About these ads

Best Long-Range Scope: Buyers Guide & Features To Look For

07 Mar

Advertising around long-range scopes can be misleading, or at least marketers try to get you to focus on features that differentiate them from their competitors … even if they aren’t really that important. I created this post to boil it all down to the biggest features you should focus on when comparing long-range scopes. Of course you are likely going to have to make trade-offs between different features, unless you are willing to pay $3,000+ for a scope (which many shooters do). But if you’re on a budget like most people, this list should help you make sense of all the different specs, give you an idea of which are more important, and help you filter out some of the marketing noise when researching rifle scopes.

Most Important Features To Look For In Long-Range Riflescopes

  1. Quality Glass – High-end glass cannot be overvalued in a long-range scope. It is the biggest difference between a $200 scope and a $4000 scope. Clear, sharp glass can make it easier to see at lower power magnifications. This is especially important for reading mirage, which is how you can judge what the wind is doing at the target. In long-range shooting, the wind may be very different at the target than it is at your shooting location. Unfortunately there isn’t really a good spec that quantifies how good of glass a scope has. It is just a subjective factor, but is usually obvious when you compare scopes side-by-side. I once thought “Light Transmission” was an emperical way to compare this, but there isn’t a standard test methodology for that and most manufacturers really game the system on that to make themselves look better. After talking with multiple scope manufacturers, my suggestion is to ignore that spec all together. The best way to go about this is side-by-side comparison with your own eyes, but when you don’t have that luxury … the next best approach is to stick with one of the manufacturers that is known to use high quality glass:
    • Schmidt & Bender
    • Swarovski
    • Nightforce
    • U.S. Optics
    • Premier Reticles
    • Higher-end Leupold models
    • Higher-end Zeiss models
  2. Milling Reticle – You need a reticle that has evenly spaced dots or hash marks (in either mils or MOA) along the vertical and horizontal axis. Essentially for long range shooting, most people “hold for wind” and “dial for elevation”. Dialing for elevations means you estimate or measure the distance to the target, calculate what the drop would be, then rotate the turrets on the scope to account for the drop so that you can put the crosshairs dead center on the target like it was at 100 yards. However, people “hold for wind” because wind changes so fast, that you can’t really turn the turrets for the adjustment and get back on the gun in time to fire the shot before the wind changes (especially in west Texas). So they make the adjustment on the scope for vertical drop, which allows them to hold dead center on the vertical axis … but just hold a little to the left or right to account for wind (always in the direction the wind is coming from). They calculate how much they need to adjust for a 10mph wind for example, and maybe that adjustment is 3 mils at whatever distance they are shooting. But right before they pull the trigger they feel the wind die down just a little, so they shift to a 2 mil adjustment at the last second and hit dead center. If they would have kept the 3 mil hold they originally had in mind, they may have missed the target completely. The diagram below shows what “holding 2 mils” would look like in this example.
    Holding For Wind In Long-Range Rifle Shooting
    If you look at the different reticles below, there are only two that have marks on the horizontal axis. The Bullet Drop Compensation reticle has a few on the vertical axis, but that doesn’t help you “hold for wind”. That just makes it so that you could “hold for elevation” and in long range shooting most people don’t do that. I personally prefer the finer hash marks and “floating crosshair” like the Nightforce MOAR reticle shown.
    Popular Types of Scope Reticles
  3. Zoom Range/Power – I think you need at least 18x for long range shooting. The difference between 18-25 is not as much as you think it would be. If you are using the rifle for hunting, the low end of the zoom range is important too. If an animal pops up at 50 yards it is hard to find in a scope that can only be zoomed out to 8x. The sweet spot is probably 5-25.
  4. Elevation Adjustment Range – This is simply how much adjustment does the scope allow internally. When you are shooting long range, the more the better. I prefer something with at least 100 MOA (27.3 mil) of elevation adjustment. If your ballistics say you need to adjust by 55 MOA for the shot you are about to take, but your scope bottoms out at 50 MOA of adjustment … uh oh. You end up having to hold for elevation for 5 MOA, and if you are also holding for wind you end up with the target floating out in the middle of nowhere in the reticle. It is difficult to make those shots. One thing that can help the amount of elevation adjustment available is a larger tube diameter. Common scope tube diameters are 1”, 30mm, 34mm, and 35mm. According to OpticsPlanet.com, “The larger main tubes are most useful for allowing for a greater range of elevation adjustments, not greater light transmission. In fact, most 30mm scopes have the same size lenses that are in one inch tubes.”
  5. Objective Size – More light is always better, so it makes sense that a larger objective lens (56mm) would be able to gather more light than a smaller one (40mm). But there is a diminishing return the benefits of a large objective size, and once you start getting over 50mm the only scenario where you might notice a slight difference in the amount of light is in very low-light conditions when the scope is set to the highest power. Of course for hunting, low-light conditions are the most critical (dusk and dawn), so that does matter some. There is also the problem of being able to mount the scope low enough to get proper eye alignment. Without a stock that has an adjustable cheek rest, its hard to get good alignment with the bigger objective lens sizes. I personally prefer a 50mm objective, although 56mm are more popular among long-range shooters.
    Critical Light Gathering Specs for Riflescopes
  6. Matching Reticle & Turrets – If you decide to go with a mildot reticle, you should make sure the turret adjustments are in mils (typically 1/10th mil clicks). If you get a MOA reticle, you should make sure the turret adjustments are in MOA (typically ¼ MOA clicks). Lots of scopes (especially low to mid-range scopes) have a mildot reticle with MOA adjustments … that doesn’t make a lot of sense, and can make life a lot harder. Essentially if they match, you can watch your bullet impact … and if you were off, you can measure the distance using the reticle then make that adjustment to the scope. If they don’t match, you get to do a lot of complex math and/or have a dope sheet with both units. There is no major “inherent advantage” to the mil or MOA system (see MIL vs MOA comparison for more details on this), but whichever one you pick … make sure the reticle and turret adjustments match, either MOA/MOA or mil/mil. The only argument that might be able to hold water between the two systems is that MOA is more natural if you think in “yards” and mils are more natural if you think in “meters”.
  7. Front Focal Plane – This is a debatable point, but is a big feature on long-range scopes. Reticles are on either the front focal plane or the second focal plane, which just means it is located in front of or behind “the zoom” on the scope. On front focal plane scopes, when you adjust the zoom on the scope the reticle will appear to change size. When you zoom in it will get bigger, when you zoom out it will get smaller. That might mean the reticle is “too thick” when zoomed all the way in, which can obscure the target … or it might be “too thin” when zoomed all the way out, which can make it hard to see, especially for closer, quick reflex shots. The advantage to front focal plane scopes is that the lines are always the same relative distance apart. If you are using a mildot scope, the dots are always 1 mil apart regardless of the zoom setting on your scope. This is a big deal, because it essentially takes out one more thing you have to check or think about before taking a long range shot. On second focal plane scopes, when you adjust the zoom the reticle remains the same size. However, that does mean you have to be at a very specific zoom setting for the marks to be the correct size. That is just one more thing to remember before you take a shot, but some people prefer it in order to avoid the too thick/thin reticle issues.
    Front Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane Rifle Scope Reticle
  8. Other Features – There are a lot of other wiz-bang features marketing tries to get you to focus on, like Zero Stop, Locking Turrets, 1/8 MOA adjustments, illuminated reticles, and a million other things. Some are cool, but none are in the same class as these features. I do like the Zero Stop for using a long range setup in hunting scenarios. I hate 1/8 MOA adjustments … most people can’t shoot between those numbers, so ¼ MOA is almost always enough fine control and is more speedy and less error prone to dial the correct adjustment. I have a scope with an illuminated reticle, and I never use it … ever. It’s one of those things that seems like a good idea, but you probably won’t ever actually use.

