Besides the rifle itself, as well as the ammunition, perhaps the single biggest mechanical determinant of whether a hunter will hit a target or not lies in the rifle scope. Of course, the skill of the hunter will be the biggest determining factor in who brings home the prize buck and who brings home the story of the deer that got away, but between two evenly matched hunters, the hunter with a well chosen rifle scope may have a better chance of bringing back the trophy buck. And no matter your skill level, when you have the opportunity to shoot or hunt after a long week of work, you don’t want to shoulder the burden of shoddy equipment that makes things harder than they need to be. This guide will help you select a quality rifle scope to get the job done without breaking your budget.
The essential aim of a rifle scope is to make an image larger (magnification) and align your eye with the image you see. The basic parts of most scopes will include an eye piece, a power ring, the rifle tube, and the objective lens. The first major difference of scopes is in the magnification, or in how much larger they make what you see. There are variable power scopes, whose magnification can be adjusted (for example, from three power to nine power), and there are fixed power scopes. Variable power scopes offer the advantage of adjustable magnification, but they come at a higher price. Your magnification needs will depend on the type of game you shoot and the distances at which you shoot. Beyond magnification, you will also need to consider the reticle, or the part inside the rifle scope that indicates the location of the center of the viewing field. This is more of an issue of taste than anything else; go with what works for you.
Other issues to consider include the sealing and proofing of the rifle scope; you should not buy a scope that is not well sealed. Moisture entering a rifle scope will fog it up, reducing its usefulness out in the field. High quality scopes will be able to take a decent amount of abuse without breakage of their seals. Lens coating is another issue to consider. Coatings on the lenses helps protect them from being scratched by dust and small objects; lens coatings also improve the resolution (the amount of light that enters the objective lens and leaves the ocular lens) of the lens and help reduce glare from sunlight. You want a rifle scope that comes with coated lenses. However, regardless of the coating you invest in, remember to use lens covers whenever you store your rifle scope; there isn’t a coating on earth that will keep your lenses from becoming scratched if you have shells and sharp objects bouncing into them while you’re driving to shoot.
In the end, price must also be considered as a factor when choosing a rifle scope. Typically, a four hundred dollar scope will outperform a one hundred dollar scope, but you also need to consider diminishing returns; a two thousand dollar scope will not perform five times better than a four hundred dollar scope. You need to decide what you need and what you can get away without. Typical hunters can be satisfied by scopes costing between two and eight hundred dollars.
As you see, there is no right scope for every hunter or shooter. The best scope will depend on the shooting you plan to do, the gun you plan to use, and more aesthetic preferences like the color of the scope and the type of reticle used inside. Whatever rifle scope you choose, remember to use it safely and try not to get too caught up in chasing equipment; the best part of the hobby is the fun you have in the field and on the range.