rifle scope basics

Choosing the Right Rifle Scope

Sporting optics have experienced remarkable technological growth as of late, with rifle scopes and its associated gear at the center. The popularity of shooting sports continues its meteoric rise with people of every age getting involved. Whether you are new to shooting or preparing for your next big-game hunt, rifle scopes are essential to your success at hitting the target.

Since the civil war, telescopic sights have grown in sophistication, with producers making constant improvements. Shooters rely on rifle scopes to enhance the target and gain a precise sight picture. Hunters benefit from increased accuracy at greater distances.

Quality scopes increase firearm safety because the shooter is now aware of the target and what lies behind and around it.

A few questions needing answers before heading off to your favorite sports retailer.

Why Do I Need a Rifle scope?

Thousands of different scopes are available, with more arriving to market as rifle optics technology advances. It is necessary to know what you want rather than what you think you need. It is crucial to match the scope to your proposed shooting needs.

Consider what makes you a shooter; are you in it for the sport of hitting targets, hunting, or competition.

Different types of scopes:

  1. Fixed; the most basic type of rifle optic
  2. Variable; adjust the magnification to your needs
  3. Night vision; low light conditions
  4. Long-range; Any optic over 10X is considered long-range
  5. Sniper, Tactical, and Competition; purpose-built optics for a specific type of shooting

If you are hunting, the need for a rifle scope depends on the type of game. Small game, surrounded by trees and underbrush, should have a 3-9, 2.5-6, or lower power range.

With long-distance hunting, your scope needs to deliver sufficient magnification to resolve targets out to 1000 yards or more. The target should appear no further than 100 yards, which takes at least 10X power.

Home defense seldom needs a scope unless a significant amount of land needs defending. Tactical scopes can be used for hunting and targeting but are tuned for first shot hits and quick target acquisition. The reticle or cross-hair on tactical optics compensates for bullet drop and wind drift, and the scope will typically have mil-spec or military qualities.

What to Consider When Buying Your Scope


Manufacturers express the power of their rifle scopes by a series of numbers, and there are two numbers a buyer needs to be cognizant of. The power of magnification is given as a factor compared to the human eye. For example, scope builders refer to their product as a 3-9x40 or 6-25x50.

The first number represents the magnification, while the second number specifies the size of the objective lens. A specification of 3-9x40 is a good minimum for a rifle scope. The 3 defines the magnification as 3 (three) times closer to the target than the human eye, while the 9 (nine) means nine times closer. The 40 (forty) is the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters.

Rifle Scopes built today are variable powered, allowing for greater adaptability with the magnification setting. Shooters can alter the scope’s magnification anywhere between 3 and 9, with infinite values in between.

The power you choose depends on your type of hunting. Will you be close in and undercover or shooting at long-range with flat terrain? Consider a 4x scope or a variable that goes down to 3.5x power or less for short-distance demands. The low magnification gives you a wider field of view and the ability to pick up your target quicker.

A scope with numbers such as 5-25x56 is a long-distance optic and should have the rifle and setup to match.

Objective Lens

The second number in the description is the objective lens diameter, and the lens’s diameter is in millimeters. The larger an objective lens, the more light is let into the scope’s reticle. With the increased size, a broader field of view is offered with better clarity. On the downside, a large objective lens is cumbersome and adds weight to your setup.

Features to Consider When Buying Your Scope

A few scope buying basics shooters must consider that will make their setup efficient and enjoyable when shooting at any distance.


No other area of a rifle scope has experienced more growth in technology than the reticle or cross-hairs.

There are two types of rifle scopes when specifying the reticle placement. A first focal plane scope has the reticle placed towards the front of the scope, and the target will appear the same size regardless of magnification. The reticle is located behind the magnification lens in a second focal plane scope; these reticles are ideal for low-light applications and long-range sniper use.

Reticles will have Mil-Dot (military) values or BDC (bullet drop compensation)


Eye-relief determines how far back your head will need to be so you are seeing everything in your sight picture. Your cheek needs to feel relaxed resting in the weld of the rifle stock, either in a standing position or prone.

Your eye relief should be 3.5 to 4 inches, or the shooter risks getting the dreaded “scope eye”; this is the gun’s recoil knocking back into your face. Some rifles and pistols will have a greater eye-relief; however, the shooter sacrifices field of view. It is prudent to adjust your scope on a bench rest if at all possible.

Final Word

Modernized rifle scopes are technological marvels with titanium tubes, specially coated glass, and adjustments more than any shooter will consistently use. It is essential to identify your type of shooting. Yes, you can purchase a 5000 dollar scope with all the bells and whistles, but when is the next time you will be hunting caribou on the African Tundra.

Everything in your shooting setup must line up from the cheek weld to the scope’s placement on the rifle. Pay attention to all the little details that create a strong shooting experience, like the scope rings and rails.

Have a great time shooting!

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