Top Hunting and Precision Riflescopes Put to the Test
While long-distance shooting continues to dominate riflescope design, we welcome the renaissance of the versatile optic
We declared the death of the duplex reticle last year, and before that, the demise of the 3X–9X riflescope. A decade ago, we cheered the departure of the porro-prism binocular, replaced by the compact and durable roof prism. What optical trend is in its twilight this year? The simple and the modest are on life support, replaced by scopes with gee-whiz reticles and uber-turrets, and binoculars with integrated laser rangefinders and Bluetooth.
Companies making these products are meeting a demand for specialization, to help customers shoot farther and better, to move more nimbly, and to pay less for good-quality glass. But don’t assume all optics in this year’s test are built for a narrow niche. You’ll see some excellent crossover scopes that are suitable for shooting distant targets and close-up deer. You’ll also see a growing trend: the integration of electronics.
Editor’s Choice: SIG Sauer Whiskey5
With its Whiskey5, SIG has a crossover hit on its hands. The company has correctly read the market, understanding that precision shooters require extremely tactile turrets tuned to reticles with abundant references, but that hunters want a second-plane reticle and a modest magnification range.
The Whiskey5 delivers attributes for both groups, enabling a shooter to use their scope for hunting and for hunters to not feel disadvantaged at a long-range steel match. The turret adjustments are very good, and the zero stop, anti-cant indicator, and impressive 72 MOA of elevation adjustment inside the 30mm tube are features borrowed from the precision riflescope market. The oddball objective diameter (52mm) has a purpose. It allows the scope to be mounted close to the bore with medium-height rings, a benefit that’s not achievable with 56mm objective lenses, which generally require high rings. The compact dimensions—it’s only 12 inches long—make it a great choice for a carbine.
The MOA-based Milling Hunter reticle is deceptively simple, featuring an illuminated stadia with 2-MOA hashes on both the windage and elevation axes, and numeric designations at each 10-MOA mark. You aren’t going to use this reticle for ranging or bracketing moving targets, but it’s quick, precise, and covers a wide range of shooting situations. If you prefer to dial, the exposed elevation turret locks at zero but gives two revolutions of adjustment; the windage knob is capped. SIG also provides the option to order a custom elevation turret that’s tuned to specific loads.
We had only two gripes. The first is that the glass, while adequate, isn’t on par with other scopes in its price range. And we found that the tube dimensions are so stingy that we couldn’t mount the Whiskey5 to a standard full-length action with two-piece bases. With a long action, you’ll want to mount it to a rail to get the best out of this otherwise very versatile riflescope.
Great Buy: Nikon Prostaff 5
It’s been hard to keep track of Nikon’s updates to the capable Prostaff line the last few years, but the Prostaff 5 checks nearly all the boxes we’d expect for a crossover hunting and target scope. It keeps its heft down—it weighs 17.3 ounces but feels even lighter—by utilizing a slim 1-inch tube, and by eschewing reticle illumination, and the requisite weight and space considerations of a battery.
The MOA hash reticle in the second focal plane is serviceable on its own, but to milk all the capability out of the basic reticle, either order a free custom turret or use Nikon’s excellent SpotOn online ballistics calculator to establish holdover at any magnification for your specific load. While the Nikon’s reticle may limit some long-range precision, it’s uncluttered for fast aiming.
The Prostaff 5 features capped turrets with a total of 40 MOA of internal adjustment. That’s adequate, but not on par with scopes built on a 30mm or 34mm tube. Testers also wanted a little more magnification at the high end. Image quality and low-light performance were in the upper half of the field, which was a win considering the extremely fair price of the scope.
“This is a great value for a scope that I’d hunt with any day,” said editor-in-chief Alex Robinson. That’s the idea of both our Versatile Riflescope category as well as our Great Buy award.
