While it is commonly thought that adding optics to your rifle only enhances long-range accuracy, with proper selection the best rifle scope can serve a variety of purposes. Whether you want an optic that extends your range slightly or one that makes 1000 yard shots possible, there is a rifle scope to fit your needs.
Rifle Scope Reviews
1. Maven RS.1
At a Glance
Maven is a rather new company, less than 10 years old at this point. If you haven’t heard of them yet, don’t worry most people haven’t. But I assure you that will soon change. Their mission is to provide the best and only the best no-compromise optics possible for the outdoorsman. So far, we have to say they are succeeding!
The Maven RS.1 may not be taking many spots on the best rifle scope reviews lists just yet but this compact 2.5 to 14x scope has a lot going for it. For one, their lens quality is simply astonishing, made from the best quality Japanese glass that is used in the finest optics in the world.
The etched reticle is Maven’s own rendition and combines some of the best features of a BDC reticle with a duplex reticle. It may be a little complicated for some but it has everything a hunter needs. Combine this with the turret adjustments and you have a great setup. You can even get custom turrets for your preferred rifle to make things easier.
This scope is a bit heavy at 24 ounces but not too bad. Overall length is 14 inches with a massive 52mm objective. The scope was built to last with a 1 piece purged and sealed tube. The U.S. made in Wyoming, they know what rough weather is and how to deal with it. While their first focus was to make the most accurate scope possible, it is also one of the most durable.
A full review of the Maven RS.1 can be found here.
2. Sig Sauer Sierra 3 BDX
At a Glance
Most people are familiar with Sig as a pistol manufacturer who would settle for nothing but the best. Now they have placed their foot firmly in the optics market and are not going to be satisfied until they turn it on its head. Sig is making some of the most innovative optics on the planet and the Sierra 3 is probably the top of them.
Looking at it on the surface, the Sierra 3 is a 4.5-14x scope that looks much like any other. The glass is very good but not better than many high-end brands. The multi-coat is a little better than most brands and provides great light filtering while cutting glare. It isn’t that exceptional really.
All that ends on the inside. This scope can be paired with a Sig Kilo rangefinder and Sig’s BDX app to provide you instant holdover information inside the scope. You will get an illuminated dot showing you the correct aiming point. You set up your bullet profile and the scope handles everything till you pull the trigger.
Whit all this technology it is surprising that this scope is as durable as it is. It can handle magnum calibers and survive full submersion up to a meter. You will need to add 2 CR2032 batteries for this scope but it is otherwise ready to go. There have been many attempts to pull off a ‘smart scope’ in the past but this is one of the best!
3. Zeiss Conquest V4
At a Glance
Somewhere in the back of the local range, distance shooter gather and speak reverently about the rumored quality of Zeiss optics. They speak of them almost as myth or rare creature that few have ever seen. Well, all of the rumors are true. Zeiss has probably the best optical quality on the market and they are getting easier to get.
Zeiss Sports Optics is built on the back of the bigger brand that is known for microscopes and other high-end optical devices. Likely this 4-16 power optic was not much of a challenge for them. On top of the best lenses on the planet, they add one of the best multi-coats to every lens surface. This produces a scope image so clear and crisp you can’t tell it’s even magnified.
This scope comes with turret adjustments, full parallax focus, and some of the smoothest magnification adjustment ever created. The reticle is a take on the standard duplex style but a little more open for a better overall view. You have to watch with this scope and remember you aren’t just watching wildlife. There is a gun attached.
Zeiss isn’t known for making the most durable scopes but this was designed for the hunter. It is waterproof, sealed, purged, and capable of handling the wilds. It does have an illuminated reticle but not a lot extra. Zeiss does offer a 5-year no-fault warranty if anything happens to your scope. This essentially means that for 5 years, it doesn’t matter what happens. They will set it straight.
4. Steiner H4Xi
At a Glance
On what looks like a best of the best list, the next in line would have to be Steiner. Made famous by their binoculars used by militaries around the world, Steiner makes some of the best rifle scopes as well. They are gaining traction in the hunting optics world and with distance shooters as well. They haven’t cornered much of the market yet but that is likely to change.
