Whether it's just for some range time or serious hog, coyote or deer hunting, long-range shooting is one of the most challenging and enjoyable of shooting disciplines. You need a solid rifle and the best long range scope to pull it off. If this is the step you want to take in your shooting career, keep reading.
Table of Contents
- What is Long Range Shooting?
- Thing to Consider Before Buying Long Range Rifle Scope
- Best Long Range Scope on the Market Review
- Best High-End Rifle Scopes
- Mid-Range Scopes
- Best Value Scopes
- Best Long Range Rifle Scope Brands
What is Long Range Shooting?
Before we dive into scopes, we need some parameters so everyone is on the same page. Long range is a subjective term and can be different with different weapons. A long shot that is difficult for 10/22 rifles will generally be easier for .308 rifles. For some weapons, muzzleloaders for example, a long-range shot may be 100 yards.
Most shooters are focused on that 1000 yard shot but that is extreme range for any handheld weapon. Long range starts much sooner. For the purposes of this article, we will consider long range to be in excess of 300 yards. This is the farthest the Army shoots with open sights. Even with a decent scope, a new distance shooter will likely find this to be a slightly challenging shot.
Thing to Consider Before Buying Long Range Rifle Scope
To have the best chance possible at shots from 500 yards to 1000 yards or more, you really need the right scope. While overall quality is a big part of this, even an affordable scope with the right features can do what you need to make those big shots.
This is where most people start looking. Everyone wants the big magnification but that isn’t always the best bet. More magnification lets you see farther and can help you aim smaller but does not make a scope more accurate.
The minimum I would recommend for any type of distance shooting is a 10x scope. This was the military and police standard for years. This doesn’t mean it’s the best for distance shooting, just the minimum recommended.
For most people, a maximum magnification in the mid-teens will be sufficient for all their shooting needs. This can get you out to those 800-yard shots with some practice and skill. Shots that exceed 800 yards will become far more difficult no matter what scope you have. At that range personal skill and rifle selection are very important.
If you want a scope for shooting those 1000 yard shots, the high teens in magnification up through the mid 20x range is a good place to start.
Fixed vs Variable Scope for Long Range
There was a time when all sniper scopes used by the police and military were a single, fixed power. Usually somewhere between 10x and 14x. These scopes were considered to be far more durable and dependable than variable power scopes since they had fewer moving parts. This is partly true.
However, with modern optics even a good entry level variable power scope is quite robust. With modern materials, machining, and processes, scope production is getting better and better. There is no reason to stick to a single, fixed power anymore. Besides they are getting much harder to find.
First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane for Long Range Shooting
You have two options for focal plane, first and second. Getting into the physics and mechanics of focal plane is beyond the scope of a beginner article but a basic understanding should be provided before making a choice on a scope.
For years first focal plane (ffp) scopes were considered to be the superior product. With a first focal plane scope, the reticle stays the same scale in relation to distance as the scope zooms in. In short, 1 meter at 100 yards will always be the same relation to the reticle no matter the magnification. As you zoom in, the reticle will appear to shrink.
As long as you have something of a known measurement, such as a target stand, you can estimate distance with a first focal plane scope and that is their strength. This can be used to estimate holdover and other advanced shooting tactics.
Some people find it hard to read a scope with a first focal plane due to small reticle size.
For a second focal plane scope the size of the reticle stays the same no matter the magnification. That means that measurements will change depending on the zoom. You won’t be able to accurately estimate hold over simply by measuring on your reticle except at a specific magnification, usually the maximum.
However, your reticle will always be just as easy to read no matter your magnification. The reticle will look the same at 4x magnification as it is at 10x magnification.
With modern ranging technology and the growing availability of load information, FFP scopes are not as revered as they were in the past. They have their strengths but a skilled shooter can make a second focal plane scope work just as well and they are often cheaper.
There are more reticles available today than there ever have been. Some are the old standards while more and more are specific to the brand. This makes reticle selection very difficult for those who are new to long range shooting.
It gets easier if you break it down. No matter the number of reticles, they all fall into four basic categories.
These are the old standby for the hunting scope. Just a simple set of crossed lines, occasionally with a larger dot in the center to better illustrate the point of aim. While these are great for hunting, they are not a good choice for a long range scope. There is no way to begin to estimate range or hold over with these scopes.