Zeiss Conquest V4
We’ve seen this scope before: The inaugural V4 was a runner-up to last year’s Great Buy award. But this new configuration improves on the platform. The illuminated MOA turret is useful for hunting or target shooting, the 4X–16X magnification range covers most uses, and the glass is bright and crisp. Plus, with 80 MOA of elevation adjustment inside the 30mm tube, you can dial the exposed turret to your heart’s content. Happily, the clicks are tighter than on last year’s V4.
It says a lot about a scope when testers use it as an excuse to buy new rifles to put it on. That was the case with this sweetheart of a backcountry optic. Weighing only 12.4 ounces, the RS.2 is a simple, functional gem. Our sample came with the good second-plane SHR holdover reticle; you can also choose a standard duplex. The magnification range suits most purposes, which testers insisted must include sheep hunting, if only to further justify their pending purchases of ultralight rifles on which to mount the Maven.
We were skeptical of the merits of this extravagantly expensive rangefinding riflescope. Then we tested it. It is a functional, capable confluence of optical and electronic engineering. Once you feed the specifics of your load into a mobile app and then into the scope’s brain, hitting targets out to 1,000 yards is as simple as pushing the rangefinding button, placing the illuminated holdover on your target, and shooting. On the downside, the scope has a bulky 40mm tube and requires maddeningly tiny tools for zeroing.
A test-team favorite for its do-everything capability, the 30mm Nitro has a first-plane MOA-based Christmas-tree-style reticle that makes holding for distance and wind a breeze. Or you can remove the turret caps and dial the shooting solution with sharp, positive adjustments. While the glass is only average and field of view seemed narrow, testers noted that the Nitro splits its capabilities evenly between hunting and target shooting, the very essence of a versatile riflescope.
Konus KonusPro EL-30
We’re featuring the Konus not for its image clarity (disappointing) or its design (clunky), but rather for its ingenious reticle system. The heart of the 30mm KonusPro is a second-plane reticle that has 10 iterations, ranging from duplex to milling reticles to variations on the center dot that you select by toggling through a menu. The liquid-crystal reticles share a single center aiming point; bullet drop references depend on magnification. We hope the glass matches the technology in future iterations of this smart idea.
Swarovski’s 1-inch Z5 scope has been on the market since 2009, but the Austrian company is relaunching it this year in hopes it catches the fancy of the American whitetail hunter. The Z5’s dial-a-distance turret system is well-known to hunters who use it to make fast, precise shots out to practical ranges.
New for this year is a lower price and the ability to order a high-profile BRH (long-range) turret. The heart of the Z5 is a second-plane plex reticle that has windage hashes but no elevation references. The idea is to use the turrets to dial your shooting solution, rather than rely on hold-over. The color-coded BT (Ballistic Turret) knob that ships with the scope has colored references that represent different distances, so presumably moving your zero-hold from, say, 100 yards to 550 yards is as easy as turning the turret to the correct color.
The Swarovski scored high on our price/value assessment, and we love the light weight and light-hungry 50mm objective lens, but we concluded the system limits its versatility. It also lost points on mechanics, since the color-coded tabs are flimsy and take time to stack and coordinate to the ballistics of your specific load. But if you have the time and patience to get the system dialed in, and know not only precisely where your bullet hits at the color-coded stops but at the steps on either side of them, then the Z5 is a smart, light, and priced-right hunting tool.
Riton Mod 5
The Japanese glass inside this billyclub of a 30mm scope is quite good. The second-plane hash reticle (called the “Riton Hunting Reticle”) tuned to MOA references is also useful for either hunting or shooting. And the test team gave the Riton Mod 5 good price/value scores.
But the scope didn’t charm anyone. One tester complained that the magnification ring is maddeningly hard to turn. Another noted that the mounting dimensions are too short to mount to a long-action rifle with standard bases. Another wanted additional hashes on both the windage and elevation axes (the reticle has only 4 hashes down, left, and right of the center aiming point).
Despite those subjective shortcomings, the Riton scored well on objective criteria, including our resolution test and low-light performance, where it was one of the top 50mm scopes in the field. And it scored well on our versatility evaluation, since the Mod 5’s attributes can be applied almost equally between hunting and shooting.
