Gun Digest

Report from the Field: Optics

At GunDigest, we independently review products. However, we may earn a commission when you purchase through links on our site. Learn More

Bright glass (here in a Leupold) can salvage a hunt when your only shot comes in dim light!
Bright glass (here in a Leupold) can salvage a hunt when your only shot comes in dim light!


Since its start in 1974, Aimpoint has worked to offer the best red dot sights. Early on, that was easy, because red dot sights were then new. In fact, Gunnar Sandberg’s first “single-point sight” had no optical tunnel. You couldn’t look through this sight; you looked into the tube with one eye while your other registered a dot superimposed on the target. Sandberg refined the device and founded Aimpoint to produce it.

Hunters liked the illuminated dot, suspended in a wide field they could see from almost any place behind the sight. The front lens of a modern Aimpoint is a compound glass that corrects for parallax – unlike most red dot sights, whose reflective paths shift with eye position. Aimpoint’s doublet brings the dot to your eye in a line parallel with the sight’s optical axis, so you hit where you see the dot, even when your eye is off-axis. A 1x Aimpoint gives you unlimited eye relief too. Advanced circuitry on the newest models reduces power demand. Batteries last up to 50,000 hours with a mid-level brightness setting.

This Weaver Grand Slam scope, one in a big stable of fine variables, tops a Tikka T3 rifle.

The lightest of Aimpoint’s 9000 series weighs just 6.5 ounces. Each windage and elevation click moves point of impact 13mm at 100 meters. The newest Hunter series comprises four models: long and short tubes, 34mm and 30mm in diameter. They all feature 1x images, 2-minute dots, half-minute clicks. A 12-position dial lets you fine-tune dot intensity – low for dim light, high under sunny skies. One CR-2032 battery lasts five years if you never turn the sight off! Hunter sights are waterproof. Fully multi-coated lenses (43mm up front on the 30mm sight, 47mm on the 34mm tube) deliver a sharp image, and as with all Aimpoints, the internal design gives you unlimited eye relief with zero parallax.

Sturdy enough for military use, Aimpoints have been adopted by armed forces in the U.S. and France. They serve sportsmen in forty countries. One of every ten moose hunters using optical sights in Sweden carries an Aimpoint. I’ve killed moose with these optics in dark timber, then shot golf-ball-size groups on paper at 100 yards. The company’s line includes a Micro H1, ideal for bows and handguns. (


A young optics company, Alpen has surprised everyone over the last few years with “great buy” credits from such venerable sources as Outdoor Life. While 2010 brings only a few new products to the catalog, many established optics in the Alpen line deserve another look. In short-summary fashion, then:

The Rainier 20-60×80 spotting scope accommodates a camera adapter for photography at long range. AR riflescopes for air guns were designed to endure double-shuffle recoil. Carriage-class Rainier binoculars now come in 8×32 and 10×32 versions that are 20 percent lighter than the 42mm originals but still wear BAK4 lenses, phase-corrected coatings, a locking diopter dial and twist-out eyecups. The AlpenPro Porro series includes an 8×30 that’s ideal for the woods. Alpen’s energetic Vickie Gardner is busy “scrambling to fill back-orders from 2009!” Why? “Alpen offers great value; the riflescopes and binoculars truly are great buys.”

Also, some 2009 introductions were premature; stock didn’t arrive until late in the year. Wings binoculars, for example. Choose 8×42 or 10×42, with ED glass as an option. The 8×42 has impressed me in the field; so has a new Apex rifle-scope on a bolt-gun in the rack. The four Apex sights just cataloged include three with turret-mounted parallax dial and new bullet-drop-compensating reticle. “We’ve also upgraded our 20-60×80 spotting scope with a fine-focus knob,” says Vickie. Shift focus quickly with the standard dial, then refine the image with this new adjustment. (


While Barrett is known for its 50-caliber rifles, it also markets an optic that helps shooters hit at long range. The Barrett Optical Ranging System – BORS – is a sight attachment, a 13-ounce device you pair with a scope. It incorporates a small ranging computer powered by a CR-123 lithium battery. There’s a liquid crystal display with a four-button keypad. Factory-installed cartridge tables tailored to your loads enable the computer to deliver precise holds for long-distance shooting. The BORS includes an elevation knob and a knob adapter. A set of steel rings mounts the unit to any M1913 rail and are secured with hex nuts that endure the beating from Barrett rifles in .50 BMG. Press the 6-o’clock power button, and you’re ready to engineer a shot. The screen shows your zero or sight-in range and indicates any cant (tipping of the rifle), which at long range can cause you to miss.

To determine range, you specify target size, then move the horizontal wire of your reticle from top to bottom on the target. The range appears in yards or meters. Now you can use the elevation knob to dial the range. The BORS unit must know your load, of course. You provided that data earlier; the unit stores it as a ballistics table. It can hold up to 100 tables for instant access. At the end of this process – which takes longer to explain than to do – you can hold dead-on at any range. The BORS automatically compensates for vertical shot angles. You can adjust the scope for up to 90 degrees of inclination and declination, in increments of 2 degrees. Temperature and barometric pressure come on-screen when you press the 9-o’clock button. If the battery dies, you can use the scope as if the electronics were not there. Paired with a Leupold Mark 4 LR/Tactical 4.5-14×50 scope, the BORS unit on my Barrett rifle shrugs off the .50’s blast and recoil. (


When variables started to gain traction with hunters, the 3-9x became the logical leader. Not only did 3x afford fast sighting; 9x was all you needed for any big game – and even coyotes at long range. The three-times power range seemed adequate. As shooters chased power, though, four-times magnification appeared, in 3-12x and 4-16x 30mm scopes. Burris was among the first with six-times magnification. Its 2-12x scope is surely versatile! Like the Euro Diamond and Black Diamond lines, both Six Series sights (40mm and 50mm up front) feature 30mm tubes and 4 inches of eye relief. Signature Select and Fullfield II models have 1-inch tubes.

