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Rifle Scopes Reviewed: Best Under $1000

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WE TEST SUB $1K STREET PRICE RIFLE OPTICS

Any buyer’s guide, if you actually test the items (which we do) can be a fairly large endeavor. While other magazines will simply list factory features in their magalogs, we actually went through the process of testing multiple optics available with street prices below $1K. While there are rifle scopes with higher MSRPs, we decided to go with a purchase price of under $1K as a metric.
There are numerous optical testing rigs used by camera lens companies to get into the minutia of each lens — however, even the most basic of computer testing rigs costs more than $100K each. While some testing rigs of this type are undoubtedly used by companies that specifically produce rifle scopes, unfortunately $100K wasn’t in the budget for this one.

Even photographing though each scope was inconsistent, as eye relief remained an issue from scope to scope. Furthermore, one would have to account for additional optical errors added on by the camera lenses themselves. We additionally try to use the very excellent Phone Skope system for photos, but ultimately, we found this system better suited to video rather than still photography.

In the end, we decided to rely on subjective testing performed by the author who has used uncountable variable-power scopes over the years. With all of this in mind, understand that someone else with different experiences may rank these rifle scopes in a different order. All of that said, undoubtedly, we believe those who've used all of scopes in this manner would come to the same conclusions.

For the testing itself, we used a modified AF 1951 ISO 12233 test chart. Not only does this chart show resolution, it also provides distortion information to include optical error, chromatic aberration, centering errors, and more. All optical tests were performed with this chart at 100 yards.
rifle scopes reticles

Chromatic aberration, as defined by Wikipedia is, “a failure of a lens to focus all colors to the same point. It is caused by dispersion: the refractive index of the lens elements varies with the wavelength of light,” but what it comes down to the end user is this: purple f*cking fringe around objects of high contrast that’s distracting and terrible. This is absolutely an important feature to note, regardless of how expensive a scope is.

Just as with all variable optics, be them rifle scopes or camera lenses, the best clarity is usually found somewhere between the highest and the lowest magnification. For each scope tested, we found the magnification level that provided most clear sight picture. In addition to optical clarity answers, we also determined which ergonomic features (such as turret feel) was determined to be the best. Without further ado: RECOIL’s Sub-$1K Optic Test Buyer’s Guide.

Atibal Apex 4-14x

Atibal Apex 4-14x rifle scopes
Background
The first time we used an Atibal optic, we were impressed with how receptive they were to our constructive criticism. All of the rifle scopes we’ve used from them since their freshman offering has increased in quality. While the best glass from Atibal can be found in their X line, the Atibal Apex is no slouch, albeit there are some warts present.

Notes
Color rendition is slightly yellow, making greens and other foliage pop. Chromatic aberration is virtually nonexistent. Best clarity was found on 12 power. Resolution is a 3 on the right chart at maximum. Adjustment clicks are both strong and easily heard. The turrets do lock but there is no revolution indicator. The clicks are absolutely the strongest in this group of optics and are easily felt through thick gloves. The turret markings themselves came from the factory somewhat backward, but we fixed that with the aid of a label maker. We’re told the next version coming in will have proper turret markings.

You should have no problems with a crisp target rendition at 700-800 yards. There are lines on the top and left-hand side on the scope body itself to aid in leveling.

The magnification ring is easy to adjust when using the throw lever. The lever also only has a 180-degree throw, making magnification changes quick and painless.

Reticle
The reticle itself is a, “Christmas Tree” type, with mil markings offset to the right side of the windage markings. There are half and full marks for windage and elevation. There are a whopping 10 mils of hold-under for up close shots, and if we had our druthers, we would chop that number in at least half.
Atibal Apex 4-14x reticle

Conclusions
This is absolutely the most inexpensive optic in this Buyer’s Guide, and it shows in some instances such as number of rotations per turret, wonky turret markings, and limited magnification. However, the optical clarity is well above average. So if you’re on a budget, we doubt you’re going to find something with this level of quality within this price range.
Atibal Apex 4-14x rifle scopes

Specifications
Make: Atibal
Model: Apex
Zoom: 4-14x
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Minimum Parallax Range: 10 yards
Minimum Eye Relief: 4-inches
MSRP: $499
URL: atibal-optics.com

Throw Lever?: Yes, removable
Illuminated: No
Turret Type: Locking
Adjustment Increment: 0.1mils
Adjustment Per Turret Rotation: 6mils
Total Adjustment Range (windage/elevation): 22mils/22mils

Bushnell Forge 4.5-27x

Bushnell Forge 4.5-27x rifle scopes

Background
Prior to the release of the new Bushnell lines of Forge, Nitro, and Prime, the only clear way consumers could tell the difference in their quality was the price of each rifle scopes itself, or solely buying their premium Elite Tactical line. The addition of the new lines allows for a discerning buyer to quickly choose which category of optic they would like to buy.

