Ins and Outs of Scopes for AR-10: Expert Insights

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By Dennis Howard •  26 min read

Many shooters are under the misconception that the AR-10 rifle platform is an offshoot of the popular AR-15 rifles chambered in .223 Remington (5.56 NATO).

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The AR-10 was conceived first by Armalite in the 1950s. The AR-15 followed in 1957 when the U.S. Army wanted a rifle chambered for the 5.56 NATO round. The AR-10, chambered for the 7.62×51 NATO cartridge (.308 Winchester), has remained a favorite rifle design, and the larger and more powerful cartridge requires a different combination of features from a riflescope.

Before choosing a riflescope for an AR-10, it is important to understand the ballistic characteristics of the more popular loads for this rifle. You also need to have a solid idea of how you will most often use your AR-10.

Rifles used for hunting routinely need a different set of scope features than ones used strictly on the range for target shooting. Rifles used in three-gun competitive matches or carried as a duty rifle by law enforcement or military personnel have different needs and requirements.

Before I launch into my choices of the best riflescopes for an AR-10, I want to spend a little time on the typical cartridge, loads, and ballistic characteristics, and how that may affect your choice of rifle scopes.

The 7.62×51 NATO Cartridge (.308 Winchester)

The AR-10 platform rifle has traditionally been chambered for the 7.72×51 NATO cartridge.

This cartridge has almost identical external dimensions to the .308 Winchester cartridge. The two are so close that a rifle chambered for one can usually safely shoot the other.

Internally, the 7.62×51 NATO cartridge case has slightly thicker walls. This makes the internal dimensions smaller and allows a slightly smaller powder capacity. In all other aspects, the two cartridges are the same.

 .308 cartridge

When it comes to ballistics, the cartridges are almost identical as well.

Of course, the type of powder loaded, the size and the design of the bullet will affect the ballistic characteristics to a certain degree. Before you perform any custom loading, you should be thoroughly familiar with the reloading tables and data for the powder, bullet, and cartridge.

The Tale of the Ballistics Tables

Since most civilian shooters opt to shoot the .308 Winchester cartridge, that is what I will use for my data and testing for the balance of this article. 7.62×51 NATO cartridges are available, but the ammunition most widely available in the civilian market is .308 Winchester.

The testing and measurements shown below are based on a .308 commercially loaded cartridge shooting a 150 gr full metal jacket bullet. The ballistics information may vary depending on the manufacturer, the size of the bullet, and the powder loads.

Many shooters continue to choose the .308 Winchester because of its performance. As the ballistics table shows, out to 300 yards, the .308 Winchester is a relatively flat shooting cartridge. Between 300 and 500 yards, the bullet drop becomes more pronounced, but it is still acceptable in most instances.

However, if you go beyond 500 yards, the bullet drop becomes excessive rapidly, making accurate shots difficult.

Why is This Important in Selecting a Scope for AR 10?

Knowing the effective range of your rifle and cartridge is a determining factor in selecting your scope’s power, magnification, and features.

In the case of an AR-10 rifle and the .308 Winchester cartridge, it is highly unlikely that most shooters will expect to take shots over 500 yards routinely. Consequently, this distance is a factor in which scope for AR 10’s will perform adequately.

Other Factors in Choosing the Best Scope for AR 10 Rifle

As I began making the list of scopes to include in this article, I considered several basic factors that you should also remember as you shop for your rifle scope.

These are the factors I use, and I consider the most important to ensure that your scope and rifle work properly together for the shooting you intend to perform:

Type of Shooting

When considering the best scope for AR-10 platform rifles, you must make some decisions about the shooting you perform on a routine basis.

There is a lot of difference in the features you need in a scope for long-range shooting instead of a hunting scope. What types of game you are hunting can be a factor as well. If you are a competitive target shooting aficionado, then there are other critical factors to consider.

Defining the fundamental type of shooting you expect to perform is necessary for choosing the best scope for AR-10 rifles.

Magnification Range

Closely tied to the shooting you anticipate are the ranges involved. Precision long-range shooting requires a different approach to scope selection than finding the best scope for AR-10 rifles used for hunting most North American game animals.

One of the biggest mistakes I see some shooters make is putting too much scope on their rifles for the types of hunting or shooting they do.

Additionally, a poorly mounted scope on the best long range rifles will never give satisfactory results.