The Fullfield II 6×40 and 3-9×40 have impressed me as fine values – also the 2-7×35. Burris Ballisic Plex and Ballistic Mil-Dot reticles are available in the Euro Diamond and Black Diamond scopes, and the Signature Select and Fullfield II lines. Illuminated reticles define the Fullfield II LRS scopes, which have flat battery housings on the turret. Fullfield 30s (3-9×40 and 3.5-10×50) feature 30mm tubes at affordable prices. The biggest news at Burris in 2010 is the Eliminator, a programmable laser range-finding scope. You enter the ballistic path of your cartridge (drop figures at 500 yards, with a 100- or 200-yard zero) to get instant reads for correct hold when you see game. The sight (at its core a 4-12×42 LaserScope) tells you the exact distance. You get accurate data to 800 yards on reflective objects, 550 on deer and elk. At 26 ounces, the Eliminator is heavy, but not burdensome.

If long shooting isn’t a priority, compact scopes should be. Burris’ 1-inch Timberline series, from 4×20 to 4.5-14×32 AO, fills this slot. The firm recently improved its 1.6-ounce reflex-style red dot sight: FastFire II is now waterproof. Battery-saver mode extends the life of the lithium CR2032 battery to five years. FastFire mounts fit popular lever rifles; a mounting plate slipped between receiver and buttstock on repeating shotguns gives you SpeedBead. I tried this sight on a Remington 1100; the clay targets suffered that day! The company also lists a 1x, 5-ounce tube-style red dot sight, the 135. Like many optics firms, Burris has grown its tactical line. Fullfield II Tactical scopes and Fullfield TAC30 variables (3-9×40, 3.5-10×50 and 4.5-14×42) have been joined by a 3x AR-332 prism sight, and an AR-Tripler, which you place on a pivot mount behind a red dot sight for extra magnification. Binoculars and spotting scopes complete the extensive Burris line. (


AR-style rifles have become the rage. AR-specific scopes like this Bushnell have followed.

Last year the Elite 6500-series rifle-scopes – 2.5-16×42, 2.5-16×50 and 4.5-30×50 – introduced Bushnell fans to nearly-seven-times magnification, the broadest range in the industry. (I’ve since seen a scope with 10-times magnification. It wasn’t a Bushnell, and at the top third of its range the image was noticeably soft.) The 6500 Elite still impresses me, now with the DOA (Dead On Accurate) reticle. It has the spaced bars common to many reticles. Minute-of-angle dots mark intersections with the bottom wire. DOA can also be ordered on Elite 3200 and Trophy sights.

The Elite 4200 employs standard and lighted reticles. In this series, the 3-9×40, 2.5-10×40 and 4-16×40 appeal to me. I’ve found the images sharp and bright; you can also mount these scopes low. Target knobs and side-focus dials appear on selected Elite scopes, like the 6-24×40. For hunters on a budget, Bushnell has up-graded the Trophy series. Trophy XLT scopes feature fully multi-coated lenses, fast-focus eyepiece, even flip-up lens caps. I like the 2-6×32, but there are alternatives, up to 6-18×50. Bushnell’s 4-12x laser range-finding rifle-scope complements a long line of hand-held laser instruments.

For 2010, ED Prime glass and RainGuard HD coatings improve Bushnell’s top-end Elite 8×42 and 10×42 binoculars. A step down in price, you’ll find new Legend 8×36 and 10×36 binoculars. At 21 ounces, these roof-prism glasses are an ideal size for the trail. My pick: the 8×36, with its 4 1/2mm exit pupil. It has many Elite features, including ED glass and RainGuard. An Excursion spotting scope, with folded light path, comes in 15-45×60 and 20-60×80 versions.

And there’s a new15-45x spotting scope compact enough to slip into a backpack. Dual-speed focus on this Legend HD allows for coarse and fine focusing, quickly. Bushnell’s most field-worthy laser range-finder may be the Scout 1000 with ARC, technology that takes shot angle into account so you get corrected distance for accurate shooting at steep vertical angles. Single-button control makes this 6 1/2-ounce range-finder easy to use with one hand. In bow mode, it reads between 5 and 100 yards. Rifle mode sets it for 100 to 800 yards. (

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest 2011. Click here to get your full copy!

Author takes a bead with a Magnum Research rifle and Greybull-modified Leupold scope.

Greybull Precision

Ballistic performance has many measures. Most venerated among hunters is reach – long-range accuracy and payload. Extending reach is, after all, a fundamental purpose for firearms. One shooter who has made long reach a mission is John Burns, a Wyoming gun-builder who, with Coloradans Scott Downs and Don Ward, runs GreyBull Precision. They fashion mid-weight hunting rifles for hunters who expect to shoot far.

Optics are a key component of GreyBull rifles. The firm contracts with Leupold to install Greybull’s own reticle in Leupold’s 4.5-14x VX III sight. It’s essentially a Duplex with a few fine horizontal lines for range estimation, and one-minute tics to help you shade for wind. The elevation dial is meant to move; each is cut for a specific load and marked so you can quickly dial the distance and hold center.

This Leupold 4.5-14×50 VX-3 has been modified for long shooting by GreyBull Precision.

