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Updated Oct 25, 2022 11:05 AM

You may be thinking that air rifle scopes are pretty much all the same and that all you’ve got to do is decide on a budget and magnification requirements—but there’s a bit more to it. While you can certainly find great scopes from names that you’ve no doubt heard before—such as Leupold, Bushnell, and Vortex—there’s a whole other world of air rifle scope manufacturers to be discovered. Don’t discount them simply because you’re unfamiliar with the brand.

Many air rifles today look almost identical to their powder-burning brethren, but those looks can be deceiving. Beneath the surface, air rifles are built differently, and these differences can have serious consequences, such as a broken scope, if you’re not careful. Of course, it’s not all doom-and-gloom, and picking out the best air rifle scopes can be a fun part of outfitting your rifle for a specific purpose.

Best Overall: Hawke Vantage 3-9×40 Rifle Scope

Best Overall

Why It Made the Cut: Hawke’s Vantage 3-9×40 scope is the closest you can get to a traditional rifle scope.

Key Features 

  • Side focus knob for parallax adjustment
  • Lifetime warranty

Pros

  • Traditional 3-9×40 design that we all know and love
  • Overengineered for use on air rifles
  • Ability for parallax adjustment isn’t found on all air rifle scopes universally

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with mounting rings
  • Price reflects the overengineering, but it’s still a solid deal

Featuring a classic Mil-dot reticle with a 40mm bell and variable 3-9x magnification, the Hawke Vantage scope walks and talks like a regular rifle scope but comes with distinct advantages for use on air rifles. You still get .25 MOA adjustments for windage and elevation, but you also get a knob on the side to adjust for parallax.

Best Budget: Vortex Optics Crossfire II 2-7×32 Scope

Best Budget

Why It Made the Cut: Performance meets affordability with the Vortex Crossfire II 2-7×32 scope.

Key Features 

  • Backed by the Vortex lifetime warranty
  • Available with two different reticles
  • Perfect for air rifles or regular rifles

Pros

  • 2 to 7x magnification is perfect for most air rifle applications
  • Uses capped resettable turrets
  • Compact and durable

Cons

  • Quite honestly, I don’t have any

Vortex is well-known for making scopes that punch above their weight class, and the Crossfire II 2-7×32 is no exception. The scope weighs less than a pound and is less than a foot in length, making it a compact yet durable option for an air rifle. Backed by the unmatched Vortex lifetime warranty, this scope should outlast you by a generation or more. In terms of price, it’s on par with many regular rifle scopes. At first glance, that may make you question placement as the best budget scope, but the Crossfire II can easily pull double duty and go between an air rifle and a regular rifle with no issues whatsoever. Essentially, it’s two scopes in one.

Best Premium: UTG 4-16×44 30mm Scope

Best Premium

Why It Made the Cut: Feature-packed with lots of options and accessories, this scope is proof that something doesn’t have to be expensive to be considered premium.

Key Features 

  • 36 reticle colors to choose from
  • Brightness memory

Pros

  • Lockable and resettable turrets
  • Comes with rings and lens caps
  • Great magnification for large-caliber air rifles

Cons

  • Big and heavy: 15” long and weighs 1.5 pounds

UTG’s 4-16×44 30mm scope is the most technologically advanced one on this list, and while it costs more than the others, it still isn’t expensive for what’s considered to be a premium scope. Because it comes with rings and lens caps, this scope is ready to be mounted and taken to the range right out of the box. With a staggering 36 reticle colors to choose from, you can pinpoint what color works best for you. Plus, there’s a brightness memory that can take you back to your previous color and brightness settings with just one click. The 4 to 16x magnification is perfect for larger caliber air rifles and the 44mm bell will let in plenty of light for early morning or late evening shots.

Best Beginner: Crosman Targetfinder 4x Scope

Best Beginner

Why It Made the Cut: Crosman is an established air gun name and the Targetfinder 4x Scope is perfect for dipping your toes into the world of air rifle scopes

Key Features 

  • Fixed 4x power
  • 1-year warranty

Pros

  • Costs less than $20
  • Comes with dovetail receiver mounts

Cons

  • Not recommended for spring-powered air rifles

Crosman has been in the air gun business since 1923, so they know a thing or two about air rifle scopes. The Targetfinder 4x is a great beginner scope because it’s so affordable at an MSRP of just $19.99 and available for even less at many places. Don’t let the price fool you, though—this is a solid option if you’re just getting into the world of air rifles and don’t want to spend a fortune on a scope if your gun was relatively inexpensive to begin with. Featuring fixed 4x magnification and dovetail receiver mounts, it can be installed easily on many beginner Crosman (and other brand) air rifles.

