Riflescope magnification is a topic of much debate. However, the choice of magnification for your hunt is highly dependent on your needs.
The magnification of a scope is influenced by the spacing and shape of the lenses. Lenses with more curvature produce greater magnification. The diameter of a lens determines how much light is collected. Lenses with larger diameters produce brighter images.
The first number in a rifle scope’s specification is the magnification. A scope with 4× magnification will create an image that appears four times closer (and four times larger) than the unmagnified object. Thus, a target that is 400 yards away will appear as if it is 100 yards away if viewed through a 4× magnification scope.
Riflescopes can also come in variable magnification. These rifle scopes can be identified by the range in the scope’s specification rather than a single number. For example, you can set the magnification of a 4.5-18× rifle scope anywhere between 4.5× and 18×. This setting is continuous, meaning that the scope is not locked into defined increments. If you find that 6.3× works for you, then you can set the magnification at that power.
Variable magnification rifle scopes are often lauded for their versatility. Since these scopes allow continuous adjustment of the magnification over the specified range, you can avoid the entire debate about which magnification is right for your hunt. You should keep in mind, however, that variable magnification scopes tend to weigh more than fixed magnification scopes. Once you find a magnification that works for your shooting needs, you may find that you rarely adjust the magnification while you hunt or shoot targets. At this point, it may be worthwhile to buy a fixed magnification rifle scope that matches your desired magnification.
Choosing a Rifle Scope Magnification for Your Hunt is Highly Dependent on the Size of Your Target
There is a big difference in size between a rabbit and an elk. A rifle scope magnification that puts you right on top of a rabbit, may get you lost in an elk’s mantle.
For a hunter that does not specialize and is out for every season, a variable magnification scope may be useful. This would allow you to zoom in to 6× or 8× for small game and zoom out to 3× or 4× for large game. On the other hand, as discussed below, other considerations might drive you to use a lower magnification, even for small game.
Higher Magnification Helps Close the Distance to Your Target
Another thing to consider when choosing a magnification is the range to your target. Long-distance targets are usually larger targets, so you must balance the need for greater magnification to close the range and lesser magnification to maintain a sufficient field of view. Field of view is the area that is visible through the scope. As magnification increases, the field of view decreases.
The practical result is that high magnification can cause you to become lost in the image viewed through the scope. If you have ever had the experience of looking through your scope and seeing nothing but a big blob, then realizing that you were focused on a nearby tree rather than your target downrange, you have experienced a limited field of view.
Often, at long distances, magnification is more important than maintaining a wide field of view. However, keep in mind that a narrower field of view makes it easier to miss nearby targets or to lose a startled target. Also, remember that most shots during deer season are between 100 and 200 yards. At that range, you will not need much magnification.
Lower Magnification Helps You Track Moving Targets
This leads naturally to another consideration for choosing a rifle scope magnification. Moving targets require lower magnification than stationary targets due to field of view. As noted above, a moving target can easily be lost if your field of view is too narrow. Moreover, it can be more difficult to pick up a target that is already on the move with a narrow field of view. Thus, targets that you intend to shoot while on the move, such as birds or rabbits, require a rifle scope with a wider field of view.
Lower Light Levels Require Lower Magnification
As mentioned above, rifle scopes with higher magnification use more curved lenses. More curvature means thicker lenses or more lenses. In either case, greater magnification means dimmer images because less light reaches your eye.
Moreover, a narrower field of view means less light is being reflected off your target and into the scope. Think of it like a pipe. Less light passes through a narrower field of view the same way less water flows through a narrower pipe. Although anti-reflective lens coatings can help prevent light reflection and improve light transmission, higher magnification rifle scopes will always produce dimmer images than lower magnification rifle scopes.
This is also true of variable magnification scopes compared to fixed magnification scopes. The variable magnification means that the scope must have the physical characteristics to produce an image with the highest level of magnification in the scope’s range. Since all the lenses are always there, there will be a dimming with variable magnification scopes that will not be there in a fixed magnification scope.
If you know that you may be hunting in low light, a lower magnification may be preferable to a high magnification or variable magnification.
Balancing the Considerations When Choosing a Rifle Scope Magnification
The considerations in choosing a rifle scope magnification for your hunt is a balancing act. There is an old saying among hunters that you should choose the lowest magnification necessary. This is somewhat true, but it is more important to understand why, so you can make an informed choice. Balancing field of view, size of your target, distance to your target, and light conditions can help you do just that.
Bushnell’s rifle scopes cover a wide range of magnifications. Review these scopes once you have an idea of the scope magnification that fits your shooting needs.