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Wyoming ELR Scopes & Mounts – What The Pros Use

A few weeks ago, I surveyed 100+ shooters who competed in this year’s Nightforce ELR Steel Challenge in Casper, Wyoming. That is a one-of-a-kind, 2-day, flagship match with 20+ stages featuring targets from 720 to 2,091 yards. The average target distance is year was 1,180 yards, with 70% of the targets beyond 1,000 yards!

This match is somewhere between a “traditional” long-range rifle match (like the PRS and NRL matches) and an Extreme Long Range (ELR) match, which makes equipment choices very interesting. The match director, Scott Satterlee, refers to these distances as “Extended Long Range.”

In this article, we’ll dive into what scopes and scope mounts the shooters at the 2020 Wyoming ELR match were using.

Most Popular ELR Scopes

Let’s dive into the data. Below you can see what scope brands the 100+ shooters surveyed used in this year’s Wyoming ELR match:

Best ELR Scope

Nightforce Scopes

Nightforce ELR Scope

Nightforce is the clear favorite, with 39% of this group of competitive shooters trusting them for their optics. It takes the next 5 brands combined to add up to as many shooters as those using a Nightforce scope. Since the release of Nightforce’s ATACR line of scopes, they have taken a massive leap forward in popularity in precision rifle shooting. The most popular model of Nightforce scope among this group of shooters was the Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 F1 scope, with 60% of these shooters opting for that specific model.

Nightforce ATACR 7-35x56

Since so many shooters were using Nightforce scopes, here is a view of the specific models these guys were running:

Best Nightforce Scope

Kahles Scopes

Kahles Scope

Kahles was the 2nd most popular choice among these shooters engaging targets at extended long-range, representing 14% of those surveyed. Kahles is the tactical sister-company to Swarovski, designed for heavy use and repeatable adjustments in harsh environments. Unlike Swarovski, Kahles scopes offer full-featured, tactical reticles, including reticles designs by Shannon Kay, a top-ranked competitive shooter. Kahles has been popular among serious precision rifle shooters for the last several years. Those using Kahles scopes in this group were pretty much evenly split between the 5-25×56 and 6-24×56 models. The Kahles K525i 5-25×56 is a newer design that was released in 2018, but there was still an equal number of shooters using each of those models in the top 10, in the top 25, and overall.

Kahles K525i 5-25x56

Vortex Scopes

10% of these shooters were using a Vortex scope, which made them the 3rd most popular brand. The Vortex 4.5-27×56 Razor HD Gen II was the most popular model among the competitors surveyed, although there were also a couple of shooters running a Vortex 6-24×50 FFP Razor HD AMG or a Vortex 5-20×50 Razor HD. I did notice only 2 shooters were running a Vortex scope in the top 50, and only 1 of those was in the top 25, and none were in the top 10. 60% of those surveyed who said they ran a Vortex scope finished 100th or higher. I’m certainly not claiming their Vortex scope caused them to finish lower on the leaderboard, but it is simply interesting that their representation among these shooters wasn’t more uniform in terms of overall finish, like the other brands.

Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27x56

One interesting note is the #1, #2, and #3 spots are in the same order of popularity as what I found last time I surveyed the top-ranked shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and National Rifle League (NRL). You can see that data here. Both were in this order: Nightforce, Kahles, then Vortex – and both had the Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 as the overwhelming favorite model from Nightforce. The Wyoming ELR match is different enough from PRS/NRL style matches that it isn’t affiliated with either of those organizations. Both of those limit calibers to 30 caliber or less, and also limit muzzle velocity to 3200 fps or less. Match Director, Scott Satterlee, didn’t want to impose any such limits in the Nightforce ELR Steel Challenge, and competitors are free to use anything up to a 416 Barrett and there is no velocity limit. So not only are the distances different, but the rules and gear are different. That is why it was interesting to see the same overall trend in terms of what scope brands were most popular.

Tangent Theta 5-25×56

Tangent Theta 5-25x56 Scope

Tangent Theta was the 4th most popular brand of scope, representing 7% of these shooters. All of the shooters using a Tangent Theta scope were running the Tangent Theta TT525P 5-25×56 model. I noticed the opposite pattern for Tangent Theta as what we saw for Vortex, in that a significant number of those in the top 25 were running a Tangent Theta scope, and actually, no shooters who finished 100+ were using one. In fact, the shooters who finished 1st and 5th were both using a Tangent Theta scope. The rest of the top 5 were split among Zero Compromise, Burris, and Nightforce. That means Tangent Theta was the most popular brand among the top 5. Now, 4 of the top 10 were using Nightforce, so it was the most popular among the top 10 and overall, but it is interesting to note how well Tangent Theta is represented among the best of the best in this crowd.

Tangent Theta 5-25x56 Scope

Here is a closer look at the scopes represented among those that finished in the top 50 at this year’s match:

Best Scope

You can see that Tangent Theta is ranked above Vortex in this view, with Vortex just having two shooters represented in the top 50, and Tangent Theta at more than double that.

Nightforce continues it’s dominant lead, regardless of whether you look at the top 10, top 25, top 50, or overall. There were clearly a ton of shooters who trusted their Nightforce scope to give them the best chance at hitting targets first-round at distances up to 2100 yards.

Zero Compromise Optic 5-27×56

You can see that Zero Compromise Optic (ZCO) was represented among the top 10. Adam Cloaninger placed 2nd overall and he was running a ZCO ZC527 5-27×56 FFP.

Zero Compromise Optics 5-27x56

Some of you may not have heard of Zero Compromise Optics, but while the name is new, the guys behind it are veterans in the optics industry. One of the men behind ZCO is Jeff Huber, who made significant contributions to the massive scope test I performed years ago. Jeff not only served as an industry pro who helped me fine-tune my test methods, but he also educated me on many technical aspects of optics design and provided a valuable historical perspective on how scopes from different brands had been developed and the design tradeoffs that are often made. Jeff has worked with several of the top-tier optics companies, including Kahles and Nightforce. He brought his broad experience in the optics industry and teamed up with serious competitive rifle shooters and other industry pros to create Zero Compromise Optics. Here is an intro to ZCO:

Zero Compromise Optic is and always has been a multi-national affair. Since the company was created, we combined the best optical, mechanical, new design creation, and performance driven minds from Austria and The United States. The ZCO staff include members that hold multiple patents in the rifle scope industry, have designed some of the most robust mechanical systems that are still being used today, have held top level management positions, as well as a retired U.S. military officer among many other backgrounds. Our headquarters and machine shop are located in Austria while our original and new product design, testing, and development staff is located in both Austria and the United States. The level of brilliance and intellect throughout the entire company is the major driving force behind our success. ZCO may be a new company, but our talent in this industry runs about as deep as the Marianas Trench.

With someone placing 2nd at this national-level match using a Zero Compromise Optic scope, clearly the name isn’t an overstatement. ZCO scopes can perform at the highest levels.

If you’re interested in learning more about Zero Compromise Optics, you should check out this interview with Jeff Huber from the Everyday Sniper Podcast. If you listen to that interview, you’ll understand why I believe we’ll see ZCO grow in popularity over the next couple of years among precision rifle shooters.

