Rifle Scope Basics : Don’t Buy a Rifle Scope Without Reading This!
I’m an ex-military Airborne Scout, shoot a lot and hunt a quite a bit so I get lots of questions about scopes (slang term is glass).
The old rule of thumb was a scope should cost about half of what your gun did in order to get a quality scope in the same quality category. This is pretty much out the door with modern machining.
First and foremost, how far do you plan on shooting? I have friends in open area’s of Texas who need long distance visibility and others in heavy woods who will never see more than 150 yards down a cut trail at best. Obviously their magnification and field of view needs are vastly different.
Scope basics front to back:
Front lens is the objective, it gathers the light and its size gives the field of view.
Tube size/Scope body, one inch or 30mm are the standard sizes, rings must match diameter of scope body.
Adjustment knobs, can be turrets, flat tip screwdriver or finger pressure to change elevation and windage. Standard is one click changes impact ¼” at 100 yards. Some larger magnification scopes have a parallax adjustment as well.
Rear is the eyepiece/magnification adjustment and possibly a focus knob.
Reticle can be a simple cross hair, mil dots, cross hair with a set of smaller lines to compensate for bullet drop (BDC) or many other variations. Some light up via battery or ambient light.
Eye relief refers to the distance between your eye and the lens at the rear of the scope that will give you a full crisp view, no dark ring around the edges. Important to know for high recoil calibers to avoid a black eye or worse.
Some scopes are single power (3×32, 4×30 for example) which means no adjustments.
Variable power allows the user to adjust the power given in first and second number of its designation, 3x9x40 is fairly standard. Low end magnification is 3 times larger than the naked eye and 9 times larger, 40 refers to a 40mm wide objective lens.
Objective size will impact the size of rings needed to clear the barrel and exponentially increase the cost as it get larger.
Lens coatings block different wavelengths and repel water, see scope specifications for details of which coatings your scope has.
Charged scope means nitrogen gas (or other) filled to keep out moisture.
Anyone can sell you an expensive scope that is more than you will ever need. Figure out how far you will need to see where you live, play and would bug out to. Next, how big do want the object to appear and space around it, this will be one factor to your objective size. Lastly, light levels throughout the year. Darker area’s (heavy woods, further north) will demand more light coming in to get a good view. A 3x9x40 is ubiquitous for a variety of calibers and environments. It’s a great all around size.
Looking at a scope in the store is vastly different than looking outdoors in different weather conditions. The best thing would be to borrow a scope/gun in the off season and put it through some paces. Do this with several different brands and different powers to get a feel for what works best for your situation(s).
It would be great if I could say, “Buy brand X with this magnification YxYxY and you will be happy.”
My own observation and usage are as follows:
- .22 open sights
- .223 AR 22” long barrel Burris Fullfield ll 3x9x40 BDC
- .223 AR shorty (16” collapsible) Burris 4x Prism (green or red rings, no power no problem, black rings)
- .270 bolt action Bushnell Elite 4200 4.5x12x42
- 7.62×39 4×32 scope or iron sites, anything else is wasted in my opinion
- 7.62×51/.308 Burris 4x12x42 BDC
- 30.06 bolt action Vortex Crossfire ll 6x18x44 BDC
- Shotguns Hi Viz front sight (not a scope but aids in getting on target)
There is no doubt Zeiss makes a fantastic scope with distance and wind calibrated stadia lines. The harsh reality is I cannot afford it nor do I want to break the bank for one. There are good scopes, great scopes and fantastic scopes. I ditched the Simmons that my .270 came with for better magnification on the prairie. It worked fine in the wooded area’s or brushy terrain.
Don’t worry about being a scope snob with your friends, buy what you need for you needs. Everyone has their favorite brand and magnification. After picking up my Vortex, they will be the next company I go to, lifetime warranty and cost effective. Read current reviews on different websites. Many companies have different lines from budget to professional.
At the end of the day, practice with a low price scope that holds a zero is better than no practice with a high dollar scope.
Final thought, do not buy the cheapest rings possible. In the machine shop world there are two standards they deal with, in tolerance and in specification, both pass QC (the difference between good and great). Let’s say a scope tube has a spec of + -.001 and a tolerance of + -.0025, rings the same specs. Although within tolerance, multiply .025 x4 for the worst case scenario for scope and rings, front is up .0050 and back is down .0050. Let’s add in the gun receiver being out of whack between front mount and back as well but still within specification, of .0025, scope bases can also be within specification and cause problems.
At this point you are shimming rings and or lapping rings (sanding to allow level fit) to get on paper. I have better results with $30 rings than $5 rings. How much ammo and time do you want to waste getting zeroed VS accurate first shots? I’ve zeroed a 30.06 with three shots that had Leupold rings and VX-2 scope. Conversely I shot another friends 30.06, used 20 rounds to get on paper (took some time to figure out where it was hitting) with a Tasco with cheap rings that ran the scope out of adjustment. New quality rings helped greatly.
Cabela’s has a great return policy on their products if you are unhappy with a scope or rings you buy from them. I’m sure there are plenty of other great scopes and experiences but this is my two cents from my experiences…