Choosing a rifle scope can be a difficult decision. Whether you are a novice who is in the market for your first rifle scope, or a pro hunter who is looking to upgrade your rifle scope, choosing between the selection of riflescopes on the market can be hard.
With so many different options available and technical jargon and special features to consider, it can be easy to end up with a riflescope that is unfit for purpose. That’s where we come in! Use our expert information about choosing a rifle scope to help you choose the best riflescope for your hunting adventures. If you're new to the world of rifles and optics then we'd highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of the Shooter's Bible, 108th Edition: The World’s Bestselling Firearms Reference. Published annually for over 80 years, this guide will give you a clear overview of what rifles and optics are on the market.
Using a rifle scope for hunting has various benefits; all of which will ultimately increase your chance of hitting your target!
Magnification of target - rifle scopes magnify the image you see meaning that you can view your target more clearly and increase the chance of hitting it. The ability to see a target in more magnification before pulling your rifles trigger also makes for safer hunting, as you have more chance of seeing what’s behind your target, thus reducing the chance of hitting something or someone that you shouldn’t.
Shooting in low light - rifle scopes accentuate available light, providing images that are brighter than those of the naked eye. Using a riflescope means that you can hunt early in the morning or in the evening, which are often the best times to shoot big game.
Increased shooting precision - rifle scopes include visual markers known as reticles or crosshairs, which show shooters exactly where their shot will go when they pull the trigger. These markers make it much easier to be more precise about your shot, increasing the chance of hitting your target.
When choosing the best riflescope for you, it’s important to fully understand the differences between the various types of rifle scopes available. To do this, you’ll need to understand what the specifications of a riflescope mean and how differences in specifications can significantly affect the performance of a riflescope in different situations.
The specification of a riflescope is always indicated by two sets of numbers. Ultimately, these two sets of numbers indicate the magnification power or strength of the riflescope and its light gathering ability.
The first set of numbers is the magnification power of the riflescope; the second is the diameter of the riflescopes objective, or front lenses. These two elements effect how the binoculars will perform in different circumstances.
We've provided two examples below to help you understand how this works in riflescopes that have both fixed and variable magnification.
Example 1 - fixed magnification riflescope (magnification cannot be adjusted)
Riflescope with a specification of 4x32
Example 2 - variable magnification riflescope (magnification can be adjusted)
Riflescope with a specification of 3-10x44
The rifle scope in example 1 has a magnification power of 4, meaning that an object viewed through the riflescope will appear 4 times closer than it would to your unassisted eye. For example, if you view a deer that stands 50 metres away from you through a 4x32 riflescope, it will appear as though it were only 12.5 meters away (50 divided by 4).
The rifle scope in example 2 offers variable magnification, meaning that the magnification can be can be adjusted to magnify images between 3 and 10 times (and any magnification in-between) that of your unassisted eye depending on your requirements. These riflescopes have a feature called a power ring. Turning the power ring changes the magnification setting on the riflescope.
Rifle scopes with higher magnification will allow you to see further and in more detail, but will be less effective in low light conditions and will reduce your field of view - we’ll discuss the best riflescope magnification for hunting later.
Objective lens diameter
The second number used in rifle scope identification refers to the riflescopes objective lens diameter. The objective lens is located at the front of the riflescope, furthest away from your eyes, and closest to what you are looking at. The objective lens diameter of the riflescope in both example one and two is 32mm.
The diameter of the objective lenses largely determines how much light your rifle scope can gather. The larger the objective lens diameter, the more light that the riflescope will capture, and the larger field of view that will be have. More light means a brighter view, particularly in low-light conditions. However it’s important to remember that a larger objective lens diameter makes for a larger, heavier riflescope, so it’s important to consider whether it is more important to you to be able to use your riflescope in low light conditions, or whether you want to be able to comfortably carry it for long distances without getting fatigued. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of large objective lenses later.