So, what makes Steiner so great? There are several things but the most notable is that their scopes are near indestructible. If you read the rifle scope reviews, you will find no mention of any issues with breakage no matter the treatment. Even though this scope is lightweight, the 1 piece tube is thickened. It is then sealed, purged, and made completely watertight.
The second notable trait of the Steiner H4 is the optical quality. No one has managed to beat the 90% true light transmission that Steiner achieves. This is thanks to their impeccable glass and industry-leading multi-coat. Add a huge 56mm objective and you can practically use this scope at night. It even has an illuminated reticle.
This scope, more than anything, was designed for the hunter. With capped adjustments and a duplex reticle that is easy to use, this is an uncomplicated scope. This doesn’t mean you can’t take shots out to the hundreds of yards. It does have plenty of power and full parallax focus. The reticle even has some BDC capabilities if you need them.
5. Riton RT-S MOD 7
At a Glance
Riton is another one of those companies poised to take the optics world by storm. In this case, it was founded by police and military veterans with the goal of producing the optics that are really needed and useful. Instead of focusing on the niche markets, they want to develop optics that will serve hard use in hunting and tactical situations.
Though it was designed as a mix between the tactical and hunting scopes, the Mod 7 packs a lot of power. This 4-20×50 scope uses a lot of light and to get that, Riton uses the best glass they can get their hands on and uses a solid multi-coat on all of its lenses. Combined with a reasonable 50mm objective, you get the light you need but without too much bulk.
All of Riton’s scopes are milled from a single piece of aircraft aluminum for added durability. They are also water, shock, and fog proof and are rigorously tested to make sure they hold up to the standard. They use argon purging to make sure everything that should be on the outside stays on the outside. There is no doubt that Mod 7 is a scope intended to see hard use.
This scope is heavier at about 2.5 pounds and measures about 14 inches long. This was made for larger rifles and can handle big recoil. It uses a mil has reticle that is matched to the mil turret adjustments. After zero, these are the easiest turrets to zero-reset and lock so nothing shifts. This scope doesn’t have anything mind-blowing or special other than its just a damn good scope.
6. Hawke Optics Endurance 30
At a Glance
Founded in the UK in 2005, Hawke has moved straight into the optics world by producing a large number of products from binoculars to some of the best rifle scopes available. What they lack in name recognition they make up for in value. For the quality, these are amazing scopes that perform well and are feature packed.
This model of their Endurance series is a great midrange optic at 3-12x that works very well for hunting but can serve many other purposes. On top of good glass, Hawke uses their own 8 layer multi-coat for exceptional light transmission. They have opted for fixed parallax on this scope which caps the effective range at about 200 yards but that will be plenty for most people.
The reticle they have chosen is a duplex with a couple small hash marks for bullet drop. The center dot is illuminated with 6 brightness settings. This make sit usable from nearly dark to full sunlight. The remainder of the reticle pattern is glass etched for added durability.
The Endurance 30 weighs under 2 pounds making it very light for a scope of this power. The overall lengths is just under 14 inches which is fairly standard. It can be used with any caliber and is fully waterproof, shockproof, and nitrogen purged. This is more than a nod at being rugged even if it falls a little short of what most of the major optics makers are producing.
7. Fujinon Accurion
At a Glance
For those not in the know, Fujinon is the branding of lenses made by camera company Fuji, famous for Fujifilm before the digital camera revolution. Fujinon lenses are used in a variety of camera brands as well as spotting scopes and even telescopes. They have been one of the most successful lens manufactures in Japan with products used by professional photographers and even high-end cinematography.
So what happens when you put these lenses in one of the best rifle scopes? You end up with an amazing 4x12x optic that came out of left field. The optical clarity is simply amazing with fully-multicoated lenses so good you can’t even tell you are looking through glass. What didn’t happen was a high price tag. These are probably the most affordable rifle scope with glass this good.
Fuji has also taken the time to seal their scope tube to keep things working in any weather. The Accurion series is fully water and fog proof while being able to stand up to the recoil of even the largest magnums. If you do go with larger calibers, make sure you have good control of the rifle. The eye relief on this scope is a little short for the big guns at just 3.25 inches.