Best Rifle Scope For The Money

Under $500:

Nikon Buckmasters 6-18x40mm Mildot ($275 street) – Without a doubt this is a huge value. The mildot reticle model is exclusively sold through MidwayUSA.com. Dollar for dollar, it would be hard for any scope to compare to this one. It isn’t the best glass, but is good. It does have a mildot reticle with MOA turret adjustments, but you can live with that for the price point. The scope tube is only 1” and the objective is 40mm … but seriously, for this price it packs a lot of punch.


Leupold Mark AR 6-18x40mm Mildot ($550 street) – I personally used this scope for long range shooting while I was saving up for my Nightforce, and it is legit. I was able to hit at 1350 yards on a rifle setup with this scope before some other shooters that were with me could, and they were using Nightforce scopes and even a $4000 Schmidt & Bender. Honestly, it might have been luck … but it shows this scope is capable of a lot for the price. Again, this one has a mildot reticle with MOA turret adjustments, which isn’t ideal … and also a 1” tube and 40mm objective, which are a little small. But the glass is good (not great), and the zero is fairly repeatable … not like a high-end scope, but better than most in this class. This scope is another huge value for the money.


This is a hard spot for me. When you are spending this much, it would be tempting for me to just save a little more and jump to the next level of scopes. I feel like for $500 more you could upgrade to something with the high-level glass, but having said that there are a few good options at this price point.

  • Leupold Mark 4 LR/T 6.5-20x50mm Mildot ($1300 street) – But the Leupold Mark 4 is a nice scope, with improved glass, a 30mm tube, 50mm objective, and more elevation adjustment range. Lots of people swear by these scopes, and some competitive shooters go with a Leupold setup like this. Leupold also has an “Extended Range” (ER) model that has a few improvements over this “Long Range” (LR) model … but it is $1700, and at that price you’ve entered the next price bracket and I think there are better options out there.
  • Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21×50 G2DMR ($1400 street) – This has become a very popular scope, because of its incredibly wide range from a impressive 3.5x on the low end, and 21x magnification at the top end. It has a quick Horus-style reticle that was designed in conjunction with GAP (i.e. G.A. Precision). It is used by quite a few guys in the Precision Rifle Series. I’ve looked through this scope side-by-side with a Nightforce NXS and a Schmidt & Bender, and it isn’t in the same class as those guys. But, its undeniable that this scope packs a lot of punch for the money. In fact, the fanatics over at Rifles Only sell some great products in their Pro Shop, but under optics there is only 1 choice for a scope … this one. To me, that says a lot.