Best for Strength: SWFA 10×42 SS 30mm Riflescope

Best for Strength

Why It Made the Cut: The SWFA 10×42 SS 30mm Riflescope is built like an absolute tank.

Key Features 

  • Uses a Mil-quad reticle
  • Water-, fog- and shockproof

Pros

  • Safe for use on spring powered rifles
  • Great price for what you get
  • Has an adjustment wheel for parallax, which isn’t universal on all air rifle scopes

Cons

  • You’re locked in to a specific magnification level

Built to NATO specs and designed to withstand recoil up to a .50 BMG, you probably think that the SWFA 10×42 SS 30mm scope is overkill on an air rifle, but you’d be wrong. Instead, it just means that you’ve got an absolutely rock solid rifle. Because the scope has a fixed magnification level, they’ve used the turret that normally adjusts this to make adjustments to parallax.

Things to Consider Before Buying an Air Rifle Scope

Like any other scope, you’ll want to figure out how much magnification you want or need, what tube diameter you’d prefer, and the size of the optic bell. This isn’t really any different than deciding on a regular rifle scope, but there are some differences that you need to consider and keep in mind. Here are some of the things you should think about before parting with your hard-earned money:

Recoil

An air rifle recoils differently than a regular rifle. While a regular rifle recoils backwards, an air rifle will actually recoil backwards and forwards. This extra directional recoil is not something that regular rifle scopes are designed to deal with over a long period of time. This means you should either look for an air rifle-specific scope or a scope that is designed to work on both.

Parallax

The parallax is also different between air rifle scopes and regular rifles scopes. Whereas a regular rifle scope will be set around 100 meters, an air rifle scope will be set around 10 meters. That 10-fold difference can be a big deal, so, again, look for an air rifle-specific scope or one that is designed to work on both.

Price

Good glass isn’t cheap. That’s not to say that you can’t get a good air rifle scope on a budget, but be mindful of how much you have to spend and how much you’re willing to spend. You could spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on a scope and find that it gets the same results as one that costs a fraction of that price. Don’t spend gobs of money just to spend it.

FAQs

Can you put a regular scope on an air rifle?
Yes, you can put a regular scope on an air rifle, but there are a couple caveats. The first is that you should only use a regular scope on an air rifle if the manufacturer says that it is suitable for both regular rifles and air rifles. You also shouldn’t put a cheap scope that’s built for regular rifles on an air rifle. Ones of higher quality should be fine.

Why do air rifles break scopes?
Air rifles break scopes because they recoil differently. Whereas a regular rifle recoils to the rear, an air rifle recoils to the rear and the front. Because regular scopes are not designed with forward recoil in mind, the extra directional travel can cause a scope to break unless it has been designed to work on both regular rifles and air rifles.

How much does an air rifle scope cost?
Generally speaking, air rifle scopes cost less than regular rifle scopes. Depending on the application, you can spend as little as $20 or as much as $200 or more and be perfectly happy with the performance. It all depends on the type of air rifle you have and how you intend on using it.

Final Thoughts

Knowing the difference between a regular rifle scope and an air rifle scope—and more specifically, knowing why they are different—is important when it comes time to pick out a scope for an air rifle. While you could probably get away with using a regular rifle scope in many instances, you should do so with the understanding that it isn’t necessarily the right tool for the job and, as such, you shouldn’t be surprised if something goes wrong or breaks.

Thankfully, the price of admission into the world of air rifle scopes is inexpensive. A good one can be had at a reasonable price, and even a premium one may surprise you as to how much money is left in your pocket after purchase.

Methodology 

From plinkers and varmit rifles to long-distance platforms, I’ve shot some of the best air rifles in a wide array of calibers and configurations suited to different applications. Similarly, each rifle was outfitted with a different scope for optimum performance in a given situations. I’ve learned what works, what doesn’t, when something is overkill, and when something is undervalued. I evaluate air rifle scopes using the following criteria:

  • Build quality: A scope is only as good as the glass that’s in it. This is especially important when it comes to air rifles and recoil. The rest of the scope is important, too. You want to make sure that the body is durable and that the adjustment turrets are solid.
  • Magnification: How powerful is this scope in terms of magnification and is it going to be able to live up to the expectations I have for a specific caliber and rifle combination?
  • Features: Are the features on a given scope adequate for what I’ll be doing with it? Conversely, are there more bells and whistles than necessary just so the manufacturer can charge more?
  • Cost: Does this scope provide enough features and benefits to justify the amount of money it costs? Or is there another option out there that’s similar in price but offers more bang for the buck?