Updated in January, 2024
If you prefer SFP scopes, between $2k and $3k there are several high end scopes from all the usual suspects. They are all excellent and the choice between them comes down to personal preferences. I am somewhat partial to S&B Polar and its simpler variants (SFP with fixed parallax) sneak in under $3k. The 3-12×54 would probably be my low light choice. The Posicon turrets extend its capability range. If you can live with 4x on the low end, the 4-16×56 Polar is right at $3k and is even better in low light. but a touch heavier. With the P4 reticle and side focus, it is a very flexible design that crosses into the precision world nicely and flies very much under the radar. On the precision side of things we always consider PMII scopes and almost always forget that there are some real sleepers in S&B’s hunting lineup.
If you are looking for what is likely the purest expression of what a SFP hunting scope should be, there is the new S&B Meta 3-18×42. SFP scopes are not my thing, but I have to admit I just loved shooting with this scope. It could use some more reticle options, but as is, with Posicon turrets and #4 reticle, it is extremely capable. As this is written, I am wrapping up my review and there may be a quiet manly tear shed when send this scope back to S&B. The version I tested is a bit over $3k, but they have a variant that is a little less expensive.
If you want a scope that does everything in a pinch from western hunting to working with a thermal clip-on on hogs and everything in between, the rather diminutive dual focal plane version of March’s 1.5-15×42 is as close as I have seen anyone get to a “do all” scope. I have spent quite a lot of time with this scope and it is surprisingly well balanced given the broad magnification range. The reticle in the dual focal plane version has been re-worked to work better across magnifications. The version I have is equipped with DR-TR2B reticle and new turrets with Shuriken locks. It found its home on an 8.6Blackout boltgun where it wears many hats: western hunting, pig hunting with thermals, subsonic ELR, etc.
Long range precision
This one used to be a harder choice, but I have to admit that from what I have seen so far, I think Vortex Razor HD Gen3 6-36×56 takes this one. At around $3k, I think this is the one to beat.
Of the new high quality entries to this segment Element Theos 6-36×56 and Burris XTR Pro 5.5-30×56 are the two that really stand out. XTR Pro straddles this price category and the one below it. Theos, I think, has the best turrets you will find under $3k and is a bit lighter than Razor Gen3.
Generally, we are looking at a broad range of FFP scopes here and there is a lot to choose from. With 56mm objective designs, Razor Gen3 takes the cake, but as we go down to smaller scopes, there are many good options. Razor Gen3 is, for the time being available with a tree reticle only. For a lighter weight option while still maintaining a 56mm objective, Leupold Mark5HD 5-25×56 with illuminated PR1-MIL reticle is a good option. Keep an eye out for discounts.
All of the ones I mentioned so far are either Japanese or US manufactured designs. With high end Euro scopes, the prices mostly moved up beyond $3k. However, you can find the venerable 5-25×56 S&B for $2k here and there. For example, here is the version with DTII+ turrets and LRR reticle. LRR is a very fine precision reticle, but the illumination is done nicely. The turrets are the best locking turrets on the market today. Schmidt’s 5-25×56 is the most proven high end precision/tactical riflescope in existence. There is a lot to be said about that kind of a track record.
If you are looking for something with a 50mm objective, there are several good options. The one that has really been growing on me is US Optics FDN 17x 3.2-17×50. I am not a big fan of tunneling on this scope, but this scope has wide FOV above 5x, excellent eyepiece and a very nice elevation turret.
It is not short though, so if you want something more compact, Leupold finally made a version of the 3.6-18×44 with illuminated PR1-MIL reticle. If it does not have to be quite that short, I think Delta Stryker 3.5-21×44 is better optically and significantly less expensive. It is an inch longer though. I like the 3.6-18×44 Mark5, but I have to admit that between all the different variants of March’s 1.5-15×42 that is even more compact and the less expensive Delta, Leupold is going to have a hard time.
Another good crossover design is March’s 3-24×52 with FML-TR1H reticle. It is a little finicky on higher magnifications, but it is robust and lightweight with very broad magnification range and excellent image quality.
Lastly, if you are not looking for a ton of magnification, I really like Nightforce ATACR 4-16×42. I tested this scope a long time ago with Mil-R reticle. If Mil-XT was available back then, I would still own it.
These all work well on both accurate boltguns and semi-autos.
Not much changed here. I think Vortex Razor Gen3 1-10×24 owns this one. Nightforce ATACR 1-8×24 is a nice design as well, although the Razor Gen3 edges it out largely due to the wider FOV. If you are not looking for a high end FFP LPVO, you do not not need to spend this much money.
The “marching to its own drum” alternative here is March’s dual focal plane 1-10×24. March has addressed the things that people did not like on the original version. It is now available with a tree reticle and the tube was changed to be just straight 34mm instead of the original dual diameter design. That makes mounting much more straightforward. If I were looking for an LPVO as a general purpose scope, this would be my pick. Because it has both SFP and FFP reticles, it also works quite well if your battery is dead. Naturally, it does not hurt that it is also smaller and lighter than the competition. Turrets are nicely done and both elevation and windage lock. Side focus helps both at long and short range. I mostly use it for dry practice indoors. Other than some low light limitations owing to the smallish objective, there is very little you can not do with this scope. At 8.5″ of length and 19 ounces of weight, if you plan to use clip-ons, this is very much worth a look.
March owns this one. For around $2500 you can get March’s unusual EP Zoom 40-60×52 High Master.
Generally, when it comes to paper punching at known distances, anything that March labels as “High Master” is something you should be looking at.
$3k is a starter thermal category. There are many lower resolution options here, but I would be looking for high end models that are in the process of being discontinued. That’s where the deals usually are. For example, here is a 50mm Pulsar with 640×480 core for exactly $3k. It is a raging deal.
Otherwise, given how rapidly this segment is changing, I would not be inclined to settle and step up slightly in price to something like the new Athlon Cronus ATS 50-640.
Do keep in mind that the whole thermal riflescope industry, while getting better, is filled with people who either can’t tell their ass from an elbow or are outright grifters. Take your time and do your research. If you need help narrowing things down, it may be worth your while to head over to my Locals website and ask. Working with devices like these is what I do for my dayjob, among other things.
So far, these were dedicated thermal scopes. If you are looking for a clip-on, you may have to go with lower resolution in this price range for now. I still use the first generation Burris BTC50, but these are pretty scarce. The Gen2 BTC35 from Burris is pretty nice though and more compact. I expect a couple of new options to be introduced shortly, so this will be updated.
If you are not quite sure which way to go, Accufire Incendis works as a clip-on or as a standalone scope. If you keep distances moderate and are new to thermals, this is a good jump-in point.