The Proper Way to Use Your Scope

Scope sights fluster some shooters who don’t know how to take full advantage of them. But a scope, used properly, can wring every inch of potential out of any rifle and any shooter.

A scope helps hunters fire quickly and accurately because they make targets easier to see. Equally important, they place the aiming point (reticle or crosshairs) in the same plane of focus as the target. Open sights make you choose your focus point — either the rear sight, front sight or target. It’s impossible to keep all three sharp. Not so a scope. Everything’s sharp, wonderfully bright and large. What could be better?

If you look like this when shooting a scoped rifle, you’re not doing it correctly! You shouldn’t hunch, bend and twist to reach the rifle. Raise it up to meet your face while your head remains level or nearly so. And don’t close one eye!

But none of this happens if you don’t know how to set up a scope and use it properly. First, adjust the eye-piece diopter. This is either the outermost ring around the eyepiece (the end you look into) or the bell itself. You twist this in or out until the reticle looks its sharpest to your eye. That’s a one-time deal unless your vision changes.

With the reticle sharp, the image should be sharp at 100- to 200 yards for most scopes because the manufacturer pre-focuses them at about 150 yards. Shotgun scopes are usually factory-focused at 75 yards. With powers under about 6X, you’ll hardly notice the focus differences because your eyes make up for them, but at higher magnifications, you’ll see that objects inside of 100 yards are looking pretty fuzzy. To fix this, turn down the magnification. This increases depth-of-focus. If you have a Parallax Adjustment dial on your scope (this is essentially a focusing wheel,) you can turn it much like a camera lens to focus precisely at various distances. Turn it until the target looks sharp.

Now, get in the habit of carrying your scope set on a low power. If a deer jumps up at 20 yards, you probably won’t have time to dial down power. If you’re on 10X, you might see nothing but a blur of hair. If you spot something at 300 yards, chances are you’ll have plenty of time to dial up power without your quarry seeing you.

Next, train yourself to keep both eyes open and locked on the target as you raise the rifle to your face. Don’t look at the scope! The target isn’t in the scope. It’s out there. Keep your eyes on it and raise the rifle until the scope covers it. The trick here is training yourself to automatically raise your rifle into the correct position to see right down the center of the scope without looking to adjust things. It comes with practice, and when you perfect it, finding game is dead easy.

Good rifle form: Your head should remain level and up when a rifle is raised into position. Raise your arm/elbow to create a higher shoulder pocket for the butt pad. That way the comb is higher to meet your face.

This is another reason to keep your scope on low power. At low power it has a much wider field of view, so you’ll see the target even if you’re not pointing perfectly at it. When you lift your rifle into position, try not to lean, bend and torque your neck down to meet the stock. Raise the rifle to your face. Lift your arm to raise your shoulder pocket. This helps bring the rifle up where it belongs. You shouldn’t have to bend and scrunch if your rifle fits properly.

Learn to shoot with your head up. Keeping your head level makes it easier to keep game in view anyway. With your head lying on its side or canted at a weird angle, it’s easy to get confused about how the world looks, and that doesn’t make finding an animal in cover any easier.

Practice this “eyes-open” target acquisition at home with an empty gun just to develop the muscle memory. The more often you raise the gun/scope and find targets in it, the more natural it will feel.

If you find yourself seeing black edges in the eye-piece, readjust the scope forward or back in its rings. Loosen them and slide the scope until you achieve perfect eye relief. This is the distance at which you get a full field of view without that fuzzy edge black out. You don’t want to have to slide your head forward or backward on the stock comb to achieve this proper eye relief and full view every time you raise the gun. That means your gun/scope are not set up correctly to fit you. A full scope view should be right there when you raise the rifle. This is a product of proper fit, both length-of-pull and comb height. Take your time. Adjust the scope position within the rings to get it right. You’ll shoot a lot better and faster in the long run.

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12 Responses to “The Proper Way to Use Your Scope”

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    C. Paul Vinatieri

    excellent information, for a old hunter and a young hunter.
    keep up the articles coming.

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    Tom Sheehan

    Thanks for the article on the proper use of the scope. It is very helpful. Have you already published an article on red dot sights? I’d like to see some advice on that subject as well.

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    Gary Sackman

    Great article on scope use and adjustment. It will be very useful since I am mounting a new Bushnell Trophy on my Marlin 336. I have always used iron sights, but the eyes aren’t cooperating anymore.
    Thanks for providing the information.

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    Steve Foster, F/TR Competetor

    Very good article, but about paralex. Although a sharp image is important, it is not the most consideration when adjusting paralex. If a scope has a separate adjustment for paralex it must be adjusted so that if you move your head up, down,left or right the crosshairs do not move on the target. If you don’t place your head on the stock the exact same each time the crosshairs will be in a different position on the target. If the crosshairs move on target it will change the bullet point of impact. This is more noticeable at longer distances. Best scope accuracy is achieved by adjusting paralex so that the crosshairs do not move. Many environmental factors effect image clarity such as sunshine, mirage, air quality, and other. Just because you have the clearest image does not mean it is the best accuracy. I hope this helps shooters get the most accuracy from their equipment.

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      Very good point Steve, as a long distance shooter it took me many rounds down range before I figured this out, and since my group’s are much tighter, sometimes it is in the small details, thanks again for bringing this point to light,

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    Sean Martin

    Great read on scopes, good information for new and old shooters alike.

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    Even a cheap cloth & velcro cheek riser is invaluable.
    I put a scope on my 10/22, not much in the way of barrel disparity given it’s 50mm, but the eye piece was UP in the lower atmosphere. Impossible to get a proper cheek weld.
    Guess measured & it was 2-3″ that I needed. Picked up a cheap disassemblable nylon one so you could take out or add padding to adjust height. Works perfect.
    More of an iron sights guy, but was curious about a scope. Definitely a good investment, even on a .22lr.
    If you have an annoying skunk on your property that you can’t scare off otherwise & don’t want to get in the “blast radius”, scope fixes that quick. You can even go non-lethal & peg the ground around it.
    A cheat sheet to tuck into the risers side flap is on my list of things to do.

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    Jack Madewell

    This is an great article for beginners and the older ones also, who probably are set in their ways about holding a scope. Do you have any articles on scopes that have a lot of different colors you can set inside of them and when and which is best time to use which color?

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    Thanks, the scopes come with crapy directions. You just “cleared” it all up for me!

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    Stephen FitzPatrick

    There was no mention of tracking or finding an opening with your cross hairpin it waiting for the DEER to enter THEN shoot

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    Mark D. Rice

    Thanks for the guidance, Ron – and others. I am retired, but new to scopes.