Reader Luke writes:

I’ve been reading TTAG for awhile now and enjoy your posts on long range shooting for beginners, among others, and was looking for some advice. I inherited a Winchester model 70 xtr sporter chambered in .264 Winchester magnum. It’s a great rifle in good shape, but I would like to upgrade the scope from the old Bushnell 3-9×40 that’s on it. I’d like to start pushing the rifle beyond 100 yards and gain confidence to make a 300 yard shot, as everything I’ve read about the caliber says that it’s adequate for deer sized game out to 500 yards. Do you have any advice on what sort of scope I should look at and what kind of fundamentals I should practice in order to get to that point? Anything at all would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

The good news, Luke, is that I have some pretty good suggestions up my sleeves. The bad news is that you’re about to open a wallet sucking Pandora’s box…

There are three things I look for in a scope for my rifles. They are, in descending order of importance:

  • The ability to hold zero. No matter how long I shoot, the scope won’t wiggle and the internal mechanics will not shift. Every round will be aimed the same as the last.
  • Proper calibration. That the clicks equal whatever they claim to be, that the stadia on the reticle are known and exact.
  • Optical clarity. That I can see my target, and preferably what’s beyond.

Doesn’t matter to me where the scope was made or who the manufacturer is, because if a scope has those qualities I’m a happy camper. Those are the qualities needed to make precise shots at distance. And thankfully, there’s a manufacturer that makes scopes that fit those criteria for cheap: Primary Arms.

No, I’m not pimping them because they buy ads on our site. I’m pimping them because they make great stuff. For $200ish, I bought a first focal plane mil-dot scope that has proven to be accurate, reliable, and well built enough to still function flawlessly after thousands of rounds of full power .308 Winchester. And by “function flawlessly” I mean enable me to hit the 1,000 yard steel gong at the end of the range.

That scope is my go-to recommendation for first time long distance shooters. It has all the bells and whistles you need, and at a price you can afford. The only reason it isn’t more expensive (besides the whole “Made in China” thing) is the optical clarity.

The best part about a scope like this one from Primary Arms is that it lets you dip your toe in the waters of long range shooting before you make a major investment. Good glass, like a Nightforce or Swarovski scope, is mindblowingly expensive. So when you finally decide to invest in a scope of theirs, you want to know that you have the right features and the right reticle, not to mention that you actually enjoy this long range stuff.

Primary Arms’ 4-14X44 Mil Dot FFP Scope gives you the “plain vanilla” of long range scopes and reticles, and gives you an idea of what you like and what you don’t like in a scope. And using that, you can base your next purchase on your own opinions instead of some guy on the internet. And you’re not out thousands of dollars on something you thought you’d love, but really don’t.

Everyone’s preferences are different. I can’t stand second focal plane scopes, but some people won’t use anything else. Some people like MILs, some like MoA. Its all a matter of personal preference. And until you have a frame of reference, you don’t know what yours are. That’s the biggest advantage of the Pirmary Arms scope, that it gives you that frame of reference without spending the cash. Plus, if it works for you as-is, your wallet will thank you.

[Email your firearms-related questions to “Ask Foghorn” via guntruth@me.com. Click here to browse previous posts]

16 Responses to Ask Foghorn: What’s a Good Beginner Scope for Long Range Shooting?

  1. I would go with a Burris Fullfield II 4.5×14. They won’t shake apart, the customer service is great, the warranty is great, and you will have a scope that will last. For 300 dollars they are a bargain and you can find used ones for less. I have had burris sitting on my competition guns as well as my hunting guns and have had not one complaint.

    • I’ve had good luck with my three Burris Fullfield II 3x9s as well. Pretty inexpensive. I’ve use them mostly on my .22s, but I put one on a Savage 200 (.25-06) for a friend and she took her first deer with the set-up. These scopes have a really nice “Ballistic Plex” reticle, which is a really great feature once you get the hang of it.

      • My Burris is an XTR 3-12 Illuminated ballistic mil dot. I like Burris, and the optical clarity of the full field is decent. I do care where a scope is made, and buy US made and manufactured products whenever possible.

  2. Burris are great scopes. Have a full field on both of my rifles. They have withstood a heck of a lot of 7.62x54r and beating around in the bush.
    If he decides to stay with long distance shooting for a good while then from personal experience I would recommend a Shepherd Scope. Really good optics out to 700 and 800 yard range depending on rifle setup and caliber.

  3. Upgrade to a modern Bushnell Elite series. They are made to compete with comparable Leupold scopes. They just cost a lot less. I bought a 3200 series 3-9×40 online NIB for $130 on ebay. Works great on my Marlin 336, holds the zero and with Hornady 30/30 LEVERevolution ammo, it’s a 300 yard gun. I imagine it would easily do you just as well on your Win Mag out to 500 yards.

