Fifty years ago, as a young lad, I sat on a rail fence and peered through a 3/4-inch steel Weaver scope. The view wasn’t much clearer than you’d get noodling for catfish in a farm pond. But at 20 paces, the rats loomed large against that fuzzy, off-center crosswire. They tumbled to .22 Shorts (then 50 cents a box) from my borrowed Remington 121.
Times change. Honestly, few rimfire rifles now can match the quality of that Remington pump. A blizzard of new .22 loads hasn’t replaced traditional .22 Short ammo — and you’ll find none of these at a penny apiece. Scopes, on the other hand, have improved so much as to define an entirely new type of rifle sight.
Lightweight alloy tubes long ago replaced steel. Beyond that, riflescopes — including spotting scopes and binoculars — are waterproof and protected from internal fogging by nitrogen or argon gas. Lens coatings enhance light transmission. Reticles endure the stiffest recoil and stay centered in the field as we dial to zero. Windage and elevation knobs move point of impact a repeatable .25 minute of angle for every crisp, palpable click. Adjustable objectives to refine target focus have migrated from the bells of target scopes to the turrets of hunting models. Hydrophobic coatings slip rain from outside lenses.
You might think these would be improvements enough. But new features proliferate. Some add durability or optical clarity. Others help optics do new things: scopes and binoculars with laser rangefinders, for example, and spotting scopes with reticles. The trend to bigger, more powerful riflescopes, with wider magnification ranges, continues. More scopes now offer illuminated reticles and “trajectory-matched” elevation dials that enable you to hold center at any known range. The “fast-focus” eyepiece, now all but standard, is one of few items that doesn’t kick production costs into another bracket.
So as you start to stock up on optics for the 2015 season, here are some products we found at this year’s Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade show you might want to give a closer look.
Aimpoint — The 9000SC-NV, a parallax-free, 1X optic with 2-minute red dot, is night-vision-compatible. The latest version of the popular 9000SC introduced in 2005, it should appeal to hunters chasing pigs and other game legal to shoot after dark. One DL1/3N or 2L76 battery will last five years if you don’t shut this sight off. It’s the first Aimpoint designed for nighttime use.
Aimpoint pioneered red-dot sights 40 years ago, when Swedish inventor Gunnar Sandberg invented a sight you couldn’t look through. It had a dot reticle you engaged with one eye, while your other saw the target. Known for high resolution and impeccable quality, Aimpoint sights also endure the stiffest recoil. The lens design eliminates parallax, so you hit where you see the dot, even when your eye is off-axis. A 1X Aimpoint affords unlimited eye relief and about the same field of view as a 4X rifle scope. With 12 brightness levels, the dot brings minute-of-angle precision beyond 100 yards.
For 2015 Aimpoint has the ACO, an entry-level sight at $393 specific to AR-style rifles. The Micro T-2 at $849 features a new, sturdier housing adapted to flip-up lens covers. Low-profile Aimpoints weigh as little as 3 ounces. I used one recently to shoot a moose, shotgun-quick, both eyes open.
Alpen — Known for its prize-winning spotting scopes and binoculars, the Alpen line includes value-priced riflescopes, too. The XP AR 1-6×24, with an illuminated red dot in a BDC reticle, is among newsmakers, with 30mm tube, fast-focus eyepiece, adjustable objective and low-profile windage and elevation dials. It follows the Apex XP 6-24×50 WBDC-TACT. Middle-magnification variables in this Alpen series include 1.5-6×42, 3-9×40, 2-10×44 and 4-16×44 models. The 1.5-6×42 and 6-24×50 are 30mm sights; others have 1-inch tubes. MOA tics on range-finding reticles help you shade for wind.
The bargain-priced Kodiak line of riflescopes, and the Rainier 8×42 and 10×42 ED binoculars, bring the features of more expensive glass to hunters on a budget. Teton HD ED binoculars as powerful as a 15×50 pull distant game in close. You’ll find them more comfortable to use than a spotting scope.
Burris — Last year Burris introduced a new line of riflescopes with five-times magnification and 30mm tubes. Front focal plane reticles help you estimate range at any power. All variants — 2-10×42, 3-15×50, 4-20×50 and 5-25×50 — feature the Ballistic E1 FFP reticle, which delivers bullet-drop compensation to 600 yards, with cascading wind dots for drift allowance.
