Whether you’re brand new to hunting, or a seasoned pro looking for a new riflescope, choosing one that’s perfect for your needs and budget can be tricky. There’s heaps of different factors to consider, and specifications to understand to ensure that the riflescope you choose will do what you need it to - help you bring home the meat! Let’s delve in, go back to the very beginning, and help to to develop a good understanding of riflescope specifications so you can decide what type of scope is best for hunting.
What is a Hunting Scope?
Hunting rifle scopes are basically miniature telescopes that attach securely to your rifle. When you look through them, they magnify what your naked eye can see, so you can see your target more clearly. Unlike most other optics which also magnify views (such as spotting scopes and binoculars), hunting and target shooting scopes are built with a reticle that helps you accurately aim at a target.
Why Should You Get a Hunting Scope?
Ultimately, having a successful hunt all comes down to accuracy. How accurate is your shot? One of the main factors in getting your shot on target is being able to see the target clearly and closely enough to aim at it. In most hunting situations, the naked eye is not strong enough to see an animal at a long distance clearly enough to aim at it, so additional magnification is needed. That’s why it is so important to have a good quality, well suited riflescope to bring you closer.
Key Features to Consider When Buying a Hunting Scope
So, you know that you need a hunting rifle scope but choosing one sounds a bit daunting. Let’s take a look at all of the features that you need to consider when choosing the best scopes for hunting.
Magnification and shooting range
In short, the magnification of a scope tells you how much closer you can see a target compared to your naked eye. Looking through a riflescope at a 3x magnification will allow you to see your target three times closer than you would without the scope. The magnification of a scope is extremely important as without the right magnification you won’t be able to get a close enough view to see your target clearly.
Understanding a scopes magnification all comes down to numbers. The magnification of a scope should be the first thing you consider, so to make it as easy as possible to do this, all of the riflescopes that we sell have the scopes magnification range in their name. For example, the Bushnell Legend 3-9x40 Riflescope has a variable magnification range of between 3x and 9x that of your naked eye.
When you’re choosing the right scope magnification for your needs, the first decision to make is whether you need a fixed or variable magnification. A fixed scope has just one magnification setting whereas a variable scope has a range of magnifications. When asking yourself ‘do I need a fixed or variable powered riflescope’ you’ll need to consider whether everything you’ll be hunting will be at one set distance away from you, or whether there’s a chance that you’ll need to take some shots at short distances and others at longer distances. In most cases, for hunting, it’s highly likely that animals will be at a variety of distances, so a variable scope is the best option.
What is a good magnification for a hunting scope? This all comes down to the distance that your targets will be at. As a rule of thumb, for bush hunting or stalking small game at up to around 100yds, a low magnification, 1-4x scope will work well. A trusty 3-9x scope will be a great option for stalking game out to around 200yds. If you’re hunting in wide, open landscapes at potentially over 200yds then a scope with a magnification range of 4-16x or 3-12x will be a great choice.
The objective lens, or front lens, of a riflescope has a very important job - let in as much light as possible to produce bright, clear images. The objective lens of a scope is measured in mm and is clearly shown in all of our product titles. For example, the Rudolph Optics Hunter H2 4-16x42 SF HD Riflescope has a 4-16x magnification and a 42mm objective lens.
So, what size objective lens is best for hunting? The bigger the lens, the brighter the scope will be. However, with size also comes weight so it’s a fine balance between brightness and portability. Larger lensed riflescopes can also become harder to mount on your rifle in a comfortable position, so it’s a fine balance to strike. Most scopes come in pretty standard packages where the manufacturer has decided what sized objective lens is most suited to the magnification range offered by a scope. For example, lower powered scopes will ordinarily have a smaller objective lens than a higher powered scope, meaning that low powered scopes that are great for close range hunting will be more compact (for example 2-7x32). For more standard hunting at slightly longer ranges and most likely in low light settings of dawn and dusk, then a slightly larger lens of around 40 - 44mm is paired with magnification ranges such as 3-9x or 4-16x. For extra long range hunting in low light conditions, then a 50mm or 56mm lens is often employed in a configuration such as 5-25x56. We’d always advise considering the distance that you’ll be shooting at first, as the objective lens will usually be the most suited to your needs at those distances.
The lens coatings of a scope of any kind, whether it’s a hunting scope, a tactical riflescope, a spotting scope or binoculars are incredibly important. But what is a riflescope lens coating? Lens coatings are invisible coatings that are applied to the lenses to enhance their ability to direct light to your eyes. The more good quality coatings a hunting scope has, the brighter the images it produces will be.
Lens coating options:
Coated – Only one coating is applied to the lenses. Only the extremely low end and cheap scope options will have this option.
Fully Coated – All of the outside glass of the scope has a coating on it. This isn’t ideal but some of the lower end scopes are made like this.