Duplex or Plex Reticles
A common offering by many companies is a reticle that has a small number of markings above the windage line of the scope. These are intended to be used for holdover estimation and are often not found on the serious tactical scope. They are great for hunters who may need to quickly estimate bullet drop at a distance but for a calculated shot, these are not enough.
Some reticles have a chevron or circle in the middle. These scopes are primarily intended for shorter distance shooting and do a great job at increasing target acquisition speed. For the long-range shooter, these are simply not an acceptable choice. Once you pass the 100-yard mark, they can be very difficult to get an accurate shot with.
These are the bread and butter of the distance shooter. The reticle is fully marked which is more complicated but it’s a skill you will need to learn if you intend to be good a long range shooting. There are two basic measurements, Mil and MOA. Selection of which is better for you is a heated internet debate.
There are three ways of narrowing down which you should pick in my opinion. First, if you are used to a particular one, go with that. Why change what you know. Second, if your scope adjustments are in wither mil or moa, match the reticle to the adjustments. Finally, if you have the option to get whichever you would like, MOA is usually a little easier for the new shooter to understand and will perform just as well as Mil measurements. Truly, either will work with training and practice.
Just like with reticles, adjustments come in Mils or MOA. Most companies who produce scopes for hunting or other more mundane activities don’t even advertise which they use because it's not that important. When it comes to long-range shooting, the relationship between your adjustments, reticle, and distance to the target is much more important.
The standard hunting scope has capped adjustments. These use screw-top adjustments that are protected with caps to prevent them from being knocked out of zero. They are not intended to be adjusted once zeroed. These scopes are simple to use and great for casual shooting but have no place in the long distance game.
For distance shooting you really want turret style adjustments. These are knobs that are used to zero the scope and can be adjusted on the fly to compensate for windage and elevation. Generally, they will have features that work to make distance shooting easier.
Some extras on adjustments to be aware of: Zero reset means you can zero in your scope then loosen the turret and turn it to match your rifle zero. This means you can always find your 100-yard zero again even if the adjustments get knocked around. This is a great feature to have!
Locking turrets are a good way around getting your scope knocked out of zero. The problem is you have to have the tool to unlock them before doing adjustments. This is more of a pain than anything else. Use zero-reset turrets or make a not of your zero instead.
Some companies offer custom turrets based on your personal load data. You simply give them the information and they will machine you a set of turrets to perfectly match your rifle and ballistic information. This is a good feature but usually not necessary.
No decent scope is going to be a small investment especially if you sink your money into something high end. You need to make sure it has what it takes to last a lifetime. Part of this is proper care for your scope but having the upfront features you need to make sure your scope has the best chance at lasting is a great start.
At a minimum your scope should be made from a single piece of a durable aluminum alloy. Most scopes are thanks to modern machining but you want to make sure. Having a coating that is scratch resistance is a huge help in making sure your scope stays in great shape. The combination of these features should ensure that your scope can take some moderate impacts without being permanently damaged.
For lenses, you want something that is scratch resistant if at all possible. If you can’t get the scope you want with scratch resistant features, at least get a set of scope caps. Things like branches and other common items that brush against your lenses are not the problem. Dust and dirt are where scratches come from so learn proper cleaning processes.
The internal of your scope should be sealed at least. This ensures that water and dust can’t get inside the scope and cause irreparable damage. For a preference a scope should be purged and gas filled. This pressure prevents moisture intrusion much better than sealing alone.
Best Long Range Scope on the Market Review
Best High-End Rifle Scopes
If you are after the best of the best, this is where you spend your money. These are the scopes that offer the best performance and have the durability to last a lifetime of hard use.
1 Vortex Optics Razor HD Gen II – Best Long Range Tactical Scope
Its scopes like the Razor that has led Vortex to the front lines of optical technology. This particular scope is made in Japan in one of the worlds leading optical warehouses before going through a rigorous quality control process here in the states to make sure it's up to par. The outcome is one of the best scopes on the market easily competing with some scopes costing less than premium brands but for a price tag well under $2000.
With a high-end magnification of 27x, you have the power to reach out to that 1000 yard target with a flat shooting round. This makes it a great choice for 6.5 Creedmoor and .338 Lapua. Regardless of the rifle, even at 27x the optics of the Razor are impeccable. Easily some of the best on the market today and far surpassing many staples of the optics industry.
