With all the new models in the lineup, choosing a long-range rifle scope for your new rifle can be confusing and sometimes overwhelming. The choice often comes down to purchasing a first focal plane scope or one with the second focal plane reticle. In this article, I intend to focus on the best first focal plane scopes.
First focal plane scopes offer several advantages to long-range shooters, including:
- The reticle size changes with the zoom, keeping range estimation and elevation corrections accurate no matter what zoom power you are using.
- First focal plane scopes tend to be effective at almost any range and any magnification.
- Improvements in reticle illumination on first focal plane scopes make them more versatile under difficult light conditions enabling longer and more complicated accurate shoots.
What does First Focal Plane and Second Focal Plane Mean?
Simply put, the first focal plane and second focal plane relate to the reticle’s placement in the scope. First focal plane scopes have the reticle near the front of the scope. Second focal plane scopes locate the reticle at the rear of the scope.
The major difference between a second focal plane scope and the first focal plane scope is how the reticle behaves when the magnification is changed. As you increase the magnification in a first focal plane scope, the reticle grows in the same proportion as the magnification. In effect, the holdover and windage marks on the reticle maintain the same distance proportions as the target.
Second focal plane riflescopes do not allow this kind of change. No matter the magnification used, the reticle remains the same size. To the shooter, this means that the holdover and windage marks on the reticle are only accurate at a fixed magnification.
What Should You Look for in a First Focal Plane Scope?
What to look for in a first focal plane scope depends on your intentions in large measure. The two most common reasons shooters opt for first focal plane scopes are competing in precision shooting matches or engaging in long-range hunting. There are some differences in the needs of each choice.
Precision Shooting – Pinpoint Accuracy on the Range
Choosing a scope for precision match shooting may, in some respects, be easier than finding the right first focal plane scope for long-range hunting. Consider some of the factors that precision shooters should consider.
- Distances are generally longer for precision shooters than for long-range hunting.
- Extreme weather and terrain conditions usually don’t affect precision shooters as much as long-range hunters.
- Targets are typically stationary for precision shooting matches.
- Specialized reticle styles are available for precision shooting to make range, windage, and elevation compensation easier.
Long-Range Hunting – One Shot on Target
Long-range hunters usually don’t deal with distances to target greater than 1200 yards. The goal is not tight groupings on a target. The ethical goal in long-range hunting is one shot and one clean kill. Considering the other factors that can affect this type of shooting puts some special conditions on the scopes chosen for these tasks.
- Extreme weather conditions call for first focal plane scopes that are tougher and built for these conditions.
- Many long-range hunts happen over extreme terrain that can subject a rifle and scope combination to rough handling.
- Distances can vary greatly, requiring a scope that is clear and precise over a wide range of magnifications
Best Choices for First Focal Plane Scopes
The scopes below are my choices for the best first focal plane scopes. I have tried to pick a range of scopes useful for either precision shooting or long-range hunting. I have included budget-friendly options as well as my picks for the ultimate choice in each category.
The Ultimate First Focal Plane Scope – Leupold 5HD 5-25×56 MOA
You don’t get any better than Leupold scopes. Military and law enforcement long-range shooters agree and Leupold scopes remain a top choice among these professional marksmen. For many years, the Leupold Mark 4 series of scopes have been used by military and law enforcement snipers. Leupold has introduced the Mark 5 series of scopes that builds on the Mark 4 reputation.
The Mark 5HD scope is available with a variety of magnification and reticle options. I have chosen the Mark 5 series with a magnification range of 5 to 25 power. This scope from Leupold features a 56mm objective lends and my recommendation for long-range shooting with this scope is the PR1-MOA reticle.
For precision shooting and long-range hunting, the Leupold 5HD scope will stand you in good stead. On the technical side, the specifications on the Leupold 5HD scope are impressive.
- Linear field of view at 100 yards at low magnification – 20.5 feet
- Linear field of view at 100 yards at high magnification – 4.2 feet
- Eye relief at low magnification – 2.58 inches
- Eye relief at high magnification – 3.82 inches
- Elevation adjustment range (MOA) – 120
- Windage adjustment range (MOA) – 60
- Weight – 30 ounces
- Length – 15.67 inches
Leupold is notable for the features, quality of construction, and crystal clear optics. Among the Leupold features that come standard with the Leupold 5HD scope include:
- Extreme durability and resistance to damage – Each Leupold scope design is tested on the Punisher testbed and must withstand 5m000 impacts. Testing involved withstanding three times the force of a .308 rifle recoil.