The adjustments on this scope are capped for safety but the reticle is a BDC version that is fairly common in hunting scopes. Being of modest power, this scope makes more sense in the woods than anywhere else. It is covered by the Fuji Limited Lifetime Warranty which adds a lot of value to an already high-value scope. For the price, this is a nearly unbeatable deal.
8. NightForce ATACR
At a Glance
We have yet to see anything resembling a scout scope on this list so why not look at the best one ever made. You are unlikely to see this on many rifle scope review pages for reasons I will never understand. Any NightForce scope is top-class product and this one blows most of their other rifle scopes out of the water. It is a metric ton of quality crammed into a small form factor.
The first notable thing about NightForce, in general, is that they use the best glass Japan can produce. Before assembly, the glass goes through a very rigorous quality control and after assembly that is repeated for the whole scope. Nothing inferior makes the cut. Without a doubt, NightForce has some of the best quality control around.
As for this scope itself, it is a simple 1-8x with easy-adjust turrets. Magnification is on a quick adjust dial to go from no magnification to full power without taking your eye away from the scope. It uses one of the best BDC reticles and is illuminated for low-light use, something this rifle scope does better than any other. The turret is a mix between a BDC and Duplex reticle which is perfect for most any user.
While there is little NightForce does badly, the ATACR, as well as their other optics, are about the toughest on the planet. They can hold up to extreme weather, full submersion, and any rifle recoil you want to throw at them. This makes them perfect for CQB, Home Defense, and the extreme hunter. And just on a side note, the longest recorded sniper kill was made through a NightForce scope.
9. Athlon Optics Cronus BTR
At a Glance
With a huge percentage of the market devoted to shooting sports, it is no surprise to see so many new players. While many of these companies are making exceptional products, Athlon has approached it from a different direction. Rather than focusing on low level, high-quality production, they focused on building relationships with their components manufacturers first. This has allowed them to produce amazing optics but for a very value-friendly price and in higher quantities.
A perfect example of this is their Cronus rifle scope. This incredibly powerful 4.5-29x optic is among the highest magnification you can get on a quality optic, especially one built as tough as the Cronus. In order for it to maintain image quality at that power, it has to have perfect glass, state of the art multi-coat, and the most precise engineering possible. Athlon has made sure it does.
While the quality is fine, it can’t be that alone. Any sports optic has to stand up to the environment, harsh conditions, and repetitive stress from the recoil of high powered rounds. To make this happen, ever scope Athlon makes is tested for waterproof and fogproof construction. After that, each batch of optics is tested against a 1000g recoil a thousand times. It is even backed by a lifetime warranty so you can be sure it was made to go the distance.
How does it shoot? As good as any optic on the plant and to ensure you get solid hits at long range, it comes with a FFP mill-hash reticle and probably the finest machined turrets on any rifle scope. They have a full range of adjustment with zero-reset turrets that lock at zero so you can find your perfect aim even in pitch black. Not that you would be shooting this optic then but it is one you should consider for any daytime needs.
10. EOTECH VUDU
At a Glance
To round out our list of rifle scope reviews, we are going to turn to a company that most have heard of but almost no one associates with high powered precision optics. EOTECH, maker of the first and best holographic sight. They have stepped into the scope market with a strong presence and an amazing contender for best rifle scope.
Their VUDU is one of the most compact scopes to reach the higher power ranges. At just 11 inches long, this 5-25x scope packs a lot into a small package. This makes it perfect for more compact weapons like the AR-15 or SCAR-17. With both tactical turrets and an M-RAD BDC reticle, it has every tool you need to pull off the extreme shots out to the maximum range of most any high powered rifle.
They haven’t skimped on quality either with their near perfect XC high-density glass that has full multi-coating for simply stunning clarity, brightness, and detail. That is their promise and one that they fully live up to. This is a scope that can make the thousand-yard shot. It may not be easy but you have every tool with the VUDU to pull it off with zero-reset turrets and full parallax focus.
