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Choosing a Rifle Scope: The Ultimate Guide

by Richard Douglas

Looking to buy a rifle scope?

Awesome!

In this guide I’m going to show you EVERYTHING you need to know about choosing a rifle scope. 

Let’s get started!

Magnification

This is the most important aspect of a scope. 

Why? 

Magnification is how much closer a target appears compared to the naked eye.

For example, if a scope’s magnification is 4X that means you can see FOUR TIMES closer than the naked eye. Simple enough. 

But how much magnification should you get? Should you get a scope that has a lot of magnification? Or less?

The truthful answer? It depends...on your use. 

If you’re a medium-to-long-range shooter that uses the best scope for ar-10 for big game hunting or target shooting, then you’re going to need some magnification (like 4 - 12x). 

However, don’t worry too much about choosing the ‘right’ amount of magnification right now -- we’ll decide together in just a bit. 

But something you do have to worry about right now is...

How do I find Magnification?

This is super-duper easy. All you look at is the first range of numbers (before the x) on a scope. 

For example: if a scope says 6x42, then the magnification is 6x. Simple, right? For now, until you stumble across this magnification...3-9x40.

How much magnification does it have: 3 or 9? Just give it a guess. If you guessed 3 to 9x, then you’re officially a scope genius (for now).

But the real question is: What’s the difference between 6x and 3-9x

Think about it. Other than the amount of magnification, there’s also the type of magnification. And actually, there are TWO types of magnifications...

Fixed Power vs. Variable Power 

Fixed power means that it works at only one power...like 6x. 

On the flip side, variable power means that you can adjust through multiple powers...like 3-9x. 

The benefit of choosing a fixed powered scope over a variable powered scope is that they’re usually more dependable and reliable because of fewer moving parts. Plus they’re cheaper. 

(A win for the Mr. Krabs among us...like me)

But, there’s a problem with fixed power...you’re sacrificing versatility

However, that’s not the case with variable powered scopes. In fact, that’s why variable scopes are more popular -- they allow you to shoot in a variety of environments and situations. 

That said, which one should you choose?

The straight answer? If you intend on shooting at one distance, then go for fixed power. However, if you plan on shooting at a variety of distances, then variable power is for you.

After you’ve selected the type of magnification you’d like, it’s time to determine the right…

Objective Lens

In simple terms:

Objective lens (located at the end of the scope that is furthest away from your eye) is the lens that transmits light into the scope. You can find how much objective lens a scope has by looking at the numbers after the x. For example:

If a scope says 6x42, then it has a 42mm objective lens. What about 3-9x40? Same thing -- it has a 40mm objective lens. 

Something to note is that the more objective lens you have, the brighter and clearer your image will look. 

Does that mean to buy a scope with the highest objective lens? Absolutely not. Depending on your use, too much objective lens could be harmful by adding excess weight and may even give AWAY your shooting position.

Oops.

That said, when choosing the best scope for your rifle, you need to get a scope with the right amount of objective lens. So…

How Much Objective Lens Do I Need?

It depends on your use. So for example:

If you hunt close range (>100 yards), go for >28mm.

If you hunt medium to long-range (150+ yards) with medium recoil, 30-44mm will do the job.

Or lastly, if you’re a long-range shooter, go for 50mm+

And while we’re talking about the amount of objective lens we need, why don’t we cover...

How Much Magnification Do I Need?

Here’s the quick breakdown:

If you use your firearm for homestead defense, >100 yards target shooting or stalk small game, then go for a 1-4x magnification

Alternatively, if you plan on shooting up to 200 yards, stalk large game like deer or hunt in closed landscapes, then opt-in for 5-8x magnification.

Or what if you’re a long-range shooter and hunt in open landscapes? Then go for 9-12x magnification.

Once you’ve got the right amount of magnification and objective, it’s time to start digging into...

Rifle Scope Lens Coatings

Most rifle scopes have a ‘coated lens’. Lens coatings reduce glare and increase light transmission. 

That’s why more coatings typically lead to sharper contrast and better light transmission.

Here are the 4 basic lens coating types:

  1. Coated: A single layer on at least one surface.
  2. Fully-Coated: A single layer on all glass surfaces. 
  3. Multi-Coated: Multiple layers on at least one surface.
  4. Fully Multi-Coated: Multiple layers all glass surfaces. 

But...which lens coating should you choose? 

Truth be told, it doesn’t really matter. Why? Because most scopes are ALREADY fully multi-coated. 

And even if the scope is just coated, it’s very possible that a single coating can OUTPERFORM a scope with multiple coatings. 

In short: Don’t worry too much about coatings. If the scope’s glass is quality, then chances are the lens coating will be quality too.

But something you do have to worry about is…

Choosing A Scope Reticle

Have you ever played a shooting game (like COD or Battlefield) or watched snipers in movies zoom in on their scope? What do you see? 

Probably something like this:Through Scope What you’re seeing is actually the reticle’s aiming point (or crosshair). The reticle is responsible for accurate aim. 