- Fast Focus Eyepiece – The Leupold fast-focus eyepiece allows the shooter to bring the reticle into focus with minimal time and adjustments.
- Scratch-resistant lenses – The Mark 5HD scopes all meet strict military specifications for scratch resistance and coatings.
- Waterproof and Fogproof – The Leupold design incorporates the latest technologies to waterproof and fog proof the Mark 5HD scopes.
- Fine Adjustments for maximum accuracy – ¼ MOA dial featuring three revolutions of travel, a push-button zero lock feature, and a turns indicator for quick reference.
- Side Focus Parallax adjustment – The side-focused parallax focusing is easily accomplished from any position and under any conditions.
- First focal plane reticle – A first focal plane design keeps the reticle the same size in relation to the target, making range estimation more accurate at any magnification.
- 35mm main tube – A larger main tube diameter means a wider range of elevation and windage adjustment travel
- Twilight Max HD light management system – The highest possible light-gathering optics allow up to an extra 30 minutes of shooting time and eliminates as much as 90 percent of the glare.
- Leupold lifetime guarantee – Each Mark 5HD scope is covered by Leupolds front to back lifetime guarantee.
- Leupold Model #176449 - Mark 5HD 5-25x56mm with Illume, Front Focal PR-1 MOA reticle and Matte...
- 100% Waterproof, fog proof, shockproof, and backed by Leupold' s lifetime
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Whether you are a competitive precision shooter or a devoted long-range hunter, if you want the best possible optics mounted on your rifle, the Leupold Mark 5HD scopes should be at the top of your list.
The Best First Focal Plane Scope for Most Shooters – Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 5-25×56 FFP
Most of us can’t justify or afford a premium scope such as the Leupold 5HD. However, that doesn’t mean we have to settle for sub-par performance and quality in a long-range rifle scope. Vortex Optics offers a line of scopes that offer optical quality and construction durability that rivals scopes that can cost two times as much.
My pick for a mid-price long-range riflescope is the Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 5-25×56 first focal plane scope. For the money, the Vortex Strike Eagle is the best value on the market today for long-range shooting enthusiasts.
Vortex Optics doesn’t skimp on quality or features in their scopes. The technical data on the Vortex Optics Strike Eagle scope rivals its more expensive competitors.
- Field of view at 100 yards low magnification – 24 feet
- Field of view at 100 yards high magnification – 5.2 feet
- Adjustments per click – ¼ MOA
- Travel per rotation – 25 MOA
- Maximum elevation adjustment – 110 MOA
- Maximum windage adjustment – 78 MOA
- Parallax adjustment – 15 yards to infinity
- Elevation turret style – locking with zero stop
- Windage turret style – locking
- Eye relief – 3.7 inches
- Length – 14.6 inches
- Weight – 30.4 ounces
Vortex Optics is also competitive with much more expensive scopes in the features department. Considering the Vortex Optics Strike Eagle scopes’ relatively low cost, the features make the price even better.
- Edge to Edge image sharpness
- First focal plane reticle for easier and more accurate range estimation
- Illuminated reticle for fast reticle reads no matter what the light conditions
- Vortex Optics RevStop return to zero system for quick and accurate adjustments
- 34mm tube allows a vast range of adjustments for both elevation and windage
- Throw lever for rapid magnification changes from any position.
- Extra-low dispersion glass for maximum resolution and color fidelity
- Fully multi-coated lenses increase light transmission and gathering
- Glass etched reticle for optimum reliability and durability
- Side-focus adjustment for quick and accurate focus and parallax adjustment
- The Vortex Optics EBR-7c reticle uses MOA sub-tension lines for maximum accuracy
- A no questions asked lifetime warranty
In addition to all these features and specifications, Vortex Optics makes sure that you are ready for the range or field by including a host of accessories with each scope.
- Lens cloth
- CR2032 battery
- Turret tool
- 2mm hex wrench
- Throw lever
- Rubber style lends covers
The Vortex Optics Strike Eagle scopes are, in my opinion, the best balance of features, quality, and price to be found on the market. For most long-range shooters, the Vortex Optics Strike Eagle scopes will meet every need you will encounter, whether on the range or in the field.
Runner-up Best First Focal Plane Scope for Most Shooters – Primary Arms GLx 4-16×50 FFP Rifle Scope
Primary Arms has a growing reputation among shooters for the Primary Arms optics line’s quality and value. This reputation is especially true in the Primary Arms long-range optics. The Primary Arms GLx scope is almost a neck and neck competitor in my book with the Vortex Strike Eagle.
