Talking with a friend the other day, the subject of tactical scopes came up. “Why do they cost so much more than regular hunting scopes?” was pretty much the gist of the conversation. A darn good question, but one that is very difficult to answer because there are so many exceptions to the rule. In fact, there is no rule. Indeed, many scope makers designate some models or series as Tactical/Long Range because they share many of the same features.
Generally speaking, when we think of tactical scopes we think of 30 or 34mm body tubes; complicated reticles in the first image plane that are calibrated in mils or MOA rather than inches and are usually illuminated; exposed or exposed locking zero-stop adjustment turrets also calibrated in mils or MOA and turret-mounted parallax focus. Many scopes specifically designated as tactical or long range models often differ from an identical model in the hunting scope line only in the reticles offered and turret style/calibration.
But the feature most closely associated with tactical/long range scopes is that they are built to more stringent standards of optical quality, ruggedness and reliability and that’s why they’re more expensive. In some cases that’s true, but probably in just as many cases it’s not. Take Weaver, for example; their best line of hunting scopes is the Super Slam, which ranges from about $800 to $1,040 retail, but their Tactical Series starts at around $1,400 and goes to $2,170. However, to confuse the issue, they also have a budget series called the Kaspa line that has tactical models retailing from $275 to $325. See what I mean?
Every year I do so-called “roundup” pieces where I peruse a helluva lot of gun and optics catalogs to see what’s new. Based on that, about the only thing I can say for sure is that if an optics manufacturer has tactical scopes in its product line -- and today virtually all of them do -- they will be found among that maker’s best offerings, and usually at a premium price. Leupold’s Mark AR, Mark 6 and Mark 8 series tactical scopes are the best example I can think of. They are the company’s most expensive scopes, with the Mark 8 leading the way with MSRPs of $3,899 to $5,374! Are they designed and built to more stringent standards than “regular” scopes? They better be!
The way I see it, you can never have a scope that’s too rugged, too dependable, too precise in its adjustments or too good optically. It wasn’t chiseled in stone, but there was a time when the general consensus was that you never paid more for a scope than for the rifle it was to be mounted on. Not even close. Needless to say, that has changed!--Jon R. Sundra