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Best Long Range Scopes

Long Range Scopes: What The Pros Use

I recently surveyed the top 100+ shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS), and this post reviews the scopes those guys are running this year. For those of you who may not be familiar with the PRS, it’s an organization that tracks how top competitors place in major rifle matches across the country. PRS matches are tactical/practical long-range rifle matches shot in the field conditions. Typical ranges for steel targets are from 300 to 1200 yards, and they are engaged from prone and improvised positions, often under extreme time pressure. It is one of the fastest growing shooting sports, and has attracted some of the best riflemen in the world. Literally thousands of shooters compete, so to land in the top 100 you have to be an exceptional competitor.

More Info on the PRS

This is one of several posts based on that gear survey of the top PRS shooters. Want to be the first to know when the next set of results is posted? Sign-up to receive new posts via email.

If you could give a new shooter one piece of advice, what would it be?
“Get a setup you can afford and show up. You will learn more at a single PRS match than you ever will from reading about it.”
– John Griswold, 24th overall in Open Division

Most Popular Scopes

The chart below shows the most popular brands of scopes used by the top shooters in the Precision Rifle Series Open & Tactical Divisions (i.e. excludes Production Division, which is covered later in this post). I included the most recent results alongside the breakdown from the previous 2 years to allow you to see trends.

Most Popular Long Range Scope Brands

Vortex was the most popular brand for the 2nd year in a row, representing over 1/3 of the top shooters. Vortex has a healthy lead over the other brands, as it takes the next 2 brands combined to equal the same number of shooters.

Kahles has made huge strides in their popularity among these top PRS shooters in recent years. They’ve had steady growth, considering there wasn’t a single shooter in the 2012 survey using them, then 1 in the 2013, 2 in 2014, 7 in 2015, and finally 21 for the 2016 season.

Many shooters were also using Nightforce scopes again this season. They represented 16% of the top shooters in the Open & Tactical Divisions, which was similar to the number they had represented last year.

There were several shooters running Schmidt and Bender in the 2016 season, but you can see they were the #1 choice in 2014, and were actually even more popular in years before that. But for one reason or another, they are no longer mounted on the rifles of these top shooters, which has been one of the interesting trends in this data. The very popular Vortex Razor HD Gen II scope was released about the time that shift occurred, and it’s very likely some shooters transitioned to that optic. The PRS has also grown exponentially in that time period, which has attracted lots sponsors and that may have also contributed to the shift. Regardless of the reason, it’s an interesting trend to point out, as they are represented in relatively low numbers for the 2nd year in a row.

Leupold scopes were more popular among these shooters than any previous year. Since the PRS started in 2012, there have been 1 or 2 of the top shooters running a Leupold every year … but that jumped to 7 this year.

Those 5 optics manufacturers (Vortex, Kahles, Nightforce, Schmidt and Bender, & Leupold) combine to represent 88% of the scopes used by the top shooters this past year. Behind them is a list of other companies that make very capable scopes, including:

  • US Optics
  • Tangent Theta
  • Bushnell
  • Burris
  • Valdada
  • Steiner
  • Premier


So that was the survey results grouped by brand, but here are the results grouped by the specific model scope these guys were using:

Best Long Range Scope

Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27x56

The Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 scope dominated again this year, with 32 of the top 100 shooters surveyed running it. That includes 52% of the shooters in the top 25! The Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 has been one of the most popular scopes in the PRS since the year it was released. It has all the must-have features, and offers good reticle choices. Vortex is also very involved in supporting the PRS community, and is great at listening to shooters. Clearly many of these top competitors believe in this scope.

Kahles 6-24x56 Scope

This year, the Kahles K 6-24×56 scope rose to the #2 spot. 2 of the shooters who finished in the top 10 in the Open Division were running this scope. Kahles is the tactical sister company to Swarovski, so their optical performance is top shelf. Kahles scopes have been steadily gaining popularity each year among these shooters, and I have to believe it’s partly due to the great SKMR reticle options, including the recently released SKMR3 reticle. I’ll share more about that reticle later in this post.

