Great Choice for Budget Minded Glass, but More Savings Can Be Less Performance...
Excellent image quality, construction 30mm tube, bang for the buck
not a swarovski, kahles or Zeiss, but a very good scope for half the price
The Bottom Line:
For half of a Kahles, if you're shooting under 350 yards, the Nikon is the ultimate performance for dollar ratio on the market
The Topic of rifle scopes can be a tremendously debated topic. Choosing a scope in fact is probably more difficult than choosing a rifle! Once you've established what you're shopping for (target, hunting, bench-rest etc) you can eliminate options and narrow down your choices- however in general, you can isolate scopes into 3 seperate classes: budget, mid-line and serious. Of course, there is also the class 4- "stratospheric" where a single piece of glass can easily cost well more than a rifle- just like it sounds, these scopes live up the the seriousl reputation, can endure extreme conditions and still function flawlessly.
First, let it be known, half a grand on optics is nothing to sneeze at. However having shot and hunted domestically and abroad, it is basicallt fact that Europeans typically have a better outlook on optics than americans- What I mean is, most Americans are eager to spend cash on the best rifle- They want the best action, strongest recoil block..best safety etc etc. Surely different rifles have different features and facets that may make them more attractive, but in general, most domestic bolt action rifles these days are pretty damned accurate- plenty for hunting. I still prefer my Sako 75- an extraordinarily well made bolt action, with a hefty price- about a grand to start. So here you have a thousand dollar rifle (before dressing it up) and it's frightening to think that many people wouldn't think twice to spend 200 bucks on a garbage piece of glass that will fog in the cold, not have repeatability and may fail from the stress of the high-power cartridges used in hunting! Those same people are stunned when I say, of course I'll be willing to spend a grand on a scope- your scope is yours eyes- it doesn't matter how good the rifle is if you can't see anything!!!
That having been said, clearly, especially being an east coaster, there are not a hell of alot of shots I'll be taking that exceed 150-200 yards, TOPS- In fact here out east, most deer hunting will take place between 25 and 80 yards- with all the trees, branches and brush, this isn't mid-west prairie hunting- this is close quarters, brushy east coast hunting. If you plan on concentrating your shooting here in the east, where 350 yards would be a very realistic absolute cap to yardage, you can shop for optics accordingly and come out successful: This is to say you can essentially buy something from the upper echelon of the mid-level optics class (400-600 bucks) and get more or less the same results as with a top-shelf scope- (800-1100). Bargain (otherwise known as garbage) scopes, like tascos and most simmons are really great for the budget minded, but pretty limited in terms of performance.
Enter the Nikon Monarch series rifle scopes. Nikon has been on the optics business for a long long time- obviously in cameras. Nikons are generally regarded as one of the better glass manufacturers out there, at least in the photography world. Rifle scope wise, their products are excellent- adaptable, real-world oriented products with a lifetime warranty and alot of versatility. The 3.5-10 power Monarch is built on the popular US 25mm tube platform however the monarch gold is built on an even more superior 30mm tube (true 30mm optics, not 1-inch mounted inside 30mm like some other well known manufacturers in this class). Nikon's optical glass is rated for 95% transmission- truly wonderful spec- and in comparison, is ahead of the competition by a considerable margin, for typically, scopes in the 400-550 range might average 83-85% transmission and be overall poorer in terms of image clarity. The monarch produces a very crisp image with virtually no viewable distortion edge to edge- perhaps at the VERY edge, you may a slight touch of vignet, or darkening, but nothing substantial- and with the 95% transmission rate, the low light performance of these scopes is remarkable- something you'd expect out of something double the price.
I compared the Nikon to a few other scopes in this price range, including the Leupold Vari-X III 3.5-10 40 and the Kahles 30mm Euro Hunter 2.5-10x50 (priced 450 and 950 respectively). Clearly pricewise we're in different leagues across the board- but the bottom line is the Nikon bests the Leu by far for the money, in terms of clarity and light gathering properties and overall quality- however the Kahles is clearly far beyond either of these scopes- the Kahles (pronounced KAH-liss) construction is flawless- image quality is far superior- over 350 yards, the difference is night and day- while at 100 yards or thereabout, the difference is nominal between all 3 scopes- again, your purpose is what needs to be considered. The standard monarch comes in 1-inch tube, which is excellent and most popular in america. However 30mm optics offer better clarity- period. They also offer superior light gathering ability and essentially increase field of view. By all means, while 3.5-10 power is versatile, the FOV on the regular monarch is only 25.5- 8.9 feet, 3.5/10x. The monarch gold comes in 2.5 to 10x magnification also in 50mm objective lens. This scope is FAR superior to the standard monarch, boasting 38.8 to 10.5 foot field-of-view, substantially higher than its 3.5-10 sister. Escpecially for deer and mid-game hunting, you want as much field of view FOV as possible- the more FOV the better your chances of spotting your animal in the woods. Both monarchs have a side-mounted parralax adjustment to adjust field focus. THis feature, while nice and impressive sounding, is really not useful unless you're doing multiple-spot tactical sniping where you're always changing your target range on the fly- hunting in the east, sitting in a tree stand or tree base, you're going to have a good idea of range off the bat- you're also no going to have a wide enough spread of ranges to require use of parralax- basically once it's set for your eyes, you can lock it in.
The regular monarch 3.5-10x50mm can be had for as low as 360 or so on the street- while the newer, better monarch gold will set you back about 599 for the 50mm- it is also available in 2.5-10x56mm - the 56mm is incredibly light-gathering, but the diamter of the objective is so big, this could be a limiting factor in terms of mounting- you'll certainly need elevated rings- no questions. The 50mm is my choice- it fits my Sako with standard mid-height rings and the added flexibilty of 2.5 magnification (as opposed to 3.5) makes it far more desireable in the woods. Granted, the Kahles is noticably better- even clearer (though Nikon's image quality is superb). Both the Nikon and Kahles bested the Leupold in terms of quality of image and construction. All are guarenteed for life- Leupold though, is known for excellent customer service.
In the field, the Nikon has performed very well for me- though up in nova scotia, in extreme cold, the Nikon developed a touch of fog once- I called Nikon screaming- they profusely apologized and took the scope back, and returned me a new one in 6 days- nice job guys! And this was a standard monarch a few years back! The newer monarch gold has performed flawlessly in colder temps with no problems at all- I imagine the initial problem may have been a fluke too. On paper, at 100 yards, my Sako in 30-06 can shoot under-inch groups all day- With the Nikon on, I get typical 3/4 groups with a bench rest. With the Kahles, which now resides on my 300win mag, got me slightly better results- about 5/8 inch- the Sako is an incredible action- you get what you pay for and therefore optics are key. The Nikon is a great choice for under 600 bucks- I've seen GOld Monarchs in 2.5-10x50mm for around 500-525- an excellent price for a GREAT scope that deliver time and time again. The scope is highly recomended, however I MOST recomend a trip to a few shops for you to compare as many scopes in the class as possible- I really liked the monarch though, and It has made a wonderful companion to my Sako 75 in 30-06... The 300 winMag is a longer range west-side rifle though, and so the Kahles goes there... The difference at 600 yards can be the difference between losing a trophy elk and having a full freezer for the winter...