Each year, millions of hunters take to the woods in hopes of harvesting whitetail deer. If you’re one of them (or want to be), a quality optic could help swing the odds in your favor.
However, not all optics are well-suited for deer hunting.
Not only will the right optic help you put venison on the family dinner table, but it will also help you do it more ethically.
Well-placed shots produce more humane harvests, which should be the goal of every ethical hunter.
If you’re itching to have a big buck lined up in your crosshairs but aren’t sure what to look for in a deer hunting scope, we’re here to help.
So let’s talk about what to look for when shopping for optics and get down to some models we think you should try.
Summary of Our Top Picks
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Because deer hunting is such a varied sport, it’s difficult to crown any single optic as “The Absolute Best Deer Hunting Optic Ever.” The type of optic you need depends on where and how you plan to hunt.
The needs of a Midwestern deer hunter, who may need to stretch long-range shots across open cropland, differ greatly from the South Eastern deer hunter slogging through thick, boggy river bottoms.
While both of these hunters could benefit from a quality optic, the type of optic is vastly different.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a new deer hunting optic.
How much magnification you need from an optic depends on the typical ranges you’ll be shooting.
For most deer hunters, who take advantage of shot opportunities inside of 200 yards, a traditional 3-9x riflescope is fine. There’s a reason 3-9x scopes are so popular…this magnification range is super practical, especially for deer hunters.
Hunters shooting long-range superstar cartridges in open country could benefit from a scope with a more generous magnification range (especially if they want their rifle to pull double duty on varmints).
Advances in engineering have provided hunters with impressive zoom ranges, which is good news for hunters who expect to take deer at extreme ranges.
Just be prepared to fork over some serious cash because those optics can put serious hurt on your bank account.
Just a few decades ago, every deer hunting scope had a basic 1-inch main tube. These specs provided a compact, low-profile hunting optic that was perfect for classic soft point ammo.
This size is still plenty practical for typical deer hunting scenarios.
New cartridges and cutting-edge projectile designs have allowed deer hunters to push the limits of effective shooting ranges.
Today, hunting optics with big main tubes (30mm or even 34mm) are far more common. Larger tubes can accommodate wider magnification ranges.
And although hefty tubes make for bulkier optics, they tend to be more robust. They also let in more light, which is a major perk for deer hunting, since most shot opportunities occur in those murky hours surrounding dawn and dusk.
On the negative side, they (and the rings used to mount them) tend to be heavier and costlier, so take this into consideration when shopping. For typical hunting scenarios, a 1-inch tube is usually adequate.
While objective lens size is only part of the light transmission equation, it has a greater impact than any other factor. Like big windows brighten a room, big objectives brighten a scope’s sight picture.
That means for shooting in low light conditions, bigger is generally better.
However, bigger isn’t always practical.
As the objective lens grows, so does the distance it needs to be mounted above the rifle barrel. The higher the scope is mounted, the more difficult it becomes to achieve proper shooting form and eye alignment.
Since inconsistencies in form produce inconsistencies in downrange accuracy, a massive objective lens could become a hindrance rather than an asset.
Scopes with colossal objective lenses are also heavy and bulky, which might be fine if your style of deer hunting has you driving up to a box stand and sitting all day.
However, if you have to tote a rifle any distance or need to maneuver in thick woods or the restrictive dimensions of a ground blind, that objective is just going to get in the way.
For the majority of deer hunters, anything with an objective lens larger than 50mm is overkill. 40mm to 42mm is a more practical choice.
Glass Quality and Lens Coatings
Because most deer hunters don’t want to tote around a scope with a monumental objective lens, the glass quality and lens coatings (two other important elements in light transmission) become absolutely crucial.
After the objective lens, these two features have the most influence on light transmission. So, if you want to see that monster buck chasing does at daybreak, you need to pay careful attention to your scope’s glass and coatings.
ED glass and fully multi-coated surfaces are a must for serious deer hunters.
Fixed Power Scopes
Although scopes with variable magnification are all the rage, don’t underestimate the value of a fixed-power optic. A fixed-power scope provides the same perspective every time you look through it.
Without dials to fiddle with, you can focus on the reticle and the target beyond it. Fewer steps in a high-adrenaline shooting situation are a good thing.
Because these optics are less complex than variable-power scopes, there are fewer things that can go wrong in the field.
Their simplicity also makes them more affordable, leaving you some extra cash for other important hunting gear.
Best Scopes for Deer Hunting
1. Leupold FX-3 6x42mm
This fixed-power optic from industry leader Leupold provides impressive clarity, rugged durability, and a simple, easy-to-use reticle.
However, what makes this optic particularly well-suited for deer hunting is Leupold’s exclusive Advanced Optical System.
Leupold uses top-notch glass and proprietary coatings to achieve superior light transmission, making those dusk and dawn shots more achievable.
This system also minimizes glare in harsh light, so if that monster buck steps out at noon, you’ll still be able to see him behind the crosshairs.
2. Trijicon ACOG 4×32
Although the Trijicon ACOG definitely isn’t your granddaddy’s hunting scope, this battle-proven fixed optic has plenty to offer modern deer hunters.
The ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight) is lightweight, compact, and built like a freakin’ tank.
Since these optics are bombproof, there’s nothing you or Mother Nature can dish out that would even remotely cause the ACOG to even break a sweat.
ACOGs are built for rapid target acquisition, which is a major asset if you jump deer in thick woods.
