April 14, 2022
By Andrew McKean
My buddy Eric was determined to hunt Wyoming Range mule deer with his chassis rifle. He shot it so well, out beyond 1,000 yards, and had so much confidence in its repeatable precision that talking him out of the idea of deer hunting with a 12-pound rifle was futile.
A couple of days into our horseback hunt, a coyote crossed the trail, trotting away but not yet in full afterburner flight. Eric dismounted, somehow shucked the behemoth rifle from the saddle scabbard, threw himself prone, deployed his bipod, and asked for the range. “Two-eighty,” I whispered. He fiddled with the turrets. But now the coyote was at 330. I reported the range. More turret twisting. New range: 410. The coyote, now in overdrive, was safe from the fusillade of increasingly uncertain shots.
The problem wasn’t Eric. He’s a crack shot at ranges twice that distance. Neither was it his rifle, built to stack bullets on top of each other at any reasonable range. The problem was his scope, a high-magnification, first-plane wonder that couldn’t easily handle the changing variables of a moving target intent on survival.
Eric chose his rig because there were few hunting scopes on the market at the time that could handle extreme ranges, account for wind deflection, and had the optical precision to parse antler points at ranges common to open-country Western hunters.
Happily, the market has caught up with demand. You can easily find a hunting scope that incorporates attributes perfected by precision-target shooters. Tactical-style turrets that turn with positivity and precision, milling reticles in either the first or second focal plane that have plenty of references for holdover and hold-off. And a wide range of magnifications that can be dialed down for close-in situations or up to provide clear target visibility out to 1,000 yards. All these attributes make them killer coyote rigs.
What these crossover scopes have in common is modest magnification ranges and objective-lens diameters sized for walk-about hunting scenarios and to fit low on the receivers of traditionally styled hunting rifles. Here are some of the best long-range hunting scopes on the market.
LEUPOLD VX-3HD with CDS 4.5-14x40
The pinnacle of versatility, this line of Gold Ring scopes from Leupold gives shooters the choice of dialing their aiming solution or using holdover and hold-off references in the reticle. My go-to scope for everything from pronghorn to aoudad is the 4.5-14x40, largely because its low profile and light weight complement my mobile hunting style. If you hunt in low-light conditions, consider the 50mm version.
To milk the most out of the VX-3HD, invest in the CDS, which stands for Custom Dial System. Send Leupold the precise dope for your load and they’ll send you a custom turret that you can then dial to specific yardage. Models of the VX-3HD with the “Wind-Plex” reticle provide 1-MOA hashes along the horizontal stadia in order to hold for various wind values. The standard reticle is a heavy plex, but if you want to add holdover reference, go with the Boone & Crockett reticle, which has aiming points out to 600 yards, depending on your zero. MSRP: $699 | leupold.com
PROS: Fast, easy dialing to specific distances based on the trajectory of your load. Second-plane reticle won’t obscure your target regardless of magnification.
CONS: The CDS system only allows a single revolution, so depending on your zero, you’re limited to 800 to 1,000 yards. Lack of parallax adjustment makes either very close or very far sighting a bit fuzzy.
VORTEX RAZOR HD LHT 4.5-22x50
Purpose-built for Western hunters, this first-focal-plane scope has some tasty features, including a versatile magnification range, pull-to-turn elevation turret tuned to .25-MOA click values, capped windage turret, and Vortex’s intuitive XLR-2 illuminated reticle with MOA references. At only 22 ounces, it’s the perfect partner for any of the ultra-lightweight mountain rifles currently in vogue.
Some precision target shooters will want this scope in MIL/MIL turret/reticle values, but the MOA-based reticle adds plenty of speed for hunters who need to make snap shots based on holdover. For those with the time and ability to dial aiming solutions, the Razor HD LHT has 75 MOA of total internal elevation adjustment, or five full revolutions of the turret. That’s enough to make this nimble little scope a capable long-range target rig. The glass is among the best in Vortex’s line, and the controls are precise and tight. I especially like the push-button illumination that lights up the entire working center of the reticle, including the numeric drop and windage references. MSRP: $1,999 | vortexoptics.com
PROS: With 36 MOA of holdover and 32 MOA of windage references, there are very few targets that can’t be engaged without ever touching the turrets.
CONS: The first-focal-plane reticle gets bolder with magnification, possibly obscuring small, distant targets.
SIG SIERRA6 BDX 3-18x44
This “smart” scope is one of a series of components integrated through Bluetooth connectivity. Load your bullet specs into a mobile-phone app, then connect your rangefinder and BDX-enabled scope to your phone. When you range a target, the holdover value shows up as a lighted blue dot on the vertical stadia of the reticle. Making one-shot hits is as simple as holding the dot on your target and squeezing the trigger.
