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Long-range shooting is an art form of the highest form. Legends like Carlos Hathcock trigger reactions of awe and admiration among those who hear their names, and POGs who couldn’t hit the broad side of the Pentagon with their eyes wide open start dreaming of ringing steel plates at 1,000, 2,000, and even 3,000 meters. Ah, yes, to be a long-range shooter is to be the Michaelangelo of wind, lead, and cordite.
Of course, such dreams shatter the moment an aspiring long-distance marksman recognizes his lack of a long-range optic. Without a good long-range scope, nobody’s hitting anything, even with the planet’s best ammo and rifle combination in their hands. On the flip side, the proper optic on a proper rifle with proper ammo reignites a small glimmer of hope that someday the title of “long-range sniper” might somehow still be attainable.
- Best Overall: Horus Vision HoVR 5-20×50
- Best Value: Vortex Viper PST Gen II 5-25×50 FFP
- Editor’s Choice: Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56 F1
- Best for Extremes: Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 F1
- Most Flexible: Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56
A four-digit price tag can hurt, but the Horus Vision HoVR 5-20×50 packs quite a punch in the value department. With a 5-20 power magnification range and three different non-illuminated Horus Vision (re: grid-style) reticle options (including the SOCOM-approved Tremor3), this optic provides plenty of performance for a mere $1,500.
This first focal plane scope features a 30-millimeter tube diameter with an exposed elevation turret and a capped windage turret, each capable of 0.1 mil or 0.25 MOA adjustments, depending on the reticle. The diopter knob opposite the windage turret allows for parallax elimination from 25 meters to infinity.
One knock against the HoVR is its lack of an illuminated reticle, although some would argue that this eliminates another potential failure from this very solid long-range scope. The other is that some reviewers felt that it did not transmit light very well, limiting its performance. Still, users report that it tracks well, retains zero like a champ, and is an all-around solid performer. It even earned a nod of approval from Todd Hodnett.
- Magnification range: 5-20
- Reticle type(s): Grid
- Focal plane: First
- Max elevation adjustment: 17.5 MRAD (~60.00 MOA)
- Max windage adjustment: 14.5 MRAD (~49.75 MOA )
- Eye relief: 2.52 to 3.70 inches
- Weight: 28.9 ounces
Very good performance
MOA and MRAD reticles available
No MRAD-style or Christmas tree reticle options
No illuminated reticle options
Relatively dark picture
The concept of a “budget-friendly long scope” may seem like a cruelly tantalizing myth, but the Vortex Viper PST Gen II 5-25×50 FFP proves that getting into long-range shooting may be more attainable than we first imagined. While not a high-end match-level optic, this scope makes a strong showing, providing cost-conscious distance shooters with a 5-25 zoom range and an etched-glass, illuminated Christmas tree reticle, available in both MOA and MRAD variants.
The anodized aluminum tube features a 30-millimeter diameter, a 25-yard-to-infinity parallax adjustment knob, and exposed windage and elevation turrets capable of 0.25 MOA adjustments. For maximum performance and protection, the weatherproof, shockproof Viper PST Gen II boasts fully multicoated lenses. That said, reviewers note that this is a fair-weather scope, and using the zero-reset feature is not very intuitive.
Still, with a street price under $1,000, the bang for the buck is undeniable, especially with all the little extras. It’s no wonder Jackon and the folks at Ghost Firearms Training recommend it to long-range shooters on a budget.
- Magnification range: 5-25
- Reticle type(s): Christmas tree
- Focal plane: First
- Max elevation adjustment: 70 MOA (~20.3 MRAD)
- Max windage adjustment: 35 MOA (~10.1 MRAD)
- Eye relief: 3.4 inches
- Weight: 31.2 ounces
MOA and MRAD reticles available
Limited visibility in poor weather
Unintuitive zero-reset feature
Maybe less mechanically precise than higher-end optics
Few long-range scopes provide users with as excellent a combination of price and performance as the Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56 F1. An evolution of the original ATACR, this Nightforce is a first focal plane optic with MRAD-style, Christmas tree, and grid reticle patterns, including two illuminated Horus pattern options. The tube features a 34-millimeter diameter and sports exposed elevation and windage turrets with 0.25 MOA/0.1 MRAD adjustment increments, a distance-marked parallax adjustment knob with a 45-yard minimum, and a power throw lever for fast adjustments while on target.
