Rifle scopes are advancing. Even in the $500 group the hunter/shooter can find some darn solid buys today.
Today, the modern rifle scope is capable of advancing the sighting system due to improved optical materials and engineering. However, the better the scope, the higher the cost because of the modernization of rifle sighting systems.
In this review, I will take several quality scopes in the $500 range and give the reader a look at what the shooter is getting for the money spent. The hunter or shooter should be able to purchase the best rifle scope that gives good performance out to about 600 yards. Let's look at the best scopes available for the American shooter.
Nikon Monarch 3 BDC Riflescope
Vortex Viper HS Second focal plane
Athlon Optics Helo BTR
Nikon Black 1000
Burris Fullfield E1
Best Rifle Scopes under 500 Dollars
1. Vortex Diamondback
As an entry scope for tactical applications or general hunting, the Vortex Optics Diamondback meets a shooter's needs much of the time. This scope features a first focal plane 6-24x50. The large bell pulls with ease and offers a clear image downrange.
As the power setting is increased, the cross-hair image against an intended target increases as well. This is a military sniper design application in an over the counter field scope.
This scope offers extra features at a reasonable price when compared to similar scopes from other manufacturers. The extra-low dispersion glass features a multicoated lens system that transmits a crisp, bright image even when the light is fading. This is perfect for those now or never shots on a trophy bull elk or departing coyote.
The advanced etched reticle keeps the scope's subtensions accurate throughout the 4X zoom range. The somewhat questionable etching was developed and refined by Horus Optics. Like other elements of this scope, Vortex has latched on to the systems that work and stayed away from inferior construction.
The glide erector system in the scope's turret makes for a smooth transition from one power setting to another. This system provides accurate, uniform operation under all field conditions. I run no less than three Vortex optical systems in my game and varmint rifles.
With the scope based on a single plane 30 mm tube, there is room in the design for better grade internal parts. The scope's internal components are overbuilt to stay functional when the going gets tough.
The 30 mm tube is used by the military and police and by modern varmint hunters doing long-range work. This set up is becoming a basic standard. The tube uses a one-piece design and strong “O “ ring seals.
Finding a better value for the money will be a difficult task when it comes to taking on this optical system as a field option in the future.
2. Nikon M-Tactical
This unique Nikon scope is set up for specific cartridges/calibers in terms of the BDC subtension system applied to the reticle. I shoot two Nikon's best long range scopes but use MRADs and MOA subtension graduations as opposed to the BDC system.
The BDC system uses small elevation rings that correspond to the cartridge impact points applied at various ranges. It is a good system, but not as flexible as the old school MRAD or MOA units. Those subtensions will work with any cartridges used in conjunction with the shooter's rifle cartridge selection.
The scope featured in this review utilizes the BDC system as applied to the 308 Winchester/7.62 NATO round with the 168 grain BT bullet moving out of the rifle at 2680 f.p.s. This indicates that the reticle sub-tension system is being matched to that bullet.
Other bullets would have to be calibrated to a different impact point by the shooter as a "trial and error" project. Be advised, however, that this basic system is also offered for a cartridge specific .223/556 NATO round.
Nikon ProStaff Series on a 338 Lapua used for a 1000-yard shot
However, the system is flexible. I have calibrated the BDC sighting system for long-range muzzleloaders. These are 300-yard to 500-yard 50 cal guns. If that works, anything can be accomplished with the Nikon scope.
This scope retains spring loaded instant zero- reset turrets, generious eye relief for those high recoiling rifles, answer a nice side focus parallax adjustment knob for those long range precise shooting requirements.
In the function department, I currently have been shooting the Nikon ProStaff on a home-built AR-15 (five-round) .224 Valkyrie. The scope is using an open-face elevation turret and a closed-cap windage turret system. Based on MOA graduations, the scope has been nothing short of outstanding in the field.
This glass was used to test the Ruger Hawkeye in 300 Win Mag to 1000 yards, the 6.5 Creedmoor in a Ruger Hawkeye, and the Precision rifle to 1500 yards with the 224 Valkyrie completing the bundle. That makes for a pile of turret adjustments. The scope has not even come close to failing me!