There are several reticles available on this scope but we recommend the EBR-1C MRAD for its ease of use. This is a good option for beginners and advanced shooters alike. It has all the data you need on the reticle but in a way that isn’t distracting for those just getting into the hobby.
The amazing extra-low dispersion glass is coated with a variety of treatments to ensure a good image no matter the weather or conditions out. It even works quite well in low light situations. The lenses are scratch resistant as a part of the incredible Vortex durability package. You also get a single piece tube that is sealed and purged to prevent moisture intrusion and providing amazing strength and durability that still manages to be lightweight.
All of this is backed by the Vortex VIP warranty which is about as good as it gets. Your scope is going to be tough enough to handle most anything but should something happen, Vortex is going to take care of it. If nothing else sells you on this scope, that fact should.
2 Leupold VX-6 HD – Best for Long Range Hunting
Leupold is legendary but has taken the road of offering more budget-friendly scopes recently. While these are good quality, they simply do not stand up to what Leupold is capable of. If you want to see that, you need to check out something like the VX-6 series. These scopes are the cream of the crop where American made optics are concerned.
There are a few versions of this scope made by Leupold but the one we recommend is the 3-18x with the T-MOA CDS illuminated reticle. This is a great choice for the hunter who may be hunting at times and areas where low light levels are common. Leupold’s Twilight Max system can give you up to an additional hour of shooting time by varying the intensity of the reticle and combining that with their HD lenses.
For the hunter, the reticle may be a little much but if you know how to use it properly, it can come in very handy. It's not as complicated or distracting as many MOA reticles are. This matches well with the low-profile turrets that are perfect for dense woodlands. The shorter form-factor keeps them from getting snagged up but keeps them easily adjustable.
The VX-6 is the hallmark of Leupold engineering and durability. The lenses alone are scratch resistant but also have an ion coating that actively repels water, dust, dirt, and even fingerprints. Even with all of this, they include dust covers just in case. The body is sealed and purged with an anti-scratch coating.
Though this is a great option for 30-06 hunting rifles and similar classic setups, it has all of the features you could want out of a modern tactical scope. This includes custom dials and zero-reset turrets. If you want American made, this is the best bet!
3 Nightforce Optics BR Series – Best for Long Range Competition
If we step into the world of Nightforce, we often see the tactical and sniper style scopes but they have a whole series dedicated to competition shooting. These Benchrest scopes have probably made more 1000 yard shots than any other brand or model in the last 10 years. What’s better is they often come in under $1500 if you are willing to do a little shopping around.
The first thing we need to talk about is power! At 42x this is definitely a scope that can reach out there. When you have power like that you have to have perfect glass. Not close to perfect but dead on the nose perfect. Nightforce has pulled that with an expertly designed, low-dispersion, multi-coated lens setup. You won’t find optics any better on any brand out there.
From the ground up the BR series is designed for ultra-long-range shooting. This means the reticle is perfectly calibrated and matched to the turret adjustments. The reticle is divided into 2 MOA markings which correspond to about 16 clicks of adjustment on the turrets. This is the definition of fine tuning and will allow you to drop a bullet right on target at any range you are skilled enough to shoot at.
While Nightforce is normally known for their durability, the BR series is made a little lighter. They are still a solid scope and capable of taking some abuse being shockproof and waterproof. They just aren’t quite as tough as their other scope lines. If you spend most of your time on the range, this is a perfect matchup that won’t weigh your rifle down.
If what you want out of a scope is simply range, there is likely no better scope on the market. I have seen these used for 300 Win Mag, .22, and everything in between to great effect. They win competitions year after year. Long range competition is a niche market to begin with and Nightforce has come up with a scope that dominates that market.
If you need something a little more budget friendly, often the mid-range stuff is the best bang for your buck. These are scopes that often cost under $1000, sometime much less. That may still seem a bit steep but in the world of quality optics, that is far less than what premium scopes run. You have to invest if your driving goal is to get those long shots.
4 Burris Veracity – Best Mid-Range Hunting Scope
The Veracity not only represents the best scope made by Burris but the best scope that Burris has ever produced. The engineering and quality of this optic far surpass anything that has even come from their machining. Not all Burris scopes have not always been considered the best but they knocked it out of the park with this one!
