6 Affordable Riflescopes for Long-Range Shooters

These six riflescopes, including offerings from Sightmark and Vortex, would be a great addition to a precision rifle without breaking the bank.

6 Affordable Riflescopes for Long-Range Shooters
Looking for a new scope for your precision rifle, but on a budget? Follow along as we look at six economical models with the features you demand.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that things were pretty cut and dry when it came to riflescopes for precision rifles. A proper .308 Win “tactical rifle” wore a fixed power 10x42mm scope or perhaps a 2.5-10x42mm. It had ¼ or ½ MOA adjustments and a Mil Dot reticle. A bit later, an illuminated reticle option was added. If you were old school and distrusted electronics though, you simply got by with a tiny glowstick taped up and placed on your ocular lens. This provided just enough light to illuminate your mil-dot reticle.

Looking back now, these old scopes resemble ungainly beasts from some forgotten prehistoric age. The world has changed a lot since 2001. The classic Cold War-style tactical scopes have been put out to pasture, along with the drop floorplate 7.62mm rifles they topped. In an amazingly short amount of time, riflescope and reticle designs made huge leaps forward. What was the reason for these sudden rapid advances in thinking and design? Quite simply, it was the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where harsh lessons were learned.

Deployed military snipers quickly found their Cold War-era equipment lacking. This led to a change in thinking and a desire for more suitable equipment, including riflescopes. Snipers returning from the battlefield brought with them fresh ideas. Concepts, such as the value of “gas guns,” largely forgotten since the demise of the U.S. Army’s M21, were revisited. Interest was expressed for cartridges with less drop and wind drift than the old 7.62mm M118LR. Plus, more user-friendly riflescopes with higher magnification for target identification, variable magnification, mil adjustments and better reticles were desired.

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Scopes have evolved a great deal in the last 15 years. This old fixed-power Leupold, seen here in Iraq, has been superseded by modern designs with more features.

As military snipers left the service, many found employment in law enforcement and brought their experience with them. The days of “where the USMC goes, so does the world” came to an abrupt end. Instead, Special Forces groups led the way with innovative thinking, which trickled down to other organizations, including LE, and eventually the civilian world. Many civilian shooters became fascinated by the advances being made, and interest in long-range shooting grew. Ideas developed on the civilian side, such as Dennis Sammut’s Horus reticle system, were often taken into use by different military units and, in many cases, further refined before trickling back down to the commercial market. It was this circular flow of ideas from the military and civilian side that led to rapid advances.


The marksman of today has a myriad of scope choices I could not even have dreamed of in the 1980s. Magnification ranges of variable-power scopes are wider, scope mechanics and sealing are much improved, lens coatings and systems are better, turret designs have evolved greatly and there are a host of reticle types to choose from, including illuminated designs. Another big change for American shooters is the rise in popularity of both mil adjustments and reticles located in the front (or first) focal plane. These are hardly new, but they have only recently been widely embraced by American riflemen. Like illuminated reticles, which Carl Zeiss introduced in 1922, these are European features previously eschewed by American riflemen.


The information age we live in has led to a more informed buyer. Today’s marksman and hunter demands more from a scope intended for long-range use than his father and grandfather did. He reads niche magazines, pours over blogs and websites and watches videos to become informed on what features he needs. Due to this, marksmen today have very specific demands when it comes to riflescopes. They look for certain features, and if a scope doesn’t have them, it’s passed by.

Features in demand include modern reticles with the ability to compensate for drop AND wind/lead in the reticle. Mil-based reticles are in high demand, but certain MOA-based reticles are also popular. Marksmen of today, though, demand more from a reticle than the old coarse mil-dot design. They want the reticle broken down with finer delineations to allow easier ranging and more consistent holds. Many also desire somewhat elaborate windage/lead marks so they don’t have to guess where to hold.