The Varmint E1 reticle extends marks to 700 yards, with MOA tics. Crosswires on the 2-10X and 3-15X keep small targets visible at high power, the reticle visible at low power — a challenge for front-plane designs. Burris has equipped new C4 Plus riflescopes with a custom elevation dial that matches the arc of your chosen load. Just index the yardage number on the dial to the distance, hold center and fire.
These sights have a “WindMap” that shows bullet drift.
The firm’s most sophisticated sight, the programmable Eliminator, is now 2 inches shorter than its predecessor. The Eliminator III 3-12×40 ranges the target with a laser. A lighted dot on the reticle stem then becomes your aiming point for a dead-on hold. Bullet drop is factored in automatically.
Bushnell — Forty-six years ago I bought my first Bushnell, a 2.5X Banner. After many additions to that line and a 2014 overhaul, the Banner label applies to 19 scopes that list for as little as $109. Adjustable objectives on high-power models eliminate parallax and refine target focus.
A new 4-12×40 rimfire sight has a reticle configured to match the arc of the .17 WSM, with holdover marks to 350 yards. For serious centerfire shooting at distance, there’s the 3-12×44 “LRHS,” or Long Range Hunting Scope. The first item in Bushnell’s Elite Tactical Hunter line (and its first hunting sight with front-plane reticle), the LRHS has been joined this year by a 4.5-18×44. Reticle/target relationship remains the same throughout the power range, so you can determine range at any magnification.
A low-profile elevation dial with zero stop boasts .1-mil clicks, 10 per spin, atop a turret that also has a focus and parallax knob. A RainGuard coating on exterior glass sheds water. Bushnell’s 1×32 Elite Tactical CQTS (Close Quarters Tactical Sight) sports a 3-minute red dot with eight brightness settings. Now a part of ATK, Bushnell boasts more lines of optics than some companies have products.
Celestron — Best known in astronomy circles for its telescopes, Celestron has entered the hunting field with an affordable line of Porro-prism binoculars. While roof-prism glass dominates the market, Porros (named after the Italian inventor who designed the first such prism system) can be lighter than RP binos, if not as compact. Separation of the front lenses delivers a slight edge in depth perception. Given same-quality lenses, they’re as bright and sharp as any RP glass. The Celestron LandScout line includes a 7×35, an 8×40 and 10X and 12X models with 50mm objectives. Prices: $90 to $120.
Crimson Trace — This Oregon company pioneered the handgun-mounted laser sight. Myriad versions for autoloaders and revolvers include some offered in “packages” with guns from the likes of Kimber and Smith & Wesson.
Green is replacing red as the color of choice among CT users, though green diodes cost a bit more. There’s now the CMR-206 Rail Master with green laser, for rail mounts. The LG-360G fits popular Smith & Wesson M&P autos; the LG-443G Laserguard is specific to the Glock 42. Both are green; both $229 at retail. CT lists red and green laser sights for Ruger’s LCR as well at $299 to $399.
EOTech — With an extensive line of holographic sights — including the only one of this type for crossbows — EOTech has introduced two more this year. The 518 and 558, at $539 and $629 respectively, both mate with the G33 magnifier. The night-vision button on the 558 adds 10 nighttime settings to its (and the 518’s) 20 “day” illumination levels. These compact sights were designed for hard military use. Expect 1,000 hours from a pair of AA batteries.
Hawke — Designed in Great Britain, the Endurance series of variable rifle scopes has returned to the Hawke line. Customers can choose a 4-16×50 or a 6-24×50 version. Each features a 30mm tube, illuminated reticle and turret-side parallax dial. Reticle options include a trajectory-matched .223/.308, as well as an LR Dot and Mil Dot. These scopes weigh about 31 ounces and retail for $320 to $400. There’s also a new line of 1-inch Endurance scopes, from $220. These 2-7X, 3-9X and 4-12X variables feature illuminated reticles too.
Hawke’s line of spotting scopes has two top-end 20-60X models with ED glass and digi-scoping capability. “Flat-field” glass brings the price of the 82mm to $1,600 and the 85mm scope lists for $1,000.
