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Optics

The Right Choice

by David Fortier   |  January 3rd, 2011 0

What you need to know to choose the right scope for your hunting rifle

Congratulations, you’ve just purchased a fine rifle. Now it’s time to properly outfit your new rig and put it to work. You’ll need a proper sling, steel sling swivels, quality steel rings and bases, and a good scope. Surprisingly, the riflescope is often the most overlooked of these items. In my opinion, your scope should be more than an afterthought. It’s the all-important sighting system for your rifle, and you should spend as much time selecting it as you did the rifle.


While this scope looks monstrous, it’s actually a good choice for use dispatching pesky varmints in low light.

So how do you choose a riflescope? First, ask yourself four questions:

  1. What are you going to use your rifle for?
  2. Where are you going to use it?
  3. When are you going to use it?
  4. How are you going to use it?

If you carefully consider each question, you’ll soon have an idea of the type of scope most appropriate for your application.

Let’s examine each question.

What are you going to use your rifle for? Will you be shooting Eastern whitetails at 50 yards, elk at 300 yards, or prairie dogs at 500 yards? Will your rifle be a dual-purpose rig for hunting and shooting paper? Will it be a general-purpose rig performing a multitude of functions from hunting to plinking to shooting steel plates? Answering this question will help to decide on what magnification range to consider. For whitetails in heavy cover a fixed 2.5X or 4X scope would work well. However, if you hunt whitetails in heavy cover and enjoy shooting paper at 200 or 300 yards, a 2.5-10X variable would be a much better all-around choice.

Where are you going to use it? Consider the terrain you’ll be hunting, its environmental conditions, and how you get there. If you’re in the mountains where the air is thin, think about a lightweight scope with a one-inch tube. But if you’re shooting prone off a bipod and won’t carry your rifle far, then size and weight aren’t issues. If you are going to be far from civilization for days with your scope exposed to harsh weather conditions, you should consider a top brand that is well known for making rugged and weatherproof products that don’t fail. If you’re a fair-weather hunter who only goes out for the day when the sun is shining, extreme durability may not be as important.

When will you use it? Will you use it only during daylight hours, or will it be primarily used at dawn/dusk and in low-light conditions? Perhaps you’ll use it in both.

How you answer these questions will help to decide on the objective lens diameter, exit pupil, and twilight factor. Keep in mind that more important than the size of the objective lens are its quality and its coatings.

Your answers to these questions will also help you determine which type of reticle is best for you–and whether you should consider an illuminated reticle. If you think you might need an illuminated reticle, you must then consider whether it’s illuminated by a battery or by fiber optics and tritium.

How will you use this scope? Will most of your shots be offhand at quick-moving game? Or will you be shooting off bags, painstakingly placing your shots? If you’ll be shooting offhand, consider magnification, eye relief, field of view (FOV), and exit pupil size. If snapshooting game at relatively short ranges, you don’t need or want a lot of magnification.


David tends to prefer mid-range scopes like this 3.5-10X 40mm Leupold. It mounts low to the bore, has a useful magnification range, and its optics are good.

Eye relief is something to consider on a hard-kicking rifle because you don’t want a scope in the face if you mount the gun poorly. A wide FOV is a plus, especially when trying to hit a moving animal. A wide exit pupil also allows a full FOV (rather than a black image) even if you are not perfectly behind the scope. If you are carefully shooting off bags in bright light with a light caliber rifle, eye relief and exit pupil are not as important.

For big game I prefer a relatively straightforward scope in the 3-9X/2.5-10X range. These scopes provide a wide field of view and a large exit pupil on the lower end, plus a good deal of magnification on the upper end for precise shot placement. Hunting scopes continue to increase in magnification, but I think 9X or 10X is more than enough magnification for most realistic hunting distances.

I like what many would consider a heavy rifle, so I have no objection to a 26mm or 30mm scope tube. I think a 34mm tube is a bit much on a hunting rifle.

I also prefer an objective lens in the 40mm to 44mm range and only go above 50mm for specialized applications. On a scope in this magnification range I have no need of adjustable objectives or side parallax knobs.

I prefer a bold reticle with simple holdover marks for hunting big game.

Take the time to figure out exactly what you need and want in a sighting system for your rifle. Then save your money and buy the best scope you can and mount it properly. You’ll be glad you did.

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