Searching for a quality illuminated reticle scope for your next hunting trip?
Look no further!
High-quality illuminated scopes are designed with more than just a simple illuminated reticle; they work incredibly well in low light conditions, are fog-proof and waterproof, provide fast target acquisition, and give you as many shooting options as possible.
To put it simply, an illuminated reticle scope makes target acquisition incredibly easy. With this item in your gearbox, you’ll certainly hit your mark.
However, with so many different models available on the market today, it might be difficult for you to find one that fits all your needs.
What’s in This Buying Guide?
An illuminated scope is an essential accessory for your rifle as it enhances your performance while shooting and hunting.
To help you find one that suits both your needs and your budget, we’ve reviewed and compared some of the best-illuminated rifle scopes.
We’ve also discussed the factors you need to consider before purchasing one and explained why these scopes are so important.
However, if you’re looking for multiple reticle options, make sure you check out our review of the Armasight Predator Thermal rifle scope.
What is an Illuminated Reticle Scope?
When you hear that a scope is illuminated, you shouldn’t take that to mean that the sight picture brightens automatically, giving you a clear shot even if it’s dark outside.
An illuminated scope simply means that only the reticles are illuminated, which is more than enough for most shooters and rifle owners.
The reticles in regular rifle scopes are etched onto the scope’s lens, which is ideal if you’re only using your rifle for plinking or shooting in indoor ranges.
However, if you’re planning on going on a hunting trip, then you’re going to have to step out of your comfort zone and shoot in low-light conditions.
While an illuminated reticle scope does not make your surroundings bright, it does the next best thing and makes the reticle glow.
If you’ve tried aiming at a dark or poorly-lit background with a black reticle, then you know it’s almost impossible to have a clear shot.
However, if you do the same with an illuminated scope, the reticle will glow in the dark, making it easier to aim and hit your target.
Best Illuminated Reticle Rifle Scopes
Vortex Optics Crossfire Riflescope
Objective Lens Diameter
Athlon Optics Illuminated Reticle
Best Illuminated Long Range Scope
Objective Lens Diameter
6061 T6 Aluminum
CVLIFE Illuminated Scope
Best Value for Money
Objective Lens Diameter
UTG BugBuster Scope
Best for AR-15
Objective Lens Diameter
Monstrum G3 First Focal Plane Rifle Scope
Best for Tactical Use
Objective Lens Diameter
1. Best Overall: Vortex Optics Crossfire Riflescope
Being one of the best models available in the market, the Vortex Optics Crossfire II is designed with a forgiving eye box and a bright reticle.
Both these features help you shoot easily, especially in low-light conditions.
The Vortex Optics Crossfire II boasts numerous features at a comparatively lower price.
It offers high-level performance and reliability on the field, while the strong materials in its construction ensure long-lasting durability.
Its V-brite illuminated reticle comes with a small MOA dot, 11 brightness settings, and red illumination.
To put it simply, this Vortex model boasts good functionality and a simple design, making it an excellent addition to the scope’s glass-etched reticle design.
Its elevation and windage turrets come with .25 MOA adjustments, giving you the precision and accuracy you need even at the scope’s highest magnification option.
Furthermore, the construction of the Vortex is of the highest quality and ensures that it handles recoil well.
The Crossfire II is designed with fully multi-coated optics to enhance light transmission, while its 50mm objective lens guarantees that you won’t have to worry about the brightness anytime soon.
Moreover, the model is suitable for almost every use; it’s accurate enough for long-distance shooting at ranges, bright enough to work as a hunting scope, and boasts a 3x magnification that allows for close-range shooting.
However, the biggest feature of this scope is its second focal point reticle. With this feature, the reticle will not change when you zoom in or out on your target, allowing you to quickly acquire and lock on to your target.
Since this scope enables you to make decisions on the fly and act quickly, it is perfect for coyote and deer hunting. It boasts V-Brite illumination technology, which along with making the reticle bright, also provides a contrast against the dark background.
This enables you to have a clearer aim of your target, making the scope especially useful for shooting at night or hunting for predators that might charge at you without any warning.
