If I could only have one….


Written by ILya Koshkin

As of December 2017:

In the past year, I have spent a bunch more time with different scopes and a LOT of time with red dot and holographic sights.  Here is my selection for this year and overall it is not terribly different from last year.  Also, I think I will have a separate post outlining my thought process on firearms, if I could only have one.  With optics, this time around I will split it into two categories: “Price No Object” and “I would like to stay married”.

Price no Object:

  • Long range precision scope: Tangent Theta 5-25x56mm (there are a lot of good options in this category, and some are better for some situations.  And this is really reticle dependent.  However, if you put my back against the wall, I go with Tangent Theta.  I am very used to Gen 2 XR and the mechanics on this scope are amazing).
  • General purpose scope to use for everything on a bolt gun: Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50 (still my favourite overall scope on the market, for the second year in a row)
  • General purpose scope to use for everything on an AR rifle: Minox ZP8 1-8×24 or Elcan Spectre TR (I’ll be publishing my Elcan TR review soon)
  • Big game hunting scope: LEICA MAGNUS 1.8-12×50 i L-4A BDC. .  Yes, it is expensive, and yes it is awesome.
  • Red dot for carbines: Shield SIS.  I like this one more than Aimpoint and Trijicon MRO.  And that is saying something.
  • For use with magnifier: Vortex AMG UH-1 .  Holographic sights work better with magnifiers than reflex sights.
  • Red dot for handguns: Shield RMS or Doctersight III.
  • Airguns (general plinking): I really like MTC Viper Connect 3-12×24.  This ultra short eye relief scope is perfect for airguns and that is what I use the most.
  • Airguns (precision): Sightron SV 10-50×60.  Try it and you will understand why.

I would like to stay married (I am looking at optics prices in the ballpark of $1k in this case:

  • Long range precision scope: SWFA SS HD 5-20×50 Tactical 30mm Riflescope, Vortex PST Gen II 5-25×50 FFP EBR-2C MRAD, Burris XTR II 4-20x50mm Obj 25.8-5.4ft@100yd FOV 34mm Dia G2B MD.  There are some feature set differences between these, but I like what I am seeing with all three.  The SWFA has been absolutely rock solid for years.
  • General purpose scope to use for everything on a bolt gun: Vortex Viper PST Gen 2 3-15×44.  I think this is the best of the PST Gen 2 line-up.  Burris XTR II 2-10×42 if you want something a little smaller and lighter.  Both are excellent.
  • General purpose scope to use for everything on an AR rifle: This gets a little tricky in this price range.  Burris XTR II 1-8x24FFP is the closest, but I would prefer a mrad-based reticle.  Same for the Elcan Spectre OS.  Outside option: SWFA SS 3-9×42 with a red dot at 45 deg offset.
  • Big game hunting scope: Vortex Optics Razor HD LH Riflescope 2-10×40 G4 BDC Black
  • Red dot for carbines: Shield SIS.  I like this one more than Aimpoint and Trijicon MRO.  And that is saying something.
  • For use with magnifier: Vortex UH-1.  Holographic sights work better with magnifiers than reflex sights.
  • Red dot for handguns: Shield RMS or Doctersight III.

I would like to stay married and put my kids through college:

  • Sell all your long guns and build an accurate 18″ barrel AR-15 chambered for 6.5Grendel.  If you do it right, it will weigh around 7 – 7.5 lbs.  Put a SWFA SS 3-9×42 on it using an Aadmount, with Doctersight III in 45 degree offset mount.  The whole thing should be around 9lbs with a sling and under 10lbs with a loaded mag.
  • Sell all your handguns and buy Gen 5 Glock 19.  Mill the slide for Shield RMS.
  • Have a lifesize poster of you with the AR and the Glock on the wall of your daughter’s dorm room.  It should have an appropriately detrimental effect on her social life.

Added in October 2016:

I have been looking at the miniature red dot sights to use on a handgun or as a supplementary red dot sight.  Honestly, there are several good ones out there that work excellently.  The one that seems to work with my eyes the best right now is the DocterSight III.  I took it to carbine class, and it is absolutely excellent.  As a caveat, I still have not tested the updated Leupold Deltapoint Pro, but I will do so soon.

