Choosing an Optic

By Jake Rush, Outdoorsmans Manager

This post is a part of an on-going series by Jake Rush on precision rifle shooting. Don't forget to read part one, FNG PRS, and part two, Choosing From a Sea of Rifles.

With my gun chosen the next step was diving into the deep water of looking for a compatible rifle scope. This had to be easier than choosing the rifle. I study and sell optics for a living, this is my life. I can’t build a custom rifle scope, or piece one together from aftermarket parts over time. So going into this stage of the decision making my confidence was high, especially with my extensive optics background. I didn’t realize how hard choosing a scope for my own gun would truly be. After the first day of looking through all of the available scope offerings on the market, I was left standing next to the pool with my t-shirt still on like a chubby kid at his first pool party.

As stated in the beginning of this, my goal was not only to build a PRS style competition rifle, but to also build a rifle I could take into the field and chase deer with in the fall. So the first decision I had to make for a scope is actually one of the hottest debated features in a rifle scope today, First Focal Plane (FFP) or Second Focal Plane (SFP). This is such a highly debated topic, because a lot of people don’t truly understand the difference between the two. So here is a quick break down of the difference:

First Focal Plane: The Reticle of the scope is mounted in the front of the erector tube or forward of the magnification lens. This means that as you dial up the magnification of the scope, the reticle or crosshairs inside the scope will become larger. The plus side to FFP scopes is that your stadia lines inside the reticle retain their readings throughout the power range. Allowing you to use holdover or drop charts for your reticle at any power.

Second Focal Plane: Opposite of the FFP, the reticle on a SFP scope is mounted behind the magnification lens. This means as you dial up the power of the scope, the reticle stays the same size as the target becomes larger. The downside to this style scope is that as your power changes so does the values of your stadia lines in the reticle. The SFP style scope has been more popular with hunters for many years.

The easy fix for this quandary would be to have a scope for each purpose, but at the going rate of a premier scope this wasn’t an option on my budget. So, I was left with the hard choice of deciding on a single do all scope. Just like the choosing the rifle I sat down and made a list of potential scopes.

Here is that list again in no particular order:

  1. Leupold VX-6hd 3-18x50
  2. Swarovski X5 3-18x50
  3. Leupold MK5 3.6-18x50
  4. Kahles K525i 5-25x56
  5. Nightforce ATACR 4-16x50

After compiling my dream list of scopes I noticed one glaringly obvious thing. Every scope but one on this list, was FFP. This was not my goal by any means, but the features I was looking for in a scope seemed to be more prevalent in FFP styles of scopes. These features included multiple revolutions of the turret, superb optical clarity, reticle choices, repeatability and tracking when dialing for distance, and the option for customizable turrets.

Another thing you may noticed about my scope choices is that they are mostly in the 3-18 power range. I know a higher power scope may give me a better chance in competition, I prefer the field of view and quicker target acquisition a lower power scope offers me in most situations. Dialing down the power after a miss to reacquire a target wastes precious time when seconds matter. The Kahles K525i is in there because it has a larger FOV than most and is just an extremely sexy scope.

Just like with the rifle I started going scope to scope and eliminating them from my list. First to go was the Nightforce ATACR mostly for the weight. Advertised at 33.3 oz the Nightforce felt heavier than the other scopes on my list. It actually weighs the same as the Kahles but in my head the higher power of the Kahles means it should weigh more. Whether that mindset is right or wrong, is up for debate. I was also put off by the mushy clicks in the turret. The ATACR is a fantastic scope and Nightforce really did an awesome job designing this scope it just didn’t meet the criteria I was looking for when choosing my scope.

The next two scopes to go were the Leupolds. Both of these scopes are phenomenal and would be right at home on top of anyone’s rifle in the field or in competition, just not my rifle. The VX-6hd is one of the lightest scopes on the market that still offers all of the bells and whistles of the higher end competition scopes. I eliminated these two scopes purely on aesthetics. When I sat down to look at scopes I knew that choosing the right scope was going to be difficult and in this range of scopes sometimes you just have to flip a coin because they are all top notch scopes.

This just left me with the Kahles K525i a true competition rifle scope and the Swarovski X5 3-18 a true long range hunting scope. After days of soul searching and multiple coin flips, I came to a decision I was trying to avoid when putting this set up together. Mostly because of the cost of these optics, but, plain and simple I needed two scopes. The Kahles would work as a hunting scope but was more comfortable on the field of competition than in the field chasing game. On the flip side the X5 would perform well in competition but would be more at home in the field. The only logical answer was two scopes for one rifle, and I am an extremely logical person.

I know not everyone has the budget to purchase two different scopes for one rifle, and honestly neither do I. I wanted to do this setup justice and when I looked at the money I saved by not going the custom rifle route, I figured I might as well put that money into the optics of this build. Going this route also gave the ability to have both a FFP and a SFP scope for different applications. These scopes also offer different click values with the Kahles being MRAD and the X5 at MOA (I will go further in depth on those differences later on in this series.) There always isn’t the perfect tool for every job, and sometimes you just have to throw off your pool floaties and dive right into the deep end of the pool.

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