A number of our viewers have asked us to share our journey with scopes. What have we used in the past? What do we use now? What are our likes and dislikes? What are the circumstances that led us to purchase a particular optic? We’re more than happy to tell our story, but this is not meant to be a comprehensive review – for that please visit Carl Zant’s Precision Rifle Blog.
Ed started out with a bit of a classic: The Lyman Super Targetspot Scope in 20 power fixed. It went on his Anshutz 1813 and was used exclusively for rimfire competition. This scope illustrates how far we’ve come. There is an actual cross hair in the scope and the end user can completely disassemble the scope. Looking around Ebay, you’ll see folks selling replacement crosshairs now and then. These scopes are selling for $700 (give or take) in good condition. The adjustments are external so dirt or a branch can throw off the zero. If you’re looking for an end of the world scope that you can maintain yourself, this would be it.
Lyman Super Targetspot
Next up in Ed’s journey was the Leupold VX-3 4.5-14x40mm with the Varmint Hunter’s reticle ($549 Retail). All Ed knew at the time was he wanted a bolt action rifle so this scope made sense. When he attended his first long range match, he recognized that the coin slot turrets had to go. Fortunately Leupold was able to upgrade the scope to target type turrets for less than $150 – just contact their custom shop. This scope did not hold Ed back – he routinely shot out to 1,000 yards with it. If you come across a used Leupold VX-3 go ahead and upgrade the turrets. Today, this scope sits on a rimfire rifle. It would also make a good scope for a light weight hunting rig, AR-15, etc.
Leupold VX-3 with target turrets added
Once Ed knew that he wanted to play in the long range precision space, he obtained a used Mark 4 LR/T 6.5-20x50mm (30mm) M1 Illuminated Reticle for $600 from a friend. It was certainly functional, but as Ed really got back into the game in 2013 he recognized that he needed a front focal scope and the turrets had to match the reticle (mil/mil vs moa/mil). These scopes are also known for having some lash in the parallax adjustment which can result in an out of focus condition when the parallax is correct. This can be addressed by focusing on infinity first. Today this scope plays a number of roles: It may be mounted on an AR-15 and then find its way over to a bolt action. It’s a really good scope that Ed plans to keep around.
Leupold Mark 4
As a side note, a lot of folks were gravitating to the Leupold Mark 4 because they won a number of military contracts. In the early days of long range precision rifle, folks wanted to emulate what the military was doing – you shot .308 out to 1,000 yards but if you wanted to go longer you got the .300 Winchester Magnum. Today the tables have turned where active duty military personnel are frequenting civilian matches looking for ideas since civilians don’t have equipment limitations. In many cases, civilians out-shoot military and law enforcement shooters.
Ed’s next purchase was the Nightforce NXS™ 3.5-15×50 F1 rifle scope with the MLR 2.0 reticle. With a front focal plane and mil/mil adjustments this scope met all the requirements for long range precision shooting. Ed managed a top 20 finish in his first PRS match and won several club matches with this scope. While this scope is still available from Nightforce, the MLR 2.0 reticle has been discontinued. However, there are a number available with the MLR 2.0 reticle on the used market and the entry level or intermediate shooter should seriously consider one.
Nightforce NXS™ 3.5-15×50 F1
One day Ed was invited to look through a Vortex RAZOR HD GEN II 4.5-27X56 scope. If you want to stay on a budget, don’t go looking through other people’s scopes. Long story short, Ed now runs this scope (with the EBR-1C reticle) and has purchased another for a trainer rifle that he is having built by RBros rifles. The additional magnification and increased field of view were the primary reasons Ed upgraded. Ed also likes the large turrets that are easy to read – something that becomes more of a consideration for middle aged shooters. The scope also appears to have more forgiving parallax adjustments compared to other scopes Ed has used. In addition, the distances on the parallax adjustment knob are accurate so parallax can be set without looking through the scope. Since being introduced, this scope has become one of the most popular in precision rifle matches only behind Schmidt and Bender. At $2,500 street price with a very generous warranty, this scope presents a real value.
Vortex RAZOR HD GEN II 4.5-27X56
Let’s move on to Steve: At the bottom of the scope performance pyramid is Steve’s Bushnell Elite FireFly 3-9×40 which sits on top his 22LR trainer based on a pimped out Ruger 10/22 rifle. This Bushnell model has a street price of $295 but has been discontinued by Bushnell.
