Skip to main content

The Right Choice

The Right Choice

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.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

James Tarr runs through the 3-Second Headshot drill.

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Cutting-edge projectiles provide unprecedented performance in the venerable old workhorse, the .30-06.Get the Most Out of the .30-06 Ammo

Get the Most Out of the .30-06

Joseph von Benedikt - April 01, 2019

Cutting-edge projectiles provide unprecedented performance in the venerable old workhorse, the...

With a 16.25-inch-long barrel, a tritium front sight and an aperture rear sight, Springfield's M1A Tanker chambered in .308 is a handy defensive carbine.Springfield Armory M1A Tanker .308 Review Rifles

Springfield Armory M1A Tanker .308 Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - August 25, 2020

With a 16.25-inch-long barrel, a tritium front sight and an aperture rear sight, Springfield's...

Improved bullet ballistic coefficients lead to greater performance and accuracy downrange without upping blast and recoil. Here's why.Improved Ballistics a Key to Accurate Long-Range Shooting How-To

Improved Ballistics a Key to Accurate Long-Range Shooting

Rick Jamison

Improved bullet ballistic coefficients lead to greater performance and accuracy downrange...

Shooting Times editor Joel Hutchcroft provides a comprehensive list of ideal Father's Day gifts.Shooting Times Father's Day 2019 Gift Guide Accessories

Shooting Times Father's Day 2019 Gift Guide

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 07, 2019

Shooting Times editor Joel Hutchcroft provides a comprehensive list of ideal Father's Day...

See More Trending Articles

More Optics

Some of the coolest new optics introduced this year range from Aimpoint's new COMPM5B red dot to Zeiss's Precision Rings and include Trijicon's Ventus laser rangefinder that measures wind speed via its ground-breaking Doppler LIDAR engine and a lot more. Here's a quick look at 17 hot new products.17 New Optics for 2020 Optics

17 New Optics for 2020

Joel J. Hutchcroft - July 23, 2020

Some of the coolest new optics introduced this year range from Aimpoint's new COMPM5B red dot...

TRUGLO has a new series of red-dot optics designed for close-quarter, fast-sight acquisition scenarios. Two optics are offered: IGNiTE 30mm and IGNiTE Mini.TRUGLO IGNiTE Mini Red Dot Optic Optics

TRUGLO IGNiTE Mini Red Dot Optic

Jake Edmondson - June 10, 2020

TRUGLO has a new series of red-dot optics designed for close-quarter, fast-sight acquisition...

The Leupold VX-5HD 3-15X 44mm CDS-ZL2 riflescope is packed with great features, including a 30mm tube, a fast-focus eyepiece, and a zoom ratio of 5:1.Leupold VX-5HD 3-15X 44mm CDS-ZL2 Riflescope Optics

Leupold VX-5HD 3-15X 44mm CDS-ZL2 Riflescope

Joel J. Hutchcroft - September 11, 2020

The Leupold VX-5HD 3-15X 44mm CDS-ZL2 riflescope is packed with great features, including a...

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.”Review: Bushnell FORGE 4.5-27X 50mm Optics

Review: Bushnell FORGE 4.5-27X 50mm

Sam Wolfenberger - May 01, 2019

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.”

See More Optics

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now