In this Guide
Tactical or “sniper” scopes are designed to help you make long distance shots that count. They provide extra range, added clarity, and super-precise instruments for compensating for windage, elevation, and parallax.
Tactical scopes are available in a whole range of powers and specs, each with its own special reticle and adjustment turrets. The variety means that there’s a tactical scope to suit pretty much any rifle. The flip side is that it can be hard for the average hunter to know which scope is the right fit.
Plus, sniper scopes carry a pretty hefty price tag. You’ll want to make sure that your investment suits your rifle and shooting style to a T!
That’s where we come in! We’ve done research into the best tactical scopes available online today. Of course, with such a wide range of options, it’s hard to find a few that will suit everybody. However, we’ve come up with three options that’ll fit a few types of shooter.
You’ll find our full reviews of all three models on this page. We’ve gone through the important specs, and explained what each one means in terms of actual shooting results. Plus, we’ve included a handy list of tips to help you while you’re scoping out the options.
Here’s a quick look at our 3 favorite sniper scopes:
|Best Quality||Nightforce NXS|
|Best Seller||Bushnell Elite Tactical|
|Best on a Budget||Vortex Optics Diamondback|
Best Sniper Scope Reviews
This premium sniper scope is built to military specs, with an insanely high power range and an MOAR adjustment/reticle system. There are lots of smart features like extended eye relief, zero-stop, and an extra-narrow tube which help justify the high-end price. Previous buyers say it puts all their other scopes to shame! We’re recommending it as a top-range option, for shooters who don’t have a budget constraint.
The NXS is extremely high-powered, with a top end of 25X. That’s more than enough to make shots out at 1,000 yards and beyond with inch-precision. This high power really complements premium rifles, and won’t underpower even the biggest rifle.
The extra-big objective lens allows for a pretty wide field of vision, even out past 1,000 yards. 52mm adds a solid 1/4 onto most standard lens diameters, and it really makes a difference at long range. You’ll be able to see not only your target, but the area around it. Being able to observe the background helps you judge windage and parallax more easily.
The technical MOA reticle allows you to make easy adjustments with the knobs. In addition to fine MOA markings, there are wider crosshairs at the edges to help make the reticle more visible in low-light conditions. It’s on the second focal plane, so it maintains a consistent size no matter what zoom settings you use.
The adjustment knobs work on a 1/4MOA turn system, and coordinate with the reticle for easy calculations.
There’s lots of room for adjustment. The windage knob allows for 60 MOA, and the elevation knob can turn up to 100 MOA. Both knobs are fully exposed and have tactical grips and markings.
The tube is thin and refined, with a narrow 30mm diameter. We like this narrower design since it’s not only much stronger than a 1” tube, but also less obtrusive.
The NXS also makes accommodations for the power of the big guns it’ll be used on. There’s a generous 3.9” eye relief, which allows for even the biggest kickback. Plus, the adjustment turrets have a zero-stop, which means they’ll never be knocked out of position.
Those smart features are what sets this one apart from our other choices. For us, they justify the high price (beside the more expensive glass).
For such a powerful scope, it’s surprisingly light–just 2 pounds in all. While you’re not going to be carrying a sniper rifle around in the woods all day, the lighter weight makes everything less cumbersome.
At around $2,000, the price tag makes this a tough prospect for many shooters. This scope costs as much as some guns.
The Bushnell Elite Tactical G2 is an excellent midrange choice that gives you lots of bang for your buck. It’s packed with a massive objective lens, and a huge range of magnification to take you from relatively close shots out to the edge of your gun’s range. This is our top recommendation for folks who don’t want to spend too much on a sniper scope!
The range is pretty extraordinary. While you’ll have a top end of 4X, enough for shots well over 1,000 yards, you don’t lose too much of the low end power. The scope starts at 6X, which doesn’t impede short shots of about ~100 yards.
That versatility makes the Bushnell a good choice for mid-range AR and .300 rifles as well as long distance precision shooters. Since we can’t all afford several scopes, this helps ease the cost. You’ll be able to use one scope for several guns without sacrificing performance on any.