  • Nightforce NXS 5.5-22x50mm MOAR ($1770 street) – This is my go-to scope, and I love it. I actually have the Zero Stop option on mine, which adds about $200 … and I’m not sure if it’s worth that much now that I’ve been using it for a while. The image clarity on these are great through the entire zoom range, although not as clear as the Schmidt & Benders. I have compared side-by-side on multiple occassions and that is just the truth. The zero is very repeatable, even if you adjust all the way out and then back down to zero … you are dead on. They have high-speed turrets, which have 20 MOA of adjustment per revolution. It is also available in a 56mm objective for the same price, although I prefer the slimmer 50mm. I’ve looked through both side-by-side and there is very little difference, even in low light. Nightforce also came out with a new ATACR 5-25x56mm model for $2300 street, which uses a 34mm tube instead of the 30mm that the NXS uses. It supposedly uses ED glass, which is supposed to be a little better than the NXS model. However, I have a good friend that owned several NXS models and bought an ATACR only to be disappointed. He didn’t think it was as good of a scope as the NXS series and ended up trading it in. You can get the NXS or the ATACR in mil-based reticles as well, with the MLR being the most popular. There are a ton of serious shooters out there like Bryan Litz that swear by Nightforce scopes. In Bryan’s new DVD training he mentions that he has seen a lot of bad scopes in his career, but he has never had a single Nightforce scope that didn’t track well. They are machined from a single piece of aluminum that is thicker than all other scopes out there (that I’m aware of), so they are very rugged as well. Note: I paid retail out of pocket for my scope and Nightforce has never given me anything for free … so this is real advice, not a paid advertisement.
  • Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50 EBR-3 MRAD ($2000 street) – Vortex is a newer company on the scene, but is making a splash in the long range community with their Razor HD scope. In fact, in the Precision Rifle Series this past year there were 5 Vortex scopes represented among the top 20 finishers. Only Schmidt & Bender had more scopes in the top 20, and you’d have to spend $1,500 more to get an S&B. I’ve not used one of these scopes personally, but there are a lot of competitive shooters that have started using them and the specs are impressive.

Money Is No Object ($2500+):

Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-25×56 P4 Fine ($3700 street) – I know some people have strong opinions about S&B, but this is the best glass … period. Two of the guys I shoot with have these, and I can’t deny they are clearer and sharper than any other scope I’ve ever looked through. It does have a couple drawbacks, including the fact that the elevation only allows two revolutions of adjustment, meaning the elevation range is more limited than most scopes in this class. But other than that … this scope has it all. It definitely has the best glass of any scope, which is the most important feature and really doesn’t fall short anywhere else … except maybe value. They also offer the Schmidt Bender PMII 3-20×50 H2CMR model ($3500 street) that provides lower power magnification, which some people prefer. The H2CMR reticle is a popular choice, as is the MLR reticle. In the Precision Rifle Series this past year half of the competitors in the top 20 were using one of these scopes. You just might have to sell a kidney to buy one!

People Who Liked This Post Also Read …

Best Tactical Rifle Scopes

Results for the High-End Tactical Scope Field Test: This is an epic scope field test focused on 18 long-range, tactical rifle scopes in the $1,500+ price range. It’s an unprecedented, data-driven approach to evaluating the best tactical rifle scopes money can buy. Hundreds of hours have gone into this research, and both the scope line-up and the tests I conducted are built on advice and feedback from some of the most respected experts in the industry. My goal with this project was to equip fellow long-range shooters with as much hard data as I could reasonably gather, so they could see what they’re paying for.

Scope For The Money

Best Rifle Scope – What The Pros Use: This post shows the scopes and reticles the best precision rifle shooters in the country are using. It is based on what the top 50 long-range shooters brought with them to the most recent Precision Rifle Series (PRS) Finale. Target engagements for a PRS match can range from 25 to 1,200+ yards, but there is definitely a focus on the “precision” rifle part regardless of the range. This is some unique “hard data” about what optics the pros are using.

scope mounted reflex sight

Long-Range & Short-Range Optics SetupLots of people have asked me about what the best scope setup is for a long-range rifle that they plan to use hunting. The problem with most long-range scopes is that it can be almost impossible to engage targets that pop-up at close ranges unexpectedly. Nothing is more frustrating than bumping up a trophy animal at close range, and struggling to find them in your scope to take the shot. There are a couple other options for handling the combination of long-range and close-range shots with the same gun, and I explain a few options in this post.

MIL vs MOA Comparison Article

MIL vs MOA – An Objective Comparison: There are a lot of articles and forum threads out there comparing MIL and MOA, but most either aren’t objective or they’re overly complex. I’ll try to avoid both of those pitfalls in this article. Includes contributions from Bryan Litz, author of Applied Ballistics for Long-Range Shooting and Chief Ballistician at Berger Bullets.


