So you just grabbed your new gun, maybe it’s a 11.5 inch AR-15 pistol, a muzzleloader, a shotgun, or for many hunters, a brand new 45 Raptor AR-10 a straight walled cartridge for hunting deer. What do these firearms have in common? They can’t reach out far enough to justify a long range scope. However, short range scopes are perfect for ranges under 500 yards. Short range optics are 1-10x scopes made to excel at ranges up to 400 yards and maybe reach out a bit further occasionally.
Other short range optics can also be red dots or holo sights with magnifiers, prism sights, but Low Power Variable Optics or LPVOs are the best short range optics because they are more versatile than the standard ACOG or red dot with magnifier. LPVO has the ability to act like a red dot at 1x and ACOG at 3-6x and a scope at 4-10x, all with similar weight and price. If you are looking for a short range optic any scope on our list will be a great addition to your collection,
Low Power Variable Optics or LPVOs are scopes usually in the ranges of 1-4x up to 1-10x, they are perfect for shooting under 200 yards. Since most public ranges are 100 yards or less they are some of the most practical scopes for shooters. The ability to drop the magnification to 1x to find a target and make quick snapshots is not to be overlooked; since most have an illuminated center dot you can shoot with both eyes open and treat it like a red dot at close range, your non scoped eye viewing the target and your scoped eye placing the reticule onto the target. It’s an odd skill that does take some getting used to but then you can hit close range targets and flip the magnification lever and drop targets at range.
LPVO’s are popular for hunting, 3 gun competition and tactical AR-15s. Many people don’t believe the idea of limiting your magnification during scoped shooting. You can always tell the newbies at ranges using cheap high magnification scopes to shoot targets shorter than 100 yards. Let’s all take a moment and laugh at them but remember we were all there at one time or another. Lower magnification allows you to find the target fast and make quick shots while losing little to no accuracy as long as the aim point is the same. This is why the LPVOs are so popular with 3-gun, hunting, and AR-15s, typically you will not be attempting to maximize accuracy but speed. I’ll get into field of view and the stability that lower magnification offers later. But if you are looking for a scope or a red dot and can’t make up your mind, you should consider a LPVO.
What Makes a Great Scope
Eyebox is the area behind the scope that you can move your head in without getting scope shadow in the scope. The general rule is the cheaper the scope the worse the eyebox. This doesn’t matter as much at lower magnification but losing your cheek weld at higher magnifications it doesn’t serve the purpose of buying a LPVO. The eyebox is one of the features that make more expensive optics worth the price. It takes precision alignment of the glass in an optic to give you a wide relief eyebox, and it makes higher end optics like Nightforce or Kalhes much stronger than the Primary Arms ACSS when you are changing positions switching between magnifications and generally using more advanced positions than prone with a bipod.
Field of View
Field of View is the area you can see through the scope. The field of view is what allows you to find your targets at high magnification and ranges between 11ft at 100yards at 10x and 100ft at 1x. What makes these short range scopes amazing is that at 1x shooting with both eyes open you have nearly the same field of view you have with the naked eye. Centering your target and quickly increasing the magnification allows you to barely care about the FOV of your optic.
Weight is the big draw of the LPVOs. Most weigh in at about 19ozs while a full sized scope can weigh as much as 41oz without rings or a scope mount. This is very close to the weight of red dots and magnifiers or a Prism optic. If you are looking for a light scope the LPVO is what you want making them perfect for 3gun, hunting, or any shooting that isn’t supported. Grabbing a 19lb rifle that can shoot the wings off a fly at 300 yards is a good rifle but it doesn’t fit in long treks or bumping around a truck for 3 months to be used for 20 seconds and then thrown back in your pack as you haul your kill back to camp.
The big features of the LPVOs are an illuminated reticle, the reticle itself and glass quality. The most important idea of the 1x optics is getting as close to true 1x as possible so you can shoot with both eyes open in close quarters without getting sick and throwing up because your brain is trying to correct the minor problem of your eyes seeing two different images.
Illuminated reticles are not a feature that matters to me when choosing an optic. Generally the reticle doesn’t washout on black targets and once you hit a price point every scope has an illuminated reticle. On LPVOs, however, the illuminated reticle is much more important because the low level of magnification and the ability to shoot with both eyes open means that an illuminated reticle is a must have for LPVOs instead of an added on feature. The ability to shoot a LPVO like a red dot is one of the main features that set it apart from longer range scopes. It is what makes it so popular with 3 gunners, tactical shooters and hunters.
