Drop Test Gallery

John Snow takes a look at today's long-range hunting scopes.
Swarovski Z5 3.5-18x4 BT Let's not mince words the Swarovski Ballistic Turret system has set the standard for the entire category of bullet-drop-compensating scopes for big-game hunting. The downsides, such as they are, include the somewhat daunting learning curve and the slightly longer time it takes to get off a shot compared to reticles with multiple aiming points. But read the instructions carefully and you'll find you have a scope you can fine-tune to reflect the real-world way your rifle shoots. You start by entering ballistics data into a calculator on Swarovski's website. You get to pick your initial zero and subsequent aiming marks--a degree of flexibility not found in any other system. You then stack three color-coded rings on the elevation turret at the appropriate intervals to get your aiming marks dialed in. If for some reason a ring is off by a click or two, you can easily alter it to get right on target, so that there's no guesswork when shooting at long range. And for this, it earned a well-deserved Editor's Choice. Reticle Review:
Swarovski's ballistic turret is expensive, but it offers a degree of flexibility found in no other scope in the test. Overall Score: 4 stars Accuracy: A+
Easy of Use: C+
Speed: B
Low-Light Performance: A+
Versatility: A+
Price/Value: B+ Price: $1,643 swarovskioptik.us
Nikon Monarch 3-12x42 BDC The Nikon Monarch was the steal of the test, earning one of the best Price/Value ratings ever and a Great Buy award in the process. The series of aiming circles worked very well out to 500 yards, and the tip of the bottom post was dead-on at 600 yards. The circles are easy and intuitive, and with practice you can bring the tops and bottoms of the circles into play as aiming points, too, but this takes more work than mastering the circles, which your eye wants to center almost automatically. The fact that you can see through the circles and view the target is a bonus as well. The reticle is neither too bulky nor too light. The balance it strikes makes for positive target acquisition and precise aiming; as a result, it scored well during our timed drills. It is a fast and accurate scope. About the only drawback is the need to crank up the power to 12X to use the bullet drop scale, which leaves the field of view rather constricted. The Monarch did well during our low-light test and will certainly give adequate visibility out to last legal shooting light. Reticle Review:
The Nikon BDC reticle represented the best value for a bullet-drop-compensating scope in the test. Overall Score: 4 stars Accuracy: A+
Easy of Use: A
Speed: A
Low-Light Performance: B
Versatility: B
Price/Value: A+ Price: $430 nikonsportoptics.com
Burris 6.5-20x50 FF With a 100-yard zero, the hash marks in the Burris lined up well for shots at 200, 300 and 400 yards. After that, the curve didn't match up with our .308, though by bracketing targets between the bottom two hashes at 500 yards, and the bottom hash and the post at 600, we could shoot accurately at those distances. The need to set the scope at 14X can be a disadvantage, and the number of aiming reference points below the intersection of the crosshairs and their small (and identical) size made it easy to get lost in this scope. This reticle would benefit from some numbers etched on the glass by the crosshairs to keep the aiming points straight. Given these limitations, we would hesitate to use it beyond 400 yards. We appreciated the smooth controls on this scope, from the objective parallax adjustment, to the knurled scope power ring, to the windage and elevation knobs. The 50mm objective lens helped this scope during the low-light test, keeping it in the game after many of the smaller (and less bulky) scopes had winked out. Reticle Review:
The Burris was a strong contender during our low-light tests, but the reticle needs some tweaking in order to reach its potential. Overall Score: 3 stars Accuracy: C
Easy of Use: B
Speed: A
Low-Light Performance: A
Versatility: C
Price/Value: B Price: $660 burrisoptics.com
