Scopes & Sights photo

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Lead photograph by Travis Rathbone. Scope photographs by Cliff Gardiner & John Keller

Hunters don’t need tactical flashlights. But when it comes to long-range shooting, the best ideas from the military and law-enforcement worlds can help in the field. It’s up to you to define long range, but shots placed with precision are always a good thing, and quality optics with exposed knobs and ballistic reticles can make that easier. My son and I tested the eight tactical scopes on these pages to find one for him to take to Africa. The requirements for good long-range hunting glass are the same there as they are here; models for consideration had to have at least 10X magnification but could not weigh more than 24 ounces or be longer than 16 inches. They also had to have a ballistic reticle and target-type turrets, and to keep things reasonably affordable, the maximum price was $1,100. Here’s how they stacked up.

The Test

First, we weighed and measured the scopes to verify manufacturer specs. We evaluated resolution, color rendition, and brightness by looking at an eye chart and colored targets set out at 100 yards in dark timber. Then we mounted the scopes on a devilishly accurate Sisk STAR rifle with Talley tactical rings, and fired Barnes Precision Match ammo to test the adjustments’ precision and repeatability. Next, we tossed the scopes in the back of a Polaris Ranger and drove down a mile-long, kidney-jarring trail. After putting each model in a 105-degree hot tub for five minutes and then in a bucket of 55-degree well water for another five, we put them in the freezer for three hours. Finally, we checked zeroes and repeated the adjustment test. Meanwhile, all other features and functions got scrutinized. —R.M.

[1] Leupold Custom Shop VX-3



SPECS 4.5–14x40mm • 30mm tube • 131⁄4″ long (by my tape) • 15.3 oz. (by my scale)


HITS Compact and lightweight, this VX-3 has lots of custom options, including reticle, adjustments, illumination, and more. Resolution is excellent.

MISSES It takes the Custom Shop a few weeks to do the work. The old-style, ocular-bell focus is a little tedious.

THE TAKEAWAY Buy direct from the Custom Shop or send your VX-3 in. We got the TS 32 reticle and the VX-6 Custom Dial System (CDS). The base price was $699 and modifications were $340 more. The scope’s all-around quality and custom options make it our winner.

[2] Swarovski Z3 BT L



SPECS 4–12x50mm • 1″ tube • 133⁄4″ long • 15.2 oz.


HITS Resolution is pristine, and ballistic correction provided by the reticle is quick and simple to apply. It’s the lightest scope in the test.

MISSES The reticle provides correction for wind drift but not for bullet drop. No parallax adjustment.

THE TAKEAWAY The view through this scope is breathtaking. The ele­va­tion adjustment has an integrated zero stop and a unique set of customizable trajectory-correction dials. Tuning these to match your load is simple, and once set, they can be manipulated without looking, which is useful when you are concentrating on an animal.

[3] Nightforce SHV



SPECS 3–10x42mm • 30mm tube • 113⁄4″ long • 21.2 oz.


HITS The SHV is very compact, and the MOA clicks precisely match the MOA reticle. Optical clarity was excellent from edge to edge.

MISSES Capped adjustment knobs prevent accidental movement but hinder speedy correction in the field. It’s a little on the heavy side. A zero stop would have been nice.

THE TAKEAWAY This is Nightforce’s entry-level optic, built every bit as tough as its high-end riflescopes. The price is kept low by limiting options—not by sacrificing quality. Though comparatively short, it has plenty of mounting space for proper positioning on your rifle.

[4] Meopta MeoPro Target



SPECS 4.5–14x50mm • 1″ tube • 14″ long • 19 oz.


HITS Optically, this scope was about as good as any we tested. The BDC reticle is uncluttered and easy to use.

MISSES Mounting space was limited. Windage and elevation turret adjustments turn in opposite directions, making their use less intuitive. There is no zero stop.

THE TAKEAWAY We were very impressed with the view through the MeoPro Target. It scored well on just about every test, except that after a dunk in water and a three-hour condemnation to the freezer, the magnification adjustment was frozen in place. But it thawed quickly. Mounting space was the bigger issue.

[5] Trijicon AccuPower



SPECS 4–16x50mm • 30mm tube • 14″ long • 23.3 oz.


HITS The illuminated reticle offers a choice of colors and brightness levels to best suit the conditions. Optics are very bright.

MISSES It is large and heavy, with capped adjustments. There’s no zero stop.

THE TAKEAWAY With its excellent illuminated reticle, the AccuPower is clearly the best choice for hunting in extreme low light or at night (where legal). The Mil-Square reticle on our test model could be a bit confusing. An MOA reticle and MOA adjustments are available. Turret graduations were a bit small and hard to read but were precise and repeatable.

[6] Nikon Monarch 7 Custom XR Turret



SPECS 4–16x50mm • 30mm tube • 131⁄4″ long • 23.1 oz.


HITS You give Nikon the ballistics of your specific rifle load, and they will custom etch the turret inscriptions to match. The ballistic reticle is also fast and easy to use.

MISSES The turret adjustments are a bit sensitive to the touch, and eye relief is comparatively shallow.

THE TAKEAWAY Optical quality was very good but not equal to the best in the test. Custom turrets—which include a zero-stop option—let you use the crosshair for all distances, and the BDC reticle offers a practical backup. Like all Nikon scopes, this one is compatible with the company’s Spot On ballistics program.

[7] Zeiss Conquest HD5



SPECS 2–10x42mm • 1″ tube • 131⁄2″ long • 17.6 oz.


HITS The Conquest HD5 is a good size and weight for hunting. The optics are crisp and clear. The ballistic reticle is uncluttered, making it fast and easy to use.

MISSES Capped adjustments are not numbered; the hash marks were hard to see. No zero stop.

THE TAKEAWAY Though not an absolute necessity with 10X magnification, a parallax adjustment would have been appreciated on this scope. Out of the freezer, the magnification adjustment was frozen in place. It thawed in about five minutes. The RZ 600 reticle was our favorite of the bunch.

[8] Burris XTR II



SPECS 2–10x42mm • 34mm tube • 131⁄2″ long • 27.7 oz.


HITS Although a little stiff when new, the adjustments are crisp and repeatable. Lots of mounting space.

MISSES It is a bit too heavy for most hunting situations. The Mil-Dot reticle can be confusing.

THE TAKEAWAY The Burris catalog lists the weight at 22.7 ounces, but in the real world this scope was a full 5 ounces more—nearly 4 ounces beyond our limit. The mil adjustments matched the mil reticle precisely. If you’re accustomed to working in mils, and weight is not an issue—say, on a beanfield rifle—this is an affordable precision instrument.