Buying A Rifle Scope: Introduction
Many experienced hunters and firearm enthusiasts know that where rifle accessories are concerned, a high-quality scope can’t be beat. But to those unaccustomed to using scopes in the first place, choosing the correct one can feel like a daunting task. There are so many models to choose from, so many different features to consider, and such a huge range of prices that it can be hard to know just where to start.
Is a hundred-dollar scope really as effective as a thousand-dollar one? Or
Is a rifle scope one of those devices where you get what you pay for?
Can you use the same scope for duck hunting and deer hunting, or are there fine distinctions between the two?
How does a scope work in the first place, and can it really affect your accuracy that much?
This guide is intended to help the reader better understand what a rifle scope does, how it works, and what to consider when buying one for the first time. Read on to learn more about these useful accessories, what they can do to enhance your hunting or target shooting practice, and how to know you’re selecting the one that’s best for you. As you’ll soon find out, there’s a huge world to discover when you’re exploring buying your very first rifle scope. Whatever your needs, we guarantee that there is a scope with exactly the combination of features you’re looking for at a price point that’s within your budget.
But before we delve into pricing and features, let’s explore the basics. What exactly is a rifle scope, what does it do, and how can one improve your shooting?
What is a Rifle Scope?
Let’s start by discussing what exactly a rifle scope is and what it can do for you as a hunter or shooter. To put it in the simplest possible terms, a rifle scope is basically a miniature telescope with crosshairs designed to sit on top of the barrel of your rifle. It magnifies and brightens your target, allowing for more accurate shooting and more humane kills. People sometimes confuse rifle scopes with gun sights, but in fact these are two different instruments. An easy way to tell the two apart is to remember that while both instruments will help you take aim at your target, a scope will magnify the target while a sight will not.
Types of scopes vary significantly, and it’s important to realize that the scope you might use for deer hunting isn’t the same scope you’d use for duck hunting or stationary target practice. Likewise, the best scope for a heavily wooded landscape isn’t the same as the best scope for an open range. For that reason, it’s vital to perform your due diligence before investing in a new scope, and to know exactly what your needs are in advance.
Few people realize that a high-quality rifle scope is an essential accessory, and that its functionality can make or break the performance of your firearm. Contrary to popular belief, a rifle is really only as good as its scope. Not only can a high-quality scope improve the accuracy of a high-quality rifle, it can also transform a mediocre rifle into a superior one. Likewise, a low-quality scope can limit the performance of a good rifle. With that in mind, don’t you want to certainty that the scope you purchase is the best tool for the job?
How Does a Rifle Scope Work?
To understand how a rifle scope works, you must first understand what its numerous parts are called and how they fit together to enhance your vision.
The body of the scope, or main tube, is commonly made of aircraft aluminum, titanium, or steel, and comes in one or two pieces. The main tube provides the surface area necessary for you to mount the scope to your rifle, and it also houses the many internal components and adjustment controls that allow you to fine-tune its performance. Let’s look at those components now.
- Objective bell: This is the end of the scope furthest from the eye. It houses the objective lens.
- Objective lens: This lens is responsible for transmitting light back to the ocular lens. It and the ocular lens are the most important parts of the scope.
- Eyepiece: This end of the scope sits closest to the eye and houses the ocular lens.
- Ocular lens: This is the lens closest to the eye. You look through it to see your target. It and the objective lens are the most important parts of the scope. Generally speaking, most scope lenses will be both water- and fog-proof for optimal visibility under all climate conditions. Some lenses are also coated with a special synthetic material to reduce glare.
- Reticle or crosshair: These markers allow the shooter to zero in on their target with greater accuracy and indicate exactly where the bullet will go.
A rifle scope works similarly to a telescope. Light focused on a point inside the scope passes through the objective lens and is then magnified by the ocular lens. When you look through the scope, you will see the image generated by that light. The crosshair (or reticle) allows you to line up your shot exactly, improving your accuracy and ensuring the most humane possible kills. Some scopes have adjustable settings that allow you to view the target at different levels of magnification. Scopes like these are equipped with a feature called a power ring, which you can turn to change the magnification setting.
