What Makes a Good Rifle Scope?

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When trying to figure out what makes a good rifle scope, many people believe optics are the only important factor.

Of course, the optics on your scope are indispensable, but many other components can make or break your hunting experience.

To know what type to look for, let’s consider what takes a rifle scope from good enough to great.

Do I Need a Rifle Scope?

As with any attachment for your firearm, it’s essential to consider whether you actually need it first.

Rifle scopes make a massive difference between making shots in the dirt and hitting your target.

Especially for hunting, a scope allows you to see movement both up close and farther away with ease.

If accuracy is something you’ve been struggling with using iron sights, a scope can be a significant upgrade.

You’ll have a reliable reticle to help you place your shots, plus impeccable brightness for hunting in low light.

There’s also the added benefit of a wide field of view, which will allow you to track moving targets more easily.

Aside from hunting, rifle scopes can make a massive difference in competitive shooting, target shooting, and even home defense.

All in all, scopes can assist you with seeing your target more clearly and in taking more accurate shots.

What Makes a Good Rifle Scope? The Most Important Features to Consider

There is a multitude of components that work together to create the perfect scope.

Like many essential purchases, you really get what you pay for when it comes to these attachments.

Lower-quality scopes are likely to have poor magnification paired with lower-quality glass.

Paying close attention to all of the features built into your scope will give you a good idea of what models will upgrade your experience.

Let’s review the most important things to look for in the perfect rifle scope.

1. Variable vs. Fixed Power

One of the most common things advertised with rifle scopes is whether they have variable or fixed power.

You’ll notice that it has an assortment of numbers before the scope’s name. For example, 3-9x32mm Simmons .22 Waterproof Riflescope.

Breaking the numbers down, let’s first look at the 3-9x values.

Here, the 3-9x means it’s a variable scope, allowing you to adjust the magnification from 3x to 9x.

Most hunters prefer variable scopes because they can set the optics to their specific shooting conditions.

This feature is crucial if you don’t know your precise distance to your target.

In other words, you’ll be able to hit a buck from 3x to 9x away, giving you increments to adjust if necessary.

On the other hand, a scope with just 3x-32mm or 9x-32mm means it has fixed power.

As its name suggests, fixed power doesn’t allow you to adjust the distance of your optics for different conditions.

At first, this might seem like a disadvantage, but fixed scopes also have their own benefits.

For instance, fixed scopes typically have a brighter FOV (Field Of View) and more precise optics because they are non-adjustable.

what makes a good rifle scope

2. Reticle

The importance of the reticle in your rifle scope is another significant factor to consider when shopping.

Not only will you want a reticle that’s easy to see in all conditions, but it should also be a shape that’s comfortable to use.

For example, if you think that a chevron is too intrusive, you may want to consider a red dot or mildot.

Reticle Type

There are many reticle options to choose from, but the three most popular are BDC (Bullet Drop Compensating), duplex, and mildot.

Bullet Drop Compensating

This reticle typically features a hash mark near the bottom that tells you the distance the bullet drops.

This feature is remarkable for long-distance shooting, as you’ll know exactly how far the bullet will travel to hit your target.

Duplex

Duplex reticles are particularly common because they are the simplest you’re bound to come across.

They are a basic crosshair that allows you to place your target directly in the center.

Mildot

The final most popular option is a mildot, which is quite similar to a duplex.

They are different because mildot reticles have different dots to determine your target’s distance by size.

Security, law enforcement, and military personnel often prefer this reticle.

Reticle Color

Another essential feature of reticles is their color.

Interestingly, modern scopes give you the ability to alternate between reticle colors. Most often, you can choose between red, green, and blue.

Other reticles are available in a single color, affecting your shooting competency depending on your environment.

It’s also important to consider whether you can adjust the brightness of the reticle or not.

3. Objective Lens

When looking at a rifle scope, the objective lens is the piece of glass at the broader end.

This component determines the brightness and clarity of your scope, determining how easy it is to look through.

Of course, you’ll need an objective lens that offers the most accurate colors and a realistic representation of your environment at a distance.

Your objective lens size should also be advertised in the product’s description and title, like the scope’s power.

Typically, the lens size will be depicted as a series of numbers before “mm.” For example, 3-9x-32mm.

Depending on the type of shooting you want to do, the recommended objective lens size differs.

Here are a few general guidelines to help you choose the best option:

28mm and under is best for:

  • Close range
  • Low-power scopes
  • Firearms with limited recoil

30-40mm is best for:

  • Higher powered scopes
  • Hunting in low light
  • Firearms with moderate recoil

50mm and up is best for:

  • Long-range hunting and targets
  • Higher magnification
  • Low-light hunting

4. Lens Coatings

If you’ve looked at the product description for different scopes in the past, you’ve likely seen lens coatings mentioned.

