The 24 Best Riflescopes of 2018
Death of the duplex? New riflescopes are high on tech but low on basic functionality and affordability
The influence of long-distance shooting has pervaded the optics industry, to the extent that nearly half the scopes in this year’s test are built for way-out-there target work. These precision scopes feature chubby 34mm tubes, computer-drafted first-plane reticles, and turrets with seemingly miles of internal adjustment. They typically weigh about 3 pounds. Their average price is about $2,000.
So for our test, we grouped riflescopes designed for long-range shooting as a single category. The second category of riflescopes, which we call the “versatile” scopes, are primarily intended for hunting but have enough reticle references for a variety of target work.
We mounted all riflescopes on guns and rated their ability to make precise aiming adjustments and return to zero, time after time. We also assessed their ergonomics, their looks, and whether they’re suitable for the task they’re intended to tackle. The optics that scored the most points won our Editor’s Choice awards. The optics with the highest value scores won our Great Buy awards.
The Best Versatile Riflescopes
As electronics, including illuminated reticles and digital turrets, have seeped more deeply into traditional optics, one goal has eluded manufacturers: the creation of a “smart” riflescope that actually looks like a riflescope. Burris has come close, with its Eliminator, but the rangefinding sight resembles a pregnant Atari. With its smart, svelte, and surprisingly affordable BDX system, Sig has cracked the code on incorporating rangefinding with aiming while maintaining the dimensions of a traditional riflescope. Sig’s secret: linking its very good Kilo rangefinder with the scope via Bluetooth and tying both back to a smartphone app.
The three-part system works, with a few caveats. Once you load your specific ballistics profile into the app and pair the scope and rangefinder with your phone, you can make first-shot hits (out to the 800-yard limit of the system) by ranging the target and then holding the illuminated dot on your reticle on that spot. No more guessing the holdover or dialing the shooting solution with your turrets—the system calculates the hold for you at lightning speed. The reticle has 76 elevation holds and 18 wind holds in addition to Sig’s LevelPlex illuminators that blink when the scope is canted.
The Sierra maintains its familiar lines because it isn’t packed with electronics. The slim belly of the riflescope contains only a Bluetooth receiver and circuitry that lights up the reticle; the computational brain of the BDX system (it stands for Ballistic Data Xchange) is contained in the rangefinder.
Environmental conditions, including temperature, altitude, and barometric pressure, are gathered from your phone’s location services and automatically transferred to the rangefinder. That means you need cell service to get live updates, a serious limitation of the system. But you can manually input these factors, along with wind speed and direction, and adjust them as conditions change or when you’re out of cell range. For shooters with basic operating knowledge of a smartphone, the system is simple and fairly intuitive, and it really shines with a partner, one of you ranging and the other on the gun. Single-user utility is slower, simply because it takes time to range, then get back in the scope, place the hold0ver dot, and make the shot.
Of course, any time you add battery-powered components to a system, you risk loss of capability when you lose power. But even without the illuminated reticle, the Sierra is a serviceable scope. We wish its duplex reticle had more etched aiming points for use when the lights go out, but if the power fails (the scope’s battery is rated for 1,000 hours of continuous use), a shooter can always dial a shooting solution using the adequate turret controls.
In an effort to neutralize criticism for what will likely be considered promotion of long-distance hunting, Sig has added a feature endorsed by the Boone and Crockett Club. The app calculates the downrange energy of various bullet weights. If your shot is so far that your bullet lacks sufficient kinetic energy, the holdover dot in the scope blinks to warn you that your ambition may be exceeding your ethics in that particular case.
Sig is bringing the BDX to market at a price that’s within reach of many hunters and shooters. The 4.5-14×50 Sierra we tested costs $720, and you can get it in a kit with the Kilo 1800BDX rangefinder for $1080. The innovation and utility of the system won the BDX our Editor’s Choice award, but by delivering this amount of utility for just over $1,000, it earns our Great Buy award as well.