Posted by on March 7, 2013 in Long-Range Shooting, Scope


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

41 responses to “Best Long-Range Scope: Buyers Guide & Features To Look For

  1. MIke

    July 5, 2013 at 4:15 am

    This is very helpful. I am a lifelong hunter that has been researching this exact subject as I get ready to buy my first 308 long range rifle. I was focusing on the Leupold Mark 4 but was unsure of the MOA vs.MIL turret adjustments and the front focus. Picking a reticle has been perplexing too (my favorite rifle has a VX3 with varmit hunter reticle).Thanks

    • calz

      July 9, 2013 at 2:42 am

      Honestly, I’m not familiar with that scope. I don’t know how good the glass would be, and that is something I usually like to see with my own eyes. If I can’t do that, I just rely on buying a scope from a reputable brand that is known for using good glass.

      One downside I see is the 1/8 MOA adjustments. Most people think the more granular the better … but for me 1/8 is just too fine of adjustments. I was talking to Ray Sanchez (a great shooter, google him) at the Steel Safari, and it suprised me when he said he thinks 1/4 MOA is too fine … he prefers 1/2 MOA (which are rare). I personally think 1/4 MOA is perfect for me, but I wouldn’t go to 1/8. They can just fit in so many clicks per revolution, and with 1/8 you aren’t going to get much adjustment per turn.

      I do like the 30mm tube, instead of the 1″ that is more standard on entry-level scopes … and a 56mm objective is above par for that price point as well. You are mixing MOA turret adjustments with a mil reticle, which can be confusing and a potential drawback (see #6 in my post).

      I personally might look at the Nikon Buckmasters 6-18x40mm Mildot if you haven’t already. It doesn’t have the illuminated reticle, but I personally have a scope that has an illuminated reticle and although I thought it would be cool when I was shopping for scopes … I never use it. I mean never … seriously. I could imagine a low-light hunting scenario where it might be helpful, but I’ve hunted with it for a year now (and shot many long-range competitions with it as well) … and never used it. I think that feature falls in my “#8 Other Features” category, and it just isn’t near as important as some of the other things on the list. Now for you, that might be very important … it just isn’t for most shooters.

      Sorry I couldn’t have been more help.

  2. Stu

    July 11, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    It must be different for hunting. As the top 25 PRS shooters the most popular optic was Vortex Razor, next was PST Vortex, next was 5-25 SB PM, then USO, and Premier. No NF, no Leupy’s what so ever. There was even a Weaver Tactical 5-20 in the bunch. I love NF, as well as Leupy, but when I got my 1st Vortex PST I was amazed, especially from the price point. $900 for a FFP SF, 6-24 x50, etched glass, VIP warranty, perfect clicks, and an EBR ret? Very good glass, with Customer service that blows anyone out of the water.

    • calz

      July 11, 2013 at 10:44 pm

      Great info, Stu! I appreciate you sharing. I honestly haven’t shot in a PRS event, although I have shot the Steel Safari. There were a lot of S&B, US Optics, and even NightForce there, but I didn’t notice any Vortex. With Vortex being a newer brand than the rest in that list it might just not have permeated to that crowd yet.

      Do you have a source you can point us to where you got that info?

    • Cal

      November 15, 2013 at 3:35 pm

      After looking into this, I wanted to clarify something … there are both Nightforce & Leupold scopes used by the top 50 competitors in the PSR. Not as many as some other brands, but there are some there. Furthermore, there is no statistical correlation between the scope a competitor was using and the place they finished. It is true there are a bunch of Schmidt & Benders in the top 20, but there is even more of them that placed 20-50. Any of those shooters should be considered experts among experts. To even be invited to the finale where that data was collected, you have to be one of the top 50 shooters in the nation … so none of those guys are making dumb equipment choices.

      I actually did an in-depth analysis of that data a couple months ago, and you can see the results in this post: http://precisionrifleblog.com/2013/09/11/best-long-range-scopes-what-the-pros-use/

      I was reading back through these comments, and I thought Stu’s comments sounded a bit misleading … so I just wanted to clarify.

  3. Stu

    July 15, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    Search Snipers hide under Bolt action rifles, for “What the Pro’s Use” and you will find 2012’s final PRS match results, and what they used, down to what Smith they used.

  4. Bryce Wells

    December 18, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    I think you forgot about March Scopes …

    • Cal

      December 20, 2013 at 5:28 pm

      I have heard a few people talk about how nice the March scopes were. I’m hoping they’ll have representatives at SHOT Show in a couple weeks so I can see their product. I’d like to do a full field test of high-end optics within the next 6 months, similar to the in-depth ranging binocular field test I did recently. I think a very objective, data-driven approach to high-end scopes like what I did there would be enlightening. I’ve thought about a few empirical tests you could do to rank optics:

      • Optical clarity test in bright light and low light (similar to the rangefinder optical clarity test)
      • Scope adjustment tracking (does dialing 15 mils of elevation equate to EXACTLY 15 mils at 100 yards … and does it track EXACTLY up and down)
      • Dial & Rezero – If you dial 15 mils of elevation, then dial back to zero … are you still hitting bulls-eye? What if you do that 20 times? What if you dial to the extent of the elevation (until it bottoms out in the tube) and then back to zero?
      • Does a scope really have the amount of elevation adjustment the manufacturer claims?
      • When mounted on a flat rail (no cant), how close is a 100 yard zero to the center of the elevation adjustment?
      • What is the real (measured) field of view?

      The shooting community has no shortage of strong opinions on what optics are best … it would be interesting to see what the data said.