Burris XTR III 5.5-30×56 Scope

Jason Chipley placed 3rd overall using a Burris 5.5-30×56 XTR III scope. That may surprise some people to see a Burris that high on the leaderboard. Many people know Burris for their entry-level, budget scopes, but they also make some high-performance models – obviously at a higher price point. That what the XTR III 5.5-30×56 represents, with a street price of $1,800.

Burris XTR-III 5.5-28x56 Scope

The other scopes represented among the top 50 were:

But Aren’t These Guy’s Sponsored?

Now, I always have a few readers who are skeptical about whether sponsorships skew data like this. While that might be the case when looking at the very highest-ranked PRS/NRL shooters, I don’t think that is the case here. I can tell you that I finished 4th overall, and I’m not sponsored. I choose to not be sponsored so my readers can trust my content. I bought the Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 I used in this match from EuroOptic.com with my own hard-earned money. Nightforce didn’t give me any discount or even ask me to run their scope. I personally believe it’s the best option for my application (super durable/rugged, with very repeatable adjustments and proven return to zero), so it’s what I bought and mounted on my rifle. While there were some sponsored shooters at this match, I don’t think the winner, Jorge Ortiz was sponsored either. There are much less sponsored shooters that get free gear than what most people think, and that is probably especially true in a match like this that is a unique, stand-alone match, and not affiliated with the PRS or NRL. I would bet at least 97% of these shooters bought their scope out-of-pocket. I feel like knowing that makes this data more trustworthy. It certainly carries more weight in my mind because of that.

Mil vs. MOA

I don’t want to spark the age-old debate about mil/MRAD vs. MOA, but I thought you guys might like to see a breakdown of what units these shooters were using for their reticle and their turret adjustments.

Scope Mil vs MOA

Mil/MRAD is the overwhelming favorite, representing 80% of these precision rifle competitors. In fact, there was only 1 shooter surveyed who finished in the top 25 that was using MOA. Now, that isn’t because mils are inherently better than MOA. They are both simply angular units of measurement. There are pros and cons to using both of them. If you are interested in learning more, I’d encourage you to read my objective comparison between the two.

Most Popular Scope Mounts

A scope mount is the critical bridge between what you’re using to aim (the scope) and what is physically controlling the bullet trajectory (the rifle). When you’re engaging targets at this kind of distance, your scope mount has to be 100% rock-solid to have any chance at repeatable hits. It seems like some shooters try to save money when it comes to scope rings, but I always advise my friends against that. It’s not the place to cut corners! The issues that can stem from cheap/faulty rings can be difficult to diagnose, and they’ll rob your confidence in the whole rifle system. Ask me how I know! 😉

Because the scope mount is so critical, let’s look at the most popular scope mounts and rings these shooters were using:

Best Scope Mount

You can see how the darker colors are kind of scatters in the results, with some long gray lines in some of the top few. So before we go further, let’s narrow this to just the top 50 shooters:

Best Scope Rings

I’m not surprised by these results. Spuhr, Hawkins, ERA-TAC, Nightforce, American Rifle Company, Masterpiece Arms, Warne, TPS, Larue, and Badger are all great options for scope mounts and rings. Others like Seekins, who had several shooters represented overall, also make a solid set of rings.

Unfortunately, I haven’t come across any scope rings that I’d trust on my rifle for less than about $120-150. That doesn’t mean you have to spend $300-500+ on a Spuhr or ERA-TAC one-piece mount, but I’d recommend against any lightweight rings. This isn’t the place to try to save money.

Total Taper In Rail + Mount

Finally, the chart below shows the total amount of taper the shooters said they had in their rifle system, whether that is built into the rail on their rifle and/or their scope mount. Some shooters refer to this as taper and others refer to it as cant, but either way, it is simply tilting the scope in a way that allows you to use more of the scopes internal adjustment range.

If you aren’t sure what I’m referring to here, you should start by reading this post, which explains why this becomes important as you stretch out to further distances: Extreme Long Range Tips – Optics & Mounts.

Here is what these shooters said they had built into their rifle system:

Total Taper Cant in Rail and Scope Mount Rifle

You can see that most shooters said they had 20 MOA total. That is the amount that is built into the rails on most rifles designed for long-range. That likely means their scope mount didn’t have any additional amount of taper/cant built into it. However, you can see there were a few shooters in the top 10 and top 25 that had 40 or 60 MOA of taper in their rifle system. That would allow those shooters to dial their elevation adjustment to much further distances.

I was the top 10 shooter that had a total of 60 MOA of taper. My rifle’s rail had 20 MOA and my scope mount had an additional 40 MOA. 60 MOA of total taper paired perfectly with my Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 scope and made it so almost 100% of the scopes internal elevation adjustment was useable. Only 1.7 mils of travel were “below” my 100-yard zero, which allowed me to dial up to 35.9 mils of elevation adjustment. With the ammo I used and atmospherics at the Wyoming match, that would allow me to dial out to 2900 yards!

If you aren’t sure what I’m referring to above or how to calculate what the ideal amount of taper/cant is for your scope and rifle, I’d encourage you to read two things: 1) Extreme Long Range Tips: Optics & Mounts, which explains these concepts along with visuals to make it easy to understand, and then 2) read my reply to a comment on this post that provides some context and a formula to help you calculate this for your scope and rifle.

Wrap-Up

When I originally wrote about the Nightforce ELR Steel Challenge, I had a few people ask about what optics shooters were using. I hope this post answers some of those questions more definitively than I was able to at the time.

If you’re interested in reading more about the rifle system I used in this year’s match, check out this post: Accuracy International AXSR 300 Norma Mag Review.

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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47 comments

  1. Did I miss it or

    what where the most popular recitals used in the NF 7-35?

    Good as always thanks!

    • James, I didn’t ask about reticles in this survey. In the ELR game, advanced reticles aren’t as critical as they are in PRS/NRL, because you aren’t doing hold-overs. You have plenty of time in these kinds of matches (and other Extreme Long Range matches) to dial all your shots. I didn’t see a single person doing hold-overs.

      I also didn’t want to overwhelm these guys with too many questions. I know we all want to know the details of everything (including me), but I try to strike a balance between getting the information and not wearing these guys out so much that they don’t complete the survey. I had over 100 people take the survey, but there were still 80 or so that didn’t take it. Clearly, they didn’t think it was worth their time. If I’d have just asked 2 or 3 questions on it, I bet I’d have had more participation. So there is a point of diminishing returns in terms of the numbers of questions you ask and the number of people who participate in the survey. If you want a large sample size, you should reduce the number of questions. If you want more detail, you will reduce the sample size. So I’m just trying to strike a balance here, which means sometimes I don’t get all the details my readers might like to know … but I think the sample size is important too, to ensure the results aren’t skewed or over-represented by a particular sub-group.