Athlon Midas BTR Gen2
This priced-right entry from a relative newcomer to the optics world purports to be a crossover scope, with attributes for both hunting and long-distance target shooting. But testers concluded that while its very good controls and ample magnification range work well for either pursuit, the second-plane reticle holds it back from broader versatility.
“A first-plane system would make better use of the reticle design and the controls,” said tester Jeron Wesen, who also worried that the tinny turrets feel prone to stripping. The optics inside the 30mm Midas disappointed, especially at higher magnifications.
Other controls are very good and precise, including the reticle illumination, resettable-zero system, side parallax, and uncapped windage turret.
Simmons ProTarget Rimfire
In a test full of multi-thousand-dollar riflescopes, it would be easy to dismiss the $90 Simmons (it’s likely to retail for closer to $70) as dim, cheap, and flimsy.
Compared to Nightforce and Swarovski, it’s all those things, but it’s also a great bargain in a very versatile rimfire scope. The scope ships with Weaver-style rings for the 1-inch tube and three turrets, one tuned to .22 Long Rifle ballistics, one to those of the .17HMR, and one with generic ¼ MOA references. The second-plane reticle is simply a bold duplex.
Will this scope place bullets with precision at great distances? No. It’s not intended to. But if you have a number of rimfire rifles looking for a single scope to work with them all, this is a useful, smart, and affordable option.
GPO Passion 3X
This classy second-plane scope bucks a significant trend in sports optics. The industry has been racing to extend the magnification range of riflescopes, ramping up from the traditional 3X (3X-9X) to 4X and now 6X (2X-12X), and even 8X (1X-8X or 3X-24X).
The Passion 3X makes the argument that hunters don’t really need or use all that magnification range. Designed for Western big-game hunters, the 3-times-magnification GPO has enough power at its lower end for most purposes, but 18X is plenty powerful to identify distant targets and place bullets with precision using the hash-style reticle. You can also dial shooting solutions using the exposed target-style turrets with ¼ MOA steps.
We recommend capping the turrets (our sample featured exposed target-style turrets), but the glass is good, the lines are elegant, and the mounting dimensions on the 30mm tube are excellent. We also liked the weight. At 29 ounces, it’s heavy, but would be suited for most medium-weight walk-about rifles that a Western hunter might use.
Read Next: How We Test Hunting Optics
EOTech Vudu SFP
Coming on the heels of the remarkable first-plane Vudu 1-6 Precision scope, we had high hopes that this 1-8 EOTech would deliver all the versatility of its predecessor. Unfortunately, while the glass is top-notch, and the controls are among the best in the test, this second-plane close-duty scope has limited utility. The hash reticle, called the REV2, is serviceable as an AR-mounted optic or on a dangerous-game rifle, but at magnifications above about 6X, you lose the quick-aiming capability of the reticle and don’t get as much precision-shooting references as you might expect or want. The MOA-based reticle has an illuminated center dot.
One of the remarkable elements of this configuration is that the Vudu’s 1X magnification is truly 1-times magnification. Many scopes cheat on the lower end of the power range, since achieving a true zero magnification is hard to do from an optical engineering perspective. The EOTech’s image at 1X is bright, clear, and almost like you’re not looking through a scope, at all.
The price of this 8-times scope is extremely competitive.
Editor’s Choice: Nightforce NX8
This exceptional scope is a statement for Nightforce, one of the early leaders in the precision-riflescope market. While the trend has been to pack more features inside increasingly large tubes—34mm has become the industry norm, and a few brands are going even larger—this 30mm Nightforce seems almost retro.
Until you shoot it, that is. The NX8 packs so much leading-edge performance in a tight package that it seems larger than its 29 ounces. The heart of the scope is the first-plane MIL-C milling reticle that’s built for Precision Rifle Series shooters. With .2-mil holds on the main stadia and numbered values for whole mils, the illuminated reticle is fast and exact. Nightforce throws in a smaller second reticle in one quadrant of the field of view, an inverted-T ranging scale that shooters can use to measure the size or distance of their targets.
