Is There a Difference Between an AR-15 Scope and More Traditional Ones?

Is There a Difference Between an AR-15 Scope and More Traditional Ones?

The popularity of AR-15s and AR-10s has quietly created an evolution in optics. But, is there a difference between an AR-15 scope and more traditional ones?

The short answer is, well, not really. With the right mounts, rings, clearance and gear nearly any scope can run on any rifle. However, that high-powered hunting optic mounted on an AR may not be the optimal choice for the gun’s use. How it’s anchored makes a big difference, too.

AR-Specific Scopes

Today, shooters can choose any one of a variety of scopes designed specifically for ARs, some with ballistic drop compensating (BDC) reticles tuned to their pet .300 BLK or 5.56 NATO loads and anchor it on a whole new generation of QD-mounts that feature the return-to-zero reliability our battlefront warfighters deserved.

Should you insist on an etched reticle in your scope, or go with wire? I interviewed experts in the field and the answers were surprising.

The Global War on Terror, where CQB battles are often followed by long-distance engagements has pushed engineers to conquer the once-considered unobtainable Holy Grail of riflescopes. Today there are many optics capable operating flawlessly at zero magnification when things are up close, yet dial up in power when needed—without electronic interpolation. That was the first thing Leupold & Stevens Vice President of Product Development Tim Lesser mentioned when I asked. “Lower magnification optics used to be primarily purchased by big- or dangerous-game hunters, but now the 1-6 and 1-8 optics are some of the most popular models for AR users,” he said.  

[The Eotech 1-8×24 mm SFP Vudu the company introduced in January, seen above, is an example]

The sheer volume of AR sales makes it a driving force in the industry, but Lesser cautioned that putting a precise figure on how modern sporting rifles (MSR) are driving optics purchases is impossible. “Since MSRs are being used for anything from home defense to varmint hunting to 3-gun competition to big-game hunting, it’s hard to label anything as an AR-15/10 optic,” he said.

A growing number of companies are producing optics and marketing them as AR-specific, though. I reached out for comments on current demand, but those numbers will remain secret because none replied to our requests by press time. Nikon, which is leaving the riflescope business, still offers the M-223, P-223, M-300 BLK and P-Rimfire in a variety of flavors. Most are available with a BDC reticle. Bushnell dove in the market’s deep end with seven different specific offerings in 2014, including one for rimfire clones and a pair of 1-4×24 mms, red dot optional. It’s line continues to expand and improve. Add other companies with a full spectrum of reflex/holographic sights, backup iron sights, lasers and every conceivable configuration between, and there’s never been more for AR-15 owners to choose from.

AR-Specific Mounts

In fact, it’s easy to see how you can quickly run out of rail space. On a factory tour of Warne Scope Mounts I caught a glimpse of the company’s SKEL 30 mm MSR scope mount before it was on the market. The one-piece system with a 20 MOA slope built in is more for AR-10s, though, because it “…allows additional elevation adjustment in your optic when shooting ranges over 600 yards.”

Although more appealing to bigger bore fans, comments made by company spokesman Tom Paris apply to owners of all flavors. CNC machining on a one-piece mount minimizes change in point of aim when the optic/mount is removed and replaced, and those tight tolerances also negate the need for lapping the rings—a procedure often done to maximize gripping surface, hence secure hold, with the optic.

Some multi-piece mounting systems—not all—he explained, can reflect a slight skew/warp on one end or the other, which surrenders a tiny amount of bite on the riflescope. As a result, after long range sessions or the inevitable abuse, point of aim/impact can drift. He cited the company’s vertical rings as one of the two-piece systems that doesn’t suffer the effect.

As for overall sales in optics riding MSRs, “It has grown significantly,” Lesser said. “But with the variety of ways people are using ARs…it’s hard to pin down specific figures. You might not think of the VX-3i 3.5-10×40 mm as an AR optic, but for a whitetail hunter with a 7.62/.308 it may be the perfect fit.”

If Leupold & Stevens is any indication, the MSR’s impact in nearly every corner of the industry can’t be overstated. “Thanks to the versatility of the AR platform, we’ve seen increases across all lines,” Lesser concluded.