Best Scopes For .50 BMG Rifles – Reviewed 2021

The .50 Browning Machine Gun (BMG) is the largest mass-manufactured rifle round in the world today. Shooting loads between 650 to 1,000 grain projectiles over incredibly long ranges in excess of one mile, it has a deserved reputation as a beast on the range and in the field and we're here to help you choose the best scope for .50 BMG.

The .50 BMG refers to the cartridge and the gun that fires it.

Other shoulder-fired rifles use a projectile bigger than the .510 diameter bullets the .50 BMG shoots but these are custom guns. The .500 Nitro Express also shoots a .510 projectile.

PRODUCT

DETAILS

Products

BEST FOR HUNTING

NightForce SHV 5-20x56mm

NightForce SHV 5-20x56mm

  • Diameter: 56mm
  • Magnification: 5-20x
  • Length: 15.2 in
BEST FOR ACCURACY

Leupold VX-3i LRP

Leupold-VX-3i-LRP-6.5-20x50mm-Review

Leupold VX-3i LRP

  • Diameter: 50mm
  • Magnification: 6.5-20x
  • Length: 14.6 in
BEST FOR LONG RANGE

Schmidt & Bender PM II High Power 5-45×56

Schmidt & Bender PM II High Power 5-45×56

  • Diameter: 56mm
  • Magnification: 5-45x
  • Length: 17.08 in
BEST FOR CLEAR IMAGE

Swarvoski Z3 4-12x50

Swarvoski Z3 4-12x50

  • Diameter: 50mm
  • Magnification: 4-12x
  • Length: 13.78 in
BEST AFFORDABLE SCOPE

Zeiss Conquest V4 Riflescope, 3-12x44

ZEISS-Conquest-V4

Zeiss Conquest V4 Riflescope, 3-12x44

  • Diameter: 44mm
  • Magnification: 3-12x
  • Length: 14.5 in 
BEST FOR BRIGHT IMAGE

Sightron SIII 6-24x50mm

Sightron SIII 6-24x50mm

  • Diameter: 50mm
  • Magnification: 6-24x
  • Length: 14.96 in
BEST FOR DURABILITY

Athlon Optics Argos BTR GEN2 6-24X50

Athlon Optics Argos BTR GEN2 6-24X50

  • Diameter: 50mm
  • Magnification: 6-24x
  • Length: 14.1 in
BEST FOR WEATHER

Vortex Viper PST Gen II

Vortex-Viper-PST-Gen-II

Vortex Viper PST Gen II

  • Diameter: 50mm
  • Magnification: 5-25 x
  • Length: 16 in

Recoil

Chuck Hawks pegs the .50's recoil around 70 foot pounds, without a muzzle brake. Some give the average at more than 80 foot pounds. This will vary with the weight of the gun. He says anything over 20 pounds usually causes enough flinch to affect accuracy.  A .30-06 with a 180 grain projectile at 2700 feet person second generates 20.3 foot pounds of recoil.

Most people shoot the big 50 with a muzzle brake. A good brake on a heavy rifle will tame the recoil down to something along the lines of a .30-06 or less.

The muzzle brake, not the rearward or shoulder-felt recoil, is the great scope destroyer.

.5 bmg

The brake redirects gasses escaping from the barrel to reduce recoil. This creates a forward surge in the rifle. The rifle undergoes forward and rearward recoil. Most .50 BMG scopes are simply not built to take that kind of punishment.

I have a State Arms receiver with a Walther-Lothar tapered bull barrel on a Watson's Weapons custom laminate stock with a huge shark gill brake. The setup comes in around 50 pounds. With 750-grain milsurp loads, the rifle recoils about like a 20 gauge shotgun with medium loads.

I've shot an 18-inch light barrel .50 with a small muzzle brake. The recoil left checkered marks on my shoulder where the rifle stock slammed into me.

Reticle

You want a glass-etched reticle. Wire crosshairs simply will not stand up to the recoil, forward and backward, on .50 BMG rifles. All the scopes listed here have glass-etched reticles.

glass etched reticles

Money

You will not get a $200 scope that stands up to the .50 BMG. A few in the $500-$700 range can do it. If you are spending several thousand dollars on a rifle and dropping $2-$3 every time you pull the trigger, why do you want a cheap .50 BMG scope that probably will break before you are done with your first day at the range? High-quality .50 BMG scopes are expensive, and you are paying primarily for the durability.

