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 Sportsman’s Guide for a fine selection of high-quality optics, scopes and sights.

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 You can read his blogs and catch some of his YouTube videos at



Leave a Reply

Commenting Policy - We encourage open expression of your thoughts and ideas. But there are a few rules:

No abusive comments, threats, or personal attacks. Use clean language. No discussion of illegal activity. Racist, sexist, homophobic, and generally hateful comments are not tolerated. Keep comments on topic. Please don't spam.

While we reserve the right to remove or modify comments at our sole discretion, the Sportsman's Guide does not bear any responsibility for user comments. The views expressed within the comment section do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of The Sportsman's Guide.

15 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.

  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.

    • Punnisher

      Hey Steve , Your being way to critical of this article , first of all the title of the article is ” Basic Rifle Scope Options” , and a 3-9×40 with a BDC is a good all around option for the casual hunter / target shooter. Obviously an advanced Shooter / Hunter will be looking for more options depending on what their situation is. I have just four long guns and all four have different optics on them due to the different calibers , barrel lengths and mounting options but a 3-9×40 would more or less work on any of them , would that be my preferred choice ? not really but again it would work. So Its an article for the average Joe NOT some super advanced anal retentive optics affection’ado, and I am not saying that you are one but you might want to cut the guy some slack because that’s not who he is talking to.

  3. Almo Gregor

    Glass is definitely only thing that matters when choosing a scope. There are factors like durability, is it water and fogproof? Also, simple things like adjustment ranges or just how comfortable the turrets are for adjusting? When you have only 1 shot to hit your target then trust me, every single detail can become extremely important.

  4. eric crayon

    This is nice post which I was awaiting for such an article and I have gained some very handy information from this clark gun rest shooting system for site . I lıke shooting and hunting . I lıke using my Ar 15 and I have Nikon P-223 scope .Shooting and hunting very enjoyable with it .

  5. Aaron

    To all of the paranoid gun nuts that passed this law: ALL campus mass shootings were committed by current or former students of that institution. Now you are giving your blessing to having more immature, possibly unstable people carry guns, all of them with extremely little training. How do you not see stupidity in your actions? Life is not a “die hard” movie. Students are not trained in firefight tactics.

  6. Paolo

    A 3-9 x 40mm Rifle Scopes is always best. Last 3 years I’m using this type of Rifle Scopes and I’m just satisfied :)

  7. David D. Smith

    Thanks for this great article . I really enjoy it . I am really interested in rifle scope . I have Ar 15 and I am using different scopes for it . You gave such an awesome tips for me . Thanks again .

  8. Kevin

    Ron, I always recommend my friend this 3-9 x 40mm optics. And if possible with BDC. This is the standard rifle scope specification for any shooter or hunting.

  9. Jessica Rohbock

    I’ve tried an scope brought by my cousin but i’m not happy with it. Can you please suggest me which one will be the best scope for my TP AR 762 rifle?

  10. Jeff Ar Rifle Proud Owner

    Glad I found this post wish i had found it earlier. Nevertheless. I had a long range scope Bushnell 223 for massive distance upto 18x. Yes i know its not that massive but still for a beginner like me it was actually too much. The noise or vibration in image while aiming is quite disturbing to be frank and hurts aiming. I get the idea now why some people prefer close range hunting lesser the vibration quicker you take the shot. Its a learning experience for me and hope it helps others.

  11. Steve

    Thanks for the nice sharing. Actually I’ve trying to buy a scope for my 308 rifle and I was confused to choose one.

  12. karan zale

    thanks for sharing. Very informative post.

  13. tausili logoleo

    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.