Best New Precision Riflescopes, Tested and Reviewed
This year’s class of target scopes is scaled down both in size and price
Over the last few years of testing precision riflescopes, we’ve watched as tube diameters swelled from 30mm to 34mm, then to 35, 36, and even 40mm. Magnification ranges soared from 4-20X to 5-25X, then from 6-30X. And turrets added hundreds of yards worth of revolutions. As for the reticles themselves, some have become so complicated and busy that they should come with a calculus textbook.
Prices, too, seemed destined for the stratosphere. We watched the $2,000 price point zip by like an interstate billboard, and it appeared that $4,000 was coming, especially as microprocessors and Bluetooth transmitters started working their way into riflescopes.
But, based on submissions to this year’s test, it appears that the leading edge of evolution is slowing as brands fill in their product lines with more modest configurations of precision scopes. The result of this slowing of innovation is that these target scopes have a much more accessible price point, plus they’re capable of wider utility than simply directing fire at far-distant steel plates atop a customized chassis rifle.
What Makes a Great Precision Riflescope
Scopes in our Precision class share some common attributes: first-plane reticles with enough elevation and windage references to make precision shooting possible, turrets that turn with repeatable precision, and configurations that allow shooters the ability to transition from close-in, low-mag targets out to distant targets that require powerful magnification. It’s comforting to know that many of these scopes deliver acceptable precision for a very accessible price.
The Best New Precision Riflescopes
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Primary Arms GLx 4-16×50
Even before you put your eye to this scaled-down scope, you can’t help but notice its aggressive styling. Its turrets, power-changing ring, and illumination and parallax dials all look like the treads on the tires of a mud-bogging pickup. The low-profile exposed turrets have the added feature of triangular buttons that unlock the rotation and then click back into lock at your established zero.
The configuration is a little subdued for long-range steel work. At 4-16×50, though, the GLx compensates with wide utility. Considering the parallax cranks down to about 16 yards, this is an excellent choice for a rimfire match scope. And the 50mm objective allows for relatively low mounting profiles on a wide variety of receivers and rails. We mounted the GLx on Primary Arms’ 20MOA cantilever mount and switched between a number of different test rifles, from .22 trainers to a 10-pound Seekins HAVAK bolt rifle.
Our test team gave mixed reviews on the ballistic reticle. Primary Arms calls this their ACSS Apollo, and our sample had references configured for the 6.5 Creedmoor and .224 Valkyrie. With bullet-drop compensations and wind holds out to 1,000 yards, the Christmas-tree style reticle certainly has plenty of reach for these calibers, but some of us want capability to shoot out to a mile with heavier bullets from larger calibers. The Apollo reticle — ACSS stands for Advanced Combined Sighting System — is built on a series of .1 MIL boxes and dots and can enable those longer shots, based on standard milling rather than caliber-specific bullet trajectories.
The rugged turrets enable shooters to dial aiming solutions with speed and precision. Tuned to .1 MIL click values, the elevation turret accommodates four rotations and has a solid zero stop and return-to-zero capability. The button on the windage turret locks on every full rotation, a nice feature to reduce rotational confusion. Both turrets have 25 MIL total adjustment range.
The 10-step red illumination lights up the entire reticle, which throws a lot of light but makes long shots possible in a wide variety of light conditions. We think the lower end of the magnification range makes the reticle too small to be useful; we got serious about shooting at about 8X, and think the scope would be more useful with a 6-24X mag range.
The glass is good, and certainly a step up from the GLx submitted by Primary last year. And we found the price especially appealing. For its wide utility built around the heart of a talented precision scope, we awarded the GLx our Editor’s Choice title. MSRP: $699; www.primaryarms.com
GREAT BUY: Arken SH-4 Gen II 4-16×50
Every tester asked the same question as they put this precision scope through our battery of tracking and optical evaluations: Is that price a typo?
It’s a natural question, and even after confirming the price several times, it still seems unbelievable that a capable precision scope could cost so little. After spending months with this optic, the test team started to understand both its appeals and its limitations and concluded that it will give you years of use for the very accessible price. The Arken SH-4 Gen II was our consensus pick for our Great Buy award.