These modern reticles can be used to their full advantage in a variable-power scope with a reticle placed in the second (rear) focal plane. Fixed-power scopes are definitely out of vogue. Marksmen desire variable-power scopes with ever-increasing magnification-increase ratios. Hand in hand with this comes a demand for first focal-plane reticles. Placing the reticle in the first focal plane allows the mil/MOA marks to be used at any magnification setting, so the rifleman can adjust his magnification to fit his particular needs, knowing his reticle is still calibrated.

Along with first focal-plane reticles, shooters now demand matching turret adjustments. Gone are the days of mil reticles with MOA turret adjustments. Side parallax adjustments have superseded the old objective lens-based designs. Many riflemen also desire illuminated reticles. Scope tubes have also grown, with companies offering not only 30mm, but 34, 35, 36, and even 40mm models. At the same time, many riflemen prefer shorter and lighter models.


Woe to the optics manufacturer not following current trends. Many prospective customers will look at reticle offerings first. If nothing suitable for their needs/tastes is available, they will skip to a different manufacturer. The same is true for reticle placement and turret adjustments. This has led to the decline of some manufacturers and the rise of others.

With long-range shooting becoming popular with the masses, demand has risen for scopes offering these features at blue-collar pricing. It’s easy to find these features on a $2,500-dollar scope. Finding the same features for $400 is much more difficult. Certain companies have recognized this growing market. We are now seeing many desired features offered at an affordable price point.

Selecting the right scope can still be a daunting task. Finding what you want becomes even more difficult on a blue-collar budget. Realizing this, I reviewed six scopes from four different manufacturers, ranging in price from $444 to $1,299 for this issue. Testing was conducted by my friend Kris Heger and I; all remarks reflect both of our thoughts. All of these are front focal-plane designs intended for long-range use. Three of them are quite affordable. Perhaps one of them will be what you are looking for.



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Athlon has made a name for itself by offering FFP mil reticle scopes with mil adjustments, like this Argos BTR 6-24x50mm, at very reasonable prices.

Athlon Argos BTR 6-24x50mm

I knew nothing of Athlon Optics before one of my friends purchased the scope seen here. Athlon has made its name by offering scopes with First Focal Plane (FFP) mil or MOA reticles with mil or MOA adjustments, illumination, and “good enough” optics, all at very affordable prices. Its Argos BTR 6-24x50mm seen here features fully multi-coated lenses, an etched-glass reticle, FFP-illuminated mil reticle, .1 mil adjustments with five mils per full turret rotation and shim zero stop, side parallax and a fast-focus ocular. All of that with an MSRP of only $444.99.

This model comes with Athlon’s APMR mil reticle. The main horizontal stadia features 18 mils with .5 and 1-mil marks, with the last two mils on both sides further broken down by .2-mil marks. Beneath the main stadia is a “Christmas tree” providing nine mils of hold-over, as well as points for windage/lead. The design is straight-forward and easy to use.

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Athlon’s APMR Mil reticle is a “Christmas tree” design providing hold points for elevation, windage and lead. It’s both simple to use and fast on target.

As you would expect at this price point, the Argos BTR 6-24x50mm is manufactured in China. Build quality appears good, but it’s not a particularly good-looking scope. I’d rate it as the ugliest of the bunch. The question though was, “how would it perform?” A privately purchased example was mounted onto an 18-inch lightweight AR chambered in 6.5mm Grendel and later a Savage bolt gun in 6.5mm Creedmoor. It was then used extensively hunting coyotes and in competition out to 1,000 yards. The reticle was used to range and compensate for drop/wind/lead in the hunting field. Five coyotes were taken with it, including first-round hits made at 535 and 620 yards. At the range, it worked well engaging steel, providing consistent hits on 12- and eight-inch plates, and occasional hits on a four-inch plate at 800 yards.

For an economical Chinese scope, it performs well. It tracks properly, the turrets are clearly marked, and the reticle is user friendly if you do not need more than nine mils of come-up. Optical performance is good for this price point and on par with the Sightmarks, but image quality degrades past 18X. Lowlight performance is acceptable. The magnification ring is a bit hard to turn and the turret adjustments are a bit indistinct. Plus, the rheostat is poorly placed and a bit in the way.

