Rifle Scope Magnification Explained | Which Magnification Is Best?

Magnification is a vital part of what makes up a scope. It enables hunters, tactical operators, and competitive shooters to shoot precisely at distances beyond relying on the naked eye alone. With the myriad options available, choosing the right magnification can be overwhelming.

But fear not; we are here to help. With decades of shooting experience and buying scopes, we are here to simplify the complex world of scope magnification for you. In this comprehensive guide, we explain everything from the numbers to what magnification is best for your specific use case.

Explanation Of Rifle Scope Magnification

Rifle scope magnification explained

The rifle scope magnification is the ability of a scope to make a target appear larger compared to viewing it with the naked eye. We call these types of rifle scopes variable magnification scopes. If a variable scope has a magnification of x9, it makes the target appear nine times closer than it actually is.

Higher magnification scopes allow you to see finer details at long distances allowing for precision long-range shooting. But these types of scopes generally have a lower field of view and have an oversized objective lens to allow maximum light transmission for a clear image.

Best Magnification By Use Case

1) Hunting

The best variable magnification scope for hunting depends on your use case. For hunting in dense brush, I prefer a low magnification scope such as 3-5x or 3-9x. I personally have a 3-5x on my Scout Scope and it works great! However, I need more magnification when I hunt in wide open plains and especially the mountains. Hence, I prefer variable scopes with 4-12x magnification.

2) Snipers & Tactical Shooting

Snipers rely on their scopes to perform incredibly long-range precision shooting. But they also need a scope that can provide a good field of view at closer distances. Hence, snipers usually prefer a scope magnification of 5-25x or 7-35x.

3) Range Shooting

The type of magnification you need for range shooting primarily depends on your rifle’s capabilities and the distance you conduct most of your target shooting. A versatile magnification range I like to use for range shooting is 5-15x. However, if you want to shoot at distances exceeding a mile, then you need magnification powers up to 30x. In my experience, 6.5 Creedmoor rifle scopes and others similar are great for range shooting.

4) Air Guns

Air guns have a relatively short range; therefore, using a fixed magnification scope will suffice – I use either a 5x or 8x scope on my air guns.

Rifle Scope Magnification Distance Guide

scope magnification distance guide

Scopes With 1-4x magnification

These magnifications are perfect for close-range shooting – generally within 100 yards. However, you can still use it for targets up to 200 yards. I use a 1-4x scope for my .22 LR and .17 HMR. The advantage of these low-magnification scopes is that they have a really good field of view and typically longer scope eye relief, enabling faster target shooting – perfect for fast-moving targets.

Scopes With 5-8x magnification

A 5-8x magnification is ideal for medium-range shooting – between the 200 and 400-yard mark. The advantage these scopes have over the 1-4x is that they offer more precision at those distances.


Scopes With 9-12x magnification

Now we are reaching the upper limit of deer hunting scope magnification. These scopes are suited for long-range shooting within 500 yards.

Scopes With 13-24x magnification

A 13-24x magnification is perfect for tactical use or range shooting at extremely long distances. They are more than capable of providing a clear image of the target at distances well over 500 yards and up to 1000 yards.

Explain The Numbers On A Scope

The numbers on the rifle scope refer to the objective lens diameter and magnification range. The magnification number tells you how magnified an image is. If your scope is set to a 6x magnification, then the image appears six times closer than what is observed with the naked eye.

A 5-9×42 scope has a minimum magnification of 5x and a maximum magnification of 9x. The 42 after the “x” refers to the objective lens diameter, which is measured in millimeters (mm). As a general rule, the larger the objective lens diameter, the better the light transmission – resulting in a brighter image.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is best rifle scope magnification?

The best rifle scope magnification changes depending on the specific use case. For air guns and .22 LR and .17 HMR: 1-4x or 5x. Medium range hunting: 5-9x. Long range hunting: 9-12x. Range shooting and tactical: 9-25x.

What range is a 3 9x40 scope good for?

A 3-9x40 scope is perfect for hunting animals within 100 yards and up to 500 yards.

How many yards is a 10x scope good for?

A 10x scope is perfect for ranges up to 500 yards.

What magnification do military snipers use?

Military snipers typically use a scope magnification of 10x and beyond. This is because they require a scope that enables them to perform long-range precision shooting.

Final Thoughts

When you choose the right rifle scope magnification, you will take your shooting performance to unprecedented levels. Remember, the ideal magnification varies on the use case. By understanding the intricacies involved with scope magnification, such as shooting range, target size, and lighting conditions, you can make an informed decision to suit your needs. Also, remember to choose a magnification power that complements your shooting style. 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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