Choosing a rifle scope isn’t an easy task, whether you’re a pro hunter or new to the world of shooting. With so many options, variables, and complicated technical jargon to navigate, you might end up with a rifle scope that doesn’t fit your specific needs.
If you’re on the market for a brand new rifle scope, our guide is here to help you understand how to buy a rifle scope, highlighting the factors you need to consider when making your purchase.
How to Read Scope Specs
Before delving into the specs themselves, it’s essential to know how to decipher them. Thankfully, the specifications of all rifle scopes are given in a standardized format. They’re denoted by 2 sets of numbers separated by an “x.”
The first part is the magnification power of the scope. It’s sometimes represented by 2 numbers separated by a dash, which indicates that the magnification power is adjustable within a range of the lower number to the higher number.
For example, with a 3-9X40 rifle scope, the image you see in the scope can be three times to nine times closer than it appears to the naked eye.
As for the 40 after the “x,” it’s the diameter of the objective lens measured in millimeters, which affects its light transmission ability.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Rifle Scope
Now that you know what all these numbers mean, let’s take a look at some of the main features of modern rifle scopes.
Magnification is one of the vital features to consider. It essentially means how closer your target appears than it does to the naked eye.
Rifle scopes with a magnification range of 2-4x are perfect for shooting small game or any short-range shooting within a distance of 100-150 yards. Most scopes in this range are fixed. As for variable rifle scopes with a magnification range of 2-7x, they’re a great choice for shooting up to 300 yards.
A range of 3-9x gives you a multi-purpose shooting experience as it can be used for both short-range and long-range shooting without sacrificing too much of your low field of vision.
For long-range shooting, aim for the highest-powered scope you can find. However, keep in mind that since the low end is considerably high, high-powered scopes don’t fare too well in short-range shooting.
Objective Lens Diameter
The objective lens diameter determines how much light the lens will be able to gather. Here, size definitely matters. A larger lens diameter means more light will be captured, which provides you with a brighter and clearer view, especially in low light.
Larger objective lenses can be usually found in scopes with higher magnification ranges, such as 12x or more, as this is where the difference can truly be felt.
However, more isn’t always better. Larger lenses come with their own set of problems, including bulkier scopes and the possibility of giving away your position because of the reflected sunlight off the lens.
Most rifle scopes feature coating on the lenses. This enhances clarity by reducing the amount of light lost while being transmitted from the scope to your eye. Lens coats fall into 4 categories:
Coated lenses only have one surface covered with one layer. They’re the most budget-friendly option but may not give the best results.
Commonly found in most standard scopes, fully coated scopes cover all external glass surfaces using one coating layer.
Multicoated lenses are found in more expensive scopes. With this type of lens coat, one surface is covered using multiple layers of coating.
Fully multi-coated lenses are where external glass surfaces are coated in multiple layers. This is by far the most effective type, but also the most expensive.
The reticle is the crosshair pattern functioning as a visual marker for your target. There are many reticle patterns out there, but we’ll focus on the 3 most common ones.
A duplex reticle is characterized by a thin crosshair at the center that gets thicker as you move to the outer edges of the scope, which is especially efficient for moving targets.
This is the most common reticle design. It works especially well for hunters and target shooters as it naturally directs your eye towards the center of the scope.
A mil-dot reticle is an enhanced duplex crosshair reticle with four 0.25 mil diameter dots on each axis. It’s perfect for long-range shooting because the dots help you estimate the distance between you and the target. They can also help you calculate wind drift and bullet drop.
BDC (bullet drop compensator) reticles feature markings placed on the downward crosshair. As the name suggests, their main advantage is how they compensate for the bullet drop effect, or how gravity affects a moving bullet in the air.
This gives you more accurate results than simply aiming slightly higher as some shooters with other reticles often do.
Additionally, thanks to the several aiming points in the reticle’s pattern, you get more freedom to shoot over different target ranges without adjusting your scope’s elevation setting.
When it comes to how your scope is adjusted, there are two different measurement systems: MOA and MRAD.
Overall, however, there’s no clear advantage of one over the other. It all comes down to whether you’re more comfortable with imperial or metric measurements and what system your shooting buddies are more comfortable communicating in.
MOA, which stands for “Minute of Angle,” means 1/60th of an angular degree, but you can easily use it to measure linear distance. At a distance of over 100 yards, 1 MOA almost perfectly corresponds to 1 inch.
Therefore, it allows for more precise zeroing in smaller increments than MRAD. Keep in mind that MOA adjustment is most efficient when you pair it with a duplex or a BDC reticle.
MRAD (Milliradian) is a metric measurement system calculated at 0.36” per 100 yards.
This measurement system is best used with a mil-dot reticle since it allows the latter to function as a scale.
It works seamlessly in all shooting ranges and saves you the hassle of converting an angular measurement to a linear one.
Now that you know how to buy a rifle scope and are fully aware of what to look for and what features to consider when buying one, you’ll hopefully be able to make a more informed buying decision.
And remember, it’s never about buying the most expensive scope or the one with the highest specs. The perfect rifle scope for you would be the one that best fits your personal needs, so think long and hard about them before committing.