Choosing the Right Rifle Scope


These days, most firearm enthusiasts use some kind of optical sighting device on most of their guns. Not just rifles, but shotguns and handguns as well.

There’s a great reason for this. Simplicity. Aiming through a scope or a red dot sight completely eliminates one third of the complexity of lining up iron sights. With metallic sights you are required to line up the rear sight with the front sight and your target. With a scope, you simply have to line up your crosshairs (reticle) with your target. It’s much easier to learn to shoot with a scope than iron sights, and since most rifle scopes also magnify, your target appears closer, and therefore easier to see, enabling you to place a more precise shot on your target. People with less than perfect vision are able to adjust the reticle focus at the eyepiece (ocular) for their particular eyes for a clear, crisp sight picture. Older eyes often have a difficult, if not impossible time trying to switch their focus from a rear sight to a front sight to a target as required without a scope, and it’s frustrating to say the least. Scopes eliminate this frustration.

You don’t use a seven ounce claw hammer to pound in sixteen penny nails, or a baby sledge hammer for finishing nails.

Magnumitis sinks its ugly claws into greater numbers of hunters every year. Cartridges and scopes get more powerful annually, and uninformed nimrods often use these combinations for whitetail deer where almost all shots are well under a hundred yards. Magnum cartridges and powerful scopes account for more missed and wounded game than standard loads with appropriate scopes. More does not mean you can shoot any farther. Bullets go faster and optics magnify more because they sell. Manufacturers will make anything they think enough people want. Pink scopes? Start a petition. Square main tubes? Have enough people phone. This is fine. Some people might call this progress. But use the right tool for the job.

The average deer rifle used to wear a 3-9 scope, and for good reason. Three power is low enough, with a large enough exit pupil and field of view for close shots in most applications, and nine power gives you plenty of magnification for longer shots. A major percentage of people now want to choose scopes for whitetail deer with top magnifications of fourteen, or twenty, or even more. This is, more often than not, a mistake. Less is more. Use the kiss principle. Bells and whistles like giant turrets, lighted reticles, and bubble levels are often a waste, particularly in lower priced offerings. To have them in a scope costs more and gives you a less usable, less reliable, and more complicated product. You have enough to do without troubling over how to work your scope. Quality scopes have quality attributes that can be relied on.

Not only does higher magnification subtract from your exit pupil size and available light, the low end of a high magnification scope is much too high to take a very close shot. Your scope on a whitetail rifle should almost always be kept at its lowest power. If that power happens to be five or six, many times your deer, only yards away, appears as a hairy patch through your scope, or your field of view is so narrow you can’t find him, or it’s so dark you can’t make him out.

Just as those bold Navy pilots, it’s prudent to know how low a scope goes, not how high. Low is more important in most cases. You can always shoot far with low power, or have time to turn the scope up, but you can’t shoot close with high power because your field of view (FOV) is too small and exit pupil is small.

I might be getting ahead of some folks with my descriptions.