long range rifle scope
Josh Wayner for TTAG

Have a question for Josh? Send it to [email protected]

Today we are going to be looking at what you get in terms of bang for your buck in terms of optics. Reader ‘Eddie’ is new to long range shooting, but not to guns.

“I really want to know just what makes these expensive scopes so special. I want to know why people say you should spend double on the scope as you do on the gun or something like that. I have started long range and I just don’t think I have the budget for it. What can I do to get away with not spending big money on a scope.”

I’m going to give you the same answer I gave Eddie at the range and it may not be a popular one. But hey, those stimulus checks don’t spend themselves.

The general answer I have for this question is that, particularly when it comes to optics, you get what you pay for with the occasional exception. Then again, old adages like ‘spend as much on the scope as you do on the gun’ or twice the gun cost on the optics is misleading.

If you bought a $10,000 M107 you’re pretty obviously not going to put a $10,000 or $20,000 scope on it unless you want to seriously flex on everyone at the range. I know Barrett owners who use $300 scopes or just an Aimpoint on their fifties and they seem to do pretty well. In their case it has more to do with what their gun won’t break during firing.

That last part there is in general what people miss when it comes to optics. They think that the more expensive, the better…not withstanding the end use of the rifle the optic is being used on.

So many scopes!

The first thing to consider is what you’re trying to accomplish. If you own a $500 rifle that shoots well, you can pair that with a $500 scope and get better general performance. Will your on-target accuracy go up with a $1000 scope? Maybe, maybe not.

There is a such thing as overkill in that I wouldn’t take a plastic-stocked run-of-the-mill supermarket special rifle and put something like my US Optics 5-25X on it. Would a scope like that help that kind of gun? Sure, but you’ll quickly realize that a $4000 scope and mount on a $500 rifle will see poor overall results, not because of the optic, but because lower end guns aren’t going to give you the type of consistency that a high end optic can take full advantage of.

That is why I tend to say that you get what you pay for. The fact is when it comes to guns and optics, they are commonly mismatched. The performance of one keeps you from getting the full potential out of the other.

I’d say that most people out there spend their money on guns and not optics, despite the latter being just as important a part of the equation. I’ve seen $2000 carbines paired with scopes the owner got from Wish.com, wondering why they can’t hit anything or why their gun isn’t accurate.

The ACOG is a great scope, not cheap either.

Matching performance and consistency is the real name of the game here. If you have a quality rifle, you’ll want to shoot quality ammo and use a quality optic so that your system is working at its peak without any weak links.

Take, for instance, some of my guns you see here on TTAG regularly. I have a BRN-180 carbine and a BRN-180S pistol. I use fixed irons and a Trijicon Reflex on the 16” upper and a Geissele Super Precison 1-6X on the pistol.

Why? Well, the pistol upper is more accurate and strongly benefits from a magnified optic. The 16” upper I have on the carbine is less accurate and shoots groups that are double the size of the 10.5” pistol, typically around 3” at 100 meters.

Two Leupold scopes here are in quality rings. These scopes may look similar, but are quite different in their features.

I like the irons and reflex on the longer upper because I can take advantage of a longer sight radius and have more surface area for my hands. It’s a fast-handling carbine and I am getting the most out of it as far as the advantage in parts is concerned. The shorty upper would be wasted with irons and a dot in that I wouldn’t be able to wring the best accuracy out of it like I can with a magnified scope.

My other work guns benefit from expensive optics in that I have custom built 6.5 Creedmoors with custom barrels, actions, and even stocks. These rifles are so accurate that the SIG and USO scopes on them can be utilized to their fullest and track accurately at 1000+ yards.

I’d be handicapping these rifles if I put optics on them that couldn’t take advantage of their inherent accuracy, despite the fact that the rifles themselves would be just as mechanically accurate.

Two perfectly built guns that are compact and accurate. Matching the scope to the rifle is more important than the relative cost.

So now that we’ve muddied the waters, the original question was if Eddie needed expensive glass to shoot long range. The true answer to that is….no. However he won’t succeed in the long run using bargain glass because he won’t be getting the full level of consistency between his gun and scope.

Let’s discuss Eddie’s gear. He was mostly a carbine shooter and had the most experience on AR rifles. Two hundred meters was a long shot for him on most days, but watching him shoot showed me that he was good at it and could easily hit a 10-inch plate with his carbine from standing with an EOTECH on his rifle.

The optic he had was using wasn’t cheap. The EOTECH is a high quality and reliable sight. His carbine was a Daniel Defense and again, not inexpensive. In total he probably had $3500 into his carbine and optic. Keep in mind, though, his optic was only about half the cost of his rifle and to him a $2000 optic for that gun would have been ludicrous.

A low power variable like the Giessele 1-6X here is perfectly matched to the BRN-180S

Long range with an AR carbine is generally about 800 yards, with most being capable inside 600. The little .223/5.56 bullets just run out of gas and get thrown around by even a light breeze.

If he wanted to take full advantage of his rifle from close range to the longest range his gun would be effective, he would be challenged to find a better solution than something matched to his carbine, such as the Trijicon VCOG 1-8x.

The VCOG is a fantastic optic and, while heavy, offers everything Eddie needed. An 8X magnification is plenty out to 800 yards, and considering that the VCOG has a mil reticle, he can zero at 100 or 200 meters, plug in his drop and hold for it. This would be a case of maximizing the performance of the gun and optic together, where right now he has a relatively short-range optic and isn’t taking full advantage of how accurate his carbine truly is.

Looking at it another way, if Eddie has $3500 into his carbine and he considers it to be adequate, what would that same $3500 spent on a new build look like for him? Starting with the optic, he could go with something like the SIG TANGO6 5-30x, which has a street price of about $2,000. The SIG is a top-end production optic.

Now he has $1,500 left in his budget. If he gets a good set of rings and a bipod for $300, that leaves him with $1,200.

Big optic, big turrets. The USO here has an impressive adjustment range.

A high-quality long-range rifle can be had for under that price, such as the Bergara B14 BMP, which retails at around $1,000. If he went with a that he would still have about $200 leftover for accessories and maybe a sling.

The Bergara, while a factory gun, is definitely accurate enough to be used with the SIG TANGO6 and both will compliment each other, thus creating a cohesive rifle that delivers accuracy and consistency.

In conclusion, you really need to match your gun and optic and assure that both are of sufficient quality that they each compliments the other. If your game is long range shooting, optics is the last place you want to skimp. You’ll just be wasting ammunition and money-chasing an ever-shifting zero. That’s frustrating and — especially now — expensive.

Higher end optics, while more expensive, can be a game-changer when used on a rifle that can shoot as well as the glass can track.

Have a question for Josh? Send it to [email protected]



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