Nothing in the shooting and hunting industry has seen such leaps in technology over the past decade or so as optics, specifically magnified riflescopes. Bigger main tubes make for bigger lenses and, as a result, enhanced light transmission, clarity and resolution, since there's a bigger sweet spot in the center of each lens. Those roomier tubes enable greater erector tube travel, which translates to more windage and elevation adjustment — a great thing for shooters that stretch their rifles' long-distance legs. Parallax adjustment has, for the most part, migrated from the objective housing to turret form on the left side of the scope, offering much better accessibility in the best scopes.
But perhaps the greatest advancements found on the best scopes center on the elevation turret. Most advanced scopes today, both of tactical and hunting design, offer at least the option of an exposed dial-for-distance turret. The better turrets offer a zero-stop type mechanism, which allows shooters to instantly return to their 100- or 200-yard zero. The turrents on the best scopes allow multiple upward rotations and have second-rotation numbers displayed to ease the math when dialing for targets way, way out there.
Of course, all of the best scopes dial consistently and accurately, enabling shooters to calculate trajectories, shoot to confirm calculations, and then tweak numbers within the ballistic calculator to finesse their drop chart to perfection. Coupled with that refined drop chart, the consistency of today's better riflescopes allow shooters to laser range a target, dial up and make first-round hits more effectively than at any time in the history of gunpowder, projectiles and distant targets.
In another sphere entirely, compact red-dot sights have grown smaller, more robust and to have far greater battery life. There are electronic sights on the market now with such long battery life that troops deploying overseas are told to turn their sight on when they leave the U.S., and not turn it off until they return. Internally, these little sights have evolved, too. Clarity is far better than 10 years ago, and the size and sharpness of the electronic dot displayed within is much refined.
Since I was assigned to review the newest and best scopes announced at SHOT 2016, I've included only one new red-dot type optic — Trijicon's new MRO. It was just too marvelous to omit.
Without further ado, here's my take on ten of the best scopes found at this year's Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show.
Burris Veracity with M.A.D. knob system
Shortly after the Veracity came out, I won a 1,000-yard F-Class match with a 4-20x50mm version, and took a 2.5-10x 42mm to Africa, where I made 13 one-shot kills with it. The line offers arguably the best scopes, value-wise, on the market today, with excellent clarity, top-shelf consistency and admirable strength. Main tubes are 30mm in diameter.
New in 2016 is the M.A.D knob system, which stands for Modular Adjustment Dial system. The system enables scope purchasers to choose between traditional capped knobs, competition-style exposed knobs marked in Mil or MOA and available in low and tall versions and custom knobs laser-engraved in yards or meters to match the trajectory of your chosen load in your rifle at your specified atmospheric conditions. Knobs are easily swapped out using the provided hex key. Custom knobs may be ordered via Burris Customer Service. Price: $719 to $1,138.
Leupold's legendary VX-3 line just received a facelift — but contrary to expectations, it also went down in price some $100 or so, depending on specific variation. The new version on our best scopes list is dubbed the VX-3i, for "improved." It features a Twilight Max system that is said to balance the spectrum of available light, biasing it toward what the human eye sees in low-light conditions and "€¦ leading to a brighter, crisper image." It also minimizes the clouding common when aiming with direct sunlight on the objective lens.
A reengineered power ring with a bigger knurl makes it easier to turn, particularly with cold hands or when wearing gloves. A raised power indicator enables shooters to feel what magnification the scope is set on by touch. Internally, a new dual spring system adds support, resulting in increased consistency and durability.
Sizes run from a compact 1.5-5x20mm at $520 up to a 6.5-20x50mm at $1,170, with myriad variations between, including scopes with 1-inch tubes and those with 30mm tubes, along with various reticles and CDS turrets.
Meopta MeoPro 6.5-20x50 HTR
The tag "HTR" stands for Hunting/Tactical/Range, and this new high-octane scope has features that do indeed make it suitable for all-around use and earns a spot on our best scopes list. Touted to offer precise tracking and superior resolution, it should provide yeoman's service in shooting disciplines ranging from varmint shooting to PRS competitive use. It's available with several different second-focal-plane reticles including the capable McWhorter and a Windmax 8 with tics on the horizontal crosswire every 2 MOA. Various turrets ranging from capped versions ideal for hunters that don't intend to dial for distance to target version marked in 0.25 MOA clicks are available. Lenses are ground of Schott glass, which is rated the best in the industry, and scopes carry Meopta's lifetime transferrable warranty. MSRP: $1,150.
Nikon Monarch 7
This legendary optic company's best scopes are all-new this year. The Monarch 7 features the company's wind-compensating BDC reticle, 30mm main tubes, better optics, better turrets, and on some models, sophisticated electronic illumination. Glass is fully multicoated, turrets offer instant zero-reset, and all magnifications in the scope line — from the practical 2.5-10x50mm to the 4-16x50mm illuminated scope shown here — are fit with side-mounted parallax focus knobs. Price ranges from $850 to $1,100.