The BDX-powered scope has a number of revolutionary features, including what can be called a digital-plane reticle. It’s a standard duplex in the second focal plane, but the holdover references change with the magnification, so you don’t have to set the scope to max magnification to achieve reticle subtensions. The reticle also has a series of hold-off references that correspond to a wide variety of wind values.
Looking beyond the wizardry of electronics, the scope is a very serviceable optic in case the batteries die. The glass is bright. The MOA-based turret clicks are positive and tight. The configuration is just right for most hunting situations. MSRP: $1,099 | sigsauer.com
PROS: Used as an integrated system, the BDX-powered aiming suite is elegant, simple, smart, fast, and precise. There are few better ways to ensure one-shot hits at ridiculous distances.
CONS: Batteries die with use and cold weather, and the absence of power diminishes this system.
BUSHNELL ELITE LRHS2 4.5-18x44
The OG of long-range hunting scopes, this top-level Bushnell scope features one of the fastest and most versatile first-focal-plane reticles on the market. Called the G2H, the reticle in either MIL or MOA was developed by George Gardner of GA Precision and provides a clean sight picture at any magnification with simple references to range targets.
For shooters who prefer to dial their aiming solutions, the scope features an oversized exposed elevation turret and a capped windage turret. But it’s noticeably sleek. The 44mm objective lens allows for low mounting on a wide variety of rifles, and LRHS2 has the most expansive mounting dimensions on its 30mm tube of any scope in our roundup. A stout zero-stop, sweet focus control and excellent glass and coatings make this one of the best cross-over scopes on the market. MSRP: $1,615 | bushnell.com
PROS: This scope was designed to deliver fast and precise aiming solutions. The spare and bold reticle makes either ranging or holding for distant targets easy and intuitive, and for those who prefer to dial their shot, the platter-sized elevation turret turns with authority.
CONS: Illuminated reticles are usually overdone, but this scope would benefit from illumination, if only in the “Vital Bracket” of the interior 2-MIL circle. The scope is only available through GA Precision; we’d like to see this otherwise excellent scope offered to the broadest market.
MAVEN RS.5 4-24x50
Built around either a MIL or MOA system, this second-focal-plane standout gives hunters the tools to either dial a shooting solution or to hold for distance and wind. Dialers will appreciate the exposed elevation turret governed by extremely positive clicks and bold indexing and a resettable zero stop. Holdover shooters will like the illuminated reticle that offers 90 MOA (30 mils) holdover at 4X and 15 MOA (5 mils) at 24X.
Like others in Maven’s RS series, the RS.5 features bright ED glass, a battle-hardened nickel-and-onyx finish. The 30mm tube features a whopping 100 MOA (29 mils) of internal elevation adjustment and 70 MOA (20.3 mils) of windage. MSRP: $1,400 | mavenbuilt.com
PROS: The direct-to-consumer brand offers great value for the price. This scope, configured for Western hunters, has sweet controls, great glass, and the versatility to either hold or dial aiming solutions.
CONS: Shooters raised on the simplicity of first-focal-plane reticles will be lost with this second-focal-plane system. Its weight seems even heavier than its 27 ounces.
ZEISS LRP S5 3-18x50
Zeiss’s first first-plane riflescopes promise out-of-the-box performance at 1,500 yards and beyond. This model—along with its companion 5-25x56 target configuration—is built on a 34mm tube with a whopping 140 MOA (47 mils) of internal adjustment governed by a high, tactical-style elevation turret.
Depending on your predilection, either the MOA or milliradian reticle will serve for long-range hunting. The uncluttered ZF-MOAi features 1-MOA hashes and wind dots at 2-MOA increments.
The ZF-MRi is a Christmas-tree style reticle with holds at 0.2, 0.5, and 1.0 MRAD increments. If I was picking an LRP mainly for hunting, I’d go with the MOA reticle.
The glass and coatings are both world-beaters, and the controls are as positive and repeatable as jewelers’ jigs. MSRP: $3,299 | zeiss.com
PROS: With this much reticle adjustment, you need a good revolution index on the turrets, and Zeiss has an excellent rev-indicator. At just 13 inches, the LRP is compact enough to fit on ARs and most bolt guns.
CONS: Talk to any serious long-range hunter, and the topic of inadvertent turret migration comes up. Zeiss would be wise to cap the LRP’s exposed pull-to-turn windage turret, since few hunters dial for wind, relying on holdover instead.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.