Hunting elk is rarely an easy task. These majestic creatures are difficult to find in the woods and can quickly sense they are in danger. In order to guarantee that your hunting trip doesn’t end in a bust, you need to pack your best gear along with you.
While some hunters choose to go elk hunting without any type of scope, a good scope can be essential in securing a clean kill. In this article, I am going to show you some of the best scopes for elk hunting, so you can increase your chances of a successful hunt.
As with all types of hunting, elk hunting should always be ethical. You should never just simply shoot the animal you are hunting — shots need to be well placed, in order to secure a clean and ethical kill.
A good scope will not only help you see the elk in the distance, as it will also help you make a difficult shot. Hunters without scopes need to get extra close to the animal, which makes it easier for the animals to detect them.
The scopes on this list are all great for elk hunting. While they might not be the most versatile scopes, they will help you immensely in turning your hunt into a success. I have tried to compile a list that features different price points and scopes with different qualities, so you can find one that better suits you and your hunting needs.
Are you ready to hit the woods? First, let’s choose your scope…
Table of Contents
Best Scopes for Elk Hunting Review
After performing our detailed reviews, here are the best elk hunting scopes.
- Vortex Optics Diamondback 4-12x40mm
- Celestron Ultima 80 Angled Spotting Scope
- Athlon Optics BTR
- Leupold VX-6HD 2-12x42mm
- Bushnell Engage
1) Vortex Optics Diamondback 4-12x40mm
Vortexhttps://vortexoptics.com/ Optics is not new to the scope game, so it is no surprise that the Diamondback is a great piece of equipment that will satisfy every elk hunter, regardless of their experience.
While this is not exactly a high-end scope, the Vortex Optics Diamondback offers more than enough for a successful elk hunt — at a surprisingly low price-point.
At a glance, the Diamondback does not seem all that too surprising. This aircraft-grade aluminum scope is robust and has some heft to it (it weighs 14 ounces), but it just looks like your run of the mill rifle scope.
Still, it is a sturdy piece of gear. This scope is waterproof and can take quite a beating. There is also an anodized finish, which helps camouflage the scope. That is mainly why I consider it one of the top budget friendly scopes for low light conditions you can buy.
That sentiment is not entirely incorrect. Construction-wise, the Vortex Optics Diamondback is acceptable — you will not notice any lack of craftsmanship, but you will be pressed to find something to write home about. This Vortex optic is manufactured in the Philippines.
This scope offers the same adjustments that most scopes tend to offer. There is a magnification adjustment ring, an elevation adjustment knob and a windage adjustment knob. All of these work appropriately, and there is little to no mush to the knobs.
This is a second focal plane scope, and there is no illumination. The reticle Vortex uses for the Diamondback is a “Dead-Hold BDC Reticle”, as they call it. This reticle is similar to a classic reticle, and there is minimal visual clutter. The markings at the center allow you to estimate your distance, so you can shoot an accurate shot.
Speaking of visibility, the glass is adequate. For this price-point you should never expect premium glass, but you don’t want to buy something worthless either. While the glass on the Vortex Optics Diamondback isn’t the clearest in the scope section, it provides a clear-enough image at every magnification level.
However, things start to get a little more difficult at dusk. When the sun begins to set (or just before it rises) there is an obtrusive glare that might prevent you from seeing the game.
Other than that, I found nothing worth complaining about. I have little doubts that, considering its price, the Vortex Optics Diamondback is one of the best elk hunting riflescopes out there.
Does the Vortex Optics Diamondback 4-12×40 come with lens caps?
Yes, the Vortex Optics Diamondback comes with yellow lens caps. Not everything is good news, though — there is no included sunshade.
How long is the warranty for this rifle scope?
Vortex provides lifetime warranty for most of its products. You will have lifetime support for your Vortex Diamondback, directly from Vortex itself.
What size flip caps should I buy for this scope?
The Vortex Optics Diamondback uses standard flip caps. Any 50mm flip cap should fit.
Which type of rings does the Vortex Optics Diamondback use?
To mount this scope on your rifle you will need medium rings. The exact measurement should be 1”. If you need slightly bigger rings, check out the best 34mm scope mount available.
2) Celestron Ultima 80 Angled Spotting Scope
Although the Celestronhttps://www.celestron.com/ Ultima 80 is not exactly a riflescope, I’ve included this on this list because I find it to be an essential tool in the kit of every elk hunter worth its salt. While they can be cumbersome to carry around (especially if you’re already carrying plenty of gear), spotting scopes are infinitely better at spotting elk than your riflescope.
Sure, a high-end riflescope is probably going to beat a cheap spotting scope at its job, but you get my point. Still, spotting scopes offer more zoom capabilities than your standard elk hunting scope, which can be crucial in finding an actual elk. It pairs well with many of the best deer hunting scopes that I have tested as well.
The Ultima spotting scope comes in many different sizes. Celestron makes both telescopes and bird-seeing optics, with everything in between, so it is no surprise that they have a large offering of spotting scopes. This 20-60x80mm scope offers an excellent magnification level, as well as a comfortable field of view. Not to mention, when comparing angled or straight spotting scopes, most hunters prefer angled scopes.
