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Published May 30, 2023 11:00 AM
Handgun scopes can help improve your accuracy at the range and in the field. Most hunters who opt to carry a sidearm as their primary weapon will add some sort of optic—scope or red dot—to extend their range without sacrificing accuracy. And this makes even more sense for big game hunters who encounter longer shots in the woods.
These days, most manufacturers make specialized scopes and rings designed specifically for handguns. They come in different sizes, magnifications, and accessories—but they all help shooters tighten their groups at distances that would be hard to hit with iron sights. We rounded up some of the best handgun scopes to help you find the perfect optic to attach to your sidearm and shoot better in the field.
How We Picked the Best Handgun Scopes
Choosing the correct handgun scope for the job can make the difference between a successful harvest and a total failure. We relied heavily on our own experience with scopes and handguns in guiding our decisions. We also spent a lot of time diving into the specs behind each scope. In the process, we weighed many important factors when choosing a handgun scope, and some of them include:
- Magnification: Does this scope have magnification? Is it fixed or variable? Does the magnification make sense for a handgun?
- Reticle: What is the reticle’s design? Does the scope have a tube that collects enough light for early morning and evening shot opportunities when the sun is high or low in the sky?
- Eye Relief: Does the scope have adequate eye relief for use with a handgun?
- Weight: Does the scope add an undue amount of weight to an already heavy handgun? How do the materials and design affect this weight?
- Value: Does the scope’s performance match the price point? Does the scope offer additional features that increase the value?
Best Handgun Scopes: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Leupold VX-Handgun 2.5-8x 32mm Duplex
- Magnification: Variable
- Weight: 10.9 Ounces
- Eye Relief: 15 Inches (Low and High)
- Reticle: Duplex
- Excellent magnification
- Rugged for heavy calibers
- Lifetime guarantee
- Price Point
- Best for the largest of revolvers
Leupold has a reputation for being one of the best optic manufacturers on the market, and the VX-3 is the best handgun scope you can buy. This scope’s 11.4-inch length means it is best suited for larger revolvers, like the Ruger Super Blackhawk, or the Smith & Wesson XVR. And since it’s a Leupold, the scope’s durability is unmatched. It is waterproof, fogproof, and can handle the heavy recoil of a .44 Magnum or .460 S&W Magnum without losing zero. It also has one of the most adjustable magnifications you’ll find in a handgun scope, ranging from 2.5-8x.
The durable construction and quality glass do come at a cost, but if you’re going to spend over a grand on a revolver, you might as well splurge on a scope to go with it. Much like a great rifle scope, you get what you pay for with handgun optics, and the quality here is second to none. Plus, this is one of the few scopes with a true lifetime guarantee, so you never have to worry about replacing it.
Best Value: Burris Handgun
- Magnification: 2x, 2-7x, 3-12x
- Weight: 7-16 Ounces (depending on the model)
- Eye Relief: 10-24 Inches (depending on the model)
- Reticle: Plex or Ballistic Plex
- A variety of sizes and magnifications for different handguns
- Long eye reliefs for larger shooters
- Great lens clarity
- Some lemons make it out of the factory
The Burris handgun scope is one of the most popular choices among shooters, and it’s not surprising when you consider the range of sizes and magnifications available. Burris also makes this scope in a nickel finish that pairs nicely with a stainless steel sidearm. More importantly, their models have a range of extended eye relief that will suit any shooter. Especially those with longer arms who have a hard time finding a scope they can see through in a proper shooting position. The price varies from model to model, depending on magnification and other features. But even the higher-end model (which includes a magnification of 3-12x), offers great value for quality glass.
Best .22: BSA Handgun Scope
- Magnification: 2-7x, 2-20x
- Weight: N/A
- Eye Relief: 12-20 Inches
- Reticle: 30/30
- Plenty of eye relief
- Great for low recoil handguns
Fortunately, pistols chambered in .22 lr, or other rimfire calibers do not require an extremely expensive optic. The BSA fits the bill perfectly, thanks to the small profile. This scope is available in two different models and boasts some surprisingly great eye relief up to 20 inches. The BSA isn’t the best at long range, but most shooters are likely going to keep their shots under 50 yards with this scope anyway.
It is also versatile enough to be used for a variety of handguns. Although it’s going to be most effective on rimfires with a low recoil. For the price point, this is an excellent option for anyone new to handgun scopes or those who are on a tight budget. Amazingly, the lowest magnification version starts at only $60.
Best for Hunting: Leupold FX 4×28 Duplex
- Magnification: 4x Fixed
- Weight: 7 Ounces
- Eye Relief: 18 Inches
- Reticle: Duplex
- Extremely accurate
- Rugged construction
- Fixed magnification
At $450, this scope represents a more affordable alternative to the VX-3. It has the same type of rugged construction and reliability we’ve come to expect from Leupold, but with a fixed magnification. It is for hunters who plan to target whitetails at distances under 200 yards with something like .44 Mag or .357 Mag. The only real downside is a fixed magnification, but at closer ranges, that’s almost a non-factor. It also helps drop the weight of this scope down to just seven ounces, keeping your setup more manageable.
