January 28, 2021
By Anthony Licata
The growth in long-range shooting over the past decade can no longer be considered a trend. It’s now just a fact of life in hunting and recreational shooting. This rapid change has been driven by remarkable advances in equipment. The evolution of flat-shooting, accurate cartridges like the 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 RPM and the .300 PRC has driven people to stretch their comfort levels and shoot farther. Average off-the-shelf rifles are more accurate than the most expensive custom guns from 15 years ago. But hot rounds in tack-driving barrels are worthless without optics that have the clarity and magnification to allow hunters not only to see and aim accurately at long distances, but to quickly and easily figure out the ballistics and proper hold for the load they are shooting.
What makes a scope a good choice for long-range shooting? It should have higher magnification than your old 3-9 variable. Magnification ranges from 4x to 20x or 25x are common. Long-distance scopes need a larger objective lens size not only to let in more light for more clarity but also giving the hunter a wider field of view, even at high magnification. And of course, good-quality class and coatings always help. You should have an eye relief of at least 3.5 inches, making it easier to get a clean sight picture when dialed in tight. It’ll also keep you from creeping up on your stock and getting your brow gashed by your own scope if you’re shooting some shoulder-thumping round.
The reticle is extremely important. Reticles in the first focal plane change size when magnification is changed. It’s not that big of a deal and allows scope makers to keep costs down and improve other parts of the scope. Many longe-range shooters prefer a reticle on the second focal plane. This allows the reticle to stay the same size, no matter the magnification. Keep in mind that with a second focal plane reticle you must be at max magnification (or the manufacturer’s set magnification level) to accurately use the reticles measurement marks. A reticle design that helps you figure out the proper hold for elevation and windage is a must for long-range shooting. There are many different types, using Mil-dots, MOA, BDC, or other systems. They can get confusing, so pick one that you can use easily even when your heart is thumping, and you have a bit of buck fever. Finally, many long-range scopes have quick-adjust turrets that allow you to quickly and easily dial in the right elevation and windage for your range and ballistics, putting your crosshairs exactly where you should aim, eliminating the need to hold over.
The best news for budget-minded long-range shooters is that while many of these advanced features first appear in top-of-the-line scopes, the rate of change in rifle scopes is so fast that technology quickly trickles down to the affordable lines. These long-range scopes are perfect examples. They’re packed with great features, quality components, and can shoot far better than most of us usually do. They all cost less than a grand, and often by quite a bit.
Vortex Viper HSLR 4-16x50mm (pictured above)
The HSLR stands for “hunting, shooting, long range” and this scope is well named. It has all the features and qualities to hold its own in competition or in the field with scopes that cost a lot more. Typical of Vortex scopes, the optical quality is very good, with a bright, clear sight picture and good low-light performance. The turrets are simply great: they’re simply adjusted, lock solidly and incorporate fiber optics for ease of use. Good eye relief and a very nice reticle. It’s an all-around great scope. $899 | vortexoptics.com
Alpen Apex 4.5-27x50mm
Alpen has a proven track record of building optics that can hang right in there with the top-shelf glass on the market but at a lower price. The quality of their glass and coatings are good, giving you a bright, clear focal picture. This Apex uses a first focal plane MOA or MIL based reticle that is accurate at any magnification. It’s equally at home dialing in or holding over, and the turrets adjust precisely and lock solidly in place. $999 | bresserusa.com
Athlon Helos BTR Gen2 4-20x50mm
Athlon packs a ton of features into this scope for its very reasonable price. Athlon scopes are made in China, known for using first focal plane MIL or MOA reticles with adjustments and illumination, having decent optics, and good prices. The reticle is user friendly, helping to compensate for drop and wind quickly. The turrets hold tight in position and are clearly marked for easy dialing. If you’re on a budget and looking for an entry-level, long-range scope, this is a solid choice. $599 | athlonoptics.com
Hawke Sidewinder 30 SF 6-24X56mm
The Sidewinder is another decent choice for an entry-level long-range shooter. This model has a second focal plane reticle, precision pull-to-turn locking turrets, a wide field of view and a generous 4 inches of eye relief. A window gives you an instant read on your turret’s position. A redesign has made the sidewinder lighter and stronger, with better optics. $659 | hawkeoptics.com
Bushnell Engage 6-24x50
With a top magnification of 24x, this scope has the power for shooters who want to reach out there, far out there. The Engage uses a simple MOA reticle that features windage and elevation hash marks. Turrets are easy to dial and do a zero reset without tools. Optical clarity is excellent, Bushnell’s Exo Barrier coating gives this glass the upper hand, even at such a low price. $467 | bushnell.com
Konus Empire 3-18x50
Konus puts a lot of emphasis on its “6x zoom system,” the large magnification range that makes a scope effective at both short and long distances, theoretically making the scope more versatile in the field. This scope uses an illuminated ballistic reticle, operated by a switch on the easy-to-use parallax wheel. Nothing about this scope will knock your socks off, but it won’t let you down either, especially at this price. $541 | konuscopes.com