Most manufacturers set their scopes’ focus at 100 yards, meaning that when you point it at an object 100 yards away, the object should appear to be in focus. Changing the magnification settings can sometimes cause what’s called parallax error, which is when the aim of the scope changes with the position of the shooter’s eye. Even if the rifle is completely stationary, changing your position will cause your aim to appear off-target. Scopes with adjustable objective lenses can help correct for parallax error automatically.
You can also adjust the scope so it’s in alignment with your rifle through the windage and elevation adjustments, which control the horizontal and vertical settings respectively.
There is much more to learn about the mechanisms of rifle scopes, but these are the fundamentals. Now that you know the names of the scope’s various parts and what they do, read on to learn how a scope is mounted and used.
Using Your Scope
Before you can use your scope, you must first mount it to your rifle. To do this, you need all of the necessary materials: the scope itself, the unloaded rifle, the mount, mounting rings, screwdrivers, and an Allen wrench. If you know your rifle isn’t equipped to accept a scope mount, you may need a gun smith to modify it for you first.
Once you’ve mounted the scope to the rifle, you must align it with your target by sighting-in. It’s also important to take into account the amount of recoil your rifle produces so you allow enough eye relief. Eye relief refers to the distance between the eyepiece and your eye, and it’s important for avoiding injury.
Once it’s fully mounted and adjusted to accommodate your preferences, you simply look through the scope and get your target in your sights via the reticle. It’s important to note at this point that depending on what you’re shooting and what sort of conditions you’re in, you’ll probably need to avail yourself of the adjustable controls to make a clear shot. Obviously, the settings necessary to make the best shot in a heavily wooded area at midday will differ from those you use if you’re shooting across an open field in the dead of night, and the elements will complicate things even further. Rain, sleet, and show are all factors that will influence what sorts of adjustments you need to make to the scope.
Having a sense of where and when you’re likeliest to use the rifle scope is also important for knowing what to buy. With that in mind, let’s go over our list of top-ten picks. These ten scopes were selected for their exceptional performance, resilience to the elements, durability, superior optical quality, and their versatility in different environments.
Top 10 Best Rifle Scope Picks
All of the rifle scopes profiled in this section are available for purchase on Amazon.com and valued between $100 and $2000 dollars. Every one has been given at least a four-star user rating. In this section, we’ll look at the features of each scope, examine the various advantages, and discuss its strengths and what makes it stand out to the competition so you can determine which is ideal for your needs.
To accommodate all budgets, we’ve included rifle scopes at a variety of different price points, from budget scopes in the $100 dollar range all the way up to those costing $2000 and more. We’re confident that no matter what you have to spend, you’ll find an item on this list that will suit your budget, and you can know when you make your purchase that it’s backed up by numerous positive consumer ratings. We’ve also ensured that the scopes profiled vary in terms of features, so you game hunters, target shooters, and everyone in between has something to choose from.
This scope is one of the lower-priced items on our list, and also one of the most popular and celebrated in its price range for some very good reasons. To begin with, it’s the result of collaboration between Nikon Sport Optics, one of the world’s leading optics companies, and Buckmaster’s, known worldwide for being the #1 go-to source for everything related to deer hunting. This collaboration brings you a line rifle scopes with some of the highest quality optics technology at the most affordable prices. Designed with unforgiving weather conditions in mind, these scopes are equipped with shock-, fog-, and water-proofing features for maximal versatility in a variety of climates and terrains. They also come with many more features rarely found in scopes at such low prices. Nikon’s unique multi-coated lenses offer the user superior anti-reflection capability for high-level light transmission and exceptional optical clarity in any environment, at any time of the day or night. These premiere lenses are carefully cut, polished, and then coated with multiple anti-reflective layers, helping to enhance light transmission, strengthen contrast so you can more easily spot your game regardless of its surroundings, offer flare-free viewing and accurate color rendition, and improve overall image quality so you can make your shot every time.
