I recently surveyed the top ranked shooters in both the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and the National Rifle League (NRL) to learn what gear they’re running in long range rifle matches. (Learn about the PRS & NRL.) This group of over 150 competitors represent the best precision rifle shooters in the country. This post focuses on the optics these guys ran, along with some advice they gave related to long range scopes.
Most Popular Scope Brands
Lots has changed since the last time I published info on what scopes these guys run. In 2012, 2013, and 2014 Schmidt and Bender was the most popular scope used among the top shooters in the PRS (see the data). Then Vortex took a commanding lead in 2015 and 2016 (see the data). In 2017 the PRS tried to collect the data in-house and according to what they published on Facebook, Vortex maintained their lead in 2017, but Kahles, Nightforce, and Schmidt & Bender weren’t as far behind as prior years.
A few new scopes have been released recently, and they seem to have shaken this up. The field is much more evenly split, with 4 brands used by at least 20 shooters of the 173 shooters surveyed. This year Vortex dropped to #3, with Nightforce taking the lead at #1, and Kahles not far behind in the #2 spot.
On the chart above, the various colors represent where a shooter landed in terms of rank. For example, the black color indicates shooters who finished in the top 10 in the PRS, the darkest blue is people who finished 11-25 in the PRS, and the lighter the blue, the lower they finished in overall standings. The green colors represents the top shooters in the NRL, where the darkest green is the top 10, medium green is 11-25, and light green are the shooters who’s season rank landed from 26th to 50th. The legend on the chart shows the league and ranks each color represents, but basically the darker the color, the higher up the shooters placed.
Nightforce represented 5% or less among the top shooters in the PRS from 2012 through 2014, but then in 2015 they started making inroads and becoming more popular after the release of the Nightforce ATACR line of scopes. Even more recently, they released the Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 F1 and that seems to have hit a sweet spot, because now even more guys are running Nightforce scopes. This year Nightforce scopes were used by 27% of these top shooters.
Kahles has a similar story, with less than 5% using their scopes up until 2015, when they started steadily picking up market share among these top shooters. That jump in 2015 was likely due to the introduction of their SKMR reticles that same year, which many believe are among the best reticles in the business when it comes to precision rifle competitions. They’ve had a strong following ever since, including even larger numbers this year after their released of the new Kahles K25i 5-25×56. Kahles scopes were used by 22% of these shooters.
Rest assured that Vortex was still well represented among this crowd, at 18%. In fact, Vortex is the only brand of scope that has been used by at least 15% of the top shooters since the PRS started in 2012, with that being as high as 40% one year! The increased competition in this space has just caused Vortex to share a little of the market with other companies.
Schmidt and Bender also made a leap forward in their numbers, with 12% of these shooters running one of their scopes. Over the past couple years, Schmidt & Bender has gotten much more aggressive with their pricing, and a scope that might have cost $4,000 a couple of years ago is priced close to $3,000. A 25% reduction in price seems to have convinced a few of these guys to make the investment in Schmidt glass.
Those 4 brands combine to represent 79% of this group of shooters. Bushnell represents 5% of the shooters, Tangent Theta at 4%, US Optics and Minox both at 3%, and Sig Sauer represented 2%. All the other brands were only represented by 1 or 2 shooters (i.e. 1%), which included Burris, Leupold, Valdada, and Athlon.
A: “Start by getting the best scope you can afford then build your system around it.”
– Scott Satterlee, 5th in PRS & 8th in NRL in 2018, 26 year Special Operations veteran, currently Chief of Operations and head instructor for 1st Special Forces Group Advanced Urban Combat Course
Scott’s scope: Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 w/ Tremor3 reticle
Most Popular Model of Scope
Now let’s dive into a little more specifics by not just looking at what brands were most popular, but which specific models were most widely used by this crowd of élite marksmen:
The chart above tells a similar story, but let’s dive in and the most popular models these guys chose to run, and we’ll start at the top.
The Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 F1 was on more rifles than any other scope. 20% of them to be exact. It has only been out a couple of years, but has quickly become a favorite among this crowd. Nightforce scopes have legendary durability. Respected long range expert, Bryan Litz, says he’s tested a ton of scopes and he’s never had a Nightforce scope that didn’t track true.
Nightforce offers a model that is virtually identical with a 5-25 magnification range, but clearly most shooters prefer the extra magnification of the 7-35 scope. Almost 4 times more shooters picked the 7-35 over the 5-25. That was interesting for me to see. I’ve personally ran one of these on my 300 Norma rifle for over a year (and love it), but that rifle is intended for ranges out to 2000+ yards. The ATACR 7-35×56 was also the most popular scope at the King of 2 Miles competition on heavy 375 CheyTac and 416 Barrett rifles shooting out to 3600 yards (see What The Pros Use – King of 2 Miles Edition). Yet most of the targets this crowd are engaging fall from 300 to 1200 yards, so it was a little surprising to see so many move to this higher magnification. However, once I think about it, I can’t remember the last time I ran at less than 7x magnification in a competition. I do prefer less magnification in a hunting scenario, in case I bump an animal up from their bed at close range, but in the long range world it’s rare to engage a target at less than 10x magnification, and up to 35x magnification can be nice on the high-end not just to see the target better and have finer adjustments, but also to read the mirage. (Hint, hint to the other manufacturers … maybe consider 7-35.)
Clearly, Nightforce has hit a home run with this new scope, with it being widely adopted in many shooting disciplines, including PRS-style competitions, ELR competitions, a few military teams, and I’d think some F-Class competitors as well. Well done, Nightforce!
The Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 has been a staple of the PRS world for several years. It’s definitely proven, and I’ve heard some of the top shooters swear by it. One in particular told me about a time his rifle got kicked over before a stage when he was using a different scope, and he lost his zero and it cost him several points before he even figured out what was going on. He was convinced that some scopes can’t maintain their zero through even light side impacts. He said since he switched to the Vortex that hasn’t happened again. He felt it was more rugged, and it had definitely won his confidence. Apparently it has won the confidence of 18% of these shooters, of which the guy I’m talking about is one. It is the only one of these top models that is under $3,000, with a current street price of $2500.
