How To Use A Scope | Tips For Hunting With Rifle Scopes

A scope has an essential contribution to the overall hunting experience for hunters. It allows you to hunt animals at further distances with higher accuracy than what is normally possible with iron sights. On the other hand, when the scope preparation is done incorrectly, it can lead to a bad overall experience – missing animals or possibly injuring them.

Hence, we saw fit to construct a quick crash course on how to use a scope. Note we have written detailed articles for most of these points, which I will provide links to if you wish to conduct some further reading. 

Step Description
1 Get Your Scope Mounted: Either have a qualified gunsmith mount your scope or follow a guide to mount it yourself, ensuring it is secure, level, and aligned.
2 Zero Your Rifle Scope: Adjust the point of aim with the point of impact by setting your target at your intended shooting distance and adjusting windage and elevation.
3 Adjust Your Eye Relief: Set the proper distance between your eye and the scope’s eyepiece to ensure a full field of view and prevent recoil-induced injuries.
4 Make Parallax Adjustments: Use the parallax adjustment knob to eliminate the parallax effect, ensuring the target stays in place when you move your eye.
5 Adjust Scope Magnification Power: Choose between fixed and variable power scopes, adjusting the magnification power based on shooting conditions and style.
6 Optimize Your Sight Picture: Center the reticle, ensure a full field of view, and optimize all scope adjustments for a clear sight picture.
7 Adjust Your Scope To Your Shooting Distance: Compensate for bullet drop using holdover points or adjusting the elevation turret for the target’s distance.
8 Always Use Scope Covers: Protect your scope with covers to prevent debris, dust, and scratches, ensuring its longevity.
9 Scope Storage: Store your scope in a cool, dry place away from moisture, such as a sealed gun case or safe, to prevent rust and maintain its condition.
10 Clean Your Scope: Perform routine maintenance by cleaning the lenses with lens cleaning solutions and the scope tube with a slightly damp cloth.

How To Use A Scope | Step-By-Step Guide

How to use a rifle scope

1) Get Your Scope Mounted

The first step is getting your scope mounted. You can either let a qualified gunsmith do this step, or you can follow our guide on how to mount a scope. Make sure you have a mounting kit that is appropriate for both your rifle and scope. Follow the instructions diligently, ensuring you mounted the rifle scope properly, so it is secure, level, and aligned.

Pro Tip #1: Use scope rings that are high enough for the objective lens but low enough to ensure a proper cheek weld.

2) Zero Your Rifle Scope

After you have mounted your scope, you will need to zero your rifle scope. Basically, this entails that you need to adjust your point of aim (rifle scope reticle) with the point of impact.

First, set your target at the distance you will be hunting at most, rounded up to a round number. I zero my medium-range hunting rifle scout scopes at either 50 or 100 yards, and long-distance shooting I use for hunting in the mountains and open plains at 200 yards.

Next, fire a couple of shots and adjust your windage and elevation knobs based on where the shots are hitting and you are aiming (follow our detailed guide here). Repeat this process until your shots hit precisely where you aim.

Pro Tip #2: After a couple of shots, wait for your rifle barrel to cool down – it affects the accuracy of your shots.

Pro Tip #3: Start with a bore sight first, next sight in the rifle for 25 yards– it saves you a lot of time and expensive ammo!

3) Adjust Your Eye Relief

Eye relief is the distance between your eye and the eyepiece of the scope when you don’t see any dark spots or black rings on the scope. Most rifle scopes have an eye relief between 3-4.5 inches. To ensure proper eye relief and prevent “scope eye” ( a recoil-induced injury from the scope hitting your eye), you can follow our detailed guide.

4) Make Parallax Adjustments

Unlike red dot sights, parallax is a common occurrence for rifle scopes. It is the phenomenon of when you move your eye side to side, and the target does not appear in the same position.

Most modern rifle scopes have a parallax adjustment knob. While keeping your rifle steady and your eye on the target, adjust the knob until the target stays in the same place even when you move your eye.

5) Adjust Scope Magnification Power

Most rifle scope manufacturers make two types of rifle scopes: a fixed power scope and a variable power scope. A fixed power scope only has one set magnification power, such as 5x or 8x.  The Best Hunting Scope I’ve used in a fixed power scope! A variable power lens has a magnification range, which means you can adjust the magnification power based on the distance between you and your target.

You adjust the magnification power through a ring found on the scope tube. A higher magnification increases the size of the target, but it also decreases your field of view.

Pro Tip #4: Choose a magnification based on your shooting conditions and style – allowing for a much more enjoyable overall hunting experience.

6) Optimize Your Sight Picture

Next, you need to adjust the scope in order to achieve proper sight picture. You can do this by ensuring the reticle is centered, the field of view is full, all your scope adjustments are optimized to your preference, and your target and reticle are crystal clear.


