If I could only have one….


Written by ILya Koshkin

As of January 2023:

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.  With optics, this time around I will split it into two categories: “Price No Object or almost not” and “I would like to stay married”.  At the very end there is a somewhat simplified version of my recommendations. Let’s call it “I’d like to stay married and put my kids through college”.  If you see me start selling off my guns all of a sudden, that means I am approaching that third category.

Price no Object or almost not:

  • Long range precision scope: Tangent Theta 5-25x56mm with Gen3 XR reticle.  This is a very tough category that is about to get tougher.  For now, however, overall, Tangent is still king, while the new Razor Gen3 6-36×56 would likely get the nod if “price is ALMOST not an object”
  • 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 several years in a row).  The one I have is with Gen2 XR reticle, but the new Gen3 XR is likely a better general purpose design.  If your interests lean toward more magnification, March 3-24×52 has a lot to recommend itself.  I own one with FML-T1 reticle and it is a lot of performance for the money.  March 4.5-28×52 is a newer option with even better performance during the day.  ZCO 4-20×50 is also a strong consideration here.
  • General purpose scope to use for everything on an AR rifle. There have been big changes in the segment and this comes down to Vortex Razor Gen3 1-10×24, S&B PMII Dual CC 1-8×24 and the dual focal plane March 1-10×24.  March is probably the best general purpose design overall with a very bold reticle and side focus.  S&B is optically the most stunning.  For the money Razor Gen3 is hard to beat.  If you like prismatics, on the high end, it is hard to look for anything other than  Elcan Spectre DR.  I will say though that for flexibility, LPVOs rule.
  • Big game hunting scope:   Tangent Theta 3-15×50 Hunter is going to continue its romp through my recommendations, but, honestly, all high end stuff from Zeiss, Swaro and Leica is extremely good.  Blaser Infinity s 1-7×28 would likely be my choice for a DGR-type gun.
  • Red dot for CQB carbines:  I really liked Shield SIS and it looks like Shield is re-introducing it.  I plan to get my hands on it.  In the meantime, it hard to go wrong with one of Aimpoint Micros.  If you like larger red dots, Meprolight MOR is easily my favourite.  This is another category that is very active and there are several very promising design I am looking at.  There may additions here before too long and this might end up being a fused thermal/red dot scope like the defunct Steiner CQT that I was so impressed with.
  • For use with magnifier: Vortex AMG UH-1 .  Holographic sights work better with magnifiers than reflex sights although some newer ones with holdover reticles are making a good case for themselves.  I have both Gen1 and Gen2 versions of the UH-1 and I am very impressed with both.  Gen2 also work well with night vision monoculars and my HD gun is set up in exactly that way.
  • Red dot for handguns: various Shield RMS sights still because of how low profile they are.  I have RMS2, RMS, RMSw, RMSc and SMSc and I have had exactly zero problems with them.  Still, this is a rapidly developing category and I am in the process of looking at some really impressive new sights.  Holosun HS507C X2 with ACSS Vulcan reticle is really growing on me as far as RMR pattern sights go.  It is a clever and very compelling design.   There are a couple of very compelling fully enclosed and very compact reflex sights coming though, so this all might change soon.
  • Rimfires: precision rimfires can use just about any scope used on centerfire precision rifles as long as they focus close enough.  Mine has Razor Gen3 6-36×56 on it.  However, I am a big fan of accurate compact and lightweight rimfire rifles, that are easily portable.  A good example of that is Ruger 10/22TD.  Traditional plinking scopes still work, but we can do better in the modern market.  A scope that I really liked for this application is US Optics’ compact TS-12 3-12×44.  It has sidefocus, good optical quality and nicely done mechanics.  The reticle is a little thin on low power, but it works.  Illumination would fix it, but as is I like it a lot.  Mine has the FFP MHR reticle.  I would really love to have a truly high end design of this type, but I do not think one exists.
  • Airguns (general plinking): airgun world has changed for me and has become essentially the equivalent of the precision rimfire. My FX Dreamline has a Element Nexus on it.  Semi-auto Leshiy2 is currently testing something, but anything that will work on a 10/22 will be equally at home here.  Honestly, One of side focus LPVOs from March would not be out of place.
  • Airguns (Field/Target): since we are in the “price no object” range, March High Master 10-60×56 is quite remarkable.  Try it and you will understand why.
  • ELR: most high end precision scopes mentioned earlier will work, but if you really need a ton of adjustment, March Genesis 6-60×56 and 4-40×56 are really interesting designs.