Multicoated – At least one external lens of your scope has more than one layer of coatings on it. The more good quality coatings on the lenses the better so this option is better than coated and fully coated.
Fully Multicoated – All external lenses of your scope have several layers of coatings on them, significantly increasing light transmission.
Almost all mid to high end rifle scopes for hunting will have fully multicoated lenses and if you can afford it then they’re well worth the extra dollars.
If you’re new to the world of riflescopes then you may be wondering, ‘What is a scope reticle?’ Well, the answer is simple; the reticle of a riflescope refers to the aiming point that is visible when you look through the scope. The reticle is designed to provide you with an accurate aiming point to make it as easy as possible to aim at your target. A reticle is usually in the form of some sort of cross hair. There’s three main types which are considered below, however every brand has their own versions of each of these.
Main types of scope reticle:
Duplex – A duplex reticle is the most simple reticle available and consists of two intercrossing hairs that meet in the middle to form an aiming point. Duplex reticles are the fastest to use as there’s only one aiming point meaning they’re great for beginners and also hunting.
BDC – BDC stands for Bullet Drop Compensation. In short, this means that there’s lines on the lower pillar of the reticle that allow you to compensate for the amount that your bullet will drop between coming out of your rifle and meeting your target at certain distances. These reticles are more complicated to use as you’ll have to complete calculations before using them to work out how far your particular load will drop. They’re great for experienced hunters who want to shoot at longer distances.
Mil-Dot – Mil-dot reticles have dots on their crosshairs which allow you to estimate your targets distance. Mil dot reticles aren’t usually a go-to reticle option for hunters and are more often used for target shooting.
The reticle of your riflescope can either be located on the first or second focal plane of your scope. This means it’s either in front, or behind the magnification mechanism of your scope.
First focal reticles are located in front of the mechanism so the size of the reticle increases as your magnification does. Unfortunately, this means that the reticle can obstruct your view of your target at lower magnifications. FFP reticles are a good option for target and long range tactical shooters, however in general they’re not a great option for hunting. If you’re a hunter looking to buy a rifle scope in NZ, then a second focal plane (SFP) riflescope will be the best option for you as it stays the same size throughout the entire magnification range.
MOA vs MRAD
The point of impact of your scope can be adjusted by moving your riflescopes turrets in certain increments. These increments are either measured in MOA or MRAD/MIL where each click of the turret corresponds to the point of impact moving by a certain amount at a set distance. We often get asked ‘Which is better - MOA or MIL reticle?’ The answer is simple - either. Neither adjustment is better than the other, it simply comes down to personal preference. The best thing to do is to find out what your hunting friends are using and opt for that too as it will make it easier to learn how to use it.
Your riflescope has two turrets. The elevation turret is located on the top of your scope. It is used to adjust the aim of your scope and the point of impact of the bullet in the up and down movement. The windage turret is on the side of your scope and is used to adjust your scope aim from left to right. Without scope turrets you wouldn’t be able to zero in your scope, or accurately adjust the aim of your scope. Scope turret adjustments are measured in either MOA or MRAD/MIL as discussed previously. Each time you turn the turret and you hear a click, you will have adjusted your scope by a certain number of MOA or MIL. Good quality hunting scopes need turrets that have clicks that you can hear so you know when an adjustment has been made. For hunting, capped, or lockable turrets are a great idea so that they don’t accidentally get knocked in the bush and adjusted by accident.
Parallax refers to times when the reticle in your scope appears to move around for no reason. You can watch a short video about this here. It’s important to correct for this so that it doesn’t hinder your shot. There’s three ways to do this:
Parallax adjustment turret: This is a third turret that appears on the side of some scopes and allows you to adjust and correct parallax
Fixed parallax: Some scopes have their parallax adjustment automatically built-in by the manufacturer. It’s usually set at about 50 yards to 100 yards and is not adjustable. This is usually a feature on lower power scopes
Adjustable objective (AO): This is a ring on the objective bell of your scope that you twist to correct parallax
The eye relief of a hunting scope, refers to the distance that you can hold it away from your eye and still be able to see through it properly. Eye relief is important when it comes to scopes for rifles due to their recoil. For safety and comfort reasons you want to be able to hold the scope as far away from you eye as possible to prevent the scope hitting your eye when the recoil of your rifle kicks back. Always try to look for scopes with an eye relief of at least 3-4 inches, but more if you can find and afford it.
Get Your Next Hunting Scope from ScopeUout
Wow, that took a while. There really are lots of factors to consider when buying a hunting scope. But what type of scope is best for hunting? In brief, 9 times out of 10 if you’re looking for a new hunting scope we’d suggest a scope with specifications similar to a 3-9x40 or a 4-12x40. A second focal plane, duplex or BDC style reticle, with either a fixed or side or AO adjustable parallax and capped turrets. It’s as simple as that! We’ve got the best range of hunting rifle scopes on the market - check them out here.