Having such a wide objective lens means you’re getting phenomenal light transmission as you hunt. It’s one of the key features that makes the Bushnell better than a lot of others at this price for hunting in the morning and evening.
The ultra wide band coating on the fully-coated lenses give you lots of clarity and light transmission as well. It’s been specifically engineered to improve visibility early and late in the day, so it’s the perfect compliment to such a wide objective lens.
Bushnell’s Rain Guard HD coating is the real star of the show, though. It’s even better at staying clear during inclement weather than more expensive scopes we’ve reviewed!
The Bushnell has a fantastic reticle to go along with its glass. This one has a FFP (first focal plane) reticle right on the glass, marked with mil hashes. It gives you lots of room to accommodate for windage, holdover, and ranging.
The side focus adjustment knob makes it easy to tweak and eliminate parallax at long ranges. Each click is a .1 mil value, so you can get very precise with your settings on this one.
The Bushnell can also be adjusted for parallax down to very short ranges. According to the manual, it’s good down to 50 yards. We’ve actually found that you can get it down to 25, though! Of course, with the kinds of guns this is designed for, you probably won’t need that kind of close range capability anyway.
The 30mm tube is a one-piece construction, so it’s super rugged. This is a scope you can use for years with no issues whatsoever. It’s been argon-purged, which is the gold standard of fog-proofing right now.
This one comes with a 3″ sunshade in the box as well. It’s perfect for daytime hunts when glare can be your worst enemy.
It’s extremely well-appointed and powerful!
The one area where you can tell the difference between the Bushnell and the $2,000 scopes is the clarity of the glass at very high magnification. Professional reviewers said that the Bushnell is good up to about 20X, and then loses a bit of definition.
3. Vortex Viper
The Vortex Viper is our favorite budget option for a sniper scope. It’s much cheaper than high-end tactical scopes, but has many of the same features. You’ll have MOA adjustments, a SFP reticle, and build quality that knocks other budget options out of the water. It has excellent ratings, several shout-outs from gun magazines, and a lifetime warranty!
The 6-24X power range is enough to take you much further than your average rifle scope. It’s a great way to achieve the same magnification power as the high-end scopes with a top end of 24X, on a much smaller budget! The powerful lens set is supported by exposed, technical turrets and a technical hash-mark reticle.
The lenses are particularly impressive, since they’ve been computer engineered for better light dispersion and full optical holdover from edge to edge. They’re optically-indexed lenses for better color and resolution at full-zoom. It’s a bit beyond most people’s technical knowledge, but it essentially means that every millimeter of glass has been designed to be flawless–to a degree that’s not possible with just the human eye.
We really like the locking rings at both ends, which keep the lenses in place no matter what jolts the tube takes. They’re machined from aluminum, and padded with O-rings for sealing and cushioning.
For adjustments, there are knobs for windage and elevation, as well as a side parallax knob and quick-focus eyepiece.
The adjustment knobs and reticle also have sub tension markings, as well as a zero-stop feature. They’re cushioned by a spring system, so they won’t be knocked out of place by bumps or jostles.
The tube is water, fog, and shock resistant, thanks to argon-purging. That’s a step up over traditional nitrogen purging, which has poorer dispersion and shock resistance. The 30mm tube is also low-profile, and more durable than 1” models.
The outer coatings on both the tube and the lenses are scratch-resistant. The matte finish also repels oils and corrosive salts. Overall, the Viper’s build quality makes it one of the only inexpensive sniper scopes you can take hunting. A lot of others have the same power, but don’t have as rugged a build.
We particularly love that the reticle is etched into the lens, so it can’t ever break. It’s on the second focal plane, which means the lines stay exactly the same size as you zoom. When you’re hunting at a distance, that’s very important for preserving your entire field of vision. It’s marked with mil-hashes.
The reticle also works with the adjustment turrets, providing you with a nice clean target point for reference right on the lens. Then you can adjust your aim accordingly. The Viper also has a unique magnification indicator right on the lens, so you’ll always know how much more range you have.