Not to be outdone by anyone, EOTECH has built in all the durability this scope needs to sit on the most powerful rifles in any weather condition. It is sealed and dry nitrogen purged to keep water, fog, and dust out of this amazing optic. The glass is naturally scratch resistant while the one piece tube is hard coat anodized to hold up to anything. Everything is backed by the EOTECH Prestige Warranty so you pretty much have to try to break it before your scope won’t be covered. It may be last on this list but it is nowhere near last in quality.
Rifle Scope Attributes and Parts
Magnification is the reason we buy a scope, to begin with, but it isn’t as simple as picking the biggest number. There are a variety of reasons why someone may choose a scope of a greater or less power. Don’t get carried away with magnification, let this short section provide some guidelines on what you really need.
The primary effect of magnification is to make a target appear closer than what it is. A 2x magnification rifle scope will make a target appear half the distance away. 10x would make it only 1/10 the distance. This logic would tell you that more magnification is better but this is hardly the only effect.
The first negative of greater magnification is price. Typically a more power rifle scope will cost more than the same scope with less magnification. There are other factors that affect price but this is the most prominent.
Acquiring a target will be slower the more magnification you have. This is mostly due to a decreased field of view but can also result from simply moving the scope so fast that it passes the target before you notice it. This is especially true of smaller targets.
Without very good lenses with multi-coatings, a more powerful rifle scope will appear darker. It takes more light through lenses to make a target appear bright. As magnification goes up, so does the amount of light it takes. Cheap, powerful scopes can appear very dark to the point of being almost unusable.
All of that said, a more powerful rifle scope has the potential to improve your chances of hitting distant targets. It will take practice to get the skills needed down but you will never be able to hit something you can’t see well.
Fixed and Variable Power
With a basic understanding of magnification, we can look at a normal scope, let’s say 10×44, and know that it is a 10 power scope and objects will appear 10 times closer. More commonly though we will see a rifle scope that is 4-12×50. This is a variable power scope.
Variable power scopes are capable of magnifying a target anywhere in a range of powers. The example above would be anywhere from 4x magnification to 12x. This is done by a dial at the eyepiece that extends the distance between the focal lens at the eye and the prism at the erector.
These are very popular because they offer a better blend between fast target acquisition at closer ranges and great power for long distance shots. While most of these scopes are very good, there are a few points to be aware of before you decide these are right for you.
Because a variable power scope has more moving parts, it will be somewhat more expensive with more potential points of failure. As price increases, chances of failure decline but it will never be less prone to failure than a fixed power scope.
If you use a rifle scope with a bullet drop compensating reticle, picking a variable power scope will require you to make a sacrifice. This will be covered more in the section on Focal Planes but suffice to say that you can’t have everything. There are negatives both ways.
Even with those few negatives, these are usually the best bet when buying a scope. They are far more versatile than a fixed power and can be specifically tailored to each shot. For hunters, this is even more important than with target shooters.
Focal plane specifically deals with reticles and how they are displayed on a variable power rifle scope. The exact physics of how this happens is unimportant but it is very important to understand the effects this could have on how you use your scope.
To understand the effects of what you see, on a first focal plane scope the reticle will change size as you zoom out. At maximum zoom, it will be quite small where on minimum zoom it will fill most of your view. This can make it hard to see markings on the reticle when you are at max power.
On a second focal plane scope, the reticle will always appear the same size. This means that the distance between any marking on the scope will change as you increase or decrease magnification. This will affect bullet drop compensation and ranging tasks.
On a second focal plane scope, the reticle is calibrated to work at a specific magnification, usually the maximum. If you have a ranging reticle, it will only be accurate at the range the reticle is calibrated to. There are methods of doing the math to be able to range at different magnifications but it is somewhat complex, slows down shots, and you have to be very precise on what exact magnification you are using.
On a first focal plane scope, you will have none of those issues. The scope’s reticle will preserve the aspect of the reticle at any range. It can still be difficult to range at longer distances because of the smaller reticle but it will give you more accurate measurements overall.
Occasionally if you get a cheaper variable power rifle scope, you may have issues where there is some reticle shift as you change magnification. This is a serious issue that will cause your scope to only be accurate at the magnification you used to zero the scope.
Objective Lens Size
The objective lens is the one opposite the eyepiece where light enters the scope. This light is what transfers the image to your eye and an improperly sized objective lens will make the overall image of the scope appear dull or dark.
