Don’t Buy a Rifle Scope Without Reading This!

by  Robert

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:


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…

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. I just purchased a 3x9x40 for my mini 14 .223 for my coyote hunting activities. Glad that matched up with your observations!

  2. Thank you for your service.

    Thanks for your article. It was very helpful.

  3. Thanks for the article, good practical advice! I was just recently considering options for my Remington 700 .30-06, good timing…

  4. I always recommend to my customers to get a larger objective for light gathering purposes and the writer is correct about cost. Too many people get hung up on cost and they end up buying nothing. I have seen very inexpensive scopes do well and I have seen expensive scopes with all kinds of issues. Try and test the scope as best as possible. But the only exception I do have is on Magnum calibers. I always recommend a high quality scope because a lot of scopes cannot handle the re-coil of magnum calibers Some of the low end of the cost spectrum scopes i.e. Barska, Tasco, etc cannot handle the recoil of most magnums, I found these scopes will work well on about 30-06 (Long action) down to small action. As well never ever mount a regular rife scope on a pellet gun or crossbow. The reason is the recoil is opposite meaning the recoil pulls the crossbow or air rifle forward. Most scopes including the most expensive are not sealed properly to handle this. I have seen many destroyed scopes from this and you cannot get warranty from this. Trust me you can tell me you didn’t put it on an air rifle but when it gets back to the manufacturer. They know.

  5. riverrider says:

    great job! as a former optical instrument repairer i concur with everything you said. for maximum light gathering/clearity, the objective lens diameter divided by the magnifiction(power) should equal 8, or as close as possible. thats why 4x is paired with 32mm objectives. the closer to 8 you get, the better. anything over that is wasted. so a 56mm objective would work best at 7x power for example. dial it up to 24x and you’ll notice the image getting darker, harder to see in low light. for long ranges like texas, paralax comes into play, but theres not room to discuss that here. best to do your own research. basically scopes bend light rays and the bending makes the target look like its in a slightly dif place, like bowfishing. adjustable objectives can counter this paralax.

    • as a competitive target shooter using extreme magnification,,,, i concur, there is not enough space here to address parallax. its an interesting phenomenon though and if you understand it,can give you quite an edge over competitors who dont.

      • livinglife says:

        Not having enough room to really worry about parrallax, I don’t have enough experience to voice an intelligent discussion on it. Write something up and submit it please. I would like to learn more.

  6. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    I like the ‘keep it real’ magnification needs above, but I think at least one or two (you do keep multiples, right?) of your .22 rifles should be scoped, low power fixed magnification if you are hunting. The .22 is generally very accurate – but low powered. Precision hits with rimfire can take A LOT of game – I think a full size 1″ dia. tube scope is worth consideration.

    Air rifles – I think they are needed for short range vermin control. Even rimfire ammunition is too costly for this long term – a good spring piston or at least pump gun is well worth it. Ammunition is low and can be stored in bulk very easily. Mice and rat populations are going to explode, may as well be ready for this. Get an appropriate scope for a spring piston rifle – their recoil has a double recoil that tears apart many standard scopes. At least ask the scope manufacturer before you buy – they want happy customers.

    Definitely agree with good mounts and bases and check them occasionally to make sure they are still tight.

    Thank you for writing this.

  7. Robert:

    Great primer article.

    I have found that I like 2-7x scout scope on my 30 cal bolt guns. If you haven’t used a scout scope I recommend trying it. Your eye does not have to shift it’s focal plane when going from looking at the target to getting the scope on it. Plus being on the second-half of life, I use 6x a lot for distance shooting as that’s all I can hold steady. My 4-12’s are on my “varmint” or long range guns (22-250 and 257 Wby). Coyotes and antelope mostly.

    My short range varmint guns have fixed 6x scope as I have found that works for me. The others are generally sporting quality 3-9x scope or are waiting for the above scopes to show up used.

    A note on used scopes: I buy Leupold and Burris scopes on the used market as they have lifetime warranties. Both are great about fixing reticules that are broken. Leupold’s tend to be lighter.

  8. One thing to add and it’s important, test ANY scope you get for being waterproof…here’s how
    1) fill your kitchen sink half full with clean luke warm.
    2) take your new scope and submerge it under the water for 1 min.
    3) towel dry your scope and place it in the freezer for 2-3 mins.
    4) wipe outside of lenses, look through scope…if it appears foggy even
    after you have wiped the lenses you have a leak.
    Out of the +/- 50 scopes I have tested this way I have only had 3 fail and they were NOT the same manufacturer…They were a Leupold, Simmons and a BSA. It does not matter if you spend $50 or $1000 for a scope the fact is there is bound to eventually be a defect or flaw and you don’t want to be out in the field when you find it!

