Last week we looked at some of the scope options available to hunters and target shooters. Now, let’s take a more detailed look at those options.
Reticles are the images one sees when using a scope to align the firearm with the target. These images usually take the form of a crosshair; but the shape of the crosshair can vary greatly. For big game hunters, the simple crosshair, duplex crosshair, or tapered crosshair are the most common. Other options are the post/crosshair combo, a center dot on a crosshair, and mil-dot reticles. I have used a scope with hash marks on the bottom half of the vertical axis that could be used for various distances when sighted to match the user’s ammunition’s ballistics. It worked reasonably well when zeroed at 200 yards, but the marks were very difficult to see in low light situations.
Target and/or varmint shooters usually need more precision than big game hunters. Long range target shooters use very high magnification scopes, a real necessity when shooting at ranges of 1000 yards or more. The use of fine crosshairs are quite common in these shooting disciplines. Reticles that take the form of a grid also help shooters compensate for both windage and elevation.
Depending on the intended use, scope magnification options are quite varied. For big game hunting, I would recommend a variable up to maybe 12X with 3-9X or 3.5-10X being more than adequate. A scope with an objective lens of 40-42 mm in one of these power ranges is all one needs. Larger objectives, such as 50 mm, offer no real advantage with these lower powered scopes. They simply add unnecessary weight and cost. When one goes to the higher power scopes, a larger objective will help gather light and depending on the quality of the glass and coatings, provide a clear sharp image for the shooter. This is necessary for accuracy in long range events and being able to see the small targets that varmints often present at distance. If you want a higher magnification scope, say 20X or more, be sure to check it in natural light. The scope should be clear and sharp all the way to the edges with very little or no distortion. In this case you get what you pay for. Lighted reticles can often be a great asset if low light conditions are often encountered; of course, they also add weight and cost. New fiber optic or tritium powered reticles do help minimize the weight of these scopes.
Another factor when choosing a scope is whether it has a first or second focal plane reticle. Here’s a short primer on both. First focal plane reticles grow with magnification and can be expected to maintain the same POI at all magnifications. They work well in hunting and tactical situations. Second focal plane reticles maintain the same size regardless of magnification and are more common than first focal plane scopes. For optimum accuracy, second focal plane scopes should be sighted and used with the same magnification. They work well for long range shooting.
If you are big game hunting, I suggest the lightest scope that will fit your needs; one doesn’t need a two pound plus scope for most of the ranges encountered when chasing Montana’s trophies. If you plan on bench rest or varmint shooting, a large scope, both in magnification and lens size won’t be a factor for carrying. I have a .204 Ruger target/ varmint gun that weighs about 12 pounds and I don’t pack it around the peaks of the high country. Remember that lighted reticles and objective lenses that are parallax adjustable add not only cost, but also weight. Over a long hunting hike, even a few ounces can eventually become a back breaker.
Be safe and good shooting.