How Does a Rifle Scope Work?

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Any lover of rifles will let you know that an excellent scope can either make or break your experience while shooting.

A scope makes it easier to hit the target at longer distances with higher accuracy.

Basically, it will magnify whatever you’re aiming at and give you a better idea of where you need to aim.

You will find plenty of rifle scopes on the market, which can make it challenging to find a good one.

To find a scope that complements your rifle, it would help to look at how does a rifle scope work.

After all, a cheaply made scope can reduce the effectiveness of even the greatest rifle.

How Does a Rifle Scope Work?

A rifle scope works by using scope magnification to help provide a clear vision of the target from a distance.

Every model has two magnification numbers, which help specify what scope is being used.

The first number is used to describe the magnification, while the second identifies the diameter of the lens.

When using a scope, there are a few factors that you want to consider.

To help you learn the basics, we will give you a breakdown of what a scope is, how to use it, and the pros and cons of using one.

The Benefits of Using a Scope

Magnification is key when it comes to aiming and shooting accurately from a distance.

Think about how useful it is to have a larger image of the target.

With an enhanced image, you will be able to precisely aim at certain areas of the target.

In turn, this allows you to make accurate shots, especially when aiming at moving targets.

Here is a more detailed account of what happens when you use a rifle scope:

1. Magnifying the Target

The lens of the scope works by capturing reflected light from a target.

From here, the light bends and creates a magnified image.

2. Inverting the Image

The image is then inverted due to the multiple lenses in a scope.

One lens flips the image so that you can see the image right-side-up, and the magnification lens magnifies that image.

3. Focusing the Image

Once the image is flipped, it is vital to get a clear picture so that you can aim accurately.

The diameter of the lens helps relieve your eyes by focusing the image through the ocular lens.

4. Prevents Fog and Condensation

Rifle scopes contain a mixture of nitrogen, argon, and krypton gas.

What these gases do is help eliminate fog and condensation, as well as prevent leakage.

Thanks to this, you’ll find that it allows you to see even in wet environments.

The Downside of Using a Scope

While scopes can be perfect for practicing aim and improving hitting a target at a distance, there are still some trade-offs.

It would help if you considered the limitations that using a scope produces.

Here is a small breakdown of the following downsides:

Chromatic Aberration

As magnification increases, so does chromatic aberration.

It happens when wavelengths of light interact with prisms, causing the light to break up and change the natural colors of the target.

As a result, the target may appear blurry or even tinged with purple.

Field Curvature

Field curvature happens when using low magnification and causes the edges of an image to appear blurry.

Spherical Aberration

As magnification increases, spherical aberration may occur.

Spherical aberration happens due to light being more bent at the edges of a lens.

When the edge meets a different focal point, the light passing through the center of the lens will then appear blurry at the edges.

Field of View

In contrast, as the magnification increases, the field of view decreases.

The reason for this is that the field of view is proportional to the diameter of the lens.

This involves the area you can view through the scope, which can be 100 yards or more.


Lastly, as the lens thickens, more light will be reflected, which results in a dim field of view.

This could be a problem if you need the necessary amount of light to aim at your target.

answers to how does a rifle scope work

Parts of a Rifle Scope

To better understand how a rifle scope works, it’s best to take a closer look at all its components.

A rifle scope looks similar to a pipe, except the exterior is made from steel and titanium.

The interior houses nine different components that help you do different things.

Here is a breakdown of how a rifle scope helps making aiming easier:

The Multiple Lenses

Modern-day rifle scopes can include up to eight lenses to help with magnification.

However, extra lenses may be installed to help improve orientation and aiming.

Objective Lens

An objective lens is what allows the light to flow into the scope. It’s positioned so that it’s full-forward inside the scope.

The target image is then projected from an objective lens onto the erector lens.

Erector Lens

The erector lens takes the target image and flips it so that you view the image right-side-up.

It then reflects the image onto a magnifying lens.

Magnifying Lens

The magnifying lens receives the flipped target image and expands it. This allows you to view the target in a larger image.

After this is projected, it’s then sent to the ocular lens.

Ocular Lens

The ocular lens magnifies the image that is closest to your eye.

Basically, it projects the final image and will magnify it even further.

In most cases, the magnified image from the ocular lens will be 10 times the size of the target.

The Controls

Alongside the lenses, you will find a handful of controls.

Each dial correlates to all the riflescope’s settings, so it is essential to learn how to adjust them correctly.

Elevation Adjustment Dial

The elevation dial adjusts the height of the scope view.

Windage Adjustment Dial

The windage dial impacts the horizontal direction of the bullet.

Red Center Beam Control Laser Windage Adjuster

The red beam on scopes helps place a dot on the target. The beam controls the horizontal direction of the beam.

Red Center Beam Control Laser Elevation Adjuster

The center beam adjusts the height of the scope’s view.

Quick Focus Ring

Lastly, the quick focus ring helps adjust the focus of the lenses.

How To Adjust the Knobs

The “knobs” are referred to as turrets and are generally located on the sides and on top of the scope.

Of course, this placement can vary from brand to brand.

Mainly, the windage turret is placed on the right, the elevation is on the top, and the parallax turret is on the left.

When making adjustments, keep in mind that the windage moves the scope horizontally, the elevation moves the scope vertically, and the parallax focuses the reticle inside the scope.

Other Functions

Aside from the above-listed features, there are also a few extras that are just as important.

While these don’t have any settings, you will still benefit from knowing what they do.

Exit Pupil

The exit pupil is where you look through and is essential because the larger the exit, the more light passes through your eye.

This makes it easier to see and helps prevent eye strain at the same time.

Variable Scope

Not all riflescopes have a variable scope, but you will find some that do.

A variable scope is a dial located on the optical lens that allows you to adjust the magnification.

If yours does have this, then that means you will be able to switch between magnification levels.

How To Choose the Best Rifle Scope(Magnification vs. Distance)

To accurately use a rifle scope, you’re going to have to learn how to adjust the magnification and distance.

If you don’t, then you will end up with a dimly lit and blurry target.

In that case, it is important to adjust both the elevation and windage dials.

As a rule of thumb, a shooter should not choose a magnification past 10x for targets up to 500 yards away.

Any more magnification, and you’ll start to notice blurriness, color distortion, and lack of light, making it harder to focus on the target.

Hunters tend to find magnification between 4x and 6x to be ideal for targets 100 to 200 yards away.

However, if you are going to be taking longer-range shots, you may need more powerful magnification.

The only time a very high magnification would be recommended is if you are shooting from more than 500 yards away and trying to aim at smaller targets.

Otherwise, we advise you to stay away from scopes with magnification higher than 10x.


A riflescope can be challenging to understand at first, but you will master it in time with practice.

Familiarizing yourself with each element can help you learn quicker.

When it comes down to it, practicing using a scope is the best way to learn and understand how does a rifle scope work.

Most models have the same basic components, but each scope is made differently.

As such, you will need to be adaptive and learn how to use different ones.

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