Adjusting windage dials, most hunters agree, is unwise. Wind changes speed and direction, and you can get lost correcting yourself off zero. So GreyBull scope dials have numbers scribed above distance marks. They show minutes of adjustment needed in a 10-mph crosswind. Testing these scopes, I’ve found yardage and windage marks spot on. Of course, a laser range-finder is all but necessary to get accurate distance reads. I enjoyed the opportunity to test the Greybull scope on a Greybull rifle, and both performed magnificently. (


Best known for its superlative Ultravid binoculars and Geovid range-finding binoculars, Leica now offers 8+12×42 and 10+15×50 Duovid glasses. These aren’t “zoom” or variable binoculars. Such mechanisms are too heavy and bulky for binoculars, and those that have appeared from less prestigious firms show substandard images. The Duovid is an “either-or” instrument. Switch from 8x to 12x (or 10x to 15x) for a close-up view. At 37 and 44 ounces, Duovids aren’t light. But they’re relatively compact and certainly more portable than spotting scopes. Optical quality is excellent – so too that of the Geovid, now with 42mm objectives as well as light-gobbling 56s.

Geovids have been up-graded with the HD fluorite glass of Leica’s Ultravid HD binoculars. These fluorite lenses enhance brightness and resolution and can reduce overall weight. All four Geovids (8×42, 10×42, 8×56 and 12×56) have alloy frames and deliver accurate range reads to 1,200 yards. The Ultravid has replaced the time-honored Trinovid binocular. The line includes 8×20 and 10×25 compact models, and full-size roof-prism glasses from 8×32 to 12×50. HD versions feature fluorite in every lens, proprietary AquaDura coating on exposed glass.

The big news at Leica this year is two new riflescopes, the company’s first under its own label. The 2.5-10×42 and 3.5-14×42 feature 30mm tubes, rear-plane reticles and AquaDura lens coating to shed water. This hydrophobic compound (also featured on Leica binoculars) beads water and makes lens cleaning easy. At 15 and 17 ounces, these rifle-scopes are lightweight. They’re also good-looking and have plenty of free tube for mounting. Four inches of eye relief make the new scopes a logical choice for hard-kicking rifles. (


Author banged this gong repeatedly from 540 yards with a Leupold/Greybull scope on a .243.

Last year Leupold quietly bought the Redfield name. It is now producing a new line of Redfield riflescopes and binoculars. Hard to believe! During my youth, the two firms were fierce competitors. They represented, with Bausch & Lomb, the best of American-made hunting optics. The new Redfields are made at Leupold’s Beaverton, Oregon, facility. Starting at $160, they’re priced to sell! Choose from 2-7×33, 3-9×40, 3-9×50 and 4-12×40 “Revolution” scopes, all with fully multi-coated optics and finger-adjustable dials.

Leupold VP Andy York joined me on an elk hunt last fall, to initiate the Redfield line. Alas, neither of us killed an elk; but Andy assures me the Redfield name had nothing to do with our luck! I like the 3-9×40’s classic profile, sharp images, generous eye relief. The satin finish complements any rifle. Three knurled rings on the eyepiece are signature Redfield – as distinctive as Leupold’s gold ring. Subdued red logos grace the turret and objective bell. A 4-Plex reticle (remember, it’s not a Duplex unless it’s a Leupold!) and a range-finding “Accu-Range” reticle are both standard. The latter is a plex with a circle at the field’s center. At 4x, I found the circle subtends one foot at 100 yards.

There’s a dot on the bottom wire for precise aim to around 400 yards with most cartridges. These affordable 1-inch scopes should appeal to any hunter. Mount them in low rings, like the one-piece, lightweight Talleys I prefer.

Though it’s hard to trump the new Redfield series for value, shooters who insist on the best optics still have many choices at Leupold. Two years ago, Leupold introduced its top-end VX-7 scopes. The low-profile VX-7L, with a concave belly up front, followed (3.5-14×56 and 4.5-18×56, complementing the VX-7 in 1.5-6×24, 2.5-10×45 and 3.5-14×50). These sights have European-style eyepieces and “lift and lock” SpeedDial turret knobs. Xtended Twilight glass features scratch-resistant DiamondCoat 2 lens coating. The power ring is matched to a “Ballistic Aiming System” so you can tailor magnification and reticle to the target and distance. Nitrogen was replaced by argon/krypton gas to better prevent fogging.

The VX-7 is still top-of-the-line. But it’s being crowded by the VX-3 series introduced last year to replace the Vari-X III. Nearly 40 models are listed. Cryogenically treated stainless adjustments move 1/4, 1/8 and 1/10 m.o.a. per click in standard, competition and target/varmint versions. An improved spring system ensures precise erector movement. The fast-focus eyepiece has a rubber ring. These features also appear on the new FX-3 6×42, 6×42 AO, 12×40 AO and two scopes designed for metallic silhouette shooting: a 25×40 AO and 30×40 AO. Choose from 18 reticle options for the VX-3 and FX-3 series, and five finishes for the 1-inch and 30mm 6061-T6 aircraft alloy tubes.

To accommodate the AR-10 and AR-15 platforms, there’s a new Mark AR series: 1.5-4×20, 3-9×40, 4-12×40, 6-18×40. The Mark 4 tactical line includes an ER/T M1 4.5-14×50 sight with front-plane reticle. As in European scopes, this reticle stays in constant relationship to the target throughout the magnification span, so you can range a target at any power. The smallest of Leupold’s scopes – FX II 2.5×20 Ultralight – remains one of my favorites. It sits tight to the receiver in extra-low rings, slides easily into scabbards, weighs just 7-1/2 ounces and has all the power you need for big game to 200 yards. For bolt rifles with longer reach, I prefer the 4×33 and 6×36 FX IIs.

