Buyers Guide to Finding the Best Long Range Rifle Scope – Editor’s Pick for 2018
This Buyers Guide shows you the features you have to look for when you're going to buy a long range rifle scope. Please let us know in the comments if you have other suggestions or think that there are other features that would need to be highlighted.
If you are looking for the best long-range rifle scope then have a look at our buying guide below. We highlight the features to look for and give our recommendations on what scope to buy.
When you’re thinking of buying a long-range riflescope then you must be aware of a few important features that need to be taken into consideration. You will most likely have to spend north of $2,000 for a scope that satisfies all of the feature requests of a perfect long distance scope.
Many people do not have that kind of money for a scope so we’ll explain the different features and you can then decide what is most important for you vs. what you can live without in order to get down the price point for the scope.
What are the most important features you have to look for? Check them out below.
It is important to have the right reticle type for long distance shots. Long-range hunting rifle scopes perform the best when they have evenly spaced dots or markings on both the horizontal and vertical axis. These are found in mils or MOA in those riflescopes. Typical names for those are Mildot or in the case of Nightforce the MOAR reticle.
In long range shots you’ll have to dial for elevation which means that you have to figure out the distance to the target. You can either estimate this or use a range finder to measure it. Then, based on your rifle and ammunition you’d calculate the drop of the bullet for that distance. You then adjust with the turrets on the scope based on that drop which results in the crosshairs being dead center on the target at 100 yards.
The second adjustment you have to consider is the hold for wind changes. Specifically on long range shots you will run into the situation that the wind changes quickly which does not allow to adjust the turrets to compensate for the wind. If you have steady wind, then you can adjust the scope through the turrets and have your target dead center. However, if the wind is changing in intensity or even in direction then the evenly spaced dots on the vertical axis come into play. You might for example adjust your aim by two mils in one direction to compensate for the wind. If the wind now gets stronger than just before the shot, you’ll simply adjust another mil in the same direction and you’ll hit the target. If that last second adjustment wasn’t performed, then the shot would miss the target.
Match between Reticle and Turrets
This point should really be a no-brainer. However, you would be surprised how many rifle scopes there are where the turret adjustments do not match the reticle. One would think that if you get a mildot reticle you also will have a mil-based turret adjustment. Unfortunately, you can find scopes that have MOA-based turret adjustments which is not what you want. You want the turret adjustments to match the reticle you’re using. Otherwise you have to start calculating the adjustments between your mismatched items. You can rest assured that you will either miss the shot or your game has wandered off by the time you’re ready with your calculations.
Specifically, when you look at long range hunting then the quality of the glass becomes a major factor in your ability to hit the target or not. It probably is the biggest difference you can see between scopes of different price points. Good glass will help you see the target much clearer and will allow you to successfully hit it. The glass quality is not only a price differentiator but you can also be pretty certain that high-end manufacturers of riflescopes like Nightforce, Swarovski, Zeiss and Leupold, to name a few, use better glass than no-name brands from Asia that try to lure you with cheap scopes. The difference in cost for better glass vs. cheaper glass can easily be $1,000. Keep that in mind when you see the low-end cheap scope that promises the world…
Range and Power of the Zoom
This point is pretty self-explanatory. The farther the distance you want to shoot, the higher the magnification of the scope needs to be. For long range shooting you should at least have an 18x scope. Unfortunately, you won’t always shoot long distances because sometimes an animal shows up at a much shorter distance. In that case you also need to be able to reduce your magnification accordingly. A 8x on the low end will for those cases not be sufficient as you’ll need forever to get the animal into your visual area. If you’re not using the rifle for hunting but for target shooting then the lower end magnification is certainly not really of interest to you. For long distance hunting you should look at ranges from 5 – 20’ish to find a reasonably good compromise.
Range of Elevation Adjustment
For long-distance shots you will need a scope with a higher amount of adjustment for elevation. The longer the distance of your shot, the higher the range of the elevation adjustment needs to be. Based on your ballistics you might need to adjust by 65 MOA. You better have a scope that can adjust for that amount or otherwise you have to hold for elevation with the rifle. That kind of defeats the purpose. You might want to consider having an adjustment range of at least 60 MOA. Typically, scopes with a larger main tube allow for a larger range of elevation adjustment so if you have the choice between scopes with a different main tube diameter then consider taking the larger one for that reason.