Issues & Limitations
One major issue concerning the Vortex Optics Crossfire II is that its quality control can be a hit-or-miss affair.
Some customers have complained about receiving a lower-quality illuminated reticle scope, while others stated that the product worked perfectly right out of the box.
The fantastic lenses and eyepiece of the Vortex Optics Crossfire II are just the beginning.
Boasting some of the best turrets available today and a highly durable build, this model is an excellent choice for any discerning marksman or hunter.
2. Best Illuminated Long-Range Scope: Athlon Optics Illuminated Reticle
Being one of the most popular names in the riflescope business, Athlon Optics develops high-quality units, and the 6-24x50 MIL Reticle is no exception.
This illuminated scope boasts a 50mm objective lens and a set of quality lenses with magnification options ranging from 6x to 24x.
Its 10x magnification enables you to take shots as far as 1000 yards, making it ideal for big game hunting, while its 24x magnification makes it ideal for long-range precision shots and competition shooting.
The Athlon Optics Illuminated reticle is designed with an illuminated first focal plane reticle, making it perfect for shooting out to 24x.
This is because a first focal plane reticle shrinks and grows with the magnification power, constantly staying in scale with your sight picture. At 24x, the scope’s entire reticle glows with red illumination, while its 11 brightness settings enable you to find an option that best suits your needs. The reticle also has lines on both sides for target leads.
An FFP scope further enables the shooter to estimate windage and elevation quickly as the markings on its reticle scale up and down with the magnification. This makes the scope suitable for high-stress shooting situations.
Furthermore, the lenses of this Athlon Optics model are multi-coated with the company’s Xtra Protective lens coating, while its 30mm tube is constructed with 6061 machined aluminum to enhance durability and longevity.
The illuminated reticle scope also boasts eye relief that starts at 3.3 inches, which is comfortable but still gives you enough space to shoot with heavy recoil without hurting yourself.
However, the best part about this unit is its crisp illumination. Its fully multi-coated lens increases light transmission, bringing true color and ultimate brightness to the entire light spectrum, while the illumination itself is not overpowering.
Thanks to its nitrogen-purged tube and O-ring seal, the unit is completely fog-proof, shockproof, and waterproof.
With their audible and tactical feedback, even its turrets are more reliable and durable than those of similar models.
Another important feature of this scope is that its illuminated reticle has been etched directly onto the glass.
This helps eliminate one of the major problems of illuminated reticles and ensures exceptional durability and visibility.
Issues & Limitations
One concern about this Athlon Optics model is that the sight picture gets cloudy at the maximum magnification power.
While you can still use this foggy image to get a clear aim and make an accurate shot, the company could have designed it to be a bit better.
Another problem of this scope is that the click might not be audible when you turn the turrets. However, you can easily fix this problem by re-greasing its turrets with a lubricant.
Despite the issue of the slight blurring of its sight picture, the Athlon Optics 6-24x50 APMR MIL Reticle is still an almost perfect illuminated reticle scope.
Its FFP reticle helps in quick target acquisition, while its overall smart design and durable construction make it one of the most reliable models available today.
3. Best Value for Money: CVLIFE Illuminated Scope
The CVLIFE illuminated rifle scope undoubtedly belongs in a league of its own. It is designed with a gun sight laser to provide accuracy and positive target acquisition.
The best thing about it is that it’s available for under $100, which practically makes it a steal in our books.
Thanks to its multiple perks, this scope is ideal for small game hunting, target shooting, big game hunting, varmint hunting, and tactical use.
The CVLIFE rifle scope is ingeniously designed with a 40mmm objective lens and a 2.5-10x magnification range.
Its multi-coated optics and Kellner eyepiece enhance image quality and ensure correct dioptric adjustments, while the scratch-resistant coating on its external lens protects it from debris, scratches, dirt, and smudges.
One of its most prominent features is the attached 5mW red laser that reaches out to 100 yards, making the scope perfect for close-range shooting. You can also adjust the elevation and windage turrets to ensure the red laser is accurate and in line with your rifle.
