How to Choose a Rifle Scope

 

Today I’m going to show you everything you need to know about scopes.

In fact:

This guide has helped THOUSANDS of people (just like you) cut through complex technical jargon and go straight to the bacon.

So if you’re trying to find the best rifle scope, you’ll love this guide.

Let’s get started.

What is a Riflescope?

A riflescope is pretty much a miniaturized telescope that helps you shoot more accurately.

With optics, you’ll either shoot like John Wick…

John Wick using AR-15

…or a Stormtrooper:

Storm Trooper Bad Aim

The determining factor?

Whether you choose the right scope or not.

For me, choosing the best AR-15 optic was the difference between making dirt clouds and ringing steel.

And to do that, you first need to understand rifle scopes 101’s most important topic…

Magnification

What is magnification?

Magnification is how much closer you can see the target compared to the naked eye.

For example, take a look at this target:

50 Yard Target

That’s how it would look without a scope. Hard to see, huh?

That’s about to change when you look through a 9X scope:

50 Yard Target 9x Zoom Level

See how much closer it is? That’s…

Why Magnification Is So Important?

It helps you ‘see’ far away targets.

Buy the wrong amount of magnification and you’ll bring less meat home. Nobody wants to make that mistake.

However, the right magnification will depend on a few factors. After all, the best AR-10 scope will look very different from the best scout scope. Here’s…

How to find your magnification (step-by-step)

First off, start by looking at the scope’s title:

Nikon Buckmaster III Magnification Example

You see the first number (or range of numbers)?

Nikon Buckmaster III First Range of Magnification Numbers

That’s your magnification. This number tells you how far away your scope can see. The more magnification you’ve got, the further you can see.

That said, there are two types of scopes…

Fixed vs. Variable Scopes

Fixed scopes are single magnification scopes. Here’s an example:

Primary Arms Fixed Power Scope

(Notice how the scope has only one number.)

In comparison, variable scopes have more than one magnification. Here’s an example:

UTG Variable Power Scope

(Notice how the scope has a dash with two numbers.)

The difference? Versatility.

However, which one should you choose? Here’s the simple answer:

If you hunt from a variety of ranges, go with a variable scope — like the best LPVO. Otherwise, go with a fixed power scope.

Why?

A fixed power scope costs less, aims faster, and is usually higher quality than variable power scopes. But it does come at a cost…

…you can only use only one magnification.

In other words:

You can only shoot from a specific range rather than a variety of ranges.

The takeaway? Choose a scope type based on your range uses.

Fixed vs. Variable Scope

That’s it. Now you’ve selected your scope type, it’s time to find…

How much magnification do you need?

This pretty much sums it up:

How Much Magnification You Need Table

You’ll want a scope whose magnification matches the range you’ll be using it for, like finding a 9-12x for long range shooting. Or you could read my best long range scopes guide.

But don’t worry about choosing a magnification right now. We’ll make that decision together later.

For now, let’s talk…

Objective Lens

What is objective lens?

You see this lens at the end of the scope?

Objective Lens

Yeah, that’s the objective lens. You might be wondering…

Why is it important?

Scope clarity. 

You see, the objective lens is responsible for your rifle scope’s clarity and brightness.

Simply put: the bigger objective lens you have…the better.

But there’s a hefty price tag:

The more objective lens you have, the more problems you run into like…

  • Heavier scope
  • Scope Ring Problems
  • Position Giveaway (due to the sunlight reflecting off the objective lens)

…leading to a ruined hunt.

So that’s the good and bad with objective lens. With all that said…

How to find objective lens?

First, start by looking at the scope’s title again:

Nikon Buckmaster III Magnification Example

Do you see the number after the ‘X’?

Nikon Buckmaster III Objective Lens Example

That’s your objective lens. But…

How much objective diameter do you need?

This should help you out:

How Much Objective Lens You Need Table

No matter how big your objective, it won’t help you see with no light at night. For that, you’ll want to check out the best night vision scope.

Once you have your objective lens in-hand, it’s time to cover…

Rifle Scope Lens Coatings

What is a rifle scope lens coat?

An invisible coat that enhances the sight.

Lens Coating

Why is it important?

It increases clarity and brightness through proprietary coatings that increase light transmission.