Nightforce ATACR 5-25x56 F1

The next most popular scope was the Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56 F1. 13 shooters surveyed use this scope, which was a very respectable showing, especially considering 3 of those finished in the top 15 in the Open Division. It was one of the most popular rifle scopes last year, with about the same number of shooters running it then. Nightforce scopes are known to be tough-as-nails, and in these fast-paced, tactical matches … knowing you won’t lose your zero is huge. This is the First Focal Plane (FFP) version of the ATACR scope (Nightforce indicates that with “F1”), which is really helpful in these types of matches where you don’t always have the luxury to be zoomed in to max magnification when taking a shot. I usually find myself engaging targets at 10x to 12x magnification when shooting PRS-style stages. To learn more about FFP scopes, check out my scope buyer’s guide and features to look for.

If you could give a new shooter one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t skimp on the scope. Pay for quality.
– Reid Driscoll, 71st overall in Open Division


Now let’s take a look at the most popular reticles these guys were running within the different brands of scopes. The chart below shows all the reticles that multiple shooters were using. Note: There were more reticles being used, but if only 1 shooter said they were using a particular reticle, I filtered those out of this chart to make the data easier to present.

Most Popular Long Range Scope Reticles

One thing is for sure at this point, and that is that the overwhelming majority of these top shooters are running hold-over reticles. That just means the reticle provides points of reference so they have the option to hold for elevation AND wind adjustments if necessary. With traditional milling crosshairs, if you have vertical and horizontal points of reference that allow you to hold for wind OR hold for elevation. In the long range world, most people dial elevation adjustment and hold for wind. But, in the PRS there are very tight time limits on some stages, and you just don’t always have the luxury of time to dial the elevation adjustment for each target. They also have some stages that explicitly prohibit the shooter from touching their turrets after the first shot. In either of those cases, it is very helpful to have a reticle that provides additional points of reference so you can hold for elevation and wind at the same time.

Evolution of Reticles From Crosshair To Milling To Hold-Over

On this year’s survey, I asked the shooters how often they held for elevation. 89% said they only hold for elevation when the stages requires it, or when the time limits are very tight. However, there were 3 shooters who said they hold for elevation and wind adjustments over 90% of the time. Only 2 shooters said they always dial their elevation adjustment (i.e. they never hold-over). There were a couple shooters who said they might hold in these others cases:

  • Sizes of targets are large (i.e. they dial elevation adjustments on small targets)
  • Distances align with 0.5 increment holds

While most of us prefer to dial if we have the chance, to be a well-rounded shooter in the PRS, you probably need to be comfortable doing both. A hold-over reticle can make that much easier.

Vortex EBR-2C Scope Reticle

In terms of popularity, the Vortex EBR-2C reticle towers over the others. While that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best reticle, it is the most popular option for Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 scope that so many competitors are running. It is a fairly uncluttered, hold-over reticle.

Horus H59 Scope Reticle

The next most popular reticle was the Horus H59 reticle. Unlike a lot of the other reticles, this one is available through multiple brands, like Nightforce, Schmidt and Bender, Leupold, etc. The Horus reticles were the first gridded reticles, and started this whole revolution. The H59 is the bestselling Horus reticle, and it’s been “field tuned” based on input from elite sniper teams all over the world, and includes patented speed shooting features, moving target holds, and extended wind and elevation hold points. To learn all about the H59 and gridded reticles in general, check out this instructional video on hold-over reticles with Mike Lamb.

Kahles SKMR3 Reticle

Shannon Kay, Precision Rifle Series, SKMR ReticlesThe next most popular reticle was the Kahles SKMR3 designed by Shannon Kay, a top PRS competitor who placed 7th overall this year in the Open Division. Shannon is not only a world-class competitive shooter, but he is also the owner and primary trainer of the K&M Precision Rifle Training Shooting Complex, all while he continues to serve in the US Army, where he helped develop some of the most advanced sniper training in the world. That guy must not sleep!

The SKMR (Shannon Kay Milling Reticle) line of reticles were released on Kahles scopes a couple of years ago, but the 3rd version (aptly named SKMR3) was a recent addition, and that was the version that was most popular among these top shooters. It packs in all the must-have features, like 2/10th mil marks along the horizontal axis for precise wind holds, a floating dot aiming point so the target isn’t obscured, slight variations in hash marks so it’s easy to find your hold without having to count lines, bold outer posts to help engage targets when you’re dialed to low magnification, number indexes, etc. … all while maintaining a simple, uncluttered field of view.

