Today we will bring you the best tactical scopes for your rifles. Thankfully, there are fantastic options for high value scopes that offers fantastic value in relatively budget friendly options. That is not to say that these scopes are inexpensive, but that there are many battle-proven MILSPEC scopes on the market today that are excellent tactical scopes.
What Tactical Rifle Scope is Best for You?
When evaluating a tactical scope, the most important thing to do is consider how the scope will be used. While this sounds obvious, it is not easy. Optics vary greatly based on intended use. Far too many people just want to slap on an optic from a certain manufacturer or based on a friend’s advice without researching to determine if that is the best scope for his or her needs. The best advice we can give you is to avoid that.
All optics are not created equal, and even reputable companies make models that very greatly based on what use case they are optimized for. Consider that Chevrolet produces Silverado trucks and Corvette sports cars, after all.
Now, think of how you will be using the optic. Will it be mated to one rifle for its entire life or will it be shared between different rifles for different calibers, ranges, and uses. This guide focuses on magnified tactical scopes, so if you are exclusively shooting at anything within 100 yards, you may be better served by employing a red dot reflex sight for faster target acquisition in close quarters.
Once you know what purpose your scope will serve, consider what options you need.
- Illumination – Do you need an illuminated aiming point on your scope? Do you anticipate using the scope at night where an illuminated reticle is virtually a must have like night, dawn, and dusk hours?
- Glass Quality – In order to get a tactical scope with the highest possible clarity and brightness, look at glass quality. In a high end optic, the glass should be clear and crisp. Glass should also be coated to be durable and tough.
- Objective Lens Size – Generally, the larger the objective lens, the more light the scope will let in and the brighter the image will appear, assuming all else equal. For this reason, if you know you will be shooting exclusively in bright daytime conditions, like building a rifle for a 3 gun competition, it is fine to opt for a smaller objective lens to save weight. If, on the other hand, you anticipate using the optic in extremely low light conditions, find a larger objective lens to make sure the scope will collect enough light or make sure the scope is compatible with your night vision devices.
- Weight – Never forget that ounces equals pounds and pounds equal pain. Anything that you put on your rifle alters the weapon system and that is true of scopes. Also, because scopes are generally mounted to the top of the rifle, the weight really affects the balance of the rifle. Generally, the larger the objective lens and the more magnification needed, the more your scope will weigh. Again, consider what you plan to use your rifle for when considering how important of a factor weight is to your build.
Minutes of Angle (MOA) versus Milliradians (MRAD)
When selecting a ballistic reticle, you have several options. Here, we will cover the two most common options; Minute of Angle and Milliradian.
A Minute of Angle (MOA) is an angular measurement. A MOA is 1/60th of a degree. 1 MOA spreads about 1″ per 100 yards. ( actually 1.047″) 1 MOA is a different size at different distances, 8″ at 800 yards is still just 1 MOA.
A milliradian, simply called a mil or mrad (often capitalized MRAD), is an angular measurement which is defined as a thousandth of the radian ( = 0.001 radian), meaning that a full circle of 360° (degrees) corresponds to approximately 6283 milliradians. Using the mildot system does yield a useful formula for gauging the distance to your target give by the formula (Height x 1,000) / Mils = Distance to Target.
In a mil dot reticle, each dot is 1 mil apart i distance. That is, the center of one dot is 1 mil apart from the other dot.
When you do decide which reticle is for you, make life easier on yourself by choosing a reticle with matching adjustments. That is, if you choose an MOA ballistic reticle, make sure the adjustment system is also in MOA.
Front Focal Plane (FFP) versus Second Focal Plane (SFP) Scopes
This has to deal with the ballistic aperture being in front of the magnification in a first focal plane scope, versus being behind the magnification in a second focal plane scope. This means that with a first focal plane scope, the reticle will scale with your magnification and the the distancing should be true no matter the range and magnification. For practical purposes, this means that if you choose a second focal plane piece of glass, make sure to zero it on the maximum magnification setting to minimize shifting point of impact. A first focal plane scope could cover some of your target picture at high magnification levels. Sometimes, if you have a laser range finder available, the second focal plane could be advantageous because the reticle is always the same size. Basically, if you plan on ranging your targets through your scope choose a first focal plane if you can afford it, as FFPs are generally a bit more expensive. If you are doing precision shooting and know your ballistic drops and holdovers, a second focal plane could be a better choice.
Top Tactical Scopes – August 2016
The Mark 4 is a legendary line of scopes from Leupold. All the glass in the Mark 4 line is insanely clear with a diamond coating on the glass, which allows more light to pass through, resulting in a crisper overall image. The Index Matched Lens System, using Leupold’s index matched glass with wavelength specific lens coatings designed to optimize the transmission of low-light wavelengths. Leupold claims that this reduces unwanted glare and diffusion through the lens edges to provide better resolution, improved contrast and superior optical performance. The scope features blackended edges to minimize flash.
