Let’s say you are in the market for a high-quality long range optic. Maybe you are a hunter on the plains of the midwest, or a you’re a beginning competition shooter looking into the sport, or maybe you are just a hand loader who wants to mix up his own long range formula. Whatever the reason you’re shooting long range, you need something that is going to allow you to stretch the legs of your rifle a bit.
When it comes to long-range shooting you can’t go cheap and expect the best results, you will need to spend a little bit of money, and if you are spending some of your cold hard cash you need to be aware of what a solid long range optic needs to succeed.
The Right Scope For The Hunt
The average deer rifle used to wear a 3-9 scope, and for good reason. Three power is low enough, with a large enough exit pupil and field of view for close shots in most applications, and nine power gives you plenty of magnification for longer shots.
A major percentage of people now want to choose scopes for whitetail deer with top magnifications of fourteen, or twenty, or even more. This is, more often than not, a mistake. Less is more. Use the kiss principle. Bells and whistles like giant turrets, lighted reticles, and bubble levels are often a waste, particularly in lower priced offerings.
To have them in a scope costs more and gives you a less usable, less reliable, and more complicated product. You have enough to do without troubling over how to work your scope. Quality scopes have quality attributes that can be relied on.
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What Numbers Make Sense
In a 3-9X40 scope, the 3 means three power, or 3X. This means that the image you see through the scope appears three times (3X) closer than it does with your naked eye. The 9 means nine power, or nine times (9X) closer than it appears with your naked eye. The forty (40) is the objective lens diameter in millimeters. This is a variable scope because you can vary the magnification of the scope from three to nine, stopping anywhere in between. You would describe this scope as a “three to nine by forty.” Some scopes have a 3x magnification range such as a 3-9. Some have 4 or more as in a 4-12. Some new scopes have a magnification range of 8x or more. The larger the magnification range the more you will pay, but it makes for a more versatile scope. I’ve been spoiled by them.
Most scopes, especially in America have main tubes that are one inch in diameter. That means that they use one inch rings. Some scopes have thirty millimeter main tubes. Those scopes will use thirty millimeter rings. There are several main types of bases that are used to connect the rings to your firearm. You need to know what kind of base you have to find out the exact type of the one inch or thirty millimeter rings you will use for your specific scope.
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Eye Relief & Light Transmission
Scopes don’t gather light, as most people think, although the term “light gathering ability” has become accepted jargon. Scopes transmit available light through the lenses to your eye, always losing a bit in the process. The best a scope can hope to offer in light transmission is about a theoretical 98%, which only the very finest (read expensive) scopes can hope to approach. Anything above 95% is considered great, and most scopes are around 90%, give or take a bit. You have to take light transmission figures with a grain of salt. Manufacturers measure light transmission differently, sometimes for specific wavelengths to boost their numbers.
The more magnification you have, the less light you get to your eyepiece. The larger the objective lens, the more you get through your eyepiece.
A formula for exit pupil is as follows: Divide the objective lens size in millimeters by the magnification. Example: if your 3-9X40 scope is set at 3X, 40 divided by 3 equals 13.3 millimeters, which is large enough for almost all low light applications. If your scope is set at 9X, 40 divided by 9 equals 4.44 millimeters. The difference in available light from the larger exit pupil is significant.
The larger the exit pupil, the less critical the position of your head in relation to the scope is, also. The distance that your eye must be to the ocular lens to get a full, clear picture is called eye relief. Lower powered scopes will have a larger range of distance available for a full view. Higher powered scopes are sometimes very critical in relation to the centering of your eye through the middle of the tube, and the distance your eye must be from the ocular lens. Sometimes there is only a half inch closer or farther you may be to see the whole available view.
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Scope Magnification & Distance
As we have already discussed, a scope in the 3-9 magnification range for a whitetail deer gun is pretty standard. In Western states for mule deer or antelope, a 4-12 or 4.4-14 is not too much, especially when your average shot is many times as long as it would be in the eastern whitetail woods. On the plains or in open country you can even leave your scope at a higher power. You can often see all around you, with little chance of an animal surprising you, which they seem to do occasionally, anyway. In some cases you might have to shoot from hilltop to hilltop, or mountain to mountain. Scopes in this magnification range are excellent for target shooting as well.
A great example we always use is prairie dog hunting or long range target shooting, a 6-20X or 8-25X variable scope does not have too much power. Keep in mind though, on hot days, mirage and heat waves can make a high power scope almost unusable. Some people prefer fixed power scopes for their simplicity and fewer moving parts. On some rifles, people like nothing more than a fixed 4X. Squirrel rifles and many .22s for plinking are well equipped with this magnification. Some target shooters use fixed power scopes with high magnification such as 24, 36, or 40 power.
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Which Focal Plane Is Right For You?
Focal planes fall into two categories, front focal plane, and second focal plane. On front focal plane scopes the reticle will change size as the magnification increases or decreases. On second focal plane optics, the reticle remains the same size. Front focal plane scopes are better in my opinion because the dots or hash marks never change, they are always 1 MIL or 1 MOA apart. At the second focal plane, these dots or hash marks will need a specific zoom setting to be accurate.