  9. I went through a few cheaper scopes for my .308 before I found the right one. I bought a Nikon BDC and mounted it with top of the line Leupold rings. The scope was on sale and I even got a Nikon range finder for free for under $300.00 Best scope I’ve ever owned.

    P.S. I always align and lap my rings before mounting the scope.

  10. Nice article but a small clarification. Lens coatings are primarily there to prevent reflection and diffraction of light between air to glass and glass to glass surfaces. This increases light transmission throughout the optic. If you had two identical lenses the coated one would transmit more light. In a typical scope that has multiple lenses this adds up. This is the reason why a higher priced scopes with multi layer coatings on all glass surfaces will be brighter than a cheaper scope with lesser coatings for the same design and lens sizes.

    Because of this it is entirely possible for a high end scope with a say 1 inch objective lens to outperform and transmit more light and hence be able to see better with less light than a cheap scope with a 1.5 inch objective.

  11. k. fields says:

    Robert –
    Thanks for the information – with more and more people purchasing firearms these days, it’s important that they get good, down-to-earth advice far removed from the manufacturer’s and salesman’s hoopla.
    I can see your article being shared with a lot of friends.

  12. Uncle Charlie says:
  13. Dean in Michigan says:

    Great article Robert,

    Been thinkin’ about mounting some new “glass” on my 30-06. Thanks for the info.

    AATW brother!!!!!!!!

  14. Hello Robert. I liked your article on scopes. My .22 rifles have scopes for 3 reasons. Reason 1 my eyes suck and I need help. @ I took a scope off my 06 that came with the rifle and put it on my 10/22. 3. I have a rifle with no sights and it will be cheaper to put a scope then put sights on it. Where you in the 101 airborn? I had an uncle that was in the 101 back in ww2.I once had a o3a3 springfield that I put a weaver k4 on it. It was the perfect setup for where I used to hunt. As a reminder I lost all my guns in a tragic boating accident several months ago.

    • livinglife says:

      I was 82nd Abn. Thankfully iron sights on the .22 are still good. anything past that range is in need of more power and optics. I had the ’04 and k4 kit, pretty wobbly, not sure it was complete either, traded it for a Savage 30.06 with an accu trigger and came out ahead.

  15. Every year, a farmer got frustrated during hunting season. The big city hunters would wander on his land and shoot his farm animals. Finally, he got the brilliant idea of putting signs on the animals. “This is a horse. This is a pig. This is a cow.” It worked great for one day until he came out to find his tractor shot full of holes. It was a John Deere.

    • riverrider says:

      haha, very funny. i’m sad to say that actually happened here. city slicker shot a man’s whole herd of goats, thinking they were deer.

  16. Patriot Farmer says:

    Does anyone have recommendations for a long eye relief scope for an M1A1 Squad/Scout rifle?

  17. Patriot Farmer,

    A long eye relief scope in most cases in nothing more than a pistol scope. I tried a few of these scopes but couldn’t find one that was clear enough to see well through. I found a Redfield at a gun shop and it works great on my M1 Garand.

  18. Old Hillbilly says:

    Good article and good follow-ups. Now, something I have not seen mentioned is how some of you deal with how you use bi-focals eye glasses with your scope. Am I the only one that has a hard time ever getting focused right while wearing them? I have heard that eyeglasses can be fitted that aid in using a scope. Anyone ever hear of this? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  19. I am involved in firearms business in Adelaide, we provide all fishing equipment on sale and rent too. Some day ago some tourist came to us and ask for equipments for fishing but they even don’t know the basics of fishing and that’s why they take me with them to guide them, and you what latest scope make it easy for me. The post by you is very useful for them who wants to enjoy fishing and all newbies professionals.

  20. Steven Baker says:

    This is an amazing helpful article for anyone looking to get a suitable rifle scope. There are plenty of rifle scope development Company making different series of optics with its unique features. With the Company, numbers of Gun & optic online Dealers have been increased over the periods. As i am experience good a “vortex-razor-hd-5-20×50” which i recently bought from online after going through its specification out there.

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