Buying your First Rifle Scope
Other than getting your first car or your first home, I can’t think of many things that are as confusing as getting your first scope, especially if you are not familiar with the lingo and terms. The idea of this article is to give you a brief primer on what you need to know and what to look for. This is a starting point in your education and not a comprehensive guide but there are tons of those to dig into once you have an idea of what you are looking at.
Don’t be intimidated. There are a few things you need to know about optics in general and scopes specifically but nothing too complicated.
This is the allure of a scope and what draws people to them. It’s also pretty easy to understand. When you look at a scope it will have numbers like 10x32mm or maybe a more complicated 4-9x24mm. The number before the X is the magnification. The first one is a fixed magnification and the latter is variable. The first is always 10x and the last is variable between 4x and 9x.
So what does magnification mean? The simplest way to describe it is that a target through a 10x scope will look 10 times as big as it does with your naked eye. This is what makes it possible to get such great accuracy through a scope. It makes everything you shoot at a bigger target.
There are a number of factors that go into what makes a better scope image. The first, of course, would be the quality of glass itself. This is the hardest thing to judge without reading some reviews. In short, nothing else you can do to a scope will correct bad glass.
If you start with decent glass, the first thing to look at is the size of the objective lens. In the example above, 10x32mm, the 32mm is size of the objective lens. The larger the lens the more light the scope will let in and the brighter and clearer the image will be. The more magnification you have, the larger the objective you will need. Most of the time, these are well matched to the maximum power of the scope.
The final leg in the image tripod is lens coatings. This is the most complicated aspect of image quality because two companies may use different recipes and get very different results. The premise of coatings is that it helps to filter light in a way that it makes the image as bright and crisp as possible. Some companies have just coated lenses with a single chemical while others have multi-coated lenses with a variety of chemicals. The more the better is the general rule.
Scopes can have a variety of reticles from simple crosshairs all the way up to complicated MIL-Dot reticles that can help to range targets and judge bullet drop. What you use your scope for will ultimately decide what reticle is best for you.
A hunter will benefit more from a simple reticle like a crosshair or duplex reticle. These are simple crosses without much in the way of extras but for distances under a couple of hundred yards, they do great!
Match and target shooters, as well as anyone shooting 300+ yards, will want a reticle with some sort of markings like MIL-Dot, MOA, or one of the many company-specific models. These, with practice, can help you shoot better at distance by aiding in bullet drop compensation.
A final not on reticles are focal planes. An FFP or first focal plane optic will have a reticle that changes size as you zoom in. A second focal plane reticle will not. FFP reticles are great for preserving the ability to judge bullet drop no matter your zoom. A second focal plane will only work for ranging and bullet drop at a specific zoom. FFP is considered the best but costs more.
If this is your first scope and you want a BDC reticle, I would consider either MIL or MOA. Which one isn’t that important but what you learn on will likely set what you will continue. Those are the most common two options on a variety of scopes.
Turrets and Adjustments
Much like the reticles, there are turrets that are better for shorter ranges and hunting and those that are better for longer range match and target shooting.
The first and simplest are often called capped adjustments where you must screw off caps and adjust the scope to zero with a screwdriver or coin. These are great for their set it and forget it capability. Once you get your rifle to zero, you don’t touch them unless you lose zero. I like these for hunting but are a poor choice out past 500 yards or so.
At that range, you want turret adjustments. These allow you to compensate for bullet drop and wind by adjusting your scope rather than holding over. At ranges farther than 500 yards, may calibers will drop so far you would have to hold your scope high enough that you couldn’t even see the target anymore.
If you aren’t sure what you would prefer or want a scope for universal use, I would go with turrets. They cost more and take more time to learn but once you do, they are far superior.
And that’s it. If you can use these criteria to effectively pick out a scope you stand a good chance of getting a really good riflescope. There is far more to learn but for your first scope, I think this covers more than enough. Good luck!
BIO: Eric Patton
Eric from scopesman.com grew up hunting, fishing, and roaming the hills of the Easter U.S. and has dedicated himself to becoming a well-rounded outdoorsman. Anytime there is an opportunity for a little fishing or a morning spent hunting, you will find him in the woods. In his off time, he teaches a variety of outdoor skills including land navigation and basic survival. Recently a Search and Rescue member, he has begun learning the ancient art of human tracking in a variety of terrains.