This post covers the scopes and reticles the best precision rifle shooters used in 2014. The data is based on a survey of the top 50 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS). The PRS tracks how top competitors place in major rifle matches across the country. These are the major leagues of sniper-style competitions, with targets typically in the 300-1000 yard range. This is the 3rd year we’ve been able to collect this data. For more info on the Precision Rifle Series and who these guys are scroll to the bottom of this article.
Best Long-Range Tactical Scopes
Here is a breakdown of the most popular brands used by the top 50 shooters in 2014:
In this year’s survey, we also asked the shooters what specific model was topping their rifles. Here is a breakdown of the most popular models used by the shooters who finished the PRS season in the top 50.
Here is a breakdown of what scopes the guys who finished in the top 20 were using this year.
Schmidt and Bender scopes were still topping more rifles than any other this year. This probably comes as no shock. Although the design is now a decade old, the Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56 continues to be the king in the long-range scope world. This was proven once more in a 400+ hour data-driven scope field test I conducted recently focused on the best 18 scopes money can buy. Apparently, it took me 400 hours to figure out what most of these guys already knew! Although you may have to sell a kidney on the black market to be able to afford one … it might be worth it. The scope is near flawless. Don’t you really only need one kidney anyway?
Vortex continued to gain ground this year, with a 5% leap beyond last year, thanks to their new Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 scope. 10 shooters who finished in the top 50 nationwide were running a Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56, which was released just a couple months ago. I haven’t personally handled one for more than a couple minutes, but I’ve heard several guys say good things about them. Obviously several of the top shooters have confidence in them.
Bushnell also continued to expand its presence among the top 50 shooters this year. 10 shooters in the top 50 were using Bushnell Elite Tactical scopes. The Bushnell Elite Tactical XRS 4.5-30×50 was definitely the crowd favorite, with 9 out of 10 choosing that model. In fact, 1/3 of shooters who finished in the top 10 were running this scope. And another interesting fact: more shooters in the top 10 were using Bushnell scopes than any other brand. There were 4 Bushnell scopes in the top 10. Schmidt and Bender only had 3 scopes represented. That surprise anyone? My field test did show Bushnell packed a ton of performance for the price.
Once again, there were a few shooters using the popular US Optics ER-25 5-25×58. This scope was designed from the ground-up for extreme range, and has a few unique design features the others don’t. I highlight some of those in the field test. It is a quality piece of glass.
There were a couple shooters sporting the Kahles K 6-24×56. This scope did very well in the field test, and clearly provided a ton of bang for your buck. It is a compact scope, and the lightest weight among the 5 most popular scopes listed here (by a few ounces).
The chart below shows which reticles the top 50 shooters were running in their tactical scopes. A reticle is such a personal choice, but there are a lot of great options.
Every shooter running a Bushnell scope chose the G2DMR reticle, also commonly referred to as the GAP or G2 reticle. That isn’t a huge surprise, since it was designed by George Gardner specifically for this style of competition. George is President/Senior Rifle Builder of GA Precision and an accomplished competitor … finishing in the top 25 once again this year. It’s a mil-based, Christmas-tree style hold-off reticle that provides the features you need while remaining uncluttered.
The most popular reticle for Schmidt and Bender scopes was the H2CMR, and there were a few shooters using the P4L Fine reticle and the MSR reticle. The P4L Fine reticle is an improved mildot design with fine lines that won’t obscure the target, a floating crosshair, and uncluttered design providing lots of room observation/spotting. The MSR reticle was developed by competitive long-range shooters, military snipers, and other professionals at FinnAccuracy. What’s interesting is none of those are hold-off reticles. There was only one shooter using a hold-off reticle in a Schmidt and Bender scope, and that was the classic Horus H59 reticle.
One additional note here is that FinnAccuracy’s MSR reticle is licensed to be used in scopes by Kahles, Schmidt and Bender, and Steiner. If you grouped all those together, there would be a total of 6 shooters in the top 50 using that reticle, which would make it tied for the 3rd most popular reticle among this group.
Among the Vortex scopes, the EBR-2 was the most popular reticle, which is their Christmas-tree style hold-off reticle. However, there were a few shooters also using the EBR-1 and EBR-3 reticles as well.
This chart shows what reticles were used by the shooters who ended up in the top 20:
When you just look at the top 20 finishers, the story isn’t too much different. The G2DMR (GAP) reticle remains the most popular, with 4 of the top 10 shooters selecting it as their reticle. The MSR reticle was used by 20% of the shooters who finished in the top 20. Although the EBR-3 reticle from Vortex was clearly the favorite among the top 50, when it comes to the top 20 there were slightly more EBR-1 reticles represented. Also, while there were twice as many S&B scopes with H2CMR reticles in the top 50 as those with P4L Fine reticles, they were represented equally among the top 20 shooters.
