The Ruger AR 556 is the famous gun manufacturer’s standard AR-15 style rifle offering. While at first perceived as just another AR style rifle in an already crowded market, it quickly became a favorite with shooters. Because Ruger carefully designed this rifle to be optics ready, there is a constant search for the best Ruger AR 556 scope. Well, there are about as many different scopes on the market as there are stars in the sky, but with a little bit of effort, we narrowed four down for your consideration. These four will represent some of the best, and also most affordable Ruger AR 556 scopes on the market today.
To make the choices we did, we relied on some arbitrary and also practical criteria. Right off the bat, cheap junk was simply ignored. There are plenty of quality imported scopes, there is simply no need to bother with unknown makers. We also wanted to list one combat proven, military grade optic, and that choice came down to a literal coin toss. After that, we selected two more moderately priced scopes, and one entry level optic that would still be suitable for regular use, thus ensuring scopes for most any budget or end use. Take a careful look, and judge for yourself. Are these the best Ruger AR 556 scopes?
Arguably, this is literally the best Ruger AR scope period, full stop. Combat proven, and popular with military and civilian shooters alike, the Trijicon ACOG is a legendary scope and for good reason. This battery free illuminated reticle scope uses fiber optics or tritium vials to provide reliable always on illumination, while the 4x magnification with 32mm objective lens is a time proven combo for the 5.56/.223 cartridge. Wrap it all up in a military grade package, and you have a scope that you can use anywhere from the ranch to the war on terrorism. All this comes at a price though, and the Trijicon ACOG is an expensive optic. However, if you want the best things in life, you have to pay for them. However, this is a perfect example of “buy once, cry once”, and you can be assured that with this scope, you are well equipped for most common AR rifle shooting.
- Combat proven
- Battery free illumination
- Ideal for most common AR 556 shooting uses
- High price is a deterrent
- Tritium vials have an effective life of about 7 years before replacement
- Not suitable for long range precision shooting
While the Ruger AR 556 is built as a sort of multi purpose carbine, and includes a fixed front sight, the flip down rear sight shows Ruger was thinking about mounting optics on this rifle. While not a match target gun, it is capable of excellent accuracy if you do your part, and your part might include a scope with an oversized 50mm objective lens.
The Nikon ProStaff is just such an optic, and features 3-9 magnification, a 50mm objective lens, zero reset turret, and the rugged construction you’d expect from Nikon. Add specially coated glass for optimal light transmission, and you’ve got yourself a real winner. On the other hand, you’ll probably need high profile scope rings, and while the oversized objective lens helps with light gathering, and offers a crisp sight picture, this isn’t a benchrest scope. But then again, the AR 556 isn’t a benchrest rifle.
- Reasonably priced
- Suitable for all but the most extreme ranges of the 5.56/.223 round
- Great all purpose scope
- A bit ungainly for the Ruger AR 556
- Not suitable for long range shooting
- 3-9x magnification may not be ideal for certain kinds of shooting
Bushnell Optics Drop Zone .223 Reticle
The 1-4x power scope has long been a standard on AR pattern rifles because it is oddly well suited for the shorter engagement ranges of a modern semi auto carbine. Some people think of these sorts of scopes as more of an “optical sight”, but no matter what you choose to call it, this is an excellent Ruger AR 556 scope. What really sets it apart from other similar scopes, is the special ballistic reticle calibrated for 55-62 grain 5.56mm/.223 rounds, with aiming points for up to 500 yards. This makes it highly useful for any practical combat or hunting distance, and allows for rapid target acquisition. Bushnell builds an oddly advanced scope for not much more than a hundred bucks. It even includes a fast focus eyepiece and 0.1 mil target turrets, which gives you real bang for your buck.
- Bullet Drop Compensator Reticle
- Ideal for a practical optical sight
- Not suitable for certain kinds of target shooting
- Small objective lens creates limited sight picture
- Not calibrated for heavier hunting bullets
This is an all around ideal, low cost scope for the Ruger AR 556. The UTG BugBuster is a classic example of an inexpensive Chinese optic that is surprisingly good for what it does. Using a pretty common 3-9×32 configuration, this scope doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but what it does is pack value. Multicoated optics, a sealed nitrogen purged tube, red/green illuminated reticle, Â¼ MOA zero reset turrets, included quick-detach rings, a 2″ sunshade and removable lens caps, all add up to a real bargain at the current price. Honestly, this is a classic example of a decent entry level scope made even more affordable due to the nature of automated mass production overseas. We all know most optics are imported anyway, it is only a question of how well are they made- and the UTG BugBuster is very well made. Sniper scope it is not, but it will scratch the itch for an all around knockabout scope for your Ruger AR 556.
- Packed with premium features not commonly found at this price point
- Includes quick detach rings
- General purpose scope not built for tactical or heavy duty use
- 32mm objective lens may be too small for some longer distance applications
- Insufficient magnification for really long shots
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What is the Ruger AR 556?
It is no secret the gun market is swimming with AR-15 style rifles, and it is no secret that for the most part, entry and lower mid grade rifles aren’t all that hard to build, acquire or come by. In fact, you can hardly sneeze without hitting a half dozen different, but basically the same AR style carbines. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll probably even find major parts are all sourced from the same manufacturer, making the whole thing even a bit more absurd.