Bushnell Elite 6500 4.5-30x50 DOA Bushnell's Dead-On Accurate (DOA) reticle had the most robust aiming marks of the test. You might even think the thick lines and circles are clunky at first glance. The large aiming dots feel like they could overwhelm the target, but in practice line up very nicely against circular targets and make precise shot placement possible. A 100-yard zero put our shots a bit low at 200 yards (2 inches), 300 (4 inches), 400 (7 inches) and 500 (4 inches), but was dead-on at 600 yards when aiming with the top of the post. The consistency of this curve gave us a lot of confidence in the scope's design. While terrific on the target range, it would be more difficult to get your shot in the right spot against the non-circular silhouette of a game animal. That's one drawback to an otherwise very good scope. The lines bisecting the dots are meant as an aid to judge the trophy quality of a deer's rack. We found this feature a bit gimmicky, but their different lengths make it easy to find the right aiming post when trying to get on target. Reticle Review:
The lines through the aiming dots help the shooter keep the aiming points straight when ranging a shot. Overall Score: 3 stars Accuracy: B
Easy of Use: B
Speed: A
Low-Light Performance: B
Versatility: C
Price/Value: C+ Price: $950 bushnell.com
Leupold VX-3 3.5-10x40 B&C This reticle is designed for use with three classes of cartridges, covering most common hunting rounds. With our .308 Win., the instructions called for us to set it at about 8X with a 200-yard zero. From there, the bowtie-style aiming posts put us dead-on at 300 yards and about 4 inches high at 400 yards. Using the top of the post at 500 yards, we were hitting 8 inches high, too far up for confidence at this range, but with some tweaking of the power setting you could dial this down so that the scale was usable on big game at all intended distances. The slightness of the aiming points made them a bit more difficult to line up on target, but they gave the feeling of aiming with great accuracy when we touched off a shot. The different widths of the bowties are meant to help with holding off for windage, though it would take a lot of practice to make this a viable feature for shooting big game at 400 yards. This sleek and attractive scope scored well in every category and was one of the best values. It is a very practical hunting scope. Reticle Review:
The bowtie hash marks help you identify your aiming points and are meant to be used for windage hold-off. Overall Score: 3.5 stars Accuracy: B
Easy of Use: B
Speed: B
Low-Light Performance: B+
Versatility: B
Price/Value: B+ Price: $580 leupold.com
Leupold VX-3 6.5-20X50 Custom After we sent detailed ballistics data to Leupold regarding the loads we would shoot through our .308s, the company inscribed yardage information on this scope's elevation dial. With a 100-yard zero, we would turn the elevation knob to "3" for 300 yards, "4" for 400 and so on. We'd then center the uncluttered duplex reticle on the target and fire. It's a simple, elegant system and one that works very well--provided the initial data you provide is accurate. The data we sent to Leupold was close, but not on the money. In the case of this scope, the Winchester match ammo we had it optimized for was traveling about 80 fps faster than what we had calculated before the test. We were also shooting at 4,000 feet and not at the 1,000-foot elevation we used as our baseline. Making corrections was simple, however, and once we figured it out we could dial onto target at any range. Extra turrets, which swap out easily with set screws, cost $59 and let you use the scope for different loads or even different rifles. Reticle Review:
The Leupold Custom can be used at any power setting while hunting. Graduated numbers on the elevation turret change the POI. Overall Score: 3.5 stars Accuracy: A+
Easy of Use: C+
Speed: B
Low-Light Performance: B
Versatility: B
Price/Value: A Price: $910 leupold.com
Nightforce NXS 2.5-10x32 This scope fights above its weight class. With a maximum power of 10X, you'd think it would be at a disadvantage against the competition, some of which we could crank up to 20X. Not so. The smartly designed aiming points are numbered (and are also of varying widths for use when computing windage), so it's easy to get them into play. The scale wasn't a perfect match, however, for our .308 loads. Dead-on with the No. 3 aiming point at 300 yards, the strikes started to hit higher at 400 yards (plus 3 inches) and 500 yards (plus 8 inches) with the Remington Match ammo. Dialing down the elevation knob 6 clicks (1.5 MOA) brought the No. 5 aiming point dead-on at 500 yards and put our shots 3 inches high at 600 yards. With this slight tweaking, the scope delivered impressive performance during all phases of testing. The illuminated reticle helped in low light, though we would prefer it if the illumination dial went from the off-position to the lowest setting before getting brighter. Reticle Review:
