How To Choose A Rifle Scope | Scope Buying Guide

Congratulations are in order – if you are reading this article, it must mean you are embarking on the exciting journey of buying a new scope. Several factors play a role when buying a scope. Therefore, it is important that you follow a few strict guidelines to ensure that you end up with the right scope and avoid any potential disappointment. Luckily, we are here to help. After years of scope buying experience and knowing what to look for and what to avoid, we can provide an honest review of the intricacies involved with finding the perfect scope.

Step Description
1 Learn What Scope Numbers Mean: Familiarize yourself with magnification and objective lens diameter numbers, as they indicate the scope’s capabilities.
2 Scope Light Transmission: Consider light transmission for brighter and clearer images, influenced by the objective lens size, lens coatings, and lens quality.
3 Understand Eye Relief: Decide on eye relief based on your shooting preferences and equipment, considering factors like glasses and recoil.
4 Pick Your Scope Magnification: Choose a magnification range based on your intended use, such as close-range, medium-range, or long-range shooting.
5 Scope and Objective Lens Size: Balance optical performance with weight and size, considering how much the objective lens influences your decision.
6 Lens Coatings: Consider the level of lens coatings (coated, fully coated, multi-coated, fully multi-coated) to improve light transmission and protect the lens.
7 Field Of View: Choose a wider field of view for hunting scopes to track moving targets better, while expecting a narrower field of view for range shooting.
8 Different Scope Reticles: Explore various reticle types such as duplex, BDC, mil-dot, German, and choose based on your shooting needs (hunting or range shooting).
9 Know Your Budget & Use Case: Set a fixed budget and prioritize features based on your hunting application and shooting style.

How To Choose A Rifle Scope To Buy

Pick A Rifle Scope

1) Learn What Scope Numbers Mean

Before choosing a rifle scope, it is vital that you familiarize yourself with what the numbers mean. For instance, if a scope is labeled as a 4-12×48, it means the scope has a 4-12 magnification range, and the image can be magnified between 3-9 times closer than what the naked eye can see.

Additionally, the “48” denotes the objective lens diameter – the size is important, but we will discuss it in the next point.

2) Scope Light Transmission

Light transmission refers to the available light that passes through the lens to your eye. The higher the light transmission, the brighter and clearer the image. This is especially true for low-light conditions such as hunting at dawn and dusk. There are many low lighting scopes that are great for this!

As mentioned, the objective lens is very important. Generally, the larger the objective lens, the higher the light transmission will be. A company’s rifle scope lens coatings also enhance light transmission capabilities.

Finally, the quality of the lenses also affects light transmission – high-quality lenses will have better light transmission.

3) Understand Eye Relief

Deciding what eye relief you want is always a tricky one. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a Scout or Muzzleloader Scope, eye relief matters. Eye relief refers to the distance between your eye and the eyepiece of the scope when you have a full field of view in the scope.

A longer eye relief allows for more space between you and your scope. I always go for a longer eye relief because I wear glasses – providing a safe distance between my glasses and the eyepiece. Additionally, having a long eye relief for high recoil weapons such as shotguns or large calibers is always recommended – that’s why I prefer fixed power scopes for my shotguns.

4) Pick Your Scope Magnification

When shopping for a new scope, it is important you keep your intended use case in mind – this is especially important when deciding on what magnification range to opt for.

If your application is primarily close-range shooting on fast-moving targets, then a lower magnification scope is better suited for the job. However, if you are going to hunt in wide open spaces or want a scope for long-range shooting, then a higher magnification is better.

  • Short range: 1x or 3-5x (hunting)
  • Medium range: 3-9x or 3-12x (hunting)
  • Long range: 9-25x (range shooting)

Rifle Scope Magnification

5) Scope and Objective Lens Size

As mentioned, the scope’s objective lens is critical because it influences light transmission. However, it is important that you find the balance between optical performance and optimal weight and size. Because a scope that is too heavy will just make for an uncomfortable hunting experience. Therefore, you must decide how much objective lens should influence your decision when buying a scope.