This point looks at the location of the reticle compared to the ‘zoom’ mechanism of the scope. If the reticle is on the first focal plane then the reticle itself will zoom in and out with the scope. This means that the markers on the reticle get larger and smaller depending on your zoom setting. When you are at the maximum zoom setting then the markers might be a long distance apart while at the minimal zoom setting the markers and that can obscure the target which can lead to wrong aiming. The scopes with the reticle on the second focal plane don’t have the markers zoom in and out. They are always in the same position. At first glance this sounds better but be aware that it has a major drawback. The distance between the markers on the reticle is only correct for one specific zoom setting. So, if you use them to adjust for elevation or windage you will have to calculate the adjustment. If the reticle sits on the front focal plane then the distance between the markers is always correct (e.g. one mil). This makes it easier to adjust specifically on long-range shots.
The objective lens size is responsible for the amount of light coming into the scope. You want to consider what you want to use the scope for. If you’re using it for hunting then your low-light capabilities matter a lot during prime hunting time of dusk and dawn. In that case make sure that you get the biggest objective size you can afford. If you’re only intending to use the scope in good light conditions, then the difference between a 40mm and a 56mm objective size is barely noticeable. One big consideration certainly also is whether you can mount the scope with a large objective diameter low enough to get the proper eye alignment.
When you look through the feature list of rifle scopes then you’ll find a lot of other features that the manufacturers want you to know about. Some of those you find are illuminated reticles, locking turrets, finer grade adjustment turrets (e.g. 1/8 MOA adjustments), … The list is basically endless. A lot of those are nice to have but none of them is as important to consider as the features listed above.
Best Long Range Rifle Scope For The Money
Based on the features listed above we provide below a list of the best long range rifle scope for the money you can get. We separated them out into different price ranges so you can find a great scope for every wallet.
Nikon PROSTAFF 5 Mildot 4.5-18x40mm
Nikon offers a great value for all the features covered through this scope. There certainly are scopes with better glass and higher magnification. But you’ll have a hard time finding a better scope for this price. With the price of this long distance scope you can even live with having a mildot reticle and MOA turret adjustments. The objective diameter is 40 mm so it’s on the lower end of what is required for long-range shots but it certainly is acceptable. The tube diameter is 1” which is also not the best you can find but for the price it’s more than good. Overall, a great scope for the price.
Leupold Mark AR 6-18x40mm MOD 1 Riflescope
It’s a lower end Leupold with great optics. The glass on this scope is great and it comes with a Mil-Dot reticle. The turret adjustments are mildot (0.1 mils per click). The objective size is 40 mm and it has a 1” tube and thus is on the lower end for both of these features. This scope offers a great set of features and quality for the price. One of the best buys you can get.
Leupold Mark 4 LR/T 6.5-20x50mm (30mm) M1 Mil Dot
This mid-range Leupold scope offers a lot of features simply a little better than our choice for the under $1,000 range. The glass is somewhat better, and the objective size is 50 mm. The tube size is 30 mm instead of one inch and this allows for larger Elevation and Windage adjustments (70 MOA). A great scope for the price.
Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27x56mm
This scope was designed with long range shooting in mind. The glass is outstanding and it is one of the most popular choices of the best shooters around. This specific scope is available with MOA and Mil-Dot reticles and turret adjustment options. The objective is 56 mm and the tube diameter is 34mm which allows for extended elevation and windage adjustments. This scope is typically close to the $3,000 mark but when you consider that it basically checks off all the features listed above then it’s worth every penny.
Steiner 5X-25X-56mm MSR
This Steiner scope is simply amazing. The glass is spectacular and it checks off all the features we listed above. You’ll have a hard time finding a better long-range hunting rifle scope than this. It offers a modified Mil-Dot reticle and can in any way compete with for example the Schmidt & Bender scopes. The outstanding optics in this scope make it one of the top-picks for any serious long range shooter.
We reviewed our list of picks for 2018 and decided that there's no change from the 2017 lineup. The newer scopes that hit the market in 2017 don't really seem to have an upper hand to the ones listed above. So, we came to the conclusion to leave the list as is and keep an eye on new introductions during 2018. If any new scope is better than what we listed above then we will switch it out and let you know in the updates section here.