The smartly designed reticle on the Nightforce was one of the fastest in the test. We also liked its compact size. Overall Score: 3.5 stars Accuracy: B
Easy of Use: A
Speed: A
Low-Light Performance: B+
Versatility: B
Price/Value: B+ Price: $1,291 nightforceoptics.com
Trijicon ACOG 3.5x35 The fixed-power 3.5X ACOG was at a distinct disadvantage in a field of variable scopes with high magnification. But as a sight with a proven history on our military's battle rifles, it has a fighting, can-do spirit, which is why we included it in the round-up. Its simple, uncluttered reticle is one of the easiest to use and offers surprisingly precise shot placement, given its modest magnification. The top hash below the green donut was right on at 300 yards, and the scope delivered 2- to 3-inch groups at 400 yards. Past that, sure kill shots became less certain, and the bottom hash, meant for battlefield shooting at 1,000 yards, had no utility for hunting applications. The donut, lit by both tritium and a green fiber optic that runs along the top of the scope, provided a bright aiming point that allowed us to get on target very quickly. While we would certainly hunt with this scope at ranges out to 300 yards, or perhaps a touch more, we felt the ACOG would have even greater appeal as an optic for action shooting games. Reticle Review:
The green donut reticle on the ACOG in 3.5X is a good option for 3-gun competition and other action shooting games. Overall Score: 3.5 stars Accuracy: C
Easy of Use: A
Speed: B
Low-Light Performance: C+
Versatility: C-
Price/Value: C Price: $1,291 trijicon.com
Vortex Viper 4-12X40 The small dots in the reticle of the Vortex Viper were easy to get on target, and because there are only three of them between the crosshairs and the post, they were easy to keep straight during the rapid-fire sequence of our evaluation. We made kill shots with confidence out to 400 yards with the Vortex's system and would feel comfortable using it on an animal with an elk-sized vital zone out to 500 yards. A red, triangular indication mark above the numbers on the power-setting scale helped us position the ring with precision. However, the power setting ring moves perhaps a bit too freely and has an oversize protruding ridge, which is meant to make turning it even easier, which it does. But these two features make it much more likely that the ring will get knocked to the wrong position, throwing the scale out of whack, potentially at an inopportune moment. Despite that, the Vortex was a solid performer, and at only $440 represented a good value for the dollar. Reticle Review:
With a 100-yard zero, the aiming points on the Vortex lined up at 200, 300 and 400 yards, with the top of the post at 500 yards. Overall Score: 3 stars Accuracy: B
Easy of Use: B
Speed: A
Low-Light Performance: B
Versatility: C
Price/Value: B Price: $440 vortexoptics.com
Zeiss Conquest 3.5x10x50 MC Rapid-Z 600 The "rapid" in the name of this Zeiss reticle is no joke. The Rapid-Z 600 was the fastest scope in the test, and one of the most accurate as well. After testing all the reticles, we realized that those that have numbered aiming points and different-size hash marks at different distances were quicker during the timed drills. The Zeiss had both. The scope earned points for the graduated marks on the power-setting ring. Given that some of these scopes are very picky about the placement of the power setting, having those intermediate marks made the task easier. The 3.5-10X power range is about ideal for big-game hunting, and regardless of where you need to set the scope to take advantage of the reticle (you figure that out via an online ballistics calculator), you'll end up at a very hunter-friendly power setting. We weren't surprised at the optical quality of the scope--it is a Zeiss, after all--but when we took measure of all the features on this glass, we also had to award it high marks in the price/value category, given its $750 price tag. Reticle Review:
The Rapid-Z reticle earned the highest score in the test for speed. It is quick to get on target and works well in low light, too. Overall Score: 3.5 stars Accuracy: B
Easy of Use: B
Speed: A+
Low-Light Performance: A
Versatility: B
Price/Value: A Price: $ zeiss.com/sports

Outdoor Life Shooting Editor John Snow breaks new ground in his hands-on test of today's long-range hunting scopes.