Reticle Style and Design

Rifle scope manufacturers seem to delight in creating new and different reticle designs to attract customers.

I find that many of these reticle designs are cluttered and difficult to use. I much prefer a simple reticle with clear and precise mil.dot or MOA markings.

In some cases, a reticle with bullet drop compensation features is a handy addition. However, with a little practice, the same sort of compensation can be done using standard hash marks on the reticle.

On the whole, reticles are based on mil.dot measurements or MOA measurements. Both angular measurements allow you to quickly calculate and adjust your rifle scope for windage and elevation.

Which type of reticle you choose is a purely personal preference.

Optical Glass Quality

If you want the best scope for AR-10 rifles, you must shop for the highest quality glass you can afford. The optical glass quality of any scope for AR 10 rifles is the foundation of how well your scope will perform.

A scope made with the finest materials, the highest quality craftsmanship, and with every feature you can imagine will still only deliver mediocre image quality if the optical glass is low-grade.

Image quality is everything in a scope. Poor image quality will make rapid target acquisition almost impossible.

You can find a budget scope with good optical glass that will work well in many circumstances. At max magnification levels, poor-quality glass will start to become a bigger problem and can turn a good scope for AR 10 into a mediocre-performing optic.

Construction and Materials

I always encourage my associates to buy the best rifle scopes they can afford. A well-constructed rifle scope made from the highest quality materials can easily become a tool that you can pass from generation to generation.

It can be hard to judge the quality of workmanship and materials from a cursory look at a scope at your local gun store.

My advice is to shop with known manufacturers with a reputation for producing quality materials, exerting the highest quality control standards, and who will provide a solid warranty on their product. Buy the best scopes you can afford with the features you need.

First Focal Plane or Second Focal Plane Reticle?

If you are shopping for a variable magnification scope for AR-10 rifles, you must decide on the focal plane of the reticle. This is another choice that is more about personal preference than one beginning better than the other.

Each has its advantages and disadvantages and depends greatly on how you use your rifle scope.

The key factor is how the reticle appears to your eye at higher magnification. A first focal plane scope puts the reticle before the magnification erector. As you increase or decrease the magnification of your scope, the reticle will get larger or smaller with the magnification.

The second focal plane scope puts the reticle image behind the magnification erector. As you increase magnification, the reticle remains the same size regardless of the magnification setting.

The Advantages of First Focal Plane Scopes

Many people who do long-range shooting prefer a first focal plane scope because the hash marks on the reticle are always sized relative to the target image, making range estimation and wind adjustments easier to see.

For long-range shooting, this can be a big advantage when hunting to make corrections on the fly.

The Disadvantages of THE First Focal Plane Scope

As the magnification increases, the size of the reticle also grows. This can put some of the markings on more advanced reticles out of the field of view at high magnifications.

Scope with complex bullet drop compensation reticles often suffers from this problem. At long range, parts of your scope reticle may not be visible or usable.

The Advantages of a Second Focal Plane RIfle Scope

Using a complex reticle design won’t lose any of your reticle information at high magnification with a second focal plane scope.

The reticle will remain static despite any magnification increases. This can be important to anyone using a tactical range estimating scope.

Second Focal Plane Reticle Disadvantages

At long range and high magnification, it may become difficult to use the hash marks on the reticle to perform any range or wind estimation. Since both MOA and Mil.dot scopes are angle measurements, you must mentally adjust the hashmark measurements at various longer ranges. Some shooters find this a challenge for long-range shooting.

My Take on The Best Scope for AR-10 RIfles

There is no one best scope for AR-10 rifles. All of the factors listed here must be considered when choosing the best scopes. This holds for any rifle and scope combination, not just scope for AR 10 firearms.

I have broken my list of best scopes for AR-10 rifles into categories by application and price. I will try to explain why I chose each scope for the category, what features I find important, and any advantages and disadvantages I see in the selection.

Best Overall AR-10 Scope – Vortex Optics Viper PST Gen II FFP Riflescope

Vortex Optics Viper PST Gen II FFP Riflescope

Choosing a rifle scope for the best overall category is always difficult. People see best overall and immediately assume that the scope chosen will do everything and do it well.

While I try to find a scope for this category that will perform reasonably well for any application, sometimes I don’t anticipate what people expect well.

