There are countless scopes being offered under the $1,000 price point, and our little team of three at Backfire undertook to find the best options for you. We acquired 12 scopes to test hands-on over a period of three weeks. Together, we spent hundreds of hours scrutinizing each scope to bring you some clear results.
Each scope underwent a battery of tests:
- Immersed under 7′ of water for a full minute to test waterproofing
- Dropped repeatedly on different areas of the scope to test durability
- Tracking accuracy was scrutinized using laboratory-quality testing equipment
- Individually weighed (where we uncovered that many manufacturers stretched the truth)
- Optical sharpness testing
- Low-light testing
- Field of view testing
- And a handful of other tests
To clear they playing field, we focused on the most popular scope types in this price point. We mostly considered first-focal-plane optics since that is what 85% of our Backfire audience prefers. We also tried to keep each scope close to a 3-18 zoom range so we could compare apples-to-apples.
Our Overall Winners
There simply isn’t one single “best” scope in this price point as each shooter’s needs are different. However, if a friend were to ask me what scope to buy under $1,000, here’s what I’d recommend for each use-case.
Best Second-Focal-Plane Scope: ZeroTech Trace 3-18×50 (Amazon)
Let’s dive deep into each scope to understand why it was chosen in each category, then we’ll look at some of the testing procedures and what they uncovered about the scopes in this category.
Best Overall Scope Under $1,000: Element Optics Titan
The Element Optics Titan is an unbelievably good scope for the price. While most of the scopes in this test are priced around $999, the Titan comes much lower. Even being cheaper, it bests many of the more expensive scopes on total elevation adjustment, glass quality, tracking accuracy, and more.
However, the Element Optics Titan is not really designed as a hunting scope. It doesn’t have a locking top turret, so it could be easy to accidentally bump the top turret off of zero when hunting. Also, it’s one of the heavier scopes in the test, which is great for the range but not great for the backcountry.
I was sold on the Titan when I took it to a long range shooting school. We had a target placed at 1 mile away, and I was shooting with an anemic 6.5 Creedmoor. At a mile, the Creedmoor’s bullet falls quickly, so any inaccuracy in the tracking of the scope would cause a miss. Most of the shooters took 10-20 shots before they connected at a mile, but my rifle connected on the first shot. That simply can’t happen without a scope working perfectly.
Overall, the Titan is the best long-range shooting scope anywhere near this price point. I’d pick it over many scopes costing twice as much. It’s perfectly at home on the range, but may not be the best option for a traditional hunter who won’t be shooting past 300 yards.
Best Scope for Hunting: Burris Veracity PH 4-20×50
I think a lot more deer would die each year if a Veracity PH were on every hunter’s rifle. It’s that good.
The first time I saw this scope was while at Shot Show, and I was surprised to see how much technology they packed into what looks on the outside like a normal scope.
The Veracity PH has a digital LED display that you see inside the scope image. It also bluetooths to your phone app where you can type in the ballistic data for your gun so that instead of seeing in the LED display that you’re dialed to 2.5 MOA, it shows you that your dial is set to 276 yards, for example. This way, when you range a buck at a given distance, you don’t have to get an app on your phone to get your dope. Just dial the scope until it says the yardage you want to shoot at. It’s pretty incredible.
The Veracity PH has two problems: (1) It did get some water intrusion into the scope during the pool test, and (2) The app doesn’t have advanced controls for truing the velocity, and is a simple BC-based calculator.
First, the water intrusion. All of the scopes were submerged under 7′ of water for about 2 minutes. Two of the scopes failed, and one was the Veracity PH. If you’re hunting in extreme weather such as Alaska, I probably wouldn’t pick the Veracity PH since we know it’s possible for water to enter. However, under normal hunting conditions, I’m sure it’ll do fine.
Second, the app. I have shot the Veracity PH out to 1,000 yards and was getting reliable shooting solutions; however, the app that calculates your ballistic information is quite basic. It determines bullet drop by looking at the BC rather than a much more accurate radar-based solution like you’d find in Hornady’s 4DOF app. Also, it lacks controls such as a truing function, so if your particular gun is shooting high or low, you can’t adjust it except adjusting the BC or velocity, which creates other issues.
I would recommend the Veracity PH for most hunters, but would caution long-range hunters as well as those who hunt in extreme weather. Personally, I’m sure it’ll spend plenty of time in my backpack going on hunts. Its shortcomings don’t overcome the tremendous innovation it offers.
Best Lightweight Hunting Scope: Primary Arms GLx 4-16×50
The Primary Arms GLx is an excellent hunting scope if you’ll be backpacking in or hiking many miles and want something lighter than some of the other options in the test. The GLx weighs just 23.75 oz, compared to some other scopes in the test weighing up to 34 oz.
Keep in mind, however, that the way the Primary Arms loses weight in this case is simply having a lower maximum zoom range than most of the scopes in this test. A lightweight scope isn’t a benefit in all situations, though. For example, target shooters generally want their scope to be heavier so it soaks up more recoil and helps the rifle to sit more dead on a rest.