This Todd Hodnett favorite boasts Nightforce’s ZeroStop feature and impressive elevation and windage adjustment potential. As expected, the ATACR F1 lives up to Nightforce’s reputation for reliability, durability, visual clarity, color accuracy, and mechanical precision. The only major drawbacks to the ATACR has to be its weight and price tag. That said, this scope’s price-to-performance ratio is almost unbeatable.
- Magnification range: 5-25
- Reticle type(s): MRAD-style, grid, Christmas tree
- Focal plane: First
- Max elevation adjustment: 120 MOA (35 MRAD)
- Max windage adjustment: 80 MOA (24 MRAD)
- Eye relief: 3.5 inches
- Weight: 37.6 ounces
Excellent range flexibility
Wide reticle selection, including illuminated reticles
Large and heavy
If you aspire to become the King of 2 Miles (or the Queen), then snag a Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 F1 for your 40-pound cannon. Another Todd Hodnett favorite, this extreme long-range version of the first focal plane Nightforce ATACR scope includes many of the same features of the 5-25x version but with a few special tweaks for extreme distance work.
This 7-35x scope boasts a wide reticle selection, including two illuminated Horus options, and Nightforce’s ZeroStop zero reset system. The optic’s tube features a 34-millimeter diameter, a zoom throw lever, exposed adjustment turrets with 0.25 MOA/0.1 MRAD adjustment increments, and a parallax adjustment knob with an eyebrow-raising 11-yard minimum.
The 7-35x ATACR’s most noteworthy weak points are its size, heft, and price tag, and at least one reviewer found the eye relief a bit unforgiving when paired with rifles not optimized to the shooter. That said, the most powerful ATACR F1 of them all lives up to the Nightforce name in terms of performance, reliability, toughness, quality, and value.
- Magnification range: 7-35
- Reticle type(s): MRAD-style, grid
- Focal plane: First
- Max elevation adjustment: 100 MOA (29 MRAD)
- Max windage adjustment: 60 MOA (17 MRAD)
- Eye relief: 3.6 inches
- Weight: 39.3 ounces
11-yard parallax adjustment minimum
Wide reticle selection, including illuminated reticles
Large and heavy
Need an optic that can help you nail targets at any range? Then take a close look at the Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56. The scope’s impressive zoom ranges between 3.5 and 25 power for incredible versatility, and the optic is available in enough reticle options to satisfy virtually any shooter: MOA or MRAD, illuminated or non-illuminated, and MRAD-style or grid pattern.
This high-power Leupold features a zero reset feature, a 50-yard-minimum parallax adjustment knob, and exposed elevation and windage turrets with 0.25 MOA/0.1 MRAD adjustment increments, depending on the reticle. It boasts very precise mechanical tracking and a crisp, clear, bright picture that will indulge plenty of shooters. The Mark 8 series includes an uncommon 35-millimeter tube diameter, and many reviewers disliked the push-button design of the locking elevation turret. That said, this Leupold is worth the high cost of entry for do-it-all shooters.
- Magnification range: 3.5-25
- Reticle type(s): MRAD-style, grid
- Focal plane: First
- Max elevation adjustment: 90 MOA (~26.2 MRAD)
- Max windage adjustment: 50 MOA (~14.5 MRAD)
- Eye relief: 3.1 to 3.7 inches
- Weight: 32.5 ounces
Excellent mechanical tracking
Very good picture quality
Very good elevation and windage adjustment ranges
Wide reticle selection
Oddball 35-millimeter tube diameter
Locking push-button elevation turret is not very user friendly
Can be expensive
Why you should trust us
I believe in owning only the best gear for any task, whether that equipment be a knife, a first aid kit, a pair of boots, or a scope. I only recommend gear that I myself would buy, and if I find gear that I think isn’t worth the cash, I’ll be sure to tell you. If high cost is a dealbreaker, I do my best to find top-notch, budget-conscious gear, because as much as we might wish otherwise, money doesn’t grow on trees.
I have been a student of firearms and shooting since I first started pulling triggers at eight years old. Whatever aspect of shooting and firearms I haven’t experienced myself I have pursued learning through in-depth research and conversations with those who have. For this buying guide, I spoke with Jackson Valerioti, owner of Ghost Firearms Training, and Todd Hodnett, of Accuracy 1st, who provided me with valuable information regarding the best long-range scopes on the market today.