In this case, however, my selection meets most of the needs of most shooters under average conditions.

Vortex Optics has a reputation in the industry for producing quality scopes at an affordable price that gives excellent performance. The Vortex Viper PST maintains this reputation and makes my list as the best scope for all-around use on an AR-10 rifle.

Why Does the Vortex Viper Get My Pick as the Best All-Around Scope?

Simply because it is at the top of the list in almost every category I use to pick a scope for an AR-10 rifle. We can check the list and see how the Vortex Viper stacks up.

I run a lot of Vortex scopes on different firearm platforms. When I compare prices, performance, and features, Vortex Optics scopes usually float to the top of my lists.

Features

Specifications

The Pros

The Cons

For a relatively long-range scope, the Vortex Viper is a real performer. You won’t get 1,000 yards out of this scope easily, but very few shooters or hunters go to that kind of distance.

I recommend the Vortex Viper Gen II if you are interested in a good all-around scope for an AR-10 rifle.

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Last update on 2023-02-08 at 10:02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Best Budget All-Around AR-10 Scope – Athlon Optics Talos BTR 4-14X44 FFP

Athlon Optics Talos BTR 4-14X44 FFP

If your budget won’t quite stretch for a Vortex Viper Scope, there are some alternatives to consider. One of my favorites is the line of optics from Athlon.

I have been quite impressed with the quality and clarity of these Athlon optics so much that I mounted one of my project rifles a few months ago. I have been very happy with the results and more than impressed with the price.

As an alternative to more expensive all-around scopes for your AR-10, I recommend the Athlon Optics Talos BTR 4-14X44 rifle scope.

This scope is loaded with features that you would normally expect to find only on scopes in a much higher price category. The quality of the glass is good. The construction and finish is very nice.

Features

Specifications

The Pros

The Cons

Surprisingly, the budget scope in my list is one of the few with parallax adjustments and a first focal plane reticle.

Athlon packs a lot of features into its scope while keeping the prices at a surprisingly reasonable level. I will admit that these are Chinese scopes using Chinese glass, but the quality is much higher than you might expect.

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Best Long-Range Scope for AR-10 Rifles – Nightforce NXS 5.5-22x50mm Rifle Scope

Nightforce NXS 5.5-22x50mm Rifle Scope

Nightforce has greatly impacted the rifle scope market since it introduced its first line of scopes in 1992.

The quality and performance of these scopes are well known and haven’t gone unnoticed by military and law enforcement. Many snipers in the U.S. Military routinely field Nightforce scopes as standard equipment.

There isn’t a much better recommendation to be had than to be used by some of the most elite special forces in the military.

For civilian use on an AR-10 platform, the Nightforce NXS 5.5-22x50mm scope is my choice as the best long-range scope for the money. If you want to get to the bottom line, Nightforce builds some of the best scopes on the market without question.

Why Does the NightForce NXS Scope Make My List?

When I start considering a long-range scope, I look at all my factors. But the one that gets more attention than anything else is the quality of the glass and the clarity of the images, especially at high magnification.

Nightforce uses Japanese glass, which rivals the best optical glass from Europe. The manufacturing quality equals the quality of the optical glass, which makes for a superior scope.

This is a professional-level rifle scope. If you want to step up your long-range shooting, this scope from Nightforce is certainly the choice.

This is a scope that will let you test your skills and the limits of any AR-10.

Features

Specifications

The Pros

The Cons

There are more expensive scopes on the market. The Nightforce NXS scope is certainly not to be considered a budget scope contender.

However, if you want the long-range performance, highest quality optics, and construction that is perhaps the most rugged available, then the price may seem to be right on target.

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Best Budget Long-Range AR-10 Scope – Riton Optics X3 Conquer 6-24X50 Rifle Scope

Riton Optics X3 Conquer 6-24X50 Rifle Scope

Even the most serious competitive long-range shooters balk at spending 2 or 3 times what they paid for a rifle on a scope.

AR-10 rifles can be had for between $500 and $1500. Putting a scope that costs 3 times that amount just for long-distance shooting is a tough nut to swallow.

If that is the situation for you, then take heart. Riton Optics may have a solution for you with its X3 Conquer 6-24X50 rifle scope.