One other development at Nikon deserves mention: First-focal-plane BDC "Distance Lock" reticles are new available in the ProStaff and Monarch 3 lines.
Steiner Optics P4Xi
Designed for close-and-personal, real-world defense and tactical situations, Steiner's new P4Xi is a true no-magnification optic on the low end, making it ideal for shooting with both eyes open, thus enabling better situational awareness. On the top end, 4x magnification is enough to make precise shots to several hundred yards if necessary. Eleven illumination settings — six of which are optimized for nighttime use — each have an "off" position between them. The reticle is Steiner's useful P3TR; good for all-around work as well as sudden defense work. The main tube is a hard-anodized 30mm version. Even if you don't believe in zombies, this is one of the best scopes for 3-Gun competitive work and for plinking at the range. Overall length: 10.3 inches. Weight: 17.28 oz. Price: $676.
It ain't lightweight, and it ain't affordable, but Swarovski's X5i is so incredibly capable that those things just don't matter, making it one of the best scopes on our list. Not only does it have the Austrian company's superb optical quality, it's engineered for outstanding performance in precision and long-range disciplines, offering 116 MOA of elevation adjustment, a zero-stop type mechanism with the added benefit of a new "subzero" function that allows the shooter to dial down past the zerostop if desired, and a numbering system on the turret that displays first and second rotations in a window. Said turret has 20 MOA of adjustment per rotation. A multitude of reticles is available. Weight (3.5-18x50mm) 28.6 oz. Length: 14.4 inches. Price: $3,666 to $3,888.
This is the long-lived electronic optic mentioned above: A single battery provides five years of continuous use. Compact and tough, with a bigger field of view than competing models, the all-new MRO (Miniature Rifle Optic) is ideal for home defense, law enforcement use, fast-paced competition and certain types of hunting such as driven game in Europe or predator hunting in thick habitat. A 2 MOA dot enables enough precision while being big enough for fast action, and 70 MOA of internal adjustment make it easy to sight in on just about any firearm. Eight brightness settings include two that are night-vision compatible. Machined of 7075-T6 aluminum, the MRO is tested from negative 60 degrees to plus 160 degrees Fahrenheit and is waterproof to 100 feet. Price with AR-compatible mount: $629; without: $579.
Vortex Razor HD LH 3-15x42
Precision shooters that like to hunt high, rugged country are presented with a dilemma: carry their ultra-accurate rifle mounted with a 30-ounce precision scope, or pack a light, handy rifle with a small scope that's easy to carry but diminishes their ethical range. The new Light Hunter version of Vortex's Razor HD offers a great compromise and, thus, makes our list of best scopes. While it's engineered to be as light as possible without giving up quality and toughness, it's fit with outstanding precision reticles and capped-but-dialable turrets. Weighing in at 16.5 ounces, the 3-15x42 version is the heaviest of the lot but has a side parallax adjustment knob; lesser-power versions are even lighter and are less expensive, but offer less precision at extreme distance. Price: $1,099.
Weaver Grand Slam with MultiStop Turret
The new Grand Slam's claim to our best scopes list is in its unique, color-coded, configurable "MultiStop" elevation turret. The outstanding Grand Slam platform features argon-purged 1-inch tubes, full multi-coated lenses, and a tough, balanced internal spring system that maximizes consistency while dialing for distance.
Engineered to provide color-coded dialing, the MultiStop turret is configurable so shooters can adjust it to match their load's trajectory, and adjust it again if they later switch loads. Plus, custom aluminum lens caps hold a quick-reference range card. Two magnification ranges are available: a 4-16x44 at $1,215 and a 5-20x50mm at $1,425.
Zeiss Victory V8
Touted as one of the best scopes Zeiss has ever built, the new V8 features full 8x magnification zoom. Built on a sturdy, beautifully machined 36mm main tube, V8s are a bit heavy, are admirably robust and are incredibly pure in terms of optical quality courtesy of FL lenses and HT glass. I had the opportunity to hunt Germany with one last fall and took a roedeer and my first European wild boar during a traditional driven hunt.
Several sizes are available. At the bottom end, a 1.1-8x30mm version makes for the ideal dangerous-game and all-around hunting scope, while the high-powered 2.8-20x56mm at the top end comes with nice ballistic drop compensating rings engraved with yardages. Pick one with the trajectory most closely matched to your cartridge via the included ballistics table, install it, and you're good to go.
Plus, there's one blank ring that the company will engrave to match any ballistics you provide — for free. Not to mention the superb Talley rings included with every scope. If you're a scope connoisseur that refuses to compromise, you owe it to yourself to investigate the V8 as one of the best scopes out there. Price to come.