If you’re looking to purchase a new scope for your rifle, it’s important to check out a few specifications before you make your decision. Keep reading to learn what to look for in a scope.
Deciding to invest in a new riflescope is a wise choice. Unless you’re just a traditionalist or simply enjoy a challenge, upgrading to a scope is almost a necessity for range-shooting or hunting. An added scope will give you a leg up on not only your accuracy but also the distances you can comfortably shoot. There are obvious reasons why manufacturers pour buckets of money into researching and developing the best scopes. A quality product is worth having.
If you are new to buying a scope, you might not know what to look for. After all, there are thousands of different scopes on the market. Some sell for as little as $30, and others sell for as much as $3,000. But, with such a wide variety of prices, what makes these scopes any different? What makes one scope 100x more valuable than another? If you find yourself asking these questions, know that you can find quality scopes without spending several thousand dollars.
As someone looking to buy a new scope, you’ve probably run across a lot of terms that you might not understand—focal plane, argon and nitrogen purging, minute of angle, etc. Don’t worry – it can be a lot to process at once. To help you out, we are going to go through it all step-by-step, and break down some of these terms. We’ll walk you through what to look for when you buy a scope and hopefully help you find the right scope for your firearm. Shall we launch into it?
Objective Lens and Tube
The tube and objective lens of a scope are the most visible parts of the system. When you imagine a scope, you see the outer plastic or metal tube, likely with two bulbous ends and some knobs in the middle. Those two bulbous ends are the lenses. The larger front-facing end is your objective lens. This is the part of the scope that will take in light and project an image through the scope and into your eye.
The tube of a scope will typically measure 34mm, 30mm, or 1in in diameter. With a larger tube, you have a wider range of possible adjustments, making a larger tubed scope better for long-distance shots. They are also more durable because of added material. A larger tube does come with the downside of being heavier than a small tube, so weigh your options before choosing tube.
As for the objective lens, they come in all sorts of sizes—from 20mm up to 70mm. The objective lens is responsible for collecting light, so the larger your objective lens, the more light you will get in the scope. Having more light equates to a better, brighter, and high-contrast image. Scopes with larger objective lenses, such as the Bushnell Elite Tactical Riflescope HDMR II, are excellent for use in low light conditions. The HDMR II features a 50mm objective lens, putting it towards to higher range of sizes. But, with more glass, you can also expect higher prices and higher weights. For example, the HDMR II weighs almost 2.5lbs.
Another term to keep an out for is “coating.” Manufactures love to mention the quality of their coating. What they mean is how antireflective their lenses are. Any quality lens will have some amount of antireflective coating, but the manufacturer will use one of two terms: multi-coated and fully multi-coated. Fully multi-coated optics have been coated more than standard multi-coated and therefore are less reflective. This means more light will enter your scope for higher quality.
Focal Plane and Reticles
After considering how large of a scope you, whether it be the optical lens or tube size, you should consider what sort of reticle you want to look through. There is a huge variety of reticles from which to choose—from illuminated dots and rangefinders to trees and letter scrambled, such as MOA and MIL.
Each reticle has its own use so you will need first to figure out what you want to be shooting. Illuminated dot reticles are more often used with tactical scopes for their rapid target acquisition. If you want to shoot long-distances, we’d recommend a BDC (bullet drop compensation) reticle, or, if you’re going to hunt, a standard German cross reticle is an excellent option.
Be aware that reticles can be etched in different locations within a scope. This is known as the focal plane. There are two variations to look out for—first focal plane and second focal plane reticles. If a scope is listed as “first focal plane”, the reticle is etched closer to the front of the scope. The effect this causes it that, as you increase magnification, it will appear as if you are zooming into the reticle. It will grow larger and bolder. These scopes are usually more expensive because they are harder to manufacture.
If a scope is listed as a second focal plane scope, such as the Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9X40mm Riflescope, the reticle is etched closer to the back of the scope. When you look through the VX-Freedom, the reticle is not altered as you increase magnification. Compared to a first focal plane reticle, the Leupold VX-Freedom will have a stronger reticle at lower magnifications. So, if you do most of your shooting at low magnification, we recommend a second focal plane setup. If you prefer shooting at high-magnification, perhaps long-distance, a first focal plane reticle may be more to your liking.
Speaking of magnification, you’re probably wondering why we haven’t talked about it yet. The whole point of a scope is to zoom in, after all. When starting out, a lot of people tend to think that more magnification is always better. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but then again, it’s not always right. The amount of magnification you need comes down to what you are shooting.