First of all, the Veracity has the best lenses Burris has ever used improved by a new and improved coating process to reduce glare and improve the overall scope image. This is paired with a massive 25x magnification to provide you a great scope capable of some amazing distance shots.
The reticle is the Burris Balistiplex E1 Varmint reticle which is an MOA marked reticle that has everything you need for complex shots but presented in an organized and easy to use fashion. This combined with the zero-stop, low profile turrets make a great setup for those new to the shooting game.
Sure, it may not be the overall top of the line but it has all the quality you need for M1A competitions. Use one for AR 15 or AR 10 rifles for a great setup out to 500 yards. The scope is very capable of making long shots, far more than any scope made by Burris 10 years ago. This could be the turn-around product they need!
5 Nikon Black X1000 – Best Budget Sniper Scope
Nikon is best known for their Monarch series of optics which are quite good and have been a popular choice for the conscious consumer for years. The Black series blows the Monarch out of the water. This represents a whole new world in Nikon optics and one that is looking very good for a company that already has a good reputation.
Nikon’s glass has always been top notch. It was their main selling point for years. The X1000 has blown their previous attempts out of the water. I am not sure where this new glass came from but I am sure it's here to stay. When combined with a scope that tops out at 24x, this is a great choice for those of a tactical mind but need the best value they can get.
There are several power and reticle options available for this optic but our preference is for the 6-24x with the illuminated MRAD reticle. This pairs the best with the mil turret adjustments for an all-around great setup for those wanting to do a little bit of everything. From hunting to the range, this is a capable setup.
One of the biggest steps up with this scope is the smoothness of adjustment. It far surpasses any scope ever made by Nikon. The glass is better, everything is tighter, and the scope is much more robust. All around, this is just the best scope Nikon has ever built and for the money, there are none better.
6 Bushnell Elite Tactical – Best Mid-Range Tactical Scope
For those who have been shooting for years, you know that Bushnell and Nikon have always been at each other’s throats in competition. Probably more than any other two optics companies out there. It makes sense that they would have an answer to the Nikon Black and the Elite Tactical is a good contender.
I do have to say that the color through the Bushnell scope is far sharper and that can make a difference. However, the scope doesn’t transfer light quite as well so it does a little worse in dim conditions. This is a tradeoff that you just have to make, especially at this price point. Otherwise, magnification is the same on either scope and both do exceptionally well.
The Elite Tactical uses a DMR reticle in mil-hash that works very well for those that really know how to read a scope. It can be a little busy for the beginner but it is overall a very good reticle. There are some cheater lines at the bottom that are helpful for estimating holdover and getting a good range measurement when the scope is zoomed in.
With argon purging and a thicker tube, you have to give durability to the Bushnell. The glass may not be quite as good but it's close. Realistically, considering how close the prices are its really a tough call between the two. If you are a Bushnell fan, this scope will definitely treat you right.
Best Value Scopes
Sometimes you do have to moderate your expenses but you shouldn’t have to settle for a poor quality scope. There are ways to get a scope that can hold its own and really get out to those far targets if you do it right. There are scopes costing under $500 that can make that 1000 yard shot.
7 Vortex Optics Diamondback Tactical – Best Value Tactical Scope
While there are a few differences between the Diamondback and the Razor above, they are in the fine details. This scope is a fraction of the price and if you are willing to sacrifice a little optical quality, you can still get those shots out to 600 or 800 yards with no issue. Even 1000 isn’t really out of the question for a skilled shooter.
While the optical quality may not be quite what the Razor has, the Diamondback still blows the socks off many scopes costing far more. The extra-low dispersion glass and industry-leading multi-coat elevate the lenses of this scope into the top 10% of all the options out there. This combined with a 24x magnification will let you get the details on those far targets.
There are a few options available for this scope but the 24x is the clear winner. For a reticle we like the MRAD version of the EBR-2C reticle. It’s a little complicated but it matches the turrets and makes adjustment a little easier. A scope like this is capable of everything you will likely need unless you are a veteran distance shooter.
8 Nikon P-Tactical – Best Budget Competition Scope
With the revisit of the Vortex we are setting a standard. From here on, all of these scopes are budget models of the scopes above. In this case, the P-Tactical is the little brother of the X1000 even though it was here first. All in all, this is a quality scope that can get you out to 800 yards. In fact, it was specifically designed to.
