The AR-10 is the bigger, more powerful brother of the well known AR-15. Commonly chambered in .308 Winchester/7.62 NATO, it is becoming increasingly popular, and by extension more affordable. Because these powerhouse rifles shoot well known long range rounds, and are useful for hunting, benchrest shooting, and tactical purposes, it is important to select the best AR-10 scope for your rifle.
Just as there are a great many AR-10 configurations, ranging from pistol and short barrel rifle, to precision benchrest, sniper, hunting and tactical configurations, or even just general purpose all around rifle, there are countless rifle scopes, ranging from junk, to something that costs as much as a halfway decent used car. You can literally build almost any sort of scoped AR-10 configuration, and at some point the whole thing gets rather confusing. How do you even determine the ideal AR-10 scope, and how much does your rifle’s configuration affect what is the best scope? Well, I just finished building an AR-10, so these were easy questions to ask, and harder to answer. Here’s what we figured out.
If you want to take advantage of the powerful .308 cartridge, you need a powerful scope. The Vortex Crossfire II is an ideal AR-10 scope, because it is built for exactly the kind of shooting the AR-10 excels at. With a huge 50mm objective lens and 30mm tube, this scope is perfect for sniping, benchrest shooting and hunting- all things the AR-10 is commonly used for. The 6-24x magnification ensures you’ll be able to zoom in on any target within the range of your rifle, while the proprietary multi coated optics, combined with the oversized tube and objective lens guarantee and crisp, clear, brilliant sight picture. And of course, because this is a Vortex product, it comes with an exceptional lifetime warranty. Really, the only major issue with this scope is the physical size, which may be a detriment to anyone wanting a lighter, sleeker rifle. But then again, it’s not built for those markets. As an added bonus, it’s crazy affordable, priced just below $300. You probably paid that much just for your rail system, might as well spend it again for your scope.
- Very affordable
- 50mm objective lens gives a clear, clean sight picture.
- Lifetime warranty
- Oversized for some applications
- Will require special tall profile 30mm rings.
- No illuminated reticle reduces utility under extreme low light conditions.
The Leupold VX-1 is a classic American hunting scope, so it is certainly one of the best scopes for the AR-10 out there. More and more people are taking the light, self loading and easy handling AR-10 to the woods, and leaving their grandfather’s bolt action rifles at home, but there is no reason not to install a venerable 3-9×40 scope. Perfect for any common hunting, lightweight, and easy to install, as long as you aren’t playing GI Joe or practicing long range 1000 yard shots, there is no reason not to consider a VX-1 on your AR-10. Built by Leupold to be completely fog and waterproof, backed by their no nonsense lifetime warranty, and built in the United States, this scope is as American as apple pie, and just as dependable. Of course what it isn’t, is some whiz bang tactical sniper scope, but then again, if you aren’t a whiz bang tactical operator, you won’t really miss those features. And for just under $180, there is an awful lot to love about this great scope.
- Made in the United States
- Classic configuration
- Very affordable
- Not suitable for long range work
- Not built for tactical applications
- Limited magnification compared to other .308 scopes.
One primary use of the AR-10 is tactical and hunting applications, which means sometimes you need an AR-10 scope built around common rounds, and capable of quickly acquiring targets. Ballistic drop compensator (BDC) reticles offer that exact function, and the Nikon P-308 is fitted with a BDC built around the standard 168 grain .308/7.62 NATO round.
Nikon build quality simply cannot be questioned. The P-308 is built to be water, fog and shockproof, while featuring state of the art multi coated glass that ensures a crystal clear sight picture. The 4-12×40 scope configuration ensures you can take long range shots, without building an ungainly scope, or one that gives a fuzzy sight picture at extreme distances. And with the BDC reticle, you can quickly acquire and engage your target, making this the best AR-10 scope for most hunting and tactical purposes. The only thing it’s really lacking is (and this is a common problem with a lot of AR-10 scopes) is the lack of an illuminated reticle for low light hunting and certain tactical applications.
- BDC reticle
- Suitable for longer range use
- Works with Nikon Ballistic Match software
- No illuminated reticle
- BDC reticle requires compensation calculations if not using standard 168 grain ammo.
- Some users report poor performance in low light.
Did you build your AR-10 for benchrest shooting? Or long range shooting, sniping, or hunting space debris? If so, the ultimate AR-10 scope is the Nightforce Benchrest Series. This variable power scope has almost everything you want for pushing the limits of the .308 round and long range shooting. An unholy large 56mm objective lens, 12-42 power magnification that would let you shoot the wings off a mosquito a mile away in a windstorm, resettable zero target turrets, glass etched illuminated reticle, water, fog and shockproof construction, proprietary multi coated optics for premium quality light transmission, and more. To put it frankly this is the kind of scope that is built for only one thing, and that is superior long range shooting from a stationary position using a bipod or rest. If that is what you are doing, then you need this scope. Period. Full stop.
