Any time you’re shooting, getting good light is important. It’s especially important when using scopes since good image transmission is dependent on light.
Unfortunately, we often find ourselves shooting in low light conditions, particularly when hunting. Cloudy weather, shade such as from tree cover, and the time of day can all inhibit good lighting.
Table Of Contents
- Best Low Light Scopes
- What Are Low Light Rifle Scopes?
- What Are The Different Types of Low Light Scopes?
- How Do Low Light Scopes Work?
- What Do You Look For In The Best Low Light Scopes?
- Best Rifle Scopes for Low Light Reviewed
- Final Thoughts On Low Light Scopes
Best Low Light Scopes
- Vortex Optics Crossfire II 3-9×50 Scope with V-Brite Reticle (Our Top Pick)
- Bushnell AR-Optics BTR-1 1-4×24 Riflescope (Best Budget)
- NightForce Optics ATACR 5-25×56 F1 Riflescope (Best High End)
- ATN X-Sight 4K Pro 3-14X Smart Ultra HD Day & Night Rifle Scope
- Trijicon ACOG 3.5×35 Riflescope
Fortunately, scope manufacturers understand this. In response, they’ve designed scopes that are particularly well suited to low light conditions.
To help you find such a scop, we’ve assembled a list of our favorite low light scopes. We’ll get to the recommendations in a moment, but first, let’s go over some basics.
What Are Low Light Rifle Scopes?
Low light rifle scopes are exactly what they sound like: scopes optimized for low light performance. They have features that make target acquisition in low light easier. These features typically include:
An Illuminated Reticle
An illuminated reticle is a huge advantage when it comes to low light scopes. Illumination ensures that your dark reticle doesn’t get lost in the darker sight picture that comes with low light conditions.
Whether it’s a crosshair, duplex, mil-dot, or BDC reticle, or some other type of reticle, ensure that it has some form of illumination.
Excellent Light Transmission
Good light transmission is the most basic feature of low light scopes.
This starts with the objective lens. The larger the objective lens size, the more light it allows to enter the scope.
However, that’s not the only thing that matters.
For example, a larger objective lens diameter may let in more light, but it’s not all the right light. Therefore, some manufacturers use lens coatings that filter out certain wavelengths.
Filtering allows for a crisp, high definition sight picture with high color fidelity. This is essential for shooting in low light, but can also be helpful in bright light as well since these coatings tend to be anti-reflective.
In addition, the objective lens isn’t the only lens that matters. Every single lens in the scope should be made of quality glass that transmits light well. External lenses should be at least fully-coated for an optimal image. Ideally, low light scopes should have multi-coated lenses.
Finally, low light scopes may have night vision capabilities, though most do not. This is generally what sets low light scopes apart from night scopes. However, most low light scopes are night-vision compatible.
What Are The Different Types of Low Light Scopes?
There are two main types of low light scopes:
Whether you’re hunting varmints, deer, or larger game, visibility is key. Mounting a low light scope on your hunting rifle helps you extend your hunting hours and improve your visibility, even in dark woods.
Hunting scopes typically have relatively low magnification. They also usually have simple, clean second focal plane reticles.
They traditionally have capped turrets that aren’t intended for much manipulation. However, more modern iterations may have ballistic turrets.
Hunting is the most common use for low light scopes, but they can also be used for target shooting. Range scopes are typically designed for more long-range shooting than hunting scopes.
To help with that more long-distance shooting, range scopes tend to have higher magnification. They generally have first focal plane ballistic reticles. They also generally have uncapped turrets that are easier to adjust between each shot.
How Do Low Light Scopes Work?
We’ve already talked about what makes a low light scope different from other scopes. Other than those things, however, low light scopes work more or less the same as any other scope.
Light enters through the objective lens where it’s focused down into a narrower beam to travel through the erector tube.
Within the erector tube are the magnification lenses and reticle. In a variable power scope, a magnification lens moves back and forth to adjust the magnification strength. The reticle may be positioned either in front of the magnification lens or behind it.
If the reticle is in front of the magnification lens, it’s a front or first focal plane (FFP) reticle. This causes the target and reticle to stay the same size relative to one another as magnification is adjusted.
If the reticle is behind the magnification lens, it’s a rear or second focal plane (RFP or SFP) reticle. This causes the reticle to stay the same size regardless of the magnification setting, even as the apparent size of the target changes.
Finally, the light enters the eyepiece where it exits through the optical lens. At this point, the light is referred to as the exit pupil.
The brighter the exit pupil, the brighter the sight image. The larger the exit pupil, the greater the eye relief.
What Do You Look For In The Best Low Light Scopes?
In addition to the features that make a scope good for low light shooting, there are few other things to look for to help you identify a high-quality scope:
You want your scope to last you for as long as possible, so it’s good to choose one that can stand up to a lot of abuse. After all, scopes are repeatedly jarred and exposed to the elements every time they’re used.
