Riflescopes: Under $2000
Updated in February, 2023
Low range variable scope for tactical use (think AR-15 or similar) and for hunting:
This one used to be pretty easy, but Vortex increased their prices and it got complicated. I spent a lot of time and effort on this segment and there are still several designs I have not tested. Still, if I am shopping in the $1k to $2k range, it boiled down to three LPVOs:
Compact fixed power scope for tactical use (think AR-15 or similar):
I am kinda on the record that the fun stuff with prismatics is happening in the sub-$500 range. If you want to pay a lot of money for a fancy prismatic, one of the switchpower Elcans is your best bet, but they are not really under $3k any more. While it is getting increasingly more difficult to recommend fancy prismatics, switch power Elcans do not really have a good low price equivalents. They had a couple of good wins with European militaries last year and there is a reason for it. They are robust and optically excellent. I keep on seeing Elcan Specter DR 1x/4x and TR 1x/3x/9x under $2k. It is a compelling option. Aside from these, if you have this much money to spend, I kinda recomment LPVOs.
That having been said, Trijicon’s 3×30 ACOG is a fairly unique design with narrow FOV and incredibly flexible eye relief. It does not really have a lower price equivalent. The narrow FOV is a trade off for that eyerelief. It makes it less ideal for observation, but really quick for aiming. If you shop around you can even find these for under $1k. None of these have adjustable eyepiece, so they may not be ideal for aging eyes, but low magnification mitigates that to some degree and 3×30’s FOV/eye relief balance does as well.
All-round hunting use:
I think Meopta Meostar R2 2-12×50 is the way to go here.
This sorta comes down to whether you want FFP or SFP. If this is a crossover scope that will also be used for precision shooting and long range hunting, the new Vortex Razor HD-LHT 4.5-22x50FFP is easily the best out there right now. This was my scope of the year for 2021.
The best of the general purpose SFP hunting designs is probably Swarovski Z5i 2.4-12×50, although Leica Amplus 3-18×44 looked good (since I have not yet done a thorough test on it, I can’t really recommend it). I think once you get to this price range, you should insist on illumination and when Swarovski added illumination to their Z5 line, they immediately got onto my list. It has always been an excellent scope optomechanically. Honorable mention to Leupold VX-6HD 3-18×44 that I really liked and Meopta Meostar R2 1.7-10×42 an 2-12×50. The prices on the R2 have gone up, so I am not entirely sure they are worth at $2k or more. Still nice scopes.
There is a lot of room between $1k and $2k, so it you want to stay on a lower end of that, Vortex Razor HD-LHT 3-15×42 is a superb general purpose SFP hunting scope.
Dark horse here is probably Schmidt and Bender’s Klassic 3-12×50 and 3-12×42 riflescopes. 3-12×42 with P3 (essentially Mil-Dot reticle) would be tempting. These are not new designs, but they have truly stood the test of time. The one with illuminated reticle and exposed elevation turret. If you do not push it to the distances that require side focus, it is really hard to overlook that 3-12×42.
Historically, this would be Meopta Meostar R1 3-12×56 and Meostar R2 2.5-15×56 taking it in terms of bang for the buck in this category. That might still be true for the R1, but R2 has gone up in price substantially and is well above $2k most of the time. Leica might have something to say about it since they do have a new Amplus 6 2.5-15×56. It is on my list to take a careful look at.
S&B, of all brands, might be the sleeper here though. They have a simple 1″ tube 8×56 and Hungary-assembled 2.5-10×56. If I were shopping for a low light scope under $2k, I would have a hard time overlooking that 2.5-10×56 Schmidt. S&B’s Klassik scopes are made in Germany, so they sorta fly under the radar, but these are very proven designs that are built to a very high quality. With Meopta prices going up, I am sorta leaning more toward S&B Klassic scopes on this one.
Allround tactical use:
For this category I like scopes with no more than 5x on the low end. I used to hold it at 3x, but changed my mind over time unless you need to use a thermal clip-on in front of one of these. With well designed eyepieces, I can use 5x for shooting offhand fairly well and that is effectively my gating item for a general purpose scope. Still, I restrict this category to scopes that are not outrageously huge and heavy. I am looking for designs with objectives in the 40 to 50mm range and reticle illumination.
My favourite crossover scope for close to a while now has been Vortex Razor HD-LHT 4.5-22×50 that also gets the nod as an allround hunting scope. It is just an excellent lightweight design.
Burris finally has XTR 3i 3.3-18×50 with illuminated reticle that should be on this list. With lower magnification and wide FOV, if you plan to use a thermal clip-on, this is probably the one to consider.
Element Nexus 5-20×50 should not be overlooked either. It is a very competent crossover design.
Tract Toric UHD 4-20×50 with PRS reticle is another excellent design. FOV is a bit narrow, but aside from that I have nothing to complain about for the price.
If you do not mind a fairly long scope, Trijicon’s Tenmile 3-18×44 is a nicely robust option.
Long range tactical use:
My favourite scopes in this category for now are probably Delta Stryker HD 4.5-30×56, Athlon Cronus Gen2 4.5-29×56 and Tract Toric ELR 4.5-30×56. The upcoming Burris XTR Pro might throw a wrench into that party though. Based on the prototype I saw, this might be the one to beat. Stay tuned as I test it. Still, at regular prices it looks to be above $2k. XTR3i 5.5-30×56 is comfortably in this price range, so it will be interesting to see how it compares.
Since I last updated this category, Vortex Razor Gen2 4.5-27×56 got a price hike, but there are still some in this price range floating around. It is such a time proven design that is is kinda difficult to bet against it.
Some Leupold Mark 5HD scopes do squeeze under $2k, but they do so without illumination. Opinions on that differ. For me personally, if you are paying this much money for a FFP scope, it should have illumination.