It also enhances your scope’s view. Here are…

The 4 different kinds of coatings

  1. Coated: Only one surface of the scope is covered with a single layer. Shrek’s option.
  2. Fully-Coated: All your external glass is coated in a single layer. The standard option.
  3. Multicoated: One surface is covered in several layers. Commonly used in expensive scopes.
  4. Fully Multicoated: All your scope’s external glass is coated in several layers. John Wick’s option.

So…

Which coating should you choose?

Go for a fully-coated scope and above.

This is the option 90% of good scopes use. However don’t stress too much about choosing a lens coating — they don’t make up for bad glass quality.

Instead, you should really stress…

Field of View

What is field of view?

This is how much of your surroundings you can see from left to right.

For example, at 6X you can see everything:

Scope Zoomed in 6x Magnification

In comparison to the 24X, you can only see one thing…

Scope Zoomed in 24x Magnification

…the target’s heart.

Do you see the difference? Put another way: the more you zoom in, the less field of view you’ll have. But…

Why is it important?

Because you want to look out for something called ‘tunneling’.

Scope Tunneling Funny

(Not THIS kind of tunnel. Although with a similar result)

Tunneling is when the scope looks like you’re through a tunnel as you increase the magnification. It’s a bad thing.

To understand what I mean, watch this video:

Did you see why it’s so bad? In case you haven’t, tunneling means the scope manufacturer has cut corners and CHEATED you out of a (or several) magnifications.

You’ll probably end up feeling like:

Superman pissed

The moral of the story? Never buy a scope that tunnels…EVER.

Got it? Good, let’s move onto the next thing…

Scope Reticles

What is a scope reticle?

This is the crosshair you see when you look through a scope.

What is a scope reticle

Why is it important?

It makes shooting easier and can even estimate distance. There are…

3 Main Scope Reticle Types

Duplex: The default scope reticle. It’s fast and easy to use (great for beginners).

Duplex Reticle

Mil-Dot: The reticle that estimates the target’s distance. Used primarily by law enforcement and the military.

Mil-Dot Reticle

BDC: This reticle estimates bullet drop, holdover, and more. It’s designed for long-range shooters.

BDC Reticle

Here are the 3 scope reticles, side-by-side:

Most popular scope reticles: Duplex, Mil-Dot, BDC Reticle

Now that you know the 3 main types of reticles…

Which reticle should you choose? 

The answer is simply based on your use:

Which Reticle to Choose

Can’t make a decision? Just remember: the best reticle is the one that you understand just like…

MOA vs MRAD

This video demonstrates the difference in a practical sense:

Let’s break it down a little further…

What is MOA?

Minute of angle (MOA) is a common measurement of accuracy. It basically measures 1” per 100 yards. This uses the ‘murica imperial system.

On the other hand…

What is MRAD?

Milliradian (MRAD) is a less common measurement of accuracy. It measures at 0.36” per 100 yards. This uses the metric measurement system.

So…

Which adjustment system should you choose?

The truthful answer?

Whatever you like.

Matter of fact, it doesn’t matter. MOA and MRAD are interchangeable just like miles and kilometers.

However, I’d definitely recommend picking the adjustment system your hunting buddies use.

And I’m betting your hunting buddies use MOA. Why? Because it’s simple, popular, and uses familiar American measurements like inches.

That aside, I’d still highly recommend you call your buddies up and ask them: “Do you use MOA or MRAD?”

Whatever answer they give you is the one you choose. A very similar logic applies to…

First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane

FFP vs SFP

This picture details the difference simply:

Rifle Scope First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane Explained

Don’t notice the difference? Let me break it down, starting with…

What is the first focal plane (FFP)?

The scope’s reticle enlarges as you increase magnification. Like this:

First Focal Plane Explained

Although the first focal plane riflescope is perfect for long-range, it does obscure your view at shorter ranges. In comparison…

What is the second focal plane (SFP)?

The scope’s reticle remains the same size regardless of your magnification. Here’s an example:

Second Focal Plane Explained

Notice how the second focal plane riflescope’s reticle doesn’t change. What does that mean? SFP DOESN’T obscure your view at any range and it’s also the cheapest. Yet…

Why is it important?

To save yourself from a costly (and serious) mistake.