Having a larger objective lens will improve the ability of your scope to perform in lower light conditions. This is an important trait for all scopes but absolutely critical to the hunter who often hunts at dawn or dust. Without an appropriately sized objective lens, the chances of being able to distinguish between your target and the surrounding terrain will be greatly diminished.
While there are formulas to determine the appropriately sized objective lens on a rifle scope, that is usually unnecessary. Most scope manufacturers have a system to ensure the objective lens is sized correctly. When looking at a scope, compare the size of the objective lens to scopes of a similar maximum power. If it is noticeably smaller than other scopes, there may be an issue.
While it is less common, having too large an objective lens can cause problems as well. Excessively large objective lenses are commonly used by cheap scope manufacturers to make their scopes perform with lower quality parts. Mounting a large diameter scope like this will require special hi-rise rings. Mounting your scope so high can cause issues with accuracy.
It is important to note that the objective lens is not the only factor that contributes to brightness in a scope. Lens quality and lens coating will also have an effect on the amount of light transferred. However, this does little to correct an improperly sized objective lens.
This is a tricky one to cover but lens quality on a rifle scope is one of the most important factors in its overall quality. No matter what a company does, bad glass will always be bad glass. You can’t do anything that will make it better.
Poor quality glass may appear dark, smoky, or dull. It may mute colors or even cause the whole image to blur into an indistinguishable mess at as range increase. If you have ended up with a scope that does this, there is little you can do to help it. You are better off replacing it and moving on with a quality product.
The trickiest thing about lenses is that nobody announces that their glass isn’t up to par. The only way to distinguish glass quality without looking through the scope is to go by brand reputation and the word of others who own the scope. This is a more subjective way of determining the quality of a scope but you take what you can get.
There are a few keywords you can look for on the higher end of scopes that will give you some indication of lens quality. You may see terms like ‘ED Glass’ or ‘ED Prime.’ If a scope uses glass that is extra-low dispersion like the previous two examples, it is usually very good quality.
One of the primary ways of improving glass quality has always been by using lens coatings. Predominantly these work to reduce glare and filter the light spectrum to improve the overall image through a scope. While this used to be a staple of only the best brands, many budget optics companies and even some cheap companies have found the value of lens coatings.
There are 4 classes of lens coating classes that you may see on an optic: Coated; Fully Coated; Multi-Coated; and Fully Multi-Coated. These go up in increasing quality but also cost. Without exception, you are far better off spending a little more on a rifle scope to get good lens coatings.
So, what are these coating levels?
- Coated lenses have a single chemical applied to the objective lens. Most commonly this is just to prevent glare and is common on most modern rifle scopes even if it is not mentioned. Having a scope without at least a coated objective lens will make shooting in bright light more difficult.
- Fully coated lenses have a single chemical applied to every lens. Again, this is usually a coating to reduce glare and is frequently used without the manufacturer specifying it. This has become a somewhat standard practice for budget scopes that do not opt for higher quality treatments.
- Multi-coated lenses have either layers or a mixture of chemicals applied to a single lens. This can be the objective lens or eyepiece. Usually, this multi-coat will filter the light spectrum for better performance while also reducing glare.
- Fully multi-coated lenses use the same mixture or layers on each air-to-glass lens surface. This is the premium level of coating and should be the staple of a decent rifle scope. While some budget companies to use inferior multi-coat just to say they have it, those are very rare.
While that covers the majority of coatings there are two other types that you may see that have no direct effect on lens quality. Many scope companies have recently begun applying a lens coating to prevent stretching and damage. As scope quality has increased, the lenses have always been a weak point. Having a coating that protects them is invaluable.
A second type of special coating reduced fogging of the lenses. Though most optics have other ways of dealing with this problem, some more affordable scopes will use this as a cheaper method of fog control.
It should be noted that just because it has this treatment doesn’t mean it is cheap. Some reputable brands will use this as a safety margin to ensure their scopes don’t have any fogging issues.
No part of understanding an optic is more troublesome than that of reticles. There are dozens of styles that differ greatly in their complexity and use. Getting the appropriate reticle for your needs, skill, and comfort level is probably the hardest but most important factor in selecting a scope after magnification.
