.223 Remington is probably best known as the AR-15’s round and as the predecessor of 5.56 NATO. It’s primarily used in semi-automatic rifles, but there are some bolt action rifles that use it as well.
Among civilians, .223 is largely used for target shooting and small game or varmint hunting. It’s also sometimes used as a home defense round, though it doesn’t have the same stopping power as many other rifle rounds, like a .270 or .300.
.223 is not a round designed for long range shooting. Its effective range caps out between about 200 and 250 yards. So why bother with a scope instead of just using iron sights?
Well, just because you’re limited in range doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a scope. Magnification and scopes’ less obstructive reticles make target acquisition easier, especially for small targets.
However, you can’t just mount any old scope onto your .223 rifle and expect it to help. You have to choose the right scope.
To make this easier for you, we’ve assembled a list of our top five scope recommendations for .223 Remington.
But first, let’s start with some background to help you understand what makes a good scope.
What Are Scopes for .223?
There are some scopes out there designed specifically for use with .223 Remington. However, a scope doesn’t have to be designed for .223 to be a good .223 scope. Here’s what to look out for when selecting a good .223 scope:
Again, .223 is not a round intended for shooting long distances, so you don’t need a super high magnification scope. On the other hand, it is frequently used to shoot smaller targets, which means you do want some decently powerful options.
3-9x is a pretty common general-purpose magnification ratio for scopes for various calibers and it will do for .223 scopes as well.
You could get away with a slightly higher minimum magnification, however. In addition, a slightly higher maximum magnification, at least around 12x, is a huge advantage, especially for smaller targets.
For fixed magnification scopes, the right magnification depends on the distance at which you’re shooting and the size of your target. You can typically make do with a pretty low magnification scope for .223, so be conservative.
Higher magnification comes at the cost of the size of your field of view.
Many scopes offer reticles designed specifically for .223. These are typically in the form of BDC or mil-dot reticles, or their variants.
These reticles have hash marks specifically placed to indicate bullet drop for .223 at fixed distances on a particular power setting. This allows for super easy holdover adjustment and spot on accuracy.
There are also general-purpose BDC and Mil-dot reticles with hash marks indicating a fixed number of MOA or MIL. Other scopes have simpler crosshair or duplex reticles.
Any of these reticles is fine, so just choose the one that best fits your preferences and needs.
What Are The Different Types of Scopes for .223?
There are three primary types of .223 scopes: hunting, target, and tactical.
A hunting rifle needs a hunting scope. As we’ve already said, .223 is a varmint hunting round so .223 hunting scopes are designed with that in mind.
Hunting scopes typically have less powerful magnification that target scopes, but the difference is less overt with .223 since varmints present small targets.
They do still tend to have a large field of view, which helps you follow your target as it moves.
Hunting scopes typically have simple reticles to avoid distraction and keep from obstructing your target. On the other hand, they may have BDC or mil-dot reticles to help with accuracy. They generally have second focal plane reticles.
Target scopes are, as the name would suggest, designed for target shooting. They typically have higher magnification than hunting rounds to help with precision.
Targets don’t generally move around all that much at the shooting range, so the field of view isn’t super important with target scopes.
For a short-range round like .223, target scopes typically have a clean crosshair or duplex reticle. Some may have BDC or mil-dot reticles to help with precision. Either way, it’s usually a second focal plane reticle.
Tactical scopes refer to civilian tactical use, but more commonly police and military use. For our purposes here, however, we’re focusing on civilians.
For civilians, tactical scopes are used for home and property defense. They tend to have low, often fixed, magnification because they’re for more close quarters use.
Tactical scopes may be night vision compatible but will generally at least have an illuminated reticle. In general, tactical scopes tend to use first focal plane BDC or mil-dot reticles.
Since .223 is more of a home defense round, however, a second focal plane duplex or crosshair reticle is generally also fine.
How Do Scopes for .223 Work?
There are three major optical systems in a riflescope: the objective assembly, the erector tube assembly, and the eyepiece assembly.
The objective assembly is made up of the objective lens and the objective bell that houses it. The objective lens is at the far end of the scope and allows light transmission into it.
The objective lens also focuses that light into a narrower beam to go through the next step.
The erector tube assembly is housed in the scope tube. The position of the magnification lenses within the erector determines the strength of the magnification.
A magnification lens is moved towards the objective lens to increase magnification and away from it to decrease magnification.
Windage and elevation correction also occurs in the erector tube assembly. The screws push against springs that, in turn, push against and move the erector tube. Turning the screws puts more or less force on the tube.
The other main part of the erector tube assembly is the reticle. It can be located either in front of or behind the magnification lens.
If it’s in front of the lens, it’s considered a front or first focal plane reticle (FFP). If the reticle is behind the lens, it’s a rear or second focal plane reticle (RFP or SFP).
Finally, the light enters the eyepiece to travel through the ocular lens. That’s the lens closest to your eye and it produces your sight picture.
What Do You Look For In The Best Scopes for .223?
There are a few features that you’ll want to look for when shopping for a scope for any round:
Just by being on your rifle every time it fires, scopes can take some abuse. And since scopes are typically used outside, water is an unavoidable issue.
For these reasons, you want a scope that’s waterproof, fog proof, and shockproof.
You also want one that’s ruggedly constructed. It should be made out of a durable material like aircraft-grade aluminum or aluminum alloy.
Pretty much all scopes have windage and elevation adjustment. Variable magnification scopes also have magnification adjustments. Some scopes also have adjustable parallax.
Whatever adjustable features your scope has, the controls should be easy to use. It should be clear when the control has been manipulated. It shouldn’t be easy to change your settings by accidentally hitting the control.
.223 has very light recoil, so long eye relief isn’t as important as with other rounds. Eye relief is the distance from the optical lens to your eye at which you get a full sight picture.
The eye box is the range to either side of that distance where you still get a sight picture good enough to shoot. Longer eye relief provides more room for the gun to kick, but also makes it more comfortable to shoot.
Eye relief is generally about 3.5 inches on average. You can get away with less when shooting .223, but you’ll appreciate the comfort of long eye relief and a more forgiving eye box.
Clear Sight Picture
It doesn’t matter what sort of other fancy features a scope can do if it can’t provide you with a clear sight picture.
Your sight picture should have high definition and color fidelity. Your lenses should not have flaws like warps or scratches.
Ideally, external glass surfaces should have a scratch-resistant lens coating.
It should also allow for excellent light transmission for a bright, crisp sight in lower light conditions.
Best Scopes for .223 Reviewed
Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9×40 Riflescope (Our Top Pick)
Our top pick is the Leupold VX-Freedom.
One of its greatest features is the Twilight Light Management System. This system provides excellent lens clarity and helps minimize glare.
It also provides superior light transmission for better low light visibility. A scratch-resistant lens coating helps protect the lenses to keep them at top performance.
This scope has a rear focal plane duplex reticle, but it’s also available with a Tri-MOA reticle.
It has Primary Arm’s first focal plane ACSS Orion reticle calibrated .308, .223, and .30-06 rounds. This is a BDC style reticle with a partial circle around the reticle’s center point, which is marked by a chevron.
This scope also has adjustable parallax with a side mount adjustment knob. It has a rugged aluminum alloy body and a 30mm tube diameter.