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The Primary Arms GLx 4-16×50 FFP scope ranks just under the Vortex Optics Strike Eagle on my list of go-to optics for the average long-range shooter. These scopes are feature-packed and the quality of design and manufacture is as good as it gets in this range of scopes.
Specification wise, the Primary Arms optics rank with scopes costing many dollars more.
- Field of view at 100 yards low magnification – 23.7 feet
- Field of view at 100 yards high magnification – 3.5 feet
- Eye relief low magnification – 3.6 inches
- Eye relief high magnification – 3.5 inches
- Adjustment per click – 0.1 MIL
- Total elevation adjustment – 25 MIL
- Total windage adjustment – 25 MIL
- Reticle – ACSS Apollo 6.5CM/.224V
- Reticle type – BDS
- Weight 23.5 ounces
- Length – 13.8 inches
Primary Arms competes favorably with other optics manufacturers in features as well.
- 4-16x magnification
- 50mm objective lends
- 30mm main tube
- High strength one-piece 6061-T6 aluminum body
- Steel on steel precision adjustment
- Fast focus eyepiece
- Waterproof and fog-resistant design
- Side-mounted parallax adjustment
- Night vision compatible
Don’t be fooled by the price you may find for the Primary Arms GLx scope. The quality and clarity of the optics are above standard and the quality of construction will have the GLx scope in service for many years.
Best Budget First Focal Plane Rifle Scope – Monstrum G3 6-24×50 FFP Rifle Scope
For anyone who is just getting into the long-range shooting game, investing hundreds or thousands of dollars in a rifle scope may not be a practical situation. If you want to dabble in long-range shooting, investing a few hundred dollars in a riflescope may be a good way to judge if you want to go further in the sport.
Monstrum is a relatively new company in the rifle optics market. However, since the introduction of their first scopes, they have gained a reputation for providing quality optics at budget prices. The Monstrum products offer good quality at a price that allows almost any shooter to add a long-range scope to their rifle.
The specification on the Monstrum scopes is technically as good as any on the market. However, don’t expect that quality of construction to rival a Leupold.
- Field of view at 100 yards low magnification – 18.6 feet
- Field of view at 100 yards high magnification – 4.84 feet
- Maximum windage and elevation adjustment – 80 MOA
- Adjustment per Click – 1.4 MOA
- Reticle – illuminated Custom FFP Type H
- Lens Coating – Full Multi-Layer
- Tube size – 30mm
- Objective lens – 50mm
- Weight – 30 ounces
- Length – 15.75 inches
Don’t expect fewer features in the Monstrum G3 scope than you would find in other, more expensive, long-range scopes.
- Fully multi-coated lenses for clarity and light-transmission
- MIL-STD 8625 Type III Hard anodized finish
- Illuminated reticle with multiple intensity settings
- Aircraft-grade 6061 Aluminum construction
- Sealed and nitrogen purged body
- Type H first focal plane reticle
- All brass mechanicals for long life and accurate operation
- Scope rings included with the package
- Detachable honeycomb glare filter included
- Flip-up lens covers included
- Comes complete with 1 (one) CR2032 battery
- High performance tactical rifle scope with 6-24x magnification for mid to long distance shooting out...
- Functionally designed first focal plane MOA reticle, with easy-to-read ranging information that...
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Don’t be misled. There is a difference between the Monstrum F# rifle scope and the Vortex Strike Eagle. However, for casual or first-time long-range shooters, the differences are negligible and not noticeable for the inexperienced. As a scope choice for shooters who want to experiment with long-range shooting, the Monstrum G3 scope is an excellent choice.
My Overall Choice of Long-Range First Focal Plane Scopes
I tend to stick to the price/features comparison when I choose my rifle scopes. My requirements are not as intense as some competitive long-range shooters and I have long ago stepped back from attempting 1500 yard plus shots on big game.
My overall choice of the best first focal plane scope is the Vortex Strick Eagle. In truth, the combination of rifle and scope that I use can perform much better than my skills allow. The Vortex Strick Eagle is a high-quality optic that offers exceptional operation and service.
First Focal Plane Scopes – Finding What Works for You
The best first focal plane long-range scope for any shooter is the one that best meets the shooter’s needs on the range or in the field. Finding the scope that meets those needs and fits within the budget restraints can be challenging.
I hope that the information I have provided in this article gives you some idea of selecting the best first focal plane optic for your needs and shooting choices. Taking the time to study and compare the offerings on the market is the key to finding the first focal plane scope that is the right fit for you.
If you found this article helpful, please leave a comment below. Your experiences, thoughts, and input are valuable to helping every shooter who is part of our community. Good shooting!