For shooters who would rather dial shooting solutions, the low-profile elevation turret delivers adjustments that are crisp and positive. The windage turret is capped. The NX8’s glass is among the best in the field, winning the resolution test and turning in very good low-light marks compared to scopes with light-hungry 56mm objective lenses. The scope received high marks for its solid zero stop, magnification throw lever, and appealing price.
We would expect a 30mm scope to give up significant internal reticle adjustment compared to 34mm models, but the NX8 features 26 mils (90 MOA) of elevation adjustment, more than many of the larger scopes in this year’s test. The windage knob delivers 20 mils of total adjustment.
While Nightforce has lost market share to competitors who have followed its lead of providing excellent reticles matched to tight, precise controls, the NX8 will appeal to both diehard fans and those looking for a scope to break into the precision-shooting game.
Great Buy: Meopta Optika6
We like this scope—part of a new lineup of affordable glass from the Czech optics maker—for its potential as much as we do for its actual performance. The sample submitted for our test scored plenty of hits: excellent image quality and good low-light performance, tactile exposed turrets, and an assist lever on the magnification ring that can be screwed into any of three receivers. And the Optika6 features a satisfying 40 mils of elevation adjustment inside the beefy 34mm tube.
But the Meopta had some misses too. The first-plane mil-dot reticle in our sample is just too basic to serve the needs of a sophisticated long-distance shooter, and the rubberized turning surfaces are a tad too aggressive. One tester said the turrets felt a bit flinty, as though they might not hold up to harsh rotation.
Meopta has dedicated precision-rifle reticles in the offing, including a milling reticle with abundant holdover and hold-off references. Some versions of this scope will also be available with Meopta’s slick new dichroic reticle technology, which can best be described as battery-free illumination. (The $900 quoted here is for the non-illuminated version; add another $50 for illumination.)
Despite our quibbles, the Optika6 outperformed all the other precision scopes in its price range.
Leupold Mark 5HD
Leupold introduced the Mark 5HD line last year and took the precision-shooting world by storm. This new iteration continues the low-profile push-to-turn (and re-zeroable) elevation turret and capped windage controls, but in an appeal to hunters as well as steel-ringers, this is an MOA-based scope. The excellent first-plane PR1 non-illuminated reticle pairs well with very positive turrets, which deliver a whopping 100 MOA of elevation adjustment in the 35mm tube. We loved the weight—26 ounces—and the 12-inch length for mounting on a variety of platforms.
If the price is a turnoff, consider that Steiner didn’t really build this powerful, smart 34mm riflescope for you. It’s a military sniper’s optic with a few nods to civilian shooters. This is evidenced by the excellent first-plane reticle: the MSR2, or Multipurpose Sniper Reticle, with a bonus reticle in the image plane that’s used to range distant targets. But the turrets are among the best in the test, the center-cross illumination is perfect, and the light weight (33 ounces) boosts the Steiner’s versatility rating.
Burris XTR III
The third generation in Burris’ venerable XTR line, this model would have competed well in our Versatile category. It has generous mounting dimensions along its 34mm tube, a very tactile elevation turret (our sample had the excellent SCR2 mRAD reticle) with .1 mRAD clicks, and an ample 35 mils (120 MOA) of elevation adjustment. We wanted more visible indexing on the controls, and the “dragon scale” knobs are uncomfortably sharp. But the optics are crisp, and the price is competitive.
Riton RT-S Mod7
Once we came to terms with the bulbous off-axis turret arrangement, this big 34mm scope from a relative newcomer to the optics trade performed well. The guts are purpose-built for long-distance shooting: an illuminated first-plane Christmas-tree-style reticle with milliradian references, exposed low-profile turrets with adequate zero stops, and a power lever to assist quick magnification changes. The glass is good, it has a lifetime guarantee, and the price should appeal to Production Class PRS shooters.