At first, you might assume that it’s an aesthetic feature. In reality, it makes a considerable difference.

The coating on your lenses also affects the amount of brightness that travels through the scope.

With poor light transmission, you can find that hunting in low light is nearly impossible.

Also, your optics will be significantly less clear with low-quality lens coatings.

There are four different types of layers you’ll most commonly find on scopes.

Multi-coated

With multi-coated lenses, there are several layers of coating put onto a single surface.

You will most commonly find this feature in more expensive rifle scopes.

Fully Multi-coated

Full multi-coating is typical in top-tier rifle scopes because it ensures every inch of the external glass is covered.

With this, you’ll have access to impeccable lens clarity paired with jaw-dropping brightness for color accuracy.

Fully Coated

As a mid-range option, fully coated optics offer a single coating layer on the lens.

It’s most often found in affordable yet quality scopes for an assortment of firearms.

Coated

The least expensive and least impressive option is indeed coated lenses, often found on budget scopes.

With this, only one surface of the lens is covered with a single layer.

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5. Field of View

As discussed earlier, your field of view is essential for allowing you to track targets at a distance.

Since you’ll be looking through the scope, you’ll want to ensure you have optimal visibility to take accurate shots.

Otherwise, you could experience something referred to as “tunneling.”

Tunneling occurs when you peer through your scope at your desired magnification, and it feels like looking through a tunnel.

In these instances, you’re missing potential movement on either side of the scope.

Also, it just feels significantly less comfortable to use while preventing you from using most of your scope’s magnification options.

Ideally, you’ll want to choose a scope that’s comfortable to use at all magnifications, especially higher values.

By avoiding tunneling, you can capitalize on every target without feeling like you’re missing out.

6. Parallax Adjustment

When you hold your rifle ready to shoot, your head will make natural movements, such as swaying.

Parallax is the technical term for how your reticle moves around with your head.

If you don’t pay close attention to it, you’ll experience more missed shots and poorer accuracy.

With that said, it can be beneficial to consider a scope with parallax adjustment.

Typically, this issue is most common with high-power scopes compared to low-magnification models.

If parallax is a concern, your scope will have adjustment knobs to allow for corrections.

There are three standard options for parallax adjustments in most rifles, which include:

Adjustable Objective (AO)

With AO, you will have a specific ring that you can turn to get rid of potential parallax.

Factory-Set

Sometimes, manufacturers will provide an integrated parallax adjustment in their scopes.

If yours came with one, there’s a good chance that it’s set between 50 and 100 yards.

Adjustment Turret

An adjustment turret is a simple knob attached to your rifle that allows you to accommodate parallax.

7. Adjustments and Additional Turrets

Outside of the parallax, your scope should also come with extra turrets that allow for specific adjustments.

Most often, hunters will want knobs that help them deal with elevation and windage.

In the majority of models, these knobs are near the right and top of your scope.

These knobs, also known as turrets, allow you to adjust your scope’s vertical and horizontal orientation.

These features are also why it’s important to check the quality of your rifle scope.

Poorly designed turrets tend to fail mid-hunt, leaving you with an inaccurate and unusable firearm.

You’ll want open-style turrets that are easily accessible and allow for precise adjustments by hand.

As a first-time scope user, opting for ballistic turrets is typically the standard.

With these knobs, you can adjust the scope as needed based on your firing yardage.

8. Eye Relief

Since you’d be holding your rifle to your face for an extended period, comfort is a crucial thing to think about.

At this point, you’ll want to consider the eye relief for your scope, which is at the ocular lens (front lens).

The eye relief explains the distance you’ll hold the rifle from your eye to the scope.

There’s a misconception that eye relief is only important for people who wear glasses, though this isn’t the case in reality.

Every hunter will want to ensure they have enough eye relief to prevent eye strain and discomfort.

On average, we recommend having a minimum of four inches of eye relief.

Another essential thing to consider with this distance is your overall safety.

When you fire your rifle, it will have some recoil. The further the eye relief is, the less likely you’ll be to get butted by your rifle’s scope.

The Importance of a Good Scope

When asking what makes a good rifle scope, you’ll need to think about everything, from eye relief to its objective lens.

By considering the quality of every part, you can guarantee you’re investing in a high-quality scope.

The better the quality, the more accurate your shots will be and the more fun you’ll have on the range or out hunting.

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