One surprise here for me was the absence of the Vortex Razor HD AMG 6-24×50, which was released as their flagship, top-tier, long-range scope a couple of years ago. I believe that is the only Vortex scope where virtually all the parts are made and assembled in the USA. At this point, the 4.5-27×56 Razor HD Gen II and the AMG are both priced at $2500, so I guess shooters just prefer the 4.5-27 for some reason. If anyone has insight into that, please enlighten us by leaving a comment below.
Kahles released the new Kahles K25i 5-25×56 earlier this year, and it’s already had fairly widespread adoption in this community. It’s becoming more rare that someone hasn’t heard of Kahles, but just in case: they’re the tactical sister company to Swarovski. As a Swarovski rep explained to me, in Europe hunting is seen as an elitist activity (think tweed jackets and Downton Abbey), but the tactical world and things like mil-dot reticles are seen as blue-collar (think 511 pants and American Sniper), so they work to keep the brands separate. Both have top-shelf glass. This model has a 5x zoom ratio over the older 6-24 design, which has a 4x zoom ratio (i.e. the magnification range is not as large).
10% of the shooters were still using the Kahles K624i 6-24×56, which has been a popular model for the past couple years. However, I think it may have been the only scope in the lineup that still has a 4x zoom ratio. The rest had at least a 5x zoom ratio, all the way up to 9x. It doesn’t mean it isn’t capable – it clearly is. If anything, I hope this shows you don’t have to have the newest, shiniest whatever to be competitive. Remember, it has more to do with the shooter behind the scope! Having said that, I’d expect these guys to upgrade to the new 5-25 version over the next year or two.
And back toward the top of the list is the legendary Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-25×56. This is the scope that took the best all-around award back when I did the huge scope test a few years ago. You can buy a new one now for less than I bought one for a couple of years ago, which is rare in the optics world. While this design is now more than a decade old, it’s still one of the best scopes out there. I’ve used a ton of different scopes, and this is still what I use on my match rifles.
72% of these top shooters that were surveyed were running one those top 5 scopes, but there were still 48 other shooters that were running a different scope. Here are links to the full list of scope models these guys were running (sorted by # of shooters using them, then alphabetically), along with the street price when this was written:
- Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 F1 $3,500
- Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 $2,500
- Kahles K525i 5-25×56 $3,300
- Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-25×56 $3,200
- Kahles K624i 6-24×56 $3,000
- Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56 F1 $3,000
- Bushnell Elite Tactical XRSII 4.5-30×50 $2,250
- Tangent Theta 5-25×56 $4,650
- US Optics B-25 5-25×52 $3,200
- Minox ZP5 TAC 5-25×56 $3,200
- Sig Sauer Tango 6 5-30×56 FFP $2,500 (on sale for $1,850)
- Burris Xtreme Tactical XTR II 4-20×50 $1,400 (Lowest)
- Bushnell Elite Tactical DMRII 3.5-21×50 $1,600
- Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25×56 $2,300
- Athlon Cronus BTR 4.5-29×56 $1,700
- Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56 (SFP) $2,600
- Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56 $4,000
- Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-45×56 High Power $5,400 (Highest)
- Valdada Recon G2 4.8-30×56 $2,750
A: “Practice. Get a trainer rifle and shoot a hundred rounds off barricades 1-2 days before every match. Make sure your rifle is solid and trust in it throughout a match. Get good reliable gear with the best possible scope you can afford. Shoot a couple local matches and then jump in to 2 day matches.”
– Sgt. Ben Gossett, 28th overall in the PRS, US Army Marksmanship Unit
Ben’s scope: Kahles 5-25×56 w/ SKMR3 reticle
Most Popular Reticles
Now let’s look at what reticles these guys were running, but before we dive in I wanted to bring everyone up to speed on a few terms related to reticles, like what we mean by a “milling reticle” and a “hold-over reticle” (aka Christmas tree, gridded reticle, etc).
You can see that hold-over reticles provide reference points that allow the shooter to more easily hold for elevation AND windage. Most long range shooters dial for elevation and hold for wind, but some of these competitions have stages that explicitly require the shooting to hold for both or the time constraints are so tight on a stage that you’d run out of time if you tried to dial your elevation adjustment on every target. Also, many stages require the competitor to send two rounds at each target, and a grid allows you to quickly visualize and correct off the first shot so the follow-up is centered.
Since the top 4 brands made up almost 80% of the shooters, let’s start by taking an in-depth look at what reticles the shooters were running on those scopes:
On the Nightforce scopes, it looks like most of the guys were running a Mil-C reticle. That’s interesting considering that isn’t a hold-over reticle. It is basically an improved mildot reticle with hash marks on the windage and elevation axis in 0.2 mil increments. Many shooters prefer 0.2 mil increments for more precise holds. This Mil-C reticle from Nightforce has only be out for a couple of years, but is obviously very popular. The Horus Tremor3 reticle was the next most popular, which is obviously a hold-over reticle with a ton of advanced features. Watch Todd Hodnett explain Wind Dots and other features of the TREMOR 3 reticle.
Here are links to the exact scopes these guys were running by reticle:
When we started 2018, Nightforce only offered 4 reticle choices in the ATACR 7-35×56: Mil-C, Tremor3, Mil-R or MOAR. Most of these shooters prefer mil-based systems, because it’s what most shooters in their squad will be using and that allows them to speak the same language and share info. Mil-based scopes are also popular because almost all high-end optics (rifle scopes, spotting scopes, rangefinders, etc.) are available in mil-based systems (because of military contracts or hopes of those), but may not be available in MOA. Nightforce just had 3 mil-based choices, and the Tremor3 is the only hold-over reticle in that group – and some find that reticle too busy/cluttered. That may be why so many guys chose Mil-C, even though they might prefer a hold-over reticle – just not the Tremor3. Because of that it seemed like Nightforce didn’t have as strong of a selection of reticles as most other companies. Obviously lots of guys still went with Nightforce, but I wondered if it might be even more if they had something more similar to the EBR-2C that has been extremely popular among this crowd in Vortex scopes or the SKMR3 from Kahles.