Bushnell Elite FireFly 3-9×40
Next up for Steve was the Millett TRS-1 4-16×50 Tactical Rifle Scope available at a street price just over $300. Like many guys that are new to precision rifle shooting, several years ago Steve was interested in getting a low cost optic that would be able to meet the demands of a tactical precision shooter. While a functional scope, there are several ergonomic issues. First it is a second focal plane scope, and the mil-based reticle doesn’t match the MOA turrets. Second, is the confusing “mil dot bar” reticle which demarcates whole mil increments with alternating dots and bars. Also, the eye relief is not very generous at full magnification which can result in “scope eye” on some heavier recoiling rounds. While a second focal plane scope, the mil-based reticle can be used for range estimation only at a magnification of 10x. This limitation doesn’t make it easy when milling a target to estimate the range. Despite these issues, the scope turrets track accurately and it garners generally positive reviews among online customers. Steve has relegated this optic to sit in the gun safe for the past couple of years and occasionally will mount it on a utility/fun gun if the need arises for scope.
Millett TRS-1 4-16×50
A really good scope for the money, and frequently seen on the firing line at long range precision rifle matches, is the front focal Bushnell Elite Tactical HDMR Rifle Scope. This is a 3.5-21×50 optic with HD coated glass. Steve’s version has the Horus H59 Reticle. On the used market these are going for about $1,000.The turrets are easy to read, have the ability to easily lock, and the clicks are very positive. The Precision Rifle Blog indicates that Bushnell scopes are the third most popular behind Schmidt Bender and Vortex. This is an excellent scope for the beginning or intermediate shooter. This scope currently sits on top of Steve’s 6.5 Grendel.
Bushnell Elite Tactical HDMR Rifle Scope
Sitting on top of Steve’s .338 Lapua Magnum rifle is the Premier Heritage Tactical 5-25×56 Riflescope with the Gen2XR reticle. This scope was purchased new through EuroOptic at a price of around $3,200. Premier scopes have been discontinued by the manufacturer which was purchased by Tangent Theta. The good news is the warranties on all Premier scopes are being honored by Tangent Theta. Optically, Steve would put these up against the Schmidt Bender scopes. The zero stop is very easy to set with the flip of a lever on each turret – this is perhaps the quickest scope zero setup out there. The turrets quickly and accurately dial to needed settings using the more tactical clicks (MTC) feature with very audible clicks which “clunk” on full mils and “click” on the .1mil increments.
Premier Heritage Tactical 5-25×56 Riflescope
The ubiquitous Schmidt Bender PMII 5-25×56 MTC with the Horus H58 reticle sits on top of Steve’s first RBros rifle. Per the Precision Rifle Blog, this is the most popular scope in the precision long range game. With a retail price of $4,459 Steve got his before the price increase, and because he settled for the older H58 reticle he got a nice deal from Mile High Shooting. While an incredible scope, left handed shooters should consider their purchase carefully as the placement of the rheostat knob can get in the way when manipulating the bolt. Left handed shooters can have the rheostat knob removed and a cover plate installed for a fee, but they lose the functionality of the illuminated reticle. So yes, you pay top dollar and have to pay additional money to remove a poorly designed feature. If it were not for the issue with the rheostat knob, Ed might be running this scope today. One drawback for both left and right handed shooters is the fact that the turrets are easy to over dial under stress because the graduations between clicks are so fine – but this can be overcome with practice. Otherwise, this is considered an aspirational purchase for many shooters – it’s where they want to be when they grow up.
Schmidt Bender PMII Scope
Steve’s current go to optic is the front focal Nightforce B.E.A.S.T. 5-25x56mm with a Horus H59 reticle. Unique to the scope is the .2 mil clicks and .1 mil adjustment throw lever. Steve finds the arrangement intuitive and fast to get on the precise DOPE. However, there is an extra step involved when zeroing the scope due to the throw lever. With the price increase of the Schmidt Bender scopes, Steve was drawn to this model since the optical quality is comparable – if anything Steve believes there is more contrast with the B.E.A.S.T.
Nightforce B.E.A.S.T. Scope
Next up for Ed and Steve are a couple of trainer rifles in .223 AI. Steve is currently planning to top his rifle with the Nightforce ATACR F1. This scope has the optical benefits of the B.E.A.S.T for less money. Ed is going to stick with the Vortex RAZOR HD GEN II 4.5-27X56. This will result in a trainer rifle that is identical to Ed’s match rifle in every respect other than the caliber. Maybe Ed will paint it a different color so he doesn’t get confused.