Horus Tremor3 Tremor 3 Scope Reticle

Todd Hodnett, Accuracy 1st, Horus ReticlesThe Horus TREMOR 3 (aka T3, TRMR3) reticle was another very popular reticle, and for good reason. This reticle was designed based on input from Todd Hodnett, and it has one feature that differentiates it from the rest of this hold-over reticles: wind dots. The TREMOR reticles are all about faster shooting, and one primary way they do that is through the “Time of Flight Wind Dots.” It is a pretty cool feature that allows you to think of wind holds in mph instead of mils, and they can be calibrated to your specific weapon system. I recently bought a scope with a Tremor 3 reticle, and have used it effectively on everything from my 6XC to my 338 Lapua Mag. The Tremor 3 reticle is very feature rich, as it combines aspects of both the Tremor 2 and H59 reticles. Watch Todd Hodnett explain Wind Dots and other features of the TREMOR 3 reticle.

If you could give a new shooter one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t worry about gear or rifle. Use what you have and come to a match. You will learn far more and then can make an educated buying decision for the gear, rifle and optic that best fits your budget. Just come and shoot!
– Clint Adams, 53rd overall in Open Division

Most Popular Scopes in Production Division

In 2016, the PRS introduced the Production Division. The idea was to lower the barrier of entry to start competing by offering a division where shooters can be competitive with factory rifles. In this division, rifles can’t be altered/improved in any way from the original factory configuration, and combined MSRP for rifle and scope can’t exceed $3,000. (Update: They tweaked these rules slightly for the 2017 season.)

So based on those rules, shooters had to think through what equipment gives them the most bang for their buck … kind of like most of us! The top 4 competitors from the Production Division took our survey, and here are the scopes they were running:

  1. Vortex Viper PST 6-24×50 FFP
  2. Bushnell 6-24×50 ET6245FG
  3. Vortex Viper PST 6-24×50 FFP
  4. Falcon M18 4-18×44 FFP

If you’re looking for some other suggestions on scopes for different price points or budgets, check out this post: Best Long-Range Scope: Buyers Guide & Features To Look For

About Cal

Cal Zant is the shooter/author behind PrecisionRifleBlog.com. Cal is a life-long learner, and loves to help others get into this sport he's so passionate about. Cal has an engineering background, unique data-driven approach, and the ability to present technical information in an unbiased and straight-forward fashion. For more info, check out PrecisionRifleBlog.com/About.

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  1. Please provide Top 10 data. Thanks.

    • As I mentioned in the last post, there were 2 guys in the top 10 who didn’t take the survey. Everyone else in the top 25 did take it, but I’m missing the data for 2 shooters in the top 10. Some of that is my fault, because we waited until the week of the finale to send out the survey and those guys had a lot on their plate that week. I don’t want to throw any of them under the bus … so I won’t say who didn’t take it, or even say what places are missing in the data. But here is the list from 1st place, Tyler Payne (who did take the survey) down to 10th place, Paul Reid (who did take the survey). This is only includes shooters in the Open Division.

      Vortex 4.5-27×56 Razor HD Gen II
      Vortex 4.5-27×56 Razor HD Gen II
      Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56 F1
      US Optics 5-25×58
      Kahles 6-24×56
      Schmidt & Bender PM II 5-25×56
      Kahles 6-24×56
      Vortex 4.5-27×56 Razor HD Gen II

      I’m hesitant to give a list like that, because I think you can draw bad conclusions from it. I honestly think if you took all of the guys in the top 30, and swapped their scope with any of these popular models … they’d probably still land in the top 30. It’s more about the indian than the arrow! I know everyone has a favorite, and some people are REALLY passionate about it … but any of these are capable of a winning performance. So just because the guy who won was using a Vortex, doesn’t mean it’s superior. Likewise, just because a scope like the Tangent Theta wasn’t in the top 10, that doesn’t mean that it is inferior. It just means the best shooters this year weren’t behind a rifle with that scope mounted on it.


  2. Thank you!

    Once again your analysis hits the mark and provides real world data on who uses what scope.

    Best wishes for success in your own shooting competitions.

    • You bet! I’m in a match tomorrow morning with targets out to 2600 yards. Weather forecast says 17mph wind … So I’ll need all the luck I can get! 😉


  3. Hi Cal,

    I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while now and can say honestly that I owe a lot of my success and improved results with a rifle to your blog and efforts. So thank you.

    I’m particularly intrigued with the ongoing “What the Pro’s Use” series and never miss reading about them.

