How To Choose A Rifle Scope


If you are an experienced shooter or hunter, the information that follows may not be for you. The purpose of this article is to introduce a person who is new to shooting or hunting to the basics of selecting the right FIRST riflescope.

Get To Know Riflescopes

These days there are many riflescopes on the market with features that seem great, but when it comes to actually knowing how these features benefit you, they hardly sound straight forward. We'll help you wade through the elegant terms and get you shooting with the right scope to suit your needs in no time.

Ok, let's go to rifle scope school without overwhelming you with an encyclopedia's worth of reading. First thing you need to know is the difference between fixed magnification and variable magnification scopes. This is pretty straight forward. Fixed magnification scopes only offer one level of magnification, say four times what your eyes would normally see. Variable scopes allow you adjust the level of magnification you want on the fly so once you acquire a target you can dial the magnification up.

This brings us to how scopes are described. When shopping for scopes you will see a description like this: 2x30. This details two aspects of the scope. First you have the magnification level, in this case two times what the naked eye would see. The second number describes the width of the objective lens, or the the lens opposite of the eyepiece. The purpose of the objective lens is to transfer light through the scope. Generally speaking a larger objective lens leads to a brighter scope image, but there are limits to this. The objective lens diameter is measured in millimeters, and they can range all the way up to 60mm in diameter. It is also important to note that scope bodies have two different widths depending on the brand. There are one inch tubes and 30mm tubes. Be careful not to mount a one inch scope with 30mm scope rings as you will damage your scope.

Fixed Vs. Variable Magnification

Now that we've covered the basics, let's shift back to fixed vs. variable magnification. As you would expect there are advantages to both. Once upon a time fixed magnification scopes were the only option, but now cutting-edge optics have made variable magnification a reliable choice for all levels of shooters. But don't get ahead of yourself with the allure of high magnification. Depending on where you commonly shoot, you may never need the the full extent of of extreme magnification, plus variable scopes with a wide range of magnification options are going to cost you a lot. What you will need as a shooter is a low magnification setting to find your target. For example, if you have your scope dialed up to 18x, the game 100 yards away will appear as a furry blotch in your scope, and you'll be lost while aiming. When it comes to what level of magnification you need, it all depends where you shoot.

Scope Viewing Basics

Next we'll go through the basics of looking through a scope and how certain features will improve your viewing experience. First of all, let's discuss how eye relief affects the way you look through a scope. Eye relief is the distance required to see the full picture of your scope from your eyes to the eyepiece. Commonly scopes offer 3 to 4 inches of eye relief, and when trying to avoid "scope eye" or the impact of the scope on your eye after the firearm is shot, long eye relief is pretty important. Long eye relief will also allow for speedier target acquisition through the scope.

Next, let's talk about field of view. A wide field of view is important both when scanning the field for your target and when quickly aiming when the time calls for it. This is where a lower magnification setting is vital to shooting correctly with a scope. High power is great when it comes to long distance shots, but you will only be successful if you first find the target at a low magnification that allows for a wide field of view.

Finally, let's touch on light transmission. Scopes conduct light through the objective lens to the eyepiece, and no matter how advanced the scope, some portion of light is lost in transition through the optics. Generally the rule goes, the higher the magnification the dimmer the image appears in your scope. Larger diameter objective lenses are designed to compensate for this side effect, but only to a certain point. Very large objective lenses like 50mm or 60mm are really only advantageous for extreme distance shots that only the most talented shooters make. If you plan on making early morning or late evening shots, light transmission is a spec you should keep in mind, but take it with a grain of salt. Most scope manufacturers tout exceptional light transmission ability in their scopes, but whether they describe 95% or even 98% light transmission, remember that there is no standard measurement for this ability among manufacturers.

Riflescope Lenses

Quality optics are a prudent investment when it comes to a clear image while looking through a rifle scope. There are two elements to think about when gauging which scope to buy. For the best picture, you need both high grade glass and quality glass coatings on all exposed glass surfaces. Glass quality is simple, better glass materials are going to cost more but perform better and look clearer. As for coatings, there are four types, each more advanced than the last. It starts with coated lenses which means one surface of a scope lens is coated, likely the objective lens. From there you then have fully coated lenses which entails that every glass surface has one layer of coating.

Next you have multicoated lenses glazed with several layers of coating on at least one surface. Finally, there are fully multi-coated lenses that feature several coatings to all the glass surfaces. Why treat lenses with this coating? They can improve light transmission and contrast while reducing glare. Many coatings also protect against scratches. There are also several coatings that either bead water or shed water from scope lenses. Don't forget to make sure the scope is fogproof and waterproof for the maximum protection from the elements as well.

