of departure.
You will see distance markers indicating the range with ballistic reticles, usually by hash marks or dots. You can also make sure of its accuracy at a shooting range or, in some cases, with the company’s online validation program.
Long-range shooting involves more bullet drop. No wonder then, some scopes come with holdover positions and bullet trajectory prediction systems, because hunters take accurate shooting seriously! You may also notice that with reticles come target turrets resettable to zero and even lockable, so you don’t have to adjust when taking a shot.
Illuminated reticles are more expensive but give you an advantage in twilight or nighttime hours.
Why Multi-Coated Lenses Matter
While multi-coated lenses used to be a high-end option, many budget scopes now feature the same coatings. You can still see images from afar with a special coating, even if you’re in twilight or dawn hours, where lighting is scarce.
Sunset is a peak hunting time, so choose a deer hunting scope with multi-coated lenses and keep them clear, sharp, and colorful even in low light.
Easy Mounting and Matte Finish
Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of mounting. Mounting should be done in seconds with a plug and play style of construction. Complicated adjustments are nearly impossible to work with when you’re trying to keep a low profile.
You might also notice many rifle scopes are made with anti-glare features and painted in a black matte finish. The style helps to prevent glare, which can scare away game in a second.
Figuring Out the Magnification Range
One of the first features highlighted in any scope is its magnification system. The first two numbers in the title (such as 4×44) represent the magnification capability. A 4x scope means that the image appears four times larger than what it appears to your eyesight.
Singular numbers mean a fixed power scope, while a number with a dash (like 4.5-14) means the product has a variable power optic. You can adjust the magnification settings. In some cases, products may also sell a number of devices with different magnification settings for the same product line.
Most serious hunters agree, don’t go below 9x magnification, since it’s difficult to keep your shot accurate when you can’t see as clearly. Keep in mind that clarity and brightness might be compromised with a high zoom setting with less expensive scopes. Better magnification systems mean better clarity, even at an 18x setting.
However, higher magnification is expensive and can make the price soar. The Field of View is also compromised, the more the image is magnified. With a smaller Field of View, you won’t be able to follow moving targets very well. Some products include reminders about game targets and what magnification/settings are ideal for hunting.
For closer range and daylight hours, lower magnification settings would work fine. However, for targets over 200 yards away, long-range scopes give you a better zoom.
Long-range scopes should also have parallax adjuster technology, which reduces the parallax effect of an object appearing to be different when viewed from different angles.
Frequently Asked Questions About Deer Rifle Scopes
In case you still feel unsure about some of those specifications, or have other concerns about deer hunting, here are some frequently asked questions and answers.
Why do some companies offer a warranty while others don’t?
Despite a high standard for many of these products, not every company offers an extended warranty. Naturally, the high-end products come with a lifetime warranty, even one where receipts are not required, and new owners can still return the product for a replacement.
Many of the best-quality rifle scopes are made with solid aluminum construction for durability. However, it’s the nitrogen-purged materials that prevent problems with water rust, shock, and fog. Affordable scopes, however, are usually not covered by a warranty. Or as a compromise, some products come with a limited warranty, perhaps two years, or covering only major parts.
Do you always need a scope?
Practically everyone agrees, magnification and low-light settings improve the accuracy of a shot. However, some hunters still prefer to use iron sights, which are the shaped markers on the rifle itself. Their reasoning is usually based on:
- Not wanting to damage the expensive rifle with a heavy scope
- Excessive weight
- No plans to shoot outside 100 yards
- Scopes may hinder close shots or moving deer – see the field of view problem
- Problems with the individual hunter’s vision; bifocals, etc.
Which scope should I buy first?
The correct answer is inevitably, the scope (or lack of a scope) you find personally comfortable. Granted, you can’t always try every product you see advertised.
But when in doubt, it can’t hurt to start small, with an affordable scope, and then work your way up to a high-tech option as you gain more experience. You might not even fully appreciate a high-end scope until you experience the limitations of an affordable-class scope.
Should I spend more money on a rifle or a scope?
While some purists are fine without deer hunting scopes, others wouldn’t even try to hunt without them. Some on the other side of the debate even claim that you should spend more money on the scope than the rifle. Rifles do one job.
A scope, on the other hand, can do so much more in terms of helping you take the perfect shot. They can help you adapt to the environment and that’s pivotal when you hunt a variety of terrains.
The Leupold 3-9x50mm Rifleman Scope was our favorite because it wasn’t high-priced, and yet included the most important features of those high-priced options – just without the niceties that push it out of the range of affordable.
If you can’t afford to cut a massive check this month, this affordable scope has all the best features of the more advanced systems, not to mention a lifetime warranty.
As you buy your first rifle scope, remember that in most cases, you will only have “one shot” to claim your target. Deer can run away in less than a second, and can reach up to 35 miles per hour, surpassing even the fastest human.
If you’re going to take that once-in-a-lifetime shot, so to speak, prepare for it. Invest in a quality scope that you can comfortably afford and learn its unique feel. Prepare for your next hunt and you will see a major difference in the game you catch.
Why not sample a scope and get started in your new adventures in huntings – this time with more accurate shooting?