    However, I have a question that I’m wondering if you could weigh in on. When you canvas the field about certain equipment they choose such as what scope, or action manufacturer or stock platform, they use; I’m left wondering how many of them simply run that equipment due to their sponsorship with that particular brand? Meaning, if one brand or manufacturer has a more robust sponsorship program, they would obviously see a higher count of shooters using their products.

    Essentially, I’m wondering to what extent the “What the Pros Use” becomes a self fulfilling prophecy through sponsorship?

    As a former prolific shotgun sports competitor, it was pretty apparent when a new manufacturer came on the market or was looking to make inroads with a certain shotgun discipline because you would see a large number of top shooters using their product with print marketing to back it up and so forth. Clearly, these are top shooters who wouldn’t use junk even if given to them via a sponsorship (at least not for long). And truthfully, they could probably still compete at a very high level even with somewhat inferior equipment just due to their tremendous skill level.

    The same way I suspect any of the top PRS competitors could pick up my rifle and wring a little bit more precision and accuracy out of my rifle than I can simply because there is a reason they are top shooters.

    But as I watch the wild swings from year to year of certain brands of equipment I’m left wondering if those swings are a result of discovery that one is truly superior to the other…..or if that simply happens to be the year that manufacturer increased/decreased their sponsorship program?

    Your thoughts?

    • Bryan, I think you’re right. As I mentioned in some of the other comments, how much a company supports the PRS matches and the individual shooters may influence how popular they are among this crowd. But as you wisely pointed out, “Clearly, these are top shooters who wouldn’t use junk even if given to them via a sponsorship (at least not for long).”

      Of course these guys could wring a little more precision out of your rifle setup, simply because there is a reason they’re top shooters. It’s more about the indian than the arrow. I’ve always said good equipment never MAKES a good shooter, but it can help a good shooter be better.

      I’m not sure we’ve seen a lot of wild swings in the equipment choices … at least none that might not be easily explained. Schmidt and Bender has decreased in popularity, but they’ve decreased in popularity overall (i.e. not just in PRS). I think that is due to increasing their prices year-over-year, and beginning to price out most of the market. Their scopes were getting into the $4,000-$5,000 range, but you may have noticed they had a MAJOR price correction over the past couple months. I think that was due to them finally figuring this out. You can’t just keep going up on price, especially if you aren’t improving the product. The design of their PMII 5-25×56 that has been so popular has remained virtually unchanged since it was introduced a decade ago, yet the price was creeping up at a really fast rate there for a while. I personally bought 3 of them over the years, so it certainly didn’t go unnoticed!

      The other major change has been Vortex rising in popularity, but that correlates directly with the release of their Razor HD Gen II scope. Before that, Vortex didn’t really have a product that was in the same league as the optics we’re talking about here. The originally Razor HD and the Gen II are VERY, VERY different products … hence the large price difference between the two. In my opinion, it isn’t even a fair comparison. But when Vortex released a really capable product in the Gen II, at a price point well below the Schmidt and Bender and Nightforce BEAST … it attracted a lot of shooters, both sponsored and non-sponsored.

      Nightforce has made in-roads, but only after they released the First Focal Plane version of the ATACR 5-25×56. Prior to that, there weren’t a lot of great options from Nightforce for this style of shooting.

      Kahles has jumped in popularity after the release of the SKMR reticles, which I personally believe are the best reticle designs on the market. While I don’t own a Kahles, I’ve certainly thought about trading in one of my Schmidt for one … just because of the SKMR reticle. Kahles has also been making incremental improvements to their optical performance over the past couple years. While they haven’t release a whole new model of scope, the Kahles K 6-24×56 scope that you’d buy off a shelf today has several internal improvements, even compared to what I tested just a couple years ago.

      The decrease in Bushnell popularity probably isn’t due to them pulling their support of the PRS. They remain one of the biggest sponsors of the PRS (just go look at their website and see what logo in the only one up their at the top of the page. They were also the title sponsors for this year’s finale match. So it doesn’t appear that Bushnell has pulled their sponsorship dollars away from the PRS, but I obviously can’t say that for sure. I just still see their name a lot at matches.

      I’m absolutely not saying that sponsorships don’t have anything to do with popularity. But I think there are a lot of things going on here, so I was just trying to provide some context behind some of the trends. It’s hard to think back and remember what all was going on over the years that might have changed the numbers, but I can remember … since I do all this analysis every year. So I just wanted to pass on a few clues for perspective. I think it’s healthy to have some skepticism toward this, because of the sponsorships. But there is some other factors playing into this that are relevant. Hope that makes sense!


      • Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

        You have a better grasp (and a longer historical view) of the market shifts that contribute to the numbers, in addition to the sponsorship marketing choices of the brands.

        Your comment about Nightforce reminds me that this is a PRS-focused list and that some of these manufacturers have great offerings but might not have focused their R&D dollar exclusively on the unique (maybe even eccentric?) needs of the PRS rifleman. Reticle choices especially. This isn’t a scope review but rather a simple listing of who is running what.

        It’s another reason your objective scope review was so useful in my opinion because it allowed the reader to assign their own weighting to the various criteria that fits their needs. I would be a good example as someone who has zero aspirations to compete in PRS and merely wants to be a more confident rifleman, hunter and outdoorsman. So these types of reports are interesting, but not something that will drive many of my choices in optics.

        I think it’s safe to say that if your scope lands on the top 5 of this list, you’re doing something right in the land of optics…sponsors or not.

        As someone with first-hand experience in a similar discipline, I already knew that there is simply no way one of these top competitors would use equipment that they thought gave them the slightest disadvantage. (A reality that seems lost on some readers still).

        But……I’m as intrigued by the business aspects as I am the shooting implications and I will say that when a manufacturer starts relying on its marketing, sponsorship and historical brand value rather than continuing to produce a quality product, the fall is fast and the top competitors notice it first in many cases. (As I would argue some other notable brands further down the chart could attest to) So it will be interesting to see if/how that plays out into the future.

        Thanks again.

      • Yes sir. It reminds me of this quote: “You’re always either building your reputation or living off it.” (Or something to that effect!)


  4. Timothy Galbraith

    This was an interesting analysis a few years ago but today the scopes and other equipment used by competitors is so dominated by scopes given to sponsored shooters and manufacturers giving away free scopes on the prize table that the most interesting conclusion one can draw from this data is we need an analysis to show Who Sponsors the Pros and Who Sponsors the Prize Table. I doubt there are many in the top group of shooters who use scopes they purchased. They are all great scopes but some manufacturers support PRS more than others. We all know it so let’s not pretend to the reader that the outcome reflects what is actually best (and yes I own a Vortex Gen II with the EBR-C reticle so it’s not like I am trying to justify my purchase).

    • Maybe you misunderstood, Timothy. I don’t think I claimed these are the best … they’re the most popular among the top shooters in the PRS. While sponsorships do influence this, I think it may be shortsighted to dismiss this because of sponsorships. Think about it: Most of these guys said they fire 300-400 rounds a month, and some do more than that. But for argument sake, lets take the low side and say that is 300 per month on average and the overwhelming majority handload … so with match-grade components that is going to cost about $1/round (if you ignore the cost of their time to do it). 300 x 12 x $1/rd = $3,600 for ammo. Then they will burn through at least one barrel per season, so that is another few hundred dollars. They sink hundreds of hours into practice and matches, which is a HUGE!!! Most of them travel to at least 5 or 6 multi-day matches a year, and each time have costs for fuel, hotel, meals, etc. … not to mention the amount of time they have to dedicate to do that. Plus the average entry fee for a match is probably $250. So you can see they spend THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS and HUNDREDS OF HOURS before they ever set foot on the range for the season finale. Do you think they’d compromise their chances of landing on the leaderboard because someone offered them a free scope? I certainly wouldn’t, and the guys that I know personally that are represented in this list wouldn’t either. If they won something on the prize that they thought might cost them 1 point in a match, they would NOT run it. You don’t get to this level by making stupid decisions like that.


  5. I think the quickest way to start an bar fight these days is to say one scope is more “something” than another brand. I also think we are now starting to dig into murky fields of sponsorship versus marketing versus market perception.

    Based on your figures, Vortex has peaked in 2015. It looks like, based on your figures, the market is fragmenting, moving away from tribal loyalties.

    Given separate discussions on influential forums, I wonder what the 2017 review will show.

    • Great points, Richard. I think all of the top brands represented make capable scopes. If you switched the 1st place Tyler Payne’s Vortex scope with a Kahles, Nightforce, Schmidt and Bender, Leupold, etc. … he’d still probably win this thing. It is more about the indian than the arrow. Now if you switched it with an $80 BSA scope or a Counter Sniper scope … he might not be able to overcome that handicap. So there is a balance here. What I think you can take away from this is that the scopes represented are capable of top-shelf performance. If a scope isn’t on the list, then it doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t good … I’d just proceed with caution. This list is like a shortcut to a short list of proven long-range scopes.