      I personally used a Mil-XT reticle, which is what I use all the time in my Nightforce scopes (ELR or PRS/NRL matches). Honestly, as long as you have a reticle with fine lines and hash marks in 0.2 mil increments, I’m not sure there is a huge benefit from one reticle to another when it comes to ELR. The 0.2 mil increments allow you to precisely hold a wind call. If you only have 0.5 mil increments, it’s tough to know whether you are holding precisely 1.6 or 1.7 or 1.8 mils. With 0.2 mil increments, you can easily differentiate between numbers like that for repeatable wind holds.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • I don’t remember but what NF do you use on your PRS gun? Also what cartridge do you use?

      • It’s the same exact scope. I use a Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 F1 with Mil-XT reticle on my PRS/NRL match rifles, and on my Extreme Long Range 375 CheyTac … and I plan to put it on top of a Vudoo 22 LR that I’m building right now for 22 ELR and NRL 22. It’s crazy to think it would be optimal for all those different applications, but I am voting with my own wallet to say that it is.

        I use a 6mm Creedmoor for my PRS/NRL match rifle. I’m still using the match rifles I shared in this post, and I’ve even gone back and updated that post to reflect a few changes that I’ve made to it recently … including the change to the NF ATACR 7-35 scope.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  2. Re: cant in scope bases/mounts chart. Only 3 of the top 10 shooters are accounted for. Were the other 7 at cants not listed on the chart? Thanks! I really enjoy reading your articles!

    • Not everyone answered that question. I didn’t make it required, because I wasn’t sure everyone would know precisely the amount of cant in their rail and mount off the top of their head when they were filling it out. Not everyone fixates on details like that like I sometimes do! 😉 Some of the shooters left the answer blank, so that is what is going on with that question.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  3. Thanks! I appreciate your methodology.

    • Does the night force’s 35x zoom benefit in these matches? What zoom range were you using vs other shooters?

      Thanks again for the amazing article! Keep them coming!

      • Andrew, I would dial all the way up to 35x at times, but I likely ran at 20-30x most of the time … and a little under that occasionally. Some of the reason that I ran at lower magnifications was because the wind was blowing 30+ mph at times, so I wanted to have a larger field of view in case my wind call was way off. That may sound like I’m crappy wind caller, but I hit a lot of targets … the wind was just very tough and you might not notice a switch that could put you way off target.

        What I like about the 7-35 magnification range is that I rarely run under 10x at any match, and I rarely “need” to run above 35x. It is nice to zoom in to a full 35x when you are zeroing your rifle, spotting shots for another shooter, reading mirage, or firing at targets a long way away. But even if I don’t use the full extents of the zoom range, I have it available. On a scope that is 5-25, I literally NEVER find myself using it at 5x (at least in competition) … but I could occasionally benefit from more magnification on the top end. So 7-35 seems pretty ideal to me. It gives me more flexibility without really costing me anything. (For hunting scopes, I do prefer lower magnification, ideally down to 3 or 4x.)

        Thanks,
        Cal

  4. I’m kinda surprised the Leupold Mk5 7-35 isn’t more popular than it is. Same elevation as the NF offering and significantly less expensive. Any ideas?

    Thanks,
    Kaleb

    • Great question, Kaleb. I don’t want to knock any brand, but in my experience, Nightforce scopes always track well and have a perfect return to zero. They are also super-rugged and durable, and at least as of a couple of years ago, the aluminum housing (outer scope tube) of a Nightforce scope was twice as thick as any other brand. You should watch this video showing a torture test on a Nightforce scope:

      I’m not a fan-boy of any one brand. If you looked in my gun safe, you’d see a variety of brands of every piece of equipment. But, over the years I have slowly replaced the scopes on pretty much all of my match rifles with a Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 with Mil-XT reticle. I’ve flown with them to matches across the country, and even airline baggage handlers and big magnum rounds can’t make them lose their zero. I can’t say that is true for other brands of scopes that I’ve used.

      If you traveled hundreds of miles to a match like this, and your rifle gets kicked over accidentally or you lose your zero because you’re firing 100+ magnum rounds through the rifle … I promise you would regret saving a little money by going with a less expensive scope. Ask me how I know! 😉 As a guy with a very competitive personality and a veteran in this game, I can tell you that you want supreme confidence in your gear … especially your optics and mount. That is not a place to cut corners or try to save a few bucks. I’d recommend cutting corners and trying to lower your investment on the rifle before I’d do it on the optics and mount. That is hard-earned experience talking right there! Unfortunately, I’ve done it both ways, and have learned the hard way. I have also heard other experts like Todd Hodnett and Ryan Cleckner say the same thing.

      I’m not saying the Leupold isn’t a good scope, but I will just say I have supreme confidence in a Nightforce scopes ability to track precisely as I dial my adjustments on the turrets, and when I dial it back down to zero … I’d be right back on top of my bullseye at 100 yards. There are lots of cool scope features people talk about, but that is what is really the most important and if a scope can’t do that 100% of the time … you shouldn’t have it on one of your rifles.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Putting a price on confidence is about as like buying skill. I can totally understand your viewpoint. Once you start nipping at 2k for a piece of glass I don’t think it’s really considered cheaping out though haha.

      • Good point. And at some point the question of “Is it worth it?” comes down to what money is worth to you, which is a very personal thing. If you do this once or twice a year and are on a very limited budget, that is very different than a guy who has more discretionary income and this is their one hobby. Not right or wrong … just a different situation.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  5. Dear Cal
    Another great article. I am curious to know the reticles that were used in each scope in the top ten.
    Thank you

  6. There have been some interesting releases by several toptier manufacturers for scopes in the PRS/ELR/ULR game this year. Leica and March to name two. Going to be an interesting era for optics in the next couple years.

    • I 100% agree, Philip! The number of shooters getting into this form of shooting sports has exploded over the past 5-7 years, so it’s no surprise that more and more manufacturers are sharpening their pencils, trying to design a compelling product, and coming after this market. When that happens … we all win, as shooters. We get access to better products, and the competition puts pressure on manufacturers to keep the price as low as possible. It is certainly an exciting time to be a long-range shooter!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  7. Hello from the 806. I say that under the assumption from many of your articles that we aren’t that far apart. Thanks for the articles. I think I’ve been reading since near the beginning. Keep them coming, please! I

    This one was like you read my mind, but I am more of a budget oriented shopper with loftier long-term goals. So I get to shoot and reload and slowly upgrade. I hope I’m not too far from moving up to one of these scopes and mounts. So really good timing.

    I was not even aware of this match despite sort of following Scott Satterlee. I hope he can continue this event because it seems to occupy a unique, interesting niche.

    Sincerely,

    Will

    • You bet, Will! I’m glad this hit the spot. It’s sure a fun match, and there are a few of us from west Texas that travel up to it each year. Best of luck to you!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  8. Awesome article Cal. Love your honest unbiased objective on everything, I especially appreciate you using your own $$ to be that way 😉 You have made up my decision on which scope I should purchase now. I have been on the fence for far to long on buying one of Great rugged quality.and reliability .Thanks again for your articles, really look forward to all of them, Many Great shoots ahead for you 😀

    • Hey, Rich! You bet. Glad this was helpful. I’m fortunate to be able to be an idealist, and not need advertisers or sponsorships for my provision. I’m not out to burn any manufacturers, but my goal #1 is to help fellow shooters. If I’m not doing that, I’m sure wasting a lot of time here! 😉

      Thanks,
      Cal

  9. Cal, I think we will see long range hunters more and more begin to shift to “hold-instead-of-dial” with reticles like the G3 reticle or the Leica Amplus 6 both of which are simplified “Xmas tree” reticles that are easy to use in hunting situations.