Luckily, reticles can be divided into 3 categories. If you can settle on which category of shooter you are, picking a reticle is a very simple task. If you need more help, this reticle guide goes into detail. It also covers the focal plane for added value!
Crosshair & Duplex
The most basic reticles are crosshair reticles that are simple crossed lines, the same that has been used by rifle scopes since they were invented. A step beyond that are duplex reticles which are the same crosshair but with a change in line thickness near the center.
Both of these reticles are perfect for hunters whose primary goal is to increase accuracy without increasing range. Many varmint and deer hunters use scopes like this. There are even models made for shotguns.
The duplex style has the added benefit of giving you a little bit of capability to determine hold-over more accurately. This takes practice and familiarity with the scope but it can be useful. A secondary benefit is of the duplex reticle is visibility. It is easier to see the thicker lines in poor lighting and they will lead you to the cross in the center.
BDC & Ranging Reticles
The most complex reticle styles are those made to help in determining bullet drop over distance and to aid in determining range to a target. It will take a little practice to learn to properly use the bullet drop feature and even more to get the hang of using a reticle to determine distance.
While both of these are great skills to have, if you never intend to use a rifle scope for longer range, the added cost and complexity of these reticles is probably not worthwhile. You may be better served by getting a simpler reticle style.
The two standard measurements for BDC reticles are MOA (Minute of Angle) or Mil. Both of these are just ways of measuring the measurements of something mathematically when the distance is known. Conversely, you can use these to determine distance when the measurement of something is unknown.
In addition to these two standard measurement types, many companies have developed their own proprietary reticles based on these standards. These can be more or less complex, depending on the company but are more likely to be about the same.
While there is a lot to understand about these reticles it would take an article all its own. Or take the easy route and check out this video.
The final reticle class are those that are shaped. These could be circles, dots, chevrons, or a combination of those. While these are usually a very simple reticle to use, they can have a lot of complexity built in such as bullet drop.
This type of reticle is very fast, usually faster than using iron sights on a tactical rifle. However, it is only a viable choice on rifle scopes of relatively low power. Usually, anything more than 4x or 6x has too much magnification for this type of reticle to be accurate.
While they share many traits with red-dot sights, they are not the same thing. Usually, a red-dot has no magnification or very little. The lines may blur somewhat but this is a traditional rifle scope that has a reticle with a pattern other than crosshairs.
*A special note considering reticles. Some optics are intended for use with a specific caliber of rifle. Pay attention to this fact. If you use the wrong caliber with a caliber-specific reticle, it will not function correctly.
When we talk about adjustments, we are mostly referring to how we adjust for windage and elevation (Left/Right and up/down). However, we are going to lump in focus as well to be complete.
For the first, windage and elevation, there are two types of adjustment. Capped adjustments are screws that adjust with a coin or screwdriver to move the center of the reticle. This is the oldest and simplest method of adjustment and is found on most hunting scopes. Once you are zeroed, you put the caps back on and leave it be until you need to re-zero your rifle.
Turret adjustments are more complex. They allow you to adjust your zero to current conditions. While you will set up your initial zero to get the rifle scope on target, afterward you are still able to adjust based on distance and environmental factors.
The best and most useful of these scopes have a zero-reset ability that allows you to loosen the turret and move it without shifting the point of aim of the scope. You can then line up the zero with a marker on the scope housing. This gives you a good starting point when making range and wind adjustments.
All scopes have focus but there are two types of focus to be aware of. The first is the standard focus used on all optical devices. All this allows for is to get both the reticle and target both into focus at the same time. The actual premise of this is the same as with parallax focus but much less complicated.
For shots under 200 yards or so, you will never need parallax focus but for longer shots, you do want your scope to have this feature. To reduce it to the very essence, parallax occurs when your target and reticle are not on the same focal plane in the scope. This will cause missed shots at longer ranges. You can tell if your parallax is out of focus if your crosshair tends to move around the target as you move your eye.
This is a complex phenomenon that could take hundreds of words to explain. To get a more complete understanding, Winchester Ammunition has this very good and concise article.
