If you splurge on a 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500-KR, you’re not going to fill the crank case with reclaimed Crisco just to save a few bucks. A similar principle applies to optics. Even with AR-15 prices falling faster than BlockBuster Video’s stock price, you’re still probably going to spend north of $600 on a rifle. Don’t cheat yourself by purchasing an optic not qualified for the task. Cheap optics can give you headaches from fogging, poor light transmission and inconsistent adjustment performance. Most frustrating of all are those times you can’t seem to zero your rifle, not matter what, until you find out the reticle in your scope is moving all over the place with recoil. Remember, friends don’t let friends buy those cheap no-name optics you see at gun shows.
Fortunately, you do’t have to spend more than the cost of your rifle on a quality optic. Here are some of my picks for high-quality optics that you can buy for less than $400 – usually a lot less.
Weaver Kaspa-Z Zombie Scope
Before you start with the hate mail over including a Zombie scope, hear me out. Besides, the dead could rise one day. Check out the audience on the Judge Judy Show, and you’ll see what I mean. Anyhow, my contacts at ATK pulled me aside some months ago and said “Do you want to know what one of our best value scopes is?” Being completely supportive of saving money, I asked to hear the story – and got the full pitch, along with an evaluation sample of the Weaver Kaspa-Z Zombie optic. If you’re not into the whole Zombie thing, that’s OK, as the markings on the scope are subtle. Most of the Zombie cosmetics are in the form of optional stickers.
Here’s why it’s on this list. Built on a 30mm tube, it gathers plenty of light. With a 16 ounce weight, it’s sturdy enough to use as an impact weapon. The 1.5-6x zoom gives you fast, close range capability as well as precision out to the effective range of a 5.56mm round. The real beauty of this particular scope is the Z-Cirt reticle. It’s brilliant. Variable illumination (green of course) makes it easy to see in low light. The posts and hash marks are pre-mapped to known distances with a wide variety of .223 and 5.56 ammunition and serve double duty as range estimation tools. For example, the solid center dot corresponds to a Zombie’s head at 100 yards and the surrounding parentheses indicate the same target size at 100 yards. The first horizontal hash mark indicates 20 inches (average shoulder width) at 400 yards. With all the ranging and ballistic drop compensation functionality, this reticle is still fast at short to intermediate distances.
MSRP is $299.95, but you can find one on the street for about $199.
Nikon M-223 1-4×20 BDC 600
The M-223 is a one-inch tube model with pure 1x to 4x magnification – plenty for realistic .223 / 5.56mm ranges unless your usage is small varmint hunting at the outer limits of ballistic performance. Turrets adjust in ½ MOA increments with a total adjustment range of 100 MOA. Parallax is fixed at 100 yards, so any potential effect is negligible. Eye relief is generous at four inches, which makes placement on an MSR receiver easy – especially with Nikon’s aggressively cantilevered scope mounts or rings. Both one-piece and two-piece cantilever mounting options are available.
The reticle is developed specifically for 55 grain .223 Remington / 5.56mm NATO cartridges and offers hold points from 100 to 600 yards in 50 yard increments. If you shoot heavier projectiles like 77 grain, you’ll have to establish your own hold point distances out past a couple hundred yards.
MSRP is $299.95, but you can find this one for about $280. Check out other options in the Nikon AR family as you can find great deals on fixed power and higher magnification optics.
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