That’s because:

The first focal plane costs more money AND it obscures your short-range view while the second focal plane doesn’t obscure your view.

That said…

Which focal plane should you choose?

This might help:

First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane Explained

With your proper focal plane in-hand, it’s time to find solid…

Rifle Scope Turrets

What are windage and elevation turrets?

They’re knobs responsible for your scope’s vertical and horizontal adjustments.

Each click (or adjustment) is measured in either MOA or MRAD (from earlier). Here are…

The different kinds of turrets:

Windage Turret: Knob that adjusts your scope’s aim left to right. Here’s how it looks:

Windage Turret on Rifle Scope

Elevation Turret: Knob that adjusts your scope’s aim top to bottom. Here’s a picture:

Elevation Turret on Rifle Scope

Parallax Adjustment Turret: An optional third knob that eliminates parallax. We’ll cover parallax in just a bit. But for now…

Why are turrets important?

They’re responsible for zeroing — or the LITERAL ‘accuracy’ of your scope.

In simple terms:

Screw your turrets up and you won’t hit ANYTHING. Here’s how to avoid that by learning…

What to look for in turrets:

There are 3 things:

  1. Reliable Turrets: This tells you the reliability of the turrets. You find this in the product description and comments.
  2. An audible “click” sound: This lets you know if you’ve adjusted. This is usually mentioned in the comments.
  3. Repeatability: This means the scope adjusts immediately. Although it’s not that important, it is an indication of high-quality turrets.

And that’s all there is to it. Now that you’ve got solid turrets, it’s time to get some solid…

Eye Relief

What is eye relief?

The distance between your eye and the scope’s ocular lens (front lens) you can keep while having full visibility of the scope’s view.

Here’s an example:

A visual representation of Eye Relief - the distance between your eyes and ocular lens

Why is it important?

Do you know who Mad Eye Moody is?

He’s a guy from Harry Potter that rocks a mad looking eye patch.

Mad-Eye-Moody

Have ya’ heard the REAL story of how he got it?

He got bit in the eye…by a scope.

The reason? He didn’t have enough eye relief.

As a result, he had to rock that eye patch for the rest of his dreadful life. Even Mad Eye Moody himself regrets cheaping out on a scope.

Don’t make his mistake. Save yourself by investing in proper eye relief.

Here’s how much eye relief you need:

Aim for at least 3.5 – 4 inches of eye relief.

If your rifle kicks like a donkey, go for even more eye relief. Simple enough.

Let’s move onto…

Parallax Adjustment

What is parallax in a scope?

It’s when your scope reticle kind of bobs around with your head movement.

Scope Parallax Explained

Why is it important?

Left unchecked, scope parallax leads to blurriness and ultimately missed shots.

Not good.

How to fix it? There are…

3 ways scopes correct parallax 

  1. Parallax Adjustment Turret: This is a third turret knob (from earlier) that adjusts parallax.
  2. Factory-Set: Parallax adjustment is automatically built-in by the manufacturer. It’s usually set at about 50 yards to 100 yards.
  3. Adjustable Objective (AO): This is a ring on the scope that you twist to kill parallax.

This video offers a few more pro tips:

So, by now it’s time to decide…

Which parallax correction method should you choose?

Believe it or not, all the aforementioned methods KILL parallax.

However, if you’re looking for the ‘easiest’ parallax adjustment — you should go for Factory-set. Luckily, most scopes nowadays are factory-set, so nothing to stress about.

And if your scope isn’t…don’t worry about it too much. Just make sure your scope can eliminate parallax.

After that, it’s time to…

Choose a Scope Shooting Range 

Short-Range

This is up to 100 yards. Let’s breakdown your…

Uses 

You probably use your scope for home defense, hunting small game (or varmints), plinking, or maybe even some tactical use.

Short Range Scope

If so, the doctor orders a…

Magnification & Objective

Between 1 – 4x and an objective lens between 28mm & under. 

Alternatively, you can opt-in for either a…

Red dot vs Holographic vs Reflex

Here’s the truth about these sights:

Red dot, holographic, and reflex are ALL the same thing — they’re red dot sights. Seriously. They just have a few slight differences between them.

Let me explain, starting with…

Holographic Sights 

The holographic sight is a rectangular red dot that’s extremely accurate and precise.

