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How to Choose a Rifle Scope?

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Despite the multitude of opinions out there, some things are almost indisputable. I mean, everybody knows and agrees this is valid. One of those things is the need for scopes if you want to increase your shooting accuracy. Especially when using long-range weapons like rifles.

While this is a consensus, not many rifle owners know how to choose a rifle scope. But this is an important step in getting the accuracy you deserve from your rifle. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of different scopes in the market right now. Without knowing how to choose a scope for your rifle, you’ll be wasting your time, resources and getting poor results. More like looking for a needle in a haystack.

If you can get the cheat code to select the best rifle scope, your shooting, your rifle, they’ll all thank you and reward you with precision and bragging rights if you’re shooting with friends.

Now I must say this, and you do not have to be hunting to use a scope. Using a rifle scope cuts across almost all users, no matter what your aim is. If precision is important, a scope is vital. You may be wondering how you’ll choose a single scope from the hundreds or thousands available, worry no more. There is an easy way, more like a guide, that you can use to achieve this. 

The trick is to use the factors that I’ll show you in a bit to crosscheck rifle scopes. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start by showing you how to choose a rifle scope.

How to Choose a Rifle Scope? – Factors to Consider

If you’re thinking to yourself – what does choosing the right rifle scope entail? Then, you’re in the right section as you’ll see how to make that somewhat difficult decision in…a couple of minutes maybe. 

There are many ways to choose a rifle scope, one of them is by trial and error and switching the scopes till you get what you’re looking for. This method could work, but it is cumbersome and stressful not to talk of the money and time involved. You do not have to subject yourself to this much pain when there is an even easier method.

This method involves using a list of factors to choose a scope for your rifle. Now, what these factors do is help you zero down on the type of rifle that you need, so you can simply plug the features you’ve come up with to get the right rifle scope.

Here are the factors to consider when Choosing a Rifle Scope:

What is Your Aim?

Before you check anything else, what is your shooting aim? What do you intend to achieve with your shooting? 

I know you may be thinking, ‘how does this help me?’. You’ll be surprised at what this information can get you. So, indulge me a little and ask yourself what your shooting aim is. Do you intend to go hunting with your rifle? Or are you a tactical shooter? Maybe you’ll be using your rifle for self-defense or target practice. It can even be leisure shooting. Whatever the case may be, answering this question first will bring clarity to the rest of the factors.

Depending on your aim, you may need a different type of scope with varying features. 

Magnification

The next on my list is magnification. This is the power of the scope. It controls what you see when you look through the scope lens. Magnification poses quite a number of problems to shooters, but I’ll be putting all that to bed here.

Magnification is simply how much closer you can see your target when compared to the naked eye. The magnification of scope is often added to its name. When looking for the magnification, the number before the “x” is the magnification. For example, you’ll see a group of numbers like 4-9×40, the magnification is 4 to 9. This is a variable magnification. When you see something like 5×32, this is a fixed magnification.

To make this more understandable, here is what fixed and variable magnification mean:

  • Fixed: This is when there is only one magnification power. The scope will have just one power that cannot be changed. This may sound like a disadvantage but if you don’t need to change the power this type of scope will be best for you as it is more affordable, more effective, and most times faster.
  • Variable: Just the opposite of fixed, the scope with variable magnification will give you an option to choose between a group of magnification levels when shooting. This will help you shoot at different distances while being able to zoom into your target easily. This will also mean it’ll take more time. It is also more expensive than fixed magnification scopes.

When conserving magnification, you’ll see the importance of knowing your shooting aim as you’ll know the average distance you’ll most likely be shooting from and if you need a variable or fixed magnification scope. 

If you’ll be doing more short-distance shooting under 100 yards, scopes with magnification between 1-4 are ideal, for average distances under 200 yards, use magnification between 5-8 and magnification from 9 and above, scopes are for long-distance shooting.

Durability

“Long-lasting,” “rugged,” “tough” are some of the words you’ll see in the description of almost all the scopes in the market. Everyone claims to be durable but are they all? Not really. So how do you know which of them are? I’ll show you in a bit, but first, why should the durability of a rifle scope be of importance to you?

Every rifle has recoils when they are fired, and these recoils exert pressure on the rifle itself and whatever is attached to it, including the scope. What this means is that every shot you fire will weaken the scope and ultimately cause damage if the scope is not durable enough. This is not all, there’s more…

The scope can fall off your hand when you’re mounting it when you’re moving across rough terrains or even when already attached to the rifle. Depending on the height, pressure, and what it lands on, the fall can cause significant damage to the scope.

For your scope to be able to withstand these, it needs to have been made with durable materials and designs. Things like a one-piece body with minimal moving parts can enhance the durability of a scope. Also, using strong materials like aircraft-grade aluminum or alloys to make the scope will help. You can also look for scopes with anodized bodies, an added layer of protection for the scope.

If you thought the body of the scope is all that matters for you to get a durable scope, then you’re wrong. 

You’ll be using the scope in diverse conditions, including harsh weather and temperature conditions. A durable scope should be able to survive usage in diverse conditions without damage.

You want a properly sealed scope to keep water out and gas-purged to prevent moisture from forming inside the tube and blocking the lenses.

Objective Lens

The objective lens is the lens at the rear end of the scope, the lens facing the target. This lens is an important piece in every rifle scope due to its numerous uses, especially in image quality.

The objective lens size is the diameter of the outer lens. This diameter can be found in the title of the scope. Take for example, and you see 4-9×44 in the title, the objective lens diameter is 44mm. The objective lens size determines the amount of light that can go into the tube. 