- Manufactured in collaboration between Nikon, one of the world’s leading optics companies, and Buckmaster’s, so you know you’re paying for quality and integrity of design
- Specially designed reticle trajectory-compensating system is calibrated for fast and easy aiming at various distances
- Equipped with special multi-coated lenses for superior anti-reflection capabilities
- Housing is fully water- and fog- proof for optimal visibility and sealed with an O-ring and nitrogen filling to protect the interior from moisture damage
- Every scope is protected by a limited lifetime manufacturer’s warranty
More than one Vortex scope made our list, and that’s because Vortex has made such a reputable name for itself as a manufacturer of shooting accessories. This is one of their more recent releases, and already it’s gained considerable popularity, as evinced by the consistently favorable Amazon ratings and reviews. The Vortex Diamondback is noteworthy for its huge range of features. This rifle scope is not only virtually indestructible, but also highly resistant to recoil thanks to its one-piece aircraft-grade aluminum alloy construction. The scope is treated with argon to make it fully water- and fog-proof, and the multi-coated lenses offer the user exceptionally clear, sharp, vivid images through the reticle. For under $200, and with all of the aforementioned features, this rifle scope is truly in a class of its own.
- Made of aircraft-grade aluminum for maximal strength and durability
- Versatile enough to handle big game, predator, muzzleloader, long-range, slug, and target shooting
- Treated with argon gas to prevent internal lens fog. Argon gas doesn’t absorb or react chemically with water, and its properties remain stable over a wider range of temperatures than other protectants do.
- Zero reset accuracy. This means that when you shoot with this scope, you are assured fast and accurate windage and elevation adjustments, as well as audible and tactile clicks for enhanced accuracy.
- Machined for exceptional durability.
- Custom-designed reticle helps to improve accuracy and cut down on guessing the windage and holdover.
Vortex Optics has established a well-known reputation for superior optics, and this rifle scope is no exception to that rule. The Crossfire II 6-24X50 AO rifle scope offers the user a fast-focus eyepiece for the fastest, most accurate shooting, long eye relief for maximal comfort and safety, fully multi-coated lenses to reduce glare and improve visibility, and fully resettable MOA turrets. Combined, these many features make the Crossfire II an uncompromising scope. Between its supreme clarity, brightness, and durability, this rifle scope is the clear winner alongside other similarly priced scopes. Additionally, the single-piece aircraft-grade aluminum tube is hard anodized, nitrogen purged, and O-ring sealed to make the scope water- and fog-proof: ideal for use in any terrain and any weather. It’s rare to find another scope with so many advanced features at this price point, making this scope an especially rare steal.
- Exceptional reticle technology including a second focal plane reticle. The scale of the reticle/crosshair consistently keeps its appearance. The reticle’s subtensions for estimating range, holdover, and wind drift correction remain accurate at magnification levels of up to 18x.
- Aircraft-grade aluminum construction. Designed with strength and durability in mind and fashioned from a single block of aircraft aluminum for exceptional life expectectancy.
- The 30mm single-piece main tube maximizes alignment for the ultimate in accuracy and optics. It’s also water-resistant for use in any climate.
- An O-ring seal protects the interior of the scope against moisture, dust, and other debris, guaranteeing consistently reliable performance under all weather conditions.
- The dead-hold BDC reticle with customized hashmark design helps to increase the accuracy of holdover and windage corrections and minimize guessing. Ideal for hunting or target shooting at a variety of ranges it is imperative to accurately estimate the holdover.