The Vortex is covered by an unconditional lifetime warranty, with VIP coverage for anyone who owns the scope, regardless of whether they’re the original purchaser. Many reviewers wrote in to say that they’d had great experiences with Vortex service, whether to fix a scope or just to have some setup questions answered by experts.
It’s a bit on the heavy side, and it’s as large as you’d expect for something with such a high top-end magnification spec. If you’re concerned about weight or size, this probably isn’t the scope for you.
The adjustment knobs are a bit stiff. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since they won’t be brushed out of place easily. However, you might want to loosen them up a bit before you start shooting.
While it has magnification power to rival the highest-priced options, it doesn’t have the same glass quality. The difference is hard to measure objectively, but it’s a question of light transmission and clarity. The Viper does extremely well for its price class, but it’s no match for a NightForce.
Best Sniper Optics on the Market – 2018 List
|Nightforce NXS||Best of the Best||$$$$$||5.0|
|Bushnell Elite Tactical||Competes with top-range scopes at half the price||$$$||4.3|
|Vortex Viper||Our favorite budget option||$$||5.0|
At this point, you’ve got a good understanding of each of these scopes. So, which one is right for you?
For the most serious long range shooters, we’d recommend spending the extra money to get the NightForce NXS. It’s notably better than our other choices in terms of build quality and precision, and also has the highest range. However, its price will certainly be an obstacle to some buyers.
The Burris provides a fairly similar product at a much cheaper price. It has the same illuminated reticle style, and a comparable high magnification range. Most buyers won’t need the extra clarity at the top end of the glass that the NightForce provides, so the Burris is a good approximation for a more typical shooter.
Finally, we’d recommend the Vortex Viper to buyers on a budget, as well as people who hunt long range but not so seriously. It’s a perfectly functional scope with a vast power range that covers most needs. You’re certainly not skimping on quality, either, since it has the same basic build features as many of the high-end scopes.
How to Shop for a Sniper Scope
- Quality glass is probably the most important factor at long ranges. It allows for clearer vision at close ranges, and helps you judge mirage effects from windage and parallax at long distances. You’ll want to make sure your scope comes from a company with a good reputation for clear, unmarred glass, preferably lenses that are optically indexed or digitally engineered. Even our least expensive picks aren’t quite at the bottom of the sniper price range for that reason. We don’t think there’s any point cheaping out if you’re going to be compromising your shooting ability!
- Look for precision instruments, including tactical, lockable adjustment turrets. These turrets should be exposed, and matched to the reticle with mil-dot or MOA markings.
- Technical reticles are essential, ideally a mil-dot reticle.BDC reticles aren’t generally considered technical enough for sniping. Only a tactical reticle will allow you to compensate properly for windage, elevation, and bullet drop at long ranges.
- We especially like SFP (second focal plane) reticles, since they stay the same size no matter what zoom level you’re at. Reticles on the first focal plane get larger and smaller depending on your settings, and that’s harder for your eyes to adjust to in the moment.
- Another great feature is an etched-in reticle. Most reticle issues come when a crosshair comes loose from the glass. That’s particularly common when you’re using a sniper scope on a big gun. With an etched lens, this is impossible, and a non-issue.
- You’ll need a scope with spring-loaded or padded turrets to deal with kickback from the power of a long range rifle. Overall durability is of particular concern, so you should place a premium on build quality just as much as magnification power.
- Look for high power ranges, starting at 5-6X instead of 3-4X, and going upwards of 16-18X. These higher-end lenses will help you make precise shots past 1,000 yards, where a 12X isn’t much use at all.
- Look for larger objectives, to maintain your field of vision when you’re at a high zoom setting. Lenses between 40-50mm should suffice.
With most rifle scopes, models above $1,000 are considered upper-tier. With sniper scopes, $500-1,000 models are considered budget range. Be prepared to spend a lot more for a sniper scope. With that said, the average shooter can do pretty well with a scope around the $750-$1,000 range. Only a serious shooter needs to look at $2,000 to $3,000 scopes.
Check out our recommendations for the best in other categories of gun scopes, as well. We have rankings for the best .22 scopes, best night vision scopes, rimfire scopes and more. Find quick summaries of the best in each category on our main page!