Look for features like o-ring seals and nitrogen or argon purging for waterproof and fog proof scopes.
You also want your scope to be shockproof. Look for features like a single piece main tube body made from a durable material, such as aircraft-grade aluminum.
Exactly what magnification range is best for you depends on what you’re shooting and at what range. 3-9x is a good general-purpose magnification range if you’re shooting within about 1000 yards.
Generally, the smaller and farther away your target is, the more magnification you want. Be wary of using magnification that’s too powerful though. It can limit your field of view, making it easier to lose your target.
At a minimum, your scope should have windage and elevation adjustment.
The adjustment turrets should allow for precise adjustment. They should be easy to manipulate, but shouldn’t be able to be easily moved if they’re accidentally bumped.
They should feel crisp and provide tactile feedback and an audible click to make it obvious when an adjustment has been made.
Best Rifle Scopes for Low Light Reviewed
Now that the background info is out of the way, let’s talk about the scopes themselves.
Vortex Optics Crossfire II 3-9×50 Scope with V-Brite Reticle (Our Top Pick)
The Vortex Optics Crossfire II Riflescope is one of our favorite riflescopes and our top pick for low light scopes.
It’s also very budget-friendly. The 3-9×50 model is a great general-purpose choice, even in low light.
It’s durable, with an aircraft-grade aluminum body with a matte hard-coat anodized finish. It’s also waterproof, fog proof, and shockproof.
It also has long eye relief and a fast-focus eyepiece for quick, easy, and comfortable shooting. For low light shooting, we like the V-Brite (MOA) duplex reticle with an illuminated center dot.
- Lifetime warranty
- Illuminated reticle
- Highly durable
- We’d prefer a 30mm tube over the 1-inch tube
- Image can blur at high magnification settings
Bushnell AR-Optics BTR-1 1-4×24 Riflescope (Best Budget)
If you have a limited price range, then Bushnell BTR-1 Riflescope is another great pick. It’s particularly well suited for short to medium-range shooting.
It has an illuminated first focal plane BDC reticle with 11 brightness settings. The reticle provides holdovers for 5.56 NATO up to 500 yards. That perfectly matches with the 1-4x magnification.
We especially like the 1x magnification setting since it means you don’t have to remove your scope to shoot without magnification. At the same time, the fully multi-coated lenses deliver a brighter, higher-contrast image than you’d get with your naked eye.
- Compact and lightweight
- Illuminated FFP reticle with 11 brightness settings
- Power change lever
Adjustments are so precise that it takes some time to make more than the tiniest adjustment
NightForce Optics ATACR 5-25×56 F1 Riflescope (Best High End)
On the other end of the cost spectrum is the Nightforce Optics ATACR Riflescope. This scope is packed with high-end features. These include ZeroStop turrets, a power throw lever, and 45-yard to infinity parallax adjustment.
The 5-25×56 magnification is our choice for long-range shooting, especially target shooting. However, this scope also comes in a few other magnification ranges for different purposes.
It’s also available with several different reticles. Our favorite, especially for low light, is the MOAR F1 reticle.
- Illuminated FFP reticle
- Large 56mm objective lens
- Parallax adjustment
- Bulkier than other scopes
ATN X-Sight 4K Pro 3-14X Smart Ultra HD Day & Night Rifle Scope
Another scope packed with cool features is the ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope.
For one, this scope is essentially a rangefinder, ballistic calculator, and riflescope all in one. It even makes the windage and elevation adjustments for you.
You can also set different profiles for your different caliber rifles. It will even use it to video record your shots.
The HD display is great for low light shooting, but the scope also has a night vision mode. It comes with an infrared illuminator.
- Rangefinder, ballistic calculator, and scope in one
- Night vision mode
- Brightness enhancement
- All the features lead to a high price and are overkill for most shooters
Trijicon ACOG 3.5×35 Riflescope
Our last pick is the Trijicon ACOG Riflescope.
It has a tritium/fiber optic illuminated reticle. It automatically adjusts the brightness of the reticle based on the availability of light, yet doesn’t require a battery.
It’s available in six different reticle patterns. The various patterns, in turn, are available calibrated for different calibers.
The lenses are multi-coated and made from high-quality glass for optimal brightness and clarity.
- No battery or power switch required
- Multiple reticle options available
- Designed to be used with both eyes open
- Short eye relief
- Fixed magnification
Final Thoughts On Low Light Scopes
That wraps things up on our picks for the best low light riflescopes. Hopefully, by now you know what makes a good low light scope and are able to pick one that properly fits your needs and wants.
Each of these scopes is an excellent option that will serve you well, but only you can decide which one’s best for you.