Ever since the advent of the rifle, shooters have wanted to push the extremes of how far they could shoot. From the first telescopic sights used on cap and ball rifles all the way to the most modern scopes today, our interest in reaching farther and farther has never waned. If your goal is to reach out past 500 yards, you are going to need the best long range rifle scope you can get. The first step is to understand exactly what that means.
What is a Long Range Scope
While any scope can be used to increase range, we are looking at a specific tool designed to engage targets out past 500 yards or more. That means you are going to want certain traits in that scope that make it not only possible to shoot that far but to simplify the process as much as possible. Ranges approaching 800 yards become very difficult and out to 1000 yards, nearly impossible without a specialized setup.
At a minimum you want magnification of 10x which is what the military uses on their .308 rifles out to 800 yards. You may want to go a little more powerful if you want to cross that 800 yard barrier. Even if you are shooting out to 500 yards, there is a benefit to a little more magnification. The trick is to find the right balance between enough and too much.
Typically I recommend scopes in the mid to high teens as a good place to start. Something from 14x to 18x is enough to get out to 1000 yards if you are good. More magnification only makes it easier to see your target, not hit it. Then again, you can’t hit what you can’t see.
I have had good luck with scopes into the 24x range and prefer these for anything past 800 yards. You can simply see the target better. You will need more stability when you shoot because your crosshair is going to be wavering pretty bad with that level of magnification. Not to mention, it makes shooting shorter ranges more difficult.
Just remember you will need a sizable objective and multicoated lenses to preserve image quality at that power. But lenses are their own section.
More than likely you are also going to want a BDC reticle to make the most of your scope. This is a huge plus at long range. Not only does it allow you to use “Kentucky Windage” and hold off your target but it can help you determine distance to your target. That is a vital component when you are shooting at long range.
Most reticles for long range scopes are either MOA or Mil. These are simply measurements between the markings on the scope. Either of these will work but you have to know what you have and learn to use it. If have previous experience with a specific type, stick with that. If not, I recommend going with a reticle that matches the adjustments on your scope.
For a long time the standard was Mil reticles with MOA adjustments. This is no longer the case so keep it simple. Get a scope with matching adjustments and reticles. It will make you that much more likely to be accurate out of the gate.
To make the most of your reticle you will want target turrets that are adjustable on the fly for windage and elevation. This is trait that is not only common on dedicated long range scopes but nearly universal in the modern optics market.
These adjustments will usually be on tower style turrets. They can be adjusted while you are looking through the scope so you never have to take your eye off the target. You simply do the math and count the clicks till you get what you need. You will have to understand the math behind measuring through a scope to make this work.
Like with a reticle, you can get Mil or MOA adjustments. Some people prefer one or the other but the majority tend to use MOA. This is most likely a matter of availability. Either will work as long as you know which you are using and learn the specifics of that measurement system.
Having these is not an option for long range shooting. Once you reach large amounts of bullet drop, holding over is no longer a viable practice. You need to be able to dial in that range to get everything right. You can skimp on dialing windage once you have a good grasp of estimating it but usually your hold will be very small. In strong wind, use your adjustments.
Really when we talk about lenses we are talking about the visual perfection of the scope. This really takes in more than lenses but generally if the lenses are good, the prism will be good. There are a lot of different technologies, options, and sizes available in lenses so this is a very brief overview of the topic.
First, get the best glass you can. No company advertises that their lenses are good or bad so the only way to ensure you are getting what you want is to get a scope from a reputable optics brand. The ones listed below definitely qualify but are not the only brands with a solid reputation. Do your research before you buy.
The next thing to look at is objective size. The more magnification a scope has, the more light it needs to preserve brightness. This means it needs a larger objective. There is a formula for how large it needs to be but a better way to figure out what works is to compare it to other scopes with similar magnification. If it’s overly small, pass it up. If it’s overly large, that is an indication that there is something else wrong with the scope optically.
The final factor is the lens coatings. While there are several levels of coating, you really want to get something that has fully multi-coated lenses. This means that all lens surfaces are coated with a variety of chemicals that do a number of different jobs. This can be anti-glare, color filtering, scratch resistance, and several other factors.
Most good brands have good multi-coating. Some notable examples are Nightforce, Leupold, and Vortex. These are companies that have led the industry in lens treatments. You don’t have to get one of these to get solid lenses but make sure you get a scope with at least some form of multi-coating. When you are shooting in dim conditions or at long ranges, this can be what makes or breaks your shot.
Though there are many variables on long range scopes, most of the rest can be glossed over. One that shouldn’t be glossed over is durability. You are going to spend a sizable amount on a good scope, you want it to last. Make sure you get the highest quality construction you can afford.
Most scopes are made of aluminum which is fine. It’s probably the best material for a scope because it is not ferrous and doesn’t react strongly with the atmosphere. You do want it to be a good alloy like aircraft grade. You also want it to be a one piece tube. This is by far the strongest option. Anything less is just going to be problems.