Rings

Scope rings on a .50 BMG are critical. If your rings cannot hold the scope in place, you will never set and hold a zero on the scope. Many in the .50 BMG community use a bit of sandpaper to put texture on the scope where the rings attach. They also scuff the rings just a bit and then put a two-sided adhesive patch on the ring as well.

With good rings, your will stay put scope. I run steel Badger Ordnance rings on mine. Leupold mounts are good too. Cheap aluminum rings simply will not hold up to the recoil forces this rifle generates.

A mounting kit makes sure your scope rings will not twist the scope.

MILRAD v. MOA

Milliradians (milrad, mrad, mil rad or mil) and minute of angle (MOA) are both measurements used in .50 BMG rifle scopes. Which is best? Neither really. Once you understand the actual measurements, it does not matter how to make the scope adjustments.

MILRAD vs MOA

The physical distance in click values of scopes using mil rads is so close to the physical distance using MOAs that it really does not make a bit of difference. Shooters prefer one or the other depending on how they learned to shoot.

8 Best Scopes For .50 BMG 

Nightforce

Make this simple. Nightforce holds more FCSA shooting titles than any other scope. It is a preferred scope for military snipers and target shooters interested in extreme long range shooting. Chris Kyle, the American sniper, used either Leupold or a Nightforce on his TAC-338, chamber in .338 Lapua. These are excellent tactical .50 BMG riflescopes, plain and simple. 

Nightforce says, "Before they leave the factory, Nightforce .50 BMG riflescopes are subjected to conditions far beyond most anything you will ever encounter in the field. During our impact tests, riflescopes must endure repeated impacts of over 1200 Gs of force on multiple axes."

Nightforce is just that tough.

1. NightForce SHV 5-20x56mm

50 bmg scope

Nightforce offers a range of scopes in size and magnification levels. The SHV 5-20 is a good scope for the 50 for shooters who aim for less than 1,000 yards. The scope comes in two reticle choices, the MOAR and Forceplex and offers a lighted version of each.

The MOAR offers hash marks on the windage and elevation crosshairs. The Forceplex is a plain duplex reticle.

This is also a tactical .50 BMG scope with elevation and windage turrets to let you make shot-to-shot adjustments for shooting conditions. Once you are done, it has a return-to-zero to bring you back to your original zero. It also offers side parallax adjustment.

It is a second focal plane (SFP) optic. This matters when you start reaching long distances where an FFP scope starts to lag behind. The crosshairs need to cover as little of the target as possible.

The large 56mm objective lens combined with Nightforce's optics coatings means this .50 BMG scope will channel a lot of light down the 30mm tube for shooting in low light conditions. Cheap optics cannot match these clarity and light-gathering abilities.

Field of view and eye relief is quite generous, which is especially important when you're dealing with something that kicks like a .50 - you don't want to come home from the range with that embarrassing scope bite above your eye because your scope had poor relief.

At 1.8 pounds, this is a lighter scope than some others. Do not let the weight compared to others concern you. This scope stands up to the abuse a .50 BMG generates.

Nightforce SHV 5-20x56mm

NightForce SHV 5-20x56mm

The price of NightForce SHV 5-20x56mm varies, so check the latest price at

2. Leupold VX-3i LRP

barret 50 cal scope

Leupold is another .50 BMG scope famous for reliability under extreme conditions. At the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association world championships, Leupold almost always has a slot in the top 10.

The VX-3i LRP has a tactical mil reticle. The advantage here is as the crosshairs get larger, you also zoom in on the crosshairs. At max magnification, the space between the marks is relatively large, allowing you to accurate make tiny adjustments by slightly moving the rifle.

These movement changes can be much smaller than twisting the turrets. That means more precision with your bullet placement.

At 2.1 pounds this is a relatively heavy scope. However, the .50 BMG is also a heavy rifle not meant to be carried in the field for a long time. The weight should not make a difference.

Leupold VX-3i LRP

Leupold VX-3i LRP

The price of Leupold VX-3i LRP varies, so check the latest price at

3. Schmidt & Bender PM II High Power 5-45×56

scope for 50 bmg

Some German scopes also show up in the Fifty Caliber work championships. The Schmidt & Bender PM II High Power 5-45×56 is one such.

The 45x magnification range feature is one of the highest available today in a scope that will stand up to the .50 BMG's punishing recoil. You can get higher zoom levels from a few other scope makers, but those scopes will fail.

As this is a European scope, measurements are in meters. For most shooters, this does not matter.