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Scope Objective Lens Size And Tube Diameter
When it comes to Long Range Hunting and Long Range Rifles, 40 to 44mm is pretty standard on a medium variable rifle scope. It’s trendy these days to have large objective lenses of 50, 56, or even 75mm and more in some cases. In most cases, these are unwarranted, and the largest ones are laughable.
Large objective lenses will only transmit more useable light than smaller ones if they are set at their highest power in the dimmest conditions. The detriment is comfort and ease of eye alignment. With a properly mounted scope, you should be able to close your eyes, shoulder your gun with a proper, repeatable stock weld, open your eyes, and look directly through the center of your scope every time.
Large objective lenses prevent this from happening because of the ring height required to keep such a large lens off your gun barrel. Some scopes require such high mounting that only your chin touches the stock. These scopes are also heavier, clumsier, unwieldy, unbalanced to carry, slower and less comfortable to shoot. Some of these scopes weigh up to an unbelievable 3.5 pounds! Kind of like towing a motorcycle trailer or taping a bowling ball to your head.
The following are accepted terms for coatings:
Coated: A single layer on at least one lens surface. Fully Coated: A single layer on all air to glass surfaces. Multicoated: Multiple layers on at least one lens surface. Fully Multicoated: Multiple layers on all air to glass surfaces.
Coatings reduce glare, and loss of light due to reflection. More coatings normally lead to better light transmission and sharper contrast. Many coatings are also scratch resistant.
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Selecting Your Scopes Field Of View
Field of view (FOV) is measured in feet at 100 yards. This is the amount of view you see through your scope from right to left at that distance. As magnification is increased, FOV goes down. As magnification is decreased, FOV goes up. For instance, a typical 3X variable scope might have a FOV at 100 yards of a bit over 30 feet, and at 9X, the FOV would be around 14 feet. A larger objective lens diameter will not change these figures. Field of view is directly related to the construction of the eyepiece.
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Turret Adjustments and MOA
Adjustments are made in “Minutes of Angle” (MOA). This is a unit of measurement of a circle, and is 1.0472 at 100 yards. For all practical purposes it is called 1 inch at 100 yards. It is 2 inches at 200 yards, 5 inches at 500 yards, one half inch at 50 yards, etcetera.
Scope adjustments are most often made in A 1/4 inch increments at 100 yards. Each “click” of an elevation or windage turret will move your point of impact A 1/4 inch at 100 yards. That same A 1/4 inch click will move your point of impact 1/2 of an inch at 200 yards, or 1/8 inch at 50 yards. Some scopes have clicks that are 1/2 inch or even 1 inch. Some adjustment dials don’t have clicks at all, just a friction type adjustment that is infinitely adjustable.
If your bullet hole is four inches low at 100 yards and you have a scope with A 1/4 minute clicks, you need to adjust your dial in the direction of the “up” arrow on your turret 16 clicks. Or 8 clicks at 200 yards, or 32 clicks at 50 yards. This is depending on your bullet’s trajectory, of course.
The turrets are housed in the center of your scope tube in a protrusion called the turret housing. The turrets are sometimes made to be turned with a coin, and sometimes they are finger adjustable. Target turrets are tall, and the clicks are easily seen and felt. Target turrets are most suited to use where they won’t get banged around or snagged on gear or brush. This is why hunting scopes don’t have them, and instead are much lower profile.
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Sighting In Your Rifle
If your scope is correctly mounted, using a boresighter should get you close enough to print a bullet hole on a large target at 50 yards. No boresighter, even a laser boresighter, will sight in your gun for you. You must shoot the gun and adjust your scope accordingly to sight it in. Every gun is an individual. No two are alike, even if the serial numbers are consecutive. If a particular gun shoots a certain kind of ammunition well, there’s absolutely no guarantee that an identical gun will like it at all.
If you mount a good scope on a good gun with good rings and bases, and find a certain kind of ammo that it shoots well, with a bullet that serves your purposes well, YOU WIN! Buy a case of the same exact ammo with the same lot number, keep it with the gun and don’t change a thing.
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Budget For Rifle Scopes
I would rather have a great scope than a great gun. Your gun will work when you pull the trigger, but if you can’t see where to place the bullet, the gun is useless. If you can’t rely on bullet placement, why even hunt or target shoot? I’ll never understand how people can take a week or more vacation, spend $1000.00 on a rifle, and sometimes thousands on a hunt, and buy a $150.00 scope mounted on $20.00 rings and bases. I know of many ruined hunts, countless dollars lost, and guns wrapped around trees because of faulty scopes.
Everyone has heard “You get what you pay for”, well it’s true. Spend as much as you can afford on your new rifle scope, and less on the firearm or something else if you have to, but get good glass you can count on, and learn how to use it well. Use a rangefinder if you want, but for long shots, you must know your bullet’s trajectory and be confident that you can place all your shots in the vital area of your quarry every time. You can’t shoot what you can’t see.