This rifle scope is especially noteworthy for how deftly it shrugs off recoil, and for its superior protection against darkness and moisture. As you’ll soon discover, the Viper is known for being a premium rifle scope for some very good reasons: Between its many remarkable performance features, like the pro-grade, fully multi-coated optics that offer 95% light transmission, the tough and durable Precision Force spring systems, and the incomparably smooth Precision Glide erector system, this mid-value rifle scope is versatile enough for tactical, long-range, predator, and target shooting. The Mil Dot reticle is allows you to estimate range, windage, and bullet hold-over with exceptional clarity and precision. It’s the ideal choice for long-distance shooters, hunters, and anybody else who relies on ranging ability to make the perfect shot. Additionally, the Mil Dot subtensions stay accurate at up to 14x. The side-knob parallax adjust function lets you make parallax adjustments quickly and effortlessly and keeps the range numbers visible when you’re in the shooting position. The 30mm main tube comes with better windage and elevation adjustment than previous models, as well as improved strength, and the tall capped turrets let you make field adjustments with ease.
- The Mil Dot reticle helps the user estimate range, windage, and bullet holdover, making it an ideal instrument for long-distance shooting, hunting, and anywhere else you need ranging ability.
- The argon gas purging and O-ring seals make this scope fully waterproof and fog-proof.
- Capped reset turrets allow for lightning-fast re-indexing of the turret to zero after sighting, and without tools. The caps offer additional external protection.
- A single-piece 30mm tube gives the user maximal alignment for greater accuracy and optical integrity, as well as increased durability and weather-resistance.
- The Precision Glide erector system features state-of-the-art components for the smoothest possible magnification in the zoom lens mechanism even in the most inhospitable environment.
This is one of our favorites on our list of mid-priced scopes, and you’ll soon see why. The MONARCH 3 has the distinction of being the largest rifle scope in the entire Nikon line. Choose between eight different magnifications and five different reticles for the combination of settings that best suits your unique needs. For optimal vision control, Nikon has combined glass-smooth zooming with easily visible magnification reference numbers for use in the shooting position, as well as a quick-focus eyepiece. The patented Ultra ClearCoat optical system available in this entire line of scopes has been strategically designed to give the user the maximal light transmission (up to 95%) offered by any rifle scope currently on the market for the clearest and sharpest view of your game regardless of time of day, environment, or weather conditions. Shooters gain an in-field advantage with the ability to make instant adjustments thanks to the spring-loaded instant zero-reset turrets. Thanks to improved ring spacing, this rifle scope is immune to water, fog, and shock, for superior durability. If you want an affordable, practical rifle scope that you know will hold up under any conditions, this is your best bet for under $400.
- Scope is equipped with MONARCH 3 Eye Box Technology, completely with 4x zoom range and eye relief up to four inches.
- Spring-Loaded Instant Zero-Reset Turrets makes adjustments fast and easy.
- The shooter can bring the reticle into focus instantly thanks to the quick-focus eyepiece.
- Patented Ultra ClearCoat Optical System allows for light transmission up to 95%.
- Scope is optimized for use with Nikon’s Spot-On Ballistic Match Technology line.
This tactical scope offers the utmost precision even in closed quarters as well as superior mid-range capability. The true 1x magnification and Bushnell’s new BTR-2 Ballistic Tactical Reticle come together to bring the shooter instant target acquisition and calibrated ranging Ts, perfect for long-range shooting. Whether you’re shooting in a a tactical environment or in 3-gun competitions, this scope will rise to the occasion. The illuminated BTR-2 Second Focal Plane Reticle is a fully lit, mil-hash marked reticle ideal for quick and precise ranging, holdover, and windage correction without the guesswork. An ultra-wide band coating helps maximize brightness at all times of day or night, argon purging, and a Rain Guard HD coating ensure the scope remains water- and fog-proof so the scope can be used under all conditions, as well as resistant to internal condensation. This is a wonderfully rugged instrument, durable enough for the shooter who likes to get down and dirty while game hunting, but still equally suitable for those who prefer target shooting.
- Ultra-wide anti-reflective band coating is strategically designed for all lenses in the scope’s optical path for optimal brightness and the full light spectrum of color transmission.