Here are the top 3 most popular reticles:

  1. Duplex Reticle: The simplest crosshair pattern. Perfect for hunting or target shooting.
  2. Mildot Reticle: Very similar to the duplex, but have dots that allow you to estimate the target’s distance. Great for military or extreme long-range shooters. 
  3. BDC Reticle: Standing for Bullet Drop Compensator, the BDC reticle helps adjust for bullet drop. Very helpful for long-range shooters.
Targets 

But did you know that the reticle can be placed in two different positions within the scope? Yep! They’re called...

First Focal Plane (FFP) vs. Second Focal Plane (SFP)

A reticle can either be placed at the front of the magnification lens (FFP) or at the rear (SFP). 

Let me explain: 

With FFP reticles, the reticle size changes as you shift through different magnifications…

...while SFP reticle size remains the same despite changing magnifications.

Focal Plain Magnification
Which one should you use?

It depends. If you’re a precision long-range shooter (with magnification powers over 10x), then opt-in for a first focal plane (FFP) reticle.

However, for everyone else, I’d recommend going for a second focal plane (SFP) reticle. It doesn’t disrupt your view. and it’s cheaper.

Now that you’ve selected your reticle and focal plane, the next thing you have to worry about is...

Parallax

Parallax occurs when the target and reticle aren’t in ‘sync’.

In other words: whenever you move your eye around, the reticle will follow your eye movement.

Here’s an example:Reticle Scope

This is NOT good.  Why? Because it’ll lead to blurriness and missed shots. 

Instead, you want both the reticle AND target to be synced. How? By killing parallax in one of three ways:

  1. Factory-Set: A neat feature where parallax adjustment is already built into the scope.
  2. Adjustable Objective: A ring on the objective lens (OL) that corrects parallax.
  3. Third Turret: An added turret that allows you to adjust parallax. 

Once you kill parallax, you’re probably going to need to adjust the...

Windage and Elevation Knobs

The windage knob is located on the side of the scope and is responsible for horizontal adjustments (left to right)…

...while the elevation knob is located on the top of the scope and is responsible for vertical adjustments (top to bottom). 

When turning the knobs, you’re adjusting by the measuring system built into your scope. What’s a measuring system? Glad you asked because there’s actually two...

MOA vs. MRAD

In laymen’s terms:

Minute of Angle (MOA) measures 1-inch per 100 yards.

While Milliradian (MRAD) measures 0.36-inch per 100 yards. 

Which one should you use? Whichever one your hunting buddies use. If you’re still unsure, then stick to MOA -- it’s more popular and easier-to-use (if you’re American). 

Now that you’ve selected your measurement system, there’s one last thing we need to touch on…

Eye Relief

Eye relief is the distance between the ocular lens (the lens you look through) and your eye. 

Depending on your firearm’s recoil, aim for at least 3.5 - 4 inches of eye relief. Because if you decide to cheap out and don’t get enough eye relief, then your eye might end up looking like Nick Fury’s. 

(I sure don’t want that)

So make sure to get adequate eye relief...and invest in a quality gunstock. Here’s why:

Most firearms are built to fit an average shooter: Roughly 5 feet 10 inches and 185 pounds. 

Chances are you’re not that size, resulting in a stock that doesn’t fit you. 

And since you’re probably going to use a scope on your firearm, the height of the comb on the stock must be at the proper height to aid comfort and accuracy. 

This is where a gunstock comes into play: it’ll help maintain correct eye relief. 

But don’t get any gunstock. Invest in a quality one like Boyds’ At-One Adjustable Gunstock. Feel free to check out American Hunter’s full review of the stock.

That said, you now know everything you need to know about choosing a rifle scope. The last question probably on your mind is…

How Much Should I Spend On A Rifle Scope

As Captain America best put it:

“Whatever it takes.” 

I’m kidding. However, that’s what a lot of the blogs will tell you. Don’t believe them. Instead, spend up to half of what your rifle cost. 

For example: if your mini 14 cost $1000 dollars, then feel free to spend up to $500 on a scope. It’s a worthwhile investment (trust me on this). 

But which rifle scope should you choose? Well, that depends on your usage, caliber, and rifle. 

However, knowing what you know now about choosing the best scope for your rifle, I’m sure you’ll have NO problem finding an affordable scope that matches your needs.

Alternatively, you can visit my Scopes Field blog. I’ve actually hand-tested and reviewed scopes for almost EVERY major rifle and caliber. 

So if you ever need any help with finding the best scope for your rifle, come stop by. What are you waiting for? Go out there and get yourself a solid scope! 

 


Author Bio:

Richard Douglas is a scopes expert with over 10 years of hands-on gun experience and has been featured on Burris Optics, Talon Grips, The Loadout Room, War History Online and more. No wonder his friends call him the “James Bond of Scopes.” Richard now spends most of his time reviewing scopes and sharing his exclusive findings on his blog, Scopes Field