Thanks to Jackson, I also found Carl Zant’s epic long-range scope test at PrecisionRifleBlog.com, and I found the overview, mechanical performance, and optical performance sections particularly valuable. To round things out, I consulted American Rifleman, The Firearm Blog, GunsAmerica Digest, Gun Digest, these two Gun Mann scope reviews, TheGunZone, LongRangeShooting.org, Optics Planet, Outdoor Life, Panhandle Precision, Recoil, Sniper Central, and Tactical Life.
Types of long-range scopes
Selecting the proper scope for long-range shooting starts with knowing what kinds of products the market has to offer. The vast majority of modern rifle scopes are variable power optics, but fixed power scopes still pop up from time to time. Both scope types can be solid choices for traditional long-range shooting, but if you need to hit targets at extreme distances, then an extreme long-range scope is an absolutely essential piece of gear.
Variable power long-range scope
By and large, the vast majority of rifle scopes on today’s market are variable power optics, and the same is true for the long-range submarket. To anyone not already in the know, a variable power scope allows the shooter to adjust how much magnification their scope can provide, increasing the optic’s versatility.
Some shooters want a scope dedicated entirely to long-range shooting, but the majority of people need something a bit more flexible. These scopes are easy to identify with the “x to x” markings. For example, a scope with a magnification range between five and 15 times magnification will be listed as a “5-15x” or “5-15” scope. For long-range shooting, look for a variable power optic with a magnification range that spans across the 10x power mark, such as a 5-15x power.
Fixed power long-range scope
While variable-power scopes dominate the market, fixed-power scopes have managed to maintain a minor foothold in the long-range optics world. Compared to variable-power optics, fixed-power scopes are inflexible, and as such, are becoming increasingly rare. Still, they provide a lightweight, inexpensive, and mechanically simple option for long-range shooters.
Fixed-power long-range scopes feature high magnification, yet, they manage to avoid going overboard. Most often, these optics come with 10x or 12x magnification and, within certain ranges, can provide a reasonable balance between situational awareness and accuracy potential. (Real-life accuracy is up to the shooter.)
Probably the biggest draw to fixed-power long-range scopes (other than simplicity, weight, and price) is nostalgia for bygone eras. If you want to ring steel at 1,000 meters with an old school optic, then a fixed-power scope is the way to go.
Extreme long-range scope
Typically, long-range shooters engage targets anywhere between 600 and 1,000 meters and call it a day. Since most shooters are lucky to hit steel much beyond 200 meters, these numbers certainly are noteworthy, but there are always those who want to take things to the next level. While the definition of “extreme long-range shooting” varies somewhat from shooter to shooter and from caliber to caliber, marksmen and women who attempt to hit targets beyond the 1,200-meter mark should be equipped with an extreme long-range rifle scope before they pull any triggers.
Generally speaking, extreme range scopes are heavy, variable power optics with a magnification range starting out at around 7-10x and typically maxing out at 25-35x, although some may have an even higher top end. Specialty reticles are common features as well as high MOA/MIL adjustment ranges. Of course, at multi-mile ranges, special scope mounts become a true need. (Unfortunately, such speciality devices are outside the scope of this buying guide.)
Key features of long-range scopes
If a shooter cannot see the target, then hitting steel will be a matter of guesswork and luck; magnification matters. The most easily understood scope dimension is the magnification or zoom range. Imagine a scope described as 5-15×30. The “5-15x” refers to the magnification range, while the “30” describes the objective lens’ diameter (a relatively unimportant spec).
Most long-range shooting will require a scope capable of at least 10x power, although most will stretch out to a max of 15x or 20x. According to Hodnett, 4-16x and 5-20x scopes are good options for more typical calibers (such as .308 Winchester).
Extreme long-range scopes often have an even more powerful range, often topping out at 25x, 35x, or higher. Hodnett’s favorite extreme range optic has a range of 7-35x power.
A reliable optic is absolutely essential for any kind of long-range shooting, but scope reliability can be difficult to measure, especially prior to dropping some hard-earned cash on the counter. That said, there are three key factors to consider: zero retention, repeatability, and tracking.
According to Hodnett, zero retention is a must-have feature. It’s the scope’s ability to maintain a zero no matter what kind of abuse it receives. Drop it off the back of your tailgate, and it’ll stay on target without issue.
Repeatability means every time a scope’s turrets are adjusted, the optic will provide accurate, instantaneous reticle adjustments without any need for the scope to “settle in.” No more tapping tubes or wasting ammo so your optic can “find itself.”