6) Lens Coatings

Lens coatings have three main functions: improve light transmission, reduce glare, and protect the lens from scratches. Generally, you get four levels of coatings:

  1. coated – single layer
  2. fully coated – single layer on all the air-to-glass surfaces
  3. multi-coated – multiple layers on at least one lens
  4. fully multi-coated (my preferred choice) – multiple layers on all air-to-glass surfaces

Note: the more lens coatings, the better the light transmission. But this also increases the price you pay for the rifle scope.

7) Field Of View

Field of View (FOV) refers to how wide you can see through the scope at 100 yards. I always want a wider field of view for my hunting scopes because it enables me to track moving targets better against the surroundings.

For range shooting, you can expect a narrower field of view because of the higher magnification.

8) Different Scope Reticles

There is an abundance of types of reticles, such as duplex, BDC (reticle estimates bullet drop), mil-dot, German, and others. I prefer the standard duplex reticle or Vortex’s V-Plex reticle for hunting because it is simple and good for hunting.

For range shooting, you need something that can help you shoot accurately at longer distances – reticles like the BDC and Leupold’s TMR are ideal.


9) Know Your Budget & Use Case

Finally, it is important that you go into a shop or an online optic shop with a fixed budget set and you already know your use case. When you shop for a scope, prioritize your need and decide what features will help you best accomplish your hunting application and style.

How To Pick Scope Rings & Mounts

We did a detailed guide on how to pick the right scope rings and mounts, which you can follow via the link. But here is a summarized version:

  1. Measure or check the manual for the diameter of your scope’s main tube – typically 1 inch, 30mm, or 34mm.
  2. Make sure the rings you choose are high enough to provide adequate clearance between the scope and the rifle – not touching each other. But it should also be as low as possible to ensure a comfortable and good cheek weld.
  3. Research your rifle’s base type – it will either be Picatinny, Weaver, or Dovetail. Make sure you get the correct mount type for your rifle; otherwise, you won’t be able to mount your scope. The 8 types of rifles often have different rails!
  4. Finally, you should also factor material quality and type into your decision. I prefer aluminum because it is still very durable yet considerably lighter than steel.

How To Pick A Rifle Scope For Hunting

The nine-bullet guide we discussed at the start of the article applies to picking a rifle scope for hunting, as you will apply those same principles and guidelines here. Below is a summary of the nine guidelines for buying a scope optimized for hunting scopes:

  1. Magnification: How much magnification you need depends on the range you will predominantly shoot at. For close-range hunting, a 3-5x is a perfect magnification range. And for medium-range and long-range hunting, a 3-9x or 5-12x is perfect.
  2. Eye relief: A high-recoil rifle will require a scope that has longer eye relief to prevent possible injury.
  3. Light transmission: If you are going to use the scope for varminting or hunting at low light conditions, you should prioritize a large objective lens and good lens coatings to ensure enough light transmission for a clear sight picture. However, if you are doing most of your hunting on foot, it is vital that you find a scope that perfectly balances the objective lens size and the weight of the scope.
  4. Durability: If you are like me, you need a scope that can handle a beating. It’s not that I neglect my rifle scopes; it’s just because the main environment I hunt in requires a robust and extremely durable scope – trust me, the last thing you want is your scope breaking when you are 2 days into your hunting trip and on top of a mountain.
  5. Reticle: I prefer the simple duplex scope reticle over the BDC and mil-dot reticles for hunting. Simply because the minimalistic design of the duplex makes it easier to track the game through the scope in a busy background, most scopes used for hunting have a second focal plane reticle. Still, you do get first focal plane hunting scopes. However, I prefer a second focal plane for hunting.

How To Pick Tactical Rifle Scope

Choosing a tactical rifle scope follows similar principles to picking a hunting rifle scope but with a few alterations.

