This is the first post in a series that will cover the results from an epic scope field test focused on long-range, tactical rifle scopes in the $1,500+ price range. This represents 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. Keep in mind this is a field test, not a laboratory test … and I’m not claiming it’s flawless. I did put my best effort into this being as objective, precise, and unbiased as practically possible using the equipment I could afford. 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.
- Bushnell Elite Tactical DMR 3.5-21×50
- Bushnell Elite Tactical XRS 4.5-30×50
- Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56
- Kahles K 6-24×56
- Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44
- Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56
- March Tactical 3-24×42 FFP
- Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×50
- Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56
- Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56
- Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56
- Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56
- Steiner Military 5-25×56
- US Optics ER25 5-25×58
- Valdada IOR 3.5-18×50
- Valdada IOR RECON Tactical 4-28×50
- Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50
- Zeiss Victory FL Diavari 6–24×56
All scopes met these guidelines:
- Average price is over $1,500
- Variable magnification with at least 18x on the high end and 6x on the low end
- Available with a tactical/milling reticle (i.e. evenly spaced marks on the vertical and horizontal axis)
There was an intense, 4 week peer-review for this entire project, where I solicited feedback on what scopes should be included, and published details about the tests I was planning to conduct and asked for critiques. Honestly, I got some outstanding feedback and it took this whole project to another level. I originally hoped to keep the number of scopes to 12-15, but increased it to 18 to try to fit in the most popular models that I could. I listed out a few of those who helped in a previous post, but thanks again to all the optics engineers, industry experts, scope companies, and individual readers that donated time and effort to help with this.
Why Did I Do This Field Test?
In the book Applied Ballistics for Long-Range Shooting, Bryan Litz has a quote that really sums up my approach to a lot of things. It is from the chapter named “Getting Control of Sights,” where Bryan is talking about the importance of understanding your scope. Here is his quote:
The overall philosophy of dealing with sights is: DON’T TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED! The bottom line is to deal in absolute fundamentals, measure them, and remove all the assumptions. If you don’t measure everything with calipers, tape measures, rangefinders, levels and plumb lines, you can’t be sure that your sights are properly calibrated. Don’t ever assume that something is what it says without measuring it. – Bryan Litz
That quote does a great job of summarizing my fundamental philosophy. This type of scientific, data-driven approach seems to be built into me as an engineer, and I honestly don’t think I could fight it if I tried.
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.
As a full disclaimer, my goal isn’t to make money off this website. At this point, I still haven’t made a dime off of it. That isn’t my goal, or the reason I do this. In fact, I’ve been approached by several manufacturers (including some of these scope manufacturers) with offers to sponsor this website. I’ve declined every one of them. I want to stay independent, so you guys can trust my content to be unbiased. While I’m very passionate about long-range shooting, it’s just a hobby for me. My wife might say this was a part-time job, that just pays really poorly! Honestly, I have a great job that I love in a completely different industry. I’m content with my pay there, so fortunately I’m in a spot where I can afford to be an idealist! Ultimately, I believe the shooting sports world needs an independent voice that can’t be bought and is willing to tell it like it is, so I’m trying to be that. I’m not out to get any manufacturers, but I’m not interested in getting in bed with any either. I don’t want to have to feel like I have to pull punches if I see flaws in their products. I know this may sound foreign or hard to believe, but its the way it is.
Where Did The Scopes Come From?
Most of the scopes were loaned to me from the manufacturer directly, but not all of them. A few were used, and either borrowed from friends or part of my personal collection. And there were still a few I wanted to include, but couldn’t get access to. The guys over at EuroOptic.com graciously loan me a few brand new scopes off their shelves … about $20,000 worth of scopes. They’ll be selling those used once I ship them back, so you might be able to catch a great deal on a few of these scopes from them. You can check out their used & demo inventory here.
For full disclosure, here is where I got each scope and some background if a scope wasn’t factory new.
|Rifle Scopes||Condition||Source & Notes|
|Bushnell Elite Tactical DMR 3.5-21×50||New||Loaned by Bushnell|
|Bushnell Elite Tactical XRS 4.5-30×50||New||Loaned by Bushnell|
|Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56||New||Loaned by EuroOptic.com|
|Kahles K 6-24×56||New||Loaned by Jeff Huber (US Distributor)|
|Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44||New||Loaned by EuroOptic.com & Leupold|
|Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56||New||Loaned by EuroOptic.com|
|March 3-24×42 FFP||New||Loaned by Kelbly.com (US Distributor)|
|Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×50||Used||One of my personal scopes, purchased Nov 2012 and mounted on a 7mm Rem Mag rifle for 1,400 rounds|
|Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56||New||Loaned by Nightforce|
|Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56||New||Loaned by Nightforce|
|Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56||New||One of my personal scopes, hadn’t been mounted on a rifle prior to these tests|
|Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56||New||Loaned by EuroOptic.com|
|Steiner Military 5-25×56||New||Loaned by Steiner|
|US Optics ER25 5-25×58||New||Loaned by US Optics|
|Valdada IOR 3.5-18×50||Used||Borrowed from a friend, had been shot on a 6.5-280 AI for a few hundred rounds (yes, Virginia, there is such a cartridge)|
|Valdada IOR RECON Tactical 4-28×50||New||Loaned by Valdada|
|Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50||New||Loaned by Vortex|
|Zeiss Victory FL Diavari 6–24×56||New||Loaned by Zeiss|
How Results Are Published
There are a lot of aspects that go into a scope’s performance, and I conducted a lot of different field tests. I’ve grouped these into a few different categories:
- Optical Performance (resolution, contrast, field of view, zoom ratio, etc.)
- Ergonomics (weight, size, turret that is easy to use and read, etc.)
- Advanced Features (reticle options, locking turret, zero stop, illuminated reticle, tactile clicks, etc.)
- Mechanical Performance (precisely calibrated clicks, internal adjustment range)
I performed many tests for each area and gathered a ton of data. Instead of disappearing for a couple months while I write all this content, I’m planning to publish the results for each category as I work through the data. That should get them in your hands faster, but because I’m still crunching all the data, creating the charts/graphics, and writing the content … there will be a week or two between each post. Please be patient with me.
Other Post in this Series
This is just one of a whole series of posts related to this high-end tactical scope field test. Here are links to the others:
- Field Test Overview & Rifle Scope Line-Up Overview of how I came up with the tests, what scopes were included, and where each scope came from.
- Optical Performance Results
- Ergonomics & Experience Behind the Scope
- Part 1: Side-by-side comparisons on topics like weight, size, eye relief, and how easy turrets are to use and read
- Part 2 & Part 3: Goes through each scope highlighting the unique features, provides a demo video from the shooter’s perspective, and includes a photo gallery with shots from every angle.
- Summary: Provides overall scores related to ergonomics and explains what those are based on.
- Advanced Features
- Reticles: See every tactical reticle offered on each scope.
- Misc Features: Covers features like illumination, focal plane, zero stop, locking turrets, MTC, mil-spec anodozing, one-piece tubes
- Warranty & Where They’re Made: Shows where each scope is made, and covers the details of the warranty terms and where the work is performed.
- Summary: Overall scores related to advanced features and how those were calculated.
- Mechanical Performance
- Summary & Overall Scores: Provides summary and overall score for entire field test.