Let’s first talk about its appeals. It has a very serviceable Christmas tree-style milling reticle — Arken calls it its “VPR” in the first focal plane. The reticle has hash references on its main stadia and a series of dots for wind holds down to 12 MILs of elevation and 8 MILs on either side of the horizontal stadia. The reticle is fast and intuitive, and while some of the .25 MIL dots are pretty fine, we didn’t have trouble with visibility above about 7X.
The beefy exposed turrets have .1 MRAD click values. The elevation turret, with 35 MIL total internal adjustment, is zero-stopped. The unstopped windage turret has 14 MIL adjustment. We got 8 MILs of adjustment per revolution, which is a little less than the industry average.
The 6-step center-cross illumination is decent, and the parallax dials down to about 20 yards.
Now, for the disappointments. The glass in this scope is horrible. We detected peripheral distortion at just about every magnification, and there was so much flaring that we suspected some internal lenses were uncoated. That’s not the case — it’s fully multicoated — but it’s a hard scope to spend long periods behind. Most egregiously, we noted a significant smudge on one of the lens elements that’s nearly in line with the center of the reticle, making it hard to ignore.
The turrets are some of the worst in the field. They have positive clicks, but feel tinny, and there’s noticeable play in the travel.
Accepting a lower level of workmanship is one way that Arken can bring this scope to market at such an acceptable price. In the great scheme of things, though, we think that’s an acceptable bargain. We didn’t find any part of the build that worried us about its durability. And if there is a problem, buyers can be consoled by Arken’s “Worldwide Lifetime Warranty” that is fully transferrable and good for the lifetime of the optic. MSRP: $399; www.arkenoptics.com
Nightforce ATACR 4-20×50
We actually tested two Nightforce precision scopes, this class-leading iteration of the remarkable ATACR platform and a new configuration (2.5-20×50) of the equally remarkable NX8. But we put the ATACR through more iterations of our tracking and low-light battery and elevated this scope to our review.
This 4-20X version of the ATACR line fills a size and weight niche between the magnificently mammoth 5-26×56 F1 and the more compact AR-configured 4-16×42 F1. In a move that will probably raise eyebrows among some readers, we asked for an MOA-based sample with Nightforce’s MOAR F1 reticle, largely because that’s the model that we have the widest and deepest experience shooting. The ATACR is also available with the Horus TREMOR3, MIL-XT, and MIL-C reticle with MIL-based controls and holds.
Nightforce fans won’t find a lot new here, but for those who have never shot this optic, the controls are among the best in the business, with hardened turrets that turn with satisfyingly tactile precision. The brand’s zero stop sets the standard for the industry, and the parallax screws down to about 12 yards.
The 34mm tube contains 110 MOA (30 MRAD) of elevation adjustment and 80 MOA (23 MRAD) of windage adjustment. The ATACR tied for our best low-light performance, and we detected no optical aberrations. On the demerit side, we wish the eyepiece focus was a little less tight; most testers found it hard to focus the eyepiece independent of changing the magnification. But that’s a pretty petty quibble in an otherwise bombproof and professional scope.
That last adjective — professional — is an important one. At $3,000 this was easily the most expensive scope in our test — in fact, it is the most expensive optic in our test, regardless of type. It’s not for everyone. But if you’re a serious PRS shooter who needs to have the most reliable, repeatable controls and excellent glass, this is probably the scope you aspire to. MSRP: $3,000; www.nightforceoptics.com
Hawke Sidewinder 30 FFP 6-24×56
Another accessibly-priced precision scope, this entry has tons of versatility for both rimfire and long-range centerfire target work. It’s also sized right for a wide variety of platforms, including hunting rifles.
We liked the light-delivery capabilities of the big 56mm objective, and the mounting dimensions of the 30mm tube. We also liked the relatively light weight of the 27-ounce Sidewinder. The extremely precise parallax focuses as closely as 10 yards and out to infinity. Just on the second-plane version of the Sidewinder (which we tested in our Versatile category), the red revolution indicator is a smart and clear way to determine elevation turret travel and should help shooters from getting lost in the turret.