Reticles are the second most important feature of LPVOs because it is the biggest difference between a $700 optic and a $1400 optics other than glass quality that is so subjective on the low end and frankly terrifying on the high end that once you look through a $4000 ZCO you struggle with the glass quality of most optics. But reticles come in two major flavors, Bullet Drop Compensators and mildot grids. Since the LPVOs is focused on the AR-15 market most of the BDC are setup for 5.56 zeroed for 25 yards and work fairly well for any caliber if you are willing to put in the work to find at what range matches your rifle. Mil Dot or grid reticles are great for any caliber but you will still need to find your bullet drop but it is easier to work with spotters, ballistic charts and wind holds.
Glass Quality is very subjective across price points and then jumps like crazy as you approach the extremes. A $4000 ZCO or Tangent Theta might just have better resolution than my eyes while any optic between $600 and $1800 is so close that I will recommend the lowest cost unless you can tell a difference. All the optics we recommend won’t tint or distort your view but it won’t have the extreme clarity of the super high end optics.
Sig Sauer DVO
Sig Sauer won the competition for the new US military Optic for the Army and Marines with the Tango 16 1-6x. The military as always looked at the civilian market for innovation and choose a durable, balanced optic to increase the range of the M4A1; does that make the Sig Tango 16 the best? No, of course not, but it does give us a lot of data for judging a short range scope. The military design decisions are not going to be the same criteria that you should judge and optic. Sig created a great standard infantry scope to replace the ACOG and Aimpoint red dot. While the military may have found the perfect optic for their uses, we don’t recommend it because of the other products available. There is no denying that it is a very well-constructed optic that will last through dozens of users, it doesn’t do it doesn’t stand out compared to dozens of other options available.
Some of the major points are:
Weight: The Tango 16 is heavier than its competitors due to the increased need for durability.
Magnification: The Tango 16 is a 1-6x for decreased weight, a tradeoff for the more solid construction, but the military needs a bit more durability.
Field of View: Again the FOV was decreased to save weigh and increase durability.
Reticle: The FFP scope allows for the ranging hashes to be used throughout the magnification range. The Reticle brightness suffers a little from being a FFP but it decreases the chance of user error. The reticle uses a horseshoe reticle with range marks and a mover Christmas tree wind hold.
Glass Clarity: The Tango uses are lower quality glass compared to its civilian competitors to use cost and weight.
The SigSauer Tango 16 is a great optic for the AR-15 extending its reach out past the older red dot and ACOG optics but let’s look at the other options available in a LPVO
Vortex OPMOD 1-6×24 Strike Eagle
Vortex makes many of our favorite scopes because they use the line of quality and price as G-string, The OP Mod is an amazing budget value for the quality. Optics Planet takes their best selling scopes and gives them the features that are most requested. In this case reticle and FDE coating a dam fine scope that I have used on nearly every AR-15 I’ve built. The 1-8x Strike Eagle is one of the cheapest scopes we are willing to entertain on the list being considered a entry level but it performs with the big boys for 1/3 the cost needs to be considered. The downside of the scope is that it is Second Focal Plane. Many would not consider that a downside but It does stop the scope from being truly amazing for the price.
The main issue with the Strike Eagle is the lower quality glass and reticle compared to other scopes, the Secondary Focal Plane is a personal choice that makes the optic less interesting compared to a well designed First Focal Plane scope with a good reticle.
US Optics TS-8X 1-8x24mm
US Optics has been used by the US military for years and it shows in their choices of reticle and the robust build of their TS-8x. Capped turrets keep the scope from losing zero while fighting through the fields and trees while hunting or getting caught on equipment.
The reticle features either a BDC with ghost ring or a Mil Dot and Ghost Ring, both allow for fast long range shots or short range snap shots. The glass quality is mid tier, eyebox is good with no green or black around the edges but not as bright or as clear as the Razor.
Trijicon Credo CR624 1-8x24mm
Trijicon is known for producing the ACOG used by the US military for over 20 years, the Credo and the VCOG are known for leading the revolution into the LPVO scope era. The Credo is a great optic that sits in the price range usually dominated by Vortex, but the Credo pulls ahead by being a FFP scope with a solid reticle at high power and a great red dot at low magnification.
The Credo is not as robust as the VCOG and doesn’t have the same battery life from CR2032 as the VCOG’s AA but it is a great optic for the price. Trijicon knows how to make an optic and if it is at the top of your budget there are few optics that will beat the Credo.
Primary Arms PLx 1-8x24mm ACSS
Primary Arms has been upping their game for the last couple of years, the company out of Texas builds scopes for shooters by shooters, in a way only Texas companies can. Primary Arms has a great business model that is very similar to Vortex, they realize what shooters want and then build several similar optics at varied price points, the PA PLx 1-8x24mm ACSS for around $1000+ is very close to the $400 PA SLx 1-8x24mm ACSS except in the quality of the optic.