Earlier this year, Nightforce did add the Horus H59 reticle as an option on the ATACR 7-35×56 scope, which has been very popular among this crowd. More might have used it, if it’d have been available. But, just within the past few weeks Nightforce announced their new Mil-XT reticle. In fact, at the time I wrote this article there were still no details about it on their website, but I read an article about it in the latest issue of RECOIL magazine. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that the Mil-XT will become the most popular NF reticle among this crowd over the next year or two. It is a killer design. In fact, I designed a custom reticle from scratch not long ago, and the two share a ton of features. The RECOIL article about the Mil-XT opened with this line: “Some reticles are too simple, some are too complex, but Nightforce’s new Mil-XT is just right.” I couldn’t agree more. While reticle preference is a very personal choice, the Mil-XT seems to be in that Goldilocks zone for many of us.
The Nightforce Mil-XT may look like a Horus design, because of the Christmas tree grid, but it’s slightly simpler and less cluttered than the H59 and Tremor reticles. By keeping the field of view more open, it reduces the likelihood that you’d accidentally miss seeing an impact because the bullet splash was obscured by the reticle. So what’s it missing compared to the Horus? Mover holds, rapid ranging stadia, and wind dots. Let me be clear: I’m personally a big fan of H59 reticle, it’s what I currently run in competitions, and I also own a Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 and specifically chose the Tremor3 reticle in it. So I’m not knocking Horus reticles – I buy them. But I don’t find myself using those 3 features, and while I’m sure some do, for me they’re simply in the way. I 100% agree with Nightforce’s decision to remove them for a simpler, cleaner design. I also love how they labeled the hash marks. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about reticles over the years, and believe this a great design and may now be my favorite design on the market. Well done, NF! Bottom-line is the Mil-XT may have just taken Nightforce reticles to the next level, and I’d be shocked if it didn’t become a favorite over the next couple years.
Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 F1 scopes with Mil-XT reticles were released for pre-order today on EuroOptic.com! They’re expected to arrive late January 2019! A rep I know at Nightforce was able to share this PDF with me, which was just finalized: Mil-XT Reticle specs.
59% of the guys running Kahles scopes were using the SKMR3 reticle, which some consider the one of the best reticles in the business. It has all the must-have features, without getting too cluttered – another reticle squarely in that “Goldilocks zone.” The SKMR series of reticles stands for Shannon Kay Milling Reticle, and they were obviously designed by Shannon Kay. Shannon recently became the owner of the PRS, is the owner/primary instructor at the K&M Shooting Complex in Tennessee, and still serves active duty in the US Army where he has trained hundreds of students while instructing at the US Army Sniper School. Shannon’s obviously a busy guy with a TON of experience in the long range shooting, and the SKMR reticles are among the best because of that.
Remember shooters were split between the new 5-25×56 scope from Kahles and the 6-24×56. Here are links to those scopes with the SKMR3 reticle:
When it comes to Vortex, there is just one reticle that these guys are using and that is the EBR-2C. You might think that means they don’t have much of a selection, but I guess you don’t need a lot of reticles to choose from – if you just have one that is really good. That seems to be the case with the EBR-2C. More of the top shooters have run that reticle over the past couple years than any other, so clearly it has all the features you need for these types of long range matches. The only complaint I’ve heard about this reticle is that it only has 0.5 mil increments on that main windage axis, although it has dots in 0.2 mils on the hold-over grid. That does seem funny to me, although some shooters like the 0.5 mil increments for quicker holds.
With Vortex, this is really simple: There was just one model of scope and one reticle these guys were running. However, Vortex does offer a few options, so here is a link directly to the scope that these guys were running:
A: “Just shoot, and shoot, some more. Don’t get caught up on caliber, stock, scope, etc. just shoot. It’s the only thing that will make you better.”
– Justin Vinyard, 51st overall in the PRS in 2018, 17th in 2017, 15th in 2016
Justin’s scope: Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-25×56 w/ H2CMR reticle
Over half of the shooters surveyed were using one of the 4 reticles I just mentioned (excluding the brand-new Mil-XT). The rest of the field was split 20+ other reticles! But, I don’t want to leave you in the dark on what exact reticle these top shooters chose to run on the other models of scopes represented, so here is the full list of the numbers of shooters that were running different reticles grouped by brand:
|Brand/Reticle||# of Shooters|
|Schmidt & Bender|
|Gen 2 XR||2|
|Gen 2 XR||7|
|Gen 2 XR||4|
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I have extreme “Myopic Vision”! Can these scopes be used with those with this problem? Because wearing Prescription Glasses tend to get in the way of a proper line of sight view while using a scope…
Great question. I honestly don’t know. I’d ask an optometrist. I have glasses myself, and noticed some slight distortion when I look through a scope because I was looking more out of the top of the lens and not the center. My optometrist suggested I get a different kind of lens that was thinner and didn’t create as much distortion. But I don’t know anything about “Myopic Vision” … so I’d suggest asking a professional.
Myopia means “nearsightedness”. Pretty common. The great thing about scopes is that you can dial that out of the equation with the eyepiece adjustment (at leas tone NF scopes, and I think most if not all others). You adjust the eyepiece to your vision with or without external (to the scope) corrective lenses — essentially you dial the scope to become your corrective lens.
One gotcha — if both of your eyes don’t use the same correction, on weak side stages when you’re using your non-dominent eye, with a different correction needed you won’t have time to figure all that stuff out on the clock, so prepare in advance and mark the eyepiece with the weak eye setting needed.
