Reader Bryce Booher writes,
Every so often, I’m asked, “What scope should I get for my new rifle?” If you’ve asked that question and need some help sifting through the huge selection of “tactical” scopes out there, here are five questions that can help.
1) Do the turrets match the reticle?
Most of us have grown up with dad’s hunting rifle equipped with a scope that has standard crosshairs. We were told to zero them at 200 yards and hold dead on out to 300 yards, right? But what if you need to hold over the target? Just guess?
If you’re looking at shooting 300 yards plus (whether it’s taking game or ringing steel), you are going to want some sort of reference marks in your reticle (i.e. mil-dots, or BDCs, or MOA based hash marks, etc). The kicker here is getting a scope that has turrets (turret adjustments, specifically) that match the unit of measurements in the reticle. This means looking for a scope that has a mil based reticle and mil adjustments, or an MOA based reticle with MOA adjustments. Why?
If you have a mil/mil scope, and in your reticle you can see your point of impact is 1 full mil low, simply adjust your turret up one full mil, and your point of impact should move to your point of aim. If you’re using a mil-dot reticle but have MOA adjustments on your turrets, you better get out your calculator. It’s very common in lower price point scopes to have a mil-dot reticle with turrets that say “1/4 inch at 100 yards.” That’s ¼ MOA, so be careful.
It’s not important which unit of measurement you choose (mils or MOA), but it is important your turrets match your reticle. There are hundreds of good options at all price points that will match.
2) Does the scope track appropriately?
What is tracking? Tracking is the ability of your scope’s turrets to adjust exactly to match the actual shift of impact that you see on the target.
This is important for two reasons. First, if your scope doesn’t track properly and you need 1 MOA of elevation adjustment, your scope may adjust 1 MOA…or 1.2 MOA, or .7 MOA, etc. The further the distance, the more any variation matters. Fancy reticles will only get you so far without having to use the turrets to adjust for bullet drop.
Secondly, you need a scope that returns back to your exact zero after dialing adjustments for elevation. If it doesn’t return to zero, your next range trip will be spent re-verifying your zero instead of shooting at distance.
3) How much do I want to spend?
Ignore the old adage of, “Spend as much on the scope as you did on the rifle.” Scope quality has come a long ways in the last 15 years (and really in the last 5-6 years). There’s no real rule of thumb on price and we all have different budgets.
A $1500 rifle doesn’t necessarily need $1500 glass on it to be effective. Case in point: the US Navy has used the $300 SWFA fixed 10x scopes on their Barret .50 cal with great success. Price is secondary to the first two questions in this article.
Shop wisely. Do your research and read reviews from other shooters.
4) How much magnification do I need?
This is a subjective question. If you’re shooting small targets at longer ranges, you may opt for more magnification because the margin of error is going to smaller on a groundhog than it would be on an elk. But be careful, as high magnification isn’t all it seems. Keep in mind that as you zoom in on a target, you’re also zooming in on imperfections in the glass.
Price is going to greatly affect the quality and clarity of the glass at higher magnification. If you’re looking at a BSA 6-24x for $150, you’re fooling yourself if you think the glass clarity at 24x is going to be the same as an SWFA 5-20x HD or Nightforce 5.5-22x (or insert top quality scope of choice here).
That being said, I like to stay under 16x for most applications. Over the years, I’ve shot with optics of several different brands, qualities, price points. I’ve found that even with scopes with high magnification, I rarely went over 15x. A good quality scope with 12x to 16x max magnification will serve you very well out to 1000+ yards on steel silhouettes or medium to big game. Again, this really depends on what you’re doing with your setup, and your budget.
5) What size tube diameter?
This one’s easy: 30mm. The tube diameter of a scope directly correlates to the amount of elevation adjustment you can get out of it. Think of the turrets on a scope as big screws. As you unscrew the elevation turret, the reticle adjusts to move your point of impact upward. The more you can unscrew the turret, the more the impact will shift up (thus the further you can shoot). This becomes increasingly important as you push the range past 500 yards, and the bullet drop starts exceeding the lowest hash-mark or mil-dot in a typical scope.
Will a one-inch tube work? It might if you’re shooting less than 600 yards. But why not get the 30mm and have something that will take you further in range as you progress as a shooter?
Some shooters will tell you a thicker tube is better because of increased light gathering capability. While a 30mm tube or bigger will gather more light than a one-inch tube, this is really more of a side-effect as opposed to a primary reason.
So there you have it. Five simple questions to ask yourself when selecting a new scope for your precision rifle build that will save time, money, and aggravation.
Bryce Booher operates Defensive Resources LLC.