How To Choose A Good Scope: The Definitive Guide (2019)
Today you’re going to learn exactly how to choose a good scope.
This is the same technique I use to find the very best scopes for ANY rifle WITHOUT worrying whether I overpaid.
Want to see how?
How Much For A ‘Decent’ Rifle Scope?
This is the #1 question I get.
And the answer ALWAYS tends to disappoint the questioner (and the advertisers).
Here’s the truthful answer…
You can be spending anywhere from $50 to over $1000+.
The determining factor?
How YOU use your rifle.
And that’s what I’m going to help walk you through step-by-step today. So by the time you finish this guide — you’ll know EXACTLY what kind of rifle scope you need.
So, let’s first begin with the most important question…
What Do You Use Your Rifle For?
You know with 100% certainty what you use your rifle for.
But…how does that translate to a rifle scope? That’s where I come in.
I’ve broken down the top 3 usages for a rifle scope, starting with…
You need a rifle scope for one of two reasons:
You hunt small game, varmints, or you do some backyard plinking with the kids.
If any of this sounds like you, you’re definitely a ‘short-range’ shooter and for that, I have the PERFECT rifle scope prescription. Choose a rifle scope with the magnification between…
…1 – 4x and an objective lens between 28mm & under.
Simple enough? Let’s move onto…
This is what 80% of hunters use their rifle scope for.
You’re probably a large game hunter or target shooter. You may also enjoy hunting white-tailed deer in forests or chasing big black bears on mountains (if you’re weird like me).
Either way, you’ll need a hefty dose of magnification between…
…5 – 8x and an objective lens between 30 – 44mm.
Get the gist? Great! Let’s move onto the final usage…
This is what snipers use.
Maybe you’re into competitive shooting or you hunt in really open landscapes (like fields or deserts). If either of that sounds like you, you NEED a precise magnification between…
…9 – 12x and an objective lens between 50mm & up.
You can even go with higher magnification, but you may risk going overkill on your target (and wallet).
Instead, stick to these field-tested recommendations for magnification and objective. It works.
Also, if you use your rifle for more than one usage (for example: short-range + medium-range), feel free to combine magnification & objective recommendations (Ex: 1-8x).
That said, you’re now ready to choose between…
Fixed Power Scope VS Variable Power Scope
I’m going to make this part real easy:
If you need more than ONE magnification, go with a variable power scope. Otherwise, go with a fixed power scope.
Fixed power scopes usually have higher glass quality, aim faster, and cost less. However, it comes at a hefty price: versatility.
If you’re not willing to sacrifice versatility, then variable power scopes are the way to go. Just don’t worry about it too much now.
We’ll make a decision after we choose a focal plane…
First Focal Plane VS Second Focal Plane
For 99% of cases, go for the…second focal plane.
It’s cheaper, doesn’t obscure your view and straight-up works for almost EVERY hunting situation. But there’s one exception…
…ultra long-range shooters (like 10X+ magnification).
If you fit that profile, you should go for a first focal plane scope. It’s more accurate due to the reticle ‘auto adjusting’ as you zoom in — a must-have feature on precise, long shots.
With your focal plane in hand, it’s now time to choose your adjustment system…
Minute of Angle (MOA) vs Milradian (MRAD)
Which adjustment system is better?
Can you guess? The answer may shock you because it’s…neither.
In fact: they’re interchangeable like feet and meters. For this reason, I usually recommend choosing the adjustment system your buddies use.
And 9 out of 10 times, they’re probably using Minute of Angle (MOA). And it’s no secret why. MOA is the simplest and most popular adjustment system in-use.
With all that said, if you’re still unsure…just do yourself a favor and go with MOA. You simply CAN’T go wrong — just like choosing the…
Best Scope Reticle
Let’s face it:
Choosing the reticle is the most exciting part of selecting a scope. After all, scope manufacturers like Leupold have TENS of reticles to choose from.
Don’t get overwhelmed.
There are only 3 main reticles you need to care about:
- Duplex. This is designed for hunters and target shooters. It’s the fastest and easiest one to use. Great for most people (especially beginners).
- Mildot. This is what the military and law enforcement uses. It helps estimate the target’s distance — very helpful for precise shots.
- BDC. This is what long-range shooters love. It makes long-range shooting easier as it helps estimate bullet drop, holdover and more.
Don’t worry about the different kinds of patterns — just choose the one that you like best. When you’ve done that, it’s time to kill…
In case you don’t know what parallax is, it’s what happens when your scope’s reticle shifts a bit with your head movement.
In other words: your scope becomes screwed up and as a result…you miss shots.
Good news is there’s a way to correct parallax using one of three built-in scope options:
- Adjustable Objective (AO). This solves parallax through the objective lens ring.
- Third Turret. It’s a third knob on your scope. Adjust it to remove parallax.
- Factory-Set. The scope manufacturer built-in a parallax killer in your scope. This is usually set at 50 yards (rimfire scopes) up to 150 yards. No extra work needed.
I already know what you’re thinking:
Which option is best?
To be honest, they all work by removing parallax. But if you’re lazy (like myself), the ABSOLUTE best option would be the factory-set parallax adjustment.
Which leads us to…
Windage and Elevation Turrets
This is one of the most IMPORTANT parts of a scope.
Cheap out on the windage and elevation turrets and your scope WON’T zero. Matter of fact, it’s the scope turrets that are ultimately responsible for zeroing.
When gauging for turrets quality, look out for certain features/comments like:
- Holds zero
- Produces loud, audible “click” sounds
Pro Tip: Don’t listen to what the manufacturers say about the turrets. Instead, scroll down to the reviews section and see what people are saying.
Now that we’ve found ourselves some great turrets, all that’s left is to…
Find Good Eye Relief
Here’s the deal with eye relief:
Don’t you EVER skimp on eye relief UNLESS you want your eye to look like Nick Fury’s.
You get the point — get yourself an extra helping of eye relief.
The optimal amount?
Aim between 3.5 – 4 inches of spacious eye relief. That should be your minimum. The more eye relief, the merrier but don’t sweat it.
And that’s ALL there is to finding the right rifle scope. Seriously.
But…what if you’re STILL unsure?
In that case, I highly recommend you check out my site, Scopes Field. I personally hand-test and review ALL the very best rifle scopes for every major rifle and caliber.
Other than that, you’re 100% equipped to choose a good rifle scope. Just make sure you take your time and read the reviews. You’ll be fine 😉
(Feel free to check out these Top 3 Essential Firearm Accessories).
Richard Douglas is nicknamed the “James Bond of Scopes” by his friends. Why? Because he knows A LOT about scopes. After all, Richard is an avid rifle scope user for over 10 years. He now reviews scopes and shares his findings exclusively on his blog, Scopes Field.