Again some shock at how things change in the rankings, great job Cal.
In ELR all eyes are on two new scopes, the Recon G2 (which is a Japanese made scope Valdada has put out) that does 150 minutes, FFP. The other is the March Genesis as you have reported on, which still has not shipped yet.
I know more guys running the ATACR F1 in ELR than I can count, if I did a breakdown of all the ELR shooters I know it would be over two thirds using that model- it’s a classic!
The major problem we all talk about in ELR now is how maxed out elevation (and windage) force the erector into a tight corner and we end up experiencing bad optical performance because we are at the very edge of the glass. It’s starting to effect me at distances around 3000 yards and it’s made worse by the fact that I don’t like holding under.
The Genesis doesn’t use a erector and simply tilts the scope, so it’s a new idea. I wonder if this is the future of tactical scopes as well?
Great points on the ELR game, Chris. It’s funny that the ELR world may be moving to more external adjustments for a scope, which is how scopes worked 50 years ago! For anyone interested in reading more about the trend Chris is referring to, check out this post: Extreme Long Range Tips 1: Optics & Mounts.
Most PRS/NRL matches have targets all within 1200 yards, although there are a few that stretch a little further. With the cartridges these guys are using, you don’t run anywhere near maxing out the elevation on a tactical scope. In fact, many won’t ever even get into the 2nd revolution. The ballistics on my 6mm Creedmoor handloads is around 9.2 mils of elevation adjustment at 1200 yards, and I have more than double that available on my scope. So it’s a little different in this game. The problems with optics just aren’t the same as I what I wrote about in that other post I referenced, so that isn’t what drives scope selection here.
Thanks for the amazing posts! Glad you are doing “What the Pros Use” articles this year – looking forward to the rest! You mention Sgt. Ben Gossett recommends a trainer rifle. In your opinion, what makes a good trainer set-up? Is there a specific cartridge you like to train with?
Thanks, Michael. That’s a great question. A know a few of these guys who have an identical rifle setup to their match rifle, but simply chambered in 223 Rem. That makes it cheap to shoot, and you can practice all your positional stuff with surplus ammo and it has longer barrel life. There are also guys using a 22 LR trainer rifle, like those from Vudoo Gun Works: https://www.vudoogunworks.com/action/v-22-barreled-action/
I personally train with my exact same match rifles, but just use the Hornady factory match ammo when I’m practicing (not my handloads). It has ballistics that are very similar out to 500-600 yards, and I think it helps me learn my dope and I’m also training with exactly what I’ll be using in a match. Now I don’t shoot near as many rounds as these guys in a year, nor am I as good as they are … which is probably correlated! 😉
Those are my thoughts. Anyone else please chime in on what you think makes a good trainer rifle setup.
Since the .224 Valkyrie brass problems and difficult tuning have it sidelined …my due diligence tells me the .223AI with 90-95 gr SMKs & 88 gr Hornady…and a little longer barrel = a cheaper, minimum recoil, call your own shots simulator.
CR! I’ve seriously been wondering how you were doing! Good to hear from you. Interesting point on the 224 Valkyrie. I haven’t tried one personally, so I didn’t realize those issues. It’d be tempting for me to just stick with the 223 Rem so I could use super-cheap, surplus ammo to practice positional stuff. Often times I’m practicing on 2.5 MOA targets, so it’s not like it has to shoot super-tight groups. It’s more about learning to quickly build a stable position and manage your wobble and break your shot than shooting 1 MOA targets at long range. You could still use high precision, match-ammo in a 223 Rem if you wanted to practice with it long.
Ultimately, I actually don’t do either. I just run two twin 6mm Creedmoor match rifles, and practice with them. Running two lets me allow one barrel to cool down while I shoot the other one. It also extends the amount of time I have before I have to replace the barrel by 2x … obviously. That makes them last a full year, which is good enough for me. And then I’m practicing with the EXACT rifle and recoil that I’ll use in a match … or that I sometimes use hunting coyotes, hogs, or deer with. I think getting used to your ballistics and rifle can be really important. For example, if you walked up to me and asked me what my dope was for 400 or 600 yards … I could tell you off the top of my head. It’s not like I try to go off memory in a competition or when I have an animal in my scope, but I can quickly just do a mental double-check on what my ballistic calculator is telling me. I’ve noticed if I use too many cartridges I lose my concept for what the adjustment should be. I do know I have a terrible memory (way worse than anyone else I know), so maybe I just have to keep things simple. The twin rifle setup that I pull out of the safe all the time has really helped me.
… anyway. Sorry for the rambling. Guess I just missed you, CR! 😉
Are there sponsorship arrangements in PRS? Does this simply mean that Nightforce is giving away a lot of gear?
Great question. I’d bet Nightforce may sponsor some shooters … but I doubt they gave even close to 50% of these guys free gear. I talked to someone who was higher-up at a different major scope manufacturer a couple years ago who had a ton of guys using their products, and he told me to guess how many scopes they had given away to shooters. I said something like 30, and he laughed out loud. He said he’d be fired if they gave away 30 scopes. He said it was less than 5. Now they put products on prize tables to support the matches, and if someone places high enough at a match they might choose one off the prize table. But I’d bet the majority of these guys bought their scope. I don’t know that, but that’s my gut.
I personally know a few of these guys and I can tell you they are fierce competitors. If they thought a scope wasn’t the best thing, or it might cost them 1 point in a match … they wouldn’t run it, even if it was free.
At the end of the day, sponsorships or at least which manufacturers put products on prize tables may influence this. But think about the net effect: Clearly these scopes are capable of performing at the highest levels. Could you win with a different brand of scope? Probably. Could you win with one of these? Definitely. Just food for thought. Ultimately the conclusions we draw from this are up to the individual. What these guys use don’t completely influence what I use, but I do feel like if a ton of these guys use a particular product it means that it has been vetted really well and is clearly capable of top tier performance.