Leica — Putting a new Leica Ultravid HD-Plus binocular to your brow is like getting fresh eyes. Choose a 7×42, 8×42 or 10×42 ($2,400 to $2,500). This venerable German firm justly deserves its exalted place in the field of optics. Its latest and most compact range-finding binocular, the Geovid HD-B, has a Perger Porro prism design, with a gentle sweep in the barrel profile.
The first Geovid was heavy and bulky and only slightly less expensive than a safari. A lighter, smaller version is still available as an 8×42, 10×42, 8×56 or 15×56. The HD-B adds ballistic programming to the Geovid, with 12 ballistic arcs on Leica’s 2-MB microSD card. You can insert data for your favorite load.
Advanced Ballistic Compensation shows bullet drop, in English or metric units, and proper dial adjustment. The HD-B LED shows barometric pressure, temperature, plus the horizontal distance on steep shot angles. Available as an 8×42 or 10×42, the 33.5-ounce HD-B powers this computing with a 3-volt lithium CR2 battery, good for 2,000 reads.
Lenses are phase-corrected, and outside glass has AquaDura coating to slip water. Dual diopter rings have a range of 4 dpt. And an open-bridge design makes the optic easy to hold.
This year Leica follows the successful launch of its 30mm riflescope series with a line of 1-inch riflescopes assembled Stateside for the U.S. market. These brilliant sights boast rear-plane reticles, five-times magnification and optical components worthy of the Leica name, at competitive prices.
Leupold — Last year Leupold fielded the 24-ounce VX-6, a 4-24×52 scope. Now there’s also a 7-42×56. Beyond 34mm tubes and six-times power range, these scopes have the firm’s Quantum Optical System, Xtended Twilight and DiamondCoat lens coatings and edge-blackened, lead-free glass. Pop-up, resettable windage and elevation dials and a twin-spring erector assembly ensure positive adjustments. There’s even a turret-side parallax dial.
VX-6 rifle-scopes — including 30mm 1-6×24, 2-12×42, 3-18×44 and 3-18×50 versions — are CDS-capable and come with one Custom Ballistic Dial. Prices range from $900 to $2,000, and the FireDot illumination has 12 intensity settings. A proprietary Motion Sensor shuts off the dot after five minutes of inactivity, then re-activates it when the scope moves.
You also get this automatic sensing in Leupold’s DeltaPoint 2, a 1-ounce sight with an aspheric lens. Brightness of its 7.5- or 3.5-minute dot adjusts automatically to light conditions. The magnesium housing comes with mounting plates for handguns and Weaver bases.
But the biggest news from Leupold? It’s the D-EVO, an optical unit designed for mounting behind a red-dot sight. The 6x D-EVO’s standard reticle can be used with the dot, because you can see both at once! For quick aim, you fire as soon as the dot finds the target. For more precision, paste the dot where you want to hit, then shift your focus a bit so the crosswire appears on the magnified image. I’ve found this shift comes naturally. The D-EVO lists for $1,250.
Also on Leupold’s new-products list: the RX-1200i TBR rangefinder with DNA (digitally enhanced accuracy) that yields 1/10-yard precision. Price: $420.
Meopta — Ideal for urgent shots up close, the MeoStar R2 1-6×24 RD introduced last year has six-times magnification range — plenty of power for long shots afield. A rear-plane K-Dot2 illuminated or German number four reticle remains the same size relative to the target across the power range. Exposed lenses shed water thanks to MeoDrop hydrophobic coating. And MeoShield protects them from scratches.
A fully multi-coated optic, the 18-ounce, 30mm R2 1-6×24 scope (with the 2.5-15×56) now has siblings: a 1.7-10×42 RD and the 2-12×50 RD — in addition to five MeoStar R1 models. New 1-inch MeoPro scopes, 4.5-14×44 and 4.5-14×50, have your choice of hunting or (T) target turret and are priced between $805 and $920.
There’s also a new 3-9×40 R/M for rimfire rifles and muzzleloaders priced from $517.
