Long-range shooting has been rapidly gaining popularity over the past few years.
Long-range precision shooting competitions have been getting more competitors and spectators. It’s not just serious long-range shooting that’s taking off, though. Long-distance ranges have also been more popular among recreational shooters.
And to get the most accuracy out of these ranges, shooters have been turning to sniper rifles and long-range scopes.
But optics can be confusing, even for those who know firearms really well. So to help you out, we’ve put together this guide.
We’re going to start by going over some background to help answer some questions that you may have and ensure that you can make an educated decision.
Then we’ll get into our recommendations for the best scopes so you can apply everything you learned to choose the right scope for you.
Before we get started, you can take a sneak peek at our recommendations below.
What Are Sniper Scopes?
“Sniper scope” and “long-range scope” are often used as synonyms. Technically, however, sniper scopes are a particular type of long-range scope.
Sniper scopes tend to be tactical-style. They’re also optimized for the highest possible precision. Sniper scopes also are generally designed more for military and law enforcement use than civilian use.
All of the scopes that we recommend in this guide may not fit the strictest technical definition of a sniper scope. However, they’re all great for high precision shooting and have the tactical-style features that make sniper scopes so appealing.
What Are The Different Types Of Sniper Scopes?
Let’s talk a little bit more about the difference between a true tactical sniper scope and the target scopes intended for civilians.
These are the true sniper scopes used by police and military snipers.
They tend to be in the first focal plane and have magnification that’s high, but not too high. Too high of a magnification level can limit a sniper’s field of view, in turn, can make it easier to lose the target or to miss out on important things happening around the target.
Tactical scopes are designed to allow the shooter to get a positive first shot. After all, in a true tactical sniping situation, your first shot is often your only one.
They often have exposed turrets for quick, easy adjustment. Turret clicks and reticle subtensions are often matched so that the distance between hash marks on the reticle corresponds with a fixed number of clicks. Clicks and subtensions are both usually measured in milliradians (mils or MRADs).
This category includes both recreational and competition scopes. The main difference between the two is quality.
Target scopes tend to have even higher magnification than true tactical scopes. They’re also generally intended to allow you to shoot off a couple of shots, then correct your precision from there for tight groupings.
Because they’re inspired by tactical scopes, target sniper scopes tend to have tactical turrets and illuminated reticles. They may or may not have matching clicks and substensions. Clicks and subtensions are generally measured in milliradians, but they may also be measured in minutes of angle (MOAs).
Their reticles tend to be in the second focal plane.
How Does A Sniper Scope Work?
Most scopes work more or less the same.
First, light enters the scope through the objective lens at the far end of the scope. There, it’s filtered and focused for travel through the rest of the scope.
Next, the light enters the erector system, housed in the main tube. The erector system contains the magnification lenses and the reticle.
All the scopes that we’ve recommended are second focal plane (SFP) scopes, as opposed to front or first focal plane (FFP) scopes.
In a second focal plane scope, the reticle is behind the magnification lens. This means that the reticle is not affected by the magnification lens, so it always looks the same regardless of the magnification power setting.
Finally, the light enters the optical system housed within the eyepiece. There it goes through the optical lens where it’s rendered into your sight picture.
What Do You Look For In The Best Sniper Scopes?
There are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you’re selecting a high-quality scope for long-range shooting:
Sniper scopes tend to have high magnification strength. After all, they’re intended for shooting targets several hundred yards away at least. Plus, they’re designed for precision, so it’s good for them to give you a close look at your target.
As a general rule, look for a scope with a minimum magnification of around 5x, though lower doesn’t hurt. The scope’s maximum magnification should be at least 20x.
Of course, it doesn’t matter how close of a look your scope gives you if the picture isn’t clear.
Look for scopes with fully multicoated lenses and excellent light transmission. This will help ensure that you get a bright, high definition image with strong color fidelity. The lenses should also have anti-glare/anti-reflective coating and, ideally, a scratch-resistant coating.
The quality of the glass matters, too, since it plays its own role in light transmission. Lenses should be nice and clear.
They should also be free of any warps or bubbles that can cause image distortion.
A good quality scope can be quite an investment. Choosing a durable one will make sure that you can the most out of your money.
High-quality scopes are waterproof, fog proof, and shockproof. They generally have a single piece scope body made from a durable, non-reactive material like aircraft-grade aluminum or an aluminum alloy.
Best Sniper Scopes Reviewed
Now that all the background is out of the way, let’s talk about our sniper scope recommendations.
1. Nightforce Optics NXS 5.5-22×56 Riflescope (Our Top Pick)
Our top pick is the Nightforce Optics NXS Riflescope.
The scope’s illuminated MOA reticle is great for low light conditions. The large 56mm objective lens provides solid light transmission and creates a clear, high definition image.
The Zero Stop windage and elevation turrets make it easy to return to zero after making holdover corrections.
2. Vortex Optics Viper PST Gen II 5-25×50 Riflescope (Best Budget)
Our favorite budget-friendly sniper scope is the Vortex Viper PST Riflescope.
It has a glass-etched illuminated EBR-4 (MOA) reticle with windage and elevation hash marks for easy corrections. The tactical-style Zero Stop adjustment turrets match for greater accuracy.
The lenses are fully multi-coated and are made from extra-low dispersion glass for a crisp, bright sight picture with good color fidelity. They have an anti-reflective coating to cut glare and an ArmorTek scratch-resistant coating to protect the lenses.
Next up is another more high-end sniper scope, the Steiner T5Xi Riflescope. This scope was designed for competition shooters.
It has an illuminated Special Competition Reticle (SCR) that’s available as both an MRAD or MOA reticle. To go with the SCR reticle, this scope has fingertip adjustable turrets for quick, easy adjustments. The elevation turret has a Second Rotation Indicator.
The lenses are made from premium glass that’s both cut and ground in-house by Steiner.
Throw lever magnification adjustment for quick changes