I’ve owned both the AMG & Razor, and although the AMG resolved very slightly better I stuck with the Razor.
A generous eyebox allows for faster shots in PRS and the weight isn’t an issue when actually shooting (hiking with it is a diff story).
I liked the EBR2C reticle better than the EBR7 reticle (though the updated one is on par with the EBR2C).
I’d run the AMG on a lightweight rifle (more flexibility overall), but on a rig that is dedicated to PRS I preferred the Razor.
Wow, Sean. Thanks for the great insight. That makes total sense to me. Thanks for sharing!
Also own both even have a 1-6 gen 2 jm-1 ret.
As for the amg vs gen 2 the gen 2 is on my PRS rig.
The AMG is on my hunting rig bc it’s half the weight of the gen 2. I’ve spent way way way more time behind the gen 2 so I have been running it at matches.
I do wish the gen 2 has 0.2 subtentions but I don’t feel that causes me to miss to often. When running a 6XC I normally hold edge of plate. 0.2 come in handy when shooting the KYL rack and it’s where I seem to struggle. More practice is in order.
Lets talk reticle. If the ebr 2c had a floating dot and 0.2 subtentions on the horizontal axis then move the mill numbers that are on the right side of the vertical axis to the far right/left sides of the Christmas tree it would help in my opinion. Those vertical numbers are in the way of wind holds. If I’m holding wind I wana have a dot not a number obstructing my target.
As for the ebr 7 I think those verticals bold mill line that are on the horizontal axis could be lessened. I think they are there for movers but I wouldn’t need them for that. Then again move the numbers on the verticals axis Christmas tree to the far right and left sides. Get them out of the way.
Nightforce XT and khales SKMR3 have done a fine job with these new reticles and I imagine in 2019 you will see even more runnin these brands bc of the reticles selection. I’m glad nightforce FINALLY got on board. I wouldn’t buy a nightforce bc of the reticle selection of the past. If I can now have a mil XT I would greatly consider spending they $3,000. I sure do admire that SKMR3 however.
Vortex will need to release a new reticle to compete with the XT and SKMR3.
I totally agree with your comments about preferring a reticle with 2/10th subtensions. It probably doesn’t cause many misses, but it can help on tiny targets … so why not have them for when you need them? I’ve heard at least one of the top 10 guys in years past that he would run the Vortex Gen II, but he won’t run a scope that doesn’t have 0.2 mil marks.
And I totally agree on the bet that more people gravitate to scopes with the Mil-XT and SKMR3. The reticle is SUCH an important part of the whole rifle system. It’s an important tool in a shooter’s toolbox. I think every year that passes I get a little more anal about my reticle. It’s just soooo important. If it doesn’t have the right features, it can cost you points or limit how you can run a stage. I think manufacturers are going to wake up to that reality and start offering more reticle choices … at least that’s my hope. If I ran a scope company, that’s the direction I’d head.
I agree the Mil-XT and SKMR3 are my favorite designs at this point. Both are slightly simplified versions of the H59, and the reticle I personally designed shares a lot of the same features. It’s the right balance of not too complex, but it has the must-have features so that you aren’t limited in how you can use it.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
I have also had both the AMG and G2R and I agree with Sean on most things about the G2R vs AMG. Only thing I disagree on is the reticle preference, but that is a personal thing anyway.
I believe the clarity on the AMG is barely-noticeably better and the more compact size and lighter weight of the AMG make it stand out as a go-to for hybrid use (range and field). The slightly larger turrets make quick adjustments a bit easier on the G2R, but the extra 4mm of tube diameter only gets you 1 mil more adjustment over the AMG. That same 34mm tube, combined with the extra 6mm of objective lens diameter does give you a wider field of view at max magnification (×5.3ft vs 20.4ft). I am sure that presents a big positive for PRS shooters.
Since my rifles see both range and field use, 3 of them wear AMGs.
Great insight, Bruce. Makes sense to me. Thanks for sharing.
Cal, I appreciate your work and have enjoyed every piece you’ve done and look forward to your next posts. I am a senior with the time now to pursue more shooting and gobbling up as much long distance info as I can. I consider your work high quality. Prairie dog hunting has been my long term long range passion and now wanting to move toward PRS. I stay in shape so it remains attractive.
You are an encourager!
Thanks, George! Prairie dog hunting is a good primer for this game. It is certainly precision work. Insert some competition and a good group of guys to do it with, and it takes fun to the next level for me. Glad you’ve found the content helpful. I enjoy seeing these results myself.
I think that because of a typo you have Minox showing up twice in the first 2 graphs:
In figure 1 (Most Popular Scope Brands) you have Minox showing up twice (positions 9 and 11)
In figure 2 (Most Popular Model of Scope) you have “Minox ZP5 TAC 5-25×56” at position 11 and “Minox ZP5 TAC 5-25×56” at 12. There is an extra space between Minox and ZP5 which creates two different character strings, thus messing up the stats.
Thanks, bud. I had noticed that before and even updated the charts … but forgot to re-upload the images to the website before I hit publish! Doh! Just goes to show the level of detail that I have to go through to get all of this together. Normalizing the data is no small feat! But it’s worth it for the insight. Thanks for pointing this out. It’s now corrected.
You’re welcome! I know that working with large amounts of data is no walk in the park. I don’t do it each day every day, but I build tools for people who do it all day every day. I guess that catching that was the result of somewhat of an occupational adaptation borne out of parsing strings with regular expressions on a rather regular basis:).
Hi Cal, A great thank you from a long range shooter in France, Europe. Incredible work you do. Extremely well researched and elegantly written. Long distance shooting is picking up in France and some other countriesvas well. Still very small compared what you do in the usa. But we even have a 2000-3000 m. match next April in the South of France. Looking very much forward to your further posts. Thanks again. Jan
It’s great to hear that this is catching on in Europe. A 3000m match is rare in the US, and I bet it’s even more rare there. That’s really cool. Glad you’ve enjoyed the posts! Stay tuned for more.
