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Selecting a Scope to Balance With Your Rifle, Game, Cartridge and Style of Hunting

In many ways, choosing a scope these days is harder than selecting a rifle. You have to decide among 1-inch, 30mm and 34mm main tubes. Will the objective be 36mm, 40mm, 44mm, 50mm, or 56mm? Parallax adjustment dial or not? BDC reticle, duplex, fine, post, heavy, illuminated? Dialing turrets?

Selecting a Scope to Balance With Your Rifle, Game, Cartridge and Style of Hunting

If that sounds daunting, toughen up because there’s more: 3X, 4X, 5X, 6X or 8X zoom range? Low end power of 1.5X, 2X, 3X, 4X or 6X? Top end 9X, 10X, 12X, 14X, 18X, 24X or 30X?

Holy moly! And we haven’t even gotten to anti-reflection coatings options and HD lenses yet.


Well, maybe we can…

The main thing to consider about a scope is its main purpose: to aim your rifle where it throws its bullets. And keep it there. At its heart, a scope is a glorified, magnified front sight. And a scope that doesn’t hold zero is little more than a one-eyed binocular on a heavy, inconvenient rest. So, shop for durability and consistency first. Your scope must maintain zero under heavy, repeated recoil. This is mostly determined by reputation, longevity and warranty. A manufacturer granting iron-clad guarantees or your money back suggests they don’t think their scopes will break. That’s encouraging. But so is word-of-mouth endorsement. If you hear a brand mentioned often as tough and reliable, that’s a good sign. At the same time, don’t overlook new brands. The scope market is changing fast. Many new brands are popping up and most emphasize top quality at a cost savings. Pay attention.

Let pricing provide a clue, too. A scope doesn’t have to cost $1,000 to be effective, but one selling for $100 isn’t likely to be ideal. A good rule of thumb is to spend more for any scope you plan to mount on a hard-kicking rifle. Then, spend as much as you can afford. I’ll happily spend more for my scope than my rifle. There are plenty of durable rifles like the Winchester XPR selling for less than $600 these days that will shoot MOA right out of the box — but not without a good scope to aim them.

The second thing to consider in scope selection is your style of hunting. Seriously. You don’t want to be clamping a 2-pound, 56mm objective, parallax-dialing, 6x24X scope on a lever-action Model 94 30-30. Nor do you want a 1.5-6x24mm scope atop that long-range 300 Win. Mag. Balance scope size and power to your rifle’s trajectory potential. That seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how often we see elk hunters with 1,000-yard target scopes atop 338 Winchester Magnums in tangled Rocky Mountain elk thickets. Just as you can be “over-gunned” for certain game, you can be “over-scoped.”

While I appreciate a top-line, super-powerful, super-complicated, hyper-range target scope when ringing steel at 1,250 yards, I’m never eager to carry one up a mountain, especially not for seven days in a row. I don’t appreciate one on a moose rifle in a canoe, either. That’s as mis-matched as a 1.5-4x20mm atop a 220 Swift coyote rifle.

Balance, my friends, balance. Balance is as important in scopes, rifles and hunting as in yoga and tightrope walking.

Something most hunters need and can use often in a scope is versatility. Variable power scopes provide this in spades. At 2X or 3X the field of view is wide enough in most scopes to fit in an entire deer at 10 or 15 yards. At 10X, objects appear to be 10-times closer. This means a pronghorn at 500 yards will appear to be 50 yards away. Gee, think you can hit that?

Given that most of us hunt game, terrain and habitat where we rarely get shooting opportunities beyond 300 yards, there’s not a lot of reason to saddle ourselves with overly long, bulky, heavy, powerful scopes. Throw in the honest assessment that most of us don’t train enough to shoot precisely past that distance anyway, and we run out of reasons to mount 6x24x56mm scopes atop our rifles really fast.

In conclusion, this old hunter recommends you take a hard look at how far you and your rifle are capable of shooting — or need to — before over-scoping that new Model 70. Mount a super scope to a super rifle tricked out for extreme range target shooting. But you might want to keep it off your hunting rifle.

Ron Spomer
Ron Spomer
Ron Spomer has been hunting, shooting, and writing about it since 1976. His articles and photos have been published widely in magazines, newspapers, books, and websites. Ron has been the long-standing host of Winchester World of Whitetail. He’s roamed round the world in pursuit of big game and small game species alike. If you need to know anything and everything about hunting and ballistics, Ron is your man.