Meopta’s binocular line has grown with the addition of MeoPro HD 8×32, 10×32, 8×42 and 10×42 binoculars. The MeoStar B1 HD series has 10×50, 12×50 and 15×56 additions. The midprice MeoPro 80 HD 20-60x spotting scope (angled eyepiece) focuses easily with your gloves on. It delivers crisp images at an MSRP of $1,725.
Nightforce — The first time I saw this line, it was tentatively called Lightforce. But by the time Raymond Leigh Dennis decided to bring his riflescopes from his native Australia to the U.S., that name was taken. So he punted to Nightforce.
The label has little to do with the sights, albeit Dennis’ objective in designing them was to better shoot Australian ’roos under illumination at night. Since their arrival in 1992, these scopes have impressed die-hard shooters. Sharp, brilliant images and bomb-proof construction, with crisp adjustments you can bet your good China will repeat every time, don’t come cheap.
But now you needn’t raid your progeny’s college fund to poke holes in things far away. While the ACTAR series has spawned a 4-16×42 at $2,400 and a 5-25×56 at $2,800 (both with first-plane reticles), you can retreat with honor to the Shooter Hunter Varminter line. The newest SHV scope is a 3-10×42 with two reticle options and a turret-side parallax dial at $900.
Nikon — Just 3.6 x 2.9 x 1.5 inches, the 6-ounce Aculon laser rangefinder fits easily in your pocket. One-button operation makes this 6×20 unit easy to operate when you’ve got a rifle in hand. Hold the button down to get a continuous read for 20 seconds. The device ignores light cover up close to range a distant target.
The new Arrow ID 5000 laser rangefinder at $280 serves bowhunters and rifleman, with precise reads from 5 to 600 yards. Prostaff 7 binoculars — 8×30, 10×30, 8×42 and 10×42 — retail from $190 to $220.
A Prostaff riflescope line with 30mm tubes includes five models, 2.5-10×42 to 4-16×50 at between $300 and $500. For hunters who panic when separated from their cell phones, Nikon now has a compact anemometer to insert in said phone, which then registers wind speed. Now you can factor that variable into the numbers Nikon’s computer program is crunching to determine your proper hold while yon buck lounges unaware.
SIG Sauer — Though its label has graced sophisticated battle optics, SIG is now promoting a line of big-game hunting scopes. They’re new enough that no photos are yet available, but a quick preview at SHOT showed the predictable power ranges. Expect high quality.
Currently, SIG’s CP4 4X prismatic scope and STS-081 Mini Red Dot sight complement rail- and guard-mounted aiming lasers and the Tango Tactical riflescope for snipers. The Exeter, New Hampshire, firm is also breaking new ground with its own line of ammunition.
Steiner — With deep German roots and military credentials, Steiner has set up shop in Colorado. Most of its products still hail from Germany, but recent and substantial upgrading of the Burris factory in Greeley equips it to repair Steiner binoculars and riflescopes.
Two new series of midpriced binoculars arrived last year. The Safari Ultrasharp and the Tactical are of roof-prism, center-focus design, as is the popular Predator Xtreme line and the more costly Night Hunter. Steiner lists three Predator Xtreme scopes: 2.5-10×42, 3-12×56 and 4-16×50. All feature 30mm tubes, resettable dials and lens coatings that enhance contrast.
The new T5Xi5-25×56 has a 34mm tube, with glass-etched, front-plane and a “Special Competition” reticle. Choose from four daytime and seven nighttime illumination levels. Mil numbers change after 120 clicks elevation change to prevent a full-rotation error. This 33-ounce scope uses a CR 2450 battery and retails for $2,300.
Swarovski — Top-of-the-brand Z6i rifle scopes include a most useful Swarovski: the 1.7-10×42. But the slimmer, more affordable Z5 scopes have gained on that flagship.
For long pokes, the 3.5-18×44 Z5 adds reach without slowing your aim in thickets. My favorite Swarovski hunting sight is still the svelte Z3 3-9×36.