All of a sudden, there are some real options here. Delta Stryker HD 5-50×56 takes the cake as the best generalist in this group and Trijicon offers its own version of 5-50×56. However, Sightron SV ED 10-50×60 is better as a pure target scope owing to the advantages its dual speed parallax knob offers.
Honorable mention goes to Vortex Golden Eagle 15-60×52, except I wish it came with a mrad reticle.
Lastly, if you can live with a fixed power scope, March’s 48×52 High Master is right around $2k. There really isn’t anything in this price range that can get close to the March on 48x in terms of image quality.
I hope you can give your expert opinion on what LVPO to get. I got a XTRII 1-8 with the circle dot for a BCM 5.56 AR-15 after reading your recommended list and have been very happy with it. I have used it to shoot paper out to 200 yards so far and the small center reticle dot has been great. The only thing I find as a negative are the turrets which are extremely stiff and hard to turn.
I should soon be receiving another .223 AR that I ordered from JP and I need to get a LVPO for it . I’m trying to keep this rifle as light as possible. I was considering the NX8 due to the light weight and was wondering if you had a chance to look the NX8 over yet? I have a couple of reservations about it. One is the large center dot on the reticle and the other is the .2mil adjustments on the mil version. Would it be better to get the MOA version since the adjustments aren’t as coarse at .5 MOA? Or should I just get another Burris and put up with the weight? Oh, and I prefer to get a 1-8 for this new rifle and want to stay under $2K.
Thanks for any advice.
To be honest with you, I do not spend a whole lot of time dialing with LPVOs, but I do spend a fair amount of time with them slung across my body which can move the turrets. I run my XTR II with covered turrets because of that. I did spend some time messing with it with the exposed zero-stop turret on and while stiff, it was very usable. Most importantly, it never shifted on me with all the slung transitions I experimented with.
With NX8, most of what you gt over the Burris is smaller package and brighter reticle. It has fairly shallow depth of field, so at 8x it is fine if you do not stray too far from where the parallax is set (it is the same basic problem I had with March 1-8x Shorty). Weirdly, at longer distances I thought it did really well at 6x where it was easier to use. The reticle on the NX8 is very usable and dot size is just right. I do not like very small dots on LPVOs and once distances open up a little, your dispersion will likely exceed the dot size and the adjustment granularity. In other words, I think the reticle and click value of the NX8 are perfectly reasonable for a scope of this type and if the rest of the package works for you, go for it.
That having been said, if this is a scope you are planning to spend a lot of time shooting at distance with, you should really consider March 1-8×24 with side focus (not the Shorty version). Side focus makes a huge difference at distance. March optical performance at 8x is just superb and FMC-2 reticle is not too thin, but reasonable if memory serves me right. I just looked and you can pick it up at March Optics website for just a bit over $2k (normally it is close to $3k). Turrets on the March are excellent, so if you dial, it will work great for you and it is lighter than Burris. What you give up is nuclear bright illumination on 1x, but as a general purpose scope, March is a really good option.
Thanks! You have a great point about the parallax adjustment. I’ll look into the March optic.
A few more questions for you if that’s OK. I started looking at the Burris XTRII 2-10 which I think you seem to like. How does the Meopta Mostar 1.7-10×42 compare to the Burris? And what do you think of the NF 2.5-10? I think the Meopta doesn’t have adjustable parallax so is that a big disadvantage?
Thank you very much for the great advice you always give on all the forums.
Meopta is better optically, but is not optimal for shooting beyond typical hunting distances. It works fine given moderate magnification, but you have to be wary of parallax, it is also SFP, vs Burris’ FFP and Burris is the better scope for dialing. Nightforce is a little better than XTR II optically as well, although frankly, 2-10×42 XTR II is very serviceable. It is SFP like the Meopta. Nightforce’s biggest advantage is that it focuses down to 25 yards and is a fair bit shorter and lighter. The NXS is an excellent scope, but honestly, I think it is grossly overpriced and you have to be one hell of a fanboy to pay almost $2k for it.
If you are moving away from LPVO, and you want to be able to dial, I would look at either XTR II 2-10×42 or SWFA SS 3-9×42 and set-up an offset red dot for close range stuff. Honestly, for things that involve distance I really like to have FFP reticles. Not that it is not doable with SFP. It clearly is, but I like the freedom of not worrying what magnification I am on.
Thank you very much again for all the great information. You’re definitely right about the price of the NXS. Better to get the Burris and buy ammo. I’m pretty happy with the 1-8 XTRII on my BCM so I guess another Burris will be OK. I have a 45* mount for a tiny RDS so I’ll most likely go that route as you recommend. I’ve seen reviews of the 2-10 Burris where the weight is stated to be around 22 ounces but I think that might not be correct and it’s heavier than that. Do you know what the actual weight is?
I think XTR II 2-10×42 is listed at around 27 ounces or something like that. I did not weigh it. That is where NSX has a distinct advantage. Same business with the XTR II 1-8×42 vs NX8. NX8 is more compact and notably lighter.
That reminds me: EOTech has a 2.5-10×44 Vudu that is FFP. It is about the same size and weight as 2-10×42 XTR II. I have not had a chance to test it, but some impressions I have heard were favourable. I think it splits the price difference between NXS and XTR II.
There are a few really interesting DMR-type scopes coming out in the next few months, so there may be a few additional options toward the beginning of the next year.
If some good new scopes are coming out in the near future, I might just wait awhile. In the mean time I have a Razor 3-15 HD LH that’s sitting in my safe. It’s a nice lightweight scope so do you think it would be reasonable to stick than on an AR15 with an offset RDS for awhile?