All in all, the Argos BTR 6-24x50mm is a good entry-level scope for someone getting into PRS matches or for someone on a budget. I wouldn’t expect every example to track as well as this one. Despite heavy use and living in a pick-up truck, it exhibited zero problems. In the end though, the owner decided to upgrade to the Leupold reviewed below.

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Yes, it’s an inexpensive scope from China, but even so, the Argon BTR performed well, making first-round hits on coyotes out to 620 yards.

Athlon Argos BTR 6-24x50mm Specs

  • Magnification Range: 6X to 24X
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 50mm
  • Eye Relief: 3.3 inches
  • FOV: 16.7 to 4.5 feet at 100 yards
  • Adjustment Range: 18 MRAD
  • Adjustment Value: .1 mil
  • Overall Length: 14.1 inches
  • Weight: 29.6 ounces
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Illuminated Reticle: Yes
  • Fast-Focus Ocular: Yes
  • Side Parallax: Yes
  • MSRP: $444.99
  • Manufacturer: Athlon Optics, www.athlonoptics.com

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New from Vortex is its Diamondback Tactical 4-16x44mm with FFP mil or MOA reticle and mil or MOA adjustments at an affordable price.

Vortex Diamondback Tactical 4-16x44mm

Vortex Optics seemingly came out of nowhere and carved out a large portion of the riflescope market. While it made its name with its high-end Razor line, Vortex offers riflescopes at all price points. Whatever you can afford, it likely has a scope in that price range. Its Diamondback Tactical features two new models, a 4-16x44mm (seen here) and a larger 6-24x50mm. What makes these two models interesting is they feature FFP reticles, while also being reasonably priced.

I received the Diamondback Tactical just before our deadline, so unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to spend quite as much time with it as the others. The scope’s magnification runs from 4X to 16X, and it features a 44mm objective to keep the size and weight down. This model is available with either a mil reticle and mil adjustments or MOA reticle and MOA adjustments. The latter is seen here. The finger-adjustable turrets feature .25 MOA adjustments with 15 MOA per full turret revolution. Adjustments are tactile, audible and crisp. Markings clearly indicate UP/RIGHT, so you will not get confused under stress.

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The Vortex Diamondback Tactical performed well, had the best image quality in its price class and repeatable adjustments.

Vortex offers this model with its EBR 2C reticle with either mil or MOA delineations. Both are “Christmas tree” style with 72 MOA delineated on the main horizontal stadia. The bottom vertical stadia provide 36 MOA of hold-over in two MOA delineations. Additional windage/lead hold points run out at four MOA intervals down the entire stadia. The design of the reticle allows a rifleman to make on-the-fly corrections for elevation, windage and lead using just his reticle, no turret spinning required.

MSRP of this model is $449.99, so it is another economical option. During testing, we noted the magnification ring zoomed smoothly without unnecessary effort required, and the parallax knob adjusted easily. A fast-focus objective helped to provide a crisp image.

It should be noted that the reticle on this model is not illuminated. Optical performance of the Vortex Diamondback was very good for the price range and the best of the models tested at similar price points. Again, this is a Chinese-made scope at a lower price point, so be realistic in your expectations.

Vortex Diamondback Tactical 4-16x44mm Specs

  • Magnification Range: 4X to 16X
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 44mm
  • Eye Relief: 3.8 inches
  • FOV: 26.9 to 6.7 feet at 100 yards
  • Adjustment Range: 85 MOA
  • Adjustment Value: .25 MOA
  • Overall Length: 14 inches
  • Weight: 23.1 ounces
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Illuminated Reticle: No
  • Fast-Focus Ocular: Yes
  • Side Parallax: Yes
  • MSRP: $449.99
  • Manufacturer: Vortex Optics, www.vortexoptics.com

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Part of Sightmark’s new Citadel line, the 3-18x50mm LR2 is a good-looking scope featuring a 6:1 magnification ratio, FFP mil reticle and mil adjustments.

