Buying a riflescope requires serious thought. With the amount of money involved in the purchase, it’s only natural that you’ll want to take your time in choosing. A scope can easily cost thousands of dollars, after all. Unfortunately, going over your options isn’t as easy as it sounds. You need to do thorough research, and this can be both tedious and intimidating. Fortunately, this guide is here to help you find the best riflescope for you.
Understand what you need a scope for
While general-purpose scopes do exist, few actually pull this off. You’re still better off choosing scope according to your needs. Take note that scopes are generally categorized into three: hunting, tactical, and bench rest and long range. Hunting scopes are the simplest, designed to be lightweight and for use in short range distances, while tactical scopes focus on flexibility that will allow a shooter to adapt quickly and accordingly. Bench rest and long range scopes, on the other hand, focus on maximum visibility at distances even beyond 1,000 yards.
Decide on a budget
Deciding on a budget effectively limits your options so the selection process is simplified. A lot of people though have an idea as to how much they can and would spend, but usually have the scope they want beyond that. When the riflescope you’re interested in goes over your budget, it is highly recommended that you save your purchase for another day so you can save up some more money instead. If you’re willing to compromise when buying a riflescope, the next best thing for you to do is to shop around the best brands and focus on finding the best glass you can afford at the moment.
Choose a magnification type
Fixed power scopes, like their name suggests, are designed to magnify at a fixed rate. Because power settings are set, they are simple and easy to use. They are also very reliable and consistent because they don’t have moving parts inside. The USMC Scout Sniper program, in fact, has turned to fixed power scopes for their training needs for more than 40 years.
Variable power scopes, on the other hand, are adjustable so magnification levels can be chosen exactly as needed by a situation. Because they can magnify anything between a certain range, these scopes actually make you feel like you have two scopes. And even with moving parts inside, durability is not a problem at all. Do keep in mind though that they are also more expensive because they are more durable and offer more flexible magnification options.
Choose a magnification level
Choosing a magnification ties in nicely with picking a fixed or variable power riflescope because it determines what scope you should go for exactly, also guided by the specific purpose you have in mind. Generally though, hunting scopes should be at 5x to 12x magnification if you’re getting a fixed power scope, and 5x to 20x if you’re leaning towards a variable power scope. Tactical scopes, on the other hand, would require 10x to 12x for fixed power scopes and 10x to 18x for variable power scopes, while bench rest and long range scopes would call for between 4x and 25x magnification in fixed power scopes and 10x to 40x in variable power scopes. Take note: a shooter who doesn’t usually aim for targets beyond 300 meters, for instance, will have no use for a 25x scope. Use the general guide above to help you choose a magnification level that’s right for you.
Determine main tube and objective lens diameter
The main tube is located in the center of a scope, sitting between the eyepiece and the objective lens. It comes in different sizes but 30mm and one-inch diameters are the most common. The objective lens is the part of the scope that catches light. The bigger it is the more light enters the scope, offering better visibility even under low-light conditions. It is tempting to simply get the biggest main tube and objective lens you can find but don’t forget to factor in the kind of glass a scope has. A big scope always looks impressive, but focus more on quality if you want to become a better shooter.
Go over reticles and turrets
A lot of times reticles and turrets are already set with a scope so you may never have to worry about those. But should you have to choose, it’s easy so don’t worry. Just keep in mind that your reticle must match your turret. So, say you have a range-finding reticle, then your turret must be compatible. Reticles and turrents nowadays follow a trend called mil/mil scope where mil dot reticles are paired with mil turrets or turrets following tenths of a mil in graduations. Because they have the same measurements, this takes care of a problem in the past when some math conversion was required to set a scope. This kind of setup benefits you as a shooter because you easily set your scope and forget about it.
Other points you should take into consideration when looking for a riflescope include:
- Glass quality. Determining glass quality is usually guided by the cost of a scope—the more expensive a scope is, the better the glass quality is. The glass used for a scope goes through a lot of processes before actually being used that’s why it is expensive and accounts for most of the cost of a scope. To clue you in on top-quality glass, look at reputable brands like US Optics, Schmidt & Bender, Swarovski, Leuopold, and Nightforce. Burris, Nikon, and Bushnell, on the other hand, are good options if you’re fine with making do with second-tier names. If you’re looking for a budget brand, Redfield, BSA, and Tasco are right up your alley. Again, choose to buy an expensive brand if you can. It will be well worth your time and money because you’ll enjoy excellent performance and durability.
- Focal planes. Scopes were traditionally manufactured to be set for second focal planes. Set magnification according to the manufacturer’s instructions and you should have no problem with this. Disregard these instructions though and your reticle will end up inaccurate for ranging. Second focal plane scopes were the norm for decades and they still work but the added need for recalculation during adjustments made these scopes disadvantageous, especially with moving targets. First focal plane scopes took care of this problem by making reticles change in size when the magnification knob is adjusted, fitting the target as needed on the spot. First focal plane scopes cost more though but serious tactical or target shooters with variable power scopes will want them.
There is work to be done when buying a riflescope, but there is also nothing to worry about. You just need to be more discriminating with your options and you’ll be well on your way towards finding the best scope for you. Do away with extras so you can focus instead on what’s important. Just remember: you get what you pay for. If you want good optics, be ready to spare no expense. Make sure to read the next article.