We were dubious of the utility of the enclosed oversized parallax side wheel, but when we screwed it on the dial, it gave us great capability to easily focus far and near targets with ease. In fact, this was such a key asset that we wondered if it is the source of the scope’s name.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Outdoor Life optics test without detailing a few disappointments. Hawke’s “Half Mil” reticle is nicely arranged, and the 6-step red illumination that lights up the entire middle half of the crosshairs is well done. But we wanted some numeric designations in the reticle, which features .5 MIL hashes on the axes and a series of plus signs for wind holds. As we riffed around a rimfire target course, we often had to stop and count down and out our holds. A couple of numeric references inside the reticle would make operation faster. We also wanted a zero stop on both turrets, but especially the elevation dial.
The pull-to-turn turrets tracked flawlessly, but we wanted a bit more positivity. The clicks are mushier than their peers in this class. And the limitations of the 30mm tube are evident in the relatively puny internal adjustment; both turrets have 20 MRAD of travel.
But, back to that appealing price. We used Hawke’s published retail price of $819 for our price/value consideration, but it’s worth noting that we found it selling online for $659, making it an even better option for an entry-level precision scope or a consideration for a cross-over target and hunting scope. MSRP: $819; www.us.hawkeoptics.com
Minox Long Range 5-25×56
Minox finally produces a first-rate precision scope. This lovely, full-sized hammer has all the features you’d expect in a premium target scope: 34mm tube, first-plane milling reticle, ridiculously positive turrets tuned to .1 MRAD values, and magnification range that brings distant targets into tack-sharp focus and can dial down to provide great field of view and decent in-close acuity.
The glass was some of the best in the category, and the controls move with fluid positivity. The turrets turn with .1 MIL click values, and the elevation dial has 28 MILs of internal adjustment. We liked the 11-step reticle illumination and the smooth parallax control. The reticle is a hash-and-dot design that we found to be a bit too light. Speaking of reticle visibility, we found aiming points to be too faint at magnifications under 8X.
Two elements of this otherwise excellent scope hold the Minox back from its full capability. The controls and glass should put this in the same conversation as Kahles’ K525i and even Hensoldt’s premium scopes. But the reticle is simply too simple and fine to be visible against a wide variety of backgrounds.
And the zero stop adjustment is so convoluted that a couple of testers gave up, even after watching YouTube tutorials and exhausting the manual.
Still, the bones of this German-made optic are among the best in the test. If you’re looking for a classic precision scope with lovely lines and salty guts, this is a very good choice. MSRP: $1,999; www.minox.com
EOTech Vudu 5-25×50
As with many of the scopes in our Precision field, this stubby Vudu is more of a product-line extension than a brand-new scope. The main advancement of the platform is the addition of the excellent Horus TREMOR3 reticle. Previous iterations of the 5-25 Vudu have had the MD3 hash reticle and Horus’s popular H59 reticle.
Longtime Optics Test readers may recall the first appearance of EOTech’s flagship magnified scope. We awarded the 1-6×24 Vudu our Editor’s Choice award when it was introduced back in 2017. A 1-8×24 version of the Vudu, with a second-plane reticle, did well in our test in 2019.
But this big tactical scope is a different Vudu, altogether. It has all the attributes of a classic precision scope: 34mm tube, locking pull-to-turn and zero-stoppable elevation turret with a bit over 34 MILs of elevation range and a useful revolution indicator, a very smart push-button illumination module, and sweet parallax control.
The glass is good, scoring nearly as high on our revolution test as the venerable Nightforce, though testers noted grainy images at the very highest end of the magnification range. Low-light performance was very good; the Vudu was the highest-scoring 50mm in the field. The biggest performance ding on the EOTech was that its eyebox is strangely stingy, meaning that the cheek weld had to be perfect in order to keep the eye in the exit pupil. If the head moved up or down or side to side, shooters had to struggle to retain the sight picture at magnifications over about 14X.