- Compact and easily portable size and high performance at only low to medium power, giving the shooter maximum results from close quarter to medium range.
- Main tube made from30mm forged aircraft aluminum alloy.
- True 1x power for the fastest possible target acquisition. Scope also comes equipped with a second focal plane BTR-2 reticle with 11 different illumination settings for all times of day and night.
- Patented Rain Guard HD water-repellent coating offers premier moisture-resistance for optimal visibility through the eyepiece and protection of internal components from rain, snow, and condensation.
The Burris Eliminator III currently holds the distinction of being the most advanced rifle scope on the market today, and at just over $1000 it offers the most sophisticated technology at the most unbeatable value. Its incomparably elegant, lightweight design is equally durable and ready to go at a moment’s notice, and versatile enough for ranging and hitting targets in excess of 1200 yards away. The trajectory compensation is precision-calculated for the most exact possible ammunition and accurate range. Additionally, the illuminated aiming point lets the shooter take down game even under the lowest light conditions. The X96 reticle offers superior accuracy at all levels of magnification, and it even gives the user an easy method for calculating wind holdoff without having to guess. True to its name, The Eliminator III offers the greatest possible accuracy at the longest possible ranges.
- Rifle scope is fully covered under warranty for life. You’ll never have to worry about this device failing on you.
- Made using only premium-grade materials, including aircraft-grade aluminum with shock-resistant treatment.
- Factory tested for guaranteed quality, reliability, and accuracy.
- Equipped with the state-of-the-art Eliminator III 3-12x44mm Laser ScopeX96 Reticle for additional precision even at long ranges.
- 1200+ yards ranging capability allow the user to hit targets at unprecedented distances.
- Parallax adjustment ranges from fifty yards to infinity for enhanced vision control.
- Enhanced Extreme Range Ballistic Programming gives the shooter a technological advantage unlike any other.
Armasight Nemesis brings you the ideal rifle scope for circumstances when a hunter needs to put additional distance between himself and his target. This exceptional scope offers the shooter a huge range of features including a high-quality image intensifier tube, exceptionally easy and versatile internal windage and elevation adjustments, and push-button controls designed with ease of use in mind, all of which combine to help the Armasight Nemesis 6X SD give you superior optical quality and enhanced visibility even under nighttime conditions or in bad weather. It comes complete with a Standard Definition Gen 2+ tube which provides the shooter with resolution capabilities of up to 45-51 lp/mm. The adjustable brightness illuminated reticle is like no other in its class. Indeed, there isn’t any other night vision rifle scope available today that offers crosshairs that are so carefully defined and still so thin, or that give the shooter such exceptional shot placement even on the smallest of targets. Furthermore, The Nemesis is outfitted with the popular Picatinny/Weaver mount, offering the shooter exceptional accuracy of rail positioning and providing maximal comfort. The three-accessory mounting rails make mounting a breeze, and the included long-range IR illuminator gives you an unprecedented advantage even when you’re shooting at night. The Nemesis is also treated for water-resistance in inclement weather, and the main tube is expertly crafted from aircraft aluminum, for robust, portable, and durable performance in all environments. If you’re after superior quality and resilient performance under any conditions and at any time of day, look no further, because The Nemesis is the whole package.
- Incredible 6x magnification with 6.5 degree FOV and shock-protected optical components.
- Features bright source protection and automatic brightness control, as well as a fully illuminated center red cross reticle for heightened contrast with adjustable reticle brightness.
- Waterproof main tube with simple and easily operable controls and adjustments.
- Mounts to standard weaver rail for ease of use.
- Please note that exportation of this product outside of the United States of America is forbidden by law and controlled by the US Department of State.
