Nice optics are really nice to play with. My review choices lean toward the high end simply because I like nice scopes and because I have the opportunity to use them. However, sometimes it is nice to come back to earth and consider scopes that normal people can afford (or are simply willing to pay for).
Earlier today I got a message from a friend of mine asking for my take on Sig Whiskey3 scopes. I was a little surprised because Ted, like me, likes and appreciates high end optics. Most importantly, since he is an avid shooter and hunter, I know that he is willing and able to spend money on high end stuff. I told him that Whiskey3 is a very serviceable scope, but not as good as the more expensive stuff he normally uses. It turned out that there was a little bit of a backstory there.
Apparently, a son of his friend won an inexpensive 243Win Howa 1500 boltgun in a raffle. The gun came with some sort of an el cheapo Nikko-Stirling scope. Since the rifle was going to get shot at most 3-4 times per year, they figured the scope will be good enough. Well, it was shooting 7 inch groups at 100 yards and the zero was moving around. Now, if it was a Remington, I could certainly see this kind of performance as not abnormal, but Howas are very decent rifles and I have never seen one shoot that badly. Still, they did not want to invest money into a rifle shot so seldom, so they stuck with it, and the kid kept on missing his deer during hunting season.
There is a persistent belief out there that in order to get a decent scope, you have to spend a significant amount of money. What is considered significant varies, but it can be anywhere between $800 and $2000 depending on who you talk to. That may have been true at some point, but the overall quality of available riflescopes has really gone up in recent years. Now, if you are looking for a long range precision scope with repeatable turrets, sophisticated FFP reticles, etc, it will still cost you some money (although there are several decent options now under $1k). If all you are looking for is “set and forget” type scope for general purpose hunting you can easily get something in the $200 range that will work quite well. It may not have all the latest features or the best optical quality, but it will be perfectly serviceable. To be clear, optical quality will be quite good, just not as good as the much more expensive stuff. Whiskey3 is one such design. Being in a time crunch (the kid had a hunt planned for a couple of days later), Ted headed over to a local gun store not far from his deer camp, picked up a 4-12×40 Whiskey3 for a bit over $200 and mounted it on a rifle. That is all he did. No bedding, accurizing or any other tricks. The results are in the picture below.
Here is what the rifle looks like now:
I think he even used the same cheap rings that came with the rifle. Now I would recommend switching to something a little sturdier eventually, but the rifle clearly shoots fine as is.
I am going to add a bunch of affiliate links below for various scopes that are along the same basic lines: moderately priced, sturdy and reasonable optically. However, there are more of these out there than I can easily list and I have not tested all of them. I can only comfortably recommend the designs I do have personal familiarity with. Therefore, here are some general guidelines in terms of the configurations to look for if you shopping for a inexpensive hunting scope.
Stick with moderate magnifications: 2-7x, 3-9x, 2.5-10x, etc. Basically, you want something that does not require some sort of side focus or adjustable objective. Stick to moderate objective sizes. Something in the 40-44mm range is a good bet. Tube diameter does not matter for this. 1″ is fine. 30mm is fine. Larger tubes usually command a premium because public perception allows for it, but for this application it does not matter.
Burris Fullfield family of scopes is a good example of fairly simple and serviceable scopes as are Vortex Diamondback. I also like Sightron S2 and aforementioned Sig Whiskey3. Sometimes you can find Meopta MeoPro 3-9×40 in this price range. It is definitely a step above and a really nice design. If you want to do some turret twisting, SWFA SS Classic 6×42 is rock solid for around $300 (a lot less than that during Black Friday). There are, of course others and if you are looking at something I did not mention, add a question below.