Best Rifle Scopes Review
Deciding on the next scope you should buy for your rifle can be a difficult choice to make. There are so many different varieties and just about as many price brackets. Buying anything online can be tricky, and maybe a little nerve-wracking verse going to a store and seeing products with your own eyes and touching the product with your hands.
Research, in general, is the best route before buying online if this is how you plan to select your next rifle scope. To ease the pressures of potentially making a bad decision, take a few minutes and learn a little about some of the rifle scopes on the market today by checking our best rifle scopes review.
What is a Rifle Scope?
In 1608, German-Dutch inventor and the earliest recorded patent holder of the telescope Hans Lippershey, and Dutch spectacle maker Zacharias Janssen, creator of the microscope, are to thank for the first refracting telescopes, which lead the way in the first studies conducted on optical shooting aids.
The idea of optical aiming aids was nothing new to the marksman. Since the advent of rifling, shooters have adopted different sights and aiming aids, but they were often primitive in design and were ineffective. Patient records of the era are scarce, but it’s known the first patient for a telescopic rifle scope was filed around 1835-1840 when New York inventor Morgan James and engineer John R.
Chapman collaborated to release the Chapman James Sight. In 1855, designer William Malcolm expanded on the Chapman James Sight by incorporating achromatic lenses and elevation and windage adjustment knobs. Two decades will pass before the telescopic sight gained its notoriety in the American Civil War.
Rifle sights were used by both the Confederacy and the Union armies, proving the design in some of the harshest battlefield conditions of its time. Over the years, warfare, sportsman, and hunters have all contributed to the growth of long-range marksmanship, which in turn led to a small industrial revolution of sorts.
To put it into perspective, some of the longest shots in history were only 600-800 yards until advancements in optics and rifling have enabled marksman to take almost impossible shots up to a mile and a half. The longest shot in history was set in 2017 by a Canadian Joint Task Force Two Special Forces operator in Iraq.
As you can see, from the 17th century to now, the concept of long-distance marksmanship has evolved, Can you still see how modern rifle scope based off these original 19th-century designs? It’s clear that modern optics are much more advanced than their predecessors. Advancements such as higher resolution lenses, variable and fixed zoom apertures, more advanced building materials and production methods, and over a dozen different aiming reticles you can choose.
Rifle Scope Nomenclature
Before we discuss the best scopes on the market, let’s review rifle scope basics and terminology, that way you are fully armed with all the information you need to make your choice.
First up, magnification. Magnification is dictated by the first number in a series of numbers that look a lot like this “4×32”. The second number is the Objective lens size.
Magnification represents how many times the target will be magnified while looking through the scope. The objective lens is the size of the lens that is on the far end of the scope where all the light enters the optic. This is what’s called a fixed variable scope.
You may also see a number that looks like this “3-9×40.” This is the same concept; you’ll notice a second number added to the magnification variable.
The 3-9 represents the range of magnification power of an adjustable variable scope. With an adjustable variable scope, you can adjust the magnification based on the targets relative distance to the shooter by twisting the power ring knob on the rear end of the scope.
One of the biggest misrepresentations I’ve seen in my experience is a person mistaking the 3-9x by putting 3x9x40, which is fine, marksman will know what you mean, but the misrepresentation could send potential buyers the wrong way, forewarned is forearmed.
The next part of the scope we will discuss is the exit pupil. The exit pupil and the ocular lens is the lens and opening closest to the marksman’s eye where the light that enters the forward objective lens exits and the image of the target is projected into the shooters eye.
The exit pupil is important because when shooting at long distances, there is a split second delay when you see the image of the target. It’s measured in milliseconds, but that could be all the time it takes to throw or land a round on target. In modern scopes, the lenses are generally shock, water, and fog proof.
As mentioned above, the objective lens is the lens at the end of the scope furthest from the shooter. The casing where the objective lens is seated is called the objective bell.
Now that we know a rifle scope is essentially a refracting telescope, we are aware that light passing through the scope is magnified into an image at the focal point of the scope, these focal points are marked by a crosshair, also known as the reticle.
Crosshairs are the sights so to speak, the intersecting points of the crosshair are where the point of impact will be on target if judicial accuracy is practiced.
There are also two more adjustment knobs that the marksman can adjust to influence accuracy, windage, and elevation. The windage adjustment alters the X-axis or the horizontal setting; the elevation adjusts the Y-axis or the vertical setting.
If your windage, elevation, or magnification setting is off compared to the relative distance you are from the target, you will experience what’s called parallax. Parallax is when the point of aim changes when the position of the shooters eye changes. Parallax is extremely common in variable zoom scopes, but with a few simple adjustments, it’s a quick and easy fix.
Reticles, or more commonly known as the crosshairs, come in a variety of styles and designs but understand, they range in complexity. The most popular and probably the easiest reticle to use in my opinion is the standard crosshair, just a cross or T with intersecting points in the center of the optics X and Y axis.
The crosshair is the best used when engaging targets at 100 yards, anything more would require adjustments or the use of a more advanced reticle. The Mil-Dot is the most common reticle used in tactical rifle scopes, each dot in the Mil-Dot reticle acts as a unit of measurement to gauge what distance a target is at without a rangefinder.
The Mil-Dot also can be used for accounting for windage. I think this reticle has gained so much trust in professional circles because the marksman can make fast trajectory adjustments and calculations without the target exiting your point of view.
There are countless other reticle patterns, and each serves a unique purpose, many manufacturers have started introducing their own, unique reticles into the market, but the Mil-Dot is by far the preferred aperture for professional marksman due to its simplicity and precision across the board.