A higher magnification is preferred for tactical shooting – a 12-25x magnification range is perfect. Look for a scope that has the Mil-Dot, Horus, BDC, or TMR reticle. These reticles offer hair-thin precision at long range. Illuminated reticles are also a huge bonus as it increases the versatility of the scope.

I also prefer a first focal plane scope because the reticle size is correlated to the magnification – the higher the magnification, the larger the reticle. This allows for accurate holdover and windage corrections at extremely high magnifications.

What To Do After Buying A Rifle Scope

After buying a new rifle scope there are a few things you will need to do.

  1. Read the specification
  2. Zero your scope
  3. Practice shooting

1) Read The Specification

We all know what a pain it is to read the owner’s manual. But reading it thoroughly can save you a lot of frustration and disappointment. In the manual, you find crucial information about your scope’s adjustments, mountings, and maintenance.

You also find information regarding your scope reticles and how to properly use them. If it is a BDC reticle, then it guides you through the steps of calibrating the reticle to your rifle caliber and load.

2) Zero Your Scope

After you read the specifications thoroughly, it is time to mount your scope to your rifle and zero it. Zeroing basically means the process of aligning the point of aim with the point of impact at a specific distance.

It is important that you decide what range you will zero your rifle. Tip: choose the distance you most often hunt at – I zero my rifle scopes at 200 yards unless it is a short-range rifle. You can follow our detailed guide on how to zero your scope.

3) Practice!

After you have successfully completed the previous two steps, it’s time to practice. Each scope has its own unique feel to it, and it is vital that you practice so that you get comfortable with the scope before using it for hunting.

Try and shoot from various distances as well as with different magnifications. Also, try to practice in different environments because windage and elevation play a major factor in the accuracy of a shot.

Regardless of your experience, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the new scope. I like to remind myself of the famous golfer Gary Player’s quote when I get frustrated from all the practicing: “The more you practice, the luckier you get.”

Benefits Of Using A Rifle Scope

Here is a list of the benefits of using a scope on your rifle.

  • Increases range: Rifle scopes allow you to make more effective shots at greater distances – extending the range beyond what you can achieve with iron sights.
  • Accuracy: Rifle scopes magnify the target and its surroundings – enabling you to aim better and hence with higher accuracy.
  • Confidence: When you shoot with a rifle scope, you can have a boost in confidence because the target is clearly visible, and you know that you are much more likely off hitting your mark.
  • Versatility: Scopes that have variable magnification, bullet drop compensators, illuminated reticles, night vision, or thermal vision allow the shooter to adapt to various shooting conditions with ease.

Frequently Asked Questions

What magnification do I need for rifle scope?

A variable power scope (a scope with more than one magnification) is always a huge bonus in any hunting scenario. If you are planning to hunt in dense brush or woods, then a 3-5x scope is recommended. Hunting in the mountains or open plains requires a scope with 3-9x or 5-12x magnification. For range shooting, you can go up to a 25x magnification.

Are expensive rifle scopes worth it?

Yes, expensive scopes typically have better lens coatings and features. They are also built from higher-quality materials. However, for the average hunter, an expensive rifle scope is not necessarily worth it.

Should I buy a mil or MOA scope?

If you are a long-range shooter, then the mil scope is better as you can make more precise windage and elevation corrections. However, if you are a hunter, then a MOA scope is better - it is a more simplified aiming platform that is better suited for hunting.

Should I put a scope or red dot on my AR?

Yes, a red dot, variable scope, or fixed power scope can dramatically increase your accuracy and target acquisition rate. However, it is important to remember that your AR's maneuverability will be slighter and lower with a scope mounted.

The Bottom Line

Whether it is for target shooting or hunting, each scope has a specific application. Therefore, it is important that you define your applications as well as your budget before buying your scope. Always remember to consider the nine bullets discussed in this guide when buying your scope. If you follow this guide diligently, you can rest assured that you will get the perfect scope for your needs. Happy shooting!

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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