  5. SonOfSimon

    December 20, 2013 at 6:30 am

    I am enthralled with, and have read much about long-range precision shooting. However, I am plagues by one serious problem – lack of resources! The only setup that I have had the pleasure of shooting was a Remington 700 SPS Tactical (.308 Win.), all stock, that was wearing a Nikon -Buckmaster 6-18 x 40mm w/ Mil-dot reticle (apparently, the owner had your taste in low-end optics). The scope was mounted in a set of Burris Extreme rings on a EGW 20 MOA base.

    I have no personal experience shooting long-distance, and the owner and I shot that rifle at a 100 yard range. I thought for the total price of his setup it was quite capable, and in that price range (for the optic) I would absolutely go with that particular Nikon scope. After familiarizing myself with the setup, I clover-leafed a three-shot string! While that isn’t very impressive to a seasoned shooter, I literally have zero experience, and that was more than enough to convince me of the scope’s quality.

    That being said, I am really excited to see that you have recommended some of Vortex’s high-end offerings. I like Vortex as a company because their warranty coverage is second to none. Their warranty literally seems to cover anything from abuse to “natural disasters!” Though all these scenarios are not explicitly stated word-for-word by their company, they are evidenced repeatedly by feedback on various web-forums. It gives me a lot of peace-of-mind to know that when I am investing in an item that I will likely only be able to afford once, that the company will stand by the product.

  6. jay henselen

    December 24, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    I am into the long range stuff, with 300 mag, 260, and 6.5 /284 rifles the go to scope is the Schmidt and Bender described in the article.
    Truly, so much better than the expensive Leupolds which I also use. I have found it quick and easy to just change the scope onto the other rifles using Badger rings, and pic rails on the rifles. very little adjustment needed. I still think the S&B is too expensive to won more than one.

  7. Tanh

    January 1, 2014 at 2:57 am

    I’m glad that you mention tracking accuracy in the comments but more attention should be made about it. When shooting 1500+ yards plus a 1/4 Mil off and you won’t hit the target (assuming no wind). I’d say tracking should be #1 for long ranges. That’s why a lot of the extreme high end scope don’t have huge elevation adjustment room until you get into the 40mm tubes. But then it’s purely dedicated to that range as most rifles would need a canted rail to dope properly. That has more to do with the quality of the scope than the features.

    Many people get hung up on clarity of the glass and look to different brands because they percieve a better image coming into their eyes. The difference here is not the manufacturer but the quality control. Leopold gets their glass from the same chinese factory as does Zeiss or Leica. USO and one or 2 other brands are the only ones that make their own glass. But does sight image really matter? I say it depends more on the fit of the gun than how clear the target appears behind the reticle. When you mount your gun with your eyes closed in any position and open them do you weld the same each time and do you see right through the crosshairs with full sight image without any scope shadow? If yes then clarity is secondary or not even a consideration because there’s no searching for the target. All glass now is sufficiently clear to edge find at 1000 yards but what you are paying for in high end scopes are the apochromatic objectives that correct for haze and abberations. The increased contrast makes one feel better about target aquisition but in practice is not needed. If you can fit the gun and scope properly and use good operational practices (like leaving the magnification at lowest until needed) then you should do much better at 1/5th price.

    How many people have fitted the scope to the gun but not to the shooter. They crane their necks and adjust to an inherently less accurate firing position. How many people shoot with their shoulders not square with the stock and don’t have their barrel aligned with their leg creating a swing as the gun fires? A S&B is a great advantage but the difference in making a shot at 1500+ yards is about the shooters habits. Tell you friends to get what they can afford and shoot it properly into oblivion until they feel the need to get a more expensive scope.

    Just wanted to make a few things known. Obviously this is my opinion and I’m sure many beginners will still go out and drop 3k+ on a scope hoping it’ll improve their shooting when a 500 dollar one would be all they ever need. As the price goes up you’re just paying for quality with diminishing returns. FYI nowadays I shoot a Savage 111 long range hunter in .338 lapua down to ~1700 yrds regularly in northern ontario with reasonable precision. It got on it an old IOR 4-18×50 in 30mm tube i got for 499 USD on sale.

    • Cal

      January 2, 2014 at 11:04 am

      Wow, that’s a lot of info. Thanks for taking the time to share your view. I agree that sound fundamentals are more important than high-end glass, and you definitely don’t have to drop $1000 to be able to get on target at 1,000 yards. Like I mentioned in the article, one day I was able to get on target at 1350 yards (3/4 of a mile) with a $550 Leupold Mark AR scope well before a couple other shooters could who were using S&B’s and Nightforce scopes (might have been luck, because they’re really good shooters).

      Having said all that, when you do get the fundamentals down (and continue to work on them), and you do properly fit & mount the scope … great glass can help. Is it worth the extra cost? That is a completely SUBJECTIVE question, and not worth arguing about. Someone’s answer depends on how often they shoot, the distance, their rifle and their own capabilities … not to mention their discretionary income and how many other expensive hobbies they have. It is a personal decision, and there is not “a right answer.” I currently have a $200 scope on one rifle, a $550 scope on another, a $2000 scope on one of my customs and I’m about to buy a $3500 S&B for a new build. None of those were the “wrong decision” … I’d still do all of it exactly the same. Each scope is appropriately paired with the rifle. I’ve heard guys say you should spend 50-100% of what the rifle cost on the scope. So if it’s a $400 rifle, buy a $200-400 scope. If it’s a $5000 rifle, it might not make sense to put a $200 scope on it. But once again, this is all relative and it all comes down to a personal decision.