What was the top scope mounts used Cal?
Wow, Josh. I meant to include data on scope mounts in this post, and totally forgot. Thanks for reminding me about that! I literally just spend the last few hours writing a post that will cover what scope mounts and rings these guys were running, because that is a really important thing. I see so many guys save forever for a precision rifle, and then save longer for a capable scope … but then buy cheap rings! That hurts so many guys, because the issues they cause are often erratic and difficult to diagnose. It can be really frustrating for new shooters, and they don’t even think about it. So I definitely want to cover it. This post was pretty lengthy, so maybe it was better to have a whole post dedicated to scope mounts … which I guess is what it will end up being. That data will be published in just a couple days, so stay tuned!
Question about the data; Is it from before or after the finales? Because some people couldn’t make the finale and that included one of the guys who had 300 points prior to the finale. How did you deal with those situations in the data?
Hey, Kris. That’s very astute of you. Excellent question. First, you’re exactly right. I noticed David Preston had 300 points, but didn’t attend the PRS finale … which made him finish 123rd overall.
I surveyed all the shooters prior to the finale. In fact, my survey for PRS shooters was actually part of the registration process for the finale. Then after the finale, I got all the final ranks and tried to find where the breakpoint was where shooters started to trail off. For the PRS I decided that should be the top 125. However, I didn’t get a survey from David Preston (placed 123rd) or another shooter that placed 118th. I had 100% participation among the top 117 shooters in the PRS, and 100% participation among the top 50 shooters in the NRL. But basically I am missing 2 of the shooters who finished toward the top end of what I drew the line for the top 125 PRS shooters. So instead of 175 total shooters, I’m publishing data for 173 total shooters. I thought about drawing the line in the PRS a little tighter, but those guys who finished around 100-125 were still outstanding shooters. I know a few of them personally and they’ve whipped me at matches before! I was just trying to balance having a large sample of data (which allows you to have more confidence in the results) with where I thought the line was for who was a “pro”. I consider Melissa Gilliland to be a “pro” (i.e. fairly well-known, recognizable, sponsored shooter who finishes respectably at most matches), and she finished 111th overall in the PRS. Of course David Preston didn’t go to the finale and still got 123rd … but he is a RIDICULOUSLY good shooter. I really like David. He’s a super-nice guy, and really sharp … but his shooting ability is almost not human! 😉 So I decided the line was in there somewhere, and picked 125.
Also there are a little over twice as many shooters who participate in the PRS as the NRL, and I surveyed the top 50 shooters in the NRL … so including a little more than twice as many shooters in the PRS seemed to make sense. I also looked at a few of the guys who shot in both leagues to see where they finished in each one, to make a judgement of relative competitiveness. For example, one guy finished 16th in the NRL and 36th in the PRS. Another guy finished 18th in the NRL and 47th in the PRS. Another finished 7th in the NRL and 17th int he PRS. Another finished 11th in the NRL and 20th in the PRS. Based on all that I roughly gauged that if you finished 50th in the NRL, that might be roughly equivalent to 125th in the PRS. There is no exact science to that, but my goal was to make them roughly equivalent and not include some rookie from one of the leagues that wouldn’t really be competitive with the guys I’m including from the other league.
That’s probably more than you wanted to know, but I wanted to try my best to answer the question. I honestly probably put more thought into than I should have! Believe me, I’ve been accused of that before! 😉
Hope that makes sense!
What about Nikon Scopes? Are they still being made? They were always my choice. I now use flir pts736 in low light conditions most of the time.
Sure, Nikon is still making scopes. I literally gave a Nikon scope to my nephew earlier today as a Christmas present. They’re good scopes, but just not in this class of scopes. These are top-tier, tactical scopes.
First, they don’t have all the features these guys are looking for, like first focal plane, advanced reticles, a large elevation adjustment range, etc. You can check out this post for a pretty thorough list of the features that are important for this type of long-range, precision shooting: http://precisionrifleblog.com/2013/03/07/best-long-range-scopes-buyers-guide-and-features-to-look-for/
Second, even beyond feature set … we push the mechanics on these scopes to the limits. We might dial a turret 2000+ times a year, and expect it to perfectly return to zero EVERY time. Hunting scopes just can’t do that … even a high-end Swarovski isn’t going to perform like that. Their mechanics just aren’t built for it. Often times their mechanics are made with plastic parts that will fatigue from heavy use. They will work fine if used like a normal hunting scope (ie checking the zero once a year and not touching it otherwise), but if you dial on it regularly it will eventually start to have slop in and not be as repeatable as you need for consistent hits at long range. I’d say that’s the biggest thing that separates these scopes from more entry-level products, like most of the scopes Nikon produces.
Now, I can’t speak for the new line of Nikon BLACK FX1000 scopes. I don’t have any experience with them, but I’d bet they don’t have all the features and/or I’d be skeptical about the durability over heavy use. I tried to look up how much elevation travel they have, and they don’t even list that as a spec on their product page … which tells me they probably just don’t understand this game.
I don’t want to knock Nikon … I’m actually a big Nikon fan, which is why I just gave my nephew a Nikon scope today and I also take all the photos for my website with my Nikon DSLR camera. It’s just that long range shooting is a pretty specialized thing, and it’s very different than Nikon’s traditional, hunting customer.
Hope that makes sense,
the PTS-736 is made by FLIR! The Nikon Thermal Scope ISN’T intended to be used as a Rifle Scope! Just a Hand Held Spotting Scope…
My bad. Didn’t realize you were talking about thermals. LOL! That’s a totally different topic and product all-together!