Long shooting at small targets calls for the 6.5-20×40 Long Range VX-3 – and other sights in the LR stable. New pocket range-finders, the RX-1000 and RX-1000 TBS, boast better light transmission – three times what you get from some others, according to Leupold. In open country last fall, I downed an elk far away with a VX-3 4.5-14x. The extra magnification helped. ( 

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest 2011. Click here to get your full copy!

The new Redfield 3-9×40 seems a great match for this Marlin 1895 rifle in .338 Marlin Express.


The name isn’t descriptive. Nightforce has nothing to do with infrared imaging. This optics firm specializes in high-quality rifle-scopes for precision shooting. Since 1993, more world records in long-range Benchrest events have been set with Nightforce scopes than with any other. They’re a top choice among 1,000-yard and 50-caliber marksmen. The 8-32×56 and 12-42×56 Precision Benchrest models have resettable dials with 1/8-minute clicks, as well as glass-etched illuminated reticles. Their four-times magnification range is shared by the NXS series, from the 3.5-15×50 and 3.5-15×56 NSX to the 5.5-22×50 and 5.5-22×56, the 8-32×56 and 12-42×56. Compact scopes for big game hunting recently joined that roster. The 1-4×24 and a 2.5-10×24 sights and, now, a 2.5-10×32 weigh just over a pound with the 30mm bronze alloy tubes common to Nightforce scopes.

Nightforce specializes in high-power riflescopes. But hunting models have recently appeared.

Like all but the Precision Benchrest models, the new 2.5-10x has a turret-mounted focus/parallax dial. (The 8-32×56 and 12-42×56 bench scopes wear front-sleeve parallax rings.) A new 3.5-15×50 F1 with first-plane reticle caters to hunters who want the reticle to stay in constant relationship to the target throughout the power range. Nightforce rifle-scopes endure the toughest tests in the industry. Each sight must remain leak- and fog-proof after submersion in 100 feet of water for 24 hours, freezing in a box at a minus 80° F, then heating within an hour to 250° F. Every scope gets pounded in a device that delivers 1,250 Gs, backward and forward. Lens coatings must pass mil-spec abrasion tests.

Nightforce now offers eleven illuminated reticle options. They’re distinctive and appealing because they cover so little of the field. The firm also markets accessories for competitive and tactical shooters. Mil radian windage and elevation knobs deliver .1 mil per click. Long-range shooters can specify a turret with 1-minute elevation and half-minute windage graduations, for big changes in yardage with short dial movement. A “zero-stop” turret has an elevation dial that can be set to return to any of 400 detents in its adjustment range.

One-piece steel scope bases have a recoil lug to ensure the mount doesn’t move. Five heights of steel rings let you install the scope in just the right location. Unimount, machined from 7075-T6 alloy, has titanium crossbolts and a 20-minute taper for long shooting. Nightforce’s Ballistic Program for Windows, and the abbreviated version for Pocket PCs, helps you determine bullet arc at distance. The company assembles its carriage-class optics at its plant in Idaho. (


While Nikon’s optics line has grown this year, the company’s biggest news may be its ballistics program, which you can access free from Nikon’s website. Plug in a cartridge, the bullet type and velocity to get down-range speed and energy data instantly. Specify zero range, and you’ll see the bullet’s arc. Or work backward to find the sight-in range that gives you longest point-blank distance. Nikon has programmed in dozens of popular centerfire rounds. Manipulations are so simple even a cave man can do them. How does Nikon benefit? “We get a chance to show you how our optics help you hit,” explains C.J. Davis. “Beyond that, it’s just good business to do what we can for the industry and for our customers.” Having played a little with the program, I can endorse it. While I’ve no interest in anything that extends my time at a computer screen, Nikon’s ballistics program threatens to do just that!

As for hardware, Nikon riflescopes now include an M-223 series for AR shooters. The 1-4×20, 2-8×32 and 3-12×42 can be used on other rifles, of course; but BDC reticles for the 2-8x and 3-12x M-223 are tailored for popular AR-15 loads. The Monarch line remains Nikon’s flagship, with its “African” and “Long Range” subsets. The 1-4×20 has a 1-inch tube; the 1.1-4×24, available with an illuminated reticle, is a 30mm sight. Both provide four inches of eye relief for fast aim and “recoil space.” They feature German #4 reticles and half-minute click adjustments. The African scopes round out a line tilted to high-power optics by the 2008 debut of an 8-32x50ED SF with 1/8-minute adjustments. The 5-20×44 affords great reach in a sight of reasonable size. For all-around hunting, the 2.5-10×42 is hard to beat.

The 4-16x50SF and 2-8×32, recent additions, pretty much cover the rest of the field. I’ve found Monarch optics to equal the brightest in the industry. The “Gold” and “X” series have 30mm tubes. “Coyote Special” rifle-scopes introduced last year (a 3-9×40 and a 4.5-14×40) still sell well. They feature BDC reticles and camouflage finish. A reflection-fighting screen hides the front lens. The Omega 1.65-5×36 scope for muzzleloaders is also a hit, as is the 1.65-5×36 SlugHunter. Both have a generous five inches of eye relief and BDC reticles suited to the trajectories of the most common bullets. Omega’s parallax setting is 100 yards, that of the SlugHunter 75.