The light that gets into the scope brightens the image you see and gives you clear and crisp images. Normally, the bigger the objective lens the clearer images you’ll see. Nevertheless, the increased size of the objective lens may pose other problems like problems with mounting the scope, weight, and size of the scope, and much more. This is why you want to consider which objective lens size is better for you instead of buying the biggest lens in the market when you may not really need it.

Short-distance shooting on scopes with low magnification levels and also shooting with rifles with low recoils will only require an objective lens size of under 28mm. 

If you’re shooting long distances in poor light conditions and with rifles with higher recoil pressures, you’ll need a scope with an objective lens between 28-44mm.

When you’re shooting unbelievable distances and in low light conditions scopes with an objective lens above 44mm will serve you.

Getting the perfect object lens size is not the only thing that will guarantee excellent optics and this brings us to our next factor.

Lens Coatings

As earlier mentioned, a lot goes into a scope before you can get that precision you seek and one of those things that can help is lens coating. This is a covering (often unnoticeable) on the lens of the scope.

The lens coating helps filter the light going into the tube, which brings about better light transmission and effectively better and clearer images. This can work hand-in-hand with the objective lens to maximize the light going into the tube. 

Lens coating also helps to protect the lens from scratches, keeps dust and moisture away. All these will further help produce better images when you use the scope. 

You can see the importance of lens coating to your image quality. Now, let us see the kind of lens coating available and which one is the best.

There are four types of lens coatings namely:

  • Coated: This is when only one lens is coated with a single layer of coating
  • Fully coated: This is when all the lenses are coated but still with a single layer of coating
  • Multi-coated: This is when a single lens is coated with several layers of coatings
  • Fully multi-coated: Here all the lenses are coated with several layers of coatings. This is the best coating type but is usually used only on high-end scopes.

Eye Relief

Eye relief like the name implies is the maximum distance you can position your eyes away from the scope and still see through the scope without stress. 

Eye relief is important as it helps protect the eyes from the recoil of the rifle. Rifles with higher recoil will need a scope with good eye relief so you can position your eyes far from the rifle and prevent being injured when it recoils.

The average eye relief for a rifle scope is between 3-4 inches. Depending on the type of rifle and the recoil it produces, this is usually enough to keep you from injury. However, you may need a scope with longer eye relief if you use a rifle with a higher than normal recoil.

Reticle

The reticle helps you achieve accuracy when aiming. It is the crosshairs you see when you look through the lens. There are different types of reticles with their crosshairs and uses marking them apart. They all have their best use cases and what they bring to the table.

Here are the three common types of articles and what sets them apart:

  • Duplex: This is the most common reticle type with basic features. What sets it apart is its ease of use. It shows four lines forming quadrants but with thinner lines towards the center. Loved by beginners and more experienced shooters alike
  • Mil-Dot: This reticle is similar to the duplex reticle when you look through as it forms the same quadrant but instead of thinner lines towards the center, it has dotted lines. The Mil-Dot reticle calculates the target distance and is used for home defense and tactical shooting.
  • BDC: This stands for bullet drop compensator. It helps to calculate the drop of the bullet, holdovers, and many other important parameters needed for long-distance shooting. When you look through it shows the center encircled and a line going down.

Different reticle positions can determine the level of accuracy you can get depending on your shooting aim.

First Focal Plane or Second Focal Plane

The first focal plane or FFP is when the reticle continues to change as you change the power of the scope. That is, if you increase the power, the reticle increases this helps long-range shooters get their targets. FFP scopes are more expensive than SFP scopes. It is however not so great at short distances and that is where the other type comes in…

The second focal plane SFP is the opposite of the FFP scope as the reticle does not change even when you change the magnification of the scope. Not only are they perfect for short-distance shooting, but they can also be used for long-distance shooting too albeit with carrying levels of precision. They are also the more affordable option between the two.

Now that you’ve known the difference, you can now choose which type you want to use depending on your needs and budget of course.

Adjustments

In a scope, you can make up, down, left, and right movements to the direction of the bullet. This translates to elevation and windage adjustments. The elevation adjustments are the upward and downward change in direction while windage is the left to right change in direction. 

That being said, there’s also another adjustment that can be done on a scope, this is the parallax adjustment. What this adjustment does is to properly align your shot and bring you the utmost precision you deserve by taking out the external factors acting on the bullet.

Some scopes have all three of these adjustments available, while some others can only boast of the elevation and windage adjustments. Usually, high-end scopes add the parallax adjustment knob.

There’s also to understand the different adjustment knobs or turrets as they are called in some places.

  • Finger adjustable: these turrets can easily be adjusted using bare fingers. They bring about faster target acquisition and ease of use
  • Tool adjustable: Here you need tools to adjust the turrets. It can be a screwdriver, or even a coin, just anything that can enter the space and turn the turret in the direction you want it to. These types of scopes are harder to operate and may take longer to zero in. What they however bring to the table is locked in zeros that are harder to shift even when in harsh terrains

Price

This list will be incomplete if you do not consider the price and your budget before going for any rifle scope. I mean, who just goes to the market and picks up an item without knowing if they can pay for it? 

Luckily with rifle scopes and any other scope type, there is something for all price ranges. There are the budget scopes and the high-end scopes that cost a fortune. Whichever one you can afford is there for you. Bear in mind that price does not always determine quality. You will get a lot of good scopes in the budget class.

Final Verdict

After going through these factors and considering your options, you’ll come up with a feature list of the perfect rifle scope for you and one you can afford. From here on, all you need to do is to search for the scope with those features or something close enough and start enjoying it.

About Author

James Towndrow, a NRA-certified Firearms Instructor. During a career of 18 years had won several shooting competition including major leagues. Taking all those experience down the road, is now a successful Shooting Instructor in Texas, US.


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