Tracking, or adjustment accuracy, is the mechanical engineering and construction quality of a scope’s turrets. Many low-end or affordable scopes do not adjust exactly one MIL/MOA increment per click.
As Valerioti explains, if your scope is not tracking correctly — an error of three percent — you could miss your target by 10 inches or more at 1,000 yards with a scope elevation of 10 MILs/100 0.1-MIL clicks. If that’s the case, it might leave you questioning if the problem is shooter error, a calculation error, or ammo error. “You will end up chasing a bad scope all day,” he said.
Determining a particular scope’s reliability requires you to do some digging. Ask questions and listen to veteran distance shooters, because no scope metric or manufacturer talk can tell you how an optic will perform at 800, 1,200, or 1,500 meters.
Like baseball, long-range shooting with a fuzzy optic is a game of failure. (Ok, that’s not fair to baseball.) To flip the script and ring steel time after time, you must be able to see your target clearly and track your hits and misses at the target.
To achieve maximum glass clarity, look for an optic with high-quality glass and lens coatings to match. Both Jackon and Hodnett pointedly refuted the widespread myth that “good glass only comes from [insert country/company here]”. In reality, only a few companies manufacture scope glass, and their final products vary in quality depending on what each scope company wants in the optics they sell. Predictably, the better your glass and lens coatings are, the more your scope will cost.
Lens coatings serve a variety of purposes from drastically reducing reflections to resisting scratches to repelling water. Scopes come with four different coating levels: coated, fully coated, multicoated, and fully multicoated. Coated and multicoated optics feature one or multiple coatings on at least one lens. Fully coated and fully multicoated scopes include one or more coatings on “all air-to-glass surfaces.”
Per Hodnett, a good scope also includes a diopter or parallax adjustment knob to reduce or eliminate parallax, identified by a reticle that “moves” every time the shooter moves their head. By eliminating parallax, a scope’s sight picture will be incredibly precise, allowing for more accurate shots.
When selecting a long-range optic, reticle selection (like almost every other factor) matters on a grand scale. Reticles come in a wide variety of “shapes” and styles, and many times, a single scope design may come with multiple reticle options. Most long-range reticles use metric markings, milliradians (“mils” or “MRADs”), but some use MOA markings instead (think yards and inches), even on “MRAD” (a.k.a., MRAD-style) reticles.
In long-range shooting, the most common reticle patterns are rangefinding reticles. MRAD-style reticles use a crosshair pattern with dots or hash marks positioned along each post for faster, simpler windage and elevation adjustments. Grid reticles expand on MRAD-style reticles by adding markings below the horizontal posts for even more accurate adjustments. Christmas tree reticles strike a balance between MRAD-style and grid reticles, employing range estimation lines arranged in a tree-like pattern below the horizontal axis but minus any additional markings beyond common MRAD-style post markings. While quite popular for use inside 500 or 600 meters, BDC or ballistic reticles provide little practical value at longer distances and generally should be avoided for long-distance shooting.
The reticle’s position on the first or second focal also matters, depending on your intended use case. First focal plane scopes position the reticle such that whenever a shooter adjusts their scope’s magnification, the reticle zooms in or out along, growing or shrinking accordingly. Thanks to a properly scaled reticle, this allows shooters to range targets accurately and make precise windage and elevation changes. On the flip side, second focal plane optics keep the reticle at a constant size regardless of zoom, providing few long-range shooting advantages.
Benefits of long-range scopes
Hit faraway targets
No kidding, right? While this may sound like a no-brainer at first, the sense of accomplishment that comes from hitting a target sitting 1,000 meters or a mile away truly is unbeatable. The amount of focus and discipline necessary to hit such targets is immense, but doing so without a proper scope is infinitely harder, if not impossible, at such distances.
Of course, shooting targets that can’t be seen with the naked eye should never be attempted lightly. In most civilian contexts, long-range shooting means target or competitive shooting. Sure, you could shoot a trophy elk at 700 meters, but how much suffering will you inflict on that animal if you only manage to break his leg due to wind drift, bullet drop, or other factors. Unless you have been very well-trained, keep your hunting shots inside of 300 meters (and half that if you’ve never been trained at all).