The glass of the Platinum is much better, the reticle is much more useful, the feel of the turrets and the box test are completely different but if you can’t justify a $1000+ optic take a look at the $400 PA SLx 1-8x24mm.
The PA 1-8x uses Primary Arms’ ACSS reticle, the reticle combines a horseshoe reticle with a horus tree for windage and drop compensation, uses a 34mm tube to give as much light as possible, while the glass is lower quality than some much expensive scopes you can really see the engineering put into the scope to be an amazing shooter and a great flagship for Primary Arms.
Best Short Range Scope
Athlon Ares ETR 1-10x28mm
Athlon has a similar reputation to Primary Arms, their low end scopes are of course low end but their high end scopes innovate better than many high end companies. Glass quality is great and the reticles have useful features that puts them ahead of several companies like Leupold, Trijicon and Vortex.
The Ares ETR has one of the best reticles on the list using a FFP Horus Tree with a easily visible red at low magnification, at 10x the Horus Tree makes the scope turns it into a long range scope or just allows you to perfect your wind holds without adjusting the scope. The target turrets allow you to change your elevation on the fly letting you switch your zero from the standard 100, 200 or 300 depending on your needs.
The problem is finding the difference and not getting scammed by mislabeled products. Thankfully OpticsPlanet, has the correct scopes just follow the link below.
Sparing No Expense
The best short range scopes are going to cost an arm and a leg, while I can’t recommend the scopes because the price. These are objectively the best scopes available for a LPVO, if you can find them used or refurbished, win the lottery or just love 3 Gun and this is your budget. These are the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the scopes that the website owner takes away at the end of the tests because us lowly writers aren’t allowed to keep them.
Nightforce ATACR 1-8x24mm
The Nightforce ATACR Is the best commercially available scope for good reason, Nightforce produces great products that aren’t only of amazing quality but innovate for shooters. The Nightforce has my favorite reticle of any LPVO, at 1x it is a very effective red dot, while because a precision optic at 8x. The Horus tree allows instant holds for long range shots that can drill targets out past 600 yards.
The Turrets are capped because once you have zeroed your optic you will rarely need to adjust in order to make the shot. The glass is the amazing clarity that you expect from Nightforce, while light it seems like you could beat a bear to death with the optic.
The main problem with the Nightforce ATACR is price, it is just not for everyone. The second problem with this optic is that it is constantly backordered because it is the optic everyone wants.
Vortex Razor GEN II
Ah, the Razor Gen III. What more needs to be said about this optic, an ffp scope with 1-10x that is covered by Vortex’s VIP warranty. The Horus tree and the Open Aim point an effective team in a FFP reticle; the illuminated center is great on 1x. The Razor is very close to a true 1x allowing it to be used like a red dot with its parallax at near infinite. While the Horus tree, is amazing for precision shots at range.
The biggest problem is the price. Vortex keeps producing great scopes but their high end scopes are just out of reach for most people, and if you can afford it, the options for better optics really opens up fast. You can’t go wrong with the Razor Gen II or III but at that price you should be looking for a bit more than just a great reticle and solid glass.
The Kahles is sold out everywhere right now. Which should tell you everything you need to know about the optic. The Kahles has high end glass, a great coating and a clear precise reticle. But until supply lines free up and Kahles can increase their production the scope is going to be hard to find.
The March D10V24ti is an amazing feat of Engineering, while other scopes need to have a reticle that can work in FFP; the March uses a dual focal plane reticle. Basically you will always have a solid red dot on the second focal plane with a FFP reticle throughout your magnification range. The downside is that your SFP dot can cover your target, but it does act like a red dot at the low magnification.
March Glass is, of course, nearly perfect. March scopes are some of the highest quality glass you can find anywhere. Though not as popular in the US as some other scope companies you can’t go wrong with the March D10V24ti. (1), (2)
- Steven L, How to Choose a Rifle Scope. Retrieved from https://www.opticsplanet.com/howto/how-to-choose-a-riflescope.html
- Idaho Fish and Game, Hunting with short range weapons. Retrieved from https://idfg.idaho.gov/question/hunting-short-range-weapons
Andrew Maurer is a Precision Rifle Series competition shooter and gunsmith and has been building competition rifles for over 12 years. He works as a big game hunting guide in Iowa, South Dakota, and Arizona. He is also a political scientist studying the effects of gun control on society. He teaches youth rifle shooting.
📧 Reach me via email at: Andrew@barrettrifles.com