The AR15 isn’t really a long range rifle, but if you want to push the limits of the 5.56 (.223) round, then you’ll most likely want a good scope. Now you’ve heard me talk about “good scopes at low prices”, but I always state there are exceptions to that concept. One exception is when lives depend on your tools. When lives are on the line, don’t trust them to a $200 scope. Low price scopes are great for plinking and general shooting, but they’re not made for combat. Another exception is long range shooting. Low price scopes just won’t do the job at long range. So what’s “long range” with the AR-15?
Now I know some of you “experts” out there will scoff and this, but I consider long range for the AR15 to be anything from 300 to 600 yards. Before you can shoot a target that far away, you need to be able to see the target. I know that’s stating the obvious, but seeing the target is your first consideration in long range shooting. This brings us back to my first question when talking about rifle scopes – What are you shooting at? It all comes down to what you are shooting at. If you are shooting terrorists at 400 yards, a 4x Trijicon ACOG will do the job. If you’re shooting prairie dogs or 6 inch steel plates, you want something with a lot more magnification.
We’re going to focus more on the latter – precision shooting on small targets. One of the main factors in the price of a scope is the quality of the lenses. For long range shooting, you want quality glass. At 100 yards, under normal shooting conditions, a “good” quality scope will suffice. But the farther you extend the range, the better quality lenses you’ll need to see the target. You need to jump up to the “better” and “best” categories of scopes for long range shooting.
Another consideration is adjustable focus. Most scopes under 10x come with factory set focus. Most scopes above 10x, will come with an Adjustable Objective (AO) or Side Focus knob – both of which allow you to focus the scope to the target. This feature becomes essential in long range shooting. Higher price scopes have much better focusing ability, especially at high magnification, than lower price scopes. I was shooting with a $150 6-24x scope. Above 18x, everything was blurry no matter what I did with the side focus knob. Contrast that with a Leupold Mark 4 8.5-25x scope I was testing. The Leupold was crisp even at 25x. Of course the Leupold costs $1500.00. But if you want to shoot small targets and need 25x, you need to save your pennies and buy the scope that will do the job. Trying to use a low-cost, budget scope for long range shooting will be extremely frustrating and discouraging.
So let’s start at the top and work from there!
The Leupold Mark 4 series are some of the top rifle scopes in the world. Even at 25x, this scope provides crystal clear, sharp focus on your target. Additionally, you can count on it to hold up under any conditions and provide a lifetime of enjoyment. This is a scope that you will hand down to your grandson some day! It’s a lot of money up front, but when you think about every shot you’re going to take for the rest of your life – and the satisfaction of nailing your target under any situation – all of a sudden it’s really not that much money. This scope is also available in 6.5-20×50, 4.5-14×50 and lower magnification options.
For a few hundred dollars less than the Mark 4 8.5-25×25 scope, you can get the VX-3 8.5-25×50. So what’s the difference between the Leupold Mark 4 Series and VX-3 Series? The main difference is the Mark 4 is built for military and law enforcement snipers and the VX-3 is made for hunters. The Mark 4 has a thicker, beefier tube and hardened for combat. All of the Mark 4 scopes have 30mm tubes and only some of the VX-3 scopes have 30mm tubes – most of them are 1 inch. Additionally, the adjustment turrets between the two are different. The VX-3 has caps over the turrets while the Mark 4 has the open-style turrets. Turrets are not interchangeable between the two series.
Now… with that said, the VX-3 is a damn fine scope! When you compare the specs side by side, the VX-3 has everything the Mark 4 does except Multicoat 4 lens coating. Basically you’re getting the performance of the Mark 4 at a lower price. The lenses, lens coating, and craftsmanship are the same on the VX-3 and the Mark 4. Since you’re probably not jumping out of airplanes over hostile countries, the VX-3 will do the job for you very well.
3. Millett LRS-1 6-25×56 (we no longer sell the Millett scopes after having problems with them)
Jumping down from the $1000 price tag to around $500 we come to the Millett LRS-1. I’ve been very impressed with the Millett Tactical Scopes. My partner and I used the 4-16×50 on our Remington 700 for the Survival Trial and it performed flawlessly. We were consistently hitting targets on the 1000 yard range there at the Whitington Center (we didn’t do so hot on the long range target out on the actual course – but that wasn’t the scope’s fault!) Even at full magnification, the target was crisp and clear. This scope has a 56mm objective lens, bigger than the other scopes we’ve talked about, which allows more light and probably makes up for the difference in lens quality as compared to the more expensive Leupold scopes. Whenever someone asks for a long-range scope, but can’t spend $1,000, I always point them to this Millett. The big difference between this scope and the ones above is the lenses and lens coatings. The Leupold scopes will have better lenses, BUT… this Millett will give the Leupold scopes a run for their money and half the price.
UPDATE: The paragraph above is true… but since that time we’ve stopped selling and using Millett Scopes because of problems we’ve experienced with them. The Millett has decent glass, but proved unreliable. Of course, it’s a low price scope, but we’re all about using and testing gear and equipment to find the failure points. We found it with Millett and feel like some other scopes on the market provide better quality around the same price.
So even though I said to save your money and buy the best scope, the reality for most guys is it’s just not going to happen – especially if you want to stay married! I’ve have some close friends who would love to have a $1200 scope, but it’s just not in the cards. “I’ll never be able to spend $1200 on a scope”, said one of my good friends. I get that. I understand where he’s coming from. That’s why I really try to pick through all the hype out there and find other options that will work well and not put you in divorce court, bankruptcy – or both!
So in the end, if you want long range performance you’ll have to pay for it. There are some “good” $100 scopes out there for plinking jack-rabbits at 80 yards on the desert. But when you want to hit that same jack-rabbit at 400 yards, you’ll need a much better scope. Higher end scopes give you the superior lenses to see and focus in on your target. If you can’t see it, you can’t shoot it. Even though lower cost scopes are available with 24x magnification, they really don’t do very well over about 18x. There are a lot of other great scopes out there for long range shooting. I’ve tried to narrow it down to a few just to simply your search. Pick any of these scopes I’ve mentioned above and you won’t go wrong!