How To Choose A Rifle Scope – 7 Things You Should Look Out For

So you are in the market for a rifle scope?

Whether you are a hunter, target shooter, survivalist or a weekend range regular, buying a rifle scope can often be a dangerous venture if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for. When I first bought my rifle scope, I was shocked at how much a decent scope would cost, with most quality ones being close to the price of a rifle, or more. To help you sort your way between the good to the bad, there are a few things you should know about rifle scopes.

What should you be looking for and how can you tell if the rifle scope is going to be quality or not? In such a big market with so many competing brands it’s easy to think that the cheap option might be the good option. Well sadly, that is not the case.

You have probably heard many times a worn out saying “you get what you pay for,” especially when one intends to buy a rifle scope. If you know anything about them, you will know that a lot of quality scopes can be in a similar price-range to many intro-level rifles. When first-time buyers pick up their first rifle, many underestimate the pricing of a quality scope and end up buying the cheaper version, only having to replace it later down the track (or sooner).

Low budget rifle scopes are generally cheap for the reason that they use cheaper materials and/or cheaper labor, which inevitably results in the loss of quality and lack of durability in a rifle scope. That’s also not to mention the fact that at times, with some cheap scopes, you’re not going to hit anything at all as there is no just no reliable accuracy to them.

How much is a good rifle scope?

how much is a good rifle scope

For most rifle scopes, less is poor. That will mean you will have poor accuracy, reliability, and quality in your scope. The comparison for rifle scopes is very akin to that of cars. If you’re going to buy a dead cheap one, it’s going to either be a lucky star of a buy, or it is going to cause you a lot of stress and ruin your shooting experience. With a mid-range budget rifle scope, you are able to enjoy more of what you do, and then as you progress, a more advanced (and more expensive) rifle scope might be a better option.

When you are looking around online for a scope for your hunting or competition rifle, you should keep to a middle ground budget of the rifle scope market and make sure that whatever you’re considering, it includes decent craftsmanship and necessary features at prices that fit within a budget you have set.

For this guide, we recommend setting a budget of, at the very least, $200-$250 and a maximum of $600-$700. Of course, if you are more experienced with shooting, and are a regular shooter, you might want to invest a considerable amount more in a rifle scope such as the Vortex Razor or Sightron SIII which are for a much higher budget.

How does a rifle scope work?

Before we get into the specific features you should be looking for, I thought it would be a good start of this post to explain how a rifle scope actually works, so that you know the specifics of what you are buying, and why quality matters.

In the most basic explanation of a rifle scope, it serves as nothing more than a tube that holds lenses for magnification and a small reticle to indicate where your bullet would land when shot. It’s the same as a telescope, but with a target for a precise aim.

As you can see in the diagram below, a rifle scope is a little more technical than the basic description I gave above. There are a lot of working parts to it which is why many of the advanced scopes on the market are high-priced accessories.

how a rifle scope works

So what are the most important parts of a rifle scope? The larger lens which sits at the front of the scope, farthest from the eye, is the objective lens. The objective lens (located in the objective assembly in the image above) transmits light to the ocular lens (the lens closest to your eye). The light passes through from the objective lens to a focal point inside the scope. The ocular lens acts as a magnification on that focal plane.

The reticle, which is more commonly known as the crosshairs, will be located either in front of, or behind, the magnifying lenses. If it is in front of the lens it is known as a first focal plane reticle. In that type of rifle scope, when you change the magnification, the crosshairs will adjust in size for the person looking through the scope. For the second focal plane reticle, the reticle crosshairs is behind the magnifying lens. In this case, from the shooter’s perspective, the reticle stays the same size, but changes in size in relation to the target as the magnification is changed.

So now that we know a little more about what we’re looking for in a good rifle scope, let’s take a look at some of the popular brands currently on the market.

What are the best rifle scope brands?

best rifle scope brand

There are literally hundreds of brands of rifle scopes that I could write about here, which would no doubt make a very exhaustive post on its own. Instead, I am going to pick out a few rifle scope brands that I think are some of the best brands to accompany a good rifle.

All of these scopes are within our initial budget and are great for both first-time buyers and experienced shooters:

You can find more rifle scope brands here.

There are a number of specifications, designs, and materials that make these rifle scopes more effective than others, but for the most, it is because these manufacturers have been designing rifle scopes and have developed them over a number of years, making improvements based on customer feedback and professional insight. This is what you get when you pay in this range for a rifle scope.

So what are some of the specifications you should be paying attention to when looking for one of these scopes or any other rifle scope out on the market?

What should you be looking for when buying a rifle scope?

If you’re buying a new scope for your rifle, there are some specific qualities you should be looking for. The first thing is to define your needs and then decide what exactly you want from your new rifle scope. Whether you are a hunter, casual range shooter or a target shooter, you might be looking completely different features to what others may have used it for.

We have taken a look at how a rifle scope works, and some of the top rifle scope brands, so now it is time to take a look at the seven things you need to consider and look out for when buying a rifle scope.

 1. Magnification

best hunting scope

If you plan to use a scope on your hunting rifle, you should decide first about where you hunt and what you hunt. A few decades ago, a classic, fixed 4x or variable 3-9x scopes were common among many basic hunting rifles. Because the shots under 100 yards are ubiquitous for everything from hogs and deer to coyotes, these lower magnification riflescopes were perfect. Today the candidates for an “all-around” scope should be ones with lower magnifications levels too, but now with the 4:1 zoom ratio (2.5-10×) or even bigger.