The model further boasts a red and green illuminated mil-dot reticle that’s suitable for 55 grain .223 caliber bullets out to 500 yards.
The reticle features five different levels of brightness, but you can also turn the brightness off if you want to use the black, non-illuminated reticle.
Its adjustment dials are also incredibly well-calibrated and responsive throughout their usage.
You’ll be able to feel the tactical response at each setting, making the unit reliable for extensive users, who usually use the scope for long periods of time, as well.
Moreover, the scope is designed with dioptric adjustment, which is a unique, pre-programmed mechanism that automatically corrects any blurs or aberrations in the sight picture, showing you an incredibly clear picture even at the highest magnification power.
This feature is incredibly useful and one that’s not commonly found on regular scopes.
The included bullet drop compensator also adds convenience for experienced shooters, while it’s a flat-out perk for beginners.
It handles one of the most complex jobs in long-range shooting by compensating and adjusting for the bullet drop and keeping you up to date.
If all the features mentioned above aren’t enough to convince you, the unit also comes with 11mm and 20mm mounts to fit the type of rail you have.
You won’t have any trouble with the installation of these mounts as well.
Issues & Limitations
Like with most affordable scopes, there are some quality control issues that can range anywhere from low-quality construction to reticle issues.
Most problems are due to incorrect installation, so make sure you check the product properly during its warranty period.
The scope is also a bit heavy for a 2.5-10x40 model, but considering the illuminated reticle and additional laser options, the extra weight is not much of a surprise.
In conclusion, this CVLIFE model has a lot of features to offer. If you’re able to get a fully functional unit, it’s going to surely be a keeper, especially with its incredibly low price-tag.
Boasting a BDC turret, laser sight, and multiple illumination options, you’re certainly going to be able to fill your tag!
4. Best for AR-15: UTG BugBuster Scope
The BugBuster scope is perfect for individuals on a budget and for shooters who want to outfit their rifles for holdovers.
Its lenses provide a clear sight picture at almost all magnification options, while the holdovers work exceptionally well for the AK rifle series.
UTG has developed a reputation for offering quality scopes at low prices, and this model is no exception.
The company offers its products at wholesale prices, making its optics affordable for almost every type of shooter.
Available for under $100, the UTG BugBuster is loaded with exceptional features usually found on higher-end scopes.
For instance, it boasts parallax adjustment and an AO feature that you can fine-tune to three yards.
The unit is also designed with RGB illumination and offers several different brightness settings to improve daytime shooting and to ensure that you find your mark in low light conditions as well.
Boasting UTG’s Tactical Range Estimating mil-dot reticle, this scope has a combined total of 18 dots on both sides of the elevation and windage crosshairs, while the inner edges and center of the duplex crosshairs add up to a total of 21 dots for adjustment.
Furthermore, the scope is equipped with two lockable turrets for elevation and windage adjustments and a mock turret for the illuminated reticle.
The turrets have a zero-reset feature that maintains your zero regardless of the number of adjustments you make.
UTG also offers free mounting rings with the purchase, so you can be sure that you’re going to be getting the best bang for your buck.
The main body of the scope is a combination of aluminum and polymer, while its fit and finish are evenly applied, and its controls are easy to figure out and understand.
Users can also change the reticle color easily and choose between red, green, and black if they want to turn off the illumination.
Moreover, its zoom adjustment is incredibly smooth, and its magnification ring is extremely easy to rotate.
The sight picture remains crystal clear at almost all magnification powers, while the proprietary multi-coating on the lens leaves an emerald shine over the glass, which helps relax your eyes.
Lastly, the model also comes with a set of flip-up lens caps and an optional sunshade to decrease glare.
The whole package is extremely impressive, especially when you consider the price.
Issues & Limitations
While the sight picture was crystal clear at most magnification powers, there was a loss of clarity and a distinct blur at the 8 and 9 magnification power.
This slight blur will not make your target indistinguishable but will reduce the quality of the image.
