Hunting season is upon us. Autumn is here, the nights are cooler, and there is a welcome freshness to the air. Finally! Time to go through gear, sort through the backpack, and confirm zero on your favorite rifle. Is it time for a new rifle scope? Still running that 20 year old Weaver? The Gold Ring your Dad gave you for graduation? Maybe it is time to upgrade optics.
We have the opportunity to review many of the finest rifle scopes produced today. We all have our personal preferences. Most of the time, we are relieved to get the review article done and happily return the scope to the manufacturer. Occasionally, we run across something special that we are reluctant to return. These tend to end up mounted on one of our personal rifles. Sometimes it is hard to tell scopes apart as they essentially all look alike; even the internal parts of a rifle scope can be the same. However, not all scopes are created equal! The recommendations below are based upon experience in the field by TGR staff. If you are thinking of upgrading your scope this year these are worthy of consideration.
Trijicon AccuPoint 1-6X24 Circle-Cross
The Trijicon AccuPoint 1-6X24 Circle-Cross is one of my favorite scopes of all time. It has a permanent home on my custom-built 6.8 SPC SBR (short barrel rifle). I use it for hunting hogs and deer inside of 200 yards and absolutely love it.
Why do I like it so much? First, it is a great variable scope power for my purposes. When out chasing pigs, I run it on 1X magnification for handling any quick shots at pigs jumping out of stock tanks. If a hog presents itself 200 yards down a road I dial up the magnification. The Circle-Cross on 1X with illuminated reticle enables lightning fast target acquisition.
The glass is excellent – Trijicon quality is first-rate. The illumination brightness is easy and simple to control without clicking through menus or getting lost on a dial.
The capped turrets are 1/4 MOA per click and have a solid tactile feel. The turrets can be lifted, rotated, and reset to zero without any tools. The scope is built on a 30mm tube. Trijicon makes excellent scopes and the 1-6 Circle-Cross is outstanding.
This isn’t the scope for long-range precision shooting but if you hunt in the woods this is hard to beat. If you routinely shoot further distances or need that last minute of daylight keep reading.Check Current Price
Leupold VX-R Fire-Dot
Quite simply, Leupold hit a home run with the VX-R Fire-Dot product line. We first got our hands on these at SHOT Show several years ago and were impressed but a convention center is not much of an optics test environment. Since then we have had the opportunity to run both the 2-7X33mm and the 3-9X40mm versions. These are awesome scopes for the money.
When I was growing up in South Texas, any hunter walking into camp carrying a Leupold Gold Ring instantly earned a measure of respect. Still true today.
The VX-R scopes are a clean design, slim and lightweight. Turrets are capped as this is primarily a hunting scope. One good feature is that the turrets are easily dialed by hand – no need to fish around for a dime.
One problem with many illuminated reticles is that they are too bright even on its lowest setting. The light washes back into your eye, your pupil shuts down, and your vision is compromised. The FireDot gets down to that barely visible “ghost dot” of you not even being really sure it is on. This is what you want 29 minutes after sunset. LED is powered by a standard CR-2032 watch battery with an auto-off feature.
The VX-R is available in a variety of configurations but the 2-7 and 3-9 hit the sweet spot for most hunters.Check Current Price
Nightforce NXS 3.5-15X50
This is the scope I run on my Bergara HMR 6.5 Creedmoor. Nightforce optics are legendary and you can’t go wrong choosing this scope. Superior Nightforce quality in a very practical magnification range.
As with most hunting scopes used in the US, it is second focal plane. The NXS 3.5-15 features a 30mm tube and is available in either MIL or MOA. Tactical turrets are not capped which may be a deal-breaker for some. Do you tend to sight in your rifle for “point blank range” or do you like to zero at 100 yards and then dial in each shot? Some hunters worry that an exposed turret might get accidentally bumped causing them to miss the shot. This is a minor concern and I always confirm both turrets are at zero when I get settled into the blind. In any case, the Nightforce turrets are solid with a definitive click-click-click tactile feel.
The glass is very, very good. This model includes a no-fuss illuminated reticle that is just about right for late evening hunts. It is not “daylight bright” but is set very low which is what you want. The illuminated reticle in many scopes is way too bright which washes out your pupil and actually diminishes your vision.
Like all Nightforce scopes, this is a solid, well built product.Check Current Price
Steiner T5Xi 5-25X56
Really need to reach out there? Yes? The Steiner T5Xi 5-25X56 might be just the ticket. Engineered in Germany – built in the USA. Steiner has always had very good glass and the T5Xi series continues that tradition. Image quality is sharp and crisp throughout the magnification range.
TGR staff have extensive experience with the 3-15 and 5-25 versions of this scope and it meets, even exceeds, our expectations. Built on an oversized 34mm tube, the T5Xi features Steiner’s Special Competition Reticle (SCR) on the first focal plane. The SCR reticle is also now available in MOA in addition to the original MIL.
Turrets are low profile with re-settable zero and second rotation indicator. The illuminated reticle has 4 day / 7 night settings.
The Steiner T5Xi is an excellent scope. There were some well-documented issues early on with the tracking but that has been re-engineered and fixed. We had a long conversation with the guys at the Steiner booth at SHOT and they are confident that the new design is superior to most anything on the market.Check Current Price
TGR Value Pick
I admit, we have good taste and we love good, make that great, optics. However, sometimes the real world comes calling and you may not be able to drop serious coin on a new scope right now. If you are hunting with a twenty year old, beat up scope and looking to upgrade on a budget here is your answer.
The Vortex Diamondback 3-9X40. This gets you decent glass and the traditional 3-9 magnification range. For those on a budget, the famous Vortex lifetime warranty is a plus. Delivered to your door for under $200!Check Current Price
Factors to consider
Of course, there are hundreds of quality rifle scopes available today. Overall production quality has never been higher and there many great options to choose from. Your considerations should include:
- Intended purpose.
- Practical range of most shots.
- Magnification range.
- Objective lens size.
- MIL or MRAD.
- First or second focal plane.
- Capped or exposed turrets.
You can easily spend $3,000 or more for quality scopes from premium manufacturers like Schmidt and Bender, Nightforce, and Leupold.
For my money, I frequently recommend the Leupold VX-R 3-9X50. This fine optic hits the sweet spot of quality to price value. For a street price of $600 you get an American made illuminated reticle scope and the Leupold lifetime warranty. And of course, that Gold Ring.
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