Another useful feature is Trijicon’s signature battery-free reticle illumination. Using a mixture of tritium phosphor and fiber optics, the ACOG’s reticle is always visible, no matter the light condition.
Plus, you never have to worry about your batteries dying while you’re hunting the backcountry, roughing it miles away from the nearest Wal-Mart.
What do you think of the ACOG? Rate it below!
3. Bushnell Engage Riflescope 3-9×40
Bushnell specializes in optics for everyday outdoor sportsmen, and their products never disappoint. Not only are they rugged, dependable, and functional, they’re also practical.
Bushnell’s Engage Series recently got an update, and these affordable optics are perfect for budget-conscious hunters unwilling to compromise on quality.
With six adjustable brightness settings, the Engage’s reticle is highly visible in pretty much any lighting condition. The scope also features fully multi-coated lenses, which provide solid low-light performance.
Hunters who frequent rugged hunting destinations will also appreciate Bushnell’s EXO barrier coatings.
EXO barrier coatings repel water, oil, fog, and dust, guaranteeing a clear sight picture in any environment.
4. Burris 2-7×32 Scout Scope
Lower magnification and a minimalist BDC reticle make this scope perfect for shooting big bucks at medium ranges. It also provides a generous field of view behind that uncomplicated reticle, which works well for tracking moving game.
And since this is a scout scope, it has like a full mile of eye relief. (It’s actually only 9.2 to 12 inches.) Designed for a forward mount, the Burris Scout Scope is perfect for both-eyes-open shooting.
It’s also a handy option if you want to add a modern optic to an older, top-ejecting lever action. If you want to bring your Winchester ‘94 into the 21st century, this is a good way to do it.
Best for Medium Range Shooting
5. Sig Sauer Whiskey3 3-9×40 Riflescope
Although Sig Sauer is well-known for its legendary firearms, the company is relatively new to the optic scene. However, their riflescopes perform like Sig has been engineering optics all along.
The Whiskey3 delivers excellent optical clarity in a sleek, modern package. That attractive package also happens to be surprisingly affordable.
The Whiskey3 also has a rock-solid construction capable of handling rough use, harsh environments, and powerful recoil.
6. Bushnell Forge 4.5-27×50 Riflescope
If you hunt whitetails in wide, open country, where shots closer than 200 yards are few and far between, a long-range riflescope could be your new best friend.
The Bushnell Forge fits the bill with a generous magnification range of 4.5 to 27 power and an ample 50mm objective lens.
The glass quality is impeccable, the kind typically relegated to optic’s heavy hitters like Zeiss and Schmidt & Bender. Expect to see a bright, high-contrast sight picture, even in low light.
The Bushnell Forge also features an illuminated FFP (first focal plane reticle) which maintains a consistent perspective with the target, no matter which magnification you have dialed in.
That means the holdover points remain the same throughout the magnification range.
Best Red Dots for Deer Hunting
Although definitely not traditional deer hunting optics, red dots can work well in some hunting situations. Despite their small size compared to traditional riflescopes, a red dot’s hunting potential is huge.
They provide extreme precision, allow hunters to keep both eyes open, and work well even when you don’t get your head all the way down on the gun. These optics are incredibly forgiving.
Red dots work best in situations where you find yourself up close and personal with your quarry.
A 4 MOA dot provides a 2-inch aiming point at 50 yards, which becomes 4 inches at 100 yards. If you need more precision for longer distances, you’ll want to opt for a smaller 2 MOA dot.
1. Aimpoint PRO Red Dot
Aimpoint invented the red dot, and they’ve been perfecting it ever since. The Aimpoint PRO is rock-solid and comes with a 3-year warranty. It’s also bombproof, in case the whitetails start throwing mortars.
In our opinion, the Aimpoint PRO is the best red dot on the market. We stand behind that claim whether you’re using it on the battlefield or to spray buckshot on bounding bucks.
2. EOTech EXPS2 Holographic Weapon Sight
Okay, so the EOTech EXPS2 isn’t exactly a red dot, but it’s probably better. Because it uses holographic technology, the EOTech EXPS2 allows you to focus on the target and the reticle at the same time.
Another perk: the holographic reticle is slightly more complex than a simple red dot, which can be a good thing. EOTech’s reticle features a center dot that is only 1 MOA, providing a more precise aiming point than the standard red dot.
The reticle also features a speed ring surrounding the center dot, which can be useful for on-the-fly ranging.
3. Holosun HS403R Micro Red Dot
Because life isn’t fair, not everyone has an unlimited optics budget. For those of us who didn’t inherit millions from some distant relative, dropping hundreds of dollars on a red dot could take a serious chunk out of the grocery bill.
If you don’t like eating ramen three times a day, the Holosun HS403R is one of the best budget red dots available.
It is sturdy, touts a long battery life, and performs similarly enough to expensive red dots that you’ll almost forget you aren’t running an Aimpoint. Almost.
This definitely isn’t an all-inclusive list of the best optics for deer hunting. Space and reader attention spans are limited.
While we stand behind the options we’ve mentioned here, there are plenty of other worthy riflescopes out there. Consider this a jumping-off point to finding the perfect optic to meet your deer-hunting needs.
No matter which optic you choose to top your deer rifle, be sure to spend some time practicing with your new set-up BEFORE opening day. Proficiency with your rig is ultimately your best weapon, and the best way to achieve proficiency is with practice.
Do you have a favorite deer hunting optic? Tell us why in the comments below. Need a rifle to go with your optic? Check out our thoughts on the 9 Best Deer Hunting Rifles You Can Still Buy.