I would like to stay married (I am looking at optics prices in the ballpark of $750 to $1.5k for scopes in this case; lower for red dots and such):

  • Long range precision scope: Element Nexus 5-20×50 for ~$1500 and Brownells MPO 3-18×50 for ~$1000.  Pick your price range.  There are other strong contenders here and this is a category to watch.  If you want a little more magnification, take a look at Tract Toric ELR 4.5-30×56 for about $1700
  • General purpose scope to use for everything on a bolt gun: the scopes above also apply here, but I would be remiss to not point out how nice of a scope Vortex Viper PST Gen 2 3-15×44 is.  Personally, my preferred crossover bolt gun scope is Vortex Razor HD-LHT 4.5-22×50.
  • General purpose scope to use for everything on an AR rifle.  This became much easier last year: Primary Arms PLxC 1-8×24 for around $1500. If you are staying pretty close range-wise and do not need FFP, Delta Stryker HD 1-6×24 for ~$750 is your huckleberry.  PLxC is a better scope, but it is double the price (for a reason)
  • Big game hunting scope: Vortex Razor HD-LHT 3-15×42.
  • Red dot for CQB carbines: Holosun Paralow with ACSS reticle for $250 is hard to beat for the money.
  • For use with magnifier: Vortex AMG UH-1 or the same Holosun as above if you want drop holds.
  • Red dot for handguns: I kinda have to go with the Kraken here.  Enclosed red dot sights are on the way up and this is the least expensive robust way to get there at the moment.

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 or 6mm ARC.  Put Vortex Viper PST Gen2 3-15×44 on it.  Add a moderately priced red dot sight in a 45 degree offset mount (some prefer rail mounts, some mount them onto the scope body; I can make both work).  There are also scope mounts with accessory rails for this.  I’d probably get SwampFox Kraken for this.  The whole thing should be around 10lbs.
  • Sell all your handguns and buy a Glock 48 with a bunch of Shield Arms 15 round magazines.  Mill the slide for Shield RMSc.
  • Take a lot of classes with your AR and Glock.
  • Have a lifesize poster of you with the AR and the Glock shooting a silhouette of someone who your daughter thinks might be boyfriend material on the wall of your daughter’s dorm room.  It should have an appropriately detrimental effect on her social life.
  • If you are not an AR person, keep an eye out for bolt guns chambered for 8.6Blackout.  It is becoming my preferred general purpose cartridge for many reasons, but the prices for better quality stuff are not yet in the “I want to stay married category”.



 Posted by at 4:54 pm

  5 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.

  2. Hey I have Tikka UPR in 6.5 creed. Need to put glass on it. I have been all over the place and can spend between 1k to 2k. I have military discount with most places to. Ideally would like to spend closer to 1K, but I tend to like stuff closer to 2k. I prefer a FFP and would like to get to a mile if possible and be able to hunt with it.

    I have looked at the Athlon Cronus GEN2, Riton X7 Conquer 3-24, Tract Toric 4-20 PRS, MK5HD 5-25 in TMR or T3, EO TECH VUDU 5-25, Nightforce NX8 2.5-20, Element Nexus 5-20, Horus Vision 5-20.

    I assume your going to say get the Element Nexus. Which is where I’m leaning. I just want to make sure and see if you have any other recommendations

    • This really depends on what kind of a reticle you prefer.

      Element is a very good crossover scope, but if you are OK with simpler reticles and you military discount gets you a Mark5 for a good price, Mark5 5-25×56 with illuminated TMR is a reall intriguing option.
      Generally, with all of these FFP scopes you have to think about reticle visibility on low power, so illumination is important. If you like tree reticle, then Element should probably be at the top of your list.
      Keep in mind that I have not tested the Riton, but I am familiar with the OEM design. I also have not tested the Horus since I dislike their reticles.