Eye relief is simply the distance your eye can be from the eyepiece of your scope and still get a full, clear picture. If you see black around the edges of your scope, your eye is too far away. Be aware that this is the maximum distance as your eye can be closer without issue on most rifle scopes.
While having a little extra eye relief is usually a good thing, sometimes your weapon may not be set up in a way that you can move your eye back far enough to take advantage of it. In which case you are just wasting money on a feature you can’t use.
The main reason you may want more eye relief is when you are using a more powerful rifle, extra eye relief will prevent the scope from hitting your eye when the rifle recoils. If you have never had this happen, you never want to. If you are lucky, you just get a black eye and a small cut. If you are unlucky, it could be a trip to the hospital with broken facial bones or even a damaged eye.
If you are shooting any magnum caliber rifle, you will want some added eye relief. Any rifle that is reputed to have a hard kick will require a little extra. You know better than anyone how you handle hard recoils and how steady you can keep a rifle. If you know you are going to have issues handling the recoil, go with a scope with more than 3.5 inches of eye relief.
Field of View
The field of view of your scope is simply the distance from one side of your view to the other at a specific distance and magnification. To make it simpler, if you are using a 10x scope with a field of view of 35 feet at 100 yards when you are looking at that distance you will have a total of 35 feet from the farthest left you can see through the scope to the farthest right you can see.
Why is field of view important? There are two schools of thought on the matter and both are valid. Which is most important to you will depend on how you plan to use your rifle scope and your own mentality and focus.
Scopes with a very wide field of view will allow you to get on target faster as well as locating targets easier. The more you see the easier it is to find a target, keep it in your sights, and recover after your shot to be back on your target. However, if you are shooting small targets or for high precision, having the extra space around your target can cause distractions.
Scopes with narrow fields of view eliminate the distractions around your target to help you fully focus. But they will not give or allow you to easily find your target through the scope and moving targets will be very tough to follow. You will also be blind to anything going on around your target that could represent a safety risk.
A good rule of thumb is to reserve the narrow field of view scopes to the range and use the wider FOV scopes for hunting and tactical situations.
While the vast majority of rifle scopes have no electronics and no need for them, the popularity of having scopes with illuminated reticles has surged over the past decade. There is ample reason for this with the growth and popularity of defensive shooting competitions and the use of optics for home defense.
Generally illuminated scopes are low to moderate power as higher powered scopes encounter issues with the light inside the scope washing out its surroundings. Usually 8x to 10x is as high as you will find illumination and that can be pushing the limits of the technology.
Some rifle scopes have fully illuminated reticles. Typically, these are somewhat problematic because of the excess light required to provide that much light. It is far more common to see just the center of the crosshair illuminated.
Those rifle scopes with shaped reticles will more commonly feature illumination and will generally illuminate the entire shape of the reticle. Since these are lower powered optics, they tend to work fairly well.
If you are going to be hunting the rare animals that it is legal to hunt after dark (coyote and hog, check your state laws), you may want an illuminated reticle. If you hunt deep woods for deer or other game, you may have reason to consider an illuminated scope. If you are using a lower powered scope for home defense or tactical situations, illumination can be a good thing to have.
Otherwise, go without it. In your day to day shooting and hunting needs, it will never be an issue.
Durability & Weatherproofing
Scopes are an investment and the best scopes will often cost more than your rifle does. Because they are usually made of aluminum and glass, they do take some care and caution to keep working. Even the toughest scopes can break if treated badly.
To help with this, there are a variety of different features built into a scope to keep it working as it should. The most apparent of these is to use a thicker aluminum and make the scope out of a single piece without joints or welds. This goes a long way in keeping the internals safe while also keeping the lenses and prism properly aligned.
Many scopes today are optic for sealed interiors that keep out moisture, dust, and debris. The internals of a scope are very sensitive and foreign matter can wreak havoc. A step above this are those companies that purge the internals of air and replace it with an inert gas like nitrogen or argon. This further prevents moisture from getting in as it does not expand or contract with temperature changes.
Above the lens coatings that prevent scratches was mentioned. Scope companies may also use a hard coat anodizing process to prevent damage to the outside of the scope body. While this is usually just cosmetic damage, scopes are expensive and should look good.