In binoculars, the open-frame EL still rules — with the 32-ounce EL Range laser-ranging 8×42 and 10×42. The CL 8×30 and 10×30 are a step down in price. Long ago, guiding elk hunters, I carried an SLC10x50. That series is back in 8×42, 10×42 and 12×56 versions. For 2015, Swarovski has announced the STR 80 spotting scope with HD glass and illuminated MOA (minutes) or MRAD (Mils) reticles. I’ve used it to spot long-range targets for shooters who can adjust accurately because the calls are measured. Each removable reticle offers 10 daylight and five nighttime levels of illumination.
Trijicon — Pioneering the use of fiber optics and tritium to illuminate reticles, Trijicon introduced the ACOG — Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight. Eleven models include the compact 4×32 ACOG, which has a Bullet Drop Compensator that helps you hit to 800 meters.
The AccuPoint hunting series with a traditional tube also has dual illumination: tritium in the reticle, plus a fiber-optic window. I used an AccuPoint to kill an elk in cover and shoot tight groups at distance. The current stable: 1-4×24, 3-9×40, 2.5-10×50, 5-20×50 — all but the 3-9×40 — have 30mm tubes. I put a 1-4X through endurance trials, freezing, baking, submerging and jarring the sight as you never will afield. No failures. Cerakote finish in Sniper Gray, Dark Earth and OD Green comes on selected 4×32 ACOG and Reflex sights, and RMR reflex red-dot sights.
Vortex — With six-times magnification range in 34mm tubes, the Razor HD Gen II scopes, new last year, top the Vortex line. The 3-18×50 and 4.5-27×56 have a turret-side parallax dial, apochromatic objective, HD glass and an illuminated front-plane reticle that can be matched to the elevation dial in minutes or Mils.
Low target-style dials incorporate a zero-lock. The Vortex Viper HS-T 6-24×50 has features of the best Vortex sights. So does the 4-16×44 Viper I used on a Nesika rifle last year to bang steel targets to 1,000 yards. Three Diamondback HPs — 2-8×32, 3-12×42 and 4-16×42 — share most of those assets.
The firm’s affordable Crossfire stable includes a 1X sight for muzzleloaders and a 3-12×56 Hog Hunter scope, with 30mm tube and a lighted V-Brite reticle. Crossfire binoculars retail from $219 to $299.
Weaver — At $2,100, the new 6-30×56 Tactical scope is many times more expensive than Bill Weaver’s 330 that made optical sights practical for the masses 85 years ago. But this 34mm variable, and its new 1-7×24 sibling, are also much more sophisticated.
The 1-7X even has dual-focal-plane reticles and a lighted dot. New Grand Slam scopes feature color-coded turret dials to match the arcs of different loads. The 4-16×44 and 5-20×50 ($1,215 and $1,425) reflect shooter demand for high magnification.
Value-priced Weavers include the Kaspa line, with a 3-9×40 Rimfire scope at $265. Its interchangeable elevation dials match the trajectories of popular .22 and .17 rounds.
New T-Series fixed-power target scopes wear parallax dials on the turret. You can still choose among fine crosshair or fine-CH-and-dot reticles. The Classic V-Series includes the 1-3×20, and at 9 ounces, it’s one of the lightest variables and an excellent match for hard-kicking rifles.
Zeiss — Unlikely but true: this German institution made big news with the introduction of a crossbow scope. It’s hitting the U.S. market as interest in crossbow hunting, and the addition of crossbows as legal tackle in archery seasons, hikes crossbow sales.
The 2-7×32 XB75 Terra Crossbow Scope — priced at $400 — has a “ballistic reticle” cleverly designed for quick, accurate aim from 20 to 70 yards, whatever the arrow speed.
Terra riflescopes, with 3X magnification, sell briskly, while the Conquest clan now includes the HD5 3-15×50 with Z-Plex or Ballistic reticle. There’s also a 5-25×50 Z-Plex, with a hunting-style turret.
In binoculars, 8×42 and 10×42 Terra EDs now have 8×32 and 10×32 counterparts. One of the best binoculars I’ve ever used afield was announced in late 2014, as the Zeiss Victory SF, an 8×42 or 10×42 open-bridge, triple-link glass. Equal in quality to the Victory HT, it’s of different internal design and a quicker focus. The SF is also better balanced with a more centered weight in your hand. Introduced as a birding binocular, it will no doubt become popular with hunters. At $2,500, it’s an investment — but a good one.