Windage And Elevation Adjustment

Adjustment turrets are designed to sight your scope in at a certain yardage. Windage adjustment turrets are positioned on the side of the scope while elevation adjustment turrets are situated on top of the scope. Rifle scopes are fine tuned in Minute Of Angle "clicks" that are used as angular measurements to keep track of dial turns. Those looking for a high level of precision in their adjustments should go with 1/8 MOA adjustment dials while more novice users will be satisfied with 1/4 MOA dials. When sighting your rifle in at 100 yards with 1/4 MOA knobs, one turn of the windage dial left will alter the scope cross hairs 1/4 MOA left, and the same applies vertically with elevation knobs. If you shoot in settings where there is no surrounding brush or other hazards to catch your scope on, then larger turrets are preferred as they are easier to use, but hunters favor smaller turrets that won't snag on surrounding vegetation.


Today there are an astounding array of reticle types available in rifle scopes to suit every situation, but don't get wowed by an advanced reticle unless you need it. The more space taken up by reticle markings the less area there is to view your target through. That being said, there are a lot of great advancements in scope reticles that are of great use to shooters like BDCs or bullet drop compensators. BDCs utilize stadia marks for measurement in the scope viewfinder, and in conjunction with ballistic match programs offered by several different companies like Nikon, a BDC will help you gauge how your bullet will perform at longer distances. There are also several illuminated reticles out on the market, and they can be of great aid when shooting at targets silhouetted by low light conditions. Just keep in mind there are certain illuminated reticles that can be washed out by bright sunlight so they aren't suitable for all day use. However, there are certain brands with illuminated reticles that are ready for all light conditions. Be sure to research the product so it fits your shooting situation before purchasing an illuminated reticle scope.

Parallax Adjustment

Be careful not to get too hung up on this concept. Unless you are a military sniper or elite target shooter, a slight discrepancy in where you aim and where the bullet lands is something we all have to live with. That being said, parallax error can seriously effect long distance shots, and it is a side effect of high magnification scopes that all shooters should be aware of. Parallax is best visualized by looking at a speedometer while sitting in a car. To the driver the speedometer dial appears right on the speed you're traveling, say 30 MPH. However, to the person sitting in the passenger seat, the dial appears slightly off from 30 MPH. Parallax describes how the position of an object can vary depending on your point of view.

Parallax is easy to understand in shooting if you think about reticule planes. Essentially all scopes are adjusted to a certain reticule plane, for example most rifle scopes are parallax sighted at 100 yards. This means your scope cross hairs are sighted to hit a target at 100 yards dead on. But now let's say you are attempting a 200 yard shot. Your cross hairs are sighted at 100 yards, and where you think you are aiming at 200 yards is actually a bit off. Parallax adjustment features on scopes are designed to bump up the standard reticule plane to your desired distance, in this case 200 yards, and compensate for this error.

Basic Direction On What Scope To Buy

Now that we've covered the essentials, lets give you some basic direction on what type of scope to choose. First of all, what is your typical shooting situation? We'll start with scopes for hunters. Next, where do you typically hunt? For those who hunt in thicker landscapes and/or take shorter range shots at or less than 100 yards, you will only need a smaller magnification scope, say 2x to 6x with an average sized objective lens. A fixed magnification scope may be just the thing you need as you will rarely be dialing up magnifications for long distance shots. Parallax adjustment features are also not extremely important for your short range hunting scenarios.

High country hunters or those who shoot upwards of 200-300 yards on occasion will need a higher magnification scope. Variable magnification scopes will be of particular use to hunters of this sort, and a larger objective lens will actually be worth the added weight for shooters of this nature. Parallax adjustment features will also come into play for this type of hunter so keep an eye out for those additional options as well.

If you are not a hunter but a competitive target shooter or tactical enthusiast, then a variable magnification scope might be your best bet. The exceptions to this are traditionalists who prefer fixed powered scopes and are experts with BDC (bullet drop compensator) reticules. Larger windage and elevation turrets are preferred because adjustments may be frequently made, and parallax adjustments will also be another feature frequently utilized. More advanced reticules will also be of use when you're lining up that all important shot.

When it comes to price let's face it, a cheap scope is likely a poor investment. You will end up readjusting it frequently or you won't ever be able to shoot with total confidence when it counts. Get a high quality scope to match the quality of your firearm. Don't skimp on high grade glass and quality lens coatings either, it's an investment you won't regret. And remember, these are just suggestions. It's your scope, get the features you want just because you want them. That is exactly the reason we carry such an astounding variety of rifle scopes right here at Receive FREE Ground Shipping on all orders over $39.99.