    In a sense a simplified reticle like the G3 to a more complex reticle like that in a Burris Eliminator II laser scope will give the hunter the opportunity to learn that these reticles are very good for field conditions and faster acquisition of a good range AND wind hold.

    Currently I see Leupold being a bit “behind the curve” when it comes to not offering even hash mark NON-Xmas tree reticles for hunters as well as having very few hunting scopes with mil/mil reticles and turrets. Leupold needs to become more nimble in this respect with more offerings like their varmint reticle. You are either living off your past reputation or you are building on it.

    In any case as more competitors become accustomed to Xmas tree reticles I think they will want a similar but less cluttered “wind hold reticle” in their hunting scopes. (IMHO)
    NOTE: My choice is a Bushnell LRTS 4.5 – 18 x 44 hunting scope, mil/mil with a G3 reticle on a 6.5 PRC Browning X-Bolt Pro rifle for hunting in Nevada.

    • Great points, Eric. I agree with you. When I’m hunting, I typically use a hold-over reticle, too. My scope at this match actually had a reticle with hold-overs, but I just didn’t make use of those during the match. I really like Nightforce’s Mil-XT reticle, and used it in this match, in PRS/NRL matches, and when I’m hunting. In fact, I designed a reticle several years ago from scratch and thought about paying to get custom plates made to put it in the Schmidt and Bender scopes I was using at the time because they also had poor reticle selection (at least at the time). Eventually, Leica reached out to me and asked for some input on what makes a good reticle in a long-range scope, and I dusted off my old custom reticle design and shared it with them and it was released in the Leica PRS 5-30×56 scope earlier this year (read the article about my reticle design). My design and the Mil-XT are very similar. I’d already sent Leica my design far before Nightforce released the Mil-XT, so I didn’t copy the NF design … but when I first saw the Mil-XT, I thought “Wow, that is similar!” Obviously, if a reticle is similar to a custom reticle I designed from scratch, I really, really like that design … which is why I run the Mil-XT on pretty much all of my match rifles. I do have one of the Leica PRS 5-30×56 scopes with my PRB reticle in it that I am trying out now, and I really like that scope as well. I just haven’t tested it enough yet to have full confidence in using it to replace my Nightforce scopes on my match rifles. It might in time though. The glass is really amazing in the Leica scope.

      I do agree with Leupold being behind the curve. The fact is, they just aren’t as involved in competitive shooting as companies like Nightforce or Kahles or Vortex. Leupold is primarily focused on the hunting market, so we shouldn’t be surprised they fall behind. Competitive rifle shooting is typically where innovation happens and that eventually finds its way into other sub-markets like hunting and military applications. I know large companies that are suppliers for military contracts and they’ve told me they closely watch the trends and new products/techniques guys use in competitive shooting to get ideas for things to integrate into their military products. That goes beyond reticles. Think about an arca-rail on a rifle chassis. That was something Phil at MPA created specifically for PRS competitions. Jon Pynch, who has been the PRS/NRL overall season champion, was one of the first shooters to request that Phil run that integral arca-rail the full length of the forend on his MPA BA Competition chassis. I was in a squad with Jon at the Heatstroke PRS match and after watching how helpful that was for Jon … I sent my chassis back to Phil and had him cut a full-length dovetail into my chassis. Phil started offering that as a standard feature on all MPA chassis, and it changed the industry. Now the Accuracy International ASR rifle has a full-length arca-rail on the forend, as well as just about every other rifle chassis out there. That innovation 100% came from the competition world, and now military units are getting the benefit from it. I also see that as a must-have feature on my hunting rifle, because it allows me to get steady in virtually any condition. You can’t always get prone to take a shot, and I’ve take the last few trophy animals I’ve shot with my rifle on a tripod. That just one example of many that was born in the competition world, but sure helps in hunting and military applications too.

      Now, I’m not saying anything good in competition is fit for hunting or military use. That’s retarded. Of course there are some things that we use for a competition that would be bad ideas in other scenarios. But, if something works well to help me put first-round hits on target quickly on a target at 600-800 yards from an improvised field position … wouldn’t that probably be helpful in a hunting situation? I actually have used my match rifles hunting, with the same optics and all the other accessories on them and they worked great!

      I believe the closer a company is to precision rifle competition, the quicker they’ll be able to react to trends and integrate advancements. Leupold is just too far away to be as nimble and innovative as these other companies. I mean this match in Wyoming was literally named the “Nightforce ELR Steel Challenge!” Nightforce was the title sponsor and had lots of staff there at the match, including some who volunteers to be RO’s and NF donated to the prize table, and they were around to hear conversations and suggestions. I talked to two Nightforce employees who I’d never met after one of the stages and they asked me for feedback. That kind of posture and approach to advancement and serving the competitive shooter well is what makes their product so compelling. It’s no surprise their products have all the must-have features, like a great reticle. I mean the Mil-XT reticle was designed in-house by Sean Murphy and other staff because they shoot competitively and they know first-hand what features are truly important and what is just gimmicky. Sean Murphy (from Nightforce) and Greg Hamilton (from PROOF Research) teamed up to win the 2020 Mammoth Sniper Challenge (read article about it), so they’re not just into this a little bit … they are passionate participants.

      Sean Murphy Nightforce and Greg Hamilton PROOF Research at the 2020 Mammoth Sniper Challenge

      Being very involved in the competitive world is a big part of why companies like MPA, Nightforce, Applied Ballistics, Vortex, Hornady, Really Right Stuff, and others are typically the innovators in the rifle industry … and most others just try to keep up. Those companies are actively involved in competitive rifle shooting. If Leupold wants to catch up, they just need some people who are passionate about this kind of shooting to join in and listen to feedback from the community. If they did that, within 1-2 years I think it’d have a major impact on how competitive their products are in the market. If they don’t … they’ll always be 1-2 steps behind these other companies. It’s really that simple.

