For years a no magnification red dot or holographic sight was recommended by most everyone for ease of use, ability to keep both eyes open, and speed of time on target. There is nothing wrong with that rational, as most violent engagements happen well within the point blank zero range for even a short barreled rifle.
However, I’ve taken to using a Vortex Crossfire II 1-4×24 optic with “V-Brite” optionally illuminated reticle for shooting High Power at 200, 300 , and 600 yards. Testing the “1x” setting with reticle turned on is milliseconds within the speed of a true red dot or holo sight, but being able to crank the magnification to 4x really helps with the longer shots. And yes, I’ve competed with iron sights just fine, but there is a huge difference between shooting at a big black circle on a field of white on a target range and trying to accurately identify a game animal in the woods.
So here is my short list of affordable low power variable optics for ARs (or other utility rifle platform).
Crossfire II 1-4×24 with V Brite reticle (generally for sale between 199 and 289 US dollars)
Vortex OPMOD Strike Eagle 1-6×24 (optics planet 329 US dollars) NOT SERVICE RIFLE LEGAL FOR COMPETITION
R-T6 1-6×24 Illuminated (optics planet has for 349 US dollars) NOT SERVICE RIFLE LEGAL FOR COMPETITION
TAC30 1-4×24 Riflescope w/Fastfire (optics planet has for 299 US dollars)
1-4×24 Tactical with BDC reticle (optics planet has listed for 249 US dollars) DOES NOT HAVE ILLUM
For a “fighting rifle” I recommend getting a scope with a Ballistic Drop Compensating (BDC) reticle so that you don’t have to fiddle with elevation to make a rapid shot at varying distances, which cuts out the Vortex Crossfire II from being a recommended “combat optic.” That leaves the Vortex Strike Eagle, Burris TAC-30, and Nikon as recommended low cost “battle rattle optics.”
If you dial in your shots, then a BDC reticle isn’t necessary, but having finger adjustable turrets is a must, which every scope on the above list has. I didn’t list the Bushnell AR Optics line because of their “limited” lifetime warranty doesn’t have the industry reputation of Vortex or Burris. Nikon’s warranty isn’t perfect either, but since the scope I listed doesn’t include electronics it should be covered for the original owner under the “no fault repair” clause of their limited lifetime warranty. I didn’t list Leupold’s offerings because in this price range their Mark AR lineup bottoms out at 1.5x magnification and has no illumination and doesn’t offer a BDC reticle so while they are great scopes for a nice clear day on the range, don’t transition well to “things went bump in the night” or rapidly engaging multiple targets at varying ranges until you add in the “Firedot SPR” reticle which bumps the price tag up to the 450 US dollar range.
Now, this list is the “worst of the best, best of the worst” entry level into the market, ie what I would have confidence in carrying into combat if I had to pay for my own optic. Not everyone has the resources to drop a cool grand or more on a top of the line Trijicon, Leuopold, Vortex, or Bushnell Elite. The folks who can, keep rocking on and enjoy that glass. But, just because your scope doesn’t cost a grand doesn’t mean your rifle will get you kilt on da streetz. And if you can afford a Leupold Mark AR 1.5-4×20 with Firedot SPR reticle, by all means do so as it is a great choice.