The fixed magnification of this scope also helps with accuracy and holds zero extremely well. We also like this option for hunting simply because of the waterproof and fogproof design. You can hunt down that big buck in a snowstorm with confidence knowing the shot is going to be true. Throw in Leupold’s guarantee, and this scope is worth every penny.
Best Budget: Leapers UTG 2-7x 32mm
- Magnification: 7x
- Weight: 14 Ounces
- Eye Relief: 13.8 Inches (Low) 25 Inches (High)
- Reticle: PDC (Red and Green)
- Excellent in low light
- Easy-to-see reticles
Coming in at $160, this scope is an excellent option for anyone on a budget. The tube is rather large, which allows for excellent visibility in low-light situations. Additionally, the illuminated reticle makes it even easier to see. Just be sure to check your local regulations regarding hunting with an illuminated reticle. The UTG also offers a good amount of eye relief and has a fixed magnification of 7x. It isn’t suited for the big bore revolvers, but it is a great choice for whitetail rounds like .44 or .357 Magnum. This scope offers some of the best low light visibility you can get without a night or thermal scope.
Best Red Dot: Trijicon RMR Type 2
- Magnification: None
- Weight: 1.2 Ounces
- Eye Relief: N/A
- Reticle: Red Dot
- Extremely light
- Fast target acquisition
- The best option for semi-autos
We know the Trijicon is a sight and not a scope, but it is an incredible upgrade for any handgun. This sight’s high price tag is worth the price of admission due to the low 1.2-ounce weight that makes it feel incredibly natural atop any firearm. The multi-coated lens is easy to see and helps with fast target acquisition. It is also great for low light situations thanks to the adjustable LED brightness that is quickly toggled on and off. It is most effective at targets out to 50 yards.
The Trijicon is an excellent example of keeping things simple. The design is smooth, with no rough edges to hang up on anything, and the windage and elevation screws are incredibly simple to adjust. Because Trijicon didn’t get overly fancy with the design, it also proves to be incredibly rugged. It is waterproof to 66 feet, perfect for anyone who expects to be exposed to the elements.
What to Consider When Buying a Handgun Scope
Hunters and shooters don’t have many options when it comes to handgun scopes. Partially because demand isn’t as high, but also because the mounts, scope rings, and the scopes themselves require a slightly different line of thought when compared to a typical rifle scope. This is especially true when you start talking about heavier big bore revolvers that are popular for big game hunting. These firearms have a lot of recoil and therefore require a rugged optic.
Most handgun scopes have relatively low magnification, but that’s not surprising, considering the effective range is more limited. Even in skilled hands, most hunting handguns tend to be best in the 75 to 100-yard range at max. Thus, there isn’t much need for high magnification.
Some common scope concerns like parallax are less of an issue with handguns because of the limited range. In fact, most have a fixed parallax anyway. However, other problems, like eye relief, become a much bigger issue because the shooter’s eye is naturally going to be further away from the scope. With a big bore like .454 Casull, 500 S&W, or .460 S&W, shooters won’t want their eye close to the optic anyway due to recoil.
In any case, it’s not a bad idea to focus entirely on handgun-specific scopes because they are already designed with a larger amount of eye relief in mind. Depending on where the scope is mounted and the length of your arms, you may need more or less relief. The good news is that it is not uncommon to see eye relief numbers ranging from 10 to nearly 25 inches on some handgun-specific optics.
Q: Is it worth putting a scope on a handgun?
For most hunting scenarios, a scope is an excellent addition to a handgun. The iron sights on most handguns are minimal at best and don’t always offer the best accuracy except in the hands of a truly skilled shooter. Scopes allow a shooter to become much more proficient with their firearm in less time. Additionally, most hands have a rather limited range, but a good scope can help extend that range.
Q: What is the range of a handgun scope?
The range of a handgun scope is only limited by the magnification of the scope and the caliber of the firearm. Some rounds, like a .357 Magnum or .44, are obviously going to have a greater range than a 9mm. At the end of the day, it comes down to the ballistics of each caliber. Most handgun scopes don’t magnify more than 4x, which will translate to different ranges based on the skill of the shooter and the caliber.
Q: Is a pistol scope different than a rifle scope?
As we’ve already mentioned, one of the biggest differences between pistol and rifle scopes is eye relief. In natural shooting positions, the shooter’s eye is farther away from the scope necessitating the need for more relief. Otherwise, the shooter won’t be able to see anything. This is something most rifle scopes do not offer. Rifle scopes also tend to be larger and much heavier. That is why most will not fit on a handgun. Even if they do, the shooter might not be able to see through a scope that’s only offering a few inches of relief.
Final Thoughts on the Best Handgun Scopes
At the end of the day, Leupold continues to impress us with their commitment to building the finest quality optics on the planet. The VX-3 2.5-8x 32mm offers better magnification and a more rugged construction than any other handgun scope. This makes it an easy choice for our best overall award.
Why Trust Us
For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.