- Built for long range shooting
- Illuminated reticle
- Best in class design and performance
- Requires special high profile rings
- Not built as a general purpose scope
Understanding the AR-10
Even the name AR-10 is something of a misnomer these days. The original Armalite rifle only superficially resembles what is commonly called the AR-10. The modern version is little more than a scaled up AR-15 style rifle, and lacks many features of the 1950’s originals. Additionally, the various versions of AR-10 style rifles adhere to few consistent standards making assembling one something of an art at times. However, mounting a scope isn’t much of a problem at all, thanks to flat top uppers with Picatinny rails.
AR-10 style rifles are becoming cheaper, as more and more are built. This may be a response to the glut of AR-15 style rifles- with that market saturated, there is more interest in a larger caliber version of the same rifle. Either way, we are living in a golden age of AR-10 style rifles, and the prices are only getting lower, while quality increases. Increasingly, they are even available in calibers other than .308/7.62 NATO, like .338 Federal, .243 and 6.5 Creedmoor. They can be purchased fully assembled, or you can get quality uppers that will fit popular manufacturer lowers, or even assemble your own from correctly chosen parts. Either way, the AR-10 rifle is here to stay, which brings us to the main point of this article.
What is the Best AR-10 Scope?
The AR-10 was originally built as a battle rifle in an era that was seeing the final transition from bolt action to self loading rifles around the world. Many countries still preferred full power cartridges like the .308, and while the United States ended up adopting the M14, there was some interest in other parts of the world for the AR-10. As such, few were built to be scoped, but rather to serve as infantry rifles. Poor marketing and poorer sales as intermediate rifles like the M16 and AK-47 became the preferred choice for military applications ensured that the AR-10 would never be a military standard.
However, in the 1990’s, the AR-10 returned, marketed to private citizens, who have proven to be a far more lucrative market for this gun than any government operator ever did. Today, you can get anything from an AR-10 style pistol, to heavy match grade rifles, and pretty much anything in between, which makes choosing the best scope a difficult proposition at times.
The first step depends on your rifle. Is it a hunting rifle? Tactical rifle? Benchrest rifle? Multipurpose firearm? The lightweight, dependable nature of the AR-10 makes it a great modern sporting rifle, and also somewhat flexible in how it can be used.
For decades, a 3-9×40 scope has been a common hunting scope, and there is little likelihood this time honored configuration will change anytime soon. The Leupold VX-1 is a perfect example of just such an all purpose scope. It’s ideal for hunting, most target shooting, and general all around knockabout use. It’s just the scope I’d use if I put together a handy little AR-10 for toting in the woods or as a ranch rifle.
The Vortex Crossfire and Nightforce Benchrest are both two outstanding examples of scopes built for similar uses- long range target shooting and sniping. It is somewhat true that the only real difference between a quality target rifle and a sniper rifle is that the target rifle is usually more aesthetically pleasing. With that in mind, if you’ve put together some sort of long range tactical rifle, I’d probably favor the Vortex, simply because it is a bit smaller and lighter, although there is precious little real difference if you are shooting from a stationary position. Naturally this applies to benchrest and other target shooting as well. The main advantage the Nightforce has is the illuminated reticle and higher build quality. But both of those features come at a steep price, and the Nightforce costs about a thousand bucks more than the Vortex, which is the difference between a quality scope and an elite scope. Buy to your budget and your personal desires. Unless you need the illuminated reticle or the higher build quality, you can just pocket the thousand dollar difference.
The Nikon P-308 fills all the roles- hunting, target shooting, benchrest shooting and tactical fairly well, but is not outstanding in any of them. It has sufficient magnification for most tasks, and the BDC reticle is outstanding if you are using standard 168 grain ammo, and skilled shooters know that you can use the existing calibration with other bullet weights and velocities if you determine the new range those aim points hit at. This, and the Leupold would be my two choices for all around utilitarian scopes, and they both have the advantage of being priced within the reach of the common shooter, making them both real blue collar scopes.
The AR-10 is an increasingly popular gun in the United States. Shooting what is literally the most widely used rifle round in the world, it was born during the Cold War, but only came into real prominence after the fall of the USSR, and in the hands of civilian shooters. This self loading rifle is based on the same technology that drives the venerable AR-15, and has been proven for decades. A wide array of accessories and configurations, combined with the modular construction of the AR-10 ensure that it will be around for decades to come. All this makes selecting the best AR-10 scope an important consideration, and one not to be entered into lightly. Each AR-10, even factory built rifles are unique, in so much that the end user determines what purpose they will be put to, and adds their own personal and unique touches.
Each shooter is different, and has different strengths and weaknesses. Your scope must reflect your style, support your needs, and fulfill the goals you have for your rifle. Choosing the best scope becomes a careful balance of price, performance and personal choice, all bound to the overall functionality of your rifle.
There are thousands of scopes on the market, ranging from nearly useless junk, to extreme high dollar precision optics. In the middle are still a massive array of optics. It is hoped that by looking at a handful of common features and end uses, that we have enabled you to make a better choice when putting a scope on your AR-10. We looked at optics suitable for all price ranges, and ideal for the most common uses and scenarios people put their AR-10 rifles to. Each scope was carefully judged against many competitors based on price, performance, reputation, and real world reviews and usage. Take a good close look, judge these scopes against your choices and your rifle, and then hopefully you’ll be in a better position to judge which one is right for you.