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How to Choose a Rifle Scope: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

How to Choose a Rifle Scope

Every rifle bullet counts.

You want to hit a target in every bullet you shoot as much as possible. This is why we have scopes that have our back in accurate shooting.

But you cannot just buy any scope you see on the market.

Knowing how to choose a rifle scope is very exhausting for a beginner. Lucky you, we have an ULTIMATE beginner’s guide for this!

10 Things to Consider When Choosing a Rifle Scope

Rifle scopes are telescopic devices you see at the top of a firearm. They are designed to magnify targets for better aiming.

Knowing all the technicalities in choosing the perfect scope for your rifle is quite overwhelming.

All the terms, categories, and the like are hard to understand at first glance.

What more now that you are still starting with your shooting career?

This is why we made this guide highlighting the 10 essential things you should consider to purchase your perfect rifle scope.

1. Magnification

Magnification is the process of making the target look CLOSER.

This is compared to what you can typically see with your naked eye without a scope.

The more magnification number your scope has, the closer you can look at your target even though you are far away.

Mastering scope magnification will let you know what is BEST for your rifle, the situation you are in, the environment you are shooting, and more.

These are to have an easier, faster, and more accurate target shoot.

Fixed Power Scope vs. Variable Power Scope

There are two magnification types: fixed power scope and variable power scope.

Fixed power scopes, as the term suggests, are used for shooting at a FIXED distance.

In other words, it has only ONE magnification, so you cannot increase or decrease its magnification number.

Fixed power scopes make it easier for shooters’ target acquisition. This is because you no longer have to adjust your scope magnification when aiming.

Meanwhile, VARIABLE power scopes let you have more than one magnification. This depends on how close you want to see your target.

Thus, if you are sure about the shooting range, you should go for the fixed power scope.

If it is the other way around, then a variable scope is better for magnification flexibility.

Magnification Range

Different distances also calls for different magnification ranges.

The magnification range is the closeness a scope can magnify a target for you.

This is the same as choosing the PERFECT rifle for a specific distance you want to do target shooting.

Follow the guide below for the right magnification adjustment range. This is to avoid making the mistake of having too much magnification, more than what you need.

  • 1x-4x magnification – This range is best for 100 yards of shooting or less. Thus, it would be best if you used these for shooting activities at a shorter range.
  • 5x-8x magnification – This range is for you if you want a target shooter at 200 yards. This is also what you should use for forest-type shooting activities.
  • 9x-12x magnification and more – This range is perfect for long-range shooting at 200 yards. Long-range shooters use this in open fields to have the best aiming point.

So, what magnification type should you use?

You can start with fixed scope magnification for easier navigation as a beginner.

So, you must identify what shooting activity you will be doing as practice. This is to know what magnification range is best for that context.

You can then slowly transition to a variable power scope with wider options in magnification sizes. You can do this when you already know how magnification works.

2. Objective Lens

The more objective lens diameter your scope has, the brighter and clearer the target becomes for you.

An objective lens is what you can see at the other end of the scope. This is opposite to the ocular lens or where you place your eye.

A larger objective lens diameter also comes with a HIGHER price. The same goes for more weight for your firearm.

Thus, how much objective lens size depends on the distance, you will be shooting. The same is true for the brightness and image quality you will need for your deer hunting time.

Objective Lens Sizes

Remember to ALWAYS use the objective lens diameter size according to the shooting context.

Being accurate does not come with having overkill specs but with the preciseness of feature usage in different situations.

Below are the objective lens sizes together with the appropriate purpose they are designed for:

  • 28mm and below – This size range is recommended for small firearms. In other words, within this range is already enough for short-range shooting.
  • 30mm – 40 mm objective lens size – This range fits best if you target low-light shooting. It would be best if you also relied on this when hunting scopes at a medium range.
  • 50mm and above objective lens size – This size range means a bigger objective lens diameter for your scope. You should go to these lens types for extreme long-range shooting and higher magnification in a darker environment.

With all these details, what objective lens should you focus on more?

Know first what firearm type you will be practicing with before identifying the right objective lens diameter for your scope.

Of course, you don’t want to use the biggest objective lens for the smallest gun!

3. Lens Coating

From the term itself, rifle scope lens coatings are layers of coatings on your scope’s glass lens.

They are present to improve light transmission for a clearer and brighter scope view. Thus, it helps shooters see their target clearly and achieve better target acquisition.

Other than that, objective lens coatings ALSO help scopes become resistant to scratches, water, fog, and other elements.

Lens coatings come in different types and in different colors too!

  • Singe-coated lens – this is the most basic one on this list. This means that at least one surface or a single layer of your scope is fully coated.
  • Fully-coated lens – This standard gives your scope’s lens surface a single layer of coating on ALL of its external glass.
  • Multicoated lens – This is where the price starts to get higher. This type means multiple layers cover one surface of your scope’s objective lens.
  • Fully multi-coated lens – This fully multi-coated type provides you a premium multiple layers of coating on all external glass of your scope. If you have more budget, this one is for you.

So, what lens coating should you prioritize?

It may be pricey, but it is best to start with a fully multicoated lens.

You still don’t have all the knowledge on how to adjust your shooting skills for having lower specs in some situations.

This type of lens provides so much for better target shooting. It will also make your practice session a lot easier!

4. Reticle

Are you wondering what patterns you can see on your scope’s glass and what they are for?

Those are scope reticles, also known as crosshairs, that help estimates your rifle’s bullet drops.

Reticles have different lines and measurements on them. They will help you calibrate the distance of your target before shooting.

Knowing every detail about reticles will help you improve bullet drop estimations for shooting small or big targets.

There are several types of reticles, but the most commonly used ones are the Duplex, Mil-dot, and Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC).

  • Duplex reticle This type is what beginners like you should start from. It is the EASIEST one to use among the three types. You can commonly see this reticle used by deer hunting shooters since it enables fast and easy aiming.
  • Mid-dot reticle – This type is commonly used by police officers and soldiers to better estimate the target’s distance. You can see this type with several line measurements for easier distance checking of target shoot.
  • BDC reticle – This scope reticle estimates bullet drop and holdover. It also has the most VERSATILE choice in this pool.

So, what reticle type should you use? The Duplex reticle!

Aside from it being the standard reticle type, it is also easy to use. Hence, it is friendly for beginners like you!

5. MOA/Minute of Angle

You have probably seen a red or green dot at the center of a reticle, especially if you have already experienced putting your naked eye on a scope.

MOA is the abbreviation for Minute Of Angle, the basic accuracy measurement in scope reticles.

You can see this adjustment system at the reticle’s center of a red dot sight. Knowing this one will help you with adjustment techniques to improve your target shooting.

MOA’s unit of measurement is inches—1inch is 100 yards, 2 inches for 200 yards, 3 inches is for 300 yards, and so on.

However, MOA is not the only adjustment system in scopes. There is also what we call Milliradian (MRAD).

The former has been more STRAIGHTFORWARD and in demand for shooters for years—why we will focus on MOA rather than MRAD.

So, what should I do after knowing this?

Practice shooting a target at varying distances. This is to know when to adjust and how much adjustment size is needed.

For sure, this is also what your hunting buddies are using. Then it is good since they can guide you with your practice more.

6. Focal Plane

If you see the first and second focal planes for the first time, you’ll think they are the same.

The focal plane is responsible for giving you a better focus on a target. This is essential to providing you with a clear vision of what you are aiming to shoot.

But, the difference between these two types relies on the changes in crosshairs and the magnification process.

First Focal Plane

The first focal plane means the reticle patterns EXPAND or SHRINK as you zoom in or out.

In other words, the reticle patterns change as your target’s image also changes.

This makes the first focal plane BEST for long-range shooting. It helps your estimation when reticle patterns increase together with your magnification.

However, when you increase the image size on your scope, these patterns might appear larger than their standard size.

Second Focal Plane

Unlike the first type, the second focal plane stays the reticle pattern FIXED, regardless of how much you magnify your target.

Even though the crosshair pattern does not change, you can still see that the magnification works. This is if you can see that your target’s image changes in size when you magnify.

Another advantage of a second focal plane scope is you don’t have to mind an increasing reticle pattern size.

This will give you a STABLE view of the target, as the lines will not overlap.

What type of focal plane should you use if you are just starting?

Picking up the target easier and faster is important for beginners. Thus, we recommend you focus on a second focal plane scope first.

For one, it will prevent confusion for you since the crosshair is always stable.

Another thing is it will not overlap with your target, especially if it is small when the reticle patterns increase in magnification.

7. Turrets

You can immediately observe two to three knobs when you see a scope.

These things are called turrets. They are responsible for different adjustment systems for your firearm scope.

Adjustable systems for scopes are connected with MOA or MRAD. Every click of the turret is measured by EITHER of these two.

You can have two or three turrets depending on your chosen scope. These knobs are called windage, elevation, and parallax turrets.

Windage Turrets

From the name itself, this turret is designed to help you shoot accurately depending on your location’s wind condition.

Thus, this feature is used for your aim’s left and right adjustments (horizontal alignment). You can find this turret on the RIGHT side of your rifle scope.

Elevation Turrets

Unlike the first turret type, elevation turrets focus on adjusting your scope’s vertical alignment.

You can mainly use these turrets from the word elevation for your aim’s top and bottom adjustments. Looking at your scope, you can find the elevation turret at the top.

Parallax Adjustment Turret

Not all scopes have a parallax adjustment feature. If they do, it can either be one of your scope rings or a turret in form.

If it is the latter, then you can find it on the side opposite where the windage turret is located.

Parallax adjustment helps remove the difference in your target’s placement and line of sight.

There are three ways to correct a parallax—Factory set, Adjustable Objective (AO), or the Third Turret on your scope.

You will learn more about each one in a separate section below.

As a beginner, should you complete all three turrets?

Having a parallax adjustment system is already a PLUS for budding target shooters. 

It will help you improve more in a faster time. But, relying on factory set parallax is advisable if you are just starting.

Thus, choosing a rifle scope with a parallax turret greatly depends on your budget.

8. Eye Relief

Your scope eye will hurt for continuous scope viewing. This is if you don’t choose the right scope with the proper eye relief.

Eye relief is the distance you can have from your scope’s ocular lens when aiming.

So, how much eye relief should you look for in your first scope?

Whether a beginner or a professional, having 3.5 – 4 inches of eye relief is already enough. But it will still depend on the firearm you will use.

Greater recoil also calls for HIGHER eye relief and vice versa. You don’t want to hit your eye when your gun pushes back at you after shooting!

As beginners, it is a common mistake to place your eye directly on the eyepiece when shooting, similar to a telescope or binoculars.

But doing so is a grave mistake! That’s what eye relief is for!

9. Parallax Adjustment

Parallax hinders shooters from having an accurate view. This causes several missed shots when firing.

If not given proper attention, parallax will give you more problems in your scope view—blurry and fuzzy.

Factory sets, adjustable objective scope rings, and parallax adjustment turrets are the different ways to kill a parallax in scopes:

Factory-Set

As we mentioned, not all scopes give you the power to adjust parallax. Some of them are already set by the manufacturers.

Adjustable Objective

You can see this as one of your scope rings near your objective lens. This is where you can navigate the parallax correction.

The Third Turret

It can be found on the left side of your rifle scope, contrasting your windage turret to adjust your scope’s parallax.

Thus, you can manually adjust parallax according to your situation and liking.

So, should you go for a scope with an adjustable parallax adjustment?

Since you are still starting, it is best to purchase those that are already FACTORY-SET.

An adjustment system for parallax is good for more options in accurate shooting. But it will give you more things to think about and adjust while practicing.

In this stage, less is more for an easier and faster learning process.

10. Range

Different shooting situations call for different range needs.

The range is the distance your scope can help you see the target.

Our naked eye, either the left or the right, can only reach a short distance. Hence, the need for scopes for better aiming and accurate shooting.

So what range is needed for what purpose?

Short Range

Short range means your scope can only go for 100 yards or less. This means it is best to closer distance shooting like what home defense instances need.

Having fixed power scopes OR those 1x-4x variable power scopes is already enough for this range.

Red dot sights are good options for short-range shooting. It has three types, namely reflex, prismatic, and holographic sights.

  • A reflex sight is the easiest to use for short-range, giving shooters good eye relief.
  • Prism sight is for longer range and people with astigmatism. But it has lesser eye relief than the first one.
  • Holographic sights have higher specs than the two. Better eye relief, long-range, and better technology are just a few of its strengths.

Medium Range

Adding more distance to the former range type means you already need a medium-range scope.

A medium-range scope is used for 200 yards distance shooting. This should be good for use in varmint hunting or different shooting activities in forests.

In this range, you’ll preferably need 5x-8x magnification. You don’t want to scare your targets if you have to get closer to them when shooting.

Long Range

If you go beyond 200 yards, you should go for the right scope with a long-range capability.

This range is common in open-field shooting, where long firearms such as snipers are used.

Thus, you will also need 9x-12x magnification power for this job. The same is true for larger objective lens diameters at 50 mm and more.

So, in what range should you start practicing?

It is best to try ALL ranges to know what to consider in different shooting situations.

So, start practicing with short-range rifles and scopes.

After you get the whole feeling of that range, you can try a medium range to what long-range shooters usually go for.

How Much Should I Spend on a Rifle Scope?

Choosing the right scope is useless if you can’t afford it in the first place.

But, there is NO fixed amount to answer this question.

When you have the budget, you can go for a scope of nearly $1,000. If it is the other way around, you can go for a litter higher than $50.

Prices VARY according to brand, quality, and several more factors. Of course, the higher the specs, the more you should pay for it.

But you should remember not to have overkill specs when you are still starting! Paying for more features is a waste of money if you can’t use them anyway.

The Importance of Rifle Scope Maintenance

Doing scope maintenance is completely EASY!

This can be done as efficiently as gently brushing dirt from your scope.

After that, thoroughly wipe off the water, dust, and other remains on your lens from your last outdoor activity.

Do you think falling or hitting your scope is the only thing that is harmful to it? Not having a consistent maintenance regime could lead to scope problems too!

Thus, maintenance is essential to keep your scope in shape and avoid an expensive replacement.

Best Rifle Scope Recommendations

Now that you are familiar with the essential things about scopes, it is time to give you good scope options for your first purchase.

Below are the top 3 best scopes that most shooters will agree on in 2022.

1) Leupold VX-3HD 3.5-10×40

Main Features

  • 3.5 – 10x for its magnification power
  • .25 MOA adjustments
  • 13.1 once for its weight
  • 30mm for its length
  • 29 – 11 feet for its 100-yard field of view
  • Duplex Reticle
  • Second-place reticle

You are looking at the most VERSATILE scopes, which is why most scopes from Leupold are fan-favorites!

The transition from a target distance of 50 yards to 300 yards is smooth with this scope.

Simplicity is what this scope will lead you to years of shooting satisfaction. It is not just durable but is also reliable for beginners due to its few adjustment systems.

Why would you want more if fewer manual features are already more than you could ask for?