With its brushed-nickel controls, this 30mm riflescope might be the dressiest optic in the field. It’s also a shooter. Maven broke into the optics business by offering customizable, direct-to-consumer binoculars and spotters. The Wyoming company’s first riflescope offers either a simple non-illuminated holdover reticle or a very capable MOA-based reticle that features fast and useful holdover references at every magnification but also precise aiming points for long-distance targets, a capability enhanced by its gem-bright glass and positive, precise turrets.
A candidate for all-around scope honors, this workhorse features a non-illuminated MOA-based reticle that has simple references for both fast and precise shooting. The glass is very good, and the controls are simple and precise. Contrary to the trend that has bulked and complicated riflescopes, the 30mm V4 is trim (1.4 pounds) and simple, making it an ideal companion for a walkabout rifle. The only deficiency is its exposed, nonlocking elevation turret. The revolution indicator is confusing, and the dial turns a bit too easily, which could compromise its ability to hold zero in the field.
An excellent all-around hunting scope, the Steiner‘s glass is among the best in the field. The 30mm H4Xi won the low-light test and delivered good resolution scores. The BDC-style reticle gets quickly on target and has useful hash-and-dot holdover and windage marks. The center-cross illumination is robust, but the capped MOA turrets are small and have indistinct clicks. Made in America, this light, classy hunting scope is priced right.
In terms of optics and controls, there’s nothing especially new here. This is a very good and bright 30mm hunting scope with a traditional German 4 reticle in the first plane. What is new is groundbreaking—an illuminated dot in the center of the reticle that requires no batteries to activate. Meopta has developed a light-sensitive dichroic coating that turns bright red in daylight conditions but lime green in twilight. The first-plane configuration of our sample is perfect for running game and super-fast target acquisition in any light conditions, but it’s not especially useful for precision work.
In Bushnell’s new brand alignment, the Forge product line replaces the Elite at the top of the hierarchy, and this 30mm scope is a worthy successor to the lineage. The exposed locking turrets and zero-stop are first-rate, the glass is pretty good, and the configuration serves both hunters and precision shooters. The biggest demerit: The Deploy MOA reticle is busy and hard to see at magnifications under 6x.
This elegant optic practically quivers with aristocratic flair. The first riflescope from German gunmaker Blaser, our test sample came rail-mounted on a Blaser R8 rifle trimmed in leather. The pairing is perfect for a Bavarian boar drive or a high-seat roebuck hunt. Curiously, the windage turret is on the left, where you might expect to find the focus on most scopes, and the illumination control on the right. Not just a showpiece, the 30mm Blaser has plenty of game. The front-plane plex reticle is fast, the glass stunningly clear and bright, and the price stratospheric.
One of the few purpose-built hunting scopes in this category, the 6x magnification ratio of the 30mm GPO covers the gamut from close-in shots to middistance targets. The glass is clear and bright, and the controls—including the center-point illumination, image focus, and resettable elevation turret—are tight and precise. The illuminated German 4 duplex reticle in the second focal plane contains no holdover or hold-off references for longer shots, a deficiency that limits the versatility of this otherwise excellent hunting scope.
This is a very good value on a decent all-around 30mm hunting scope. The glass and controls earned only middling scores, but the reticle is very well-done. It has a useful number of holdover and windage references and is adequate for a variety of hunting tasks or limited precision work, giving it a high versatility score. The resettable-zero turrets are a little mushy, and the illumination module is overly obtuse, but we love this 4x magnification configuration.
This is a tale of two optics. The Riton‘s controls, including the very positive and tactile pull-to-turn turrets and tight focus control, are first-rate. But the glass is disappointing. The 30mm RT-S finished last in our low-light evaluation and turned in middling resolution scores. The reticle is a little sleepy—an MOA-based crosshair with only four elevation references. If the controls, including the protruding turrets and oversize eyepiece, were sized down, this would be a more versatile hunting scope.
A good value in a decent hunting scope, the 30mm Hawke omitted some useful features. It could use a focus control, and its center-dot duplex reticle could use a few more references; it has only two holdover hashes that don’t quite work for shooting at distance but are distracting for zero holds. The glass is a little disappointing too, especially for a 56mm objective, but the wide field of view is gorgeous. We also liked the very positive MOA-based turrets, subtle center-point illumination, and big, grippy magnification control.