One final factor to consider is the size of the scopes main body, the tube. The scopes tube size comes in two sizes, 33 millimeters, and one inch, this is important because you will need to know what size mounting rings the tube will need to be affixed to the rifle.
Now that we have the basics covered let’s discuss some of the most popular scopes on the market today.
Vortex Optics Diamondback HP 4-16×42
Vortex Optics Diamondback HP 4-16×42
This doesn’t take it out of the running though; this particular scope compensates for the smaller objective lens size by adopting the 1/4 MOA adjustment, which I feel is more stable with a variable zoom scope instead of the standard Mil-Dot adjustment graduation. The lens is an ArmorTek XD multi-coated lens, which ensures the optic is completely waterproof, shock absorbing, and won’t fog up on you in humid environments.
The objective lens is adequate, but when you’re engaging a target at distances that require 16x power, you would want a scope with a larger objective lens to avoid parallax error with a variable zoom scope.
- ArmorTek multilayer coating with argon gas purging and O-ring seal keeps moisture out, shock rated, and fog proof.
- Weighing in at 7 ounces, this lightweight scope makes traveling long distances with your weapon hassle free.
- Well priced, with an average MSRP around $300-$400.
- Features a four-inch sunshade, a microfiber lens cloth, and protective lens caps.
- BDC reticle with a Vortex customized point of impact dot in the crosshair, making holdover and consistent follow-up shots a breeze.
- Variable zoom scopes are prone to parallax adjustment errors at extreme distances until the marksman is acclimated with this optic.
- MOA is a pretty unique reticle so it will require practice, compared to standard Mil-Dot or crosshair.
Nikon Monarch 3 BDC 4-16×50
One of the distinct features I love about the Monarch is the FFP or first focal plane reticle. The FFP reticle allows the sniper to fully adjust the optics magnification graduation without losing focus of the target. The FFP also allows targets in low light, wet, and high mirage environments in a lower magnification setting while projecting a crystal-clear image to the shooters eye.
The Monarch 3 features a one-inch tube to accommodate the larger objective lens size, which for a medium-priced scope is fantastic. The windage and elevation turrets are spring loaded, which most likely won’t be needed once you have this scope sighted into the desired rage and it’s configured to the environments atmospheric conditions.
I have used this scope on .223, and a .308 rifle which was zeroed in at 100 yards and I have to say, the Monarch 3 is perfect for light duty hunting and target shooting.
- Nikon’s First Focal Plane reticle allows for quick magnification adjustments without losing your sight picture.
- 50mm objective lens allows for extremely long-range shots.
- At first, the 1.5 MOA aperture seemed too large for precision shots, but once I measured a few objects in the distance, I knew the size of, I realized the MOA was a handy tool for calculating distances.
- Shock resistant, waterproof, and fog proof.
- 4x zoom allows for rapid target acquisition in close quarters, which can be adjusted to 16x power. Overall, there are eight different magnification adjustment settings with five different reticles to choose from.
- 1.2 pounds. Not too heavy to carry, but anything less than a pound is ideal for a rifle mounted optic.
- Pretty pricey for a mid-range scope.
Leupold FX-3 12×40
Mind you, with a fixed zoom; there are no magnification adjustments necessary, just windage and elevation depending on environmental conditions. The only qualm I have with this optic is the weight, weighing in at almost two pounds. I would recommend this scope when shooting from a stationary position without having to displace to another position. You can just set up a hide and wait.
Like other scopes on this list, the FX-3 is waterproof, fog proof, and shock resistant, no matter what happens, you know your scope is reliable and will shoot true no matter what you put it through.
- Generates 95% light transmission through Leupolds patented Xtended Twilight Lens system.
- Cryogenically treated windage and elevation turrets to ensure pinpoint calibration with every adjustment.
- A fixed 12 times magnification is ideal for extended range precision marksmanship, I have taken shots at 1000 yards with a 12x power, and it’s astounding how easy it becomes with the proper equipment.
- Fast focus eyepiece with a single duplex aperture allows for rapid target acquisition without having to compensate for a parallax adjustment.
- One inch treated aluminum tube, which is pressurized, fog proof, shockproof, and waterproof.
- The price is extremely fair considering the quality of the scope. Many scopes in this class will run at least a thousand dollars, but I feel like prices on optics has gone down since the mid 2000’s.
- Heavy, which can limit the shooter mobility depending on the circumstances of the shot, the environment, and what type of weapon system you’re using. 1.7 pounds isn’t a lot, but trust me when I say they can be quite cumbersome over time. Since you can’t adjust the magnifications, this is an excellent optic to use when firing from camouflage or concealment from a stationary hide or post.
Thank you for sticking around and educating yourself on optical basics and the best rifle scopes on the market today. Keep in mind; there are about a million different scopes on the market today, each scope serving a specific purpose bending on the weapon, the round, where you’ll be shooting, etc.
I know it seems like a lot to digest, but trust me, once you start to get an idea of what kind of scope you need, it’s all smooth sailing from there. If I had to choose just one scope on the list, I’d have to choose the Leupold FX-3. I choose the FX-3 because the 12 times fixed magnification will always be sighted and zeroed to the distance you plan on shooting at without having to make any parallax adjustments.
The 40mm objective lens allows for greater ambient light to pass through the scope, giving you a much higher resolution without any of the fuzziness. The only downside to a large objective lens is the lack of visibility in humid and low light conditions.
You could always add a night vision scope to your optic system, but that usually costs thousands of dollars and some minor gunsmithing to attach the mount to your gun, unless it has a Picatinny rail system that is. I hope our best rifle scopes review was useful to you. As always, stay safe, shoot true, and have fun! Happy shooting!