How To Shoot Long Range – The Optics
Discussing optics is a lot like asking Batman what his favorite color is. The answer is obviously “black, and sometimes, really really dark grey.” Lego Movie quotes aside, I am not saying there is only one right answer to the scope question, but there are bright, clear, and non-mushy winners. The funny thing is, brand loyalty in the scope market is fierce. Similar to my previous How To Shoot Long Range article on choosing a rifle, I will give you three categories in optics and let you and/or your budget decide what’s best for you.
In my previous article, I categorized the rifles in three ways: budget, production class, and full custom. For scopes let’s use Near Worthless, It’ll Do, and Yes These. Remember this is just my opinion. (I’m Batman) You could be Batman in this discussion though. Maybe you are Batman back when color television first came out. Maybe you like medium grey and royal blue, and that’s perfectly fine. You’re wrong, but it’s ok to be different.
Scopes in this category are generally made in China, have poor glass and optical clarity, have mushy turrets, and generally lack the features necessary for them to appeal to serious long-range enthusiasts.
The problem is, you can’t pigeon hole a manufacturer into this category exclusively, because they produce a range of products. Their budget options may be junk, but their high-end options may actually land in the “It’ll do” category. That being said, very seldom does a “Yes These” scope manufacturer produce a junky optic.
So what scopes fall into the Near Worthless category for me? Athlon, Redfield, NC Star, Simmons, etc. Pretty much anything in the $100 to $700 price range. I know I just lost a few of you. You’re thinking, “How can a $700 scope be near worthless?” Well, go use a $2,000-4,000 scope and you’ll understand completely. Generally speaking, you should spend as much or more on your optic than you did on your rifle.
By and large, I am not a fan of anything from Athlon. I’ve owned a couple of their scopes and find them lacking in optical clarity, quality, and turret feel. However, Athlon does make one high-end scope, the Cronus BTR, that retails for around $2,000 and a handful of Precision Rifle Series competitors use it with no issues. Honestly, I’m not even going to discuss the other brands in this category. I’m going to assume you are reading this article because you are actually interested in making impacts on animals or targets at long range. If you are serious about ethical hunting practices or precision rifle competition then you will stay away from the low end, low dollar scopes from those other brands, and yes, that’s how I really feel (you know, as a snob).
Optics in this category represent the majority of shooters. At the $700 to $1000 “low” end of this very large spectrum, you have scopes like the Nikon Black FX1000 and the Vortex Viper PST Gen 2. I have used both and can confidently recommend either of those options as entry-level scopes that will do the job well for many years to come. The glass is relatively clear, although they lose quality at the highest magnification ranges. The features are what you would expect including, raised “tactical” style turrets, mil-ranging reticles, and adjustable parallax.
If you want to take a significant step up though, you could choose a Nightforce SHV 4-14×56 for around $1,200, or a Vortex Razor HD Gen2 3-18X50 for around $1,500. Both of these scopes will literally last you a lifetime, will soak up all the recoil you can throw at them, and the glass, features, and turrets are all of better than average quality. They represent the middle ground well.
At the high-end of this category, you have the Leupold Mark 5 5-25X56, Vortex Razor HD Gen2 4.5-27X56, Nightforce NXS 5.5-22X56, and the Bushnell XRS 4.5-30X50. Each of these scopes will cost you around $2,000 and will perform well. You will be pleased with all the features, the glass quality at all magnifications, and the turrets are audible and crisp. For the record, I personally run the Vortex Razor HD Gen 2 on one of my competition guns. I also own the Leupold Mark 5 and can highly recommend it. The glass brightness and clarity are particularly noteworthy.
Costing $2,500 and up, this category of scope is the best that money can buy. You will notice a distinct difference in glass quality, durability, and overall fit and finish of these optics. I know what you’re thinking, “but, why?” The clear answer is you, my friend, are Batman! You like your toys proprietary, exclusive, and expensive.
I personally own a Nightforce ATACR 5-25X56 that cost around $2,800. It’s literally the only scope anyone would ever need. It’s funny because the NF scope represents the low end of this category! The Kahles 624i will run you about $3,000. The Zero Compromise 527 will cost you $3,600 and is an absolutely stellar example of precision optic quality and craftsmanship. Finally, the 525P from Tangent Theta will run you approximately $4,600 and is currently recognized as the tip of the spear in optical performance.
These scopes are being fielded by snipers in the MIL/LE communities as well as being used by the top competitors in the Precision Rifle Series. The average Joe, or Joel as it were, has absolutely no need for one of these scopes. That doesn’t mean I don’t want one! “But are they really that much better?” Between the NF ATACR and the Tangent Theta, no. Between the Leupold Mark 5 and the Tangent Theta, absolutely.
Unfortunately, this is the point at which words no longer suffice to explain the differences between these scopes. You just have to see for yourself. The glass quality is exceptional. The internals are basically bombproof. The tracking and return to zero are absolute. They have all the features, yes all of them. Bottom line, you are buying confidence and peace of mind. As I said in my previous article, you want to remove the gear from the equation. At the end of the day, a poor performance on the range can’t be blamed on your gear.
In the next article, I will discuss the common accessories used by marksman and competitors and begin to lay the groundwork for discussing The Fundamentals of shooting. Until next time sell a kidney, invest the money in real estate, and/or re-claim the kids’ college fund because you’re going to need the coin. Thanks for reading folks!
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