    • NIQQY

      November 14, 2014 at 11:19 pm

      hey from toronto,

      really good points. wondering if i can get in touch w/ you about where you go shooting LR in north ontario.

  8. Scott Ross (@scottrossonline)

    January 10, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    I wanted to thank you for this post. The illustration provided in the explanation of 1st vs 2nd focal plane was especially helpful. I’ve heard the explanation of the difference before, but seeing it really helped me understand the real world implications of choosing one over the other. Since this was written in March 2013, what are your thoughts on the new 6x magnification options such as the Swarovski Z6, Vortex Razor HD II 4.5-27, Leupold Mark 6, etc.? Also, what are your thoughts on illuminated reticles? Thanks again!

    • Cal

      January 10, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      Hey Scott, I appreciate your feedback. I’m glad you found it helpful. I’m the same way … someone can use a thousand words to explain something, but sometimes a simple diagram can really help you wrap your head around it.

      I have updated the post a few times since I originally wrote it (in March 2013), which I should have said in the post. I added a few more scopes to it a couple months ago, and plan to continue to update it.

      I’m very interested in a few of those scopes you mentioned, but haven’t spent time behind them. I do have it on my agenda to check out each of them next week at SHOT show. I also plan to do a really in-depth, data-driven field test of scopes next year, similar to the one I posted last month on rangefinders. I really think some empirical, independent testing on scopes would be enlightening. I even hope to include a couple of those you mentioned. I’m hesitant to give an opinion on them until I’ve spent some time hands-on with them in the field, but that might be an opportunity to do just that.

      I have mixed emotions about illuminated reticles. I can say that it is a feature that I use less than 5% of the time, and the guys I shoot with would say the same thing. To me, it’s one of those features that seems more important than it really is. I just don’t use it near as often as I thought I would. Having said that, in very low light conditions on dark backgrounds … it can be helpful. I just wouldn’t be willing to compromise on any of the more important features listed for an illuminated reticle.

  9. Blake

    January 20, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    If you’re serious about comparing high-end scopes (above $2K street) you must consider March. They are absolutely amazing. Exceptional glass, unprecedented adjustability and magnification, great reticles, very light weight, etc. Nothing comes close for me for a very feature rich scope that can do it all.

    • Cal

      January 21, 2014 at 7:58 am

      Blake, thanks for the comments. Funny you should mention that, because yesterday I contacted March scopes to see if they’d be willing to lend me a scope for an upcoming scope field test I’m planning. I haven’t heard back from them yet, but I’m optimistic that they’ll want their product represented. There have been a few people mention March scopes over the past several months, but I just don’t have any experience with them and none of the shooters I know use them. That certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t amazing scopes … I’m just hesitant to recommend them if I’ve never personally used one.

      I don’t know if you saw the rangefinder field test I conducted a couple months ago, but I plan to do something similar for long-range rifle scopes in a couple months. For the rangefinders, I tested the models in the field for 3 months and collected over 10,000 data points, and I want to have a 100% data-driven approach for the scope field test as well. I’ve already devised empirical approaches to test optical resolution and contrast, as well as a few other optical and mechanical scope features. I talked to several manufacturers at SHOT Show last week to see if they’d like to be part of it, and got a very favorable response. It looks like I’ll have a very complete line-up of the most popular brands out there. Here is the lineup I’m considering at this point for the field test: Schmidt & Bender, Hensoldt, Nightforce, Premier, US Optics, Leupold, Kahles, Vortex, Steiner, and Bushnell Elite Tactical. I think March scopes would help round out that line-up.

      If you wanted to help me convince them to they need to take part in that study, please contact them and tell them that. I’m sure someone other than the author suggesting it would help the case.

      If there are other scopes out there anyone feels like are in the same class as these, please let me know by adding a comment here. I’m trying to solidify the line-up now, so input is definitely welcomed and valued.

      • Blake

        January 21, 2014 at 11:08 am

        Thanks Cal. I’m happy to add my voice to yours to help March see the need to help you test their products along side the others mentioned. Also, yes, I did see your rangefinder test. That’s how I found you in the first place. Very helpful information – great work. I’ll be using it to make my next buy in this category.

  10. Kyle

    February 1, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    I really enjoy your blog and am looking to adopt some of the things you implemented into your 7mm rem mag build for my own rifle. I’ve read in a few different places that when mounting a scope you should consider lapping the scope rings to aid in better alignment and thus better accuracy and rigidity. Do you end up doing that with your Spuhr scope rings??

    • Cal

      February 3, 2014 at 8:04 am

      Thanks for the encouragement Kyle, its good to hear that you find this helpful. I know a lot of people are passionate about lapping scope rings, but I did not do that with my Spuhr mount. One of the benefits of buying a modern, precision-engineered, one-piece scope mount is the lapping has already been done for you. The rings should already be in perfect alignment with one another.