The value-oriented ProStaff stable has a new entry for 2010: this 4-12×40 is an excellent scope that gives you bright images, a useful power range and a svelte tube that complements trim rifles. Nikon also lists two new range-finders this year, one for archers, the other for riflemen. There are new 42mm models in the mid-priced Monarch ATB binocular line. Nikon’s top-end EDG binoculars (7×42, 8×42, 10×42, 8×32, 10×32) with open-bridge design and a locking diopter are good glasses made better with ED lenses. Ditto the EDG Fieldscope, 85mm or 65mm. Its zoom eyepieces (16-48x and 20-60x) interchange with Nikon fixed-power eyepieces. (


In 2010, Pentax is taking on the recession with a new series of value-priced rifle-scopes it calls the GameSeeker II line. There are six models, from the yeoman 3-9×40 to a 4-16×50 and a light-grabbing 2.5-10×56. They feature one-piece, 1-inch alloy tubes, fully multi-coated optics and finger-adjustable windage and elevation dials. Choose from a standard plex reticle or the Precision Plex BDC. GameSeeker scopes are priced from around $100, which should make them popular.

Oldie but goodie: This Swarovski Habicht variable complements an Ultra Light rifle in .30-06.

Last year, Pentax added a 3-15×50 GameSeeker to that stable. Five-times magnification offers more versatility than you’ll likely need for big game. I chose instead a 3-9×32 for a moose hunt. That 12-ounce sight was perfect for my Ruger carbine in .300 RCM. Its high level of resolution helped me shoot a bull when I picked out a sliver of antler deep in shadowed timber. You can choose from eight 1-inch variable GameSeekers, plus 4×32 and 6×42 fixed-power sights. The 30mm Lightseeker 30 series comprises 3-10×40, 4-16×50, 6-24×50 and 8.5-32×50 scopes. Pioneer II models, 3-9×40 and 4.5-14×42, feature 1-inch tubes, fully multi-coated optics. Among Pentax spotting scopes, the compact PF-63 Zoom with fixed 20-50x eyepiece is particularly well suited to hunting, while the PF-80ED and PF-100ED excel when weight doesn’t matter. Interchangeable eyepieces include 32x, 46x and 20-60x options for the 37-ounce PF-65ED, which also accepts a Pentax PF-CA35 camera adapter for 35mm SLRs.

Pentax binoculars include a7x50 Marine model with built-in compass on a liquid bearing for fast dampening. Waterproof, with twist-up eye-cups and a click-stop diopter ring, the rubber-armored 7×50 has all the best features of the Pentax roof-prism DCF roof prism binoculars. These come in 8x, 10x and 12.5x, with 32mm to 50mm objectives, with phase-corrected prisms in alloy and polycarbonate shells. A Porro prism PCF line includes 8×40, 10×50, 12×50 and 20×60 binoculars. Among my favorite hunting glasses is an unlikely choice: the Pentax 9×28 BCF LV. Despite its modest exit pupil, this binocular gives me bright images, and at 13 ounces it’s eminently portable. I like the twist-out eyecups, click-stop diopter. The surface is easy to grip. Other good choices for the trail: 8×36 and 10×36 DCF NV roof-prism glasses. (

Schmidt & Bender

Long revered for excellence in riflescopes, Schmidt & Bender has hewed mainly to the European traditions of big tubes and first-plane reticles. Last year S&B announced its first 1-inch riflescope for the American market. The 16-ounce 2.5-10×40 Summit has a rear-plane reticle. Optically, it seems to me the equivalent of higher-priced Classic and top-end Zenith lines. It has the right power range and profile for at least 99 percent of all big game hunting!

Recent changes in S&B administration have not shifted its main focus. A small company by most standards, S&B still caters to people who want the very best in optical sights. Its roots lie in the hunting field, but it has brought innovation to the tactical table too. Three years ago a S&B 3-12x was adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps for its 30- and 50-caliber sniper rifles. Its 34mm Police/Marksman scopes rank among the most sophisticated LE sights around. Lighted mil dot reticles, as on S&B’s 4-16×42 P/M II, come with 11-setting turret-mounted rheostats.

The automatic shutoff saves battery while the previous setting automatically engages when you hit the illumination switch again. A side-mounted parallax adjustment hides the battery cage. Windows on windage and elevation knobs show you where the reticle is in its adjustment range. Flash-dot reticles incorporate a beam-splitter to illuminate a dead-center dot, which vanishes at a touch if you desire just the black reticle. The Police/Marksman line now comprises 17 scopes with 30mm and 34mm tubes. The latest is a 5-25×56 PM II with locking turrets.

For hunting, I’ve come to favor S&B’s 3-12×42 Classic, a versatile, durable, good-looking 30mm scope that delivers brilliant, tack-sharp images. I like the 6×42 and 10×42 fixed-power Classics as well, available with 1-inch and 30mm chassis. The Zenith series comprises four 30mm variables: 1.1-4×24, 1.5-6×42 (a great hunting sight!), 2.5-10×56, 3-12×50. They wear the P/M’s “Posicon” windage and elevation dials. ( or [the website of its U.S. importer].)

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest 2011. Click here to get your full copy!

Recommended AR-15 resources for gun owners:

New! The Gun Digest Book of the AR-15 Vol. III

The Gun Digest Book of the AR-15 Vol. I

The Gun Digest Book of the AR-15 Vol. II

Gunsmithing the AR-15, How to Maintain, Repair & Accessorize

Find more gun books, DVDs and downloads at

In thickets, you want low magnification. Author has a 1.5-5x Leupold on this Montana rifle.


The advantages and disadvantages of front- and rear-plane scope reticles are clear. A front-plane reticle grows in apparent size as you dial up the power but stays the same size in relation to the target. It does not move out of the optical center of the scope, and as a range-finding device it gives you the same picture no matter what the magnification. But at long range, where targets appear small and you want precise aim, the reticle can obscure the aiming point.