If you don’t do a lot of close-range work, the Riton Optics X3 Conquer will let you push the limits of your AR-10 to your heart’s delight. These are feature-packed scopes with excellent quality at a reasonable price. I am seriously considering adding a Riton scope to one of my long-range rifles this coming spring.

Why Does the Riton X3 Conquer Make My List?

There are several reasons Riton gets a place on my list of best scopes for AR-10 rifles. You can use this scope for medium-range shooting.

However, the quality of this glass gives you long-range capability without the cost often associated with scopes that offer an extended shooting range. I am also impressed with Riton’s meticulous attention in building these scopes.

Features

Specifications

The Pros

The Cons

Riton offers one of the best warranties available. Each scope includes a lifetime warranty that requires no proof of purchase or registration requirements. In most cases, shipping the damaged scope back to Riton gets you a brand-new scope back in the mail.

Last update on 2023-02-08 at 14:32 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Best Tactical Scope for an AR-10 – Trijicon VCOG 1-6X24 Rifle Scope

Trijicon VCOG 1-6X24 Rifle Scope

A tactical scope may better fit your purposes if your hunting doesn’t involve long-range shooting but is performed where close-range or medium-range shots are the norm.

Typical tactical scopes are meant for working at a closer range where maneuverability is valued over long-range precision shooting.

When it comes to tactical optical equipment, my logical choice is Trijicon.

This company has written the book on tactical optical equipment for military and law enforcement use. Now, many civilian shooters have come to recognize that the same features that are valuable in a combat setting translate very well into many competitive or hunting scenarios.

What Makes the Trijicon VCOG my Tactical Scope for an AR-10 Rifle?

Reputation. That should be enough when you start talking Trijicon and tactical optical equipment. Years of experience with battle-proven systems make Trijicon the go-to tactical scope for your AR-10 firearm.

There are some compelling reasons that I have this opinion:

When your targets are at medium range, you don’t need huge amounts of magnification. You need the right scope for the situation that you can count on with confidence.

Features

Specifications

The Pros

The Cons

If you want the best tactical scope for your AR-10, there is no question that the Trijicon VCOG is the choice. My only reservation about putting this scope on my list is how to justify the cost for most average shooters.

Trijicon VCOG 1-6x24 Horseshoe Dot Crosshair .308/175 Riflescope
  • Red Horseshoe reticle matched with 175-grain .308 loads
  • First focal plane allowing the ballistic reticle to be used at any magnification

Last update on 2023-02-08 at 14:32 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Best Budget Tactical Scope for AR-10 Rifles – Monstrum Spectre 1-6X24 Rifle Scope

Monstrum Spectre 1-6X24 Rifle Scope

If you aren’t interested in making long-distance shots but want a great scope for mid-range shooting with a hunting scope, you should check out the Monstrum Spectre 1-6X24 Rifle Scope.

This is one of the best scopes for an AR platform that features tactical styling at an affordable price. These are a versatile scope choice for a AR 10 without a huge investment.

I am normally wary of imported optics that originate in China. However, Monstrum has demonstrated a dedication to delivering solid scope performance at a very competitive price to the U.S. market.

The Monstrum Spectre 1-6X24 rifle scope offers a level of quality I don’t usually find in imported Chinese scopes.

Why Does The Monstrum Spectre Get a Place on This List?

Tactical style scopes are a specialized type of optic that isn’t found in many budget scope manufacturers’ product lines.

The Monstrum Spectre isn’t a Trijicon by any stretch. However, it does offer a full set of features at a price that makes it an easy reach for most budget-conscious shooters. For the average hunter or weekend range shooter, Monstrum is a logical choice.

Features

Specifications

The Pros

The Cons

All in all, for the price of the Monstrum Spectre rifle scope, you won’t find a much better optic in this price range.

This is a great entry-level scope with these features and this quality of optical glass.

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Dennis Howard

A life long hunter, fisherman, and outdoorsman, after surviving a devastating tornado in his home town, he saw the effects on people's lives as they struggled to cope. He built his first bugout bag a few weeks later and has been a dedicated prepper/survivalist since that time. After a career as a fireman, Dennis opened a retail store (FFL approved) catering to the military, law enforcement, and like-minded individuals. The store built their own AR platforms. Furthermore, Dennis was also an NRA instructor in both long gun and handgun as well as a certified range safety officer. Read his full interview here.