      I did end up using Brownell’s Rosin inside the scope rings, because I noticed the scope had some movement over time due to the magnum recoil. That seemed to stop the slipping problem. Sphuhr actually recommends doing that in their manual, but originally they had it worded in a way that made it seem like you only needed to do that if the rifle would be exposed to “extreme vibrations.” Here is how they have it worded in the latest manual: “For normal use (including mostly military, law enforcement and civilian use) we strongly recommend the use of small amount of rosin between the scope and the rings. Rosin is a very good gripping agent that prevents slipping.” (Source: Spuhr Manual)

      I’m friends with shooters that have several Spuhr mounts on all kinds of guns (from 6.5 Creedmoor to 338 Lapua) and they’ve never experienced the slipping problem … but I certainly did with my 7mm Rem Mag. It actually moved twice before I tried the rosin, and the second time I was 10% over their recommended torque settings. It sounds like there are a few shooters that noticed this same issue on the hide: http://forum.snipershide.com/s4-sniper%92s-hide%AE-equipment/191257-does-spuhr-mount-need-lapping.html. Hope this helps.

  11. clay price

    February 14, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    You need to also look into IOR Valdada. All eroupean glass clearer than night force has 65+ moa adjustments 35 & 40 mm tubes and in my eyes one of the best redicules in the industry. Tracking is perfect and price is between 1500 to 3500. Should add one in the next line up.

    • Cal

      February 14, 2014 at 9:03 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion. I’m actually trying to solidfy the line-up for an upcoming scope field test, so your timing couldn’t be more perfect. I’ll definitely consider them.

  12. Shannon

    March 4, 2014 at 5:04 am

    Cal, I really love the detail you have in this article and your other ones. As I peruse the web, looking for “entry-level” type information, I have struggled to find anything that can break down details succinctly and back it up with data. I’ve found a lot of forums that offer personal thoughts, but rarely support their claims independently.

    I was trying to find packages that talk about recommendations for a person getting into long range shooting. The best other article I found was the “Practical Long Range Rifle Shooting.” He also recommends the Leupold Mark 4, but I was trying to find something cheaper. The biggest drawback to that article is that it was written something like 4+ years ago. As a cheaper alternate to a used Mk 4, he suggested a Tasco Super Sniper, which apparently doesn’t exist anymore. A bit of searching led me to the SWFA Super Sniper 10×42 scope. The price point is around $300, and apparently it’s based on an old Tasco design.

    If you get a chance to do your in-depth research on the scopes in the next few months (I wish I had read your articles before the SHOT Show, in case you could have looked at the SWFA design), I would love to read your thoughts on some of the other low end price point scopes, perhaps including the SWFA, to give some options along with the Nikon. The SWFA does, apparently, offer mil/mil instead of mil/MOA. If there are other low cost options too, that would be great to hear about.

    • Cal

      March 4, 2014 at 7:07 am

      Shannon, I really appreciate your comments. That is exactly why I started this website, so it’s encouraging to hear that its helping. At the end of this month I’m starting a really comprehensive field test on rifle scopes, and I was originally going to do all price points … but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to be as thorough as I’d like to be. So I’ve decided to break it down into two field tests:

      1. Tactical Scopes $1500+ (scopes like Schmidt & Bender, US Optics, Nightforce, Vortex Razor HD, Leupold Mark 6 & 8, Bushnell Elite Tactical, Kahles, Hensoldt, March, and others)
      2. Tactical Scopes $200-$1400 (scopes like SWFA Super Sniper, Nikon, Leupold Mark AR & Mark 4, Vortex Viper PST, Nightforce SHV, and others)

      I’ll be doing 100% data-driven mechanical and optical tests on almost 20 different scopes for each field test, so it is very time consuming. It will be similar to the rangefinder field test I completed a few months ago. I’m starting #1 this month, then plan to do #2 in the fall. I really wish I already had the data from the 2nd test, because it would really be exactly what you’re looking for.

      Without hard data, I’d just have to defer to what the masses say. I definitely have heard a lot of good things about the SWFA Super Sniper scopes, and they look to be a value. I’d be hesitant to get a fixed power scope for long-range shooting. I prefer at least 18x magnification in a long-range scope, but I know military snipers used fixed power 10x scopes effectively for decades. So it can be done … but most military snipers now use 5-25 scopes, so that probably says they wouldn’t use fixed power if they had a choice.

      I think the Nikon Buckmaster 6-18×40 scope with mildot reticle is still pretty fantastic, but the new “Mod 1″ version of the Leupold Mark AR 6-18x40mm Mildot is killer for the price point. It is mil/mil now, and the glass really is about as good as it gets for under $1500. I would be shocked if it didn’t end up in one of the top spots in the field tests in the fall.

      I wish I could be more help. Stay tuned though, because there should be some definitive data posted on this site in the fall that would help guide these decisions in the future. Thanks again for the comments.

      • Shannon

        March 6, 2014 at 6:02 am

        For me, you will be great help. I have started my research now, not for an immediate purchase, but to learn more and help target my savings. Waiting until the fall is something I can easily do. Your research methods really help break things down. I look forward to your reviews, especially of that Leupold Mark AR, even more so if you can explain to a novice like me what they mean by the fact that the mildots are calibrated for .223. I’d have thought mildots were mildots, based on sizes and distances, and I haven’t found a good explanation beyond that some optics are calibrated to specific caliber rounds.

