Some time ago on the old MadOgre.com site, I made this list. Time to update it a little, and repost it. Prices may be a little off.
If I was to do just a Top Ten, it would be full of optics that never dipped below a grand. So what I’ve done is to take a look at each price tier and pick a scope or two at that level. I’ll start out on the low end of the price scale and we’ll work our way up. Now the interesting thing about some of these scopes is that they can sometimes beat scopes at a higher price level. So you might want to take this list with you next time you hit the gun counter so you can check them out head to head with other scopes. When you are looking at a couple different scopes you need to compare the brightness, clarity, eye relief, magnification levels (are they actually magnifying as they are saying they are), and their history for strength. Another thing to consider is the reputation of the company for taking care of the customer after the purchase. There is no chart or number that allows you to rate a scope. Like say Candle Power or Lumens. End since everyone’s eyes are different, optics are subjective. So here we go:
Nikon ProStaff BDC 3-9: $159.99. There are a lot of other scopes out there that cost from this price level on down, but seriously, there are none worth the money. Tascos, Simmons, Bushnell Banners… looking through them they generally have a nasty yellow tint that makes it look like you are looking through a jar of piss. They are total crap. If you can’t buy a better scope… if you can’t bring it up to this level… you probably shouldn’t be buying a rifle scope. This scope is where clarity starts. The ProStaff is clear, reasonably sharp, and has a lifetime warranty. The BDC reticule works quite well with a little practice.
Vortex Diamondback 4-12: $199.99. Vortex is a new optics company that is taking the market by storm. I’ve not seen anything from these guys that have not been fantastic for the money. This scope might prove to be much better as we see how well they stand up to recoil.
Nikon Buckmaster 3-9 BDC: $209.99. I liked this scope so much, I went and got one and I’m glad I did. For only two hundred and ten, it’s hard to beat this glass. The only downsides to this scope are first the funky rounded objective bell shape and the eye relief which isn’t as roomy as it should be.
Nikon Team Primos 3-9 BDC: $269.99. This is an older Monarch series scope revamped with the BDC reticle. The clarity and brightness is outstanding. If you want a Monarch but can’t swing the cash, this is your scope. Nikon has the lower end of the market tied up. This scope proves that you don’t have to spend a lot of money for a great piece of glass. (Update: This scope is no longer available from Nikon, but check around ebay or other places and you might be able to find one. It’s worth the hunting.)
Bushnell Elite 3200 4-12: $299.99. This one has the parallax focus out on the objective bell. It has a decent eye relief for varminting and target shooting. Match this one up with a Savage or a Vanguard and you’ve got a good package without spending a lot of money.
Leupold VX-II 3-9 LR: $329.99. You can put this on any heavy recoiling gun and it will take care of business. The glass is great and light transmission is too. These new VX-II scopes are actually the old Vari-X III scopes that everyone hailed as world class. Nothing has changed here. It’s still world class and hunters have taken these around the world and have hunted everything on the planet. The only problem these things have is the cheap coin slot turrets.
Burris 4.5-14 Fullfield II: $389.99. This has a larger bell, Mil-Dot reticule and is popular with guys looking for a tactical rifle scope that doesn’t break the bank. I’ve seen these on a lot of flattop AR’s and Remington 700 SPS rifles in all calibers. Burris isn’t a personal favorite, but the owners of these scopes have nothing but praise.
Zeiss Conquest 3-9×40 Z-Plex: $399.99. You’ll spend almost 600 bucks for this same scope with the Rapid Z reticle, or any other reticles for that matter. Zeiss subsidizes the price of this scope through the sales of all their other scopes. So you really do get more bang for the buck because of their tricky accounting in your favor. So if you are looking for the brightest, clearest glass for the money – this is it. Hands down. Unfortunately there are no options with this… but for a simple 3-9 with a plex reticle, this is absolutely it, folks.
Vortex Viper 4-12X40: $429.99. This is going to give the Leupold VX-II’s and some of the III’s a serious run for the money. The good warranty, the argon gas purging, side parallax focus, these scopes have a lot to offer. But again, since they are new they don’t have the century long track record of proven history. Hey, Vortex – send me one of these, and I’d be happy to field test it! This scope here is one I am very interested in.
Leupold VX-II 4-12, fine plex: $439.99. I’ve topped one of my favorite rifles with this one. This is a good balanced rifle scope that is bright, clear, with great eye relief… the only thing I wish it had was turrets that were finger adjustable and not requiring a damn coin. Over 400 bucks and you have to break out a penny. That’s a dumbass oversight that Leupold needs to fix. This is ridiculous. But that’s my only gripe. Getting a better scope than this one, the price jumps considerable.