As of January, 2016, if I could only have one:

  • Long range precision scope: March 5-40×56 or Tangent Theta 5-26×56 (leaning toward TT overall)
  • General purpose scope to use for everything on a bolt gun: Tangent Theta 3-15×50 (the 30mm version)
  • General purpose scope to use for everything on an AR rifle: Minox ZP8 1-8×24 or Elcan Spectre OS or Spectre DR
  • Big game hunting scope: Leica ERi 3-12×50 or Kahles KXi 3.5-10×50 if you want the smaller tube
  • Low range variable that can do both CQB and mid-range: SWFA SS 1-6×24 or Vortex Razor 1-6×24 or the above mentioned Minox ZP8 1-8×24 if you can afford it
  • Red dot: Aimpoint Micro with 2 MOA dot or Trijicon MRO

Since I wrote the previous version of this, I have spent more time with Tangent Theta scope and I am quite smitten with them.  For hunting, I am still not aware of anything that works better than Leica ERi for me.  I added the Kahles KXi for 1″ tube afficionados.  Minox ZP8 looks like an absolutely superb scope that shows up in a couple of places.  I think for general use on everything other than airguns where close focus is critical, it supersedes the March 1-8×24 that I like quite a bit.  I think there is a fair amount of development happening with low range variable scopes, so there may be further changes.  With compact prism sights, I am still extremely impressed with Elcan.

With red dots, everyone has Aipoint Micro in their sights and Trijicon may have taken over with the MRO, pending further testing.

As of December, 2014, if I could only have one:

I will try to keep this updated occasionally.  This is not meant to be a list of recommendations.  I have other articles for that.  There are no conditional clauses here. No explanations of why a particular scope is chosen.

The six categories are chosen somewhat arbitrarily.  Use the comments below to tell me what you would pick in these categories.  There is no price or configuration limitation unless specifically mentioned above.


 Posted by at 4:54 pm

  3 Responses to “If I could only have one….”

  1. And here is the explanation why.
    My reasoning is very simple, really, but first I want to re-iterate that these are the choices specific to me and my needs, rather than general recommendations.

    As a basic disclaimer, I also want to add that I got into shooting comparatively late since where I grew up you only saw guns on TV. I am not a particularly good shot and I do not have much formal training. I do have a fair amount of trigger time behind me, so I have some very specific preferences.

    Long range precision scope: March 5-40×56 offers an extremely wide magnification range which saves me from needing a spotter. I like the basic reticle with a floating center dot and the feel of the turrets is the best I have seen to date. 5 mrad per turn is not optimal, but I can live with it. Tight eye relief flexibility is not a major issue for me either when long range precision shooting is involved. This scope is also a bit lighter than most of its competition.

    General purpose scope to us for everything on a bolt gun: This was a close call between Premier LT and March 3-24×42. Ultimately, Premier’s 50mm objective is a little better for low light and 15x is plenty for general purpose use. Other good quality scopes of similar magnification range are almost invariable much heavier which I dislike. Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44 is another option, but I have not tested it yet.

    General purpose scopes to use for everything on a semi-auto: just about all my semi-auto rifles are AR-15 variants and the largest of them sports an 18″ barrel. I generally prefer smallish scopes on ARs and like to have comparatively low magnifications available. March’s 1-8×24 is compact, fairly light and excellent optically and mechanically. The reticle needs work, but it is usable. 8x top end is plenty for the distances I am willing to explore with my ARs. If March or someone else made a 1.5-12x32FFP scope I would go with that one, but 1-8×24 is good enough. Leupold Mark 8 1-8×24 is a nice scope as well, but I am not convinced I like the squeeze turrets until I test them carefully. IOR 1-10×26 is too heavy for this application, although a nice design.

    Big game hunting scope: I first toyed with calling this category “conventional bolt guns”, but that was too vague. I have seen just about every hunting scope out there and the Leica ER is as good as anything for a bit less money. The view is spectacular. The eyepiece is very forgiving. Tracking with the exposed turret is dead on. Reticle selection is reasonable. 3.5-14x is sufficient range of magnification to tackle everything other than charging rhinos.

    Low range variable that can do both CQB and mid-range: I could have selected the March 1-8×24 for this or something similar, but in this category performance at 1x becomes more important. Moreover, I want that 1x performance to be good with and without reticle illumination. SWFA SS 1-6×24 is excellent at 1x even without a illumination, while dialing up to 6x takes me pretty far out.

    Red dot: Micro Aimpoint is rugged and the battery last forever. It is also small enough to serve as a supplementary sight if need be.