If you are shooting long distances using full-scale rifles, you will need zoom ranging from at least 12x-20x. Unlike off-hand shooting with low-powered scopes, any magnification above 10x will require a supported position.

2. Construction

nikon buckmaster scope

The body of the scope or the “main tube,” can vary in diameters of 25 mm, 30mm and 34 mm, this largely depends upon the brand and the type you are looking for. Buying a scope with larger tubes provide more space for interior components and increases the range of adjustment, which is vital for long-distance targeting. Besides, the bigger housing demands special mounting rings that can be pricier and more limited in selection. If you’re going to spend a lot on a scope, you shouldn’t have to spend much over $50 for the base mount.

As a typical feature, all modern scopes are nitrogen or argon-purged to prevent fogging and they are waterproof and shockproof as well. The Nikon Buckmaster (image above) like many other quality rifle scopes, is ntrogen-purged to make it completely fog and waterproof.

3. Objective Lens

looking through a scope

Here the situation is pretty straightforward, the larger the objective lens is, the more light can enter the scope allowing better performance in low light conditions. Objective lens sizes are ranging from 20 mm to 72 mm, but you should note that optics with a 50-mm glass bell or larger requires the riflescope be mounted higher. This can have an effect on scope-to-eye alignment and consistency of cheek weld. Anyway, you should always try to mount a riflescope as low as possible without the objective bell touching the barrel.

To ensure maximum brightness, the lenses should be protected with some hydrophobic or hydrophilic lens coating, and have multiple layers on all air to glass surfaces. That highest coating level is known as fully multi-coated glasses.

4. Eye-relief

scope eye injury

While the most common eye relief is around four inches, less-quality scopes boast only 3-3,5 inches, and this is very short eye distance for the higher recoiling rifles. As a word of caution, the higher eye-relief is must for the owners of powerful-rifles to avoid scope-eye as seen above (I’m sure you have seen the horror stories of inexperienced users with black eyes). There is a specific niche of firearms requesting long eye relief scopes. These scopes are most commonly found on scout rifles, certain surplus rifles and hunting revolvers with eye relief ranging from 6-16 inches.

5. Reticle and Focal Plane

rifle scope reticle

For a first time riflescope buyer, it is recommended to select a standard “Duplex” or a German No. 4 reticle.  While these type of reticles are sufficient for most hunting arms, ranges and conditions, the long-range competitors and varmint shooters may demand a finer crosshair. For long-range target and tactical shooting, you have a choice of more complex to understand “Christmas tree” types of reticles, yet really popular because of their impressive tactical features.

There is another important decision of choosing between the scopes with a reticle positioned in the first or second focal plane. The reticle located in the first focal plane (FFP) means that the reticle maintains the same perspective with the target size throughout the magnification range and it is preferred by the long-range shooters. If it is placed in the second focal plane (SFP), it means that when you increase the power zoom, the target appears larger but the reticle will stay the same size.

You can choose an illuminated reticle as it can help you improve sighting in low-light conditions, mainly when hunting during dawn and dusk.

6. Parallax

The parallax is not present at all in most low-magnification scopes, but it occurs in high-power scopes utilized over long distances when your line of sight is not exactly lined up. Parallax is an optical illusion that increases with magnification, giving you a larger margin of error at higher powers and it must be corrected. High power riflescopes usually feature an adjustment ring located on the objective bell as more expensive sports side-mount turret.

7. Turrets and Adjustments

Rifle scope adjustments

The primary job of a turret is to make the adjustments that are referred to as windage and elevation. There are several types of turrets since the different riflescopes serve different purposes. When buying a rifle scope, you should opt for standard ballistic turrets with adjustments commonly related to the distance you are firing in yards. These non-tactical models usually have adjustments in inches valued at 1/4” or 1/8”.

In addition, lots of companies make low-profile ballistic knobs that are often capped to prevent any accidental adjustments. On the other side, there are target knobs with open style turrets intended for the precise adjustments and featured by their height and often-small adjustment scales.

The turrets are also available with two key adjustment systems with the first expressed in MOA (Minute Of Angle) and corresponding to 1 inch (2.5 cm) when shooting at 100 yards. Another is a bit complicated and expressed in MRAD, where 1 MRAD is approximately 3.6 inches (9.1 cm) at 100 yards. While the MOA is the most common for a variety of shooters, the MRAD system is favored by long-range shooters.

Over to you…

Too much EDC gearI have to mention that not every rifle scope can be used for every type of firearm. In order to avoid making a mall ninja product of your AR-15 or another favorite gun, you should understand mounting capabilities of your weapon and prevent the rifle from becoming cumbersome and unwieldy. Don’t do what the owner has done on the right.

Making a guideline for choosing an appropriate scope and narrowing the field to the “right” one can be a daunting task. You can buy rifle scopes ranging from cheap $50 imports all the way up to $2,000+ high-end scopes, but the golden rule to be followed is to spend at least half as much on the optics as you have on the rifle itself.

Some other articles you might enjoy on rifles are:

Let me know your thoughts on this topic!