A rifle scope is probably one of the most exciting items you’ll own when it comes to hunting. Purchasing one will allow you to improve your accuracy and hit the target even when it’s far away, like a pro.
That is if you choose the right scope.
Some scopes have a large objective lens, while others have a small one. Rifles with first focal planes are different than rifles with second focal planes, as well. To help you out and clear some of the confusion, we’ll go over the features you should have in mind when choosing a scope for your rifle.
1. Objective Lens Diameter and Coatings
The objective lens is a lens that’s located at the end of the scope and it’s the furthest away from your eye. The wider this part is, the more light can get through the scope to be transmitted to your eye. Having a lot of light passing through is a good thing, but there are other things you should also watch out for.
First things first, large objective lenses require a large objective bell. If the bell is too large, it can interfere with your mounting positions. To deal with this problem, you’ll need to use a higher mounting ring.
Large objective lenses also add to the overall weight of the scope, which can make it look bulky. If you don’t plan on carrying it around too much, you’re good to go. But if you need to walk long distances, this might be a problem. This is why rimfire scopes are great – they’re usually very lightweight.
For that reason, we advise you to choose an objective diameter based on your needs:
- 28mm and smaller: good for firearms with little recoil, close-range hunting, and low-power scopes;
- between 30mm and 44mm: good for firearms with more recoil, low-light hunting, and higher power scopes;
- 50mm and bigger: good for extremely long-range targets.
Keep in mind that none of them can help you see in the dark if there’s no light.
Lens coatings are also important, as they can increase clarity and brightness. The more of these layers there are, the better your scope will be. So, instead of opting for a scope with only one layer covering up one surface of the scope, opt for a fully-coated, multicoated, or fully multicoated scope.
As magnification helps you see and hit far-away targets, it’s not difficult to imagine why magnification is important. But, not all scopes have the same magnification. In fact, there are two types of scopes:
- Fixed scopes: these scopes have only one magnification scope
- Variable scopes: these scopes have multiple magnification scopes
Naturally, variable scopes are more versatile as you can make adjustments based on your target’s distance. Fixed scopes, on the other hand, are cheaper, aim faster, and are usually higher quality, but they use only one magnification.
If you’re not sure how much magnification you need, here’s a little guide:
- 1-4x: great for target shooting up to 300 ft, stalking small game, and for homestead defense;
- 5-8x: great for target shooting up to 600 ft, stalking large game, and hunting in the forests or mountains;
- 9-12x: great for target shooting beyond 600 ft and hunting in open landscapes such as fields or deserts.
Something you should pay attention to is the tunneling effect. It looks like the view doesn’t quite go all the way to the edge when you use magnification. This is a bad thing, as it basically means that the manufacturer lied to you by cutting corners.
3. Types of Reticles
A scope reticle is a crosshair you see when you look into the rifle scope. Without it, you’d probably have a hard time shooting a target and even estimating distance. There are three types of reticles:
- Duplex reticle: it’s exactly as we’ve already described, it looks like a crosshair, and it’s great for beginners;
- Mil-dot reticle: this one is similar to the duplex reticle except there are dots instead of lines in the center part of the crosshair, which makes it perfect for long-range shooters;
- BDC reticle: this one contains a series of reference points along the vertical axis of a reticle that shows the bullet’s flight path.
Which one you choose is a matter of preference. Some people hate BDC reticles, for instance, while others love them.
4. Rifle Scope Turrets
Turrets are there to properly set up the rifle and let the shooter know where the bullet will impact. Keep in mind that they don’t change the bullet’s path but simply inform the shooter of the landing position.
Turrets are basically knobs that you can turn left or right to adjust the reticle up and down (elevation knob) or left and right (windage knob), to set your rifle’s zero.
Using the elevation turret is necessary because the wind resistance slows down the bullet, causing it to drop down due to the Earth’s gravitational pull. Naturally, this is more common when you’re shooting over long distances.
Now, you can try to hold the reticle above the target to compensate for that effect, but the elevation turret is a much simpler solution.
Similar to the elevation knob, the windage turret is used to navigate the reticle left and right. Wind doesn’t only slow the bullet down, but also moves it a bit to the left or right. You can easily correct that with a windage turret.
The elevation turret is located on the top of the scope, while the windage turret is located on the right-hand side of the scope.
Parallax is an effect you see when your reticle sort of bobs around as you move your head. Obviously, this will ultimately lead to missed shots and blurriness. Now, there are a couple of ways to fix this issue:
- Parallax turret: this turret is optional and is located on the left-hand side of the scope;
- Adjustable objective: this is basically a ring that you can twist to remove parallax;
- Factory–set: most manufacturers also include automatic parallax adjustments and it’s usually set at about 150 ft to 300 ft.
A factory-set option is the best one, but other options also work if your manufacturer doesn’t include this feature.
6. First Focal Plane and Second Focal Plane
There are two reticle designs in terms of focal plane: first focal plane and second focal plane.
Traditional hunting rifles usually have a second focal plane. In this case, the reticle is placed behind the magnification adjustment. Because of that, your reticle will remain the same size regardless of how much you magnify your target.
The biggest advantage is that the reticle is always visible, no matter how far your target is. There is also one big disadvantage to second focal planes – if you’re using a BDC reticle, the values you see won’t be accurate in all magnification settings, but only one that is usually high-power.
First focal planes, on the other hand, are located at front of the magnification adjustment which means that the size of the reticle will move along with the magnification adjustment.
This means that the reticle can sometimes become extremely small due to the magnification setting, which can be difficult to see. But, those trajectory lines are now always accurate, regardless of the magnification setting.
Some manufacturers have started experimenting a bit and are now creating dual focal plane reticles, which include both first focal plane and second focal plane reticles.
To Sum Up
There are multiple features you should have in mind when choosing the best scope – the objective lens diameter and the number of coatings on it, the magnification options, types of reticles, the degree of parallax, and choosing between a first focal plane and a second focal plane.
A great scope is even more valuable than a great gun, which is why we advise you to spend a bit more money to ensure better results. We promise you that you won’t regret it.