How To Choose A Rifle Scope
By Simon Cuthbert, Target Tamers
If you think that a scope is a scope and can be universally used on any rifle, you’d be way off target.
The truth is, scopes have different applications just like guns do.
In order to significantly improve your accuracy, choosing the right rifle scope for the rifle and your purposes can make all the difference.
Now, let’s get back on target with different types of rifle scopes available to you whether it’s by feature or budget constraints.
What’s The Best Rifle Scope To Use?
There’s no right or wrong answer to this question.
In fact, this question has many facets that need to be addressed before you can even decide on the right rifle scope. Ask yourself:
- Are you buying the rifle scope first and then an appropriate rifle to match?
- Are you buying a rifle scope for a rifle you already own?
- How much are you willing to spend?
- What are you using your weapon for?
The last question will be a big factor on the type of rifle scope you decide on. Each purpose will require specific features that rifle scopes can be equipped with to improve performance and accuracy.
- Competition shooting
- Mid to long range hunting
- Extreme long range hunting/target shooting
- Combat/law enforcement use
- Varmint hunting for close range property protection
- Plinking/target shooting/recreational shooting at a range
- Protection for an extended hike in the wilderness
- Home defense
There isn’t a universal scope that can do it all. This is precisely why you need to know what your intent is with your rifle before you can adequately choose the right scope for your needs.
Fixed Rifle Scopes
A fixed rifle scope has a set magnification. These scopes are often more affordable than variable power scopes although they lack versatility. However, it’s a more practical option for users who will be shooting from consistent ranges. Fixed scopes typically come in low to mid power ranges such as 4-6X.
It will also feature a simple reticle sometimes without finger style turrets for adjustments. Varmint pest control hunters often don’t have time to fuss around with magnification making a fixed rifle scope a great option.
The Weaver Classic K6 6X38 rifle scope is a punisher for pest control in open terrain. It’s lightweight and compact in size making it an excellent addition to top many rifles for sub-250 yard hunting.
Variable Rifle Scopes
These are versatile scopes that give you the ability to change the power range to suit your preferences for various distances. Variable scopes are more popular and widely available in the market.
They can be as low as 1-4X, in the most preferred medium range of 3-9X, and even as high-powered as this Vortex Viper PST 6-24X and above! However, needing a rifle scope that has a power range of 50X or even 60X is practically zero. Though, we admit that it would be one heck of a scope to own!
Objective Lens Size
It’s easy to get sucked into the “big is better” when it comes to both magnification and objective lens size (aperture). The job of the objective lens is to allow in as much light as possible to improve brightness. A larger aperture also allows a hunter to stay out a little longer and see a little further.
However, the larger it is, the heavier the scope will be in general, and the possibility of having it interfere with mounting.
Rifle scope aperture can be as small as 20 mm on low powered scopes. The mid range is somewhere between 30-44 mm on many mid-long range scopes, and larger than 50 mm apertures are often paired with high-powered variable scopes.
Of course, there’s more to the story of aperture than what meets the eye, so see our discussion on “Why & How Lens Size Matters” before you’re dead-set on a specific size.
Tube size is the measurement of the outer diameter of the scope where it’s mounted with rings to the rifle. More often you’ll see 1 inch and 30 mm tube sizes, although, there is a small market of 34 mm tubes like the Leupold VX6 4-24X52 for tactical shooters who want a high-end scope. The 1 inch tube scopes are the most popular and has a lower production cost versus the larger sizes.
While 30 mm tubes are obviously thicker, they’re often touted to be more durable for harsher environments and intents. But, the one thing that is known for sure, is it usually has a wider range for internal adjustments making them better suited for long to extreme long range shooting.
If you’re consistently making shots beyond 500 yards, a 30 mm tube size like on the NightForce NXS 5.5-22X56 rifle scope might be for you. However, it’s really a matter of preference and 1 inch tube scopes can match durability, performance, and light transmission rates of its larger counterparts.
All rifle scopes have target turrets to allow you to zero in your scope with your rifle. But, not all scopes have ballistic turrets like the Swarovski Z6i 3-18×50 scope.
You can set multiple zeros to allow you to make those extreme long range shots with less revolutions and adjustments to compensate for bullet drop and sometimes wind drift.
There are many advantages to having ballistic turrets, but there are also the downsides including an extreme cost jump to ditch the ballistic reticle. For more on this subject, check out our Complete Guide to Ballistic Turret Systems.
Adjusting for parallax is really only needed if you’re shooting with a scope with over 10X magnification or on something like an air gun with extreme close range distances less than 50-75 yards.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of parallax correction features, and to master the anomaly, you have to swing by our 27 tips on it here.
There are so many different types of reticles in the rifle scope market that you might not know where to begin. The reticle will have a lot to do with your aiming, accuracy, and knowing whether or not you can make that long shot to account for bullet drop.
Simple duplex reticles are the most popular for sub-250 yard hunters. However, to get accurate shots beyond that, you might need a ballistic reticle with aiming points for various distances for your ammo and load.
On top of all that, you can also opt for an illuminated reticle to brighten your crosshairs for better ranging. Additionally, you might want to consider a glass-etched reticle or FFP one over a SFP one. There’s a lot to cover, so you may want to be well-informed by seeing our Reticles Explained article.
The more leeway you have with your budget, the more “scope” you can buy. If you’re like nearly everyone else, you’ll be attracted to the bigger, better, and badder version of what your buddy has, but it will cost you. Every feature, tacked-on gadget, and extra power and size will run up the costs faster than you can say Bob’s your uncle.
It’s essential that you have a budget in mind of what you want to spend and then navigate your options from there.
As always, buy the best of what you can afford.
It’s All About Features
As you can see, the different types of rifle scopes available to you are largely dependent on the features it sports. The features have an important role since it will help determine what scope you need for your purposes.
You can do without “this and that” if it’s not pertinent to your intents. But, you may need “this and that” feature if it’s vital to make that specific shot.
So, what’s your intent, and what’s your kind of scope?