The final line on durability is the warranty. Whenever possible get an optic with the best warranty possible. Some things are out of your control and accidents happen. If you are going to invest in a great scope, make sure it has a great warranty to back it up.
Always check to make sure your rifle scope is compatible with your rifle. Many scopes advertise themselves as shockproof but they give no indication of how shockproof. A hard enough recoil can break many scopes that should be tough. For anything under .308, you are fine with most any scope. If you go for a large magnum, do your research or contact the manufacturer.
Types of Scopes
While it is possible to use a rifle scope for multiple purposes, you are likely to be more satisfied if you purchase one based on your primary need for the rifle you are putting it on. You can use it for other uses after but your main use should be the one that dictates the scope you buy.
While most scopes are not clear cut, to begin with, here are a few criteria that will get you in the ballpark as to what would be the best use for the scope you are considering.
Long Range Competition
The main factor that will lean a scope toward long range as a specific purpose is the magnification. Because the intended purpose is just to hit a stationary target at long range where the area beyond is safe, you can max out the power without concern for seeing the surroundings.
You will often see long range scopes with power in excess of 30x and sometimes even 40x. These are very specialized tools that are not appropriate for use outside of competition. No other shooting discipline will ever need that much magnification on their scope.
Many long-range scopes will have target turrets and reticles with some form of BDC. They will need parallax adjustment. While most are still made to be durable, it is much less of a concern since the primary use will happen on a range.
Hunting scopes usually have moderate power, somewhere around 10x and a very simple reticle, usually just a crosshair or duplex. Some may have some simple form of bullet drop compensation but those will be less rare. The key to a hunting scope is typically simplicity.
As hunters, we have the ethical consideration of making a clean, quick kill. Because of this we rarely engage at ranges exceeding 40 or 50 yards. Usually, it will be much closer. The addition of a scope is not to extend range but to increase accuracy. To ensure that the shot is perfectly placed in the most lethal area to the animal possible.
Hunting scopes will usually have capped adjustments to prevent them from being jarred loose during our time in the woods. Most will have good durability to contend with the limbs, branches, and other obstructions. Any good hunting scope should be water and fog proof.
Tactical scopes are what we often think of as sniper scopes. These are scopes that are designed to reach long distances but still provide a large field of view. There is a common misconception that tactical scopes are very powerful but that is untrue. The standard for most militaries was 10x until very recently. Some may extend into the teens but rarely ever higher.
The wider field of view possible with more moderate magnification is one of the defining features of a tactical scope. The user should be able to see and assess the surroundings clearly before taking a shot. They should also be able to take a shot at a moving target. Neither of these would be possible with higher magnification.
A tactical scope will have a reticle in either Mil or MOA for range estimation. The adjustments will be turrets to remove the guesswork. The entire process of taking a shot like this is mathematical. It takes a lot of skill and the scope is just a tool to help with that process.
Being designed around military use, a tactical scope may see service in many environments and conditions. This makes durability and weather resistance a very important consideration.
Scout scopes exist only to extend the normal accurate range of a standard rifle. They are not meant to be precise at long distances, only to increase the precision of shots at medium ranges. These are common on smaller caliber rifles like the AR 15 and will usually top out at 6x or 7x.
Because of their use at just extending range, scout scopes actually work very well for hunters and are becoming more common in that market. They are less powerful than the standard hunter’s scope but not so much as to lose effectiveness.
The reticle in a scout scope will usually be a shaped reticle or at least illuminated. The idea is to keep engagement speed high. They may or may not have turret adjustments but if they do, they are not commonly used. They should be very durable and rugged like the tactical scope and capable of functioning in adverse weather.
This is probably the fastest growing side of the optics market as more shooters recognize the versatility of these lower powered optics. For most uses, these are more than adequate for most shooters.
And that is a thorough rundown of our rifle scope reviews and hopefully all the information you could want. It may not cover everything but it should cover all someone new to the market should consider before making a purchase. There are hundreds of decent scopes out there but we strive to provide the best we can between value and performance. Starting with a good scope over a cheap one will put you well ahead of the curve when it comes to mastering any type of long distance shooting. Hopefully, this article has put you on that path.