      • Cal

        March 6, 2014 at 9:30 am

        Shannon, the mildots and “ballistic calibration” are something a lot of people get hung up on. It can be very confusing.

        First, there are some reticles that are calibrated to a certain ballistic curve. Essentially you have standard mildot reticles (aka milling reticles) and then you have ballistic reticles (aka BDC or Bullet Drop Compensation reticles). Here is a diagram that shows the two side-by-side, and points out a couple general things to look for to help you differentiate between the two.

        Mildot vs BDC Reticle

        Another “ballistic calibration” approach is to have a custom elevation turret/knob made to match a particular ballistic curve. In that case the knob will have special marks on it. Normally a knob would have marks for 1 mil, 2 mils, 3 mils, etc. and those would all be evenly spaced. But a ballistic turret would have marks for 100 yards, 200 yards, 300 yards, etc. That means if you know the target is 300 yards away you don’t have to look up what the adjustment should be for that distance on your dope card, you just dial to 300 and pull the trigger. This is how the Mark AR works. It has a standard mildot reticle, but a knob “calibrated for a 55gr bullet” with a typical BC and muzzle velocity. What is different about the Mod 1 though is the knob also has standard mil marks on it as well. So you can just ignore the ballistic marks, and it works just like any other standard milling scope. What I did was pay $50 for Leupold to send me a custom knob without the ballistic marks on it.

        Ballistic Turret Knob with Standard Units Too

        Ballistic turrets and reticles can be cool for scenarios like coyote hunting where shots are typically 300 yards or less and sometimes have to be made quickly. But really those marks are a generalization, and never precisely match the ballistics for your gun and your ammo. If you are a careful handloader and use the same load all the time, you can get Leupold to make you a custom ballistic turret that will match your ballistics more closely. I know a guy that this is his full-time job. He will take a hunter’s rifle, create a custom handload for it, then put a Leupold scope on the rifle with a custom ballistic turret for that specific load. He hands back the rifle with 100 rounds of ammo, and that hunter is now very lethal. People pay good money for that, because you can essentially dial to 700 yards and typically get first round hits (at least in no wind conditions).

        But if the temperature, barometric pressure, or elevation changes much … once again your actual ballistic curve won’t align with the ballistic calibrated turret. Also as your barrel wears, your muzzle velocity is going to change and that will also skew your ballistics. As a precision shooter, the accuracy I can get from a ballistic turret or reticle just isn’t good enough (in my opinion). So I personally prefer basic mil or MOA turrets and reticles, then I calculate the ballistics using a more sophisticated tool like the Applied Ballistics Kestrel or custom dope card.

        Hope this helps. Sorry this is so confusing. Ideally the Leupold AR would be more of a general scope and not so calibrated for the 223. The field test in the fall might turn up another scope with the same optical quality and mechanical repeatability without all the drawbacks and confusion of the ballistic turret. Thanks for the comments.

  13. Best Crossbow 2014

    August 2, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but
    after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Regardless, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

  14. Tony

    November 29, 2014 at 6:30 am

    Hi. I am going to buy the scope soon and I highly appreciate this article as very nice review. What do you think about Nikon M223? Is it a good choice? Or is there something similar (price, type) better distinctively better/higher quality? Thanks for oppinion!

    • Cal

      December 2, 2014 at 12:54 pm

      Sorry, Tony. I don’t have much experience with that scope so I can’t give you much help there. I’d personally probably save $150 more and opt for the Leupold Mark AR. That is an outstanding scope. Ridiculous value. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.


  15. Blake B.

    December 2, 2014 at 11:56 am

    In that $1000-$2500 range, do you have a first focal plane optic suggestion?

    • Cal

      December 2, 2014 at 1:22 pm

      Great question, Blake. I’d suggest you take a look at the Kahles 6-24×56 on the high side of that range, and the Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21×50 on the lower end of your range. They’re both an exceptional value compared to other scopes at those prices points.

      I actually conducted a field test with those scopes and several others in that range, and it was pretty enlightening. I don’t think anything like it has even been done before. So if you want some data to help you make a decision, and to help you understand what you’re paying for, I’d suggest you check it out:

      Tactical Scopes: Field Test Results Summary & Overall Scores

  16. spider

    December 17, 2014 at 4:44 am

    My mentor always asks me what are you going to do with the build (gun),if you build a hunter 30-06 for elk hunting in Colorado, your max vision for a safe shot is probably no more than 200 yards. So in this case a Nikon buck master 3-9×40 is more than enough scope for the job. However if you are building a 6.5 Grendel for the bench and want to shoot 1000 yards you would want a more powerful scope. So always ask your self what am I going to with this gun.

    • Cal

      December 17, 2014 at 12:10 pm

      Absolutely. Thanks for making that point. There isn’t one “right” answer when it comes to scopes. It is what is the best balance of all the competing design characteristics (zoom range, clarity, price, mechanical travel, size, reticle) for your application. That last part is important to keep in mind, so I appreciate the reminder.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,524 other followers

%d bloggers like this: