Rifle Scope buying guide

Man using rifle scope

Choosing a rifle scope can be a difficult decision. Whether you are a novice who is in the market for your first rifle scope, or a pro hunter who is looking to upgrade your rifle scope, choosing between the selection of riflescopes on the market can be hard.

With so many different options available and technical jargon and special features to consider, it can be easy to end up with a riflescope that is unfit for purpose. That’s where we come in! Use our expert information about choosing a rifle scope to help you choose the best riflescope for your hunting adventures. If you're new to the world of rifles and optics then we'd highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of the Shooter's Bible, 108th Edition: The World’s Bestselling Firearms Reference. Published annually for over 80 years, this guide will give you a clear overview of what rifles and optics are on the market.

Why should I use a rifle scope for hunting?

Benefits of rifle scopes

Using a rifle scope for hunting has various benefits; all of which will ultimately increase your chance of hitting your target!

Magnification of target - rifle scopes magnify the image you see meaning that you can view your target more clearly and increase the chance of hitting it. The ability to see a target in more magnification before pulling your rifles trigger also makes for safer hunting, as you have more chance of seeing what’s behind your target, thus reducing the chance of hitting something or someone that you shouldn’t.

Shooting in low light - rifle scopes accentuate available light, providing images that are brighter than those of the naked eye. Using a riflescope means that you can hunt early in the morning or in the evening, which are often the best times to shoot big game.

Increased shooting precision - rifle scopes include visual markers known as reticles or crosshairs, which show shooters exactly where their shot will go when they pull the trigger. These markers make it much easier to be more precise about your shot, increasing the chance of hitting your target.

Understanding the specification of a rifle scope

When choosing the best riflescope for you, it’s important to fully understand the differences between the various types of rifle scopes available. To do this, you’ll need to understand what the specifications of a riflescope mean and how differences in specifications can significantly affect the performance of a riflescope in different situations.

The specification of a riflescope is always indicated by two sets of numbers. Ultimately, these two sets of numbers indicate the magnification power or strength of the riflescope and its light gathering ability.

The first set of numbers is the magnification power of the riflescope; the second is the diameter of the riflescopes objective, or front lenses. These two elements effect how your scope will perform in different circumstances.

We've provided two examples below to help you understand how this works in riflescopes that have both fixed and variable magnification.

Example 1 - fixed magnification riflescope (magnification cannot be adjusted)

Riflescope with a specification of 4x32

Example 2 - variable magnification riflescope (magnification can be adjusted)

Riflescope with a specification of 3-10x44 

Magnification power

The rifle scope in example 1 has a magnification power of 4, meaning that an object viewed through the riflescope will appear 4 times closer than it would to your unassisted eye. For example, if you view a deer that stands 50 metres away from you through a 4x32 riflescope, it will appear as though it were only 12.5 meters away (50 divided by 4).

The rifle scope in example 2 offers variable magnification, meaning that the magnification can be can be adjusted to magnify images between 3 and 10 times (and any magnification in-between) that of your unassisted eye depending on your requirements. These riflescopes have a feature called a power ring. Turning the power ring changes the magnification setting on the riflescope.

Rifle scopes with higher magnification will allow you to see further and in more detail, but will be less effective in low light conditions and will reduce your field of view - we’ll discuss the best riflescope magnification for hunting later.

Objective lens diameter 

The second number used in rifle scope identification refers to the riflescopes objective lens diameter. The objective lens is located at the front of the riflescope, furthest away from your eyes, and closest to what you are looking at. The objective lens diameter of the riflescope in both example one and two is 32mm.

The diameter of the objective lenses largely determines how much light your rifle scope can gather. The larger the objective lens diameter, the more light that the riflescope will capture. More light means a brighter view, particularly in low-light conditions. However it’s important to remember that a larger objective lens diameter makes for a larger, heavier riflescope, so it’s important to consider whether it is more important to you to be able to use your riflescope in low light conditions, or whether you want to be able to comfortably carry it for long distances without getting fatigued. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of large objective lenses later.

What’s the ideal rifle scope magnification and lens size for hunting?

When choosing a riflescope it is important to ask yourself the following questions, as your answers to these will help decide on the best riflescope specifications for you.

How far do you plan on shooting and what will you be shooting?

The distance that you plan on shooting at will significantly effect the riflescope magnification that you need. Also, the size of your target will effect how much you will need to magnify it to get a clear and accurate shot.

If you mainly plan on hunting large game in densely wooded areas, chances are that you will never be too far away from your target. Rifle scopes that offer either fixed or variable magnifications between 3.5x and 9x will be ideal in this situation as they will allow you to focus on targets that are both close by or up to 100m away.

If you will mainly be hunting in large open spaces, and shooting targets that are small, or further than 200m away, then you should consider a rifle scope in the 12x magnification range or sometimes as high as 20x.

Many hunters choose a rifle scope with a variable magnification as they offer much greater versatility and mean that targets that are both near and far can be focused on clearly.

If you are unsure where you will be using your riflescope, or wish to shoot in a range of locations and situations, then a 3-9x40 rifle scope is a good all rounder.

If you're not sure whether you need a fixed or variable rifle scope, then why not check out the main features of both in our Magnification - Fixed vs Variable blog, and also find out more in our FAQ section

How far will you be carrying your rifle scope and what time of day will you be hunting?

The distance that you wish to carry your rifle and riflescope, along with the time of day that you wish to use them, will effect the size of objective lens that will be most suitable for you.

Larger objective lenses increase the size and weight of your riflescope, so you may want to opt for a lighter, more compact rifle scope with a small objective lens diameter if you will be walking long distances in search of targets.

However if you are planning on using your riflescope in low light conditions early in the morning or in the evening, or even in bad weather when light is at a premium, then larger objective lenses will gather as much light as possible and produce clear images for accurate shots.

In addition, large objective lenses provide a large field of view, meaning that you can see a larger expanse of landscape than you would with a rifle scope that has a smaller objective lens. Field of view is also dependent on the magnification of your riflescope, with field of view reducing as magnification increases, even in riflescopes that have a large objective lens.

In most cases, rifle scopes with an objective lens diameter of 40mm will be sufficient for use in most light conditions, and will provide an adequate field of view. You will only need a larger lens if the riflescope that you choose uses high magnification levels in the 14x to 36x range.

What reticle design do I need for my riflescope? 

As mentioned earlier, rifle scopes include visual markers known as reticles or crosshairs, which provide you with an aiming point and show you where your shot will go when you pull the trigger. Reticles come in a variety of designs, and it is important that you choose a reticle that is appropriate for the activity you intend to use your scope for and the distance that you plan on shooting. Below we provide more information about the most common reticle designs and discuss what and where they are best used for.

Crosshair reticle for riflescope

Crosshair reticle

The simple cross hair reticle design was the first reticle designed for riflescopes. The cross hair reticle design is good for very precise target shooting but is not always ideal for hunting. This is because the fine crosshairs can be hard to see against a target or in low light, and aren't as effective as other reticles if you are trying to quickly take aim at a target. 


Duplex riflescope reticle

Duplex reticle

The duplex reticle is by far the most common reticle design for hunting and many hunters consider this design the best riflescope reticle. The thick outer crosshairs of the duplex reticle stand out easily against targets, and the combination of thick to thin cross hairs allow you to quickly take aim at a moving target, or aim more accurately at a smaller target without obscuring it. Most brands of riflescope will have a line that incorporates the duplex reticle. Manufacturers often have their own name of the duplex design that incorporates the term 'plex'.


Mil-dot reticle riflescope

Mil Dot reticle

Mil Dot reticles are most commonly used for long range shooting in situations where you need to be able to estimate the distance between you and your target. By performing certain calculations, the mil dots on the reticle can be used to compensate for bullet drop and wind drift. Using a mil dot scope is a complex operation and requires a good bit of study and practice. Due to this, we wouldn't recommend this design for beginners, but for long-range target shooters, the mil dot reticle can be very useful. If you are keen to estimate the distance to your target we'd suggest using a rangefinder for ease of use and speed. 

BDC riflescope reticle

BDC/ Ballistic reticles

Ballistic, or BDC reticles as they are often known, are designed to compensate for the effect of bullet drop; that is the effect that gravity has on a bullet as it travels through the air from your rifle towards your target. The simplest of ways to overcome the pull of gravity on bullets towards the ground is to aim your shot a little higher than your desired target, so that the bullet will hit the right spot on your target regardless of the pull of gravity. This technique is used by many shooters, but others choose to opt for a riflescope which includes a special BDC reticle. By making certain calculations based on target distance and ammunition type, and using a ballistic chart formulated specifically for the riflescope that you are using, the extra marks along the bottom crosshair post on ballistic reticles allow you to accurately line up your shot whilst taking bullet drop into account. If you're planning on performing long-range shooting then you may want to consider buying a riflescope with a BDC reticle to ensure your most accurate shot. 


Illuminated mil-dot reticle for riflescope

Illuminated reticles

If you're planning on using your riflescope to hunt in low light conditions, or in deeply wooded areas, then you may want to choose a reticle that is illuminated. Many reticles are offered in an illuminated option and Illuminated reticles come in a variety of different combinations and colours. Ultimately, they are all designed to ensure that you can easily see the crosshairs of your reticle. If you wish to purchase a riflescope with an illuminated reticle it is best to opt for a more expensive model which allows you to make minute adjustments to the brightness of the illuminated reticle, as illuminated reticles in cheaper riflescopes can sometime hinder your view of the target rather than enhancing it. 

Now that we have had a closer look at some of the riflescope reticle designs that are available, take some time to really consider which reticle type will suit your style of shooting. 

What other factors do i need to consider when choosing a rifle scope?

Eye relief - Eye relief refers to the comfortable distance that you can hold your riflescope from your eye and still be able to see the entire image. The eye relief of a riflescope differs depending on it’s magnification. On a riflescope, the larger the eye relief the better, as not only does it allow you to spot your target more quickly, but it also reduces the chance of the riflescope injuring the eye if the rifle recoils.

Waterproofing - Most rifle scopes on the market are waterproof to protect them from any unexpected downpours. It’s always good to check that your preferred option has this feature.

Lens coatings - Most rifle scopes have special coatings on their lenses to reduce the amount of light that is lost as it is transmitted through the riflescope to your eye. These coatings reduce the scattering and reflection of light, as it passes through the riflescope, resulting in more light reaching your eye and increasing the sharpness and contrast of the image that you see. Lenses can either be coated, multicoated or fully multicoated, with the later being the most effective at reducing light loss. Despite an increase in cost, we always recommend choosing multicoated lenses.

Parallax adjustment - When buying a scope it's important to consider how that scope adjusts for parallax. You'll need to choose between a scope that has been factory set to correct for parallax at certain distances, one that has an adjustable objective lens, or a side focus. Parallax is by far the most confusing concepts related to rifle scopes, so we've written much more about it here on our rifle scope FAQ page.

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