When choosing a riflescope it is important to ask yourself the following questions, as your answers to these will help decide on the best riflescope specifications for you.
How far do you plan on shooting and what will you be shooting?
The distance that you plan on shooting at will significantly effect riflescope magnification that you need. Also, the size of your target will effect how much you will need to magnify it to get a clear and accurate shot.
If you mainly plan on hunting large game in densely wooded areas, chances are that you will never be too far away from your target. Rifle scopes that offer either fixed or variable magnifications between 3.5x and 7x or 8x will be ideal in this situation as they will allow you to focus on targets that are both close by or up to 100m away.
If you will mainly be hunting in large open spaces, and shooting targets that are small, or further than 200m away, then you should consider a rifle scope in the 12x magnification range or sometimes as high as 20x.
Many hunters choose a rifle scope with a variable magnification as they offer much greater versatility and mean that targets that are both near and far can be focused on clearly.
If you are unsure where you will be using your riflescope, or wish to shoot in a range of locations and situations, then a 3-9x40 rifle scope is a good all rounder.
If your not sure whether you need a fixed or variable rifle scope, then why not check out the main features of both in our Magnification - Fixed vs Variable blog, and also find out more in our FAQ section.
How far will you be carrying your rifle scope and what time of day will you be hunting?
The distance that you wish to carry your rifle and riflescope, along with the time of day that you wish to use them, will effect the size of objective lens that will be most suitable for you.
Larger objective lenses increase the size and weight of your riflescope, so you may want to opt for a lighter, more compact rifle scope with a small objective lens diameter if you will be walking long distances in search of targets.
However if you are planning on using your riflescope in low light conditions early in the morning or in the evening, or even in bad weather when light is at a premium, then larger objective lenses will gather as much light as possible and produce clear images for accurate shots.
In addition, large objective lenses provide a large field of view, meaning that you can see a larger expanse of landscape than you would with a rifle scope that has a smaller objective lens. Field of view is also dependent on the magnification of your riflescope, with field of view reducing as magnification increases, even in riflescopes that have a large objective lens.
In most cases, rifle scopes with an objective lens diameter of 40mm will be sufficient for use in most light conditions, and will provide an adequate field of view. You will only need a larger lens if the riflescope that you choose uses high magnification levels in the 14x to 36x range.
As mentioned earlier, rifle scopes include visual markers known as reticles or crosshairs, which provide you with an aiming point and show you where your shot will go when you pull the trigger. Reticles come in a variety of designs, and it is important that you choose a reticle that is appropriate for the activity you intend to use your scope for and the distance that you plan on shooting. Below we provide more information about the most common reticle designs and discuss what and where they are best used for.
The simple cross hair reticle design was the first reticle designed for riflescopes. The cross hair reticle design is good for very precise target shooting but is not always ideal for hunting. This is because the fine crosshairs can be hard to see against a target or in low light, and aren't as effective as other reticles if you are trying to quickly take aim at a target.
The duplex reticle is by far the most common reticle design for hunting and many hunters consider this design the best riflescope reticle. The thick outer crosshairs of the duplex reticle stand out easily against targets, and the combination of thick to thin cross hairs allow you to quickly take aim at a moving target, or aim more accurately at a smaller target without obscuring it. Most brands of riflescope will have a line that incorporates the duplex reticle. Manufacturers often have their own name of the duplex design that incorporates the term 'plex'.
Mil Dot reticle
Mil Dot reticles are most commonly used for long range shooting in situations where you need to be able to estimate the distance between you and your target. By performing certain calculations, the mil dots on the reticle can be used to compensate for bullet drop and wind drift. Using a mil dot scope is a complex operation and requires a good bit of study and practice. Due to this, we wouldn't recommend this design for beginners, but for long-range target shooters and snipers, the mil dot reticle can be very useful. If you are keen to estimate the distance to your target we'd suggest using a rangefinder for ease of use and speed.