There are also some quality issues, as some customers have reported receiving defective scopes. These defective features can range anywhere from misaligned reticles and broken turrets to the scope being unable to hold a zero.
However, the company offers a lifetime warranty, so if you find your product to be defective, make sure to send it back.
The UTG 1” 3-9x32 BugBuster Scope is an excellent little optic, especially if you consider the features it offers for the price.
Since it’s a compact and versatile scope, you can easily mount it to various rifles for a variety of shooting activities. However, you must remember to check for defects in the product.
5. Best for Tactical Use: Monstrum G3 First Focal Plane Rifle Scope
If you’re looking for a reliable tactical scope, then the Monstrum G3 is the perfect pick for you. It offers a one-year warranty and meets the strict criteria needed to pass quality control.
The Monstrum G3 is a high-performance tactical rifle scope that’s perfect for long-range shooting. It’s designed with a pivotal plane reticle and an adjustable objective lens.
Boasting a magnification range of 6-24x, this model enables you to pinpoint medium to long-range targets that are 1000 or more yards away, while its custom-designed FFP reticle ensures faster holdover correction and range estimation.
The scope features ¼ MOA/click elevation and windage adjustments, along with a zero reset. It also has locking turrets to prevent slippage, while its mechanical illumination control knob makes it easier for shooters to control lighting.
All adjustment assemblies are further made entirely of metal, making them work smoother than before.
The unit also features a MIL-STD 8265 type III hard-anodized finish, making the metal harder than other models and making the scope itself almost impervious to scratches.
Moreover, the Monstrum G3 boasts a fully multi-coated lens to decrease glare and eliminate the loss of light that occurs because of reflection.
This coating also increases light transmission, sharpens contrast, and protects the lens from scratches.
The main body is nitrogen-filled and fully sealed, making the scope completely fog-proof and waterproof.
The unit is equipped with a custom-designed FFP type-H reticle with functional MOA markings that won’t interfere with your aim.
Its etched black reticle is clearly visible without illumination but can also be lit up in red for better visibility in low-light environments.
The body of the illuminated reticle scope is constructed with lightweight and heavy-duty 6061 aircraft-grade aluminum to ensure longevity and durability, while the included heavy-duty scope rings provide exceptional performance and maximum lockdown.
The scope also comes with a set of flip-up lens covers that protect the optic from abrasion and dust.
Since the G3 is designed with a first focal plane reticle, the size of the reticle will shrink and grow with the different magnification options.
The windage and elevation dials boast number markings, so you can easily and conveniently reset the scope to zero.
The AO scope further allows you to fine-tune the objective lens, bringing the target into focus and aligning it with the FFP reticle. This brings the targets into sharper focus, reduces parallax and estimates range.
Another noteworthy feature of this model is its picture quality. The reticle is incredibly sharp, and the scope provides an extremely clear picture when you look through it.
Overall, the Monstrum G3 offers good detail, with little to no chromatic aberration.
Issues & Limitations
There might be some 'light bleed' when you use the illuminated reticle in dark or low light conditions.
While the scope will still be useful, the quality of the sight picture may be negatively affected. If Monstrum fixes the problems with tracking accuracy and reticle alignment, the G3 will truly become the perfect scope for tactical use.
If you need a high-performance tactical rifle scope, the Monstrum G3 is the perfect option.
Its 6-24x magnification makes it ideal for long and medium-distance shooting, while its illuminated reticle ensures better visibility in low light conditions.
When to Use an Illuminated Rifle Scope?
An illuminated scope is designed with internal lights that illuminate and light up the reticle, giving you a clearer aim in low-light situations, such as twilight, pre-dawn, snowy, cloudy, and rainy conditions.
The unit also provides contrast with targets darkened by their shadows or colorations. For instance, you might find it difficult to spot a dark brown elk standing in a tree’s shadow with a non-illuminated reticle, but an illuminated one will provide you with a clear shot.
Illuminated reticles are usually designed with a small LED. Most models are equipped with a red LED, but some illuminated scopes also use amber or green.
Anyone can easily pick out these colors in low light conditions, and they don’t cause the pupil of your eye to contract and weaken as much as white light, thus protecting your natural night vision.
