How To Tell If A Scope Is Broken (Rifle Scope Tips)

You spent your hard-earned money on a new rifle scope and, after practicing with it at the range, you take it out on your first hunting trip. You align your eye behind the scope when suddenly, the crosshairs start bouncing all over the place. Is your scope busted?

Unfortunately, this is a common story many shooters have experienced. In this post, we’ll help you diagnose your scope failure & learn how to tell if a scope is broken in the first place!

Even Premium Scopes Fail

picture of a broken rifle scope

As someone who has shopped for all types of hunting equipment for 10 years, there are a few patterns you pick up on. As a general rule of thumb, when you buy a cheap or discounted scope, you can expect lower quality.

However, the truth of the matter is that even premium scopes can fail! Even the best of the M&P 15 Sport 2 scopes I tested have had some issues. In fact, Leupold charges in excess of $1,000 for some rifle scopes, and I still had CDS dial issues!

The point is…scopes are not perfect. In the next section, we’ll break down the signs that your scope may be broken.

10 Signs Your Scope Is Broken

Here are some of the most common signs that your scope may need to be repaired. If you know how do scopes work, it is easy to tell when something is wrong. If you run into any of these problems, take a look at your scope’s warranty information to get it fixed.

1) Huge Shot To Shot Variance

One giveaway that your scope is on the fritz is when you start to see large variances in your point of impact. In other words, if you’re constantly having to adjust your sights, there’s a good chance that something is wrong with your scope.

If you take aim from 100 yards and strike the target 2″ high. Then reload and take aim just to hit the next shot 2″ low. You should be suspicious that your scope may be busted.

2) Poor Verticle or Horizontal Tracking

Another way to see if your scope is busted is to try tracking targets horizontally and vertically. Is it difficult to track a target in a straight line?


If you bought one of the best night scopes for coyote hunting and can’t do either one, or if the crosshairs seem to be moving on their own, there’s a good chance that something’s wrong. Your first step should be to install a different scope on your rifle & see if the issue persists. If the issue is fixed…you know you have scope problems.

3) Adjustment Dials Are Not Accurate

Depending on if you have MRAD or MOA scopes, there are scope turrets that can be used to dial in your scope. You turn the dials on your scope to account for horizontal or vertical inaccuracies.

For example, depending on your specific scope, a 2 MOA click adjustment could result in a 2″ adjustment from 100 yards. If you start noticing that your adjustment clicks do not correspond to the proper point of impact adjustment, then you know you have a problem..

4) Tough To Zero Your Scope

If you just bought a 450 Bushmaster scope, the first thing you need to do is sight in your scope. There are some basic steps you need to take to zero your sight in order to align your scope with the point of impact.

If you have extreme difficulty achieving your 25 yard zero, there is probably an issue with your internal scope components or scope mount.

5) Inconsistent Scope Adjustments

If you can’t predict the number of clicks you need to make a scope adjustment on the fly, it will be hard to shoot accurately from long distances. To master precision shooting you need to know exactly how to make a quick adjustment. If your Pinty scope has seemingly random bullet drop and MOA adjustments…you have a scope problem.

6) Hard To Twist Adjustment Knobs

For the first few months of buying a new rifle scope you are very unlikely to encounter any issues. However, many shooters have experienced issues with their adjustment dials after just a few months.

Dials that once easily turned now take way too much effort to adjust. A good scope should be easy to adjust without having to use all your might. You should not have to whack your dials with a plastic or wood screwdriver to loosen it up!

7) Issues With Parallax

Many shooters have ran into a situation when their scope is level but crosshairs are off. If you align your eye behind your scope 10 times and have a different field of view each time, you likely have a parallax issue. Parallax is essentially inconsistency in your scope’s field of view. If you cannot dial in your parallax adjustment, then there is likely an issue with your scope.

8) Scope Constantly Loses Zero

Many shooters are able to easily zero a new scope. However, after months of shooting a high recoil rifle, their scope is suddenly out of zero again.

The first thing I would check is the scope rings. If your 30mm scope rings are loose…just tighten the screws. But if everything seems secure, there may be an issue with your scope. Contact the scope manufacturer if this happens to you.

9) Scope Rattles or Feels Wobbly

There is no worse feeling than watching your reticle bounce around as you take aim at a target. You give your gun a little shake and can feel your scope wobble around!

The obvious first step is to tighten your scope rings. If you don’t know how to put a scope on a rifle, you’re bound to have some issues. However, if your scope is damaged & does not interface with the scope mount properly, you may need to enforce your warranty!

10) Can’t Adjust Scope Rings

We already described a few different issues in this article alone in which you would want to adjust your scope rings. You might even want to move your rings to adjust your scope’s eye relief.

If you can’t tighten or loosen the rings, the screws may be stripped. Consider replacing the screws to start. If not, you may need a gunsmith to re-tap the scope mount screw holes.

Do You Need A Scope?

A rifle scope is a tool that can be used to improve your shooting accuracy at longer ranges. Many of the best rifle scopes for elk hunting are very effective accessories.

  • Better Target Visibility – The main benefit of using a scope is that it allows you to see your target more clearly. This is because the scope magnifies the image of the target, making it appear closer than it actually is.
  • Long Range – When used properly, a scope can help you to hit targets that are much further away than you could with open sights.
  • Poor Lighting – Another advantage of using a scope is that it can help you to shoot more accurately in low-light conditions. This is because the scope amplifies the available light, making it easier for you to see your target.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes a scope to lose zero?

There could be a few reasons why a scope might lose zero. One possibility is that the rings on the scope have loosened and shifted, which would throw off the alignment and cause the scope to no longer be accurately calibrated. Another possible reason is that the internal mechanisms of the scope may have become dirty or damaged, which would prevent it from functioning properly.

How long do rifle scopes last?

It really depends on the quality of the scope, but most rifle scopes should last anywhere from 20 to 30 years. Of course, if you're regularly taking your rifle scope out into the field and subjecting it to all sorts of bumps and knocks, then it's likely to wear out a lot sooner than that.

Why does my scope ran out of adjustment?

It's possible that your scope has a defect, but it's also possible that you're not adjusting it correctly. First, make sure the rifle is perfectly level before making any adjustments. Second, always use the same number of turns to adjust the scope. For example, if you turn the knob three times clockwise to adjust the elevation, always turn it three times counterclockwise to return it to its original position.

Do gun scopes hold their value?

It really depends on how well you take care of them. If you keep them in a good, dry place and don't misuse them, they will hold their value quite well. However, if you mishandle them or let them get wet, they may not be worth as much when it comes time to sell them.

The Bottom Line

The best way to find out if your scope is broken is to look for these issues on your own. If you can identify and fix them, you’ll be in a much better position. In most cases, you’re going to have to find a gunsmith or enforce your scope’s warranty. Use these tips to improve your own rifle accessories!

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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