BDC/ Ballistic reticles
Ballistic, or BDC reticles as they are often known, are designed to compensate for the effect of bullet drop; that is the effect that gravity has on a bullet as it travels through the air from your rifle towards your target. The simplest of ways to overcome the pull of gravity on bullets towards the ground is to aim your shot a little higher than your desired target, so that the bullet will hit the right spot on your target regardless of the pull of gravity. This technique is used by many shooters, but others choose to opt for a riflescope which includes a special BDC reticle. By making certain calculations based on target distance and ammunition type, and using a ballistic chart formulated specifically for the riflescope that you are using, the extra marks along the bottom crosshair post on ballistic reticles allow you to accurately line up your shot whilst taking bullet drop into account. If you're planning on performing long-range shooting then you may want to consider buying a riflescope with a BDC reticle to ensure your most accurate shot.
If you're planning on using your riflescope to hunt in low light conditions, or in deeply wooded areas, then you may want to choose a reticle that is illuminated. Many reticles are offered in an illuminated option and Illuminated reticles come in a variety of different combinations and colours. Ultimately, they are all designed to ensure that you can easily see the crosshairs of your reticle. If you wish to purchase a riflescope with an illuminated reticle it is best to opt for a more expensive model which allows you to make minute adjustments to the brightness of the illuminated reticle, as illuminated reticles in cheaper riflescopes can sometime hinder your view of the target rather than enhancing it.
Now that we have had a closer look at some of the riflescope reticle designs that are available, take some time to really consider which reticle type will suit your style of shooting.
Eye relief - Eye relief refers to the comfortable distance that you can hold your riflescope from your eye and still be able to see the entire image. The eye relief of a riflescope differs depending on it’s magnification. On a riflescope, the larger the eye relief the better, as not only does it allow you to spot your target more quickly, but it also reduces the chance of the riflescope injuring the eye if the rifle recoils.
Waterproofing - Most rifle scopes on the market are waterproof to protect them from any unexpected downpours. It’s always good to check that your preferred option has this feature.
Lens coatings - Most rifle scopes have special coatings on their lenses to reduce the amount of light that is lost as it is transmitted through the riflescope to your eye. These coatings reduce the scattering and reflection of light, as it passes through the riflescope, resulting in more light reaching your eye and increasing the sharpness and contrast of the image that you see. Lenses can either be coated, multicoated or fully multicoated, with the later being the most effective at reducing light loss. Despite an increase in cost, we always recommend choosing multicoated lenses.
Parallax adjustment - When buying a scope it's important to consider how that scope adjusts for parallax. You'll need to choose between a scope that has been factory set to correct for parallax at certain distances, one that has an adjustable objective lens, or a side focus. Parallax is by far the most confusing concepts related to rifle scopes, so we've written much more about it here on our rifle scope FAQ page.
If you're new to the world of rifles and optics and want to be able to compare your options all in one place, then we'd highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of the Shooter's Bible, 108th Edition: The World’s Bestselling Firearms Reference. Published annually for over 80 years, this highly regarded guide will give you a clear overview of what rifles and optics are on the market.
When is the last time you saw a deer rifle without a scope on it? I am betting it has been quite a few deer seasons ago. I think it has been 1970 since I saw a deer rifle in the woods using only open sights. I remember this because it was my first deer rifle, a Winchester Model 94 in 30-30. I bought the rifle at J.C. Penney for $66.
I killed my first buck with that rifle at a whopping range of 20 yards. I hardly needed an optical scope to make that shot. Truth is though in those days not one deer rifle in camp had a glass lens scope on it. That was long ago.
Those early deer hunting days were in Missouri when I was in college. By the time I moved to Mississippi in 1983, virtually every deer rifle I saw sported an optical scope of some description. Today a riflescope is considered essential, not a custom accessory or a luxury item. Everybody uses them.