An illuminated scope has the same uses as a non-illuminated one. Since most states set their legal hunting hours according to the local sunset and sunrise, individuals who prefer shooting at the end or beginning of the day may find it more beneficial to use an illuminated reticle instead of a non-illuminated one.
You can choose to turn off the illuminated reticle feature for the rest of the day or use it selectively according to the lighting conditions.
It’s important to remember that an illuminated rifle scope does not alter or improve the sight picture.
Instead, it only changes the reticle’s brightness, making the tool incredibly useful in situations where the target’s lighting or coloration makes the reticle a bit difficult to see.
Thus, an illuminated riflescope creates a contrast between the target and the reticle, enabling you to align the reticle with the target and take a clear shot.
Buying Guide: How to Choose the Right Illuminated Scope
Before you purchase an illuminated scope, you need to consider some things to ensure you’re getting a model that best suits your needs. Some of these features include:
The magnification options of a rifle scope have a significant effect on its range. The majority of common hunting engagements occur below 1000 yards, so a scope with magnification settings at or less than 10x is suitable for most rifle owners.
However, some scopes are equipped with magnification ranges greater than 10x, enabling you to zoom in past 1000 yards with stunning clarity.
This higher magnification setting makes the scope perfect for hunting stationary targets and for target shooters.
We’ve reviewed several illuminated reticle scopes, each with different magnification ranges, so you can choose one that best suits your needs or hunting scenarios.
First or Second Focal Plane?
You need to ask yourself whether you want an illuminated reticle that rests on the second or the first focal plane.
A first focal plane reticle will become larger as you increase the magnification power and will become smaller as you decrease it.
This ensures that the unit’s elevation and windage holdover points remain precise and accurate, even if you alter the magnification.
Contrarily, a second focal plane reticle will not change size as you change the zoom settings. These units are truly accurate at only one magnification setting mentioned in the user’s manual.
For all other magnification options, you’ll have to determine the accuracy of the holdover points by yourself.
Each type of scope has its own benefits and drawbacks. Thus, we’ve included scopes with both kinds of reticles, so you can choose the one that suits you best.
Higher-end illuminated reticle scopes are designed with controls and adjustable turrets that enable you to change the reticle’s brightness.
Along with being excellent for personal comfort, this feature also allows the reticle to adapt to different lighting conditions in your environment.
It’s advisable to choose a scope with multiple brightness settings instead of a model with a simple “on or off” switch. High-quality units also offer different colors of illumination, such as orange, green, and red.
It’s better to go for an illuminated reticle scope that features multi-coated lenses. A multi-coated lens is simply an anti-reflective film applied to the focal and objective lens.
Working like a one-way mirror, this film allows light to go in but stops it from being reflected outwards. The higher the number of layers, the greater the light transmission will be.
Multi-coated lenses don’t break easily, making them more durable and reliable, and offer a clearer sight picture and better light transmission. They further help maintain greater accuracy and precision and work exceptionally well with illuminated reticles.
High-quality illuminated scopes are fog-proof and waterproof, but the best ones are constructed with aircraft-grade aluminum.
The majority of illuminated scopes make the unit fog-proof with nitrogen-purging, but a few higher-end models have started working with argon instead.
Along with being fog-proof and waterproof, the unit should also be able to withstand the recoil of your rifle.
If the illuminated reticle scope is damaged by recoil, you won’t be able to see the target or use the unit at all.
Cost and Warranty
If you compare a non-illuminated scope with an illuminated one, you’ll find that the latter is more expensive.
Since the majority of game species and prey are most active in near-dark or extremely early morning, an illuminated reticle scope is worth the extra cost, given that it doesn’t exceed the budget you’ve set.
Most scopes also come with limited lifetime warranties. If you’re investing a lot of money into your scope, then it’s better to be brand-specific so you receive the replacement coverage and customer service you deserve and expect.
Pros and Cons of Illuminated Rifle Scopes
Even though illuminated rifle scopes are better than non-illuminated ones, they still have their advantages and disadvantages.
