An Essential Guide to Choosing a Rifle Scope
This guide will show you everything you need to know about rifle scopes.
●Different types of scope reticles
●A little more (with an exclusive, Bushnell-only bonus section)
If you want to go from rifle scope rookie to rifle scope pro, you’ll love this guide.
Let’s dive in.
Magnification is how much closer the target appears than what is seen with the naked eye.
If a scope’s magnification is 8X that means you can see EIGHT TIMES closer than the naked eye. But how much magnification do you need?
A LOT of rookies would say, “buy as much magnification as you can”.
That’s not always the case.
In fact, if you buy too much magnification, not only have you wasted your hard-earned money but you may not even use it. That’s why I recommend the amount of magnification based on your use.
This should help you out:
- Do you use your rifle primarily for target shooting (up to 100 yards), stalk small game, or homestead defense? Get a magnification between 1-4x.
- Target shooting (up to 200 yards), stalk large game, or hunt in closed landscapes (forests, mountains, etc.)? Get a magnification between 5-8x.
- How about target shooting (beyond 200 yards) or huntimg in open landscapes (deserts, fields, etc.)? Get a magnification between 9-12x.
For example, if I’m going to hunt varmints and small game with a Savage A17 that’s equipped with a 17 HMR scope, then I’ll probably need some magnification (like 3 - 9x).
Got it? Good.
To find how much magnification a scope has, look at the first number (or range of numbers) before the x.
For example, if a scope says 2×30, that means the magnification is 2x. What if a scope says 3-9×40? That means the magnification is 3-9x.
You might be wondering: what’s the difference between 2x and 3-9x?
Besides the amount of magnification, the main difference between them is the type of magnification. And actually, there are two types of magnification...
Fixed vs. Variable Power
Fixed power means that your scope uses only ONE magnification. (Like 2×30).
On the other hand, variable power means that your scope uses MORE than one magnification. (Like 3-9×40.)
But the question is, which one should you use?
From my experience, I’d go with variable powered scopes because it allows you to shoot in a variety of environments and situations.
But it also depends. If you plan on shooting from only one distance, then opt-in for fixed powered scope. Otherwise, go with a variable powered scope. Once you’ve selected the type of magnification, it’s time to understand…
The objective lens is the lens located at the end of the scope and is responsible for light transmission.
Generally, the bigger the objective lens, the brighter and clearer your image will be. That being said, should you get a scope that has A LOT of objective lens? Not really.
Buying a scope that has too much objective lens could be harmful by adding excess weight, requires taller scope rings, and makes your scope more prone to sunlight reflection.
(Which gives off your shooting position).
So, if not a lot, then how much objective lens should you buy?
This should help you out:
- If your firearm has low recoil, you’re using it for close range hunting, and have a low power scope, then get 28mm & under.
- However, if your firearm has quite a bit of recoil, you’re using it for low light hunting, and have a high power scope, then get 30 - 44mm.
- Lastly, if you’re a long-range shooter or using high magnification in low light, then opt-in for 50mm & up.
You can find how much objective lens a scope has by looking at the number after the x.
For example, if a scope says 2×30, that means the scope has a 30mm objective lens. Simple enough, right? So now that you’ve selected the right amount of objective lens, it’s time to discuss...
A lens coat is an invisible coat that reduces glare and enhances the sight.
There are 4 basic lens coating types:
- Coated: One layer on at least one surface.
- Fully-Coated: A single layer on all exterior glass surfaces.
- Multi-Coated: Several layers on at least one surface.
- Fully Multi-Coated: Several layers on all exterior glass surfaces.
I wouldn’t really worry about lens coating since most scopes today are fully multi-coated. And even if a scope is just coated, sometimes that one layer is better than several layers. With that said, I wouldn’t stress scope coats. Instead, invest in a proper reticle.
Your reticle is the aiming point (or crosshair) you see when you look through the riflescope.
