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CA Guns & Hunting: Scopes

CA Guns & Hunting: Matching the scope to the application

BY STEVE COMUS/Cal. Guns & Hunting Guns EditorPublished: Sep 08, 2017

What scope is best? Could be any of them, none of them or all of them, depending on the specifics of rifle rig, what is being shot at and at what distance(s).

There simply are so many choices that it is beneficial to discuss the subject in terms of specialization. But before going down that road, suffice it to say that for centerfire hunting rifles, the closest thing there is to a genuine “all around” scope is something in the 3-9x40 arena. This is because, at the lowest setting, quick, accurate shots are possible, and at the highest setting, precise shots are possible at distances of 300 yards or less. That pretty well covers most centerfire rifle hunting situations. I’ll not discuss fixed power scopes here, although they can work fine. Most scopes these days have variable magnification.

comus_mossbergpatriotMOSSBERG PATRIOT .308 Win. rifle with 3-9x40 Vortex Crossfire scope is a great all-around hunting combo. The scope has reticle “hash mark” reticle features that allow the shooter to allow for both wind drift and bullet drop.

Also before going too far afield, suffice it to say that tiny differences don’t matter when it comes to magnification. For example, whether a scope is rated 3-9x or 2.5-10x doesn’t matter in the field. For openers, rarely is the actual magnification the same as the designated magnification. The difference commonly is somewhere within 1x difference. But more importantly, it is virtually impossible to discern the difference of 1x or 2x in the field.

From a practical perspective, it is best to consider three basic ranges of magnification: short (1x or 1.5x to 4x or 6x or so), medium (3x or 4x to 9x or 12x or so) and long (6x or so to 24x). When considered thusly, it is easier to figure out what might be handiest for the situation at hand.

For any kind of serious longer-range work, the scope should have parallax adjustment so the longer shots can be more repeatable. The parallax adjustment makes it possible to minimize the effect of the eye being not totally in the same place every time.


MEOPTA 4.5-14 SCOPE falls into the in-between category in that it has a bit of a magnification advantage over a 3-9x, but not a lot. Some hunters like a little edge.

Reticle features can be important, both positively and negatively. On the plus side, they can contribute to more precise aiming at distance. On the negative side, they can be confusing, and using the wrong reticle feature can guarantee a miss. The more complicated the reticle features, the more important it is for the shooter to be totally efficient with their use. Few hunters shoot enough to be totally credible with some of the really complex reticle features on some scopes. Fulltime snipers use them masterfully.

Most hunters can benefit from a lighted reticle feature – makes it easy to aim in bad lighting and enhances the accuracy of very quick shots. This can add to the cost of the scope, but the investment is well worthwhile.

What is better: a one-inch tube or 30mm or larger? Depends on what is important to an individual hunter. The primary advantage to larger diameter tube scopes is that they offer a wider range of adjustment. This can be important for long range shooting. Other than that, the differences get very academic very quickly.

There are three really important things to consider when getting a scope: ruggedness, accuracy of adjustments and quality of lenses. It doesn’t matter what the magnification range of a scope is if it falls apart, doesn’t deliver a sharp image or can’t be adjusted correctly and then hold that adjustment.

comus_scoutscopesSCOUT SCOPES LIKE this 2x Burris work great on Scout rifles, like the Ruger in .308 Win. the author shows here. When the shots may be quick, such a rig is very handy.

Better scopes are made better. Duh! Cheaper scopes often have plastic or funky internal parts that work fine until they break or become loose. When that happens, the scope is worse than no scope at all, because the point of aim and point of impact will change as the scope is jiggled around.

In recent times, there is a trend for shooters to change the settings in the field to accommodate for different distances, etc. That is fine with some of the better sniper scopes, but not a good idea for scopes that cannot repeat when set to and the back to a particular setting. When in doubt, don’t adjust in the field. For most hunting shots, there is no real need to, so why chance it? For those who want to do so, however, it is crucial that they spend a lot of range time with the scope to assure that it actually adjusts as expected, and that it can do it time after time after time.

It is far more important for a long-range shooter to be able to judge the wind than it is to click a turret. Repeated long-range success depends on stellar marksmanship, and judging/accommodating range and wind accurately. Anything less is inconsistent, which means misses or bad hits.

Quality of the optics themselves is important, but on today’s market, the optics themselves are usually at least okay. However, the best coated optics give the hunter an edge in that there is nothing better than a really crisp, clear image of the target. With the best optics, the magnification range is less important, because a totally crisp image at 6x is better than a fuzzy image at 10x. Yes, the image at 6x is smaller, but it is clearer. Better to have a totally sharp image at the higher magnification, but that’s another conversation.

The scope mounts can be as important, or more important, than some of the features of the scope itself. First, the mounts have to be tight and solid. Even a tiny movement in the mount can cause a miss – and since movement is unpredictable, so will shot placement be unpredictable.

LOW POWER VARIABLE scopes can be handy for AR rigs – good for fast shots, but not bad out to 100 yards or more when needed. Here, a Leupold Mark 4 CQ/T 1-3x14 scope serves well atop a S&W M&P 15.

The Picatinny scope base system encountered on AR types of rifles is great because it is integral to the receiver itself. Whenever a scope base has to be bolted to the receiver, there is a chance that it can come loose. Always assure that scope bases are tight before going afield.

Scope rings also need to be solid and tight so there is no movement from one shot to another. And, the rings should be the right height so that the shooter sees a full field of view through the scope when the rifle is shouldered. Too high or too low is not good – it causes the shooter to have to take time to get into an uncomfortable position that may or may not be repeatable from one shooting moment to the next.

The amount of eye relief can be important on scopes, but not so much now as in the past. These days, most scopes offer at least three to four inches of eye relief, and that is fine. Don’t want to have the scope bite the forehead at the moment of the shot – especially if it is significantly uphill or downhill. Years ago, some scopes had relatively short eye relief and that can be a factor, especially on rigs that recoil a lot.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to matching a scope to the rifle and to the scenario at hand. The market is swamped with so many good choices that it can difficult to decide. First, decide what magnification parameters are involved and then consider quality, ruggedness, repeatability of settings. Sometimes it means getting more than one scope. Other times, a single model can suffice.

HIGH MAGNIFICATION SCOPES are handy for both long-range work and when the hunter wants precision placement of the bullet, as the author did for this whitetail buck, using an HS Precision rifle in .300 Win. Mag. with 6-24x Swarovski scope.

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