Up close, when you power down for quick shots in thickets, the reticle shrinks, becoming hard to see quickly. A second-plane reticle stays the same apparent size throughout the power range, so it won’t hide distant targets at high magnification, and it won’t vanish when you turn down the power to find game quickly up close. But because its dimensional relationship to the target changes with every change in magnification, range-finding becomes a task best limited to one power setting.

Author bears down offhand with a Weatherby Vanguard rifle and Bushnell Elite 6500 scope.

Shepherd scopes offer both reticles. You get an aiming reticle that doesn’t change size and a range-finding reticle that varies in dimension with power changes. Superimposed, the front- and rear-plane reticles appear as one. The former comprises a stack of circles of decreasing diameter. To determine yardage, match a deer-size (18-inch) target with one of the circles. Correct holdover is factored in because the circles are placed to compensate for bullet drop. A trio of range-finding reticles suit the trajectories of popular cartridges. Vertical and horizontal scales are marked in minutes of angle so you can compensate for wind. The 6-18x M556 Shepherd is specially designed for AR-style rifles. I’ve used these sights; they work as advertised. An amigo has a 6-18x that he says “is really unfair to coyotes.” (


Magnesium is 33 percent lighter than aluminum, so hunters should appreciate Sightron’s SIIIMS line of binoculars. New for 2010, it includes 8×32, 10×32, 8×42 and 10×42 roof-prism, magnesium-frame glasses scaling 20 to 25 ounces. The 8×32 is my choice. All feature phase-corrected, multi-coated optics and twist-up eye-cups. The company is also listing a new ESD – Electronic Sighting Device.

It’s a 33mm red dot sight with a 5-minute dot. Choose from eight intensity levels. Recession got you? Sightron’s S1 scopes are bargain-priced but feature multi-coated front and rear lenses. Pick from a broad selection of reticles, finishes and power ranges. SII and SIII series are up-grades. Like its competition, Sightron is now offering a range-compensating reticle with dots spaced out on the lower wire. Several high-power variables have joined the Sightron family this year. A new SIII Tactical Fixed Power line comprises 10x, 16x, and 20x scopes with 42mm objectives, 30mm tubes.
All told, the 2010 catalog lists more than 50 scopes in SI, SII and SIII series.

Long Range models feature 30mm tubes, turret-mounted parallax dials and reticles that include a mil dot and an illuminated German #4A. Target knobs are tall for easy access. From the 3.5-10×44 to the 8-32×56, these scopes feature fully multi-coated optics in one-piece tubes, with resettable ExacTrack windage and elevation adjustments and a fast-focus eyepiece. External lenses wear “Zact-7,” a seven-layer coating to reduce light loss. A hydrophobic wash disperses raindrops. Eye relief approaches four inches.

An SII 1.25-5×20 Dangerous Game sight with over six inches of clear tube has replaced the 2.5×20 that has served me well on hard-kicking rifles. High-power variables and 36x benchrest sights have front-end parallax sleeves. I like the dot reticle in these scopes, also available on the 5-20×42. Sightron’s Hunter Holdover reticle for hunting scopes incorporates a couple of simple hash marks on the lower wire. Specify it on 3-9×42, 3-12×42 and 45.5-14×42 SIIs, and on the 3-9×40 SI. In my experience, Sightron scopes deliver great value for the dollar. (


Author fitted this Clearidge 6-20×40 AO to a Savage M10 rifle in .308. Low cost. Good optics.

Aggressively pursuing hunting markets after decades of service to military units the world over, Steiner introduced last year the 21-ounce Wildlife Pro 8×30 binocular, its first center-focus Porro-prism glass in twenty years. For 2010, the firm has announced a laser range-finding binocular. The 10×50 LRF can reportedly range reflective targets to 1,600 yards, and with 1-yard accuracy to 500. The digital display comes up quickly; a scan mode helps you range moving targets. The LRF has HD glass and weighs 46 ounces. Also new from Steiner: 8×56 and 10×56 Predator C5 binoculars. While at 40 and 43 ounces these aren’t as portable as smaller Steiners, they give you brilliant images in poor light.

The 7mm and nearly-6mm exit pupils are all the average eye can use in the deepest shadow. I find these glasses very bright. The newest center-focus versions wear a thin rubber armor for a slim profile. Still the flagship of Steiner’s line is the Peregrine XP. This center-focus, open-bridge binocular focuses as close as 6-1/2 feet. The large 30mm eyepieces have twist-up eyecups and flexible wings that fold back to prevent external fogging from face moisture. Outside lens surfaces feature a hydrophobic “NANO Protection.” It beads water so you can see clearly in rain and snow. The Peregrine XP (8×44 and 10×44) is waterproof and lightweight, with a rugged magnesium frame. It comes with neoprene hood and a clever Click-Loc strap. The Peregrine XP has earned the NRA’s coveted Golden Bullseye Award for excellence. (


After a decade of vigorous new-product development, Swarovski is tweaking its EL binocular. The Traveler 8×32 and 10×32 are the company’s best hunting binos in casual dress. I like the open-hinge design. Swarovski has expanded its Z6 rifle-scope line to include 2.5-15×56 and 2.5-15×44 sights. They afford you the lowest practical magnification plus enough power to pester prairie dogs in the off-season. I’ve used the 1.7-10×42 afield, have only good things to say about it. The newest Z6 is a 2.5-15×56. As with other 30mm Z6 models, an illuminated reticle is an option. The switch, atop the eyepiece, has an automatic shutoff and two memory locations, one for daytime and one for night use. Turn the switch and the reticle delivers illumination for prevailing conditions. The 1-6×24 Z6 has the broadest power range of any “dangerous game” sight. At 4-3/4 inches, its eye relief is most generous.

