Whether it be for hunting, competition use, tactical training, long range shooting, or whatever have you, an optic, such as a scope or red dot sight, can really enhance your shooting experience. That being said, not all optics are created equally. Not only are there many different brands to choose from, there are many different basic types of scopes and optics to select from as well, in addition to numerous other factors and qualities to take into consideration. We've laid out some basic optic buying tips below that you should consider when shopping for an rifle scope, red dot, or other optic.
Choose Your Type of Optic Strategically
There are three very basic types of optics that you can choose from:
A red dot sight is a non-magnifying sight with a center red dot to help center your aim. An example would be the Sig Sauer Romeo 5 red dot sight, which besides being very high quality is also quite affordable. Red dot sights are an excellent way to help aim your firearm at closer ranges.
As with red dot sights, fixed scopes are designed so you cannot switch the magnification settings. They are typically more durable than variable scopes, and are a suitable option if you are always going to be shooting in the same environment.
Variable scopes are easily the most common kind of scopes. They allow you to zoom in and out of a set magnification range. You can determine the magnification range of a variable powered scope by interpreting its numbers. A scope that reads 3-9x40mm, for instance, means that you can adjust the magnification anywhere between 3x and 9x, and that the size of the objective lens is 40mm.
Don’t Neglect Rings, Bases, and Mounts
Equally as important as the optic itself, but unfortunately too often overlooked, are the rings, bases, and mounts of your optic. The scope ring is a mounting device that attaches to a mount or rails on the top of the rifle, and holds onto the scope via a clamp. Horizontally split rings are more reliable and easier to install than vertically split ones. The mount or base refers to the platform upon which you will attach the rings, which will in turn be clamped around the body of the scope itself. Two of the most popular scope rings/bases set up are the Picatinny 1913 style, which was actually standardized by the United States military in 1913, and the Weaver style. While a Picatinny ring will not fit into a Weaver base, a Weaver ring will fit on a Picatinny base. This is because Picatinny rails are deeper and broader than the Weaver rails.
Be Smart About Your Desired Magnification
Among the most important optic buying tips is considering the magnification you'll need. The magnification your optic has will obviously be dependent on what your planned use for the optic is. As a golden rule, if you are going to be firing within a distance of 150 yards, a scope with a magnification of 2-4x will be sufficient. For 300 yards, you’re going to want to upgrade to a 3-9x scope.
A 3-9x scope will really be sufficient for most realistic hunting uses. But if you’re going to be doing any shooting at particularly long range, such as out to a thousand yards or so, then you’re going to want to look at scopes with magnification ranges of around 12-25x.
Just take note that a scope with that high of magnification is really not going to be any use to you if you find a target or animal that is closer to you, which really limits their use for more mid ranged shooting applications. This is why high-powered scopes with large magnification ranges may not necessarily be the best option for you depending on intended use.
Get Proper Eye Relief
Eye relief is also necessary for larger caliber rifles, or else the recoil of the rifle could send the scope flying back into your eye and cause physical damage. As a general rule, make sure that your scope offers a minimum of two inches of eye relief in between your eye and the end of the scope.
You Need Quality Lenses
The lenses on your scope should allow a maximum amount of light to transmit through in order to give you the brightest image possible through the scope. You also need to ensure that the scope maintain this level of clarity when you are zoomed in to high magnification levels. You can also minimize lens reflections by going with a scope that offers multicoated lenses.
Waterproof and Shockproof Qualities Are A Must
You may find yourself using your scope in the rain, or when it’s windy or dusty out. Furthermore, accidents may happen and you could drop your rifle and the scope with it on the hard ground. For these reasons, there’s simply no excuse to not buy a scope that is both waterproof and shockproof.
Get Parallax Settings
If you are buying a high magnification scope, you are going to need a scope that offers you parallax adjustment. Low magnification scopes won’t have this feature, but a parallax adjustment feature means that the scope will correct itself in relation to your target. Parallax is not the same thing as focus; instead, parallax is when the position of an object appears different when viewed from different positions.
When searching for a new scope or optic for your rifle, be sure to keep the above optic buying tips in mind. Just remember that above all, the most important factors to consider will be your intended use or application for the optic, the distance that you’ll be shooting and of course your budget. Buy the highest quality optic for both your price range and your intended application, and you’ll be all set!
Credit: Nick Oetken
Nick Oetken is a writer and avid outdoors enthusiast. He specializes in writing about firearms, self-defense, disaster preparedness, and wilderness survival.