Holographic Sight

The great part?

You can even keep both eyes open. It’s no wonder the military uses it.

But, it has one major flaw:

It’s costly. 

EOTech owns the patent on the holographic sight design, so they monopolized the holographic sight market.

As a result, they charge arms and legs for holo sights. From my experience, I wouldn’t recommend an EOTech holographic unless you have astigmatism.

Astigmatism Explained

If you do have astigmatism (or see blurry red dots), check out my best red dots for astigmatism.

Otherwise, invest in a…

Reflex Sight

Reflex sights are the OG red dot.

Reflex Sight

You get…

  • Ease-of-use
  • UNLIMITED eye relief
  • Can keep BOTH eyes open
  • Don’t require batteries (on some models)

…all at the same time!

But there’s a drawback with reflex sights…they don’t zoom. 

However, for short-range encounters you don’t need a zoomed in sight.

That said, do I recommend it?

Definitely. 

After all, it’s cheap and can be used alongside a rifle scope like this:

Rifle Scope with Red Dot Sight

It also lasts for YEARS without worrying about battery life. If you’re interested in buying one, check out my best pistol red dot sights buyer’s guide.

With all that said, if you STILL need a magnified red dot, then you need a…

Prism Sight

This is a magnified red dot.

Prism Sight

You get…

  • Ease-of-use
  • Fast
  • Increased Accuracy
  • Operates batteryless (due to the etched reticle option)

…an all-in-one short range package.

But there’s a catch:

The eye relief isn’t unlimited. It’s also a bit bigger than the other red dot types. However, it still contains PLENTY of eye relief while remaining relatively compact.

So there you have it folks: the 4 top close-range options to choose from. But one last burning question on your mind remains…

Does my rifle qualify as ‘short-range’? 

Fair question.

From my research (and experimentation), these are the 3 most common short-range rifles/calibers:

#1: AR-15 Rifles

The AR-15 falls underneath the short-range (and medium-range) category. If you’re looking for the best AR pistol sight, check out my guide.

#2: Rimfire Rifles

Rimfire are a short-to-medium cartridge. For scope recommendations, check out my 2 guides on rimfires cartridges: best scope for 22LR and best 17 HMR scope reviews.

#3: Pistol Caliber Carbines

These are rifles that use pistol ammo. Some examples: CZ Scorpion EVO, Kel-Tec Sub 2000, HK USC and more. Use a red dot scope for these.

Speaking of recommendations, here are some generally…

Good Short-Range Scope Recommendations

  1. Primary Arms Classic Series 1-4×24
  2. Barska 1-4×28 IR Hunting Scope
  3. UTG 3-9X32
  4. Bushnell Trophy TRS-25
  5. EOTECH EXPS2
  6. Vortex Optics SPARC

Now that we’ve covered the short-range, it’s time to discuss…

Medium-Range

This means ranges up to 200 yards. Here’s the breakdown, starting with…

Use

You’re either one of two things:

A large game hunter (like white-tailed deer hunting)…

White Tail Deer Hunting

…or a target shooter. You also probably hunt in forests or mountains.

Either way, you’ll need a…

Magnification & Objective

Between 5 – 8x and an objective lens between 30 – 44mm. 

Alternatively, you can use an ACOG for medium-range, however, that’s an expensive alternative.

Instead, get a scope. However, before we do, you might be wondering…

Does my rifle qualify as ‘medium-range’?  

From my experience, the 2 most commonly used medium-range rifles are:

#1: AR-15

The AR-15 and M1A falls underneath the short and medium-range category. It’s personally my favorite home defense rifle, especially when I pair it with the best AR-15 night vision scope.

#2: Rimfire Rifles

You’re probably using your rimfire cartridge for varmint hunting. If so, check out my 22LR and 17 HMR scope guide.

If you don’t see your rifle here and your rifle qualifies as medium-range, then here are some…

Good Medium-Range Scope Recommendations

  1. Primary Arms Silver Series 1-6×24
  2. Nikon P-223 3-9×40
  3. Vortex Optics Viper PST Gen II 1-6×24
  4. Trijicon 1-6×24 VCOG

With medium-range covered, it’s time for the final range…

Long-Range

This is defined as 200 yards and up. Here’s probably your…

Use 

You’re a sniper.

You do precision long range shooting in really open landscapes (like fields)…

Open Landscapes Hunting

…or you might do competitive long-range competitions.

Long Range Shooting

With either option, you need a big helping of…

Magnification & Objective

Between 9 – 12x and an objective lens between 50mm & up. You can only use a long range scope for this job.

That said, you still may have one big question on your mind…

Does my rifle qualify as ‘long-range’?  

For long-range, there’s only one rifle type that comes to mind…

#1: Bolt Action Rifles

These rifles use massive cartridges. Some examples of these are: Ruger Precision rifle, Browning X-bolt, and Remington 700.

Use only larger magnification scopes (9X+) for these kind of rifles.

Speaking of rifle scopes, here are the…

Best Precision Riflescopes

  1. Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 4-24×50
  2. Vortex Optics Viper HS-T 6-24×50
  3. Leupold VX-3i LRP 8.5-25×50

And now for the last (and neglected) use…

Target Shooting

There’s no defined yardage for this because of your…

Use

There’s no mystery. You either use your rifle solely for target shooting…

Target Shooting

…or plinking.

Plinking

Either way, there’s no one right answer for…

Magnification & Objective

Because let’s face it:

You can shoot from ANY range while you’re target shooting. For that, I highly recommend choosing a magnification based on your personal use.

This table might help you decide:

How Much Magnification You Need Table

After you’ve decided on a range, it’s time to find out…

How much to Spend on a Rifle Scope?

This is the #1 question I get asked.

My usual answer?

Spend up to half of what the rifle costs itself. 

For example, if you bought your Mini 14 for about $1000, consider spending up to $500 on the best mini 14 scope. And that’s for a reason.

Think about it:

On a hunting trip, what’s the LAST thing you want to break on a rifle? Besides the rifle (or ammo) itself, it would be the scope.

I’ve been on so many failed hunts where one of my hunting buddies scopes unexpectedly blew out on them.

The cause? They followed Mr. Krabs philosophy on a rifle scope…and cheaped out.

Mr Krabs Money

Because of their costly mistake, they ruined their hunting trail. And that’s exactly why I DO NOT recommend cheaping out on a scope.

Instead:

Invest up to half of your rifle cost on a quality scope. Believe me…it will pay itself over SEVERAL FOLD in the future.

How to Mount a Scope

Scope Basics? Check.

Found your best rifle scope? Check.

Now it’s time to put your scope on your rifle. To do that, I’m going to show you how.

Read on…

How do you mount a scope on your rifle?

This process used to be easy…before people made mounting a scope a freaking ROCKET SCIENCE.

Nowadays, it’s ‘required’ to have a complete shop of the latest sci-fi gadgets just to throw a scope on your rifle.

Over the top gun

And I’m gonna be honest…that’s nonsense. 

The average person doesn’t have the time (or money) to do that. So I looked for the easiest (and cheapest) way to properly mount a scope.

This video was the answer. Here’s what you’ll need for the video:

  1. Torque Style Screwdriver (For screwing)
  2. Scope
  3. Scope Base (if needed)
  4. Scope Rings (if needed). If you do need some, read my best scope rings guide.
  5. Cardboard Box (for DIY gun vise unless you own a real gun vise)

Once you’ve watched the video and successfully mounted your scope, it’s time to figure out…

How To Sight In A Scope

Now it’s time to make your scope accurate. Before we can do that, we first have to define…

What is zeroing?

This is where you align your rifle scope with your rifle. That way, you can accurately hit whatever you’re looking at.

Why is it important?

Without a proper zero, you’ll join the Stormtroopers’ accuracy club…

Storm Trooper Club

…missing everything you try to shoot all because you didn’t know one thing:

How do you zero a rifle scope?

Watch this video:

After you’ve watched the video and zeroed your scope, the natural next thing to ask is…

How to Clean a Rifle Scope

You don’t need to be Consuela from Family Guy to clean your scope.

Consuela from Family Guy

Instead, use this simple hack that I’m going to share with you on…

How to clean scope lens (the EASY way)

The fact is this:

Scopes are waterproof, fogproof and shockproof. In other words: they’re DESIGNED to take a beating.

