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All over the Internet, I keep seeing the same question… “I can’t spend a lot of money on a scope so what should I buy?” I often get asked this question as well. But before we get started, let me make a couple of disclaimers.

1) I don’t care if you buy a rifle scope from me or not. My purpose here isn’t to sell you a scope, it’s to help you see what’s available and make the smart decision for what you need and can afford. I will even recommend scopes that I do not sell.

2) Nothing that I that I say here should be taken as an indication that I think these scopes are as good as scopes costing $3000 or $4000. But at the same time, I do not buy into the idea that you must spend at least $2000 to get a good long range scope. That’s simply not true.

3) I’m not saying that the lower cost scopes on the list are as good as the higher priced scopes. A $500 scope is not as good as a $1500 scope. This is simply a list of scopes costing under $1500 that will give you the ability of hitting targets at 1000 yards or beyond.

Additionally, times are rapidly changing and I feel like a lot of people are still stuck in an old paradigm. I want to help you break out of the old way of thinking and see the new technology incorporated into rifle scopes that eliminates many of the worries you might have about buying a lower priced scope. Additionally, so much of the advice online is obsolete because people are stuck in their old ways of thinking and it’s time to step into the future!

Grid Scale Reticles – A Game Changer

Grid Scale, or ‘Christmas Tree’, Reticles have been around for awhile, but they are now becoming main stream and replacing standard MOA or MIL scale reticles. These reticles were pioneered by Horus, but like most innovations, they’re still catching on. A lot of people take one look at them and say “that’s too busy. give me what I’m used to”. That’s probably what they said about smart phones as well! Don’t sell yourself short by turning up your nose at new technology because “it looks busy”. Your smart phone looks a whole lot more busy than your old flip phone but I don’t see too many flipping their phones open and dialing numbers anymore.

With a grid scale reticle, you do not need to dial for distance or wind… unless you’re shooting extreme long range and then you might need to dial a little bit of distance. You simply hold for distance and wind without touching the dials. So why is this important?

Reliability
According to Precision Rifle Blog, “A scope that doesn’t track, or have repeatable adjustments seems to be viewed as the biggest flaw a scope could have.” In fact, mechanical reliability is the number one concern for most shooters when purchasing a precision rifle scope. In forum after forum, you always see the same question posed when anyone brings up a specific scope, “how does it track? Is it repeatable?” Shooters are more concerned about mechanical performance than optical clarity.

A grid scale reticle basically eliminates that worry because you don’t have to spin the dial up and down for every shot. For example, for my 6.5 Creedmoor I need to make a 9.02 MIL adjustment to hit at 1000 yards. Now I could rotate my elevation turret 90 clicks up and make the shot… and then 90 clicks back down to return to zero (hypothetically – as long as the scope tracks perfectly) OR I could just hold 9 MILS on my grid scale and pull the trigger without ever touching the turret.

Obviously rotating the turret is a mechanical process. Components wearing against other components wear out over time – and quite possibly may never have been exactly calibrated in the first place. In tests of mechanical reliability, almost all rifle scopes (regardless of price) are not perfectly calibrated – meaning one click is not actually 1 MIL or 1/4 MOA. Using a grid scale, which is laser etched into the glass, mostly eliminates the need to dial and therefore no need to worry about the mechanical reliability as much as we did in the past.

For extreme long range, or lower performing cartridges at 1000 yards, you still may need to dial, but not as much as you normally would and therefore the calibration of the clicks will be less important because you are adjusting less. Additionally, the turret will last much longer and is not as likely to wear out over time as lower cost scopes did in the past.

People look at grid scale reticle scopes and then ask, “but how does it track?” Embrace the future and make use of the technology that’s making long range shooting much easier – and less costly – than it used to be.

Main Point #1 Buy a Scope with a Grid Scale Reticle and then Use the Reticle!

So, if you’re spending less than $1500 on a scope, but one with a grid scale reticle and quit worrying about mechanical performance and mechanically adjusting the reticle. There’s a reason most professional precision competitors are using grid scale reticles. They are fast and reliable. So let’s get into the scopes themselves.

