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Basic Rifle Scope Options

Rifles scopes used to be simple, effective aiming devices. Some still are. But others are becoming complicated computers dragging you down like the Ancient Mariner’s albatross.

If you have to stop and think about your scope, it’s too complicated.

There’s nothing wrong with a scope that adjusts from 2X to 25X, includes 437 aiming lines, two turret dials, a parallax control dial and a dozen illuminated reticle settings — if you have an advanced degree in engineering!

OK. Perhaps they’re not that complicated. But in times of stress — like when a 30-point buck is about to step into the woods — one’s brain tends to shut down while one’s instincts take over. And the instinct is to shoot first, think about complicated scope settings later.

Variable power scopes are so common and of such good quality that you might as well use them.

I know this because I’ve done it. Believe me, you don’t want to.

So, before you buy that Super Scope 10.0, spend some time soul-searching. Do you really need it?

Basic physics tells us that most modern, high-pressure, bottlenecked cartridges powered by smokeless powder throw sleek, aerodynamically efficient bullets fast enough that you can aim at the center of a 16-inch target (deer’s chest) and strike it a killing blow from the muzzle clear out to 300 yards, 350 yards with some cartridges.

Now be honest: how many critters have you had to shoot at beyond 300 yards?

If you rarely, if ever, shoot past 300 yards, why bother with a complicated, “ballistic scope?”

What Power Scope Should You Use?
OK, but what about power? How much magnification is enough? In the bad old days, grandpa used to shoot at and hit deer out to 300 yards with a 4X scope. You probably could, too. But variable scopes are so well made and inexpensive these days that you might as well get one. What power range? Something in the 2X to 12X range will work. If you’re going to shoot a few small varmints, such as marmots/wood chucks/foxes at long range, a 10X or 12X could be useful, but for deer, 6X is high enough. The traditional 3-9X scope is really all you need.

As for objective lens size, 36mm to 42mm is more than big enough. Those 50mm and larger front lenses are letting in more light, but they aren’t going to turn night into day. A 40mm objective will yield a bright enough view for clear targeting 45 minutes after sunset. That’s 15 minutes beyond legal shooting time in most states.

Huge objective lenses are not necessary. Yes, they let more light into the scope, but they add weight and bulk, and force the scope to sit so high that you can’t easily/quickly align your eye with it.

More important than objective lens size are anti-reflection coatings. These increase brightness by a huge margin by reducing light loss from reflection. A single layer on a lens cuts reflection loss in half. More layers knock it down more and more.

A scope with uncoated lenses can lose more than 50 percent of the light. With multiple layers of anti-reflection coatings on all lenses, it’ll lose only 10 percent, maybe only 5 percent. This makes a huge difference. Demand fully multi-coated scopes for maximum brightness.

Should you get a standard 1-inch main tube or 30mm? Contrary to what you’ve heard, 30mm tubes are not brighter than 1-inch tubes. That’s a myth. Objective lens diameter, anti-reflection coatings and magnification determine light transmission, not main tube size. You’d have to squeeze a tube down to about a half-inch before you’d start choking off the light. Now, 30mm main tube scopes can be brighter than 1-inchers, but that would be due to better coatings, not tube size.

What’s my recommendation for an all-round, effective, simple scope? A 3-9 x 40mm, 1-inch main tube, fully multi-coated. Duplex-style reticle or whatever style you find most effective. It does not need to be illuminated.

Shop The Sportsman’s Guide for a fine selection of high-quality, value-priced Rifle Scopes!

Ron Spomer has been photographing and writing about the outdoors for nearly four decades. He’s written seven books, hunted on six continents and been published in more than 120 magazines. He’s currently rifles’ editor at “Sporting Classics,” Travel columnist at “Sports Afield,” Field Editor at “American Hunter” and “Guns & Ammo” — Optics Columnist at “North American Hunter,” Contributing Editor at “Successful Hunter,” Senior Writer at “Gun Hunter,” and TV host of “Winchester World of Whitetail.” He will write on Shooting Tips weekly for sportsmansguide.com. You can read his blogs and catch some of his YouTube videos at www.Ronspomeroutdoors.com.

 

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2 Responses to “Basic Rifle Scope Options”

  1. owen m goff

    I have tried 9 gun scopes 0n my German made Diana 22 cal pellet gun and non have stood up for more than a few months. Most of the scopes were made for pellet guns. Does any one know a scope that will do the job.

    Reply
  2. Steve Clark

    Seriously, you are certainly full of it. First of all picking a scope comes down to two things. What are you going to do with it and how much glass can you afford. If you only drag your gun out for 10 days of hunting then sure buy a 3-9, heck don’t even spend over $300.
    But what if you want to shoot long range? Well don’t listen to this guy because he obviously does shoot long range. Over welmed by your scope, get over yourself and ask for help.
    Now anyone that was serious about hearing about scopes don’t waste your time here. Try some long range blogs like Snipers Hide or some where that you can get a real review that offers you options beyond a 3-9 scope.

    Reply