      Sorry for getting on a soap-box! This just seems like an obvious trend I’ve seen for a while, and I’ve never voiced anything about it before. I saw this as an opportunity to share it. I try not to insert my opinion too much in the article and try hard to stay objective, but I feel more free to speak my mind in the comments. I really feel like this isn’t that hard to figure out. For any manufacturer who wants to be competitive when it comes to long-range gear, here is the key: Identify or hire staff who are passionate about long-range competition, support them going to matches and getting involved in the shooting community, and then use what they learn and the feedback they get to shape your products. Simple as that! 😉

      Thanks,
      Cal

  10. Again, well said Cal. To bad the market for ELR shooting does not have a much larger participation. I hope your blog will help to attract more shooters.
    Thank you

    • I hope it does, Anthony. There seem to be a lot of people interested in it, and when you can find trustworthy information on equipment recommendations, that seems to move a lot of people from “research mode” to “buying mode.” I’m just trying to provide some info that helps people make informed decisions, so they aren’t just thinking about it … but actually go try it out! This is such a fun thing to do, and I know others would love it if they gave it a shot. It can just be paralyzing when you aren’t sure what to invest in. None of us like buying the wrong thing and then being disappointed or having to try to sell it and buy something else. A month ago I shot in my first 3-gun competition, just for fun and something different, and I was a newbie to that and was the one scouring the internet to try to find what I needed to compete. There was nothing like this for 3-gun, and it was a frustrating experience because of that. Hopefully these kinds of posts and the teaching I try to do on the subject help people figure out what to get, and then they head out to the range with it!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  11. Makes me feel a lot better about wanting to run a NF ATACR in a Spuhr mount on my .300nm project in the works, thanks for sharing!

    • Glad I could help confirm and justify the purchase! 😉 300 Norma with a Nightforce ATACR in a Spuhr mount … sounds like the ticket!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  12. First of all congratulations on the article.
    I wonder if you have an article that deals with these calculations?
    “Only 1.7 mils of travel were “below” my 100-yard zero, which allowed me to dial up to 35.9 mils of elevation adjustment. With the ammo I used and atmospherics at the Wyoming match, that would allow me to dial out to 2900 yards!”
    Thank you

    • Hey, Humberto. That is a GREAT question! I kind of glossed over that part, and there are probably a lot of people who weren’t tracking, so thanks for voicing that. I didn’t notice that until you asked.

      I did write an article that goes way more in-depth about what I’m referring to there, including some visuals. You can find it here: Extreme Long Range Tips 1: Optics & Mounts. I’d highly recommend going to read that if these concepts are new to you, otherwise the rest of my reply probably won’t make sense. There are a few visuals in that post that I think help people wrap their mind around this concept.

      As far as a calculation or formula goes, that is tough. The problem is how manufacturers advertise their internal adjustment range can vary. For example, for the Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 F1 that I run Nightforce advertises it’s internal adjustment range spec like this (view specs):

      • E: 100 MOA/29 MRAD
      • W: 60 MOA/17 MRAD

      So they’re saying the scope has 29.0 mils of elevation adjustment. You can see in that quote you included from my post that I had 1.7 mils below my 100 yard zero + 35.9 mils of usuable elevation travel above my 100 yard zero … which is 37.6 mils (1.7+35.9) of internal elevation adjustment. So what I physically measured and actually have in my scope is 30% more than Nightforce’s advertised specs!

      I have asked Nightforce about that, and what they advertise is the amount you could dial for elevation if your windage was dialed to the extreme outer limits of the travel in one direction or another. So if you dialed 17 mils of wind, you could still dial 29 mils of elevation. You see the tube is round, so the elevation adjustments aren’t a perfect “box”. If you have a bunch of wind dialed, you won’t have as much elevation travel. The guys from Nightforce have just decided to approach it this way to “under-promise and over-deliver.” If they advertised 37 mils of elevation travel (like what I experience in the real-world), they don’t want some guy to call them up and complain that when he dials 17 mils of wind, he can only dial 30 mils of elevation.

      I will just say I don’t agree with Nightforce on this one, and I have told Sean Murphy and others that in an in-person conversation. So this isn’t anything they haven’t heard. I feel like NOBODY dials 17 mils of wind (or if they do, it is such an edge case that it shouldn’t dictate what they advertise). In fact, the Wyoming ELR match was the most extreme wind I’ve ever heard of ANYONE shooting in with sustained winds over 30 mph, and wind gusts measured onsite over 60 mph. We were also engaging targets at a mile and beyond, so if there was ever an opportunity to dial a ton of wind on your scope, that was it! So what was the most I ever dialed on my scope for windage at that match? On most stages, I simply held for wind (so dialed 0 mils of wind), but the Wyoming ELR match did have two stages with moving targets, and on stages with movers I usually dial for wind and then hold my lead on the moving target (to account for how far the target will move while my bullet is in the air). So the most I ever dialed for the wind was 3.0 mils. 3.0 mils was my wind hold for a 32 mph wind at almost 1,000 yards! The idea of dialing 17 mils of windage is absurd for any practical application. Maybe if you are in the military, you might dial a lead on a vehicle traveling at 70 mph or something … but even then your lead would likely still be under 10 mils. That’s why I’d rather scope manufacturers tell me what the internal adjustment range for elevation in the center of the tube, without windage dialed. They could list that other spec to, so nobody feels like it is false advertising … but only providing the max elevation adjustment when you have the max windage dialed is not helpful to 99% of the shooters out there.

      Now not everyone handles that like Nightforce. I’m sure some manufacturers do advertise exactly what you can expect to be able to dial. That’s especially true for double-turn turrets like the Schmidt and Bender DT. You literally can’t dial more than 26 mils “above” your zero with that turret. That is part of the design of that turret. It’s done that way so that you are always either on the first or second revolution, and there isn’t a third revolution. That keeps it simpler and keeps you from mistakenly being on the wrong revolution (although I’ve still made that mistake even with that scope).

      So really it’s a crap shoot on knowing how much elevation travel a scope actually has. You’ll see in that post that I linked to, I included a chart of how much elevation travel I personally measured using a bunch of popular tactical scopes. That was one of the things I did in that massive tactical scope field test I did a few years ago (read about the test I performed). I did that because manufacturers are all over the map on how they advertise it, and I just wanted to do an apples-to-apples comparison of all them using the same method of measurement.

      This is one of the reasons I like to use an ERA-TAC Adjustable Incline Mount on my ELR rifles. It allows me to adjust the taper/cant of the mount in 10 MOA increments from 0 to 70 MOA. That means regardless of how much taper/cant is built into my rifle’s rail, and regardless of how much internal adjustment range my scope has … I’ll be able to find a combination that puts my 100 yard zero at the bottom of the elevation adjustment travel so that the majority of the scope’s elevation adjustment is usable. That maximizes the distance that I’ll be able to dial an adjustment for, before my scope turret bottoms out and I have to start holding any additional elevation. I really like Spuhr mounts and was even talking to Håkan Spuhr yesterday and I suggested they consider designing a Spuhr adjustable mount. To me an adjustable mount provides maximum flexibility, and the ERA-TAC design is rock-solid. I used it to place 4th in this match and have won regional ELR matches with it on my rifle, so clearly you don’t have to worry about that thing moving. If I had the slightest doubt in my mind if it was repeatable, it wouldn’t be on my guns.

      If you have an adjustable mount, you can just go figure it out at the range without having to try to calculate or guess. I’m a detailed, technical guy with a strong math background … and I even miscalculated it one time. Luckily, I was using an ERA-TAC mount, so it just meant I had to loosen a bolt, flip a dial one more setting over, and then tighten the bolt back down. Done! I didn’t have to try to return a product or find a mount with a different amount of taper/cant.

      Having said that, if you know the actual internal elevation adjustment range of a scope, there is a way to calculate it and I’ll try to provide that here.