Sightmark Latitude PRS
The most encouraging trend in precision scopes this year is the emergence of affordable optics. This Sightmark, along with the Meopta Optika6 and a decent effort from Crimson Trace, retail for well under $1,000. The Latitude PRS brings very good oversize controls, an illuminated first-plane PRS reticle with generous windage references, and abundant windage and elevation adjustment, but only passable glass. It’s a serviceable choice for shooters looking to break into precision-shooting matches.
SIG Sauer Tango6
If you’re paying over $2,500 for a riflescope, you have a right to expect extremely precise controls, a sweet and crisp image, and a reticle that deprives you of an excuse to ever miss again. SIG Sauer’s Tango6 disappoints in all those categories, which surprised us because the company’s Versatile Riflescope submission, the Whiskey5, punched way above its price point.
The Tango6 doesn’t fail on any basis. But it didn’t stun us, either. Testers’ consensus complaint is that the pull-to-turn elevation turret turns—albeit hesitantly—without being pulled. Once the MRAD clicks are engaged, they’re spongy and less tactile than we’ve come to expect from the brand. The image is decent, but finished in the bottom half of the Precision Riflescope field.
Our sample contained the versatile MRAD milling reticle, with .1 MRAD hashes in a staggered-value progression. While the “Highspeed” turret provides 12 MRAD per revolution, the total internal adjustment disappointed the test team. The Tango6 travels 23.2 mils on the elevation axis and only 14.5 mils of windage.
We liked the LevelPlex cant indicator, excellent zero stop, and ample mounting dimensions of its 34mm tube. Consider SIG’s excellent DEV-L Christmas-tree-type reticle in the Tango6 if you desire more windage references for way-out-there shooting.
Athlon Ares ETR
If you’re in the market for a Production Class optic for the Precision Rifle Series, give this very serviceable 34mm scope a look. It has most of what you’ll need for most shoots: a first-plane milling reticle with a satisfying number of references, a solid zero stop on the elevation turret, enough internal adjustment (32 mils for both elevation and windage turrets) to get you on targets out to nearly a mile.
And the price satisfies the requirement of the Production Class, scopes retailing under $2,000. We especially like the APRS1 reticle, a Christmas-tree style reticle with .2 mil hash marks and 6 mils of references in any direction from the center aiming point.
What you’re not going to get for that price are extremely positive controls; we thought the Athlon’s were too sharp and sticky. We also deducted points for stingy eye relief, and optical quality that placed the Ares near the bottom of the category. But the Athlon scored very well on our price/value assessment, especially considering the all-in transferrable warranty.
Crimson Trace CSA-2624
Retailing for an eye-popping low price for a precision scope, the CSA-2624 is surprising for an additional reason: it’s the first magnified optic from a brand better known for its red-dot and reflex sights. The CSA presented the test team with an interesting dilemma. Did we lead with the price, and try to assess whether scopes in the $2,000 range are really three times as good? Or did we lead with the Crimson Trace’s attributes and try to determine whether we’d recommend readers pay a third the price of other submissions for its performance?
Ultimately, we settled on the latter question, and concluded that as appealing as the price is, we think you may be underwhelmed with the Crimson Trace. Its optics are disappointingly dark. Its eye relief, especially at higher magnifications, is limited. Its first-plane MOA-based reticle is excellent though basic (it features 2.5 MOA hashes on the elevation stadia and .1 MOA hashes on the windage stadia), but isn’t really useful until about 14X.
Crimson Trace’s freshman effort in magnified optics does have some hits. The CSA has a very good 80 MOA of internal adjustment on both the elevation and windage turrets, and we milked nearly 3-1/2 rotations from the elevation turret, which turns with pleasing positivity.
So, is $650 a bargain for this scope? Probably not, but we concluded that it is a fair price for a precision scope that should provide years of adequate service.