By Ron Spomer
Always consider these six factors
when selecting scopes for your rifles!
Some shooters think Do-It-All scopes are as impractical as Do-It-All rifles. However, a rather strong argument can be made for the 30-06 Springfield and a 3-9x42mm optic.
No one scope is perfect for all occasions, but a variable that starts at 2X to 4X on the low end and tops out at 8X to 12X on the high end comes pretty darn close. It will provide plenty in field-of-view for a moose at 20 yards, yet enough magnification to target a groundhog at 500 yards. And it won’t drag you down while doing so.
Dedicated, long-range varmint or target shooters do better with a zoom range from 6X to 25X, but that has limited application in deer woods, and a lot of us hunt deer. Okay, so maybe a few coyotes, the occasional ground squirrel and every now and then an elk or moose. Even so, why tolerate scopes with upwards of 30 power?
At the other extreme, anyone jumping whitetails, elk or charging Cape buffalo in thick woods where shots rarely reach 100 yards doesn’t benefit from more than 4X. The buffalo hunter might prefer 1X!
So, we’re back to the mid-range 3-9X for your all-around big game rifles. Today’s longer zoom ranges let you step up to 2.5-12X or 3.5 to 15X in some cases. Nirvana. But don’t add power just to end up suffering from weight and bulk.
2. Objective Lens
The diameter of the objective lens is significant because it contributes to brightness. A 50mm front lens should be brighter than a 42mm one, all else being equal. But it’s also heavier and bulkier.
Experience has shown that an exit pupil (the circle of light exiting the eye-end of your scope) of 4mm is usually bright enough for putting non-illuminated reticles on a brown/gray target well after legal shooting hours (usually 30 minutes after sunset) in most conditions. At 9X, a 42mm objective produces a 4.7mm exit pupil. A 50mm objective kicks this up to 5.5mm. Not a huge difference. Now, were I specializing in compact, lightweight mountain rifles, I’d shrink objective lens size down to 36mm or even 32mm to save a few ounces, but that’s a specialty use again.
3. Lens Coatings
Anti-reflection coatings are even more important for brightness. They keep light going through your scopes rather than bouncing around and getting lost.
If every lens inside and out has multiple layers of these coatings, light transmission is highest. Lens coatings weigh nothing and will not add bulk. Multi-coatings on all lenses provide the best brightness for your buck.
Reticles can enhance the performance of your scopes. I’ve never found illuminated reticles to be essential, but it’s also okay if you do choose to use them. They can help some shooters hold on target better than using simple crosshairs. They will add some weight (battery) and bulk (operating control) to the unit, but it’s tolerable.
Reticle styles can add a lot of performance. Ballistic reticles help in long range precision, but only if you study, learn and apply with much practice. Dialing turrets are simpler for most to use, but can get you in trouble if you forget to turn them back. With most modern cartridges zeroed at about 250 yards, you rarely need to use anything but the center aiming point from the muzzle to 300 yards. That lets you shoot quickly without adjusting anything in the heat of the moment.
The duplex-style reticle is the most versatile. If a few extra dots or lines won’t bother you, give one of the ballistic reticles a try. The dots on the horizontal bars to hold for wind deflection can be useful.
Parallax adjustment (which is really just a fine focus dial) isn’t truly needed until magnification reaches 10X or higher, or when wanting to shoot at 8X or more inside of 100 yards. This is when precise focus can be valuable. Nice for head-shooting squirrels; unnecessary on big game rifles. Front lens focus (turning the objective hood) can screw up zero if it’s not concentric or gets knocked out of line. Side parallax focus is perhaps more dependable.
Surprisingly, most of these features are available in every price category, but the quality is not the same.
Many scopes with an MSRP of less than $250 aren’t fully multi-coated and they may not withstand heavy recoil. Turret adjustments may not be accurate or repeatable. Illuminated reticles might be too bright or thick. But with cartridges, up to about the .270 Winchester, a basic 3-9x42mm for $150 to $250 can perform well.
In the $200 to $400 price range, you usually get full multi-coating and more durable materials for truly solid performance on slightly higher recoiling rifles. You never really know when scopes will get kicked too much, but in this price range I’d stick to the 7mm magnums and less. Light transmission won’t be as high as in more expensive scopes, but pretty darn good. Before trusting long range dialing turrets or parallax focus, I’d step up in price again.
At $500 and up, scopes should offer everything including the quality materials and workmanship to pull it off. Differences between $500 and $1,000 are subtle, and between $1,000 and $2,000 even more subtle, but it should hopefully be safe to assume that the product’s durability and precision increase with price.
Ron is a rifles/optics columnist for Sporting Classics and North American Hunter magazines and host of Winchester World of Whitetail on NBC Sports. Learn more at www.ronspomeroutdoors.com.
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