Below we analyze rifle scope requirements for a variety of hunting, competition and professional uses. For each use, we consider the type of shooting, typical target characteristics, target range, illumination and atmospheric conditions, and ballistics. We rank features and performance criteria in terms of importance when selecting a scope. We then recommend rifle scope features, performance criteria and price points for each type of shooting. We expect our recommendations to apply to a majority of shooters. Experienced shooters who have developed a unique approach may disagree with our recommendations. By all means, you should follow whatever path your experience takes you down.
At HighPowerOptics, we view rifle scopes as precision optical sighting instruments and expect them to perform to minimum acceptable standards. We are impressed when a scope provides all the necessary performance and features at an affordable price. We are less impressed with the latest trendy features, especially if they provide little practical advantage or come at the expense of good optical or mechanical performance. Be aware that with training most shooters can overcome a lack of features. However, training or experience cannot easily overcome poor optical or mechanical performance.
Rifle Scope Selection Process. The perfect scope for your needs probably doesn’t exist. Very likely you will have to make a compromise of some sort when you buy a rifle scope. The selection process we recommend will help you determine what can be compromised.
Step 1: Your first step should be to carefully consider your shooting application: competitive, hunting, recreational, law enforcement, etc. Decide on your overall priorities. Many shooters use a particular rifle for primarily one thing, but also have one or moresecondary purposes.
For example, you may meet your buddies at the range once a month, but your passion is big game hunting. Or you may be a highly competitive tactical shooter who occasionally uses your competition rifle to hunt prairie dogs. Or you’re a patrol officer who wants to take is duty rifle coyote hunting on the weekend.
Be clear about which of your uses is the most important. Narrowing your focus is important and helps you to prioritize so that you know where compromises can be made. For example, if the annual hunting vacation trumps your weekend trips to the range, then focus on the hunting section. If your life depends on your scope operating a certain way without fail, such as dangerous game hunting, then you should focus on that section.
Step 2: Next, decide how you’re going to use your scope. What caliber are you shooting? How far a shot will you make in the field? How do you determine target range? How will you compensate for bullet drop, inclination and crosswind? What type of reticle do you prefer? Will you use a ballistic computer, range cards, or “Kentucky windage”. How much time do you have to train yourself on that system?
Step 3: Next, we suggest you rank the following three categories in importance to you:
Function - Cost - Brand
By function, we mean features and performance (see below). If you rank cost and function higher than brand, you’re definitely at the right place. Read on. You will find a wealth of information here to help you select and install your scope while saving money and time.
Some people make the argument, “I buy the best the first time so that I don’t have to buy again later.” That’s a valid perspective, but people with that kind of budget aren’t usually the value-minded, do-it-yourselfers that we cater to. There are a few applications for which either your reputation or someone’s life is at stake. In that case, when in doubt you should increase your budget and buy the higher quality scope.
Step 4: At this point you should review the section below that applies to your application. In each section we discuss specific feature and performance criteria that you should consider. What do we mean by performance and features? Features are easy to identify because they’re listed in the manufacturer’s catalogs and websites. They are the design features that are available with a given scope part number.
Optical and mechanical features: magnification range, zoom ring design, objective size, tube diameter, reticle design, turret design, elevation/windage adjustment range, diopter adjustment, eye relief, etc.
Cosmetic features: exterior shape and color, logos, type font, etc.
Performance is how well those features function. Performance is usually not stated in quantitative terms in the manufacturer’s literature. For that reason, some people conclude that performance is subjective. We firmly believe that rifle scope performance can be measured and our goal is to provide relevant performance information to our customers.
Optical performance: transmission, resolution, contrast, etc.
Mechanical performance: reticle subtension accuracy, tracking accuracy and repeatability, point of aim shift, durability, etc.
Following is a table that summarizes our conclusions about features, performance and entry level cost. We define terms in this table as follows:
Features include both optical and mechanical features.
Accuracy Performance includes both reticle tracking, point of aim shift over zoom range, and subtension accuracy.
Durability Performance includes primarily resistance of POA to recoil and impact damage.
Optical Performance includes primarily resolution, off-axis aberrations and veiling glare.
The recommended Entry Price range is also shown:
A red “High” entry means that ignoring this issue could be detrimental. The absence of a red entries means you have more flexibility in compromising features and/or performance for lower cost. “Low priority” doesn’t mean “no priority”. Even a “Low” entry deserves some care in selection.
Table 1: Recommended priorities for features and performance.
Eventually, you will have to determine your budget. At this point, however, we recommend that you first read the sections below that best describe your type of shooting. Once you have a sense of the functions you really need, you can browse products and get a better sense of your price range.
In each of the sections below, we quickly analyze the most typical scenarios to determine which features and/or performance criteria should be important factors and which should have lower priority.