Deciding which riflescope to buy can be a very difficult task. With all the options to choose from and companies it seems impossible to know exactly what scope will work best for your budget. Most shooters just buy a scope based on past experience and from what other shooters tell them what has worked for them. However, all shooters are not the same. Each riflescope should be chosen for the specific purpose that the shooter wishes to use the scope for a firearm and what the shooter prefers.
There are several details to pay attention to when selecting what rifle scope is best for you. Knowing what these following terms mean will help in deciding what scope fits your needs.
- Magnification- the power of the scope, whether fixed or variable (4x, 6x, 4-16x, etc.)
- Objective diameter- measurement, usually in millimeters, of the objective of the scope (32mm, 40mm, 50mm, etc.)
- Reticle- actual wires used to aim firearm (crosshair, fine-plex, plex, mil-dot, etc.)
- Eye relief- measured distance shooter is able to view entire image through scope (3", 4", 3.5-4")
- Field of View- measurable distance viewable at specific power through scope (4.5ft. @ 100 yards)
- Parallax Adjustable/ Adjustable Objective- parallax adjustment allows you to focus on targets at distances greater than 100 yards. Parallax adjustments are usually on the objective of the scope. However, some scopes now have a side focus feature that is much more practical.
- Turrets- way of adjusting scopes, available in several different sizes and overall adjustment (1/8" @ 100 yards, 1/4" @ 100 yards)
- Tube Diameter- measurement of the main tube of the scope (1" or 30mm)
- Length- how long the scope actually is (16", 12", 23")
- Weight- how much the scope weighs (14 oz., 21 oz.)
- Light Transmission- measurement in % of how much light is allowed to pass through the scope and higher % mean brighter, clearer image
- Brand- company that manufactures the scope, this does make a difference when it comes to the quality of the lenses used and image quality to be expected (Leupold, Burris, Zeiss, Bushnell, etc.)
Now that you know what the terms are, it's time to decide what exactly you want.
Each shooting situation is unique and you must decide what situation you will be most likely to encounter. The following list breaks down each of the above categories and gives examples of what works well for the situation.
a)Fixed power- also called straight power, fixed power scopes are considered to be more reliable in general. This is useful if you you are only generally taking one type of shot. For example, a 4x32 is great for close range shooting like on a shotgun or muzzleloader, but when you want to also shoot further you are limited to your ability of how well you can see your target. The reverse also applies with a high powered scope shooting too closely.
b)Variable power- variable power scopes are not considered as reliable, but are much more versatile in various shooting situations. The majority of scopes designed today are variable power for this reason. It is frustrating to not to be prepared for the shooting situation that presents itself. Variable power scopes allow you to adjust to what the situation requires.
32 mm, 40mm, 42mm, 44mm, 50mm, 56mm.......Which one is right for you? The larger the diameter the more light can pass through the scope and allow for longer hunting hours. However, the larger the scope the more it will weigh and the higher it will be from the bore of the firearm. The lower a scope sits toward the bore the better (you do not want to seat the scope touching the barrel though). If weight is a concern, then you definitely do not want to pack a 50mm objective scope around most likely. Choose a 32mm or 40mm which will provide sufficient light to your eye. If you have no concern for weight or need the maximum amount of light, then choose the largest possible objective for your scope.
Mil-dot, fine-plex, duplex, heavy-duplex.....what works the best? Every shooter has their own preference. Lots of manufacturers are developing convenient reticles that aid in shooting long ranges. Leupold and Burris are two such companies. Leupold has the Boone and Crockett reticle and Varmint hunter's reticle. Both aid in range estimation, range adjustment, and windage adjustment. Burris also has a similar reticle called the ballistic-plex which aids in range adjustment and estimation. Mil-dot reticles offer an even greater capability for these techniques and easier to use than ever before with tools like the mil-dot master slide. Experimentation and personal preference are ultimately what will help most in deciding what reticle to use.
Eye relief is vital in many shooting applications. Buying a scope with an eye relief made for a pistol would not be a good idea for someone shooting a rifle. Also using a scope with a short eye-relief on a heavy recoiling firearm can be a hazardous experience (take my word for it!). Heavy recoil firearms like shotguns and high-caliber rifles should be coupled with optics that have longer eye-relief ranges for the safety of the shooter.
Field of View
Field of view can vary slightly from one scope to another. Each scope is designed differently and their field of view varies. For shooting at any range shooting, field of view is very important. The more you can see in the scope the faster you can get on target with the scope. However, some shooters find larger field of views to be distracting from target shooting.
Parallax adjustment is important if you are shooting at distances greater than 100 yards. Usually parallax is only an issue with higher powered scopes over 10x. Deciding whether to get a scope with an adjustable objective or side focus is up to you. Side focus adjustments are easier to work with, but both do the same thing. Side focus adjustments are usually only available on more expensive models.
Turret adjustment is what gets you on target. Turrets to suit your needs are imperative to shooting well. If you need precise adjustments to get close on small targets, then 1/8 M.O.A. (meaning adjusts 1/8" @ 100 yards) is preferred. However, using 1/8 M.O.A. turrets allows less total adjustment. Target turrets offer a solution to this by being larger, but aren't necessary for a shooter looking for a deer rifle. Most scopes are made with 1/4 M.O.A. turrets and are best suited for most common of shooting situations.
Tube diameter is often misunderstood as being a way of adding more light to the eye of the shooter when in fact it does not. Most scopes are made with a 1" tube diameter. Scopes made with a 30mm tube diameter are larger and have the advantage of being stronger and allowing more adjustment with the turrets. This is very important when using high magnification scopes and adjusting them to shoot long ranges. Otherwise using a cheaper 1" standard is satisfactory for most situations.
Length and Weight
Both length and weight are factors if you are trying to limit the overall weight of your firearm. Buying a firearm with a short-action and light contour barrel is almost meaningless if you add the weight right back with your 23 oz. scope. 8 oz. can make a huge difference on a firearm when the scope is concerned.
Light transmission is a key factor for measuring how long you can hunt with the scope. Other factors are involved as well. Magnification actually makes a difference in how much light is passed through the scope as well. Poorly made scopes with high magnification scopes will look foggy as light begins failing at dusk. If you have the shooting opportunity of a lifetime, you do not want to miss out because you bought a junk scope. This clarity is also seen during the day. A scope with good light transmission will be easier on your eyes to focus on even.
Brand is probably the most argued over factor in optics. It is true that some brands make "junk" scopes. It is regretfully true in the world of optics that you typically get what pay for, but there are some exceptions. Simmons is often regarded as the one of the best scopes for their price. If Leupold, Burris, Zeiss, and the other top brands are out of your price range, look and see if Simmons has a model that would work well for your shooting situation.
I hope this helps you in purchasing a scope that will satisfy your shooting need for a lifetime. Good luck shopping and happy shooting!