Not my meaning! Nikon doesn’t produce the PTS-736, FLIR does and so does Armsport under license. Nikon does produce a Thermal Scope using FLIR Technology, but not as a Hunting Scope, but as a Spotting Scope. Similar to the one’s produced by Leupold Optics…
Any comment on the ACSS reticle that Primary Arms came out with? I like an uncluttered view out to 500yrds or so and this appears to be a winner in my view
I hadn’t seen it, but after a quick google … it looks decent. It’s similar to the SKMR3 reticle, except heavier. The lines seem a little heavy to me, which could cause you to miss seeing a bullet splash. I do like the floating dot, and how simple it is. It also doesn’t have hash marks in 2/10th increments, which I definitely prefer and know a lot of other guys do to. It’s based on 0.5 mil increments, which isn’t a trainwreck … but isn’t ideal either. Overall, it’s a better reticle than what a lot of companies offer … but my favorite would still be the Mil-XT or SKMR3. A lot of this comes down to personal preference, not right or wrong. So if it’s working for you, that’s awesome.
Certainly not for fine work but overall not bad. The chevron is quick to use. I think this reticle with finer lines might work great. The height estimator on the right is a useful tool. Out of the way and gives a quick and easier rough distance which can be fine tuned a bit by the main. A couple of more hashmarks and it would be great. As is, very fast to use. The Horus and others like it are great for very fine aimpoints but just way to busy for me.
Always interesting to see what the pros use.
I noticed that almost 3 times as many shooters are shooting the ATACR 7-35 as the ATACR 5-25. Any insight on this? I’m in the market for a scope and pretty sure I’m going with the ATACR 5-25. But, I’m a buy once cry once.
You’re right, Scott … except it is actually almost 4 times as many shooters that are running the ATACR 7-35×56 vs ATACR 5-25×56. They’re virtually the same scope, except the magnification range. The 5-25 even had more reticle choices until recently. The 5-25 has slightly more elevation travel than the 7-35 as well. NF advertises that the 7-35 has 100 MOA of elevation travel, and the 5-25 has 125 MOA. In reality, they both have more than that (I know because I’ve personally measured them), but NF says those lower numbers because if you dialed the max wind adjustment (which is a ridiculous, unrealistic amount) then you might only have that much elevation travel. Regardless of what the actual number is, the 5-25 has slightly more elevation adjustment overall than the 7-35, which is why you see some ELR guys running the 5-25 and not the 7-35, although that might seem a little counterintuitive.
I personally have a 7-35 on my 300 Norma Mag, and just bought another one a couple months ago to go on my new 375 CheyTac. That was before I knew they were this popular, and honestly I just preferred that 7-35, thinking I would appreciate the 35x on the high-end at times and couldn’t think of a scenario on those rifles where I’d want to run at 5x. I have a Charlie TARAC so the scope doesn’t have to have an infinite amount of elevation. I’ve done the math and I’m pretty sure I can get out to 3 miles with the new 375 using an ATACR 7-35×56 + a Charlie TARAC, so the 5-25 wasn’t buying me anything except less magnification.
Now this PRS game is a little different than the ELR game. Either Nightforce ATACR scope has way more than enough elevation to reach the distance you’re going for. Ultimately, I’d just decide based on whether you value 35x more than 5x. Can you think of a scenario when having 7x on the low end wouldn’t be a wide enough field of view? Is it important that you be able to read the mirage, which is a little easier to do with 35x magnification? Ultimately, neither is the wrong decision. They’re both outstanding products, and I bet you wouldn’t be disappointed either way.
Cal thanks for all the work you put into this. One request. Over the past years you’ve shown trend data year over year. It would be good if you had that data to show again. I know you now included the NRL in the data set which is awesome, so it would not be apples to apples to include them in the trend view this year. Thoughts? -Gary Larson Guardian Long Range
Thanks, Gary. I hear you … but it made the charts too complex. Ultimately I’m trying to strike the right balance between making this data easy to take in (ie the charts should speak clearly and immediately), and some depth and detail. To me, the breakdown of NRL and PRS, as well as the different classes of where the shooters ranked (ie top 10, 11-25, etc) were more important to include than previous years. You can also go back and compare the results for previous year by looking at those posts here: http://precisionrifleblog.com/category/what-the-pros-use/
I observed, after your legendary scope test, that the market reacted and manufacturers began to fix the issues you identified in your test. The test informed the public; they began to demand a higher standard in tracking and optical quality for the price point. Bushnell had a huge surge the year after your report because of the DMR 3.5-21 ranking, hell, I bought one because of that review. It positively influenced things like Leupold producing the Mark 5 at a sane price point, S&B dropping the PMII price, Steiner fixing it’s tracking issue, and Kahles coming out of obscurity. By informing the customer base it has also slammed the door on ludicrously priced optics that don’t provide value relative performance such as March and Hensoldt.
I know it was a huge burden of work for you for the first test, but I think it’s time to do a number two that is bigger and grander! See if some of these new top end scopes are worth the price!
Conversely, I believe there is value to doing a Mid-range scope comparison as well. So many new shooters can’t afford a $3000 scope. Educate that base on a good scope that they could realistically afford. I reference the comment above in regards to the Primary Arms reticle; a tacticool reticle doesn’t equal scope performance. Let’s see what pans out!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Travis, thanks for the kind words about the test I did. You’re very observant. I do think it influenced a lot of things for the better. At the end of the day we (as shooters) all win because of it, and manufacturers making great products got the recognition they deserved. The part you may not have seen was a few pissed off manufacturers (and some dogmatic shooters who loved them) that didn’t quite like what was published. It wasn’t much fun handling that criticism (which was quite loud at times), but ultimately I know the silent majority of shooters learned some valuable things and were able to make better buying decisions because of it. I feel like it brought a new level of honest and unbiased performance evaluation and accountability to an area that desperately needed to it.