I was anxious to see how many guys had moved over to hold-off reticles this year. It seems like there is a growing number of shooters using “Christmas tree” style reticles, which allow for quick hold-offs (instead of dialing for elevation adjustment). The diagram below illustrates what I mean by “Christmas tree” reticle. It is essentially a gridded reticle that allows you to hold for elevation and wind. Most people associate these with reticles by Horus Vision, but there are now several companies offering these types of reticles. I thought it’d be interesting to look at what percent of shooters were using these compared to more standard milling reticles.
Here is the percentage of shooters in the top 50 over the past 3 years who used a hold-off reticle.
Although it’s been up and down, more shooters were using a hold-off reticle this year than ever before. The gridded reticles still aren’t quite as popular as the standard milling reticles, but it may be surprising how many guys have started using them. While the format of PRS matches varies, many impose strict time limits or are scored in a way that promotes quick target engagement. Being able to hold for elevation and wind, instead of dialing for elevation, may shave off a few seconds and help make you more competitive. Some believe gridded reticles are distracting, but Todd Hodnett of Accuracy First (a well-respected long-range trainer) is a huge proponent of the Horus reticles and says most shooters get used to it very quickly. Todd says you really don’t even notice the grid after you’ve used it for a while, but it’s there when you need it.
In my field test of 18 high-end scopes, I did discovered some amount of turret calibration error or reticle cant in virtually all of the scopes (view results). Only 3 scopes turned in flawless results in both those areas, including the Kahles K 6-24×56 and US Optics ER-25 5-25×58 discussed above. Yet none of the scopes tested had any measurable amount of error in their reticles. That reminded me of something I had read in the 2014 issue of SNIPER magazine:
“Another potential problem is not knowing whether your scope tracks correctly. Holding is always more accurate than dialing. A friend with a doctorate in optics agrees with me on this. Quality reticles are CNC laser etched. In testing, the turret has been proven not to track perfectly all the time. If you have a scope that does track, it will continue to track, but the key is knowing whether your scope tracks in the first place. I have seen too many that do not track.” – Todd Hodnett
My independent tests seem to confirm exactly what Todd is saying here. Even these top-shelf tactical scopes can have a non-trivial amount of error in the turret adjustments. One option to that depressing news is avoiding turrets all together by using a hold-off reticle. I’m not trying to convince anyone they should convert to a hold-off reticle. I haven’t … yet. But this is an alternative solution to the problem of scopes not tracking, which is why I’m interested to watch how many of these experts are starting to choose into those styles of reticles. Here is a quick 1 minute intro video from Todd on this style of reticle:
Meet The Pros
You know NASCAR? Yes, I’m talking about the racing-cars-in-a-circle NASCAR. Before NASCAR, there were just a bunch of unaffiliated, regional car races. NASCAR brought structure by unifying those races, and created the idea of a season … and an overall champion. NASCAR identified the top races across the country (that were similar in nature), then combined results and ranked competitors. The Precision Rifle Series (PRS) is like NASCAR, but for rifle matches.
The PRS is a championship style point series race based on the best precision rifle matches nationwide. PRS matches are recognized as the major league of sniper-style rifle matches. At the end of each year, the scores from around 15 different national matches are evaluated and the top shooters are invited to compete head to head in the PRS Season Championship Match. We surveyed the shooters who qualified for the finale, asking all kinds of questions about the equipment they ran that season. This is a great set of data, because 50+ shooters is a significant sample size, and this particular group are also considered experts among experts. It includes guys like George Gardner (President/Senior Rifle Builder of GA Precision), Francis Kuehl, Wade Stuteville, the GAP Team, the Surgeon Rifles Team, shooters from the US Army Marksmenship Unit, and many other world-class shooters. Thanks to Rich Emmons for allowing me to share this info. To find out more about the PRS, check out What Is The Precision Rifle Series?
Other “What The Pros Use” Articles
This post was one of a series of posts that look at the equipment the top PRS shooters use. Check out these other posts:
- Calibers & Cartridges
- Tactical Scopes
- Scope Mount
- Rifle Actions
- Rifle Barrels
- Custom Rifle Stocks
- Reloading Components (Bullets, Powders & Brass)
- Muzzle Brake & Suppressor
- Shooting Bags
- Rifle Sling