If you intend to shoot targets long-range, you will clearly need a more powerful magnification. Any shot over 500yds requires 10x magnification to guarantee a quality shot. If you get up to 1,000yd shots, you will want 14-16x magnification. But let’s say you’re not a long-distance target shooter. If you are hunting, nine times out of ten, you are not going to need that powerful of a scope. Most hunters are getting kills within 150yds.
Having too much magnification can be a major drawback. As you zoom in, you lose some of the field of view. If you zoom in too far, you won’t be able to see the peripheries. As a hunter, if your target darts after you’ve fired, you can easily lose sight of it if at the highest magnification level. Rather than a powerful long-distance scope, most hunters prefer a tactical scope with a larger objective lens to capture light and a decent magnification around 6-9x.
A prime example of this is the Pinty 3-9X40 Red Green Rangefinder Illuminated Optical Rifle Scope. It features a large 40mm objective lens for clear, bright, and high-contrast images, with a decent 3-9x zoom. It also has an illuminated green or red rangefinder zoom for easy target acquisition. This type of scope lets you quickly and accurately hunt without overdoing it on the magnification.
The next thing to consider when buying a rifle scope is the adjustments. Whenever you line up a shot, you’ll want to make slight adjustments for the distance to the target. These adjustments can be magnification, windage, or elevation. Whatever you are adjusting, you typically want them to work smoothly and quickly. If you’re hunting, you don’t want to be fidgeting with your scope while a twelve-point buck walks out of sight.
It’s not a particularly difficult skill to quickly dial in your scope, but it does take a bit of practice. You’ll want to check your scope every time you use it to be sure that it hasn’t slipped or been knocked off-kilter. If it has, you can quickly adjust it back to normal. Scope adjustments are usually noted in minutes of angle or MOA. While the term might sound complicated, it’s rather simple to understand. It refers to the precision of your sighting. Standardly, 1MOA is equal to one inch at one hundred yards, and scopes are generally adjustment by increments of 1/4MOA. Therefore, for every click of your turret, you move the scope 1/4in at 100yds.
It is important to buy a scope that gives feedback clicks with every adjustment. Without this feedback, you likely won’t know how much you are adjusting the scope and end up horribly out of alignment.
The final point that you ought to consider before buying a scope is how durable it is. Firing a rifle produces a sudden jolt of recoil and, especially at high calibers, can throw a sight out of alignment. Therefore, you must buy a scope that is graded to withstand high caliber rounds if you so wish to use them.
Beyond that, scopes can take some abuse when you’re out in the woods hunting. There’s no telling when an accident can happen, so it’s best to invest in a sturdy scope. Durability encompasses the ability to withstand several things, though—shock, water, fog, dust, and scratches. Let’s go through each one of these and talk about what makes a scope able to take these abuses.
When it comes to shock and scratching, you want a scope that is constructed from a durable material. These days, most optics are either made of an engineer co-polymer material or some form of aluminum. Many top-of-the-line scopes even use aircraft-grade aluminum to guarantee the utmost strength. Both materials have their ups and downs. Co-polymer materials are usually lighter, but they’re not always as strong as aluminum. Conversely, aluminum is stronger, but it is usually heavier. You can also look out for scopes with an exterior rubber coating to help absorb shock.
As for water, fog, and dust, you want to look for a scope that features O-ring seals and some form of gas purging. O-ring seals with keep water from getting into your scope. Were water to enter the body of your scope, it would be utterly compromised and be left worthless. Gas purging is done with either argon or dry nitrogen. This removes excess air from the tube so that, if you suddenly move from high to low or low to high temperatures, your scope isn’t fogged and then destroyed by the moisture. Nitrogen and Argon purging also help to keep dust from the interior of your scope.
If you want to look into an incredibly durable scope, we recommend the Bushnell Elite Tactical LRTS 4.5-18×44 G3 FDE Scope. The LRTS features O-ring seals, argon purging, and a sturdy aluminum tube. On top of that, its objective lens has been treated with a water-repellent coating that makes it perfect for use in snow or rain. With this sort of coating, no matter how wet the weather is, your lens will stay clear of any moisture.
No matter what type of rifle you’re shooting, be it an AR-15 or a bolt-action from the 1940s, adding a scope to it will improve your accuracy and overall shooting experience far more so than if you stuck to the iron sights. But, before you buy a scope, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. Depending on how you intend to use it, you may want a larger or smaller objective lens, a more or less powerful magnification, one of a variety of reticles or focal planes, or a particular level of durability. Therefore, be sure to read carefully about any product before you buy it. We hope that this article has helped you to sort through some of the scope jargon, and we’re happy to get you on the road to buying an incredible new scope!