The eyepiece of the Celestron Ultima 80 has a 45-degree angle. While every spotting scope model from Celestron also has a zero-angle variant, I find the 45-degree angle to be more practical when out in the woods.
The materials on the Ultima 80 are quite good. This is a rugged scope that could definitely take a beating. This way your spotting scope can do it’s job without breaking. It is waterproof and fog-proof, and the glass, while not excellent, is very good.
This spotting scope also comes with a few goodies included: there is a carrying case, lens caps, a pouch for the eyepiece, a T-adapter to connect the scope to other devices, and an extended tripod mounting plate.
While a spotting scope isn’t an absolute necessity to hunt elk, I believe that it is a very valuable tool that every hunter should have. The Celestron Ultima 80 is probably the best spotting scope for elk hunting, and from a well-known brand. I advise you to try it out — it might make the difference when trying to find those majestic creatures.
Does Celestron include a hard case for this spotting scope?
No. There is no hard carrying case included, but you can buy one separately.
However, this scope does come with an included soft carrying case.
Can you take pictures with this scope?
Yes — assuming you mount it to an actual camera. The Celestron Ultima 80 can be fitted onto a camera via a T-mount adapter for the model of the camera that you have. If you need a scope to spot wild game from long distance & are debating between Spotting Scope vs Telescope, go with a spotting scope!
Is there an included tripod?
No, this scope does not come with an included tripod. You will need to buy one separately. Alternatively, you can hand hold the Celestron Ultima 80.
3) Athlon Optics BTR
The Athlon Optics BTR might not be a cheap scope, but don’t let its price scare you. While it might not be as expensive as a true high-end scope, the BTR definitely punches up its price range. If you are looking for an expensive scope, but wouldn’t mind saving a few pennies, then this is an excellent choice.
The BTR is a first focal plane scope — which is not really surprising given its price. When comparing FFP vs SFP scopes, FFP reticles change their size according to your zoom level, so that you always have a clear, unobstructed view and can better utilize the radicals — which are illuminated, by the way.
The Athlon Optics BTR has red-illuminated radicals, powered by a regular watch battery. You can choose the brightness setting that better suits you, and you can rest assured knowing you will always be able to see the reticle. In our most recent Athlon scopes review we saw how quality these optics are.
The turrets on the scope are very good. However, there is no return to zero function. There is a turret lock function which works well, but it still leaves you desiring 0 stop.
With the right set of rings, this scope holds zero perfectly — assuming you don’t mistakenly change the adjustments. It is very easy to hit by accident the adjustment turrets when removing the lens caps.
The lens caps themselves are also not very good, and they probably won’t last very long. However, this is hardly a problem as lens caps are cheap and easy to come by.
The glass of the Athlon Optics Argos BTR is definitely good. While it might not be as good as the glass on the top riflescopes, it can definitely go toe to toe with the pricier glass. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be true at every magnification level. While the glass is super clear at the lower magnification levels, as you increase the magnification the bottom part of the glass gets progressively blurrier.
The scope itself is made from T6 aluminum. It is a solid piece that is sure to withstand the harshest conditions — however it is also very heavy. The Athlon BTR weighs 29 ounces and can be quite tiring to carry around.
While this is not a cheap scope, I feel like it is definitely worth the price. For half the price of a premium, high-end scope you are getting a scope that is capable of competing with the top contenders. And if you want to hunt at night, then I recommend you check out the Best Thermal Scope For The Money to shoot in the dark! Just make sure you’re in compliance with local laws.
If this is worth it for you, I cannot say. However, if you are looking for a budget alternative to the high-end stuff, then the Athlon Optics BTR is probably the right choice for you.
Does this scope have any type of illumination?
Yes. The radicals on the BTR have red illumination.
How do you replace the batteries?
The batteries on the Athlon Optics Argos BTR can be replaced via the module near the eye piece. Just screw off the cap and substitute the CR2032 battery (a standard coin battery).
What size lens caps should you use with this scope?
Although this scope comes with included lens caps, if you wish to buy aftermarket lens caps, you can buy ones that fit 2.2-inches (or 57mm) lenses.
Read Next: Types of Scopes.
4) Leupold VX-6HD 2-12x42mm
If you have money to spend and want one of the best elk hunting scopes money can buy, then the Leupold VX-6HD is right up your alley.
Leupoldhttps://www.leupold.com/ is well known for having excellent glass. Besides using some of the best glass in the game, Leupold also uses its patented technology with its scopes, aptly named “Twilight Management System”. This technology ensures that the little light that there is during twilight hours is enhanced. For these reasons, they are known to make some of the best scope for 22lr Benchrest and other rifles.
However, this technology is even further enhanced with the Leupold VX-6HD, which uses the “Twilight Max HD Light Management System”. This is pretty much the same system present on their other optics but cranked all the way up. While it might seem like it is not that big of a deal, this system can definitely help you make every shot count when the sun begins to set.
This scope uses the time-tested, classic duplex reticle. This reticle has an illuminated red dot and an electronic level, which helps you assess your stability and improve your accuracy.