Leupold VX-III 4.5-14 B&C: $579.99. This is another personal favorite, a scope that has it all… no weaknesses. In fact, the VX-III doesn’t know the meaning of the word “weak”. I love this one. The Boone and Crockett reticle is simple and brilliantly executed allowing very rapid use in the field to help calculate your hold over and windage. You can put this one on even the harshest recoiling guns.
PFI RR800-1 3-9: $595. This scope is deceiving. Most guys don’t take a 3-9 seriously. But don’t be fooled. This is the most serious 3-9 variable in the world. This scope uses a ballistic reticle in the first focal plane, allowing it to be precise, dead nuts on all the way out to 800 yards, regardless of power setting. The only downside is that this scope is pretty much set up for .308. Yes, you can calculate the ballistics for other calibers and energy levels… but for a faster, flatter trajectory you are going to want a 4.5-14 or something. Still, this scope has a very sharp view, simple, easy to use, and absolutely deadly on a .308 rifle.
Shepherd 6-18X40 V2: $725. This is a good scope for the money… probably the best of it’s type if there was anything else like it. There are two sets of adjustment turrets. One for your zero and another to adjust for range and windage. This allows for serious precision long range shooting.
Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14: $749.99. Zeiss produces very fine optics for hunting in all conditions. This is one of the worlds best all around scopes and for what you are getting quality wise, it’s hard to beat. Again, to get better than this, there is a big price jump.
Kahles 10X42 ZF95 Tactical: $999.99. The requirements of a great hunting scope are similar to a tactical scope. In this case, the scope has to be clear and bright and strong. Simplicity and ruggedness are Kahles halmarks. The reticule is designed for the most serious of shooting tasks and not just for bagging big bucks. I had a Kahles years ago and never found an equal. Of course, I have always been fond of fixed power rifle scopes and that one as given to me by a dear friend who no longer walks the Earth… so I might be a little biased. I wish I still had it. It was stolen from me by a room mate in College.
Swarovski 6-18X50: $1,069.99. If I have to explain this one, you’ve never looked through one. Swarovski has been the pinnacle for many years. Expensive, but worth it if you want the absolute best in optical quality. The only downside is strength and I’ve seen more than a few come back for repairs after being mounted on heavy recoiling arms. I wouldn’t put this on anything from .300 Win Mag on up. But on something smaller – it’s the best there is.
Leupold VX-7 3.5-14 B&C: $1599.99. If you guys wondered what you should get me for Christmas… this is it. And don’t worry about getting me the same thing as someone else. If I get multiple VX-7’s, that’s fine by me. No social faux-pas here. I’d happily put one on every rifle I own. The strength, clarity, color transmission… it is on par with the Swarovski’s and even bests the Z6 in my opinion… better field of view and eye relief at least in the examples I’ve looked through. This is my top pick.
Nightforce Optics 8-32X56 & 12-42X56 NXS MLR: Price? Don’t even ask. Nightforce scopes are crazy expensive but worth it if you have the means. If you are in the market for a .50BMG rifle then these are the scopes you want. Fantastic optics, etched reticles for strength, illumination, if Government is buying you a scope – pick this one. These scopes are so good, CZ USA is putting them on the UHR, the Ultimate Hunting Rifle, and boasting MOA accuracy out to 1000 yards. Special Forces use these bad boys on their sniper rifles. Sure, they cost as much as a used truck, but this is what you want when lives are on the line.
Okay, this list is personal choice here. Don’t fret if your favorite scope isn’t here… I had to keep it brief. I cut out a lot of scopes that are great and others that are reputed to be good but I’ve not had personal experience with. Most of my choices are based on hunting and not fighting. But the way I see it, if your hunting scope is good enough to climb a mountain in the dead of winter into high altitude to bag game foul weather – it will handle popping off bad guys easily. “Tactical” as a scope type doesn’t work for me. Reason why, the US Army buys a lot of Leupold scopes… same ones sold to hunters. Same tool, different application. And I’ve also found that Tactical scopes make fine and dandy hunting scopes too. Mil-Dots do not a tactical scope make… and neither does knobby turrets. So take this list for what it is, use it as starter for next time you are shopping for your pick. Look at these scopes and compare them with others and see which ones you like better.