If you’re spending less than $1500 on a long range scope, there are only a few brands to really consider; Bushnell, Vortex, Athlon, and SWFA. Don’t get upset if I didn’t list your brand. There are a lot of great scopes out there, but like I said, times are changing and between 2016 and 2017 we’ve seen the biggest – and best offerings – of budget priced precision rifle scopes. Everything has changed in the last 12-18 months when it comes to precision scopes under $1500. Like I said before, buy whatever you want, but I just can’t see any reason to buy anything other than one of the brands I just mentioned.

Bushnell Elite Tactical
The Bushnell Elite Tactical series scopes have proven themselves as serious contenders in the long range optics market. Models range from $1400 up to $2100 and come with all the features long range shooters demand such as Front Focal Plane, Zero Stop, Locking Turrets, Grid Scale Reticle and more. Professional PRS shooter, Melissa Gilliland, has been running a Bushnell Tactical Elite scope for a few years now. In a recent post, Gilliland stated, “I have been a huge fan of Bushnell’s Elite XRS scope for many years and am overjoyed to be running the new XRS2 this season.” New for 2017 are the DMR IIi and HDMR II scopes.


Bushnell Elite Tactical HDMR II

  • Price: $1549.99
  • First Focal Plane
  • Zero Stop
  • Locking Turrets
  • Grid Scale MIL reticle
  • 34mm Tube

Vortex
I consider Vortex the company that got the common man into long range shooting. I believe Vortex has their finger on the pulse of what people want and they continue to deliver year after year. In 2017 they’ve announced their Viper PST Gen 2 5-25×50 Long Range scope and I think this is going to be an excellent choice. Only trouble will be getting your hands on one.


Vortex Viper PST Gen 2 5-25×50

  • Price: $1399.99 (retail)
  • First Focal Plane
  • Zero Stop
  • Grid Scale MOA or MIL reticles
  • 30mm Tube

Athon BTR Series
The most exciting new company on the market is Athlon Optics. All of the companies I’m mentioning in this article are innovators, but I believe Athlon is the most innovative and tuned in company in the tactical optics marketplace. They seemed to have taken a step back, figured out what people want and can afford, and then produced it. And they stand behind their products with a lifetime guarantee every bit as good as Vortex does with theirs. I feel like Vortex opened the door for the average guy to get into long range shooting and now Athlon has simply blown the door right off the hinges! They’re top of the line scope will run you $1800 bucks, but they offer plenty of easy to afford models as well. Take a look…


Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50

  • Price: $849.99
  • First Focal Plane
  • Zero Stop
  • Locking Turrets
  • Grid Scale MOA or MIL Reticles
  • 30mm Tube


Athlon Helos BTR 6-24×50

  • Price: $569.99
  • First Focal Plane
  • Locking Turrets
  • Grid Scale MOA or MIL Reticles
  • 30mm Tube


Athlon Argos BTR 6-24×50

  • Price: $369.99
  • First Focal Plane
  • Grid Scale MOA or MIL Reticles
  • 30mm Tube

SWFA
For years now SWFA has been offering their low cost Super Sniper (SS) scopes and getting great reviews from budget priced shooters. They offer a number of scopes in this price range such as 10×42, 16×42 and 3-15×42 model. I’ve seen a lot of online comments telling new shooters just to buy the SWFA 10×42 cause it’s a great scope, only costs $300 bucks, and ’10x is enough to get you started’.

That’s basically true, but I don’t like the idea of buying a fixed power scope because then all you can do with it is shoot long range. 10x is great if all you’re doing is ringing steel at long range… but when you want to take that same rifle after some coyotes, you might see that fixed 10x isn’t that great of an option. SWFA does not offer the grid scale reticle like I’ve been talking about, but they do offer their Mil Scale reticle that still works pretty good. These scopes have a lot of great reviews so I include them here for that reason. If you can only spend $300 bucks, then I’d recommend the Athlon Argos BTR 6-24x. If you choose to go with SWFA, then I recommend the 3-15. It’s just going to give you so much more use than a fixed 10x scope.

