June 21, 2023
It’s been exciting watching the evolution of Vortex over the years. The new scopes that I’ve tested recently show that they want to be a shooter’s number one choice no matter if it’s their premium or budget-friendly segment. Last year, the launch of the Razor HD Gen III 6-30x56mm saw refinements that set a new standard for that line. The newest member of the family to get a revamp is the Strike Eagle 3-18x44mm; it has features that make it hard for competitors to match.
The Strike Eagle 3-18x44mm is now a first focal plane (FFP) scope and comes with the FFP designation in the name. Other key improvements make this a completely different animal. The maintube is now 34mm instead of 30mm. This boosted the elevation travel from 120 MOA/35 mils to 154 MOA/45 mils. The reticle is now the EBR-7C, which is what is also found in the Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27x56 FFP. More importantly, the glass is now extra-low dispersion (XD), giving the shooter a brighter and crisper image. The better glass, different body, and internals make this a qualitatively better scope, and with that follows an increase in price. Instead of $599, it is now $850 MSRP. Expect the street price to be about $100 cheaper.
The Strike Eagle 3-18x44mm FFP has the construction and durability features that you would expect from a quality scope. Its maintube was machined from a solid block of aircraft-grade aluminum and features a matte black anodized finish. The scope is nitrogen gas purged and sealed with O-rings for waterproofing and fog proofing. It is also shockproof to prevent movement of the glass or internal elements. The XD glass is fully multi-coated to prevent internal reflection and increase light transmission.
The elevation turret has 25 MOA/10 mils per revolution and is a locking turret, meaning that you have to raise the turret cap before it will rotate. A locking turret is not as cumbersome as it sounds; it just takes a little time to adapt to it if you’re not used to it. The turret is easily zeroed by removing the top cap, raising the turret, and setting it on zero. The windage turret is capped and is non-locking. There are 64 MOA/18.9 mils of adjustment with easy-to-read numbers. It is zeroed the same way.
To set a zero stop, Vortex uses a zero-stop ring called a RevStop. The RevStop allows you to bottom out the turret at your scope’s zero. Inserting the RevStop reduces the elevation travel from 154 MOA/45 mils to 47 MOA/18.9 mils. Fortunately, the ring is easily removable if you want to take advantage of the full travel.
On the left side of the scope are the parallax and illumination controls. Parallax runs as low as 10 yards, making it great even for .22LR competitions. The illumination lights up the entire reticle and has settings from 0 (Off) to 11 with no intermediate Off position in between the numbers.
Like many scopes, it includes a diopter to focus the reticle to your vision. Eye relief is 3.8 inches and has a forgiving eyebox. Overall length is 13.3 inches, while it weighs 26.6 ounces.
The 3-18X magnification makes it ideal for shooting long range with an AR or bolt gun. My magnification setting when shooting 1,000-yard targets is anywhere from 12X to 16X.
Since I test many scopes, I’ve developed a 22-point spreadsheet where I rate out-of-the-box setup, optical quality, and physical use. I test the scope in various light conditions, at different zoom ranges, and optically test tracking. I also perform side-by-side comparisons with equivalently priced and pricier scopes. Before testing, I set the scope to its optical center.
Out of the box, the scope feels well made, and the turret mil lines are spaced far enough apart to quickly distinguish if you are on 1.0 or 1.1 mils. The only thing missing here is some type of turret revolution indicator. I’d like to visually know if I’m at the bottom of the travel or have turned the turret a revolution or two. The illumination, when dialed to 11, is faint in daylight but is visible when it’s against a dark background.
Once I adjusted the diopter to my eyesight, the reticle numbers and hashmarks were clear at 3X against a blue sky but a little hard to distinguish when against a dark background. During bright daylight, the scope has the excellent contrast and resolution needed for shooting near or far. Its edge-to-edge sharpness, general brightness, and definition is excellent in the lower power settings and maintains it until you hit the higher end of the magnification. Like other scopes, the image degrades and gets a little washed out. This is common with high-power optics, especially in this price range, so this is not a deal breaker.
Tracking is critical for long-range shooting; if it’s not consistent and repeatable, then the scope is just a spotting scope. I tested the tracking optically using my scope rig, which has a solid, stable foundation. I ran the scope through 20-mil travel eight times to ensure it held its tracking. The tracking was spot on vertically and horizontally up to 10 mils of travel and was 1.5-percent off its elevation at 20 mils of its travel. That’s very acceptable trackability. The reticle went straight up and didn’t veer, which I’ve seen scopes do at the higher end of their travel. To test the internals, I removed the scope from the rig and tapped it hard against a dense, non-marking surface with similar force to a rifle falling over onto a floor. I struck both ends and sides to see if it affected tracking — it didn’t.
I then compared it to an equally priced competitive scope with similar features that is also made in China, and the Strike Eagle was brighter, sharper, and had a much more forgiving eyebox, especially throughout the zoom range. When comparing it to a $2,000, U.S.-made scope, it fell short, but the optical differences are not as stark as they are between standard glass and HD glass.
With the addition of the Strike Eagle 3-18x44mm FFP, the Strike Eagle line has become the top dog to beat in this price segment. It has the reticle and tracking needed to shoot long-range with precision, and its glass is great for daylight shooting and is decent in low-light conditions. Long-term durability is the only unanswered question I have about this scope. Otherwise, the scope serves my long-range needs excellently.