Written on 8/13/2016 by ILya Koshkin
I see this question pop up a lot: “I just bought a “fill in the blank” rifle and I want to learn to shoot it out to 1000 yards, what scope should I use?”
Many people much more qualified than I am have written on this subject, so there is a lot of material out there. To top it off, I am not that great of a shot. I do know a fair bit about gear and I am definitely up to speed on just about all the new developments in the riflescope world.
Unfortunately, with the internet being what it is, so is everyone else. Not enough information is a bad thing. Too much information is a bad thing as well.
There is a nearly uncountable number of different set-ups (rifle/caliber/optics combinations) that will get you to 1000 yards. The thing that will hold you back the most is your skillset (ask me how I know…).
Developing the skills to shoot long distance consistently is difficult, timetaking and expensive. It requires a lot of practice. As you go through this exercise and this practice you will figure out what kind of gear works well for you.
With that in mind, what I want to do here is make recommendations on what you should start with. It will take you to 1000 yards and if it is a good fit for you, it will serve you well for a long time. However, chances are you will change something along the way. All I want to do is suggest some equipment that will not hold you back as you learn.
If you are just starting out, looking at the best shooters in the world are using and copying that is not necessarily your best option. Their requirements are not the same as yours.
First, let’s talk about caliber. I still keep on hearing people say: “just get a 308! There are so many loads for it!” That will work, but I think that makes things complicated. If you reload, it almost makes no difference which caliber you get as long as there is a good quality brass for it. If you do not reload, match quality 308 ammo is not cheaper than some others. Generally, if you do not reload, stick with 6.5 Creedmoor. That is the least expensive high quality ammo out there. Match 6.5 Creedmoor ammo is actually cheaper than Match 308Win ammo most of the time. Generally, various 6.5s are a good way to go: 6.5Creedmoor, 6.5×47 Lapua, 260Rem, etc. If you reload, any of these will work. If you do not reload, go with 6.5Creedmoor. At the moment, these calibers offer the best combination, flat trajectory, low recoil and barrel life out there. Yes, some 6mm calibers have flatter trajectories and lower recoil at the expense of barrel life. Some magnums have exceptionally flat trajectories, but they beat you up with recoil and burn barrels. Pick a caliber with decent barrel life, low recoil and external ballistics that let it stay supersonic to at least 1200 yards.
Rifles: the simplest is to get a Ruger RPR. If you prefer a more traditional stock, get a Savage 12 Long Range Precision in 6.5Creedmoor with a 26″ barrel or a Tikka T3x CTR with a 20″ barrel. If you want this rifle to do double duty as a hunting rifle, get the Tikka since it is the lightest. Otherwise, it is all the same. Yes, there are other rifles out there that will do the job, but in my opinion these three will do so with the least amount of fuss right out of the box and on budget. If you can afford it, you can always get a fancier rifle, of course.
Optics: Virtually every competitive shooter out there is running a 5-25×56 or 6-24×56 or something along those lines, so I might get a lot of flack for suggesting you do not go that route. Not in the beginning. Learn to shoot with your scope at 10x or 12x. It is very difficult to develop the right skills if you reticle is jumping all over the place, which is exactly what will happen if you set your scope to 25x. The best starter scope configuration is a good quality variable of approximately 3-15x or 3-18x or similar configuration. Use the highest magnification to read the conditions. Then do most of your shooting at lower magnifications. If you decide to learn to shoot from non prone positions as well, that 3x on the low end will come in pretty handy.
Aside from magnification, here is what I recommend you do: make sure the scope has a FFP reticle. Yes this can all be done with a SFP reticle, but that complicates things. Make sure the scope has turrets that track. Zerostop is a good thing to have, although it is not a necessity. Christmas tree style reticle is a good thing to have, but I suggest you first learn to do this with turrets. Later you can decide if you want to primarily use the reticle for your holds, but starting with dialing is a good practice. It instills discipline. Make sure the reticle and the turrets match, i.e. both are in mrad or both are in MOA. I strongly prefer mrad, but that is a personal preference. Make sure that the scope has the means to correct for parallax.
If you are on a severe budget, get a SWFA SS 10×42 with Mil-Quad reticle for $300 will get you going.
If you can afford to spend $700, stick with SWFA 3-15×42 FFP.
$1000: Burris XTR II 3-15×50
$1500: Bushnell Elite Long Range Hunter 4.5-18×44
$1800: Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50 or Sig Sauer Tango 6 3-18×44
$3k or more: Tangent Theta TT315M I just got done testing one. Overall, this is the best scope I have ever used.
Make sure you get high quality mounts.
Now go practice!