You’ve got yourself a rifle, you’re ready to get outside and start hunting, but you haven’t found the right scope yet for your weapon. Scopes come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, but more importantly, they vary greatly in quality. With scopes, you do get what you pay for, and there’s no shame in spending more on the optics than you do on the rifle.
What is a Scope?
A scope is a shorthand for a telescopic sight, which is an optical device based on a refracting telescope that allows you to see objects far away in greater detail. Typically, they will have a reticle which is zeroed to ensure that the center is the point at which the bullet will hit, presuming you get off a clean shot.
Scope Magnification Numbers
When you look at the different optics that you can choose from you’ll find that they are typically listed as “4x32” or “8x40”. The first number is the magnification power of the scope. Four times would enlarge the size of the object for four times, while an eight times scope enlarges it by eight times, simple.
The second number is slightly more complicated, it’s the diameter of the objective lens, which is the lens furthest from your eye. A larger lens will allow more light to enter and therefore provides a clearer, brighter and more detailed image for you to look at.
As the power of the scope increases, i.e., from four to eight times magnification, the amount of light entering needs to increase otherwise you’ll get a dark image. For example, a 4×32 scope will be brighter than a 12×40 scope, despite the larger diameter of the objective lens, because a 32 diameter lens does more for a four times image than a 40 diameter does for the twelve times.
Types of Reticle
The reticle is the cross or another image which you see when you look into the eyepiece, allowing you to see where you are aiming. Traditionally this cross was made from a fine piece of silk at the front of the lens but is now often finely etched into the glass or made from metal or a man-made material which is durable.
You can find reticles in a variety of shapes and patterns, but the most common is the simple cross and a mil-dot reticle. Mil-dots allow you to adjust for wind and bullet drop at a distance because the distance from the center of one dot to the next is roughly equal to one yard when shooting at a target one thousand yards away.
With this knowledge, you can do some simple battlefield math and figure out where you need to aim to hit a moving target or a target after wind and bullet drop.
Choosing a Scope
Figuring out which scope to use on your rifle can be confusing because there are so many options available, but it really shouldn’t take more than an hour or so to pick the perfect one. Most importantly, you need to consider the price, quality, magnification, and weight of the piece.
As with anything you’ll ever buy, the price is one of the most important factors. When it comes to scopes the more, you spend, typically the better the product. High-quality pieces start above $1000, medium tier optics can be had above $400, and recommended entry level scopes start around $200.
The quality of scope varies significantly between brands, with some standing out as clear winners such as Swarovski and Schmidt and Bender. Perhaps the most important factor in determining the quality of the scope is the precision and quality of each lens. More fine, precise and well-coated lenses produce a superior image quality with the same powered scope.
Depending on what you will hunting and the environment in which you live, you might desire a certain level of magnification. For most hunters a 4 to 8 times magnification is plenty. It’s very rare that you’ll be hunting animals from more than a few hundred yards and at this distance, a 4x scope is fine and 8x is overkill. Most hunters would do best with a 4x scope.
The weight of the piece is also very important, especially if you are stalking the animal and will have the carry the weapon with you. Even if you’re hunting from a blind, having to hold and steady the rifle can be difficult with a few extra pounds on the top.