      It seems like most mounts and rails have their taper/cant defined in MOA instead of mils, so that’s what I’ll use here. Here is a tool I use frequently to convert mils to MOA when I’m doing calculations like this: https://www.traditionaloven.com/tutorials/angle/convert-angular-mil-unit-to-angle-unit-minute.html

      Formula To Calculate Ideal Amount Of Taper/Cant For Your Scope

      TEAR = Total Elevation Adjustment Range (Ex. 37.6 mils = 126.9 MOA)

      Because the absolute center of a particular scope or where your particular rifle will zero can vary slightly, I’d recommend hedging a bit by doing this calculation based on 95% of your TEAR. (Ex. 126.9 x 0.95 = 120.6 MOA)

      ITC = Ideal Total Cant. This is the total amount of cant that would put you very close to the “bottom” of your scope’s elevation adjustment range.

      ITC = (TEAR x 0.95) ÷ 2

      ITC = (126.9 MOA x 0.95) ÷ 2 = 120.6 MOA ÷ 2 = 60.3 MOA

      So in this example, if the total elevation adjustment range was 37.6 mils (or 126.9 MOA) on my scope, the ideal total cant of my mount + rail would be 60 MOA.

      It’s critical to think about this as the TOTAL of whatever taper/cant is in your mount AND what it built into your rifle’s rail (it’s common for that to be 20 MOA on most long-range rifles, but I also own rifles with 0 MOA or 30 MOA, and there are others with 40 or 60 MOA). So if your rifle’s rail had 20 MOA built into it, and you needed 60 MOA total, you’d want to find a scope mount with 40 MOA of additional taper/cant.

      That is exactly what I had my ERA-TAC mount set to: 40 MOA. The Accuracy International AXSR rifle I was using had 20 MOA built into the rail + I had 40 MOA dialed into my adjustable mount = 60 MOA total of taper/cant. That put my zero very close to the “bottom” of my elevation adjustment range, so that almost all of the scope’s internal adjustment range was in the right direction and usuable, which allowed me to dial for elevation out to 2900 yards. I’d bet that was much further than most shooter’s setups allowed.

      Now we didn’t have targets out to 2900 yards, so I’m not claiming that was necessary for that match – but it simply maximizes the distance I can engage with that rifle, without any real downside. The only benefit at this match would be that the majority of the time I was engaging targets at 1,000-1,500 yards and when I dial for those distances that would put me closer to the center of my scopes adjustment range, which theoretically is where the scope’s image clarity is the best. Optics experts have told me that at the edges of the scope’s adjustment range there can often be some distortion. The best clarity will always be found in the center of the tube. In my opinion that’s all a theoretical benefit, and not something I put much weight on. I haven’t personally noticed distortion at the extremes, but maybe that is something that is common on cheaper scopes.

      That is likely much more than you were wanting to know, but I hope it’s helpful! This is a complex topic that I know has hung a few people up, so I’ve thought about trying to write it down before and this seemed like a good chance to do that.

      Thanks for the question!
      Cal

      • Cal
        Thank you very much for your attention in answering my question.
        Greetings from Brazil

      • Cal
        Looking at the website you cited:
        (https://www.traditionaloven.com/tutorials/angle/convert-angular-mil-unit-to-angle-unit-minute.html) it appears that 1 Mil = 3.38 MoA,

        In my calculations and in your article (https://precisionrifleblog.com/2013/07/20/mil-vs-moa-an-objective-comparison/) it appears that 1 Mil = 3.438 MOA.
        Could you help me find where the error is.

        MilRad 360º/(2.π.1000) = 0,057295779513082º

        MOA 1º/60 = 0,016666666666667º

        0,057295779513082/0,016666666666667=3,43774677078487

      • Humberto, I just entered “37.6” into that calculator, and it told me it “equals 126.90 MOA”. I don’t know what to tell you, bud. I’d assume it’s a rounding issue since you’re only using two decimal places. You’re free to use whatever numbers you’d like. I was just trying to answer your question.

        Convert Mils To MOA

        Thanks,
        Cal

      • Humberto,

        I haven’t yet run the math, but casually you and Cal both seem to be correct, but the thought crossed my mind a mil isn’t always a mil and true mils are not what is typically being used. So by convention 6400 is used instead of 6283.18. So I’m using our convention for decimals. 6283,18. Is it possible the program is using different units. I’m also hoping they haven’t found to inch per hundred instead of true MOA. I’m not where I can run the numbers at the moment, and my number sense for mil conversions astute enough to immediately pick up on the problem, but you used a plain formula that should result in 6.283,18 milliradians in a circle, but NATO and some others have adopted 6.400,00.

      • So true mil results in 3.438 MOA
        NATO milrad is approximately 3.375 MOA. Rounds to 3.38MOA. The scopes are probably all consistent with 6400 milrad convention.

      • Yep. Great point, Will. That is a little nuance or “rounding” that a lot of companies do when it comes to true milliradian (mrad) vs. NATO mils. For those that may not know what Will is referring to, here is a little excerpt about it (view source):

        “A milliradian (mrad) is equal to 1/1,000 of a radian. One degree is equal to 0.0573 milliradians and there are 6,283 milliradians in a full revolution/circle. … The mil used by the US military and NATO forces is slightly different than the true value of a milliradian, which is equal to 1/6,283 of a circle. During World War I the US adopted what is now the NATO mil to replace degrees and minutes for use in artillery sights. They opted to round mils to 6,400 per circle for simplicity at the time. Today, the mil is commonly used to measure adjustment of sights and scopes of firearms. There is rightfully much confusion as a result of the mil adopted by the US military and NATO being slightly different than the milliradian.”

        That is a nuance that can be safely ignored most of the time, but it can have a “stacking effect” and so that could also be the difference. That page I referenced says that 37 mil = 36.32 mrad. It could also be an issue related to the underlying data structures the program is using, and how it rounds the variables and calculations (that’s the computer science nerd in me coming out! 😉 ). Or it could be that the default setting of that page is for a precision of 2 decimal places. At the root of all of those are issues related to rounding, which is my guess at what is at the root of the difference.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  13. Hi Cal
    I was just reading one of your other articles on MOA vs MIL and it struck me that all the Total Taper in rails are mostly/usually/always listed in MOA. If most competitive shooters are using Mil scopes, why are rails in MOA on the rifles. I just zero at 100 yards and that accounts for the rail cant. However, I would think rails in Mils would be more useful to ELR shooters using Mil scopes?

    • Yep. It is a strange thing. There are some manufacturers that standardize on mils. Spuhr mounts are in mils, with increments in 3, 6, 9, 13, and 18 mils. The equivalent measurements in MOA for those mounts are 10.3, 20.6, 30.0, 44.4, and 61.8 … so clearly Spuhr prioritized mils. That makes sense, considering they are a European design.

      Honestly, I don’t think it matters much either way. Determining the ideal taper/cant is a one-time calculation and its a simple conversion. It’s not like a turret/reticle combination where they have to be in the same units (mil/mil or MOA/MOA) if you don’t want to be stuck doing math in your head while you’re on the clock shooting. The ERA-TAC adjustment mount I use is in MOA, and almost all rails on rifles are specified in MOA. I’ve never seen a rifle with a rail specified in mils. I think it’s just a convention at this point that the whole industry follows. I just don’t think about it much. Convert it all to MOA and do the math once, then forget about it.

