I recently surveyed the top 100 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS), and this post reviews the scopes and reticles those guys were running in 2015. 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 from 300 to 1200 yards. For more info on the Precision Rifle Series and who these guys are, or to view what other gear they’re running scroll to the bottom of this article.
Top Long-Range Scopes
Wow! While some gear choices may not change much year over year … that isn’t true for scopes in 2015! Manufacturers are aggressively competing in this space, so shooters have many more choices than they did just a few years ago. The dramatic growth and popularity of the PRS over the past couple years has also attracted more manufacturers to support and be actively involved in matches and sponsoring shooters. So all of that has combined to shake things up in terms of what scopes the top marksmen are running. Here is a breakdown of the scopes used by the top 50 shooters in the PRS each year since its inception in 2012.
You can see Vortex has taken a dominant lead in 2015, with more than twice as many scopes represented than any other brand. Vortex had more than an 80% increase in popularity among these top shooters over last year! Wow. That was largely driven by the release of the new Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 scope a year ago, which was a big upgrade over the previous model and a very capable scope.
I asked Scott Parks, who is involved with Product Development at Vortex, what he thought drove this jump in popularity. Scott has unique insight, because he not only attends many PRS events, but he also competes in them (finishing as high as 4th in a 2015 PRS match). First, Scott knew he’d seen an increase in the number of Vortex scopes at PRS matches, but was surprised to see the jump was this dramatic. One thing he thought might have contributed is a surge of new competitors over the past year or two. While most of those guys may not be new to rifle shooting … many are new to competing at this level. He thought those guys are likely the newer generation that grew up using Vortex equipment, and it’s what they know and are comfortable using. So as they became more proficient, and upgraded gear … they just slid up the band in the Vortex line. They may have originally had a Vortex PST or Vortex Viper scope, so it was a natural progression to upgrade to a Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 as they became competitive at higher levels.
Vortex has always been an active sponsor of the PRS and while they do sponsor some shooters, they certainly don’t sponsor this many (which is why Scott was surprised by this). Sponsorship may influence some choices, but I know a few of these guys personally … and they’re fierce competitors. You won’t land in the top 100 of the 1000+ competitors who shot in PRS-style matches this year if you aren’t really competitive. The guys I know couldn’t force themselves to use a product if they thought it somehow handicapped their chances. They’re too competitive to do that. It is good to see a company so vested in the PRS be well-represented. That hasn’t always been the case, but the new Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 seems to have created a lot of believers among these top shooters.
Another noteworthy point is the jump in the number of Nightforce scopes represented. In fact, just 3 years ago there wasn’t a single Nightforce scope represented among this crowd. But earlier this year, Nightforce released the Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56 F1 scope, which was a First Focal Plane scope with all the features shooters were asking for. 86% of the Nightforce scopes at the championship were that ATACR F1 scope, so it has apparently been well-received by the precision rifle community. Just a couple years ago, almost all of Nightforce’s scopes were Second Focal Plane designs. In 2015 there was only one shooter in the top 100 using a Second Focal Plane design, so the overwhelming majority prefer FFP scopes. It isn’t a huge surprise that Nightforce is represented in larger numbers now that they offer FFP models in the 5-25x magnification range that most of these long-range shooters prefer to run.
Kahles has also made a significant jump in popularity, which could be due to the excellent SKMR and SKMR2 reticles they released this year. Those reticles were designed by Shannon Kay from K&M Precision Rifle Training “to be uncomplicated, practical and visually expedient for both tactical operations and the most demanding long range competitors.” I stopped by the Kahles booth at SHOT Show earlier this year, and Jeff Huber quickly handed me a scope so that I could see these new reticles … as soon as I looked through the scope I laughed out-loud. It is almost identical to a custom reticle I had drawn up myself. I hadn’t shown that design to anyone, so I’m not claiming they copied it (Shannon is probably smarter than me and definitely has decades more experience). I’ve just put a lot of ridiculous amount of thought into what the ideal reticle might look like, and the SKMR reticles integrate virtually all of the design features I was looking for in an elegant and uncluttered way. A reticle can dramatically enhance how you use a scope, and it seems like Kahles hit a home run on those two.
The other dramatic change was the decline of Schmidt & Bender’s popularity among these shooters. There are likely several things that play into that. First, a Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-25×56 costs 50% more than most of the scopes these guys are running. They start at $3750, where most of these other scopes run $2000-2500. S&B seems to have small price increases each year, and could be gradually pricing out a large part of the market. Another factor could be that S&B does virtually no advertising, marketing, or sponsorships. They just aren’t involved in the precision rifle community (at least in the U.S.’s competition world), and they don’t appear to be as interested in integrating feedback from competitors as other brands. One industry expert also mentioned that a couple prominent shooters had issues with their S&B scopes in recent years, and while that may not be representative of the majority of S&B scopes … their poor experience combined with their substantial influence could be scaring others away. Vortex, Nightforce, and Kahles had to get their increases in market share from somewhere, and it looks like S&B may have taken the brunt of that shift. Whatever the reason, the data shows 75% fewer shooters were using S&B scopes than just a year ago.
In 2015, the PRS expanded the number of shooters invited to the championship match, so I was able to survey the top 100 shooters (previous years were only the top 50). So while the chart above shows what was most popular historically among the top 50 shooters, the graph below breaks down the 2015 results in more detailed groups: top 100, top 50, and top 15.
What’s interesting here is Vortex is clearly the most popular among the top 100 shooters, and even more popular among the top 50 shooters … and it turns out they were even more popular among guys who finished at the very top of the list. There were only 4 guys in the top 15 that were NOT running a Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56!