Sightmark Citadel 3-18x50mm LR2

Brand new from Sightmark is its Citadel series. Firearms News was lucky to get a first look at these, and I was particularly interested in its 3-18x50mm LR2 model. What sets this apart from the other scopes listed here is its 6:1 magnification ratio. Running from 3X all the way up to 18X provides a wide, and very useful, magnification range. Not only that, but this is an aesthetically pleasing riflescope. Its lines, shape of the turrets and overall length are all pleasing to the eye. In the hand it looks good; especially considering the MSRP is only $479.99. Plus, it comes with a lens shade, flip-up lens covers, and a cattail.

This model features low-profile locking turrets with .1 mil adjustments with six mils per full turret revolution. Pull up on the turrets to make adjustments and push down on them to lock them in place. On the left side of the mechanism block is a parallax knob and a rheostat for the illuminated reticle. Parallax can be adjusted from 15 yards to infinity, and the rheostat has 11 intensity settings. The lenses are fully multi-coated, and it features an etched glass reticle.

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The controls on the Citadel 3-18x50mm LR2 were a bit stiff out of the box, but smoothed out with use. This model tracked well and looked very good for the price point.

Sightmark’s Citadel features its LR2 reticle, which is a mil design. The LR2 features the popular “Christmas tree” shape with 20 mils on the main horizontal stadia. This is broken down with .5-mil marks and very fine .1-mil marks towards each end. The lower vertical stadia features 10 mils of hold-over delineated by .5-mil marks. To the left and right of this are windage/lead hold points. Overall, I like Sightmark’s LR2 reticle design and found it useful for making corrections on the fly, especially at distance in the Kansas wind.

Out of the box, the 3-18x50mm’s adjustments were stiff as a board. The cattail is there for a reason—you’ll be glad you have it. With use, the turret adjustments broke in nicely, but the parallax knob still required a bit more effort than expected to rotate. Also, as you adjusted the parallax knob, the rheostat tended to turn with it.

Optical performance was good for the money, on par with the other scopes in this price range. However, the reticle becomes very fine and difficult to see on the lower magnification settings. This is often an issue with FFP reticles. Quality for a reasonably priced Chinese scope was good, but I cannot speak on the QC procedures or long-term durability. Overall, I liked this model, its features, short overall length and solid performance.

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Sightmark fits its LR2 mil reticle to both models of Citadel, providing quick on-the-fly elevation and range/lead corrections, as well as ranging.

Sightmark Citadel 3-18x50mm LR2 Specs

  • Magnification Range: 3X to 18X
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 50mm
  • Eye Relief: 3.9 to 3.5 inches
  • FOV: 12.2 to 2 meters at 100 meters
  • Adjustment Range: 17 MRAD
  • Adjustment Value: .1 Mil
  • Overall Length: 13.7 inches
  • Weight: 26.1 ounces
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Illuminated Reticle: Yes
  • Fast-Focus Ocular: Yes
  • Side Parallax: Yes
  • MSRP: $479.99
  • Manufacturer: Sightmark, www.sightmark.com

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Sightmark’s Citadel 5-30x56mm LRs is a big scope that zooms from 5X all the way to 30X and offers a number of nice features.

Sightmark Citadel 5-30x56mm LR2

Sightmark’s Citadel 5-30x56mm LR2 is the big brother to its 3-18x50mm. This is a big scope, which zooms from 5X all the way up to an impressive 30X. Layout and features are similar to the 3-18x50mm model. The 5-30x56mm is noticeably longer than its smaller sibling, measuring 16.2 inches in length. This is to be expected, considering the magnification range. Due to its length though, it’s not as balanced-looking in my opinion as the 3-18x50mm. This model arrived nicely packed with a lens shade, flip-up lens covers and a cattail.

This model features low-profile locking turrets with .1 mil adjustments with six mils per full turret revolution. Pull up on the turrets to make adjustments and push down on them to lock them in place. On the left side of the mechanism block is a parallax knob and a rheostat for the illuminated reticle. Parallax can be adjusted from 15 yards to infinity, and the rheostat has 11 intensity settings. The lenses are fully multi-coated, and it features an etched glass reticle.