I’d LOVE to know how these stack up. I still have all the custom test equipment from that big scope test (ie test fixtures, charts, targets, etc.), so I haven’t given up hope on doing it again at some point. I’d really love to, but just can’t commit to it at this point, just because of all the other higher priorities in my life right now. I do agree that if/when I do it again, I should include some lower-prices scopes to try to help guys understand what their money will get them and help quantify the compromises they might have to make if they buy at lower price points. I know that is where the overwhelming majority of people are, so I’d like to help those shooters too … not just the few of us who are waaaay into this. Ultimately, I just want to help people make informed decisions. Simply present the data and then let them decide … kind of like this series of posts. 😉
Thanks for the encouragement. It’s humbling to think it had that kind of impact on the industry.
I’ve been shooting 3-Gun for the past four years and relatively new to the PRS game, having shot in only a handful of matches. Your tests are extremely valuable in terms of helping me allocate my limited funds to where they will have the most impact (or “impacts,” as the case may be) instead of randomly spending money.
My entry-level optic of choice is a Burris XTR II 4-20x with SCR MOA reticle. The matches I’ve participated in locally rarely go beyond 600 yards and top out around 1,000 yards. In the early days of using this scope, I found that my shots weren’t hitting where I dialed, so I figured it was me. After learning more and performing a tall target test, I discovered that each click was actually moving the reticle more than a 1/4 MOA (surprise!). Once I determined the correct adjustment factor, it now shoots dead on. Now, however, I’m wanting to move to a H59 or similar holdover reticle and looking at scopes with higher price points.
Other competitors have given me looks through Nightforce ATACR, Leupold Mark 5, Vortex Razor HD II and other optics. The image quality through these scopes is fantastic, so I can see where your money is going, but to be frank I am not too disappointed with the Burris glass either based on the kind of shooting I’ve been doing. Based on your experience, if I were to move up to a higher-end optic, what other improvements could I expect to gain? Better and more consistent tracking, etc.?
Thanks again and please keep up the great work!
Hey, James. Thank you for sharing that! I’m so glad my content has helped you make more informed buying decisions. That is a big part of what I’m trying to do here. This game is too expensive for a lot of people, especially if you make a mistake and buy the wrong thing!
And you’re very wise doing the tall target test. I’m a huge proponent of that. It’s one of the first things I do with a new scope. It surprises me how few people do that though, and I’m sure it causes a lot of unnecessary frustration and confusion. When we miss a shot we’re so quick to blame ourselves, or the ammo, or even the rifle … but rarely the scope. It’s funny.
Hey, and I’m with you on the glass quality. Those scopes do have great glass, but how important is that really? I think for the most part it makes the scope more enjoyable to use, but I’m not convinced it has a significant impact on helping you get more rounds on target. The only thing you could claim is it helps you read mirage better, to get a better understanding of what the wind is doing near the target. We see mirage as it distorts the image down range, so if you start with a scope that is crystal clear and no distortion … the distortion from the mirage is easier to pick up. It’s easier to “separate the signal from the noise,” so to speak. But super-sharp glass is not the top characteristic I am looking for in a scope.
For me, it’s more consistent tracking … over the long-term. Many scopes track well out of the box, but their internals are sometimes made of plastic parts (especially in hunting scopes) and if you dial them a lot they will fatigue over time and develop some slop. At that point, your adjustments won’t be consistent and return to zero will not be reliable. The tough part about that is even if you did a tall target test right out of the box, the scope might pass with flying colors … but do it again a year or two later, and it might be a dismal failure.
Another thing that attracts these shooters to these particular scopes is really good reticles, First Focal Plane design, zoom range, and elevation adjustment range. I actually wrote a post that tries to run through all that, and I update it regularly. I bet you’d find that helpful: Best Long-Range Scope: Buyers Guide & Features To Look For.
Honestly that Burris XTR II 4-20×50 with SCR MOA reticle looks to have the majority of these “must have” features. There is definitely a point of diminishing returns in terms of what spending extra money will get you. While I haven’t personally used that scope, it looks like a pretty big value. Of course, it sucks if it doesn’t track as advertised … so that is probably the biggest difference, as well as glass quality. I’ll never forget when Bryan Litz said he has done the tall target test on a ton of Nightforce scopes, and he’s never had a single one that didn’t track true. When you understand the tiny, tiny, tiny amount that these scopes are adjusting with each click … that kind of precision over years of production is crazy. And I’m not saying only Nightforce does that, but it’s just who Bryan had tested and trusted.
In addition to how many competitors used what scopes, the placing of the scopes would also be very interesting. Of the large group using night force, how many finished in the top 10, 20, 50. Are the guys shelling out the big bucks for the premium “boutique” equipment actually placing better? Or are all of these scopes so good that it was really the shooter making the 100% of the difference?
Sorry, Dern. Have you ever thought something was clear, until someone asked you a question and then you realized it wasn’t clear at all? That’s what just happened here. You made me realize that isn’t as clear as I intended it to be. That’s what the different bands of colors indicate, although now that I look back at it … I’m not sure how I expected people to understand that. I’ve just been working with the data for a while and it didn’t occur to me that people wouldn’t know what I meant! 😉
The portion that is in black indicates those that finished in the top 10 in the PRS, the darkest blue is the guys who finished 11-25 in the PRS, the darkest green is the guys who finished in the top 10 in the NRL, the second darkest green indicates those who finished 11-25 in the NRL, and there are other colors to indicate other groupings. Basically the darkest colors indicate guys who finished highest, and the lighter the higher up that group of shooters that it is representing placed. Here is the legend that I was hoping to indicate what the different colors meant:
I appreciate you asking for that, because I’ll change how I present that going forward. Sorry for the confusion. Hope this provides the context you were looking for.
I added a little description beneath the first chart on each post so far that explains the color thing. Here is what it says:
Thanks again for that suggestion, Dern. I bet there were literally thousands of people who didn’t get what I was doing there, so I appreciate you taking the time to leave the comment.