A few smudges of dirt and debris WON’T kill your scope. But something that will are…

…gun cleaning solvents and powders.

These 2 ingredients will wreak HAVOC on your scope, damaging your lens and causing irreparable damage — EVEN if you wipe them off immediately.

The solution? Throw on some quality Lens Caps.

Scope Lens Caps

Here are 3 good choices:

  1. Butler’s Flip-Open Covers
  2. Monstrum Flip-Up Lens Caps
  3. Vortex Flip Open Lens Caps

Then, after you’ve gotten yourself some caps, make sure to do this one thing as little as possible:

Touch your scope with your hand. 

This is the FASTEST way to dirty your scope. The reason? Whenever there’s any unwanted smudge (or dirt), you’ll use your dirty shirt. This causes scratches.

Instead, use a microfiber cloth for unwelcome smudges and a lens pen for unwanted debris and dirt. With that…

How often should you clean your gun scope?

The final answer?

When it gets dirty (duh).

However, with proper flip-opens covers and keeping your bare DIRTY hands away from your scope, you’ll keep your scope prestine for years.

In fact, you might not have to worry about cleaning for a very LONG time. With that out of the way, it’s time for the last question…

How to Maintain a Riflescope

This part is straight-forward. For…

Basic Maintenance

Just make sure you inspect your scope after each hunt.

Deer Hunting

For example, after a day of hunting with my best 30-06 scope, I inspect it from top to bottom.

Any corrosion, cracks, or external issues should be IMMEDIATELY resolved by contacting the manufacturer. Most scopes are covered with great warranties.

That aside (along with the tips above), the final thing you have to worry about is…

Storing a Riflescope

Before you place your riflescope in your dehumidified gun safe, make sure you wrap it in a solid scope cover…and you’re golden.

Speaking of being golden, here’s a recap of everything we’ve learned so far explained in plain english…

Rifle Scopes Glossary

Magnification & Objective

  • Magnification: The zoom of a scope in comparison to the naked eye.
  • Fixed Power Scope: Scopes with only a single magnification. (Ex: 3X)
  • Variable Power Scope: Scopes with more than one magnification. (Ex: 3-9X)
  • Objective Lens: The lens at the end of the scope (opposite of your eye), responsible for brightness and clarity.

Lens Coating

  • Coated: Only one surface of the scope is covered with a single layer.
  • Fully-Coated: All your external glass is coated in a single layer.
  • Multicoated: One surface is covered in several layers.
  • Fully Multicoated: All your scope’s external glass is coated in several layers.

Scope Reticles

  • Field of View: How much you can see from left to right. As you zoom in, your field of view closes.
  • Duplex: The default scope reticle. It’s fast and easy to use.
  • Mildot: The reticle that estimates the target’s distance. Used primarily by law enforcement and the military.
  • BDC: This reticle estimates bullet drop, holdover, and more. It’s designed for long-range shooters.
  • First Focal Plane: The scope’s reticle zooms in as you increase magnification. This obscures your view at short-range.
  • Second Focal Plane: The scope’s reticle remains the same regardless of your magnification. It doesn’t obscure your view and it’s the cheapest.

Rifle Scope Turrets

  • Windage Turrets: The left and right adjustment.
  • Elevation Turrets: The up and down adjustment.
  • Parallax Adjustment Turret: This turret eliminates parallax. It’s only included on some scopes.

Eye Relief & Parallax

  • Eye Relief: The distance between the back of the scope’s glass to your eye while maintaining view of the scope’s reticle and view.
  • Parallax: Your scope’s reticle bobs around with your head movement. This leads to missed shots if left unchecked.

Red Dots

  • Holographic Sight: A rectangular red dot that works well for people with astigmatism.
  • Astigmatism: You see blurry red dots due to a vision problem.
  • Reflex Sight: An average red dot that’s ideal for everyone (except for people with astigmatism).
  • Prism Sight: A magnified red dot that’s a bit bigger than other red dots.

Now It’s Your Turn

I really hope you enjoyed my complete guide to riflescopes.

Now I’d like to hear from you:

Which rifle scope are you going to get?

Are you going to get a Nikon scope? Or maybe you’re going to get a Vortex scope.

Either way, let me know by leaving a quick comment right below. I read every comment.