The turrets of the VX-6HD are crisp and nice to use. Adjustments are easy to make and you can quickly return to zero with the zero-lock custom dial system. You can use this custom dial to set your preferred caliber and rifle type, so you don’t have to do math when trying to zero your scope.
This is also an extremely rugged scope, which can take quite a beating. It can operate from -40ºF to 160ºF and is completely fog and waterproof.
While this might not exactly be the best scope out there, it is pretty darn close. You are definitely getting your money’s worth and one of the best elk-hunting scopes out there with the Leupold VX-6HD. And if you want a cheaper alternative, check out the top long range rife scopes for under $300 that I have tested.
Is this scope FFP or SFP?
Although it might seem surprising given its price, the Leupold VX-6HD is an SFP scope. Leupold chose to give users the possibility of having a high-quality SFP scope, which rarely happens.
If you like this scope, but would prefer it in an FFP version, Leupold also manufactures FFP scopes on its VX line.
Is the reticle of the Leupold VX-6HD illuminated?
Yes. This scope has illuminated radicals.
5) Bushnell Engage
The Bushnell Engage is a sturdy, middle-of-the-pack scope which will not disappoint you. It’s not as premium as a Leupold scope, but it will not disappoint you either. In fact, they are one of the top scopes for the Henry H001 amongst other long rifles.
This is an SFP scope with a Deploy MOA reticle. MOA on scopes is very important for overall adjustability. This reticle has plenty of markings so you can adjust your shots accordingly and guarantee that every single one hits. Sadly, it is not illuminated — but scopes at this price point rarely are.
The turrets feel nice… most of the time — although it doesn’t happen often, they do feel mushy some of the time. There isn’t a return to zero function, but one can live with that… although I would prefer not to. On the plus side there is a turret lock function, which comes in handy when you zero your scope and accidentally hit the turrets.
The glass is very good, better than most glass at this price point. The image is clear and there are no reflections at all — probably thanks to the special coating Bushnell applies to its lenses. Brightness is good and colors are accurate to their real-world counterparts.
The front of the lenses have a proprietary Bushnell technology called “Exo Barrier”. This barrier protects the lens, repelling water, oils, and dust, ensuring that the image stays clear. I also found that Bushnell makes scopes that have night vision for hunting coyotes in poor lighting.
For its price, this is an excellent scope — if you don’t mind it being a second focal plane scope. There are cheaper SFP alternatives, and for the same price you can probably get the Athlon Optics BTR. However, their reticles are considerably different, and so are the other features.
I can easily recommend this scope. However, you have to do the math and see if it is the right choice for you.
Are Bushnell scopes made in the USA?
No. This Bushnell scope is made in China. However, it is a very high-quality scope. You won’t find any cheap parts or a shoddy build.
Does this scope come with a mount?
No. This is the scope only, you will need to buy a mount separately.
Which size rings should you use to mount this scope?
The Bushnell Engage uses medium 30mm rings.
Best Scopes for Elk Hunting Buyer’s Guide
How to choose a scopes for elk hunting?
Choosing the right scope for elk hunting is not an easy task. Elks are majestic creatures which need to be treated with respect — even when hunting them. What this means is that you are going to need a scope that guarantees your shot results in a clean and ethical kill. But if you want to go deer hunting at night, consider a thermal scope or night vision scope!
In practice, this means that you need to have a scope with enough range for your bullet type and adequate to your rifle. You need to be sure that you are able to hit your shots — elk hunting is not the time to practice your shooting skills.
If you suspect that you need to be close to your target in order to accurately hit it, your elk hunting scope should not be a high-powered zoom scope. You need a scope that works at medium distances and that complements your skillset. If you are unhappy with this, hit the range and practice some more — you should never shoot an elk without killing it, and even if you kill it, it should always be an ethical kill with minimal suffering. This rule also holds true for turkey hunting. If you’re a turkey hunter, check out our post on the Best Red Dot Scopes for a Turkey Shotgun. Turkey hunting is my personal favorite!
If you know you can hit your shots at long distances, then by all means use a high-magnification scope.
The right scope for your elk hunting endeavors will depend on your skills and preferences, and there is no right answer. Just don’t forget that you are hunting living creatures and that you should spare them any unnecessary suffering.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best magnification scope for elk hunting?
What is the best hunting scope in the world?
What magnification scope do I need for 100 yards?
Is 6X magnification too much for hunting?
Even though I know I am repeating myself, I have no problems with underlining it again: you need to be sure you hit your shots when elk hunting. Hunting these creatures is not the time for unnecessary displays of machismo. Choose a rifle that you know you can use — there’s no point in buying a scope for 1,000-yard shots if you can’t hit them at that distance.
That being said, the Vortex Optics Diamondback is probably the best rifle scope for elk hunting if you are on a budget. This scope offers excellent quality for its price, although it is not the best money can buy.
For elk hunting, that would be the Leupold Freedom VX-6HD. This is a premium scope and you definitely feel it is worth its price when you use it.
Don’t forget to pack along your Celestron Ultima 80 spotting scope when going for a hunt, it will surely come in handy. In your opinion, which is the best elk hunting scope? Why? Let us know in the comments below.