Improve your shooting
The funny thing about rifle scopes is that the higher the magnification, the more your gun seems to develop a life of its own. While firearms are inanimate objects with no life of their own, shooters are living, breathing creatures with very real physical rhythms. Throw environmental factors into the mix, such as wind, temperature, humidity, and the earth’s curvature (in extreme distance shooting), and suddenly, hitting a stationary target at 500 or 1,000 meters becomes a whole lot harder than Hollywood makes it look.
Highly magnified optics force you to focus on the fundamentals of shooting by amplifying your breathing, your pulse, and your mental activity. While not designed as such, long-range scopes can work as an impromptu training aid, if used properly, to iron out bad shooting habits. To still the storm inside the glass, slow down and apply the fundamentals. With some patience, discipline, clear thinking, and a little bit of coaching, you might be surprised at the results.
Pricing considerations for long-range scopes
When selecting a long-range rifle scope, price matters, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Hodnett says, “You get what you pay for when you buy a good $2,000 scope.” At the same time, he warns that not all $2,000 scopes are good scopes. As such, these price groupings are an opportunity to set general quality-to-cost expectations rather than to outline objective optics pricing truths.
Inside of 600 meters, a sub-$1,000 scope is par for the course with many costing far less than a grand. Long-range shooting is another game entirely, and scope pricing reflects that stark difference. Lack of visual clarity, toughness, and high-quality construction translate to embarrassing or confusing misses on distant targets.
The reality is that quality costs money, and finding a reliable scope for long to extreme long distances that costs less than $1,000 is like finding a year-old Corvette for $25,000. It rarely happens, and when it does, you have to wonder what the catch is. That said, if your definition of “long-range” is more subjective, there’s a decent chance you could get lucky.
When it comes to long-distance scopes, the $1,000 to $2,000 range is where it’s at. Anything between $1,000 and $1,200 might be considered “bargain basement” as some of these scopes may still be a little subpar, although rarely on the level of most triple-digit offerings.
Scopes ranging between $1,500 and $2,000 often provide a good bang for the buck with a few flirting with the “Steal” title. That said, quality matters more than price tag, so make sure to purchase a scope known for its quality. While no manufacturer gets it right every single time, some have a reputation for making top-notch products. Look for those.
This is where things get fun — and expensive. To get your hands on the best scopes on the market, expect to drop at least $2,000 on an optic. Often, the best scopes will push three grand or more (much more), but in exchange, you can expect to get an optic that will blow your socks off in terms of quality and performance.
As always, however, do your research. While few manufacturers plan to put out a lemon, it can and does happen in every industry. After all, despite making legendary vehicles like the Mustang and the Bronco, Ford did produce the notorious Pinto. While scopes lack explosive components, few things are likely to trigger your inner Rambo like a $5,000 scope that loses zero at the drop of a hat or fails to track beyond 20 clicks.
How we chose our top picks
Selecting a long-range scope can be quite a challenge thanks to the market’s massive selection. To help reduce variables, we reached out to the experts, and the feedback they provided allowed us to narrow down our list of critical features. We narrowed down our list of essentials to the following: strong all-around performance, magnification range, first focal plane reticle, high mechanical precision, quality optical clarity, toughness, reliability/repeatability, and overall value (performance-to-price ratio). We also curated a list of nice-to-have elements that influenced our final scope selections, although these factors carried less weight in the final tally. This secondary list included elements such as mechanical zero reset, reticle selection (pattern, illumination, MOA vs. MRAD, etc.), and minimum parallax range.
FAQs on long-range scopes
You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.
Q. How much magnification is needed for long-range shooting?
A. Depending on your caliber and shooting application, a good long-range scope will have a magnification range of around 5-20x. This range should provide plenty of power for almost any long-range shooting application.
Q. What is a good long-range scope for a rifle?
A. This somewhat depends on what one means by “long-range.” That said, most long-distance shooters would be wise to find a reliable scope that features a 5-20x magnification range, first focal plane MRAD or grid-style reticle, and fully coated lenses.
Q. What is the longest range scope?
A. The number of long-range scopes on today’s market can be pretty overwhelming, but to date, the most powerful scope we have encountered (in terms of max magnification power) is the March Genesis ELR 6-60x.
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For over 25 years, Brian Smyth has been neighbors with the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Army’s Ivy Division. He loves the challenge of crafting words and has written for The Drive, Car Bibles, and other publications. Nothing gets him going quite like the roar of dual Pratt & Whitneys overhead, the smell of cordite, and the stories of the Greatest Generation.