The Mark 4 features an illuminated reticle and is as rugged as any scope you can find. It is waterproof an the inside of the scope is filled with an Argon and Krypton gas blend, which eliminates the effects of thermal shock. The housing is constructed of 6061-T6 aircraft quality aluminum with a 30mm maintube.
The scope has a 90-MOA of both windage and elevation adjustment and is adjustable in 1/4-MOA windage and elevation adjustments with audible, tactile clicks.The adjustments work great and the selectors are tactile and easy to operate.
This is a great rugged and proven scope that comes with a hell of a reputation. The optic comes with flip-open lens covers are standard issue with each Mark 4 MR/T riflescope. Finally, if for whatever reason your scope does break, it comes with Leupold’s Golden Ring Lifetime Guarantee, even if you are not the original owner, so you will immediately get a new one, and we love it when American companies stand behind the products they manufacture.
It is hard to overstated how well built the ACOG is. The reliability that comes with a ACOG is impossible to beat. The ACOG is legendary because it is a very high quality optic with an illuminated reticle that does not rely on battery power. Instead, the dual illuminated horse shoe reticle that is on most service refiles is powered by fiber optics during the day and tritium at night.
The ACOG comes with several options to make sure you get the exact model to fit your needs. Available in different colored reticles that include red, green and yellow, the ACOG also comes in different options to get the correct reticle for you. This model has the ballistic reticle calibrated for the 5.56/.223 bullet, but some other options that are available are if that isn’t your preference.
The fact that the optic is submersible down to 100 meters is some indication at how overbuilt this rifle is. On the more practical side, this optic can take a beating from climbing in and out of vehicles, over walls, and banged on the ground without losing zero.
The only negative with the ACOG is the relatively short eye relief, but you shouldn’t notice a problem while standing. It really only becomes a problem with awkward shooting positions. Just something to keep in mind. You sometimes hear that this optic isn’t great in close quarters. While we can concede that that is not necessarily where 4X magnification is ideal, soldiers and marines have been using this to get the job done without issue for a long time.
Finally, there is not designations for windage holds beyond 100 meters. That is somewhat frustrating given that distances beyond 100 meters is exactly where windage, but we understand the tradeoff.
Ultimately, this is a virtually indestructible sight that is perfect for medium range use. If you consider that many marksman and snipers of previous battles used 4X magnification and that you probably would not want to have more magnification that that on a AR type rifle firing a 5.56/.223, this is a very capable scope. In fact, this is perfect for people looking for a AR rifle optic that need the versatility of reaching out while still being somewhat capable in close quarters battles. All things considered, we can not say enough good things about the ACOG.
The ST-10 from US Optics is a fixed powered 10X magnification scope. It offers a simple scope that offers very high clarity and durability. This is a straight optic that is simple and well made. This model comes with a mildot reticle with MRAD adjustments, which is our favorite combination. However, you can also get this scope in a variety of options with any combo that suits your needs.
The 37mm objective lens lets plenty of light in and the EREK knob is very precise for adjustments. The housing is type III anodized 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminium and the scope is guaranteed to hold zero in the toughest field conditions on earth.
The MIL GAP reticle features full MIL and 1/2 MIL hash marks that are laid out in a clean display. The full MIL hash marks are numbered every 2 MILs for quick and easy reference. The hash marks represent a total of 9 MILs of adjustment below the horizontal axis; 4 MILs of adjustment above the horizontal axis and 4 MILs of adjustment to the left and right of the vertical axis.
Without a doubt this is a tier 1 scope. The tracking and internal construction is very good. The optical clarity is great and the scope is rugged enough to go to hell and back. While not cheap, the scope is very inexpensive for all the features that come with this tactical scope. The ST-10 is a beast, and will give you capabilities to be effective out to long ranges.
US Special Operations and the Canadian military uses these optics for good reason. The functionality that we love is the ability to simply go from 1X to 4X by moving a simple lever. At 1X, the Specter functions like a standard red dot. At the 4X setting, the reticle changes and becomes a useful 4X scope for this. It is hard to overstate how easy and useful it is to change the magnification setting, and both the magnification settings are in very useful settings. The dot is still less than 2 MOA, even in the 4X magnification setting. And, if you are really in a hurry and don’t have time to throw the lever, there are back up iron sights on the top of the optic.
The eye relief is 2.75″, which is comfortable for most positions. Full technical specs can be viewed on Raytheon’s website here. Holdovers are marked out to 1,000 meters, which is a little optimistic for a 5.56, but in 7.62 NATO/.308 it makes more sense.
At 22.7 ounces, this scope is heavy. This scope is built like a tank and it shows in the heft of the device. The other bad news is these scopes are expensive. These babies cost an arm and a leg, but if your life depends on your weapon system being optimized, it may be worth it to you depending on your situation. If you want the best tactical scope on the market and money is no object, this is likely the one unless you are exclusively focused on long range shooting. If we had to go to war with just one optic, this would be it.