One question arises though. Are most of the scopes on rifles used by deer hunters these days the right ones or the best choices? Is there really such a practical thing as an ideal scope for a deer rifle? Let’s examine these parameters to profile what the best recommendations are for an optical scope to mount on your deer rifle.
Keep in perspective too that the factory offerings and options for today’s riflescopes can be mind boggling and are getting more confusing all the time. The market is congested with many high quality scopes at some fairly reasonable prices, but there are also plenty of low quality scopes out there with dubious reputations for long lasting quality, optical clarity, waterproofing, and over all reliability. Check around and shop your local retailers to inspect their stocks and see what is available. Be careful what you buy.
Modern riflescopes are indeed a dynamic optical engineering marvel from what was available just a couple of decades ago. American, European, and Asian optical manufacturers have reached new levels of perfection in riflescopes for hunting. One cannot really go wrong in terms of optical quality with any recognized brand from the upper tier of scope makers. As always with optics, you get what you pay for.
These optical devices, when correctly mounted on a rifle and sighted in properly at appropriate ranges, offers a number of advantages mostly obvious to the end user. First and foremost is the projected or magnified optical view of the intended target at ranges beyond what the average human eye can normally focus on. Optical clarity and quality of the observational vision is the first scope characteristic to look for.
Next, the most obvious function of a riflescope is to mate the shooting accuracy inherent in the rifle to the desired delivery of the ammunition projectile to the point or near about to the target at estimated ranges in the field. In plain language, the scope aids the shooter to place the bullet into the killing zone of the game animal hunted, the white-tailed deer in our case of discussion here. At this mission today’s scopes are first rate.
Without getting too technical to be confusing, riflescopes come in a number of configurations, fixed magnification powers, adjustable power ranges, reticle types, objective lens sizes, and tube diameters among other characteristics like metal finishes, turret adjustments types for windage and elevation as well as focus rings.
If there were a standard riflescope for a deer rifle, it would probably be the traditional one-inch tube scope either in a fixed power of 4x or maybe 6x. An adjustable power version would most likely be the 3-9x power range. The scope’s objective lens or the lens at the front end of the scope would be 40mm. Its exterior finish could be a matte blue or black, silver matte, or stainless. The standard reticle these days is the 4-Plex crosshair. That’s a fairly standard configuration for a classic deer rifle.
Popular variations on the standard theme include first a front objective lens of 50mm on a one-inch tube. This permits additional light gathering capabilities to extend a range of quality vision under more low light conditions. A step up to higher adjustable power ranges can go up to 3.5-10x, 4-12x, 4-16x, 4.5-14x, and some other combinations.
Scopes with larger 30mm tubes are increasing in use, too. These also deliver extra gains in light transmission. Keep in mind these larger tubes also require larger scope rings to accommodate the scope. These scopes and rings are quite expensive.
My own personal preference is a 3-9x power usually set on 6x in a stand or 3x in the woods. I prefer the 50mm objective and the 4-Plex reticle in a black matte finish. That’s my ideal riflescope. What’s yours?
Beautifully designed. Meticulously crafted.
A whole new level of typing comfort
Feel the warm, luxurious touch of our Signature Alcantara covered keyboard and palm rest, and enjoy a comfortable typing experience like no other.
A stunning screen that responds to touch
Experience faster, more natural navigation on the vibrant PixelSense Display with immersive touchscreen. Enjoy more space for your ideas with an edge-to-edge display and ultra-thin bezel.
Watch the video.
Adopt new ways to work and share
A versatile laptop, powerful tablet, and portable studio in one.
A sleek portable powerhouse to work with professional-grade software using the full keyboard, trackpad, and touchscreen.
Detach the PixelSense Display to transform your PC into a thin, powerful, and lightweight tablet you can take anywhere.
Fold your PC to draw and sketch comfortably and naturally. Add the pen for an immersive creative experience.
Turn the PixelSense Display around and reattach it to share content. Perfect for watching your favorite shows.