      Now, if you are using an Ivey Adjustable Scope Mount or Cold Shot Adjustable Scope Base, which are intended to allow you to adjust them while you’re shooting and aren’t a set it/lock it/forget it type mount like the ERA-TAC … then you need the mount, reticle, and turrets to all be in the same units (all mil or all MOA). I just haven’t used systems like that. For me, I think an ERA-TAC + a Charlie TARAC seem like the best combo. Note: If you aren’t familar with some or all the products I just mentioned, this post explains them all: ELR Tips – Optics & Mounts.

      Thanks,
      Cal

    • Cal
      Thank you very much for the explanations for this very complex subject for me.

    • Will
      Thank you very much for the information I believe that the differences must be in the value of the adopted milliradians 6.400 or 6.283,18.

  14. Again Cal, it just amazes me how much detail you seem to have and can put it down in simple terms and easy to understand. Thanks for addressing all of the comments, especially Hurburtos on using the total elevation on your scopes. It really does help alot of us who are struggling to fully understand what is going on 🤓👍😊 Keep the posts and comments coming 😀 👍

    • You bet! There were some great questions and comments on this post. Obviously, some of my responses had been bottled up in me for a while, so it gave me a chance to share my thoughts. I’d been thinking about doing a post on how to calculate the ideal amount of taper/cant for a while. Honestly, I’ll probably take my response in that comment and make it into a post at some point. I know that’s something a lot of people get hung-up on. Like I said, I have even calculated it wrong before, but luckily I had an adjustable mount – so it wasn’t a huge deal.

      I appreciate your encouragement about being able to articulate things in a way that is easy to understand. I put a lot of effort into that, more than anyone knows! Sometimes I think about how to present things for days, and one day I might be driving or somewhere on vacation and I’ll just all the sudden say “Oh, I got it!” My wife will just look at me and roll her eyes, because she knows what just happened: In the back of my mind I’d been thinking about how to try to explain something or what kind of illustration, analogy, or graphic I could create to make something easier to understand. It’s a sickness! It does mean a lot that you noticed and you appreciate the effort.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  15. Cal,
    Great write up as usual. I’m interested in the scopes, specifically the price points. The majority of the ones listed come in around $3,500 but the Vortex is roughly $1,500 less. What do you make of the price v performance for someone starting out? Do you think that it’s the “starting out with what you can afford then moving up in price/equipment as you go along” which would account for the popularity of the Vortex among the shooters but not the top finishers. No knock on Vortex, of course. The former military sniper that teaches long range at my local swears by them for price vs performance for the majority of people out there and uses one himself on his .308

    • BTW, I realize the distances of the typical Long Range is near that of the ELR and uses different equipment. I’m just curious about the glass quality vs price and what people can afford. Does the experience of the shooter vs the glass they use have anything to do with it? With the increase in magnification and the distance little things become big things the farther out you get. What you can ignore at 1,000yrds or make allowance for is a deal breaker the farther out you go

      • Now that is a huge can of worms! Personally, I think too many people blow “optical clarity” and “glass quality” out of proportion. I can’t remember a time I missed a shot because the image wasn’t absolutely crisp edge-to-edge or there was some minor chromatic aberration that was skewing some of the colors. Having said that, I can say that it is a very pleasurable experience to use a scope with top-shelf glass, especially if you are shooting all day. So in my opinion, glass quality is pretty far down the list of must-have features when it comes to scopes, and is closer to the nice-to-have features.

        The only time glass clarity can really help is when you’re trying to read mirage or spot shots way out of there. In those cases, you are trying to detect tiny distortions in the image, so if your glass has a bunch of distortion to begin with … that can make it much harder to differentiate.

        During this match, I was in a squad with Clayton Smith. Clayton is the owner and lead gunsmith at West Texas Ordnance, and he is also an amazing shooter (has been ranked in the top 100 in the PRS and placed in top 10 at national level matches). He’s one of the best shooters I know. On one stage I remember the wind was blowing around 15 mph (it was early on the first day), and when Clayton was about halfway through shooting targets on that stage, the wind shifted dramatically. It went from around 10:00 to around 2:00, and in my head, I remember thinking, “Oh, crap!” The shooting position where Clayton was laying was mostly protected from the wind with rocks piled up on both sides, so there was really no way Clayton could feel that, so I thought his next shot was going to be WAY off. But it wasn’t. While his next shot was, unfortunately, a miss, it was wasn’t near as dramatic as I expected. I asked Clayton about it after the stage was over, and he said he actually noticed the change in the mirage through his scope, and so he adjusted his wind hold and held on the other side of the next target. He apparently didn’t correct quite enough, but to be able to spot the change in wind direction from the mirage alone (there wasn’t vegetation or anything else in that area to read) and trust it enough to hold on the complete other side of the target is amazing. Honestly, it’s the mark of an experienced, world-class shooter. Clayton was using a Kahles scope, which is the tactical sister-company to Swarovski. Kahles scopes obviously have really sharp glass. I wouldn’t say it’s as sharp as Swarovski or even Schmidt & Bender, but it is really, really good relative to other tactical scopes. If Clayton was using a Bushnell scope or an entry-level Vortex scope, would he have been able to spot that change in mirage? I don’t know – maybe or maybe not. But I do feel like I can objectively say that his probability of noticing it was higher using a scope with good image clarity.

        Now, let’s say we gave a newer shooter a Schmidt and Bender scope, which has legendary optical clarity, and we put them in that same situation. Would they notice that change in mirage while under the pressure of competition and being on the clock? I’d say it is very unlikely. I will admit that I personally may not have noticed that and tried to adjust like Clayton did! That’s one of the things that makes him an amazing shooter. But as always, just giving someone capable gear doesn’t mean they’ll be able to take advantage of it. Paying attention to things like Clayton did on that stage, especially when you can’t physically feel the change in the wind, is a skill that only comes with experience.

        Now there is training that can help gain that experience more quickly. I attended Gunwerks Long Range University and their Level 2 class is AMAZING for this. During part of that class, we sat inside a garage, 100% protected from the wind, and looked through spotting scopes downrange and would call out when we saw changes in wind speed and/or direction. Having a trained sniper instructor beside you on glass saying things like, “Did you see that? Notice how the waves in the mirage look longer now?” Or maybe I would say, “Okay, I saw it that time! I’m going to say it just picked up a little speed and is now closer to 12 mph. Is that right?” We did that for hours one day, and it really opened my eyes to this whole new world of reading wind downrange and not just applying what you feel at your location. I’d highly recommend that experience! You can read more about my experience at Gunwerks Long Range University here.