Notes
Color rendition is good, slightly on the yellow side. Chromatic aberration apparent at maximum magnification. Best clarity was found at 14x.

Resolution is a 3 on the right chart at maximum. Excellent tactile clicks on the adjustment mechanism. If turret caps are loose after floating, it is possible to rotate without clicks.

The resolution of this scope is as advertised, you should have no problems with a crisp target rendition out to 800 yards. There are lines on the top and left-hand side on the scope body itself to aid in leveling.

Reticle
This reticle is a little different than the others as what is shown is a MOA reticle versus a production mildot reticle. However, a mildot reticle is available from the factory. There is a, “Christmas Tree” style reticle on the Bushnell, with windage marks at every MOA. The MOA listings are offset to the right of the windage marks. Little-to-no elevation marks are located above the windage line for close-in hold-unders.
Bushnell Forge 4.5-27x reticle

Conclusions
The Bushnell Forge lives up to the promise of having near-Elite Tactical quality at a lower pricepoint, though there are still very clear advantages to the Elite Tactical line in terms of optical clarity and color rendition.
Bushnell Forge 4.5-27x rifle scopes

Specifications
Make: Bushnell
Model: Forge
Zoom: 4.5-27x
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Minimum Parallax Range: 25-yards
Minimum Eye Relief: 4-inches
MSRP: $949
URL: bushnell.com

Throw Lever?: Yes, removeable
Illuminated: No
Turret Type: Locking
Adjustment Increment: 0.1mils
Adjustment Per Turret Rotation: 10mils
Total Adjustment Range (Windage/Elevation): 21mils/21mils

Leupold VX-31 LRP 6.5-20x

Leupold VX-31 LRP 6.5-20x rifle scopes
Background
Grandpa had a Leupold and so did dad. One of the oldest rifle scopes manufacturers in the United States, Leupold has suffered a bit from users not being able to easily discern optical quality levels based on anything other than price. But some things have changed, and their VX-3i LRP line is touted for its excellent light-gathering ability, especially in transitional lighting.

Notes
Color rendition is close to perfect. Very, very slight chromatic aberration when at maximum magnification. Best clarity was found on 16 power.
Resolution is a 5 on the right chart at maximum. Tactile clicks on the adjustment mechanism are slightly soft, so users with thick gloves (or frozen hands) they may not be readily apparent. Though the turrets do not lock, they do include a revolution indicator to let you know how many rotations have occurred.

You should have no problems with a crisp target rendition out to 1,000 yards. There are lines on the top and left-hand side on the scope body itself to aid in leveling. Parallax adjustment is unmarked, and the minimum distance was measured at 45 yards.

Though the throw lever can be removed, there is still a hump on the adjustment ring for grabbing. Diopter adjustment isn’t explicitly marked, but it can be adjusted by turned the rear eyepiece itself.

Reticle
There are ample marks for windage, and the ‘V’s on the reticle greatly aid for moving targets. There are ¼ and ½ mil markings on the reticle, making finite holds possible. Elevation mil markings are offset to the left side of the reticle, making them harder to find quickly but also ensuring for a clearer sight picture when on target.
Leupold VX-31 LRP 6.5-20x reticle

Conclusions
The clarity and color rendition hit above its weight class but bear in mind is a scope with one of the higher MSRPs in this Buyer’s Guide.
Leupold VX-31 LRP 6.5-20x rifle scopes

Specifications
Make: Leupold
Model: VX-3i LRP
Zoom: 6.5-20x
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Minimum Parallax Range: Unmarked
Minimum Eye Relief: 3.6-inches
MSRP: $1,234.99
URL: leupold.com

Throw Lever?: Yes, removable
Illuminated: No
Turret Type: Tactical
Adjustment Increment: 0.1mils
Adjustment Per Turret Rotation: 5mils
Total Adjustment Range (Windage/Elevation): 12mils/20mils

Lucid MilX 4.5-18x

Lucid MilX 4.5-18x rifle scopes
Background
Lucid Optics started out at a budget-friendly optics company and the MilX is their first serious attempt at making a high-quality optic. In order to meet a low price-point some frills such as an illuminated reticle in their rifle scopes were not included; though to be fair that option is most needed in transitional light or when using night vision or thermal clip-ons.