Swarovski’s Z5 rifle-scopes offer five-times magnification in one-inch tubes. A 3-15×42 may be the perfect scope for shooters who want the greatest versatility in a relatively lightweight scope. Swarovski borrowed from subsidiary Kahles to produce a Ballistic Turret capable of storing several zero settings. You set those zeroes with ballistics tables or by live firing. Change load and zero; then return to your original in a wink. The Ballistic Turret is an option on selected Swarovski scopes. A simpler way to hit long-range targets is with the BR reticle. Its ladder-type bottom wire has 10 hash-marks. BR is available in three AV models and 1.7-10×42 and 2-12×50 Z6 sights. ( 

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest 2011. Click here to get your full copy!

Among Author’s favorite scopes is the Zeiss Victory 2.5-10×42, available with Varipoint reticle.


The ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight) established Trijicon as a leading innovator in rifle optics. More than half a million have been sold. But the ACOG’s application is primarily military. The AccuPoint is Trijicon’s flagship hunting optic, a scope with two sources of reticle illumination. The fiber optic window in the ocular bell, and tritium in the reticle itself, yield a bright aiming point without batteries. An adjustable cover lets you trim light from the fiber optic coil and tune reticle brightness. Last year AccuPoint came up with plex and crosswire-and-dot reticles, as alternatives to its original super-fast delta. Lost in the lumination hype, however, has been the quality of Trijicon optics.

“It’s definitely top-drawer,” Trijicon’s Andrew Chilkewicz reminds me. I agree. Trijicon’s fully multi-coated glass gives you brilliant, razor-edged images. And if you’ve shied from lighted reticles, this is the brand to try first. Choose a delta in amber, red or green, a dot in amber or green. Combine it with a black crosswire if you like. I prefer the crosswire and amber dot. My pick among Trijicon scopes is the 3-9×40. After decades in the field, it’s still in my view the most practical for all-around big game hunting. But you can also opt for a 1.25-4×24 or a 2.5-10×56 with 1-inch tube. A 1-4×24 and a powerful 5-20×50 have 30mm tubes.

For fast shooting in ‘pole thickets, Trijicon markets reflex sights with lighted dots of various sizes. The RMR (Ruggedized Miniature Reflex) can be had with a light-emitting diode that automatically adjusts to incident light. It has an alloy housing, the Trijicon RedDot sight a nylon-polymer frame. Either can be paired with the ACOG. A battery-free RMR uses tritium and fiber optics only; the electronic version is powered by a 17,000-hour lithium battery. (


Luminescent shotgun beads and rifle-sight inserts, with tritium and fiber-optic elements, brought TruGlo early success. Now the firm offers red dot sights and rifle-scopes too. Waterproof and compatible with any Weaver-style mount, the red dot sights come in reflex (open) configuration or 1-inch and 30mm and 40mm tubes. Dual-Color (red and green) Multi-Reticles come standard in some models.

This T/C Venture wears a new Nitrex scope. ATK owns Nitrex, now under the Weaver label.

All versions of the tube sight have unlimited eye relief, multi-coated lenses, click-stop windage/elevation adjustments, an 11-level rheostat to control reticle brightness. Reflex red dot sights weigh as little as 2 ounces, carry a 4-minute dot with manual and light-sensitive automatic brightness modes. TruGlo markets several series of rifle-scopes, topped by the Maxus XLE in 1.5-6×44, 3-9×44 and 3.5-10×50. The Infinity 4-16×44 and 6-24×44 have adjustable objectives. To make long-range hits easier across a variety of loads, each comes with three replaceable BDC elevation knobs.

Tru-Brite Xtreme Illuminated rifle-scopes feature dual-color plex and range-finding reticles. Pick a 3-9×44, 3-12×44 or 4-16×50. Muzzleloader versions are available. The 4×32 Compact scope for rimfires and shotguns, 4×32 and 1.5-5×32 illuminated sights for crossbows round out TruGlo’s stable of 1-inch scopes. TruGlo line of illuminated iron sights includes a fiber optic AR-15 gas block front sight with protected green bead. (


New Razor scopes from Vortex reflect the growing interest in tactical sights. The 1.4-4×24 has a 30mm tube, the 5-20×50 a 35mm tube. Both scopes deliver brilliant images from extra-low-dispersion lenses. Lighted, etched-glass reticles lie in the first focal plane. A zero-stop mechanism in the elevation dial prevents it from spinning past sight-in setting, for fast return to zero. Vortex matches turrets with reticles; and you can specify mil-dot graduations, or minutes of angle. More practical for most hunters are Vortex Vipers. Also available in tactical guise, they come in six versions and five power ranges. I prefer the 3-9×40 (14 ounces) and 4-12×40 (17 ounces). Choose from six reticles, including dot, BDC and mil-dot. The Viper line features both 30mm and 1-inch tubes. More affordable Vortex Diamondbacks have 1-inch tubes only, as do entry-level Crossfires. All boast fully multi-coated optics.

The widest selection in the Vortex family comes under the Crossfire banner. That line includes 2-7×32 and 4×32 sights for rimfires, a 2×20 handgun scope and a 3×32 for crossbows. As with the Vipers, you get tall target knobs (and 30mm tubes) on the most powerful scopes. Specify a mil dot or illuminated mil dot reticle on the 6-24×50 AO. Vortex also lists a red dot sight, the Strikefire, with fully multi-coated lenses. Choose red or green dot to suit conditions. The sight has a 30mm tube and weighs 7.2 ounces. It has unlimited eye relief, comes with a 2x optical doubler.