This comes with a TReMoR3 reticle. It is the most information-packed reticle of all these scopes. Hash marks extend all the way to the end of the reticle lines in all four directions. Moving down the elevation line, it provides a massive amount of mil dots and numbers explaining where you are on the Christmas tree.

The turrets are short compared to the other scopes. They keep the same return-to-zero feature.

It tips the scales at 2.4 pounds.

Schmidt & Bender offers a 30-year worldwide warranty on this scope. You do have to send the scope to Germany.

Schmidt & Bender PM II 5-45×56

The price of Schmidt & Bender PM II 5-45×56, so check the latest price at

4. Swarvoski Z3 4-12x50

barrett 50 cal scope

If you are willing to swap the tactical and fingertip adjustments on the turrets for a price break, the Swarvoski Z3 4-12x50 is a top choice. The Z3 family does have some with tactical turrets and other reticle choices.

This Z3 has a plain reticle. It tips the scales at .91 pounds, the lights of these scopes herein.

Swarovski does make the Fifty Caliber world championship list, but not with this scope. The scopes in the money at the Utah range are the heavier, tactical scopes. Shooters there need that kind of adjustment.

If you are just shooting for fun or hunting under 500 yards, this scope is certainly going to get the job done. Depending on a variety of factors (see below), the .50 BMG projectile with a 100-yard zero will drop between 40-50 inches at 500 yards. That is between 8-9 MOA at that distance.

The adjustment range is also small, compared to other scopes in this list.

By way of comparison, a .308 Winchester has a similar ballistic performance at 500 yards, variable as noted. With bullet weight a significant factor, a .30-06 bullet has a drop range in the same range.

Swarvoski Z3 4-12x50

The price of Swarvoski Z3 4-12x50, so check the latest price at

5. Zeiss Conquest V4 Riflescope, 3-12x44

50 bmg scope recommendation

The Conquest V4 Riflescope in the 3-12x44 format is an entry level Zeiss scope. Do not let this fool you. It is still capable of surviving the punishment a .50 BMG dishes out. Zeiss scopes are built to handle 1500 g forces, or 1,500 times the force of gravity at the earth's surface.

This version comes with plain duplex reticle and no turret adjustments and a fixed parallax. Other versions, with a higher price, have other options that some people want

It is 1.4 pounds.

Zeiss-Conquest-V4

Zeiss Conquest V4 Riflescope, 3-12x44

The price of Zeiss Conquest V4 Riflescope, 3-12x44, so check the latest price at

6. Sightron SIII 6-24x50mm

scope for.50 bmg

The Sightron SIII comes a recommended scope in many of the .50 BMG shooter forums online. This scope comes in 5 different versions. Depend on which you choose the scope can be black or bronze. You can get a mil-hash reticle, or a mil-dot reticle without a light or with a red LED.

The lenses are coated to improve light transmission down the tube. The 30mm tube walls are twice as thick as the 1-inch tube walls. When shooting a rifle like the .50 BMG, you will appreciate this. Your rings have to be tight to keep the scope from moving.

It has a lifetime warranty.

At 2.6 pounds, this the heaviest of the lot. The turrets on this one are a bit larger than most. The scope has a return to zero to get back to your original settings.

Sightron SIII 6-24x50mm

The price of Sightron SIII 6-24x50mm, so check the latest price at

7. Athlon Optics Argos BTR GEN2 6-24X50

50 cal scope

The Athlon Argos BTR GEN2 is a very good budget scope. The scopes are tested to 1,000 gs so it will stand up to the .50 BMG.

Depending on the version you get, it is MOA or mil rad. The illuminated Christmas tree reticle will display the settings in the values you choose.

The turrets have the return to zero feature. When you get done shooting, set the turrets back and your original zero is in place.

It has a side focus dial on the eyepiece section of the tube.

It weighs 1.8 pounds, putting it on the heavier side of the scopes in this list.

Athlon Optics Argos BTR GEN2 6-24X50

The price of Athlon Optics Argos BTR GEN2 6-24X50, so check the latest price at

8. Vortex Viper PST Gen II

barrett 50 cal scopes

A lot of shooters put a Vortex Viper PST Gen II on their .50s. Some shooters report they have years of throwing lead with no problems. Some say their scope died. Vortex does offer a full and transferrable lifetime warranty on their scopes. If your scope dies, you can get a replacement.

The Vortex PST has a bit more magnification than the Nightforce. That's the sole mechanical advantage. The price is a good bit less than the Nightforce.