This first riflescope from a brand better known for digital imaging is a decent entry-level optic, but it feels and performs like a scope from a decade ago. Its reticle references didn’t correspond to typical ballistic profiles in our testing, and its turret controls are imprecise. The 1-inch Fujinon’s glass exhibited some flaring and finished near the bottom of both low-light and resolution evaluations. Its price is appealing, but we worry about the 14-ounce Fujifilm’s durability.
The Best Precision Riflescopes
It’s tempting to describe this big, robust marvel of a scope as revolutionary. Certainly, its operation, combining first-rate mechanical controls with a digital brain, is new to the precision-shooting world. But in other ways, the Revic PMR is evolutionary, the logical progression of technology that has been changing how we engage distant targets for years now.
Here’s what the Revic does: It enables you to dial a precise shooting solution based on a host of digitally delivered inputs. The processor gives you the capability to place first-shot hits on targets out to—in my case, with a 100-yard zero and my .223 ballistics—1,900 yards.
Here’s what it doesn’t do: project a holographic reticle that enables you to simply hold and shoot. You still need to apply the basics of riflery, including the ability to read wind signatures and apply the appropriate hold-off based on understanding milliradian measurement. You must know your bullet’s profile and ballistic characteristics. You need a good rangefinder to get precise yardage to distant targets. And you need to be able to stabilize your rifle.
Optically, the scope is first-rate, and the controls are precise and robust. The glass, 34mm tube, and fairly standard illuminated MRAD reticle are familiar. What’s unfamiliar—revolutionary, you might say—is the heads-up display in the rafters of the scope’s image that communicates inputs, including temperature and barometric pressure, cardinal direction, bullet profile, and zero range while you’re configuring your scope. The scope’s left side, inside the focus wheel, is a keypad where you enter info, including wind speed and direction.
Once you have all your inputs, deploying the scope is a matter of ranging your target, then dialing the elevation turret to the correct range. Assuming the inputs are valid, your dead-on hold should put you on target, though you’ll have to either hold off or dial for windage.
All that data, plus any additional inputs you entered into the Revic app, show up in the heads-up display, which gives shooting the PMR 428 the feel of flying a fighter jet. Any digital system is dependent on power, and the Revic is fueled by a single AAA battery mounted on the eyepiece. We worry a bit about the power draw and durability of the input keypad. But the rest of this scope is battle-proof.
The Revic is produced by the folks who own the Gunwerks long-range shooting school in Wyoming. It’s a direct-to-consumer product, which means you won’t find the PMR at retail. At 3 pounds, this is not a hunting optic, and its price puts the PMR out of reach of many readers. But for serious precision target shooters who want to apply cutting-edge technology in pursuit of ringing steel, the Revic is the best tool in the test for the job.
By delivering its sturdy, versatile, and feature-rich FX1000 for about $800, Nikon has taken away the best excuse to not participate at a high level in the booming field of long-distance target shooting: expense. And it’s not limited to targets; it’s light and durable enough to mate up with most hunting rifles. The second-best thing: It’s a bargain that doesn’t act or look like one.
The front-plane illuminated FX-MRAD reticle is the heart of the scope. Its subtentions are spot-on, and we especially liked the .2-mil gaps in the etched stadia that are extremely useful for ranging targets. The reticle is easy to read at lower magnifications and very crisp and clear at higher powers. The simple and effective zero-stop is easy to set in the field, and the turrets are big and turn smartly, enabling about 1,000 yards of adjustment for every revolution of the elevation knob. It also has among the most generous mounting dimensions of any scope in the test.
We expected a little more from Nikon’s glass, and the turrets could use a spot more positivity, but overall this is an excellent value in a dexterous optic.