The new, shorter Sparc red dot sight weighs just 5 ounces and features a one-piece, multi-height base, a 2-minute dot. Like the Strikefire, it is parallax-free beyond 50 yards and comes with a doubler. Fully multi-coated optics of course. In spotting scopes Vortex catalogs two Nomad models, both with your choice of straight or angled eyepiece. The 20-60×80 and the budget-priced 20-60×60 accept adapters for most pocket-size digital cameras. At the top end, there’s the Razor HD spotting scope with apochromatic lenses and an 85mm objective. It weighs 66 ounces with an angled 20-60x eyepiece. The die-cast magnesium alloy body is argon-gas purged. It has coarse and fine focusing wheels. (


Eight decades after Bill Weaver’s 330 led a trend away from iron sights, Weaver is re-introducing the 330’s progeny, the iconic steel-tube K4. More than any other scope, the K4 confirmed the value of optical sights for my generation of hunters. The new version has a Dual-X reticle that doesn’t move off-center in the field when you adjust windage and elevation! While the K4 may be all you need on that ’06, Weaver offers more for 2010. The Super Slam series now includes a 1-5×24 Dangerous Game sight with heavy Dual-X that should excel in thickets.

Besides the Grand Slam, Classic V, Classic K and T-series scopes, there’s now a Buck Commander line, with 2.5-10×42, 3-12×50 and 4-16×42 models. Prices start at just $280, retail. For close shooting, Weaver offers a red/green dot sight with five brightness settings. It has a 30mm tube, an integral Weaver-style base. Tactical sights will probably proliferate, as the shooting public is not that of Bill Weaver’s day. Thus, the firm announced in 2009 a 4-20×50 Tactical scope with 30mm tube, front-plane mil dot reticle and side-focus parallax dial. But you can still buy a K-series fixed-power hunting scope (one of the most-overlooked bargains in rifle sights). Among target scopes, I like the T-24. It offers a 1/2-minute or 1/8-minute dot reticle. Target adjustments on dual-spring supports ensure repeatable changes.

New Classic binoculars have been added to Weaver’s line this year: 8×32, 8×36 (my pick), 8×42, 10×42. ATK, parent company to several shooting-industry brands, counts Nitrex as well as Weaver in its family. Early in 2010, Nitrex became part of the Weaver fold, although the lines remain separate. Nitrex TR One scopes (similar to Weaver’s Grand Slam) are joined by TR Two (Super Slam) scopes with additional reticles: glass-etched EBX (ballistic), dot and illuminated. These sights boast five-times magnification – 2.5-10×42 to 4-20×50 – and turret parallax dials. Pull-up, resettable windage and elevation knobs need no caps. The TR One series includes a new 4-15×50 AO scope. (,


Author fires a Blaser R8 with a Zeiss 6-24×56 scope, one of three new Victory Diavaris this year.

Brisk sales of Conquest rifle-scopes several years after their introduction confirm their appeal to shooters keen for value. I like the 4×32; if you must have a variable, the 2-8×32 and 3-9×40 make sense. The 4.5-14×44 milks the reach of hot-rod cartridges but looks good on lightweight hunting rifles. Like the 6.5-20×50, it features a turret-mounted parallax dial.

By the way, Zeiss has just cut the list price on its 3-9×40 Conquest from $499 to $399! While there’s little new in the Conquest stable for 2010, the top-rung Victory series boasts an up-grade of the 6-24×72, a 34mm scope introduced in 2005 but now with quarter-minute clicks and FL glass. Two new Victory scopes also incorporate fluorite lenses. I used a 6-24×56 recently, on a super-accurate Blaser R8 in .300 Winchester.

At 600 yards, prone, it was no trick to reduce a plastic pail to splinters. The 4-16×50 is better suited to hunting rifles, and should be on your short list if you expect long shooting. But for all-around hunting there’s no better sight than the Victory 2.5-10×42. With four other Victory scopes, it’s available with Varipoint, an illuminated dot in the second focal plane complementing a black first-plane reticle. So the main reticle stays in constant relationship to the target (for easy ranging), while the dot subtends a tiny area even at high power. A left-side turret knob controls dot brightness on the 1.1-4×24 Victory. The 2.5-10x42T*, 2.5-10x50T*, 3-12x56T* feature automatic brightness control.

Zeiss has just introduced a Compact Point red dot sight. Its 3.5-minute dot has five brightness levels. Weight: less than 3 ounces with two 3V lithium batteries. The 8×45 and 10×45 T* RF binoculars introduced last year have proven themselves afield, with a laser range-finding unit that requires no “third eye” emitter but delivers 1,300-yard range on reflective targets.

This unit is fast – you get a read in about a second – and the LED self-compensates for brightness. The binocular itself has peerless optics, with a rain-repellent LotuTec coating on ocular and objective lenses. You can program the RF with computer data to get holdover for six standard bullet trajectories. Zeiss still sets the bar for laser-ranging scopes, too, with its 3-12×56 Diarange. The Zeiss PhotoScope is a 20-60×80 DiaScope spotting scope with a 7-megapixel digital camera built in. The 15-45x power range affords you the equivalent of a 600-1800mm zoom in a 35mm camera – plus a 68-degree field at 15x, which Zeiss claims is 40 percent wider than normal.

The camera uses a 7.4-volt lithium ion battery and SD card to deliver images in standard file formats. PhotoScope 85T* FL weighs 6-1/2 pounds. And yes, it does produce images that qualify for full-page prints! (

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest 2011. Click here to get your full copy!

Exit mobile version