I like Primary Arms’s implementation of a button lock for the top turret. This keeps the turret from accidentally getting spun while hunting. Rather than a pop-up style that generally jars the gun a bit more to adjust, the simple button right where your thumb would hit it anyway, makes for an easy button to press quickly–similar to how Leupold does their locking turret.
|Primary Arms GLx 4-16x50FFP||23.75 oz|
|Hawke Frontier 4-20×50||24.25 oz|
|Huskemaw 2-16×50||24.75 oz|
|Vector Optics Continental 3-18×50||27.75 oz|
|Burris Veracity PH 4-20×50||28.375 oz|
|ZeroTech Trace 3-18×50||29.49 oz|
|Riton 7 Conquer 3-18×50||31.5 oz|
|Element Optics Titan 3-18×50||32.375 oz|
|Blackhound Evolve 3-18×50 FFP||34 oz|
Tracking Accuracy Test
For years, I have wanted to do proper testing of scopes. When I dial the top turret to 1.5 mils, I want it to move the reticle precisely 1.5 mils so I can make an accurate shot out to distance. This was extremely difficult to test because actually shooting the test introduced the rifle and ammunition’s accuracy issues as well.
For this review, we acquired laboratory-grade testing equipment–the same used by many manufacturers to test their scopes. It was illuminating to see that two of the scopes that I had thought were among the best in the test by looking at the build quality, were actually introducing significant tracking error in my long-range shots.
To put the error of the Hawke Frontier into perspective, this would equal an error of about 5.67″ at 650 yards when shooting with a typical 6.5 Creedmoor load and rifle.
|Hawke Frontier 4-20×50||FAIL (0.25 mils of error when dialed to 8 mils)|
|Vector Optics Continental 3-18×50||FAIL (0.2 mils of error when dialed to 8 mils)|
|Element Optics Titan 3-18×50||PASS – Testing equipment did not observe any error|
|Riton 7 Conquer 3-18×50||PASS – Testing equipment did not observe any error|
|ZeroTech Trace 3-18×50||PASS – Testing equipment did not observe any error|
|Primary Arms GLx 4-16x50FFP||PASS – Testing equipment did not observe any error|
|Blackhound Evolve 3-18×50 FFP||PASS – Testing equipment did not observe any error|
|Burris Veracity PH 4-20×50||PASS – Testing equipment did not observe any error|
|Huskemaw 2-16×44||PASS – Testing equipment did not observe any error|
All of the scopes in this test are advertised as being waterproof. I have personally seen hunts ruined when rainwater entered into the scope and made the rifle completely useless in the backcountry. For this reason, we put all of the scopes through the completely unfair test of submerging them in 7′ of water at the bottom of a pool for a full minute.
Undoubtedly, this test is too restrictive for the amount of water a scope should be expected to survive, but the goal was to make sure the scope we recommended at the end of the test was entirely bombproof.
Surprisingly, all but one of the scopes survived the waterproofing test. The Hawke scope got water in the elements and failed. We were especially impressed with the Burris Veracity PH, which has quite a lot of electronics inside, and still passed the waterproofing test with flying colors.
Where The Scopes Are Made
What most people don’t realize, is that 95% of scopes worldwide are made in one of three factories in China, Japan, or the Philippines. While they are all labeled with different logos and sold by different companies, many of the scopes on the market today are repackaged copies of the same designs. Many scope brands don’t even hire optical engineers. They simply make a unique-looking turret and slap it on a scope completely designed by another company.
There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with the way the scope manufacturing business works, but it does mean that most consumers are buying into marketing from many brands rather than actual innovation.
The following is a chart that shows where each of the scope brands mentioned in this review are manufactured.
|Model||Where Its Made|
|Primary Arms GLx 4-16x50FFP||Philippines|
|Burris Veracity PH 4-20×50||Philippines|
|Element Optics Titan 3-18×50||China|
|Blackhound Evolve 3-18×50 FFP||China|
|Riton 7 Conquer 3-18×50||Japan|
|ZeroTech Trace 3-18×50||China|
|Hawke Frontier 4-20×50||China|
|Vector Optics Continental 3-18×50||China|
|Vortex Viper PST Gen II 3-15×44||China|
|Athlon Ares ETR 3-18×50||China|
Personally, I think for 99% of shooters, the amount of elevation adjustment is grossly overvalued when purchasing a scope. In past years, scopes simply weren’t meant to dial out as far as they can today’s long-range shooters; however, all of the scope companies have drastically increased the turret travel.
All of the scopes in this test are capable of adjusting the elevation out to a mile for most cartridges, so it likely won’t be the deciding factor unless you have a need for shooting extreme ELR on one of these scopes.
|Element Optics Titan 3-18×50||150 MOA (43.6 MRAD)|
|Vector Optics Continental 3-18×50||151 MOA (44 MRAD)|
|Riton 7 Conquer 3-18×50||158 MOA (46 MRAD)|
|Athlon Ares ETR 3-18×50||110 MOA (32 MRAD)|
|Crimson Trace 4-20×50||100 MOA (29.06 MRAD)|
|ZeroTech Trace 3-18×50||89 MOA (26 MRAD)|
|Primary Arms GLx 4-16x50FFP||86 MOA (25 MRAD)|
|Meopta Optika6 3-18x50mm||90 MOA (26 MRAD)|
|Blackhound Evolve 3-18×50 FFP||80 MOA (23.3 MRAD)|
|Hawke Frontier 4-20×50||79 MOA (23 MRAD)|
|Vortex Viper PST Gen II 3-15×44||75 MOA (21.9 MRAD)|
|Burris Veracity PH 4-20×50||70 MOA (20 MRAD)|