Notes
Color rendition is ever so slightly blue, but not noticeable unless you’re specifically looking for it. Nearly imperceivable chromatic aberration when at maximum magnification. Best clarity was found at 12x.
Resolution is a 3 on the right chart at maximum. Tactile clicks on the adjustment mechanism are slightly soft, so users with thick gloves (or frozen hands) may not be readily apparent. Though the turrets do lock, there is not a revolution indicator.

You should have no problems with a crisp target rendition out to 800 yards. There are dots on the top and left-hand side on the scope body itself to aid in leveling.

Though there is no throw lever, there appears to be a place one may be added. The magnification ring is knurled, and magnification can be smoothly adjusted even without a throw lever.

Reticle
The reticle itself is simplistic, with has hash marks drawing the eye to a precise aiming dot. No “Christmas Tree” here, windage will have to be tracking from the horizontal windage marks.
Lucid MilX 4.5-18x reticle


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Conclusions
With an MSRP of a mere $719 and a street price well below that, Lucid’s first foray into non-low budget optics surprised us. We look forward to seeing what Lucid brings out next, maybe with some more frills.
Lucid MilX 4.5-18x rifle scopes

Specifications
Make: Lucid
Model: MilX
Zoom: 4.5-18x
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Minimum Parallax Range: 10 yards
Minimum Eye Relief: 3.6-inches
MSRP: $719.99
URL: mylucidgear.com

Throw Lever?: No
Illuminated: No
Turret Type: Locking
Adjustment Increment: 6mils
Adjustment Per Turret Rotation 0.1mils
Total Adjustment Range (Windage/Elevation): 28mils/25mils

Riton RTS Mod-7 4-32x

Riton RTS Mod-7 4-32x rifle scopes
Background
Arizona-based Riton made their entrance into the rifle optics world with similar offerings to the Vortex Strike Eagle Line. However, over the years they have been producing higher quality rifle scopes, with the Mod 7 line currently representing the best they have to offer.

Notes
Color rendition is ever so slightly blue, but not noticeable unless you’re specifically looking for it. Nearly imperceivable chromatic aberration when at maximum magnification. Best clarity was found on 21 power.
Resolution is a 5 on the right chart at maximum. Adjustment clicks are very strong, and you can easily both feel and see each adjustment. The turrets do not lock, nor do they have a revolution indicator. However, the turret markings themselves make it incredibly easy to dial in due to a sloped marking arrangement.

You should have no problems with a crisp target rendition beyond 1,000 yards. There are dots on the top and left-hand side on the scope body itself to aid in leveling.

The magnification ring is knurled, and magnification can be smoothly adjusted even without a throw lever. There are ‘off’ settings between each illumination setting which make it easy to adjust to environmental illumination while making a quick switch to, ‘off’ when you’re away from the gun.

Reticle
The reticle on the Mod7 allows for both ¼ and ½ mil holds, aiding in wind holds. There is a “Christmas Tree” style reticle for wind holds, and 2 mils are marked for hold-unders above the main windage lines.
Riton RTS Mod-7 4-32x reticle

Conclusions
Riton has absolutely moved beyond anything we’d consider “cheap” with their Mod7 line, though this scope is absolutely the most expensive in this Buyer’s Guide. We look forward to seeing more from them in the future.
Riton RTS Mod-7 4-32x rifle scopes

Specifications
Make: Riton
Model: RTS Mod-7
Zoom: 4-32x
Tube Diameter: 34mm
Minimum Parallax Range: 15 yards
Minimum Eye Relief: 3.7-inches
MSRP: $1,469.99
URL: ritonoptics.com

Throw Lever?: Yes, fixed
Illuminated: Yes
Turret Type: Tactical
Adjustment Increment: .10mils
Adjustment Per Turret Rotation: 10mils
Total Adjustment Range (Windage/Elevation): 10mils/19mils

Swampfox Kentucky Long 5-30x

Swampfox Kentucky Long 5-30x rifle scopes
Background
Swampfox is the youngest company of the group, first establishing themselves on July 4th, 2018 in Colorado. We’ve seen some indicators of some promising optics, though their bread-and-butter currently appears to be second focal plane LPVOs and not rifle scopes used for long range.

