Updated in February 2022
This used to be an “over $2k” category, but I moved it up a bit due the ever changing optics landscape, ever increasing prices, and ever increasing willingness of people to spend a lot of money on optics. However, I started looking at thermals and prices are really different there.
Most really high end hunting scopes I have looked have had SFP reticles. Out of those, overall, Leica Magnus is the best I have seen but you can get those under $3k. If you are looking for a SFP scope that is a little more long distance oriented, S&B’s Exos 3-21×50 has a really clever elevation turret and is a very well worked out design.
Something along those same lines, but FFP would be Blaser Infinity 2.8-20×50 or 4-20×58. I have spent a little time with Blaser’s FFP Infinity scopes and I am REALLY impressed. Their 1-7×28 is one of the best LPVOs I have ever seen with very clever reticle illumination technology. If you are looking for a hunting oriented LPVO, this is probably a top choice, although both Zeiss and S&B may have something to say about that. All the Blaser scopes do have a simple #4 reticle though.
If I were looking to get one general purpose high end hunting scope, I’d go FFP with a somewhat more sophisticated reticle. That really means Tangent Theta TT315H 3-15×50 Hunter. It is really expensive and really good. It is essentially a variant of my TT315M, but with thicker reticle for low light and turrets with free spinning collars to prevent accidental adjustment. Another contender to that crown is probably S&B 4-16×56 Polar with P4FL reticle. I really need to test that scope some time.
There is quite a lot to choose from here and the recommendation have not changed all that much. I continue to use and like Tangent Theta scopes. I think they are the best overall, but with high end scopes a lot of this is about personal preference and the factual differences are really slim
I have TT315M with Gen 2 XR and TT525P with Gen 3XR reticle. Today, I would have gotten the TT315M with Gen3XR as well.
Zero Compromise Optics (ZCO) is really going after the Tangent’s crown, S&B is up there and March is making a lot of progress.
ZCO has really excellent 5-27×56 and 4-20×50 models. I think the 4-20×50 is really excellent against the competition, but the 5-27x is facing stiffer competition at that.
March’s 5-42×56 with FML-TR1 reticle that I designed for them (FML-3 is also my design) also belongs in this conversation and if you shoot paper more than steel and like lots of magnification, March would probably be my choice.
S&B has gotten a little more active with reticles and I really like a few of their scopes with GR2ID reticle. The original 5-25×56 scope is still relevant and GR2ID and MSR2 reticles really bring it up to date. Their higher end scopes with 9x erector, while very good, are not my favourite. However, I really like the PMII versions of their Ultra Bright 3-12×54 and 4-16×56 designs. They are compact, well built and have spectacular low light performance. They could use some new reticles though.
S&B does have a new 6-36×56 coming up and the early sample I have seen looked very good. Once the production model gets here, I will take a close look. S&B’s new DTII turret is probably my favourite locking turret on the market right now.
Lastly, if you are looking for a short scope to put on a gas gun or to use with a clip-on, S&B’s Ultra Short 5-20×50 with DTII+ turrets and MSR2 reticle would be at the top of my list.
March 4.5-28×52 is another interesting option. Exit pupil on it is a little small, so it is not an ideal pick for a crossover scope, but as a compact and light precision scope it has a lot going for it.
Tactical Scopes with EO Integration:
I expect this category to grow, so it is time to separate it out. For now, on the high end, it comes down to Revic and Steiner IFS. Revic is due for a Gen2 which should be coming in the not too distant future. In the meantime, IFS has gone through some changes and is looking really good. If I were picking a precision riflescope with integrated ballistics right now, it would be Steiner 2.9-20×50 IFS.
Sometimes I call these “general purpose tactical” as well. These are, essentially, FFP precison riflescopes that weigh 30 ounces or less and are equally at home on a precision rifle and on a hunting rifle (especially out west).
Tangent Theta TT315M (3-15×50 on a 30mm tube) with Gen 3 XR weighing 27 ounces is probably my overall pick here. The S&B 5-20×50 Ultrashort mentioned above is in this conversation as well.
Low Power Variable Optic:
S&B PMII 1-8×24 Dual CC is the highest end LPVO on the market today and it significantly more expensive than anything else. It is really excellent and MDR-T6 reticle is very nicely done. As is always the case in this price range, the improvement over the stuff in the under $3k range are somewhat incremental, but if you want the best, this is it.
For serious ELR you have a few options, mostly requring add ons of some sort. When you need to dial 50 mrad with some sort of a high magnification optics, options are slim.
You can use one of TacomHQ’s Tarac devices (Charlie being the more common: https://tacomhq.com/product/charlie-tarac/) to a conventional scope.
You can use a dial slope base of some sort like the Era-tac design.
Or you can get one of the March Genesis scopes. There are two: 4-40×52 and 6-60×56. The big advantage of these is that regardless of how much of the available 100+ mrad of adjustment you have dialed, the image quality is always the same since the whole optical systems is moving.
FML-3 reticle was, to a significant degree, designed with the Genesis in mind. Also, this is one of the few applications where 0.05mrad clicks are truly warranted.
Thermal Scopes, Clip-ons and Monoculars:
This market segment is really huge and I have not yet seen everything. Keep that in mind as I make my recommendations.
If I wanted to have one thermal device to put on a suppressed 300 Blackout and use it for home defense, property defense and hog hunting, it would be Steiner CQT. It is, in some ways, the way of the future since it combines a reflex sight with thermal. It is also compatible with magnifiers making it a notable better day sight than conventional thermals. Since it is a combination of normal vision with thermal overlay, it also gives you far superior situational awareness.
For a dedicated hunting rig, a more conventional dedicated thermal scope or clip-on is likely the way to go. Personally, I slightly prefer clip-ons especially on guns with a little more recoil movement (i.e. where I do not have to deal with shorter eye relief of most thermal scopes). However, for a dedicated hunting rifle that does not have a ton of kick, a standalone thermal scope is probably the way to go.
There are so many of these out that I have not had a chance to test them all. I have looked at several higher end ones and, on balance, I would say that N-Vision Nox35 or Halo LR or Halo XRF is the best I have seen to date. They are not cheap, but they are very good.
In terms of control interface, I kinda like Trijicon’s Reap-IR scopes and it is really a tough call between Trijicon and N-Vision.
Given the price, if someone asked me which to get if I am only getting one conventional thermal device, etc. I would probably get N-Vision Nox35 since it is small enough to be set up as a regular riflescope or used as a handheld or helmet mounted monocular.
However, quite a few thermals from Steiner, Pulsar, ATN, iRay and others that I saw recently looked really good. As I spend more time with them, my recommendations might change.
Lastly, if you are just looking for a handheld thermal monocular, I was really impressed with Leica Calonox View for $4k.