Each reticle specializes in a different use. Here are the 3 most common scope reticles:
- Duplex: A duplex reticle is the simplest crosshair pattern. Ideal for target shooting or hunting.
- Mil-Dot: Although very similar to the duplex, the dots in the reticle help estimate your target’s distance based on size. Great for law enforcement and military.
- BDC: In a BDC reticle, the reticle estimates bullet drop. Best for long-range shooters.
That said, a reticle can either be mounted on the front or at the rear of the magnification lens.
There are two different focal planes:
A first focal plane (FFP) is where the reticle’s size ADJUSTS as you change magnifications.
On the contrary, a second focal plane (SFP) reticle’s size remains the SAME regardless of what magnification you use.
If you’re a long-range shooter, go with a FFP reticle. Otherwise, go with a SFP. And now that you’ve selected your focal plane, the next thing to understand is…
Windage and Elevation Turrets
These are the knobs responsible for your scope’s vertical and horizontal adjustments.
The windage knob (located on the side) adjusts horizontally (left to right), while the elevation knob (located on the top) adjusts vertically (up and down).
When choosing the best scope for your rifle, make sure to get turrets that are reliable and produce a loud ‘click’ sound.
That said, sometimes a scope might have a third knob called parallax adjustment turret which helps eliminate parallax.
“What’s parallax?” I hear you saying. Glad you asked because we’re about to cover it.
This short, 2 minute video will tell you everything you need to know about parallax:
With parallax out of the way, let’s talk measurement systems…
MOA vs. MRAD
In its simplest form:
Minute of Angle (MOA) is a measurement of accuracy that measures 1” per 100 yards while milliradian (MRAD) is another measurement of accuracy that measures 0.36” per 100 yards.
Which one should you use? The straight-up answer:
You see, they’re pretty much the same thing.
Just like how MPH and KM/H are interchangeable, MOA and MRAD are interchangeable as well. Simply choose one that your hunting buddies use and you’re golden!
Eye relief is the distance between your eye and the ocular lens.
If you want to save yourself from a bruised eye, I highly recommend getting adequate eye relief. How much should you get? Well...it depends on your firearm’s recoil.
The higher the recoil, the more eye relief you’re going to need. Regardless, stick with this range as a minimum: 3 - 4 inches of eye relief.
This will save you from ‘scope bite’.
And that’s all there is to know about riflescopes.
What About Red Dot Sights?
For that, I have the perfect answer.
This next section is a Bushnell-exclusive bonus section that covers the essentials of red dot sights.
Let’s dive in.
What is a Red Dot Sight?
A red dot sight is an optic that uses an electric sight system that generates a dot-shaped reticle.
There are three types of red dot sights:
- Holographic Sight: A rectangular red dot that offers excellent field of view and is SUPER accurate. But due to the high price tag, I’d ONLY recommend investing in one if you have astigmatism.
- Reflex Sight: A non-magnified sight that’s super easy-to-use. I HIGHLY recommend a reflex because it’s both cheap and performs exceptionally well at close-quarters tactics.
- Prism Sight: A magnified sight that offers magnification (like a riflescope) and a larger sight picture than a reflex sight.
With the three types of red dot sights laid out for you, you’re probably thinking...
Which Red Dot Sight Should I Use?
It honestly boils down to your needs and budget.
If you can afford a holographic sight, go for it.
If not, then stick to a reflex sight: it’s affordable, easy-to-use and gets the job done. It can also be coupled with a rifle scope.
Lastly, if you’re looking for a bit of magnification, then opt-in for a prism sight.
And that’s it!I hope this guide showed you how to become a rifle scope expert. If you’re looking for a new scope to add to your firearm, feel free to check out Bushnell’s selection of Elite Tactical Scopes.
Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. His work has appeared on large publications like The National Interest, Daily Caller, American Shooting Journal, SOFREP and more. In his free time, he reviews various optics and guns on his Scopes Field blog.