While the charts above grouped all the scopes from a particular brand together, here is a more detailed breakdown on the specific models these guys were using:
The top two scopes (Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 and Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56 F1) were both released within the past 18 months. They’ve clearly been a big hit for the tactical guys trying to hit small targets at long-distance.
There were only 5 scopes being used by five or more shooters in the top 100. Here is a look at those, along with the street price of each one. (Note: These prices were as of Oct. 2015 and intended for informational purposes only. Pricing is set by manufacturers and distributors and is subject to change without notice.)
- Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 = $2,500
- Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56 F1 = $2,800
- Kahles K 6-24×56 = $3,000
- Bushnell Elite Tactical 4.5-30×50 = $2,150
- Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-25×56 = $3,750
Best Long-Range Reticles
Now let’s look at the reticles the top 100 shooters were running this year:
You can see the Vortex EBR-2C reticle was the most popular, followed by the EBR-1C reticle. Next most popular was the Nightforce MIL-R reticle, the Bushnell G2DMR reticle (also known as the G2 or GAP reticle), the Horus H59 reticle (used on multiple brands of scopes), the Kahles SKMR reticle (the 1st version without the Christmas-tree hold-offs), and then Schmidt & Bender’s H2CMR reticle. Those 7 reticles represent are all of the reticles used by 5+ shooters within the top 100. Here is a look at those tactical reticles that were the most popular:
You can see about half of these are Christmas-tree style hold-off reticles, like those made famous by Horus. However, the EBR-2C and G2DMR reticles are simpler than Horus designs, which some shooters find distracting. Those hold-off reticles give you the ability to hold for wind and elevation for really quick shots. The other reticles allow you to hold for wind, but you’d typically need to dial your elevation adjustment so you aren’t holding off into empty space. Given enough time, it seems like most precision shooters prefer to dial for elevation, but if you need to make really quick shots a hold-off reticle can offer a huge advantage.
I went to a PRS match earlier this year with a stage that required you to engage 4 steel targets scattered at random distances from 300 to 800 yards … and you had 15 seconds. (Those Oklahoma boys can shoot fast!) Without a Christmas-tree style hold-off reticle that is a very tough stage. You obviously don’t have time to dial. But would you believe one guy cleaned it in just 11 seconds?! (Cleaning a stage means he hit all of the targets.) I bet he was running a hold-off reticle.
Almost all of the reticles that were popular among this crowd at least had 0.5 mil hashmarks on the horizontal axis. The Horus H59, Kahles SKMR, and Schmidt & Bender H2CMR reticles all feature 0.2 mil hashmarks on the horizontal axis. That is something that some shooters feel is important, because it allows you to have more precise wind holds.
View the PRB Tactical Scope Field Test
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
- Scopes & Reticles
- Rifle Actions
- Rifle Chassis & Stocks
- Rifle Suppressors & Muzzle Brakes
- Shooting Bags
- Bullets, Brass, Primers & Powders
- Special Bonus Post!
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. These matches aren’t shot from a bench or even on a square range. They feature practical, real-world field conditions, and even some improvised barricades and obstacles to increase the difficulty from hard to you-have-to-be-kidding-me. You won’t be able to take all shots from a prone position, and time stressors keep you from getting to comfortable. Typical target ranges are from 300 to 1200 yards, but each PRS match has a unique personality with creative stages that challenge different aspects of precision shooting. You might start off the day with a single cold bore shot on a small target at 400 yards, then at the next stage make a 1400 yard shot through 3 distinct winds across a canyon, then try to hit a golf ball on a string at 164 yards with no backstop to help you spot misses (can’t make that up), then see how many times you can ring an small 6” target at 1000 yards in 30 seconds, next shoot off a roof top at 10”, 8”, and 6” targets at 600 yards, followed by a speed drill on 1” targets at 200 yards and repeated at 7 yards … plus 10 other stages, and then come back tomorrow and do some more! Many stages involve some type of gaming strategy, and physical fitness can also come into play. For a shooter to place well in multiple matches, they must be an extremely well-rounded shooter who is capable of getting rounds on target in virtually any circumstance.
There are about 15 national-level PRS matches each year. At the end of the year the match scores are evaluated and the top ranked shooters are invited to compete head-to-head in the PRS Championship Match. We surveyed the shooters who qualified for the championship, asking all kinds of questions about the equipment they ran that season. This is a great set of data, because 100 shooters is a significant sample size, and this particular group are experts among experts. It includes guys like George Gardner (President/Senior Rifle Builder of GA Precision), Wade Stuteville of Stuteville Precision, Jim See of Center Shot Rifles, Matt Parry of Parry Custom Gun, Aaron Roberts of Roberts Precision Rifles, shooters from the US Army Marksmanship Unit, and many other world-class shooters.
Think of the best shooter you know … it’s actually very unlikely that person is good enough to break into the top 100. I know I’m not! I competed against a few of these guys for the first time earlier this year, and I was humbled. It’s incredible what these guys can do with a rifle. For example, the match in Oklahoma I was in had a station that required you to engage 4 steel targets scattered at random distances from 300 to 800 yards, and you only had 15 seconds! I think I hit 2, and rushed my 3rd shot. I didn’t even get the 4th shot off! But, one of these guys cleaned that stage with 4 seconds to spare! Yep, he got 4 rounds on target at distance in 11 seconds. That’s the caliber of shooter we’re talking about. It’s very different from benchrest or F-class competitions, but make no mistake … these guys are serious marksmen.