This scope features spring-loaded instant zero-reset turrets, generous eye relief for those rifles with high recoil and a nice side focus parallax adjustment knob for long-range precision shooting requirements.
The BDC reticle mounted in this glass will allow the use of open circles, dots, and hash marks for aiming at targets from 100 yards to 800 yards under most field conditions.
3. Nikon Monarch 3 BDC
The Monarch scope is another addition to deer hunting and long-range optics offered by Nikon. The scope is mid-range as are the previous scopes. This scope was reduced in a few areas such as tube size and bell housing size. The overall quality and glass used on this scope is a solid product.
Monarch 3 uses what is called “Eye Box Technology.“ This scope makes use of 4-time zoom range and up to four inches of extended eye relief for heavy recoiling rifles. The turret is spring-loaded for fast settings. The scope uses a quick focus eyepiece.
The scope will bring in up to 95% of available light transmission when used under low light conditions. The scope uses the new Nikon “Spot On Match” Ballistics Technology.
This scope is currently ranked number one in the Nikon scope family. I have found these scopes to be bright and crisp during testing and lack any rainbow effect at the edges of the reticle viewing area.
4. Vortex Viper HS
The scope is made for hunting versus long-range target or other related shooting events. This scope will not change the reticle image size with power setting changes. The scope is most useful for long-range big game applications.
This scope is a 4-16x44 “dead-hold” BDC MOA model and sells for $499. This scope is an excellent value for $500 and some change. Because many hunters become confused with first focal plane scopes, Vortex Optics resolved the problem by building this model for warm target big game hunters.
The scope uses enclosed caps to ensure correct zero is maintained even when the shooter has to belly crawl over rocks for a shot at a steeply angled mountain goat. This is a “hunters” optic to the core and not ever to be confused with the glass used by snipers or others in long-range shooting situations.
Vortex Optics has expanded its company by leaps and bounds within only a few years of its introduction to the world of shooting. Their rapid expansion is due to the fact that the company offers excellent quality. Word of mouth quickly attests to the brand's dependability and affordable pricing.
Coyote shooters that participate in tournament events as well as hunt for the fur market use Vortex. They know the scope is dependable when the going gets tough and a $100 song dog is standing out at the far end of the rifle's sight!
Vortex glass is selected from among the best offered in the world today. Scope glass can be classified as junk, medium quality and high quality. Vortex is the later. Their product provides clear, sharp images and gathers light very well.
At the longer range, the scope's XD glass will not fade out and turn to a dull gray regardless of the focus correction involved. This is the sign of a better quality system housed in the 30 mm main one-piece tube. One word, "quality,” stands out here.
Armortek coatings are used on the scope's outer surfaces making it scratch resistant and able to withstand nasty weather conditions. I have used this scope for later season winter deer hunting events on the Missouri breaks in central South Dakota with outstanding results.
Just dry off the scope then add a light oil and you're trail ready for the next day in the field. Without question, this scope is a total workhorse in the firearms optical department.
5. Leupold VX-R
If there is one scope over my 50 odd years of writing gun copy that has drawn my attention many times, it is the Leupold scope in one form or another. This is the flagship of the modern optical systems and is built here in the USA.
A few years ago the brand's popularity fell off just a bit. However, you can be sure that today these strong, well-designed products provide a great buy when you're searching for an American-made product that gets the job done.
Right now, we are checking out the Leupold VX series. As I write these lines one of them is sitting on a Winchester 6.5 Creedmoor alongside my desk. The longest whitetail shot I ever made successfully was with the Leupold VX and 6.5 Creedmoor at a range of 540 yards. The 5X5 whitetail never knew what hit it.
With these scope mounts the Leupold Fire Dot Duplex reticle carries a matte finish to reduce glint in the field. The scope like all in this brand is waterproof, fog-proof, and shockproof.
With the Fire Dot and totally illuminated reticle, the scope works well in low light conditions. Leupold states that the “Twilight Management System“ featured on this scope adds up to 10 extra minutes to the end of your hunting day in terms of target acquisition.
The scope's main tube is built with 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminum and punisher tested by Leupold during the scope's development. The scope is designed and built in the USA.