  4. another great example of excellent KISS (keep it simple and smart) advice from ttag. gonna check out pa for my su16ca backpack pig gun to replace the cheapo red dot that just wont hold a zero. suggestions?

  5. Nice article Nick..
    I agree you can spends loads of cash on a scope and it might not suite your needs. getting a less expensive model first will let you get the feel for it, and get out and practice! By the time you have experience you can make an educated purchase into the stratosphere of scopes.. 🙂

  6. I think this advice is wrong. The reader has asked about scope recommendations, but what is his use? Judging by the question, he has basically no rifle experience, he is looking to make shots at 300, and mentions deer hunting. The perfect scope for 50-300 yard deer hunting is the old Bushnell 3x-9x that is on the rifle already. Much better advice would be to address his question about how to train on fundamentals BEFORE buying new gear. The .264 mag is a tricky caliber, it hits hard, burns barrels and yes it is appropriate for true long distance shooting(600-1000+yards), but a win sporter is not (unbedded wood stock, thin barrel). Also, for long distance shooting there is basically no appropriate factory loaded ammo, will he load his own? The advice needs to be realistic. Reader Luke, you have a fine deer rifle AS IS. Take some long shots for fun and practice, but if you seriously want to try long distance shooting, you should really start over with an easier caliber and a more suited rifle.
    The Primary Arms scope is a Tactical style cheap Chinese scope without a track record yet. Instead of making Reader Luke a part of a durability experiment, look at what cheapo long distance shooters successfully use. High magnification fixed power scopes. Very few moving parts very reliable, very affordable. The original test on the PA scope had a number of problems. Adjusting 2 mils at a time is not a test. Dial in 20 mils. Crank the turrets up and down 10 times then check. Check to see if the orientation of the reticle matches the adjustments. “Tactical” scopes really need to be checked thoroughly. PA is a site sponsor and a more comprehensive test would go very far to eliminate any questions of bias.

    • +2, Ando has it correct. It sounds like the reader would be better off with better quality glass in 3-9x for his intended use. After that it’s just load development and practice at that range. If the reader or anyone else wants to shoot longer ranges (500-1000 yds), they would be much better off rebarreling an existing gun with a heavy profile barrel and the proper twist rate for the intended bullet to be used. Then bed the action in a Manner’s or McMillan stock. I realize this is a little cost prohibitive but it will help ensure success from the beginning instead of frustration (and feeling like you wasted money). The manufacturers are also responding to the growing popularity of long distance shooting and some decent rifles at a relatively competitive price are starting to show up on the market, they aren’t perfect but it should get better and cheaper. As others have suggested the Bushnell Elite is a good starting point. I love the reticle on the SWFA SS MRAD scopes, but I do know of a couple instances in which a friend had to return his after some heavy use, but for the money they are hard to beat. I have no experience with the Primary Arms scopes. The Weaver Tactical EMDR Scopes look like a great deal on paper but I have no experience with them either.

  7. Depends on the firearm. For a AR Ive love the ACOG for it yes its 4x but it works great. For a real rifle a good Leopold or even Bushnell would work fine.

  8. Nikon shouldn’t overlooked. Great glass at reasonable prices.

    Congrats on your Winchester. My uncle has a Winchester .264 Westerner that I pray every night he decides to sell to me.

    For a shooter aspiring to reach way out there the .264 WinMag is tops. 6.5’s are a nice sweet spot for long range shooting. Two of the most recent long range calibers, 6.5 Creedmore and 6.5 Grendel, are 6.5’s for a reason and the .264 gives those 6.5 pills plenty of oomph to reach out. As far as burning out barrels the .264 got a bad rep much like the .220 Swift due to less than ideal powders and, being overbore, too many guys didn’t understand cartridges like that need more time to cool. With the better overbore powders we have now and generous spacing between shots a .264 with give good barrel life.

    Factory ammo can be had with 100gr. to 160gr bullets. Proper bedding and a good trigger job will go a long ways to making that .264 a real honey to shoot.

    Getting a rifle bedded is no big deal and the thin barrel is hardly a detriment if a fella spaces his shots which also goes a long ways towards barrel life too.

  9. +1 on Nikon. They offer proven optics at reasonable prices and great options. Seen them on all types of heavy firearms without issues. Welcome to the fun world of long range!!

  10. [sigh] Why is it people will denigrate & dismiss “cheap” rifles without a second’s thought & then go all out to advise using “cheap” optics?
    I’m no millionaire but I just plain refuse to use cheap glass on ANY firearm, as I want the scope to work in ANY conditions & not let me down at a crucial moment.
    Look; there are currently offers on Zeiss Conquest 3-9×40 scopes for $380 or thereabouts & to me that’s a bloody bargain on an excellent quality mid price scope that knocks spots off anything else in that price range.
    I can’t see the advantage of a FFP scope in this situation either, when a second focal plane reticule gives such fast range estimation.

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