I spent quite some time trying to decide whether I want to differentiate between SPR rifles and precision carbines. Ultimately, these are very similar weapons, but I typically see them equipped with different sighting systems and different furniture. I chose as a basic SPR configuration a rifle with a heavy match grade 18” barrel since that is what the original Crane development project used. However, I have seen similarly equipped rifles with heavy barrels anywhere between 16” and 20” in length.
The big difference between SPR rifles and precision carbines is that the SPR is basically a designated marksman weapon with long(ish) range precision out of a fairly compact package being the first and foremost purpose for its existence.
A typical SPR rifle, in addition to a match grade barrel, also has a match chamber of some sort (there are all sorts of alternative chambers for 5.56x45) with the throat really optimized for heavy bullets in the 75gr to 80gr range. The most common would the 77gr Sierra MatchKing. A typical target is about man-size. This is not a rifle designed to shoot prairie dogs, so the scope and the reticle have to be designed to hit man-size objects pretty far away.
The original scope Crane selected for its SPR concept was the Leupold Mark 4 3.5-10x40. While that specific scope is not my favourite optic out there, as far as configurations go, it is not a bad choice.
Here are the basic qualities that I want in an SPR sighting setup:
- Sufficient magnification and exit pupil size to clearly identify and engage man-size targets out to 800 yards
- FFP (Front Focal Plane) reticle for ease of range estimation and holdover (a lot of people will disagree with this one, but I am rather particular about this)
- Quality turrets for dialing in the trajectory and wind compensation when time allows it (there are exceptions to this) with clicks that match the reticle (mil/mil or MOA/MOA)
- Sufficient exit pupil size somewhere in the magnification range for good low light performance
- Reticle design (whether illuminated or not) that allows for good aiming point visibility in low light
- Moderate overall size and weight in order to not unduly compromise the handling of the rifle
There aren’t any cheap scopes that I am aware of that satisfy all of those requirements. To be more exact, there are some that satisfy these requirements on paper, but they are not built to the standards that are good enough for me to recommend.
In the sub-$500 category, I would either stick with a fixed power scopes like the Hawke Sidewinder Tactical 30 10x42 or SS 10x42, or a second focal plane variable with a ranging reticle like Hawke Sidewinder 30 4.5-14x42 or Nikon Buckmaster 4.5-14x40 with a Mil-Dot reticle.
In the under $1000 price range, there are several very worthwhile options that satisfy all of the requirements on my checklist above. Aside from a couple of proprietary designs in the SS line-up, the most notable of those are Vortex Viper PST 2.5-10x32 and Weaver Tactical 2-10x36.
Both are fairly compact, but very capable scopes. The magnification range is about right and since they top out at 10x, objective lenses in the 32mm to 36mm range are not really a hindrance. Overall, I think the PST is easily one of my favourite scopes in this category:
Also in the same price range are a couple of larger scopes from the same product families: Vortex Viper PST 4-16x50 and Weaver Tactical 3-15x50. To me both are a bit on the large side for SPR rifles, but not by all that much. In terms of optical quality, Weaver Tactical 3-15x50 is an unusually good design for this price range, although the Vortex is not too shabby either.
The slightly smaller Bushnell Elite Tactical 3-12x44 is another very worthwhile choice. When Bushnell just came out with this scope I had my reservations, but current version of it is very well sorted out with better reticles and updated illumination. The one I would suggest you look at is the model with G2DMR reticle in it:
One of PFI Rapid Reticle scopes is also well optimized for this role, but a bit expensive at $1800 or so. Still, I think military uses them and if you like to do everything with the reticle (i.e. you do not want to adjust the turrets after the initial set-up) their RR900 is very much worth a look. It is a 2.5-10x40 FFP design with a reticle configured with the heavy bullet 5.56x45 in mind:
As with any complex reticle, there is a learning curve involved with using it, but that learning curve is, to be honest, minimal. Other systems that use complicated reticle (like Horus) are much harder to become competent with and do not lend themselves to switching back and forth between systems. PFI’s Rapid Reticle is comparatively easy to use.
Going up in price, your options, interestingly enough, do not open up nearly as much as you would think since most tactical scopes tend to be a bit too large for this application. There is a variety of scopes in the 3-12x to 3-18x magnification range from the well-known high end scope makers, but most of them have largish 50mm objective lenses.
For about $1300 or so, IOR makes a 2.5-10x42 scope with FFP reticle and recently upgraded turrets. This same basic design has been in production for a number of years, so all the kinks have been worked out.
IOR also makes a 3-18x42 model that is not too large, but quite heavy. For this application I like their 2.5-10x42 more, but if you want a little more reach, 18x is nice to have. The FFP version of this scope retails in the $1600 range.
If you have money to spend and are comfortable with a largish scope, Premier Light Tactical 3-15x50 at around $2400 is hands down one of my favourite scopes out there at any price.
Now, if we are talking about scopes that cost upwards of $2k, I want to mention the new Leupold Mark 6 3-18x44. It is a pretty new design and I have not put it through a thorough test, but it looks very promising if you have $2600 to spare.
Lastly, there is the US Optics 1.8-10x37 MR-10 scope. I think USO has just gone through a bit of a renaming spree because I could swear this scope used to be one of the SN-3 models. Now it is called MR-10, and it has a lot to recommend itself. I have been occasionally harsh on USO scopes, but the 1.8-10x37 is one of my favorites. While not light, it is compact and very sturdy. USO allows you to configure scopes in a variety of ways, and configured the way I like it with a GAP illuminated reticle and EREK elevation turret, it runs around $2300 or so, while the basic configuration is just under $2k. This is not a scope I typically recommend to people relatively new to shooting. However, if you have enough experience behind you to know exactly what you want, I suggest you give US Optics some serious consideration.