In a typical match, carbine targets are positioned at powder-burn distances out to 100 or so yards. In places with the room, the steel can be 300 yards–or more–away. You need a scope that zooms from 1X to 4X at a minimum for this variety of distances.
Reticle design is important too. Crosshairs that are too faint to see at lower powers just provide you with a good view of your misses, unless the aiming point can be illuminated enough to work well in bright sunlight. The scopes here fit the bill.
Bushnell 1-4×24 Throw Down PCL
For the budget-minded shooter, this new scope from Bushnell is hard to resist. It incorporates a throw lever on the power ring that folds against the ocular housing when not in use, saving you the cost of purchasing an aftermarket lever. The BTR reticle is a doughnut design with a gap along the bottom that contains holdover marks. The illumination knob on the side of the scope body does a terrific job of lighting the reticle so it is visible at 1X, but the holdover marks wash out when you zoom to 4X. Needing to alter the illumination level on the fly will cost you seconds. But for the price, you can’t top this optic. ($299; bushnell.com)
Leupold VX-6 1-6×24
This optic doesn’t contain any extraneous frills. It zooms from 1X to 6X, and at any setting the bold duplex crosshair quickly centers the eye on the target. The scope also has an illumination system that is as simple as the reticle. A push on the button in the center of the turret on the left side of the scope turns on the FireDot, which is a small point of light in the center of the crosshairs. I’ve used this scope with success on a couple of ARs, and it really doesn’t have any downside–provided you can accurately hold over distant targets without the benefit of reference marks. ($1,125; leupold.com)
Swarovski Z6i 1-6×24 EE L
This scope is one of the most sought after for 3-gun. Its power range and outstanding reticle design and illumination controls will help you blaze through the most devilishly constructed stage. The switch on the ocular housing is programmable and controls the illumination settings. The reticle is dark with the switch in the center position, but push or pull it to either side and it lights up. The reticle has six holdover positions: three hash marks (with holdoff references for wind) separated by two dots. The top of the duplex post forms the sixth holdover mark. ($2,743; swarovskioptik.com)