      It will be interesting to see the results for this year. I think some of the trends will continue, and there are always a few surprises mixed in that you don’t anticipate. We’ll just have to wait and see how it shakes out.


  6. Should we enumerate our visits so that you can have advertisements like YouTube or would that be interpreted as diminishing your objectivity ??
    If you ever have a work day or detail at your range…I would gladly push some of my effort back your way.
    Wonderful post …again !
    Thank You

  7. Pretty impressive for a company that didn’t exist 14 years ago to own the market now:

    Vortex Optics is a DBA of Sheltered Wings, Inc., which was incorporated in the State of Wisconsin in 1989. Sheltered Wings, Inc. DBA Vortex Optics began in 2004.

    But since I’m from Wisconsin, I’m biased. >8-)

    • You’re exactly right, Mark. It is very, very impressive. I’m a business guy myself, and I’ve become a student of great businesses … and these guys have certainly caught my attention. Vortex is an extraordinary company. A few years ago they surpassed Leupold, and I heard rumor that they recently passed Bushnell to become the largest optics company in the world. They are making a TON of scopes. And I feel like they’re trying to do it differently, instead of just copying what their competitors are doing. I’ve got to know one of the guys who works there, and he’s shared a few things like the fact that they intentionally over-staff their warranty department because their goal is to maintain a 3 day turn-around or less on any scopes sent in for repair. Vortex was also one of the first to offer an unconditional lifetime guarantee. Now most of the optics companies have stepped up their warranties, and I believe that is primarily due to the market demanding it after Vortex led the way. I was also told they’re one of those peculiar companies that don’t use titles. At one point I was quoting Scott Parks in one of my posts, and I had written something like “Scott Parks, VP of Product Development at Vortex, said …” I sent a draft to him before I hit publish, just to make sure I was quoting him correctly, and he replied with this: “Could you please change ‘, VP of Product Development at Vortex,’ to ‘, who is involved with Product Development at Vortex,’. Its just more modest and we really don’t have titles like that over here. Nothing against places that, but like I said, ‘things are run a little differently around here.'” Yes they are, Scott!

      Hey, and just to be clear … I’m NOT a Vortex fanboy. Believe it or not, I have actually never owned a Vortex scope. It’s not that I don’t think they are good, I just mention that because I’m trying to present a non-biased view of the company. They do a lot of things differently. Another thing I’ve heard is that on one of their popular scopes they get the primary assembly done overseas to reduce cost, but do final assembly and quality control here in the US. I was told they disassemble the scopes once they arrive at the factory, replace a few of the key parts with upgrades or parts that have been checked to meet higher tolerances, then seal up the scope again and do a final performance check. I can tell you that is a different process than a lot of optics companies. Like their over-staffed warranty department, this is just another case of them intentionally adding overhead that they might get away without. But, they’re trying to strike the right balance of keeping their prices low for customers, but still ensure a high quality product and service since their brand is on it. Honestly, I just have a lot of respect for a company that is trying to do something differently, and they’re obviously finding a lot of success at it. Everyone I’ve met that works at Vortex loves the company and the culture. It seems like an exceptional company, so it’s always great to see a company like that thrive.

      So I’m with you, Mark … and I’m not even from Wisconsin! 😉


  8. Thanks for the research.

    • Thanks, Jerry! I always look forward to seeing the results myself. It’s always fun to walk down the line at the range or at a match and see what the other guys are running. This is kind of the same thing, but on the internet! 😉


  9. Cal,
    Great job putting the details together, it is greatly appreciated! I did have question pertaining to the optics used, and I wondered how many shooters in the top are sponsored by an optic company and therefore are using the product because they must.
    So the question is, would the percentage same the same or even in the same order if shelling out their own money?

    • Great question, Shawn. Many of the guys in the top 50 are sponsored, but not all of them. For example, the guy who finished 5th overall, Jon Pynch, was a rookie shooter this year, so he probably didn’t have a sponsor. Also, the top finisher was Tyler Payne, and he’s a member of the US Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU), and I’m not sure they allow commercial sponsors (… since they’re sponsored by the Army), but I could be wrong there.