6. Athlon Optics Helo BTR
The Athlon Helos BTR uses the first focal plane system useful for military police or target applications. In the long-range world, this focal plane system is king because it not only increases the magnification level but also brings the reticle subtensions right along in size with the target image.
The open turret scope's settings include a pull-up lock. Pull the top of the turret up and spin for changes in windage or elevation via subtension indicators. When you hit the desired elevation, just push the turret cap down and lock it to prevent any changes in elevation or windage setting.
This scope makes use of an illuminated reticle which provides additional night vision target sighting under low light conditions. With a scope that runs in this power range and with these settings, the scope will be most useful mounted on large-caliber long-range rifles.
The main tube on this scope is built of 6061-T 6 aircraft-grade aluminum. This is a scope that offers many added features and will not break the budget.
The scopes that have just been reviewed are all solid products with most having undergone thorough testing by this writer. A few of these are my favorites because specialized predator hunting or long-range shooting are my pet projects. A couple of examples of optical glass that stand ready out here in the Black Hills of South Dakota include:
7. Nikon Black 1000
Currently, I am doing specialized long-range work through Predator Xtream magazine. As a scoped 300 Win Mag and “Second Zero” “TACO” system, my Nikon Black 1000 runs about $100 more than most of the scopes illustrated here.
Rest assured that it has been sending the mail for the past three years and keeping me in line with my list of required editors deadline dates.
This is sold as a real bargain scope that can run MRADS or MOA subtensions. It can then carry bullets in big long-range rifles to better than one mile downrange with accuracy. The Black 1000 gets in the way of the high-end models every time.
It is one thing to have a rifle scope that gets the job down well, it is almost impossible to find one that is also affordable price when it comes to the working guy that is trying to play a very expensive shooting game.
The FX 1000 4-16X50 is a dedicated long-range scope system using ¼ MOA values for elevation and windage adjustments against open style target/sniper turrets. The eye relief on this scope is a solid 4 inches making it appropriate for heavy magnums.
With an objective (bell) size of 50mm, the scope pulls in sunlight very well---even late in the day. Tack on the 30mm tube that holds a pile of quality products with an ability to use increased elevation and windage settings and you have a real market buy in a long-range high-performance scope.
The side focus parallax adjustment knob located on the left side of the turret provides an easy access system when cleaning up a target image at long range. The eyepiece on the scope affords the shooter a quick focus.
The carry weight of this scope is 23.3 ounces. With such lightweight, this scope is great for static shooting in high ground situations or from a bench/prone rest for long-range steel or paper targets.
8. Burris Fullfield E1
In terms of a working field scope, our group of dedicated whitetail hunters has been using the Burris optics offerings for a very long time. M-10's in 308 wichester, 243 bolt gun, and now the brand new Prairie Hunter by Savage in .224 Valkyrie are all mounting Burris scopes. In effect, we shoot a good deal of Burris products around here.
The Burris 6.5-50 mm is a large scope in the Fullfield E1 family of optical systems. The MV designation on this scope stands for Milling Varmint. This means the scope is set up for ranging with the 22-250 Remington cartridge. This set up is excellent for coyote hunting first and some deer and other game coming up second.
Never count the 22-250 out in this case as I have seen ranchers here in the American west live off that rifle cartridge when using it for substance hunting.
This scope comes in at a weight of 1.8 pounds. It features a side focus adjustment system and is built in the second focal plane. Aside from being calibrated for the 22-250, the scope is MOA based making it excellent for use as a ballistic calculator that you can adjust for any bullet at any working range.
The scope is primarily a deer hunter's optic with varmint applications installed. You can think of as a "two for one" scope! Burris offers many scopes in this price range included in this review. However, they also offer scopes on both sides of this price ranging from $300 to $1,000.
The review gives a general overview of some great scopes priced in the $500 range.
This aspect of shooting sports offers a massive number of products. Many of them are well worth the money. Decide on your exact needs. Don't overbuy into something you not going to use. Consider all the features.
Stay with name brand products. With reputable manufacturers, you have somewhere to turn if a problem arises.