The P-Tactical uses the older style of Nikon glass which isn’t quite as good as that used on the X1000 but it is still a shining star in the optical world. This is the same glass that made the Monarch and Prostaff series of scopes famous. In its price range, there truly aren’t many better.
Adjustments are made using spring loaded, zero-reset turrets. These match well with the proprietary BDC 800 reticle used on this optic. This scope is designed to help even the beginner get shots out to the maximum effective range of the .308 round. Not that you have to restrict yourself to that particular caliber. With a little knowledge of your load data and some math, you can get out there with any caliber that is capable.
The turret adjustments are not as crisp on the P-Tactical as on the X1000. Much of this is due to the spring-loaded nature. It may take some time to get the hang of the knobs and how they work but with a little practice, this is a great distance shooting scope for a great price!
9 Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn – Best Value Competition Scope
The Dusk & Dawn series of scopes are intended for hunting but with their most powerful model, the 24x, it actually makes a very good competition scope on the cheap. It's well-constructed and a decent all-around scope with plenty of power and accuracy for distance shooting.
For a scope costing well under $200, the optical quality is quite good. The standard Bushnell has always been the Banner series. These scopes have probably taken more animals in North America than any other model out there. The optics on the Dusk & Dawn are an improved take on the same glass that provides better color and low-light visibility.
The turrets are a little different on this Bushnell and are probably more suited to competition shooting where you have a little more time to make your adjustments. Regardless, they match very well with the standard Mil reticle. The MOA adjustment and Mil reticle is the classic setup for a distance scope. It has fallen out of favor lately but if you can learn this system, you can shoot any other reticle/adjustment system on the market.
Like most optics in this price range, you are going to get a little slop in the adjustments. This is usually a minor annoyance at most. You need to make sure you get the full click out of your adjustment or you may be a little off on your shot. Otherwise, this is a very accurate scope with a great price and a solid warranty. If money is tight, this is the scope that will get you the distance you crave.
Best Long Range Rifle Scope Brands
There are dozens of scope brands but many are cheap and not worthy of your hard earned money. There is a big difference between a budget scope and a cheap scope. The brands below are not an exhaustive list of quality scopes but are a good starting point for those brands that are commonly available.
Nightforce has developed a reputation for some of the most durable optics on the market. They are definitely a contender for the best quality scopes on the market.
Leupold is a legendary American company that has experience making scopes for hunters, shooters, and the military. They have amazing quality control and a great warranty.
Vortex is the company that has taken the optics world by storm with their exceptional quality, great prices, and amazing warranty. They have three tiers of optics ranging from moderately priced to exceptional quality.
Carl Zeiss optics are nearly mythical in their optical quality. Easily some of the best glass on the market. They aren’t very common and tend to be a little less durable than some brands but if great lenses are what you want, this is where you get them.
Steiner has made some of the best rated binoculars on the planet for years. They are well known to have amazing durability combined with exceptional glass quality. Their scopes are just as amazing.
Though they are best known for their short range tactical scopes, Trijicon does have a line of moderate and long range scopes. They are not as commonly used but are well loved by those who own them.
Sig has made some great pistols forever and done well with their rifle line. Their recent foray into the world of optics has been just as successful with many regarding their scopes as some of the best dollar for dollar out there.
Nikon has scopes that are cheap and scopes that are good. If you get a good scope, they are quite good. Overall Nikon is one of the best entry-level brands out there.
There are likely more Bushnell optics on rifles than any other brand in existence. Most of their scopes are on the lower end and better suited for hunters but they do offer some scopes that are quite good. These scopes make decent starting optics for those on a budget.
Most Burris scopes are probably not the quality you would choose for long distance shooting but they do have a few optics that are well worth the money. They are an economy brand but one that manages to throw out a gem every once in a while.
The draw of distance shooting is the patience and skill it requires. It's no longer about how fast or athletic you are. Suddenly it’s a thinking man's game. If you want to get those shots out to 500 or 1000 yards, you need to work on the skill and develop the patience to make that shot. No scope will do that for you but it's hard to practice without a capable scope.
There are plenty of options for the best long range scopes out there but the ones above are the tried and true. The ones that are known to perform. Combined with a good rifle, they will put you well on the right path.