How to Choose a Rifle Scope

By Bob Campbell published on in Gun Gear, Optics

I am asked about rifle scopes and red dot sights often. Which one should I buy, is just under who should I marry in the overall importance, and very hard to answer for another person. When you add that the student doesn’t know exactly what they are going to do with the rifle scope, the answer is even more elusive. The bottom line is the budget.

semi automatic rifle with EOTech scope and magnifer

For special use, a combination of optics is desirable—you pay your money and take your choice.

Budget

The budget may not allow expectations to be met. There are a number of offerings from TruGlo and Bushnell that offer good performance for the money, but some expectations cannot be met on a tiny budget. When the question is presented in such a way that I have a better idea of what they really want, and the intended mission, it is easier to nail down the objective. (Pun intended.) Once the student has more knowledge, the field is narrowed.

Budget is important because it is the bottom line on what we must work with. Quality is more important than features, and we don’t wish to waste our money. The good news is the optics field is competitive and has evolved to the point that modern shooters will find that a $300 scope delivers like a $600 scope from a generation ago.

The next question isn’t as obvious and pertains not to range but instead terrain. Is a long shot the rule? You need a scope that is clear and sharp at 300 yards. If you are hunting in the forest, then field of view is most important. A front focal plane may be what you need. Light transmission can be important in the timberland. Is the scope used for competition where rapid adjustment of the dials is vital? If so, I recommend the new shooter study the situation and study hard and nail down their requirements before considering a purchase.

Savage .308 rifle with rifle scope

The author and his Savage .308 find the Nikon rifle scope a very good match.

I often heard students state that the scope is great, wonderful, or one of their other favorite adjectives. For the newcomer, there are many scopes that give a good appearance if the shooter doesn’t have the experience to qualify their comments. Clarity, color and contrast and resolution are all important. When you are checking the scope in the store, try to find a dimly lit corner and look through the scope.

If you are purchasing from a genuine gun store instead of a chain store, and I hope you are, step outside. Try the scope in dim light or under a tree near the shop. (Ask first!) All the big names are not equal in light transmission.

Reticle

The next step may be to decide what reticle you wish to use. Second focal plane reticles never change their appearance no matter whether the magnification is cranked up. The target increases in size but the reticle does not. Front focal lenses grow or decrease in size with magnification. Sometimes this works better for shooters.

Bob Campbell shooting an Ar-15 rifle with a rifle scope

Leupold and the .224 Valkyrie ensure you can maximize the performance and accuracy of your load and optic.

There is a great deal of information available for shooters and many good rifle scopes at a fair price. The bottom line… the choice is a personal one. The shooter must consider what magnification they need.

A varmint hunter may need magnification of 10x up to 20x. A hunter stalking deer in New England may need 4x and nothing more. The popular 3×9 hunting scope is versatile and effective, and it may just be the better all-around choice that we first think. Use the logic ladder and climb a rung at a time when choosing the best rifle scope for your use. Nikon, Meopta, and Leupold are excellent names to begin the quest.

Which scope tops your favorite rifle? Is it for hunting, long range, defense, or competition? Share your answers in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (8)

  • PT

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    You said “Use the logic ladder and climb a rung at a time when choosing the best rifle scope for your use”
    Where is this logic ladder?

    Reply

  • GWhiz

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    At 66+ years, the great majority of my long rifles have big time optics. So long to iron sights. I’ve tried Leopold, Vortex most recently. Wish they came with throw levers on the mag ring.

    Reply

  • Carl W. Lefler

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    Leupold 3 x 9 is a great scope for under $300, I have one on my AR 15 and its great for hunting.

    Reply

  • Chuck Cochran

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    I like that budget is the first thing in your steps. A scope/optic has to fir in most peoples budget somehow, and it’s very easy to spend more than you intended. At this time, I only have one rifle fitted with an optic, and that’s my AR 15. While I look, watch and drool with envy over the number of high end scopes and optics, spending 4 figures for use on a $900, just isn’t an expense a retiree can easily justify. I have both a scope and a holographic Red Dot on quick mounts. The scope is a Vortex Diamondback Tactical Rifle, with 4 – 16x, the Red Dot a Vortex Venom 1x. I’ve had both for about 5 years now, and other than replacing batteries, no issues to date with either.

    Reply

    • 7seasdiver

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      Thinking seriously about a Vortex Diamondback Tactical for my Rem 700 in 223. Seems like the only choice out there with MOA reticle, easy to click turrets (i.e. no caps) for a price I can afford. How do you like yours?

      Reply

  • 70's Ops

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    If you combined my military and civilian time, I’ve peeped through many a scope. I decided, on my SBR to mount an NCstar 4-9×32, RGB illuminated P-4 reticle, scope. At a paltry $69, I didn’t expect much, but figured it would help these 60+ eyes. To my surprise it was very clear, decently made, and relatively rugged. The blue reticle is very effective in low light. It holds zero, and is very accurate to around 200 meters. That’s the limit of the range I shoot at, but I’m sure it would reach out much further. Hey, it was a money back purchase, and I figured if it wasn’t up to par, I’d give it to my granddaughter for her rifle. Needless to say, I’m gonna have to buy another for her. If you get a chance to peep through one, give it a try. You’ll be very surprised.

    As always
    Carry on

    Reply

  • Jim in Conroe

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    I prefer Leupold scopes with a ballistic firedot reticle. Being somewhat “old school,” I like horizontal marks on the reticle so that I can hold over (or under) my zero range, and the firedot feature makes the point of aim very visible. That being said, I have also had good luck with a Nikon low end scope, although it eventually failed on a .30-06. Nikon made good on their warranty.

    I would rarely take a shot beyond 300 yards, so a 3×9 magnification is fine. In fact at 100 yards, I dial my magnification down to 4 or 5.

    For rifles that will be used for closer shots for hogs or dangerous game, I use 1×3 or 1×6 scopes, as field of view is more important. One of those is Leupold; the other is Vortex.

    You didn’t address the need for a lighted reticle. I prefer them, as they can be good in a dark background situation as well as in low light. Or just turn it off, if it’s not needed.

    Reply

  • Biggie

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    Was looking for a fixed 4X with 30mm main tube instead of the one inch. That way it could get a larger objective lens of some where around 40-44mm. Thinking I would like to see a BDC for the 62gr round. The 62gr round is now our standard weight now. . I can compensate for 55gr or say 77gr with slight under/over hold.

    Many shooters were use to AGOGS with fixed 4X. Think something like the Leupold FX-II 4x33mm. Would be nice if rubber coated but not a deal breaker if not, just be nice to leave on carbine size AR that might get treated a little rough. A combo scope and QD mount be nice for flat top rifle.

    Reply

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