The Tango6 line of super-zoom 6x riflescopes are engineered for use not only in close quarter shooting but also for long-range targets. Whether you’re participating in 3-Gun competitions, hunting large game or fowl, or shooting practice targets, this scope is at your disposal. This state-of-the-art scope cones complete with our exceptional hex optical system for optimal clarity of vision even under low lighting conditions, hellfire fiber optics, and glass-etched fully illuminated reticles. The first or second Focal Plane designs and ingenious lock-down zero system turrets come with zero stop and reset, and the smooth rotation counter makes long-range shooting a breeze. Understand that this isn’t a rifle scope for the novice shooter. This is a pro-grade device for experienced marksmen, and it performs as such.
- The MOA milling reticle offers the shooter maximal precision in all environments.
- 25 MOA adjustments give you incomparable versatility.
- Field of view extends from 20.2 ft at 100 yards on low.
- Eye relief of 3.8 inches ensures comfort and safety during use.
- 9 daytime illumination settings give you exceptional performance in any lighting conditions.
We’ve saved the best for last, and you’re about to see just how. This rifle scope differs from all the others on our list in a number of respects, but the most obvious is that it’s designed with advanced “white hot” and “black hot” thermal imaging technology. More than any other scope on this list, and, we would argue, on the market generally, The Pulsar Apex 1.5-6×32 XD38A Thermal Riflescope offers the most precise placement at distances exceeding 1,000 yards. Long-distance viewing is facilitated by the continuous digital zoom feature, giving the user an exceptionally wide range of magnification levels. The scope’s thermal core resolution of 384 x 288 captures the most detailed possible images, and the LCD display and high 50 Hz frame rate provides unparalleled clarity, consistency, and vivid imagery of even the fastest-moving targets. Better yet, The Apex XD38A’s 4x digital zoom feature offers the user a smooth, continuous digital zoom fore exceptionally extended magnification that puts its competitors to shame. The picture-in-picture digital zoom allows you to see a magnified picture of the reticle’s aiming point at the top of your screen even while it’s in use. This enlarged picture of the reticle gives you all the benefits of precision aiming, and the peripherals of the display preserve the base level of magnification for an expanded field of view, allowing for multiple fast, consecutive follow-up shots. The scope’s one-shot zeroing ability and enhanced freeze function takes your image of your target to zero instantaneously from the crosshairs to your rifle’s point of impact. Users can select from the automatic, manual, or semi-automatic modes of calibration, which adjust the lens in only 1 to 2 seconds. The scope’s internal dampening system keeps the scope thermally stable at levels of up to 1,000Gs of recoil, which is equal to a.375 H&H bolt-action rifle. It also comes complete with updatable software, which allows the user to continually improve the performance of their Apex rifle scope. This
- Wireless remote control lets you operate the scope from far away.
- Includes a portable carrying case, cleaning cloth, user manual, adapter cable, and batteries for immediate use.
- 384×288 resolution for peak vision performance.
- 384×288 resolution, 50hz refresh rate for exceptional speed and ease of use.
- High resolution LCD display give you the crispest possible visuals.
- 950m detection range let you sight your target even from exceptional distance.
- Superior one-shot zeroing with freeze function for additional control.
- 4x digital zoom with helpful picture in picture feature allow you to more easily zero in on your target.
By now you should understand the fundamentals of rifle scopes: what they do, how they work, and what they have to offer you as a shooter. You also have a detailed overview of the types of scopes available on the market today, the range of features available and how they stack to one another, and the full spectrum of price points. Armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to look into purchasing your first rifle scope. Or, if you’re already accustomed to using a rifle scope when you shoot, you can use the information you’ve gained from this guide to upgrade your current scope for a more sophisticated model, and in so doing improve your shooting practice in all terrains.
If you’ve found the information in this guide helpful, please drop us a line and let us know. Likewise, if you own any of the scopes on this list and would like to share your feedback about its performance, or you have another scope that you think we should include, please leave us a comment and let us know.
What do you consider to be the most indispensable features when you’re selecting a rifle scope?
Are there any brands you would recommend over others?
Any bad experiences you would caution fellow users to steer away from?
Feel free to weigh in.
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