      Sponsorship certainly 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 2000+ 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. After spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars practicing all year, and making the long trip to a match and sinking money in hotels, fuel, and meals … nobody is going to compromise their chances of having their name on the leaderboard. They’re too competitive to do that! So while I think it’s wise to understand sponsorships do affect the popularity of gear to some degree, you should also know that if a scope ends up on this list … it’s obviously capable of performance at the highest level. Vortex is one of those companies that sponsor a ton of shooters, but if you think the Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 isn’t one of the best scopes on the market, you’d be wrong. It might not be “twice as good” as all the other scopes here, but that isn’t what the data is saying. It’s just saying a lot of guys trust it when their reputation is on the line.

      Hope that makes sense. That is something that comes up a lot as I published these results, so I just wanted to try to be clear in my explanation, for other’s benefit. I think what I presented is a mature and balanced view of this. Your point on sponsorships affecting the results is valid, but just shouldn’t be used to dismiss the results … just taken into context. Last year, I put some content in the post to explain this, and I forgot to do that this year … so thanks for asking!


      • Cal,

        Do you still have the individual data from the metrics of your past scope comparison? When you get your hands on a Vortex AMG, it would be fun to hear how just the optical quality stacks up against the top glass.. The claims i’ve heard as to its resolution and light gathering due to their ‘undisclosed’ glass source and manufacturing process have me intrigued.. It would be awesome for American glass to rein as king…

      • I do have all the data from my big tactical scope field test. I still don’t know for sure the Vortex AMG actually exists! 😉 I’ve yet to see one! But at this point, the hype continues to build. If it lives up to the hype, we may all be running one! 😉


  10. Another great article Cal! I noticed you show the 5-25 Viper as an optic of choice for some Production class competitors. Were these guys sponsored by Vortex in order to obtain this model before it was officially released? I’m only asking because I have this model on preorder specifically to meet PRS Production class rules. (My #1 choice Razor 4.5-27 and the Athlon Cronus was my #2 option but over class rules).

    • You got me, buddy. That could be the case. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.

    • The 5-25 viper has to be a misprint/mistake as we definitely did not have any shipping yet. The only possibility would be if one of the production class guys is also a magazine writer, but even then I don’t believe we had sent any to any writers when this survey was taken. My guess is that the shooter mistakenly wrote 5-25 instead of 6-24. On another note, I am pretty certain Paul Reid ran an AMG. At least he did during the season.

      Also, The AMU definitely does NOT allow their shooters to have outside sponsors.

      • Great job once again Cal. I always enjoy your write ups.

        Best Regards

      • Thanks for the insight, Scott. I figured you’d know the definitive answer on that.


      • Thanks for replying back Scott and Cal. I just checked Vortex’s website and noticed the trusty Razor HD 5-20×50 is $0.01 short of the 2k limit. Might have to do a side by side comparison to see if that Razor is worth the cost over the PST II and if it is I may have to eat more ramen noodles to save $.
        Scott do you have the 5-25 Viper available for demo in Middleton? I’m just an hour and a half northeast of you.

      • Ha! 1 cent short of the limit sounds like they’re maximizing their budget, and still staying within legal limits! These guys are gamers for sure!

  11. “The very popular Vortex Razor HD Gen II scope was released about the time that shift occurred, and it’s very likely some shooters transitioned to that optic. The PRS has also grown exponentially in that time period, which has attracted lots sponsors and that may have also contributed to the shift.”

    I think I can respond to the shift in scopes away from the S&B during that time period. For some reason S&B was having some quality issues, one most notably was the magnification adjustment ring seizing. I was witness to this at a match and have heard the same from 2 other shooters. Word travels fast in our community and if a product shows even a small failure rate 98% of top shooters will abandon it in a heart beat.

    With the addition of the Gen 2, many shooters took stock in the reputation Vortex was building and choose to purchase a scope of nearly equal optical clarity but a much more robust design with great turrets which had a excellent locking system, something the gen 1 razor lacked. With a better price and far superior warranty the Gen 2 quickly became the optic of choice over some more expensive units. I personally sold my S&B after BUYING my first Gen 2. Basically a trade in that left a rebate of cash in my pocket. From the looks of it S&B may be trying to gain some market. It was rumored they would be offering a lifetime warranty and a lower price, I’m not sure of the truth in that but it has been said.

    Kahles, has hit the market with a very good product and the shooters responded, I do not think the numbers are driven by “free” scopes. I think every shooter evaluates a product on merit before making a personal selection.