That tight eyebox may be due to the short stature of the scope. The test team had mixed reviews about its stature. The Vudu is one of the shortest first-focal plane scopes on the market, and one tester said he’d put the scope on a sheep rifle in order to take advantage of its crazy amount of reticle adjustment. Another thought it stubby and ungainly looking—with limited mounting dimensions. But one asset of its short design: you can easily add a night-vision or thermal device in front of the scope and still have room on the mounting rail.
In all, it’s a useful scope that fills a niche in the market, and for apostles of the TREMOR-style reticle, it’s a high-mag option that requires relatively little real estate atop your rifle. MSRP: $2,099; www.eotechinc.com
Bushnell Elite LRHS 4.5-18×44
Another scope that splits the difference between hunting and target, this is the latest iteration in one of the pioneers of the entire precision scope category. Even the name — Long Range Hunting Shooting — gets at that crossover utility.
The noteworthy feature of this handy scope is the first-plane G2H milling reticle designed by the folks at GA Precision. In fact, this scope is available exclusively through GA Precision, as the house optic on their tack-driving rifles.
The attributes that we lauded in the first generation of the LRHS are present on this model. The exposed, platter-sized turrets tuned to .1 MIL values, the smooth magnification dial, this time supercharged with what Bushnell calls its “Throwhammer.” The elevation turret has 25 MILs of total adjustment and 10 MILs per revolution. The windage turret contains 22 MILs of adjustment.
The non-illuminated reticle, a circle/hash design, is fast and precise. The 2-MIL segmented center circle — Bushnell calls it the “Vital Bracket” — is designed to frame the breadbasket of big-game at known distances. The .25 MIL hashes are universally relevant no matter your load or platform.
We loved the glass in the Bushnell Elite. It’s clear, bright, and transmits colors without flaring or distortion, and Bushnell’s proprietary coatings are durable and protective. The mounting dimensions on the 30mm tube are liberal, and the 44mm objective allows for low-relief mounting.
The wide utility isn’t without its limitations. We had a hard time using the reticle references at magnifications under about 8X, and wanted the parallax to focus closer than its 50-yard limit. But for a scope that can easily transition from a big-game rifle to a steel-ringing GAP, this is a great all-rounder. MSRP: $949; www.bushnell.com
Athlon Ares ETR UHD 3-18×50
Just as we detailed with the other Athlon in this category, the Helos, this particular model has a kissing cousin in our Versatile Riflescope category. The main difference is in configuration, but it’s so different that we accepted them as two very different scopes that happen to have the same name.
The main difference is the configuration. This 3-18×50 version is perfectly suited for no particular task, which suppresses its precision score. But it’s so versatile for a number of target games and hunting scenarios that it scored pretty well on the all-around considerations. This scope shares the APLR6 MOA-based reticle of the Helos BTR, and because the magnification range is so similar, there aren’t meaningful distinctions between the two.
We measured two significant differences between the two precision Athlons. One is the controls. The Ares, at a price point a couple hundred dollars above the Helos, has smoother, more positive turret clicks. We found the parallax control, which focuses as close as 10 yards, to be tighter and more precise. And the 6-step illumination seemed both dimmer at the lower end and brighter at the upper end of the intensity scale. The Ares also has a better class of glass. While we noticed some aberrations with the Helos, the Ares glass is clear and bright and delivers an image with correct colors and contrast.
Just as we noted with the Helos, there are so many iterations of the Ares available, in a wide range of configurations that can be tuned to either MOA or MIL turret and reticle references, that there’s probably an Athlon for your particular preference and budget. MSRP: $999; www.athlonoptics.com
Sightmark Latitude 6.25-25×56
As we note in an accompanying video that profiles four accessibly-priced precision scopes, this full-service target optic provides everything a shooter needs for either rimfire or centerfire match work for right around $800.
The Latitude exhibits pretty much all the attributes of this category: 34mm tube, exposed turrets tuned to .1 MRAD click values, a milling reticle in the first focal plane, and precise parallax that brings targets as close as 20 yards into focus and alignment with the reticle. It has the bonus of Sightmark’s dual red and green illumination, useful for both daylight and night-vision capability.