        You are right about higher magnification. Higher magnifications will make any imperfections in the glass more pronounced. I have been told by experts in the optics industry that the tolerances they have to specify for scopes with higher magnification are typically tighter, and therefore more expensive. You can’t “get away” with using lower quality glass like you might be able to at lower magnifications. In reality, there are only a handful of companies in the whole world that physically make the glass lenses that are found in 99% of the scopes out there. Some people think a factory in Japan isn’t capable of producing glass to the same levels as some other factory in Europe, but that isn’t really how this works. What I’ve been told is that the company that is going to stamp their brand on the scope will specify what tolerance they want the glass company to adhere to for one of their designs. For example, they might specify certain grind tolerances, coatings to correct for different factors, and other lens properties. What they specify determines the price the glass manufacturer will charge them. The tighter the tolerances (i.e. higher-end glass with less imperfections) the higher the cost. Optics companies typically have a target price point in mind, and so they specify a different set of properties for different lines of products. If it’s their entry-level product, the tolerances won’t be as tight as their flagship model, but that means their hard cost is lower on the entry-level product, which is how they can achieve the desired price point to the customer. That’s why you can’t say things like, “The glass in _____ brand of scopes is crap.” It’s all about deciding what the “right” trade-off is between optical clarity and price. You are basically just saying I don’t agree with that company struck the right balance of price and optical clarity for me, which is valid … but you shouldn’t assume the specs of the lenses in all their product lines are the same as what you experienced in one particular scope. Even within the same line of scopes, often times the lens design and even the number of lenses in the scope can vary … so often times you can’t speak in generalities more than over a specific model of scope and not even a whole line of scopes.

        Honestly, I wish the industry as a whole were more transparent on this issue, like camera lenses. In that industry lens manufacturers provide something called “MTF charts“, which objectively quantifies the optical performance potential of a lens. They are incredibly useful to reference when researching, comparing, and purchasing a lens. A MTF chart plots the theoretical contrast and resolution of a lens from the center to its edges against a “perfect” lens that would transmit 100% of the light that passes through it. The contrast of a lens is important as this works in correlation to lens resolution. Using a MTF chart is the preferred method for studying lens optical performance as they use theoretical equations to plot a performance graph and don’t rely on subjective opinion, subject matter, camera features, software, or other factors. While “MTF charts” aren’t perfect, they try to provide the end-user with the objective information about lens performance. The camera lens industry has matured to the point where they have this kind of transparency with end-users. My bet is that one or two companies broke rank and started sharing this with customers, which increased their trust level within the market, and they got a lot more business because of it … and eventually, everyone started doing it. That is at least how this works a lot of the time in the marketplace. One disrupts by giving customers what they really want, and the rest eventually follow, not because they wanted to, but because customers start demanding it.

        Scope manufacturers have the information to produce MTF charts and share those with us, but they don’t. At least that is what I’ve been told by some long-time veterans in the optics industry. One day they will. It just takes one or two optics companies breaking rank and sharing this kind of information with their customers. I have asked for this before, and feel like it is just a matter of time. If I started an optics company, I’d do that … so it’s just a matter of time until a disruptor makes a move. It’s unlikely it will come from one of the brands that are already established, but maybe Zero Compromise Optic (ZCO) will be one of those start-ups that brings a different approach when it comes to things like that. In my opinion, that would give us a HUGE leap forward in understanding and quantifying optical clarity in scopes. It would also expose companies who are charging significantly more than their glass clarity might justify. Right now, it is up to us to look through it and try to figure it out for ourselves, so that keeps those manufacturers safe, because they can explain things away as anecdotal evidence, or “it all depends on your eyes” and “something that is clear for someone else, might not be for you.” While there is some truth in those statements, I think it is also a lot of smoke and mirrors. It’s like someone doing a review of a new kind of rifle and they say something like “It always shot bugholes, as long as I did my part.” That is incredibly vague and not helpful to anyone. Give us the numbers! The problem is when you give the real numbers, you’ll be able to easily compare it to others … and then there are winners and losers. I can tell you through all my objective testing, I’ve had a ton of whiplash from publishing objective data that makes it easy to compare performance … because there is always a losest performer and those companies can get really upset, even if they can’t argue with how the data was collected or the overall results.

        You may have seen this before, but here is a double-blind optical clarity test I did with some of the biggest brands of scopes. I’m really proud of how I tested this and collected the results. If they aren’t going to provide MTF charts, this seemed like the most objective way I could think of to determine optical clarity and do an objective comparison on that aspect of performance. Tactical Scope Field Test – Optical Performance Test.

        Again, probably way more than you were asking for! I know A LOT of scope companies are reading this post (I’d actually bet most of them), so I hope this encourages one of them to break rank and start being more transparent in terms of how they share more technical performance specs with us as consumers.

        Thanks,
        Cal

    • Great question, Jon. While we are speculating here, I bet you are right. I do think Vortex makes capable equipment, especially the Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56. The image clarity isn’t as sharp, but the mechanics are reliable. I don’t think I’ve ever missed a shot because of image clarity. Most people blow that out of proportion. It’s more of a nice-to-have than a must-have. Now sharp glass can help you better see the mirage, which gets more important as you extend your range. You are basically trying to see patterns in distortion (i.e. mirage). If there is very little distortion in your glass to start off with, then it’s easier to differentiate.

      I also think military and law enforcement might be a little biased when it comes to Vortex because they extend a 50% discount to those guys. If you cut the price of Vortex products in half, obviously they are very compelling. Not saying that it’s not a cool thing. I appreciate that they support the men and women in uniform … just something to keep in mind when looking at what equipment they are using. It changes the value equation pretty dramatically when you cut the price in half. They also extend that discount to some industry insiders, which could be some of these guys, too. With a 50% discount, the Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 is $1,250 … so that’s a no-brainer. Ridiculous value!

      Now I’m not saying Vortex isn’t capable. Some of the top-ranked shooters in the country use Vortex scopes to win matches (and smoke me). Vortex is a pretty cool company, really. I appreciate their lifetime, no-questions-asked warranty. Run over your scope with your truck, and they’ll fix it or replace it. No lie! I appreciate a company that stands behind its product like that. Honestly, until a couple of years ago Schmidt and Bender only offered a 1-year warranty on their $3,000+ scopes. They weren’t alone – other optics companies had limited warranties that were a joke compared to the investment. Vortex pushed the whole industry out of that with their customer-first thinking when it came to warranty. They’re a cool company in a few other ways, including the discount for military and law enforcement. Many companies give some kind of discount to those groups, but 50% is exceedingly generous. I can say that a 50% discount on some of their high-end products puts them well below the cost of even the largest Vortex distributors in the world, and it might even be under Vortex’s hard costs in a few cases. Like I said, exceedingly generous!

      Hope that gives some context. I try to have an objective view about this stuff. I do think a large portion of the “extra” cost and therefore price beyond the Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 is in the glass and optical clarity. That scope seems to cover all the must-have features, and is a great value.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  16. I feel like I have read almost all of your articles. Keep them coming. I really enjoy the insight and learning.

    • Ha! Well, Shawn, that is quite the commitment at this point! I’ve been doing this for a while and can get pretty long-winded at times, so I commend you for your endurance. 😉 Joking aside, thank you for taking the time to say that. That means a lot.

      Thanks,
      Cal