Pros

  • Low mounting scope due to its 40mm objective lens size
  • Has Custom Dial System (CDL) for elevation turret and shooter load matching
  • Magnification adjustments are easy

Cons

  • Slight fuzziness for near or far targets due to 100 yards fixed parallax
  • Not recommended for people looking for complete manual adjustments in scopes

2) Hawke Vantage 30 WA IR 2.5-10×50

Main Features

  • 2.5x – 10x for its magnification
  • .25 MOA adjustments
  • 21.2 once for its weight
  • 50.4 – 12.6 feet for its 100-yard field of view
  • Illuminated with a red and green dot
  • Duplex reticle
  • Second focal plane reticle
  • Infinity parallax for 10 yards

If your cash is quite under the price of the scope you are eyeing, you might consider this option for starters.

This scope is one of the most budget-friendly variable scopes available for sale. But you can expect it still performs in all categories mentioned above.

Hawke designed this scope at an entry-level, yet it gives shooters excellent images for its price.

You can quickly adapt to this scope in different shooting situations. Following the needed eye relief, you can aim easily and fire fast due to its simple reticle!

It is also considered one of the BEST air rifle scopes on the market today.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Fast and easy to use, which is perfect for beginners
  • light compared to other rifles used in mountains
  • Has close focus at .22 matches

Cons

  • Reticle patterns references are lacking
  • Not recommended for shooting competitions

3) Vortex Razor HD LHT 4.5-22×50

Main Features

  • 4.5x – 22x for its magnification
  • .25 MOA adjustments
  • 21.7 once for its weight
  • 23.5 – 4.7 feet for its 100-yard field of view
  • Elevation and windage turrets are exposed and capped, respectively
  • First focal plane reticle
  • Infinity parallax for 25 yards

Are you looking for the right scope for precise long-range hunting? Vortex Razor HD LHT is designed to serve your years of hunting activities!

It is durable with a bright and excellent image viewing feature, even for sighting at a long distance.

This scope guarantees you good light transmission in correct eye relief.

It also has appropriately indexed turrets and easy dial controls. Most shooters will not call this scope one of the best crossover scopes for nothing!

Use this lightweight scope for hunting, and you will never want to shift to a different one for years.

Pros

  • Relatively light and not that big for all the features it offers
  • Has push-button illumination control
  • Precise long-range scope

Cons

  • The turret for elevation adjustment turns quite easily.

Frequently Asked Questions

Starting on the right foot is essential for every budding rifle user.

Thus, choosing the right scope is essential for every beginner like you. You are in LUCK; here are more details in this guide below to help you accomplish that goal.

What Magnification Do I Need for 1000 Yards?

A variable scope with 18x to 25x magnification is recommended for that 1000 yards job.

If you are training for long-range shooting, the range is one of the factors that indicate how much magnification you need.

Of course, this should also complement the rifle that you are using. Mostly, snipers are the firearms being used at this long-distance range.

How Far Can You Shoot With a 10-Power Scope?

Reaching the 10th power indicates a scope is already a high power. Specifically, scopes with a power of 10 can reach 500 yards.

A high-power scope means it has more range for magnification. This also entails it is appropriate for hitting targets at longer shooting distances.

What Is the Best Brand of Rifle Scopes?

The answer to this quite subjective, but if we were to make a decision, you can never go wrong with the premium company Vortex Optics!

Vortex Optics covers 30% of the overall hunting and outdoor products market, which is why most scopes from this brand are already proven good by hunters, shooters, and more.

Another thing is that you can find it in different locations WORLDWIDE. Thus, you have easy and unlimited access to any of your hunting or outdoor activity needs.

You should only consider that it may be more expensive than most brands on the market. But, their service and quality products are with the price!

Try Vortex Optics on your first scope, and you will surely return for more!

Conclusion

Now you are ready to start scanning websites or even go to physical scope stores.

Remember that the 10 scope essentials mentioned above are just the basic ones.

You will encounter more important details via experience that might change your preferences in rifle scopes over time.

You might want to buy a rifle primarily for self-defense or to start a hunting hobby. This entails buying a scope along with it.

Learning about rifle scopes is complex yet beneficial and rewarding!

 

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