Updated in January, 2022
This is an interesting price range and one where there is a lot of activity. A lot of stuff here is from better Chinese OEMs and it is really competent. If you would rather avoid China, there are good options from Japan and Phillipines here and there as well.
Low range variables:
Since Steiner’s P4Xi got a price hike, the only daybright option here is Vortex PST Gen2 1-6×24. Thankfully, it is a really nice LPVO and I would just stick with that. If you want more magnification and you are OK with SPF reticle SwampFox Arrowhead 1-10×24 is a really competent design.
General Purpose Hunting:
If you can find one of the recently discontinued Meopta MeoPro scopes, grab one. The 3.5-10×44 was a really nice general purpose hunting scope. Personally though, for $600, I would lean toward the same scope I recommend on the tactical side of things SWFA SS 3-9×42. This scope has been around for a while, I have two of them, and it just plain works. It also helps that I generally lean toward FFP designs. I would probably like it even more if they refreshed some of the features: zero-stop elevation turret, covered windage turret and an abbreviated tree reticle would make me like it even more. Trijicon Credo 2-10×36 is kinda like what I am looking for except it is more money. PA’s GLx 2.5-10×44 is kinda like that, but made in the Phillipines. Both are bit heavier than SWFA 3-9×42 though.
If you prefer SFP, check out Trijicon Accupoint 3-9×40 and 2.5-10×56. They have been around for a long time. They work well and fiber optic collector illuminates the reticle without relying on batteries. Pick the larger 2.5-10×56 if you hunt in very low light. The smaller 3-9×40 is trim, light and capable for general purpose hunting. Somehow, these scopes used to be not that great of a deal, but their competitors moved up in price, while Trijicon, to its credit, kept these at the same price for years. I am probably going to pick one up.
High Magnification (Tactical, Precision, etc):
For once, there are a few compelling options in this category. SwampFox Kentucky Long 5-30×56 is a very respectable option. For a touch less money the new and slightly smaller Element Helix 6-24×50 FFP has really impressed me while being half-way through this price range. I do not think I have ever seen a variable scope in this price range with such bulletproof tracking, although several riflescope companies (like Arken) are making very bold claims in that regard. The new Arken EP5 5-25×56 looks very promising and I will spend some time with it mid-year.
If you want something with a lot of adjustment and wide FOV, I think Vortex Strike Eagle 5-25×56 is the one to beat here. It is very full featured. If you can live with less adjustment and no illumination, Vortex Venom 5-25×56 is actually easier to get behind at the expense of FOV.
Reflex/Red Dot/Holographic Sights:
You can get some really nice stuff in the under $700 range. Unless you are trying to stay away from Chinese OEMs, I do not know if it makes all that much sense to go all the way up to $700. However, there are some nice red dot sights here like the Aimpoint ACRO P-2 (which fixes many of the issues P-1 had). One of ACRO’s more prominent competitors, Steiner MPS is also in this price range and it is performing quite nicely so far. With compact open emitter red dot sights, I still prefer to stick with either Shield’s RMSw and RMSc or with Holosun’s 507C with the Vulcan reticle. With red dot sights in general, I am not big on sights bigger than an Aimpint Micro or thereabouts. My perennial favourite here is Shield SIS. I have the original, but SIS2 is on the way and looking very promising as does the upcoming ultracompact Shield AMS. There are some well regarded full size red dot sights here as well, but once you go to a larger housing, I tend to prefer holographic sights. Yes, the battery life is shorter, but holographics play a little better with my astigmatism and the window is absolutely distortion free. There is a lot to be said about EOTech’s EXPS3, but for the money the nod has to go to Vortex AMG UH-1 . One exception to that is if you plan to have a magnifier behind it and need holdover. Then, EOTech’s reticle with four dots is the way to go.
Speaking of magnifiers: there are some magnifiers in this price range, but I am not convinced they are worth the price premium over the sub-$400 ones. Once again, a lot of this comes down to whether a made-in-China magnifier bothers you. If the answer is yes, your options are very limited. You can either get an Aimpoint magnifier or EOTech’s G33. Personally, I sorta came to grips that for now my best bang for the buck is with Chinese OEMs. More importantly, I prefer compact and light magnifiers and with those, I really do not have an option for something not made in China. I do use a 6x magnifier from Aimpoint, but that is another step up in price.
General Purpose Tactical:
SWFA’s SS HD 3-9×42 FFP scope with Mil-Quad reticle has probably been my most recommended scope since it came onto the market. It does not look all that fancy on paper, but it is just about bulletproof, works well in different lighting conditions and tracks like a champ. This is the scope I recommend more often than any other in any price range. There is a reason for it and there is a reason this recommendation has not changed in years.