The coating should be scratch resistant. While a scratched scope will still work for years, the coating prevents corrosion of the tube and is just an added layer of protection. There are several levels of scratch resistant but any of them should be fine.
When it comes to waterproof and weatherproofing, you definitely want something that can handle the elements. The best scopes are sealed and purged with an inert gas such as argon or nitrogen. This is the gold standard. Something you definitely want to try for.
If water can’t get in, neither can dust and dust is one of the main two killers of scopes. Oil is the other and while oil can penetrate sealed scopes, you can prevent this by taking care when cleaning. If the scope is pressurized, oil cannot get in. Some companies, such as Vortex have positive pressure on their scopes to prevent this.
You also need to make sure your scope is shockproof up to your rated caliber. Some will not be able to handle magnum loads which limits you to rounds smaller than a .308 or .270. Get something that can handle your round or the largest round you plan on ever using.
Long Range Scopes – Principles of Use
A long range scope is not a universal scope for anything you may want to shoot. Understanding the limitations of the equipment is central to its effective use. You also shouldn’t rush out thinking that you will be immediately making 800 yard shots. It takes time and skill to pull that off and some people never take the time to get good enough to do it.
Over my years as a shooter, I have gotten decent at 800 yard shots and can hit most of them with my preferred .300 Winchester Magnum but I have only succeeded at 1000 yards maybe 1 out of 50 times I have tried it . Even with todays super calibers, a 1000 yard shot is rare and VERY difficult.
There are three principles you really need to understand before you buy a scope.
Understanding MOA Rifles
When you buy a rifle intended for long range shooting it will often say it’s a 1 MOA rifle or maybe less if it’s a high quality weapon. What this means is that the rifle is capable of shooting with that level of accuracy. One Minute of Angle is around 1” at 100 yards so any shot you shoot at 100 yards will strike within an inch of your intended location if your shot is perfect. That’s pretty reasonable.
But when you expand out to 500 yards, that’s 5 inches. At 1000 yards that’s 10 inches. If you are shooting a 10 inch plate at 1000 yards, even a perfect shot may miss. Your scope can’t help you at all with this. You just need to get a rifle with a better MOA guarantee if you want consistent hits.
We haven’t talked much about field of view in this article but it’s important to consider when choosing the power of your optic. The more magnification you have, the less area you are able to see through the scope. This is fairly unimportant when shooting at targets but for hunting where you may have to deal with a moving animal, it becomes quite an issue.
Not only will finding your target be harder through a higher magnification scope but following it as it moves will be too. If you plan on using your rifle for hunting you are much better off with something in the mid-teens for maximum power. There is a reason the military prefers scopes between 10 and 15x for all uses. It has to do with field of view and spotting targets. You can reasonably go a bit higher but it can cause problems.
The Tripod of Distance Shooting
This isn’t a physical tripod but an idea of the three concepts you need to make a good shot. Getting a good grasp of these will be necessary if you are after 1000 yards.
The first is to understand your environment. This means being able to judge distances and wind accurately. If you don’t know how far your bullet has to travel and how far it will be pushed by the wind, nothing else will matter.
The second principle is to understand your weapon. This means the ballistics of your rifle and the load you are shooting. This needs to be exact for really long shots. You need to know how much your bullet drops at every distance. There are calculators that can help with this but you need to be familiar with the concept before your start shooting.
The final leg is understanding your optics. This is knowing the relationship between what you see through your scope and how it reflects to what will happen when you shoot. Think of it this way: You can never adjust your bullet to hit where your rifle is pointing so you have to adjust where your rifle is pointing so your bullet hits where you need it to.
A long range shot requires that you accurately know the distance and wind speed, are familiar with how that will impact your bullet, and know how much to adjust your scope to compensate. This takes skill, which you can develop, and practice which you will need.
The 6 Best Long Range Scope Recommendations
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Nightforce Optics BR Series Rifle Scope
When you start shopping at this level, you have to expect the best. What you don’t want is a redesigned hunting scope but something that is purpose built for long or even ultra-long range. That is where the Nightforce BR series comes in. If there is any scope out there that can get you to 1000 yards or more, it’s this one.
There are no sales gimmicks with Nightforce, they are simply the most rugged optic on the planet and with a quality to match. This scope is an astounding 42x at its highest magnification with multicoated lenses and a large 42mm objective to keep things bright and visible. The parallax is also adjustable so you get the best image possible no matter what range you shoot.
With target turrets and a BDC reticle, this is the scope to have for shooting ultra-long ranges and probably the best long range scope for 6.5 Creedmoor, .338 Lapua, or any of the other flat shooting calibers. I will admit to a little bias as this is the scope I have used on my 6mm BR rifle for almost a decade.
Trijicon TR23 AccuPoint
When most people think of high end optics, Trijicon probably comes to mind but maybe not in the realm of long range shooting. Long known for their ACOG, few people have realized the quality and potential of a Trijicon rifle scope with some serious magnification. This is a scope that certainly has 1000 yard capabilities, even if it is half the power of the Nightforce.
