Before you buy that new scope for your rifle or shotgun, you need to pump the brakes and make sure you’re getting one for the right reasons. A scope is a tool, and you need to know what task you’re going to ask the tool to do.
In fact, that’s the basic theme of this post. Some scopes are specialized tools (tactical or ultra-long range scopes, etc.) and others (the myriad 3-9x40mm variable scopes) are sort of jacks of all trades. Know what you’re going to do with the scope before you buy it; if you get a scope that’s well-made AND suited to the task at hand, you’ll like the results. If you don’t, well . . .
Before we get into it, you should bear in mind that the amount spent on a scope does not create an equal increase in marksmanship. Some mighty amazing feats of marksmanship were accomplished on scopes that would be considered pitiful by today’s standards, so keep in mind that your scope is a smaller part of the equation than you might think.
It’s like new sights for a pistol; while both make good marksmanship a little easier, neither replaces experience, hard work and sound fundamentals.
However, if you know for a fact that your scope needs replacing or upgrading (it’s broken, it fogs up so bad it belongs in a John Carpenter movie, you can’t see a damn thing through it, the scope is wrong for your intended use) then you should absolutely proceed.
So, what should you be aware of before laying down your hard-earned cash? Here are five things you need to think about before buying a new scope.
First, select the appropriate magnification level for the weapon platform and intended use. Some scopes are definitely best for some applications and some aren’t as good for others. In other words, know the range(s) at which you’ll use the rifle, shotgun or pistol at and what magnification level is appropriate.
A 4X fixed power scope is great for moderate distance applications where a wide field of view is required. Obviously, this makes them good for some hunting applications but not necessarily for ultra-long distance benchrest shooting.
An optic like, say, a Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25x56mm scope isn’t the best hunting scope as it’s expensive (over $4000) and heavy, at 2.3 lbs. It’s fantastic from the bench, but not going up and down mountains.
If you need a scope for hunting, what range do you typically shoot game at and in what kind of territory? Remember, the higher the magnification, the narrower the field of view.
If you’re taking a poke at Eastern whitetails across a 75-yard beanfield, a 3-9X scope is almost too much; a 4X fixed power or 2-7X variable power scope is perfect. Stalking amidst dense woods? A 2-7X or 4X fixed is great there too, and so are red dots.
Fixed power, low-magnification variable and red dot scopes are also great for turkey guns. In the plains or mixed timber/open areas of the inland and mountain West, the 3-9X, 4-10X and 4-12X variable scopes reign supreme.
Again, consider the application and make sure you’re choosing the right magnification level.
Make sure you’re getting the right reticle for how you’ll be using your scope.
There are many styles of reticles, which we’ve covered before. Consider again what your intended application is and make sure you’re getting the right tool, again, for the task.
Especially if you’ll be shooting and longer ranges, you’ll need to decide between scopes that use mils or MOA angular units of measure. They’re both equally useful, but most shooters stay with the system they’ve been taught.
Do you anticipate holding over for windage and drop at distance? Or will you be dialing your adjustments in?
Plain crosshairs are fine for moderate ranges where holdover isn’t required. If you’re going to reach out and touch something further out there, a mil-dot or MOA duplex reticle is a better choice.
You’re going to have to mount your new scope on your rifle or shotgun. Most will use scope rings for a standard rifle optic. Various heights are available to accommodate the shooter and the size of the scope.
If you’re buying a scope for an AR platform rifle, you may want to consider a one-piece mount like this one:
If you already have a scope installed, make sure that your tube is compatible with your rings. The good news is that it probably is, but make sure you check. If so, awesome. If not, you’ll need new rings and – if your rifle requires one – possibly a base.
Again, the good news is that most scopes on the market are 30mm (1 inch) tubes as are most scope rings and therefore don’t necessarily require new rings. Granted, not all are. Larger scopes for long-range applications like the Leupold Mark 8 mentioned above have larger tunes. Again, be sure to check before buying your scope rings or mount.
Fourth, make sure the scope you buy has the features you need for what you intend to do with it, in terms of windage and elevation adjustment, if it has a third turret for drop (calibrated for your caliber and load) and so on.
Granted, you should also consider what features you’ll actually need. Again, if the scope is going on a rifle that isn’t going to be fired at long range, then you just need windage and elevation to get zeroed. If you’re going to be punching steel plates at 1,500 yards, a standard two-turret scope probably isn’t good enough.
Finally, the big one. There’s an old rule of thumb that you says you should spend more on your scope than you did on the rifle you’re mounting it on. It’s just a guideline, but not a bad one.
Some scopes are cheap and deservedly so, some scopes are inexpensive and perform incredibly well for the price. Some scopes will cost you late model used car money, and are barely any better than other optics with the same features at half the price. There are some truly excellent mid-shelf scopes as well.
This is where you’ll need to get out there and do your homework. Chances are you can find a great scope for your intended application that won’t bust the bank. Don’t be afraid to spend on quality, but you’d be surprised these days at how much quality you can get for a reasonable amount.
For a hunting rifle, spend an amount that gets you the scope you need, but keep in mind that stuff tends to break in the field. Part with an amount you can afford to replace.
Then again, if you’re building your dream rifle with your dream optic…live your dream and go crazy. In fact, tell us about it in the comments.
Again, the idea is that you’ll get a whole lot more use, more enjoyment and better results if you select a new quality scope that is suited to the task(s) for which you are getting it.
Anything else a shooter should know before buying a new scope? Have any horror stories of a scope you just HATED? Did you get some bargain basement glass that turned out to be a gem? How ’bout Dem Bo…just kidding; the Cowboys suck. Sound off in the comments.