It comes in two reticle choices, first or second focal plane. Both are illuminated. Bear in mind the first focal plane means the crosshairs will get bigger as you zoom in. That can hide a small target at a distance. The EBR-72 reticle has milrad or MOA adjustments.

At a slim 1 pound, this ties for the lightest scope here.

Vortex Viper PST Gen II

The price of Vortex Viper PST Gen II, so check the latest price at

Frequently Asked Question. [FAQ]

Effective Range

The effective range of the .50 BMG is more than two miles. How much past two miles depends on a number of factors.

If you just want to poke holes in paper, the effective range of a bullet continues to stretch. Right now the record for hitting a target is 3.4 miles

The shooter was using a .416 Barrett, one of the few rifles made today capable of reaching that far. Even so, at that distance the kinetic energy of the bullet is so low it probably will not penetrate two layers of drywall. The .50 BMG can certainly do that.

The world-record for a confirmed sniper kill, done with a .50, is held by a Canadian Special Forces soldier. He dropped a militant in Iraq at 2.14 miles with a McMillan TAC-50 sniper rifle. He was also shooting from an elevated station, which makes a lot of difference.

The Projectile

The projectile matters. The .50 BMG shoots projectiles from 650 grains up to 1,000 grains for people who know how to cast their own bullets. Home cast bullets are often called "boolits" by those who cast. Under the same circumstances, the 650 grain will travel farther than the 1,000 grain.

The 650 pill leaves the barrel faster and so has less drop over a set distance than its giant brother. That translates into more range.

The weight does matter. Extremely light projectiles shed velocity faster than heavier ones. 

A good example is a specialty round in the .45-70. Aluminum is stock milled down to about the same size as a 450-grain lead projectile. The aluminum is 95 grains. Shoot both over the same powder charge and the lead bullet is effective on deer past 200 yards. The aluminum pro is best used at distances under 100 yards. It is NOT effective at 200 yards.

The design also matters. Hollow points create a larger wound channel than solids. Solid copper bullets will penetrate much further than soft lead.

The Powder

Powder charges matter. Powders are developed to perform slightly differently. Check any reloading manual to see how an identical weight charge of different powders delivers different velocities.

Barrel length

More than anything else, barrel length matters. A .50 BMG with a 30-inch barrel will have higher velocities and reach farther than a .50 BMG with an 18-inch barrel. Lilja Rifle Barrels took a look at barrel lengths in the 50 BMG.

The equation is simple. More velocity = more distance = a harder hit on the target. 

Of course barrel length does have a maximum. a 10-foot .50 BMG barrel might see the bullet either get stuck or fall out of the barrel. The expanding gases will eventually stop expanding. Friction in the barrel will slow and stop the bullet.

How Far Can It Shoot?

A .50 BMG bullet can travel about five miles under the right conditions. When it finally hits the ground, it is hardly moving. This distance is why many ranges ban the .50 BMG.

Is It Legal?

The .50 BMG is legal in many places. It is not legal in California. To get around the California law, gun makers introduced the .50 DTC, which is a slightly shorter version of the .50 BMG. The .50 DTC EUROP is a European version with slight changes.

A .50 BMG cannot shoot either of the DTC rounds.

California law explicitly describes the .50 BMG case. By changing the case slightly, ammo and gun makers produced a bullet and gun that is legal there.

Some companies make an M2 (Ma Deuce) .50 BMG-heavy machine gun style gun in semi-auto. If you can own a .50 BMG where you are, you can own a Ma Deuce in semi auto. Full auto Ma Deuces are available, but you must have a $200 BATF tax stamp and be allowed to own such weapons where you live.

A Brief History

The .50 BMG was developed by John Moses Browning at the request of the military. The armed forces wanted a heavier hitting machine gun than the .30-06. Gen. John Pershing wanted something with a bore of at least a half inch and muzzle velocity of at least 2,700 feet per second.

Browning redesigned the M1917, the .30-06 machine gun, to handle the heavier round. Over the next few years, Browning, Fred Moore and S.H. Greene refined the round. More refinements to the machine continued to follow.

Single-shot .50 BMGs for the civilian market were available in the 1970s. In the 1980s, other makers started to take note. By the year 2000, more companies were producing .50s in single shot, bolt-action and semi-auto.

Today, the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association (FCSA) tracks industry developments and hosts world championship matches in Utah every year. The FCSA also sets rules for 1,000 and 600 yard matches around the world.

References:

Featured Image The VSO Gun Channel

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