Like the ACOG, the TR23 has an illuminated reticle for low light visibility that is zero forward emission. With several options of base reticles available, all have some for of BDC and are second focal plane. No batteries are need for the illuminated center which will only cause long range issues with the smallest targets. Should you shoot at small targets, the go to trick is to set your elevation one mil higher than you need and use the dot below the illumination to aim but this should rarely be needed.
This is a quite powerful optic, maxing out at 20x with a perfectly matched 50mm objective. Of course, all of the lenses are multicoated as you would expect for this level of quality. Though they may not be specifically known for it, Trijicon makes great lenses with high quality glass. There may be better but not many and not by much.
For decades the name Leupold has been one said with pride and having a rifle with a Leupold scope was a mark of excellence. This isn’t just hype, Leupold are top of the line with exceptional durability, quality components, a great warranty and even better customer service. As a company, they take shooting seriously and can easily get you a scope that will put you dead on target.
There are a number of models available but for the experienced distance shooter, the Impact MOA is definitely the way to go. This is an optic designed for complex shooting solutions and one of the few options for a BDC reticle on this particular model. Great for target shooting but really this scope excels for the long range hunter who may need to get shots off more quickly.
When it comes to extreme range, the 15x may not be the most powerful but out to 800, it’s a decent option. For anything less, you are good to go! The fact that it has a low end of 3x is actually a positive for the hunter who may have opportunities at short range. To add one more hunting bonus, the lenses in the Leupold are amazing and resist glare, scratches, smudges, and fingerprints. They just disappear.
Vortex Optics Viper HSLR
If you are into long range shooting, the Vortex Viper is probably a scope you have heard of but the HS LR edition takes it to a whole new level. This scope was designed with distance in mind and with its 6-24x magnification, multicoated optics, and 50mm objective lens, shots out to 1000 yards or more are attainable with this scope.
This is an FFP scope with a BDC reticle and target turrets designed for the long-range shooter. No gimmicks or fluff, just pure quality. For the price, you are getting one of the best long range scopes for the money on the market today. There may be a few that equal the VIPER HSLR but you would be very hard pressed to find one that could top it.
From the get-go, Millet dedicated themselves to producing great optics and with perseverance, they have made a name for themselves in the optics world. The LRS-1 is their long-running flagship scope for those who feel the need to really reach out to their targets and with the max 25x magnification and outstanding lens quality, it will certainly do the job.
The massive 56mm objective on this scope lets in a ton of light so you can be sure to have the brightest picture and amazing resolution. Designed for the most potent ranged calibers including the .50 BMG round, you should have no problem with range or durability. While it may not be one of the biggest names in optical sights, Millet has been around long enough to have it figured out.
Nikon has made a recent change to go with a more tactical lineup. This line, based on their highly successful Monarch series, has been a huge contender in the modern optics world and kept Nikon on the map. With a max 24x magnification, you can definitely get out to 1000 yards with this scope paired with the right rifle. For ranges shorter, you can scale back all the way to 6x.
One of the novel features of this scope is the illuminated MOA or MRAD reticle, shooters choice. Either of these are exactly what you need for long range. Combine all this with a great light transmission through premium multi-coated lenses and you have a knockout scope for an amazing price!
If you are looking for the best long range scope for 308, you should consider one specially designed for the task. Made by legendary optics company, Nikon, the P-308 is designed from the reticle up to be well suited to the most popular long range caliber in the world. And since it is a Nikon, you still get their amazing glass and a solid 40mm objective lens on this 4-12x scope.
With Nikon’s own BDC 800 reticle and matching turret adjustments, getting on target is easy. From that point on it's you but everything this scope has will help you in your quest to get out there to 800 yards or more. You won’t find better for the cost, in fact, this is probably the best long range rifle scope on a budget.
There are a number of scopes sold under the Banner line by Bushnell and all of them have the best quality glass that Bushnell has ever produced. Everything about this scope is quality beyond what you would believe for the price making this a great scope for those new to the sport. With its powerful 16x magnification no reasonable range is out of the question.
With its proprietary MOA Centerfire 500 reticle and matching MOA turrets, this behaves like a much more expensive scope for a price that is pretty unbelievable. You won’t hurt for quality or durability either. All of the Banner line are outstanding optics, this is just the one you want for those long-range shots.
Athlon Argos BTR
Athlon started out manufacturing telescopes so they know a thing or two about making those distance targets look closer.And with their Argos BTR, this is definitely the case considering its massive 40x max power. This is really intended as a bench rifle and may be too much for the field unless you have a good, stable shooting position. That is the price of power.
Along with that power, you also get fully multi-coated lenses and great quality lenses. Combine this with 1/8 MOA adjustments for a total of 50 MOA and you really have an optic to reach out and touch someone. Just be aware that most scopes made for benchrest shooting are not the best for use in the field. They tend to be a little more delicate and take some care.
The choices above are all contenders for the best long range scope 2019 has to offer in their respective price range. Each will do the job; just realize you get what you pay for. When it comes to best value, I would put my money on the Viper HSLR though I know that the Nightforce BR series has won more competitions than any other scope on the market right now.