Long-distance competition shooting has been a serious sport for over 100 years. To encourage improvement to our servicemen’s marksmanship, a government advisory board called the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice and Firearm Safety, Inc., started a government-funded firearms competition called the National Matches in 1903. These competitions are still very active today. However, they are now run by the National Rifle Association and have developed into quite a few different contests—F-Class, PRS, and High Power, just to name a few. Each competition has different rules and ways of scoring. What they all share, though, is the importance of quality equipment—an accurate rifle and riflescope are imperative to win any long-range precision shooting competition.
Long-range precision shooting is both challenging and rewarding. Most competitions do not require a steep learning curve, so beginners—and any other level of shooter—is welcome to join. These competitions push your skills and gear to the limits as well as increase your accuracy, concentration, breath and trigger control and your overall marksmanship.
Using magnifying lenses, a riflescope enlarges an object (target) so you can see it better from a distance. Scopes come in a range of magnifications that amplify a target from very close quarters to well over 1,000 yards. Measured in numbers followed by an “x,” scopes come in fixed magnifications or varied. The number followed by the “x” is how many more times the target is enlarged through the lens compared to your naked eye. For example, a 6x scope enlarges your target 6 times what you could see without the magnifying aid.
To reach that 1,000-yard shot, you need a good scope with a magnification of at least 20x. Many scopes, especially ones designed for long-range precision shooting, cost thousands of dollars. But when you are just starting to get your feet wet shooting in long-range matches, it’s best to try an entry-level long-range scope before committing to a top-tier scope you can’t really afford. There are plenty of factory precision rifles and crisp, clear scopes designed solely for long-range precision competition shooting.
When shopping for a long-distance scope, you obviously need enough magnification, but you also want a larger objective bell for its light-gathering abilities, a 30-34mm tube, a bullet drop compensating reticle, large, target-style turret knobs and at least 40 MOA adjustment range. It is also very important that the scope holds zero and that the image stays crystal clear even at longer distances.
Even if you aren’t into competing, long-range shooting is something you can enjoy learning and doing on your own. You can also use most long-range scopes to hunt—especially if they have a range-estimating reticle.
Here are some of the best budget long-range riflescopes we could find listed in order from the lowest price to the highest:
The Sightmark Citadel high-power 5-30x56mm LR2 long-distance riflescope is a first focal plane scope with an LR2 illuminated milliradian reticle and 0.1 mil windage and elevation adjustments. The easy-to-learn reticle will help you determine range and holdovers for wind/drop compensation. The pop-up, low-profile turrets take a little breaking in, but they have an audible and tactile click which makes it easier to quickly make adjustments when switching between ranges. Though there is not a zero stop feature on the Citadel, the windage and elevation knobs do lock in place, so you don’t lose zero when you are transporting or storing your gun. The lenses are sharp and produce a nice, clear image even at the highest magnification. There is a bit of fuzziness on the edges when dialed up high, but it isn’t obstructive and is expected for any scope in this price range. The reticle is very useable and allows you to range effectively. The large objective gathers a lot of light and produces an impressively clear image. The Sightmark Citadel has the highest magnification on our list with a maximum magnification of 30x. It really reaches out and touches! We appreciated the included accessories—sunshade, battery, throw lever and lens caps.
The Millet tactical LRS (long-range scope) has the same size objective lens as the Citadel, but a little less magnification at 6-25x. Built on a 1-piece 35mm tube, the Millet LRS-1 has a glass-etched standard ¼ MOA click reticle. This scope keeps zero very well and handles the brutal recoil of up to .338 Lapua. The target turrets are easy to grab and turn, even with gloves on. The Millet is a solidly-built scope and works just as well on moving targets as it does on steel. It is an MOA, not MIL scope and not as easy to learn how to use as the Sightmark. The Millet’s manual is minimalist at best, while Sightmark’s manual comes with detailed instructions on how to use the scope. Your target also gets fuzzier faster at higher elevations on this scope. For those 1,000 yards shots, you might have some difficulties. It does have great light-gathering capabilities, clear lenses and is an excellent value for what you get.
The Anthlon Helos BTR rivals all the other scopes on this list with the same similar features and same quality construction and glass. It is a first focal plane MIL APMR illuminated reticle and has locking turrets. The simple reticle is easy to use, making it perfect for the beginner and first-time user of a MIL scope. It is pretty clear but gets some fuzzies at higher magnifications, as well as the recoil knocking the rifle out of line, which can cause less-than-accurate follow-up shots. Once you learn how to use the MIL system, you can reach out to 1,000 yards with this scope accurately. The best part of the Athlon Helos is the large, target turrets with audible click adjustments. Every budget scope isn’t perfect. The Anthlon has a few more cons than others on this list, but it serves its purpose.
The Vortex Viper HS-T is a second focal plane scope with a hashmark-based reticle that allows you to hold at longer ranges. The high-resolution class provides crisp, clear images, but like all the other scopes, gets a bit fuzzy around the edges at the highest powers. With a 30mm tube and tactical turrets, the Vortex competes well with every scope on this list. The gratuitous eye relief helps with larger calibers. Extra features that are appreciated are a high-vis fiber optic bar for a visible reference to make adjustments and find zero quickly and the Zero Stop feature which keeps and returns zero. Are those two extras worth the nearly $200 difference in price than the Sightmark Citadel? That decision is up to you.
The Nikon Black X1000 long-range scope feels like a premium scope without the price tag. It is an exceptional piece of glass, but you will pay for it, as it is on the higher end of the budget scopes. It has an uncomplicated illuminated reticle that helps in estimating range, calculating bullet drop and maintains holdovers. The target turrets are repeatable and have a click stop feature, so you don’t lose zero. For long-range shooting, some might be turned off that the Nikon is a second focal plane scope, yet it has 0.1 MRAD click graduations with 5 MRAD per revolution with a total of 17 MRAD internal adjustment travel. The Nikon’s glass is the highest quality on this list, but it comes with a significant increase in price. The Black X1000 bridges the gap between budget and the quality of scope that start selling in the $1,000 range.
Any of these five budget long-range scopes will get you on target and are perfect for the beginner competition precision shooter.