Kahles has done it again. The Austrian scope-maker won last year’s riflescope category, and this stubby powerhouse vied for top honors in this year’s test. The first thing you notice is the compact 12-inch length of the 34mm K318i. Then you notice the controls. As with last year’s 624i, the focus dial is tucked under the elevation knob where it’s easy to turn with fingertips. The windage dial has a surprise too. A free-spinning disk keeps the exposed knob from turning accidentally, without relying on a cumbersome locking mechanism. The Kahles won our low-light and resolution tests, the Christmas-tree reticle is fast and precise, and controls are rock-solid.
One turn of the platter-size elevation turret on this sexy, low-profile Mark 5 not only provides 11 mils of adjustment, it stirs the heart of a precision shooter. The clicks are loud, precise, and positive, and among the best in this year’s test. The rest of the 34mm Leupold is equally endearing. At 1.9 pounds, it’s more than a pound lighter than its competitors. Its glass is first-rate. Its low-profile elevation turret provides 35 mils of adjustment, and the turret lock and a pop-up post keep track of revolutions, so along with highly visible witness marks, it’s nearly impossible to get lost in the knobs. The busy TMR mil-dot reticle uses hashes instead of dots for greater precision and is visible at all magnifications.
You might be excused for finding reasons to fiddle with the windage and elevation dials on this 30mm gem. The pull-to-turn caps are silky, and the adjustment steps are so satisfyingly positive that it’s a tactile pleasure to twist them. The other controls on this handsome graphite-gray Tract are equally precise, and we loved the easy-to-deploy zero-stop on both turrets. While the Schott glass inside the Tract turned in a good resolution score, it disappointed in our low-light test. The milliradian-based reticle is crisp and clear, though we found it difficult to see reference marks under about 8x.
Nightforce wins this year’s competition for the most innovative reticle. At 1x, the illuminated FC-DM reticle operates as a nonmagnified red-dot sight, making it lightning-fast to acquire and stay on targets. But at higher magnifications—starting at about 5x—the hold-off references gain enough visibility to allow for precise aiming at longer ranges. If you’re looking for a low-profile AR carbine scope to enable close-quarters snap shooting as well as distance work, this configuration of the venerable 34mm ATACR is a great pick. And its picture-window 1x may be the truest nonmagnification we’ve ever seen on a variable-power optic.
This sophomore effort from Athlon is a rock-solid 34mm precision scope that checks almost all boxes. Good glass: check. Positive controls: check. Useful illumination: check. Simple and strong zero-stop: check. Handsome coyote-brown finish: check. Our two criticisms: While the controls are solid, they could use a touch more positivity to ensure there’s no overrun during competition. And the Christmas-tree MOA reticle could use a few bold references to avoid getting lost in a blizzard of windage dots.
At just 11.2 inches long, this bright billy club of a scope is designed to be used on carbines, where users might use it in tandem with a thermal or night-vision sight. Its capabilities don’t need any assistance. At lower magnifications, from 5x to about 11x, it is a fast close-action superstar. But it also shines at higher magnifications, where the MD3 mil-based reticle is exceptionally clear. The illumination deserves special mention, from the smart push-button intensity controls to the line of dots that light up every 2 mils of elevation on the vertical stadia. We also like the rising-post revolution indicator on the 34mm Vudu‘s tight elevation turret.
When it was introduced a few years back, Bushnell’s Elite Tactical scope was a pioneer in the precision-shooting market. Now it’s more like a homesteader, surrounded by a growing number of peers. There remains a lot to like about the 34mm XRS, including a new coyote-brown finish and G3 reticle that remains one of the fastest and cleanest mil-based ranging reticles in the field, though its utility tops out at about 25x. The new XRS features middle-of-the-pack glass and above-average controls in a fairly priced package. We especially like the readable witness marks on the turrets and robust throw lever on the magnification control.
Cabela’s has delivered on about 90 percent of its audacious goal to produce a first-rate precision riflescope for well under $1,000. Hits include a locking collet on both turrets, a highly visible pop-up revolution indicator on the elevation knob, and a rich matte finish on the 34mm tube. But the misses are significant, including filmy glass and a reticle that needs a more defined center aiming point. Still, if you’re looking for a serviceable scope to get into the long-range game, the Krotos is a good and accessible start.