Enhances Hunting Experience in Low Light Conditions
An illuminated scope's main function is to improve the lighting in pitch dark or low light conditions. An illuminated reticle is a great bonus for every hunter, as it improves your aim and ensures you hit your mark.
Increases Precision and Accuracy
Combining the right magnification setting and an illuminated reticle makes it easier to achieve precision and accuracy while shooting.
While no illumination feature can match up to quality practice and training, the clarity and bullet drop compensation that illuminated reticle scopes offer can be hard to dispute.
A non-illuminated reticle scope will be less safe for hunters when they’re shooting in the middle of the forest.
In low light or dark conditions, an illuminated reticle scope will give you a clearer aim of the target, so you can hit your mark! Thus, along with providing greater accuracy, this unit also offers better safety.
Draws Your Eye to the Reticle Faster
An illuminated reticle makes it easier to see the target, thus enabling you to align the optics accurately and take a precise shot.
In most hunting scenarios, the natural color of your reticle blends in with your target’s fur or with the background color.
In such cases, having an illuminated reticle will be more helpful as you’ll find it easier to place your target.
Heavier than Regular Scopes
When going on a hunting trip, it’s better to have a compact rifle, so you won’t get tired of carrying the heavy weight for a long time.
An illuminated reticle rifle scope is heavier than a normal model because it includes a knob to control the illumination and an extra battery.
The scope's overall weight depends on the battery’s size, so it’s advisable to choose a scope with a smaller battery.
Most illuminated reticle scopes function with the help of batteries, which might run out of juice in the middle of your hunting trip.
Moreover, illuminated reticles are sometimes less durable than glass-etched reticles.
Is an illuminated scope worth it?
An illuminated scope is certainly worth the money if it enhances the clarity of the sight picture while you’re hunting.
While an illuminated scope helps you aim and shoot more accurately, whether it’s worth it or not depends entirely on whether you need the scope or not.
Is an illuminated scope really necessary?
It’s necessary to use an FFP or SFP illuminated reticle rifle scope in a few hunting scenarios. Any situation where you need to spot a target that’s similar in color to its background or to the black-etched reticle would call for an illuminated reticle.
On the other hand, if you’re going to be shooting in the daytime or in good lighting conditions, an illuminated reticle will not be necessary, even for hunting.
If you do decide to purchase an illuminated reticle, make sure you prioritize magnification power, durability, protection from fog, quality control knobs, and battery life over superfluous accuracy tools and power settings.
What is the ideal scope for pitch dark or low light conditions?
It’s essential that you choose a rifle scope that suits your needs. If you want to use a night vision optic, it’s better to have an illuminated reticle scope that works with night vision.
However, if you don’t plan on shooting at night, it’s not advisable to spend extra on night vision compatibility.
A scope with a higher magnification range is ideal for shooting at dawn and dusk, while a bullet drop compensator and an illuminated reticle are suitable for making long shots in the dark.
Some scopes have fully illuminated reticles, but most scopes feature partially illuminated ones, so pick the model that will make your aim more accurate.
Does an illuminated reticle function without batteries?
Yes, an illuminated reticle will work without a battery. The battery only illuminates the reticle, so if the battery runs out of juice, the reticle will revert to its black color without illumination.
Which illuminated reticle scope is best for deer hunting?
The quality of a deer hunting scope depends on its ability to hold zero and offer repeatability. It should also provide exceptional optical clarity and be dustproof and waterproof.
Since deer are most active around dawn and dusk, it’s better to choose a scope with high-quality glass, a large aperture, and a multi-coated lens.
The best illuminated scope for deer hunting should be convenient to carry, simple to use, and easy to mount.
Every second counts in a hunting game, so it’s essential that you’re always ready to aim and fire at the target. The scope should also be comfortable and offer sufficient eye relief.
Final Verdict: What is the Best Illuminated Scope for You?
All in all, the best illuminated scope for you depends on what you’re going to use the unit for.
However, the Vortex Optics Crossfire II remains our favorite for all-around use.