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Adding a scope to your hunting rifle can be a game changer. But choosing a scope can be daunting. Let us help you explore the features and terminology so you can be prepared. Soon you can answer the question, "How to Choose a Hunting Scope?"
Early scopes were only two magnifying lenses, a tube, and a way to mount them to a rifle. Today's hunting scopes have come a long way. They now include adjustable magnification, adjustments for wind & elevation, gas-sealed tubes, and even night vision capabilities. This can make choosing a scope for your hunting rifle anything but easy.
We will explore some of the more popular scope options, discuss some common terminology, and explain how it relates to a hunting situation. This information will help you master the task of choosing a hunting scope.
One of the critical features of any scope is the ability to magnify the target. Most of today's hunting scopes include variable magnification and are identified by the low-end and high-end limits. For example, a 4x12 power scope has a lower magnification of 4 times normal and a high-end magnification of 12 times normal
Many novice hunters believe the higher the magnification, the better. This is only sometimes the case. When selecting a hunting scope you need to consider both the magnification ranges and where you will be hunting.
If you primarily hunt in densely wooded areas, a lower magnification, 3 or 4 power, will allow you to use it at shorter ranges. These scopes will include a higher range of 9 or 12 power, enabling you to hunt effectively in nearby fields and open areas.
Those hunting wide open areas can benefit from higher power scopes, a 5x25 or 6x18, for example. Most hunters will not need a minimum magnification more significant than 6 unless hunting exclusively long-range as they make close-in shots difficult.
Rifle scopes include two lenses. The ocular lens is closest to the user, and the objective lens is nearer to the rifle muzzle. The objective lens is larger and identified by its size in millimeters (i.e., 20mm).
The size of the objective lens determines the user's field of view and how much light is being transmitted to the ocular lens. The larger the objective lens, the better the field of vision and the better the scope will perform in low-light conditions such as dusk and dawn.
Again, larger is only sometimes better. As either lens increases in size, possible distortion also increases. With lesser-quality lenses, you may experience distortion or blurring in the edges of your field of view or as magnification increases.
The most popular hunting scopes will have an objective lens between 30 and 40mm. Some manufacturers offer the option of slightly stronger magnification, but 50 mm is the limit for most hunting scenarios.
The reticle, commonly known as the crosshairs, gives the hunter a standard aiming point. Some also offer additional markings that help you correct for different ranges. Let's look at some of the more popular options and how they compare:
Traditional is the original two-crossed wire design, commonly called "crosshairs." The simple design works well as an aim point, but distance estimates and adjustments require more guesswork than precision.
1. Duplex: This design is similar to the traditional one except that the outer portions of the lines are thicker, tapering towards the center aim point. This helps draw the user's eye towards the centers for quicker target accusation.
2. BDC: This design is based on the duplex with an additional feature to help compensate for bullet drop. Hash marks, dots, or circles on the 6 o'clock line allow you to shift your aim point quickly based on known bullet drop at known distances.
3. DOT: This design utilizes a dot as the center aim point. The dot may be black or a high-visibility color such as red. Some designs also include crosshairs extending from the 12, 3, 6 & 9 o'clock positions, but this is not present in all DOT reticle designs.
Many other reticles are available, including Christmas Tree, MOA, MIL DOT, and German. However, these are less popular in hunting scopes. Some additional features you may see include illumination, second plane, and red dot.
The reticle you choose is personal; however, there are some basic guidelines.
Beginners will find the traditional or dot designs easier to use. Both are also good for short-distance shooting.
As your experience increases, BDC, MOA, MIL DOT, and Christmas tree reticles will allow you to increase your shooting at different distances. They are especially useful when shooting longer ranges.
Red Dots are becoming increasingly popular; however, they are generally only available in lower power magnifications.
The tube does more than hold the lenses. It also protects the scope by providing a watertight container that protects against dust, moisture, and fogging.
Most of today's tubes are constructed of high-grade aluminum and finished in a rugged finish that is resistant to scratching. You will also want to look for a sealed and preferably gas-filled tube, as it will provide better protection.
Everyone has a budget, and avoiding discussing money when selecting a hunting scope is impossible. The best advice when choosing a hunting scope is to spend as much as you can afford. It is better to have a good scope on a cheap rifle than a cheap scope on a good rifle.
One thing to remember is "good" does not mean overly expensive. Many scope manufacturers provide moderately priced hunting scopes that offer all the features needed in a quality package.
A good hunting scope can last more than a lifetime. Many hunters started using a rifle and scope passed down from generations before. If you learn how to choose a hunting scope, there is no reason why it will not last for decades, even generations.