    People outside of the shooting sports tend to think manufacturers throw product at us all willy nilly but that is not the case. I can lay down a list of the majority of equipment I paid full price to use, on the same token some manufacturers have helped me out with discounts on product and occasionally free product. That is just the nature of the beast, and is not exclusive to rifle shooting but happens as endorsements in many different athletic competitions.

    I have a handful of sponsors who assist me but I can tell you I spend a lot more of my money than what I get from companies as a top level shooter. I use their product because I believe in it and would never take anything for the sake of it being “free” with-out first having 100% confidence in the product helping me to stay at the top.

    • Thanks, Jim! That certainly helps put things in context. Lots of wisdom there.

      (For those of you who don’t know Jim, he’s one of the only shooters to finish in the top 25 EVERY SINGLE YEAR since the inception of the PRS in 2012. In fact, he was in the top 10 most of those years. He’s also a guy that will just call it like it is, and he’s one of the most knowledgeable guys in the sport.)

      Thanks again for chiming in, Jim!

  12. Cal, it’d be interesting to have your thoughts on Athlon optics. Their FFP have been shaking up the market for a fraction of the cost of competitors. What are you hearing?

    • Hey, Gary. Unfortunately, I don’t have any experience with Athlon optics. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good, just that I haven’t heard of them yet. I went and took a quick look at their CRONUS BTR 4.5-29X56 FFP, and the reticle looks decent and the scope specs look promising. But I couldn’t say whether it’d be durable or how the optical performance is without a lot more investigation. The MSRP for that one is $2159, so that’s not a lot less than some of the others on this list. Their HELOS BTR 6-24X50 FFP is just $684, which is a lot less. The primary problem I’d have with that one is it only has 18 mils of elevation travel, which will work if you pair it perfectly with the right amount of taper … but I prefer to see something closer to 30 mils. I also don’t love the reticle on that one is offered with, because I prefer 2/10th hash marks on the windage axis … although the 1/2 marks it has isn’t a trainwreck.

      If you’re looking for a scope for $1500 or less, I’d recommend the Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21x 50mm with either the H59 or G2 reticle. Bushnell recently released a new version of that scope, so you can find the originals for a great deal right now. The new one doesn’t really have anything that’d make me want to spend the extra money on it. So I feel like that might be the best bang for your buck right now, and it has all the must-have features … including 29 mils of elevation travel and good reticles.

      Just my 2 cents, but hope it helps!


  13. Hi Cal. Your articles are always a good read. Im way down in the south of NZ so not too much in the way of PR matches here. Most guys at my local club are more about their hunting but long range PR type stuff is definitely gaining a following. One thing I find interesting is that alot of people seem to make it sound like companys that are pumping money into the sport by sponsoring shooters and putting their products on prize tables is a bad thing. As you have said multiple times “if the gear wasnt up to the job the guys wouldnt use it” so my thoughts are if the survey is stacked because of lets say for arguments sake “Vortex” has put more support behind the sport than other companys isnt that just one more great reason to give them your hard earned money? Just my opinion as an average shooter who will never have the terrible problem of having to choose between my sponsored optic and my other top end scopes. Although when I can justify an upgrade it will most likley be to a Razor as I have 2 PSTs which have done everything Ive needed and in my opinion have been great value. PS if anyone deserves some free stuff it is you for putting together all this info for us readers but Vortex if you are reading this and you need a sales rep in NZ. I’m available. Just saying.

    • Hey, Brett. Good to hear that this is gaining a bit of a following in NZ.

      I do agree with your points. I like it when a company gives back to the community and supports what I’m interested in … instead of just making money off it. I appreciate it when I see companies sponsoring matches, and putting nice prizes on the table. I think it does change the perception competitors have towards them. Do I want to give my money to a faceless corporation, or to a company that sponsors several of the matches I shoot in and has some shooters competing that I know personally?

      Now it all comes down to performance in the end. If a product doesn’t perform, it will end up in the trash or on eBay. … regardless of whether I paid for it, got it discounted, or won it off a prize table.

      And the PST’s are a great value, and a very capable scope. That’s why Vortex has sold a billion of them. I don’t know what the real number is, but I bet it’s scary big. In the age of the internet and customer reviews, you certainly don’t sell a billion of anything if the product isn’t legit.

      Best of luck to you!