Notes:
Color rendition is more in the blue range, likely due to a coating that makes seeing the reticle more easily. Chromatic aberration was so heavy as to be distracting when at maximum magnification. Best clarity was found on 14 power.
Resolution is a 3 on the right chart at maximum. Adjustment clicks are weak so you may easily find yourself lost while wearing heavy gloves, but they are audible. The turrets do lock but they do not have a revolution indicator.

You should have no problems with a crisp target rendition at 700 yards, but we found the parallax adjustment to be quite sensitive so some fine tuning may be required. There are dots on the top and left-hand side on the scope body itself to aid in leveling.

The magnification ring is knurled, and magnification can be smoothly adjusted even without a throw lever. There are no ‘off’ settings between each illumination setting so it has to be set to the environment every time it’s turned on.

Reticle:
While a mil/mil reticle is coming, at the time of this writing only an MOA reticle was available. It is a, “Christmas Tree” style reticle with MOA markings offset to the right side of the windage tree. There are hold-under markings up to 36 MOA, with a fine ranging scale located between 24 and 36 MOA up top.
Swampfox Kentucky Long 5-30x reticle

Conclusions:
We found properly dialing in parallax to be the largest downside of this scope. While the magnification levels go up to 30x, this optic is best used right in the middle of the magnification range. Swampfox is certainly moving in the right direction, but unfortunately, we can’t recommend this one even at this price point. When the mil/mil version comes out in the beginning of 2020, we’ll absolutely give them another whirl and a chance for redemption.
Swampfox Kentucky Long 5-30x rifle scopes

Specifications
Make: Swampfox
Model: Kentucky Long
Zoom: 5-30x
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Minimum Parallax Range: 15 yards
Minimum Eye Relief: 3.35-inches
MSRP: $599
URL: swampfoxoptics.com

Throw Lever?: No
Illuminated: Yes
Turret Type: Locking
Adjustment Increment: 0.1mils
Adjustment Per Turret Rotation: 5mils
Total Adjustment Range (Windage/Elevation): 28mils/25mils

Vortex Viper PST 5-25x

Vortex Viper PST 5-25x rifle scopes
Background
Vortex started out many years ago largely with budget options. Over the years they have expanded their lines, and clearly designate the quality level of their optics via the name of each line. The Viper PST falls just below their Razor line, which was their previous highest line, since replaced with AMG (American Made Glass).

Notes
Color rendition is excellent, only showing some flaws in dark conditions. Chromatic aberration is very slight at maximum magnification. Best clarity was found on 15 power.
Resolution is a 5 on the right chart at maximum. Adjustment clicks are both strong and easily heard. The turrets do not lock but there is a revolution indicator. The clicks are strong and easily felt through thick gloves. A very nice feature is that a fiber optic is embedded into the elevation turret so you can tell at a glance if your scope is set to ‘zero’.

You should have no problems with a crisp target rendition beyond 1,000 yards. There are dots on the top and left-hand side on the scope body itself to aid in leveling.

The magnification ring is difficult to adjust without a throw lever, but thankfully there are many aftermarket levers available. There are ‘off’ settings between each illumination setting which make it easy to adjust to environmental illumination while making a quick switch to, ‘off’ when you’re away from the gun.

Reticle
The reticle itself is a “Christmas Tree” style for easy use in windy conditions. Instead of pushing the mil markings off to the side, they are just along the right side of the elevation tree. A full six mils are available for close range hold-unders, and a ranging reticle can be found on the top of the elevation tree. Windage marks on the “Christmas Tree” are in ¼ mils, though the main windage line only has half and whole mil marks.
Vortex Viper PST 5-25x reticle

Conclusions
If you’re not willing to plunk down the money on a Razor or AMG, the Viper PST is absolutely your best choice from Vortex.
Vortex Viper PST 5-25x rifle scopes

Specifications
Make: Vortex
Model: Viper PST
Zoom: 5-25x
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Minimum Parallax Range: 25 yards
Minimum Eye Relief: 3.4-inches
MSRP: $1,299
URL: vortexoptics.com

Throw Lever?: No
Illuminated: Yes
Turret Type: Tactical
Adjustment Increment: 0.1mil
Adjustment Per Turret Rotation: 10mils
Total Adjustment Range (Windage/Elevation): 16mils/26mils

 


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One response to “Rifle Scopes Reviewed: Best Under $1000”

  1. RONALD R FIELDER says:

    Have you ever looked at the Osprey Global line, have some of their scopes an they are very good. Very good prices, customer service and lifetime warranty.

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