When Ruger chose to enter this seemingly overcrowded market, a lot of consumers simply shrugged. I mean, it was just another AR style carbine, but with the Ruger name on it. It’s not like it had much else to offer that other carbine in that price point couldn’t offer, right?
Because Ruger is Ruger, and famous for packing more value into less price, the AR 556 is full of little surprises. For starters, it has a much nicer than standard pistol grip, ships with a flipup, removable rear sight, and a special barrel nut/delta ring that allows for easy handguard removal or replacement, and for barrel removal using a standard wrench, instead of the traditional AR armorer’s wrench. Add in the overall quality of Ruger manufacturing standards, and you can see why their offering is superior to many rifles at or even above the price point it is sold at.
What makes the Ruger AR 556 stand out, isn’t what it is, but rather what it isn’t. Even so-called custom rifle builders rely heavily on a wide range of off the shelf parts. Rare is the manufacturer who actually machines parts themselves, and then it is usually something where they were going out of their way to be cosmetically different, like with an AR-556 handguard, or perhaps they made their own version of tried and true trigger assemblies in house. Either way, when buying an AR, you either pay for somebody else to bolt your gun together from off the shelf parts, or you pay for some sort of vanity project with needless small batch parts which raise the price, but offer nothing new, or special to the function of the firearm. Ruger doesn’t bother with any of this, but leverages their own manufacturing ability to craft a feature packed, middle of the road gun which doesn’t rely on goofy “custom” features, but simply standard features made much, much better. Which then begs the last question.
What is the Best Ruger AR 556 Scope?
Scopes, like rifles, are highly personal choices that are both mission specific, and tailored to the end user (or operator if you like tactical words). We looked at four different scopes, and you might notice, we didn’t really focus on anything suitable for more than 3-500 yards, which is the traditional upper limit of most AR style rifle carbine shooting (and combat shooting). Because the Ruger AR 556 is a handy carbine, and built around the most common .223/5.56mm ammo on the market, you aren’t going to be using it with heavy bullets, making long range shots from the bench. With that in mind, you really don’t need much more than a 3-9x scope.
The ACOG is the gold standard of fixed powered tactical optics. It is also expensive, about one and a half times the price of your Ruger 556 expensive. Now, I have a bit of an aversion to spending more than my rifle on an optic, but I also have a love for well made things. There are worse things in this world than a Ruger rifle with an ACOG sitting on top of it, but few better things.
This leaves us with three other assorted scopes to recap. At one level, they all do basically the same thing, namely offer a modest range of magnification that is suitable for common carbine uses, while not being over or under-powered. However, you’ll see they all have rather distinct roles to play.
If you want to push the boundaries of what an AR style carbine is designed for, the Nikon ProStaff is great. The large objective lens is a bit large for this sort of rifle, but boy does it offer a wonderful sight picture! This is a fine scope for punching holes in paper, or having some fun varmint hunting. While most folks don’t use such a large objective lens with their carbine, it’s perfectly suitable if that is what you are looking for.
I really like the Bushnell Dropzone, because with the BDC reticle, it is suitable for hunting, or tactical use, and it’s built well enough to use almost anywhere (although I probably wouldn’t take it on a military tour of duty, it should be plenty fine for law enforcement, home defense and ranch rifle work), while still being surprisingly affordable. As an added bonus, it lacks the somewhat ungainly 50mm reticle on the Nikon Prostaff.
Wrapping up with the strangely affordable UTG BugBuster, we see that not all low priced Chinese scopes are bad. This little gem is nice and compact- perfect for a carbine like the Ruger AR 556, and comes completely ready to install, and is packed with features normally found in scopes costing two to three times the retail price. Add in the fact it is rather affordable, and if you just need a knockabout scope, this should do the job nicely.
So which one is the best? That depends on a lot of things, mostly what your end goal is. A tactical or home defense rifle needs an ACOG or something like the Bushnell. Both will give you rapid target acquisition, and are calibrated for the most common .223 or 5.56mm rounds you’ll be using. They are also useful for knockabout truck or ranch rifles, where you might have to take a quick shot at a coyote or other predator. If you want to play with target shooting, I’d choose the Nikon, Bushnell or even the UTG. If simple price point is the name of the game, it’s something of a coin toss between UTG and Bushnell, but I’d favor the UTG as a general purpose scope even with it’s low price point, as it is a demonstrably quality product for that price range.
Overall, the best Ruger AR 556 scope is the one that is closest to matching your end use and your budget. Remember, we are dealing with a blue collar rifle, something affordable by working class Americans, but still suitable for law enforcement and other tactical work. Ruger has put decades of experience is crafting high quality rifles at an affordable price to work here, and have given us a feature packed AR style rifle that is a couple hundred bucks less than a comparable rifle. Really, it is a semi-custom gun that is readily upgradable and customizable to your heart’s content. Choosing the right scope is simply part of the ownership of this fine rifle.
Great article on scopes, Beau. I also read your article on hand guard upgrades that was equally helpful. I’ve owned my Ruger AR-556 for 3 years, and am finally getting around to shooting it more often, and learning about useful upgrades. With all the options out there it’s intimidating for an AR beginner like me. Thanks man!