Pro Tip #5: The more you practice, the easier and faster it is to achieve a proper sight picture.

7) Adjust Your Scope To Your Shooting Distance

Some advanced rifle scopes can help you compensate for bullet drop over long distances. You can use the holdover points for different ranges if you have one of these scopes, such as the TMR or BDC, or even a Mil-Dot scope. However, some scopes require you to “dial in” the distance – adjusting the elevation turret for the distance to the target. Even the best muzzleloader scope will need to be dialed in to the correct distance.

8) Always Use Scope Covers

A scope is an expensive investment; therefore, the next three steps are on how to ensure your scope’s longevity – some of my scopes are 50 years old, and I still use them.

Using scope covers is the first step in prolonging the life of your scope. When choosing rifle scopes always be sure they come with the covers! They protect your scope from debris, dust, and damage from scratches. Always put the lens covers back on after shooting.

9) Scope Storage

Rust is a scope’s worst enemy, even if it has multi-coatings and so on – some parts can still rust. Always store your scope in a cool, dry place away from any moisture. And just like we saw in our list of the 5 best 17 HMR scopes, a sealed gun case or safe is always a good place for storage.

10) Clean Your Scope!

Routine maintenance is key to ensuring your scope remains in good working condition. For the lenses, use lens cleaning solutions and soft, lint-free cloths to ensure you don’t damage the lens coatings. You can use a slightly damp cloth for the scope tube and then dry it thoroughly afterward. Here is our detailed guide on cleaning scope lenses.

Tips For Aiming Your Rifle Scope While Hunting

scope aiming tips

Know Your Rifle: This is where practice comes in again. When you familiarize yourself with the feel and performance of your rifle and scope, you feel more comfortable aiming and shooting at targets. It also helps you practice proper aiming form, allowing for a faster target acquisition rate and more accurate shots.

  • Zero In: Before hunting, adjust your scope turrets to make sure your rifle is zeroed properly – one insignificant collision can put your scope out of the zero state.
  • Study Your Quarry: Understanding the size and behavior of your prey helps you better anticipate their movement and hence allows you to aim better. Experience helps a lot here, but you can still study your prey by watching videos or reading books about them.
  • Understand Windage: Take the windage into account – heavier bullets are not as affected by the wind at short to medium ranges as lighter bullets. But it is still important to be aware of the wind direction and speed, as it can significantly affect the trajectory of your bullet.
  • Master Distance Estimation: Learn to accurately judge distances in the field, as misjudging the range can lead to missed shots. Judging distance in the mountains is especially difficult, but a range finder can help you scope distances and make proper aim adjustments.
  • Use Proper Breath Control: Breath control is very important – from starting the hunting day to aiming at the animal. Exhale completely and hold your breath as you pull the trigger for the steadiest shot.
  • Patience is Key: Don’t rush your shots – take the shot at the right moment for the highest accuracy.

Different Types of Rifle Scopes

  • Fixed Power Scopes: As already mentioned, these scopes only have one magnification power.
  • Variable Power Scopes: These scopes have a magnification range and are the most common type of rifle scopes.
  • Long-Range Scopes: These long range scopes have higher magnification and more precise adjustment features than normal hunting scopes.
  • Night Vision Scopes: Night vision scopes allow you to shoot in low-light conditions by amplifying available light.
  • Thermal Scopes: Thermal scopes detect the heat living organisms emit instead of relying on visible light.
  • Low-powered variable optics (LPVO): These LPVO scopes are designed for long eye relief and low magnification, allowing for quick target acquisition at closer ranges.
  • Muzzleloader Scopes: These scopes are robust, often with a single magnification and wide field of view. They are designed to withstand the intense recoil of a muzzleloader.

You get variations of these scopes, with some having illuminated reticles or bullet drop compensators, but they all follow the same basic design.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do the 3 knobs on a scope do?

You use these knobs for fine-tuning your scope for better accuracy. The knob located on the side is for windage, the knob located on the top is for elevation, and then the final knob is for parallax or focus adjustment (aligning the target and reticle on the same focal plane)

How are scopes used?

By magnifying a target and providing a more accurate point of aim over the standard iron sight. This allows for precise shooting over various distances.

Do you chase the bullet with a scope?

It is very difficult to chase a bullet with a scope. If you want to see the bullet travel in the air, you can use tracer rounds and shoot at night for best results.

Which knob on a scope is up?

The knob located at the center top part of the scope tube is used for adjusting the elevation.

The Bottom Line

Using a rifle scope is very straightforward, but you have to get the basics right to ensure optimal performance. Failure to do so will result in disappointing experiences and even possibly injuring yourself and the animal you’re hunting. Always ensure your rifle scope is zeroed, maintain proper form when aiming, and practice routine maintenance on your scopes. By following these guidelines, you can rest assured that your first hunting experience will be memorable!

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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