The reticle, which Sightmark calls its “PRS,” gets at its utility and its, um, target market. This scope is squarely positioned to appeal to participants of the Precision Rifle Series. References area marked in .5 MIL increments on the windage and elevation axes, with .25 MIL windage dots, giving shooters plenty of aiming points no matter the distance or target type. The elevation turret has 31 MILs of internal adjustment; the windage dial has 20 MILs of turn; both move the reticle 10 MILs per revolution.
Operationally, we had very little complaints with this scope. Its turrets tracked nicely and mated up with the reticle. However, the glass disappointed testers. We found significant peripheral distortion and some color shifting. The turrets are softer and less distinct than many of its peers in this class, and while we liked the zero stop on the elevation turret, we wanted a similar mechanism on the windage knob.
With those assets and shortcomings, you can consider the Latitude a great entry-level precision scope. But it’s also one to consider for those interested in participating in the rise of rimfire matches. MSRP: $839; www.sightmark.com
Athlon Helos BTR Gen2 4-20×50
Athlon has a very good problem. They have so many product lines and specific SKUs that customers can get confused by similar names and functions. Even within the same family name, performance features vary significantly or only slightly. Again, it’s a good problem to have, but it speaks to the second of two Athlon entries that bear the same name: the Helos BTR.
We have the 2-12×42 Helos in our Versatile test. We entered it in that category because the configuration seemed suited to a wide range of platforms. But we have materially the same scope in this Precision category that has many of the same features and controls. Why here? Because the 4-20×50 configuration seems more purpose-driven for a variety of target games.
The APLR6 reticle in our sample is tuned to MOA geometries and subtensions. It has tons of mid-range references that appeal to designated marksman duties, which require engaging targets between the close-encounter and sniper distances. At 4X, the reticle is perfectly visible and the 6-step illumination intensity is especially welcome. At 20X you still have nearly 30 MOA of drop visible on the horizontal stadia.
Just as with its lower-mag sister, this Helos has adequate but not especially crisp turrets. Similarly, the glass is adequate but we noted some blurring at higher magnifications. The parallax screws down to 20 yards, making it a good fit for rimfire use.
Bottom line: nothing especially groundbreaking about this scope, but it’s a solid-mid distance and priced-right workhorse. We should note that the Helos BTR is available in far more configurations than we’ve detailed here. So many that we won’t inventory them all here, but as you see the dizzying range of SKUs available from Athlon, you’ll start to see our challenge with categorizing their wide range of new optics. MSRP: $569; www.athlonoptics.com
How We Test Precision Riflescopes
In order to measure the aiming capabilities of precision riflescopes, we mount all scopes on rifles and shoot them. We start with bullseye targets at 50 yards off benches and bags—the rifles for our test are .22 trainers, because they’re accurate, inexpensive to shoot, and don’t beat testers up with recoil over the course of a day of shooting hundreds of rounds. Then we shoot a 10-minute grid, testing the precision of the turrets to track up, right, down, and left, to ensure they return the aiming point to the original zero.
The best part of the test—and the reason most testers want to be involved—is when we take the rimfire rifles off the bench and use them to shoot a steel-target range, with targets out to 380 yards. For this precision distance test, we use both the reticle references and the turrets to hold and dial aiming solutions, and then assess the talents of the scope to make these varied and often difficult shots.
While we’re shooting, we assess the optical clarity of each scope at various magnifications. We measure the extent of reticle adjustment, and the positivity of the turrets, we evaluate the eye relief and mounting dimensions, and rate each scope on versatility, durability, and field-worthiness.
Each scope is dialed, adjusted, and scrutinized by a team of at least four testers, who are a mix of competitive shooters, hunting guides, and gunsmiths.
Many of the scopes in this year’s test would be at home on the firing line of a rimfire match, or even on an elk rifle. As we noted in our versatile hunting riflescope category, the bright line that has previously differentiated the two species of riflescopes is getting blurred. We think that’s a good thing, as it gives shooters many more and affordable options.