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Optical performance of Sightmark’s 5-20x56mm LR2 is good through most of the magnification range, but degrades past 20X; adjustments were accurate and repeatable.

The 5-30x56mm Citadel also features Sightmark’s LR2 reticle located in the FFP. In use, the reticle becomes very fine and hard to see in the lower magnification range. It works well in the mid-range, where this scope is intended to be used. In the very upper range, it grows a bit large, with only five mils visible on the lower vertical stadia.

Optical performance was good through most of the magnification range, but degrades past 20X and noticeably past 26X. This is not surprising for a scope in this price range. 30X is a lot of magnification for a riflescope, even one with a 56mm objective. Expect to have to turn the magnification down as the sun goes down to retain a bright image. Also, do not expect a wide field of view in the upper magnification ranges.

Sightmark’s 5-30x56mm LR2 performed without issue with no problems encountered. Build quality looks good, especially in this price range for a Chinese-manufactured optic. They pack a lot of features and magnification into it for an MSRP of $515.99. If you desire this much magnification, it is one to consider.

Sightmark Citadel 5-30x56mm LR2 Specs

  • Magnification Range: 5X to 30X
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 56mm
  • Eye Relief: 3.9 to 3.5 inches
  • FOV: 7.2 to 1.2 meters at 100 meters
  • Adjustment Range: 11 MRAD
  • Adjustment Value: .1 mil
  • Overall Length: 16.2 inches
  • Weight: 27.5 ounces
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Illuminated Reticle: Yes
  • Fast-Focus Ocular: Yes
  • Side Parallax: Yes
  • MSRP: $515.99
  • Manufacturer: Sightmark, www.sightmark.com

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Hawke’s Frontier FFP 3-15x50mm is a bit more expensive, but provides a step up in quality and performance.

Hawke Frontier FFP 3-15x50mm

Hawke is another brand new to me. My initial impressions based upon this one model though are positive. Its Frontier FFP 3-15x50mm is a very nice-looking riflescope with well thought out features. Overall, this scope looks and feels like it’s a step up from the previous models discussed. The fit and finish, the way the controls adjust, and optical performance are all better. Keeping in mind it’s still a Chinese-manufactured scope, I have to say it does look good.

The Frontier features locking turrets with tactile and audible adjustments. The turrets are clearly marked, the adjustments very distinct, and pushing down locks the turrets in place. The magnification ring zooms smoothly, providing a 5:1 magnification increase ratio. A short lever is included with the scope, which can be easily installed, providing an unobtrusive cattail. The parallax knob was a bit on the stiff side out of the box. It provides adjustments from 15 yards to infinity. A rheostat provides six intensity levels for the glass etched illuminated reticle.

6-Affordable-Riflescopes
Hawke’s Frontier 3-15x50mm offers a useful magnification range, well-designed turrets with nice audible and tactile adjustments, and very good optical performance.

The reticle design is where the Frontier FFP 3-15x50mm falls a bit flat. It comes with its FFP Mil Ext. reticle, which is a good basic design. It features a horizontal stadia with 10 mils delineated by .5-mil hash marks. The last outer mil on each side is further broken down with .2-mil marks. The lower vertical stadia features 10 mils of compensation broken down by .5-mil marks. This design is basically a copy of Valentin Leatu’s MP-8, seen for decades in IOR scopes. I started shooting this reticle some 20 years ago, so it was as familiar as an old girlfriend. But, sometimes old girlfriends dwell in your past for a reason.

A noticeable improvement over a standard mil-dot design, the FFP Mil Ext. is quick and easy to use. It works very well for elevation hold-overs. Its weakness is compensating for wind/lead where you have to hold off into space. This can get a bit tricky at 800 yards and beyond if the wind is not cooperating. It is not an issue if you dial in your elevation and use the main horizontal stadia for windage/lead. So, this design is not ideal, and the Frontier’s one real weakness.