SWFA 3-15×42

  • Price: $699.95
  • First Focal Plane
  • MOA or MIL Scale Reticle
  • 30mm Tube

Conclusion:

So why did I pick these scopes and not others. I’ll name a few notable scopes that I excluded.

  • Nightforce SHV – Great scope, but 2nd Focal Plane reticle which I don’t think is practical for long range shooters… especially when there are so many great scopes on the market in this price range that feature a First Focal Plane reticle. The 4-14×50 SHV is available in FFP, but then why settle for 14x? I believe you can get as good of a scope, with higher magnification, for the same price as the 4-14x SHV F1.
  • Burris XTR II 5-25×50 – Another great scope, but I’ll take the Vortex Gen 2 with it’s grid scale reticle. The Burris XTR has MOA or MIL scale reticle, but not the grid. The XTR 2 4-20×50 is available with the Horus H591 reticle and that’s a great option, but don’t know that I’d go with the 4-20x when I can get the Vortex Gen 2 in 5-25x for about the same price.
  • SWFA Higher End Scopes: SWFA makes great scopes. No doubt about that. Theyr 5-20×50 HD model runs $1299.95, but doesn’t have the grid so I’d still take the Vortex Gen 2 or spend a bit more and get the Bushnell.
  • Nikon – Nikon makes great hunting scopes, but they do not make anything that I consider a long range precision scope. With the offerings now available, that would be in Nikon price range, I just don’t see any reason to purchase a Nikon for long range precision shooting.
  • EOTech – EOTech has jumped on the long range bandwagon, but I don’t see any reason to buy one when you have Bushnell and Athlon choices in the same price range.
  • Leupold – No scopes in this price range that I’d recommend for long range.
  • Trijicon – Same line of thinking as EOTech. Trijicon makes great products, and they have some scopes in this price range, but I’ll take Athlon over the similarly priced Trijicon options.
  • Sig Sauer – I love Sig scopes, but in this price range I wouldn’t purchase a Sig. Same reasoning as Trijicon.
  • Millett – Had a Millett years ago and the turret wore out on me. I would purchase Athlon over Millett.
  • Sightron – Like many of the other brands I’ve mentioned here, Sightron makes awesome scopes in this price range. Of anything I didn’t list here, I think Sightron was the closest choice that didn’t make the list. They are super clear and very reliable. They are an excellent choice but do not have the grid scale reticle.
  • Other Vortex offerings – Vortex offers a lot of other scopes in this price range, but I think there are better options. In my experience, Athlon is better glass, dollar for dollar, than Vortex. I’d take the Athlon Ares BTR over any of the lower priced Vortex Viper PST or Viper HS LR scopes.
  • Primary Arms – There are some great scopes from Primary Arms. There high end scopes sell for $1500 and I would pick the Bushnell over Primary Arms. They also make a 4-14x FFP scope with their ACSS reticle which is caliber specific (mainly 5.56 and 7.62) so not something I’d recommend. It’s more of a ballistic reticle rather a standard MOA or MIL scale reticle. Additionally, their 4-14x scopes sell for less than $300 bucks, so I’d chose the Athlon Argos if I was considering anything in that price range.

So I guess that about does it. I’ve narrowed down the list considerably and hopefully given you something to think about. You may not agree with my choices, but like I said in the beginning, all I want to do is make you think and help you choose the right scope for your needs. If you look at my list, and think I’m off base, then I accomplished my goal and at least made you think.

In closing, I just want to go back to what I opened with. Open your mind to the new technology that’s going into rifle scopes and don’t get caught in the past. If you’re scope didn’t make the list, don’t be offended and get all pissy about it. There are a lot of great scopes out there. The Burris XTR II Series and Sightron SIII FFP Scopes are great choices and you’d never go wrong with them. I’m simply saying that in that price range, I would most likely choose something else.

Things are changing rapidly and the old idea of not being about to get a good long range scope for less than $2000 is simply not true any more.

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