That said, Kris and I both liked Hawkeye’s Frontier FFP 3-15x50mm. It’s relatively short, has a useful magnification range, nice build quality, good optics, short and easy-to-use turrets with crisp adjustments. While the reticle is not ideal, hitting an eight-inch plate with it in the wind at 800 yards was not overly difficult. The Frontier FFP is not perfect, but it performed without issue. MSRP on this model is $729.99.

Hawke Frontier FFP 3-15x50mm Specs

  • Magnification Range: 3X to 15X
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 50mm
  • Eye Relief: 4 inches
  • FOV: 36.7 to 7.3 feet at 100 yards
  • Adjustment Range: 20 MRAD
  • Adjustment Value: .1 mil
  • Overall Length: 13.2 inches
  • Weight: 26.3 ounces
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Illuminated Reticle: Yes
  • Fast-Focus Ocular: Yes
  • Side Parallax: Yes
  • MSRP: $729.99
  • Manufacturer: Hawke Optics, www.hawkeoptics.com

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Leupold’s VX3I LRP 6.5-20x50mm was the most expensive model tested, and it provided yeomen service both near and far.

Leupold VX3I LRP 6.5-20x50mm

The most expensive scope included in this test was a model from the well-respected American optics manufacturer Leupold. Like the Athlon, this example was privately purchased and saw more use than the Vortex, Sightmarks and Hawke. Leupold’s VX3I LRP 6.5-20x50mm is an odd-looking scope. For the most part, its lines are clean, until you get to the strangely over-sized elevation turret. Like the Tower of Babel, it reaches unto the heavens. Everyone who saw this scope gawked at it and commented, usually humorously, on the elevation turret.

Joking aside, Leupold’s VX3I has some nice features. It features a FFP mil reticle, mil adjustments, very good optics and very nice build quality. This model features .1-mil adjustments, with five mils per full turret revolution. The windage turret is capped, with windage/lead corrections made on the fly using the reticle. The side focus knob rotates smoothly with little effort, as does the magnification ring. An extension is included with the scope for the magnification ring, providing very rapid adjustments.

Magnification range is a bit old fashioned, with an old-timey 3:1 ratio running from 6.5X to 20X. I’d prefer something a bit wider, and Leupold certainly offers that in its different product lines. The reticle in the model tested was Leupold’s proprietary FFP CCH. This mil-based grid design is quite a bit more elaborate than the “Christmas tree” design previously covered. It is designed to provide elevation and windage/lead hold points for use at very long range. Dedicated easy-to-see moving target hold points are also provided. Plus, this design is intended to allow precise ranging of targets.

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The elevation turret is oddly huge, but if you can get beyond that, Leupold’s VX3I LRP 6.5-20x50mm provides very good performance for its price class.

In use, the FFP CCH reticle worked well at long range, with its size in relation to typical targets allowing fine adjustments. As you crank the magnification down, the grid becomes very fine. The reticle is too fine at 6.5X in my opinion, but Kris snap shot a running coyote at 50 yards with it to prove me wrong. The tracking on the VX3I proved accurate, the adjustments were very distinct, audible and tactile, and no issues were encountered.

Optical performance was the best of the five scopes tested. Resolution was noticeably better. If you can get past the looks of that huge elevation turret, performance of the VX3I was solid for the money. MSRP on this model is $1,299.

Leupold VX3I LRP 6.5-20x50mm Specs

  • Magnification Range: 6.5X to 20X
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 50mm
  • Eye Relief: 3.6 to 4.4 inches
  • FOV: 14.7 to 6.1 feet at 100 yards
  • Adjustment Range: 23.3 MRAD
  • Adjustment Value: .1 mil
  • Overall Length: 14.5 inches
  • Weight: 21.7 ounces
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Illuminated Reticle: No
  • Fast-Focus Ocular: No
  • Side Parallax: Yes
  • MSRP: $1,299
  • Manufacturer: Leupold, www.leupold.com

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