Do you want to be a successful hunter or distance target shooter?

Of course, you do – and I’m going to tell you how to achieve that.

Sure, it’s got a lot to do with conditions, circumstances, and your own experience and skill set.

But equally important is the guns and equipment you use.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at how to choose a rifle scope – which can make the difference between a clean kill, and the trauma of a wounded animal.

Or the beaming pride of a bullseye, and the shame of the outer circle.

Let’s fire into our jargon-busting guide.

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How to Pick a Rifle Scope – The Short Version

We all lead busy lives, and some folks just don’t have the time to read through an entire article.

With that in mind, here’s what you should be looking out for when choosing a quality rifle scope:

  • Eye relief.
  • Field of view.
  • Exit pupil.
  • Magnification/power.
  • Reticle
  • Parallax
  • Windage/Elevation.
  • Recoil Rating/weapon compatibility.
  • Night vision.
  • Size and Weight.
  • Extra features.

What is a Rifle Scope? Terminology to Learn

A rifle scope is a device that is used to help the shooter produce more accurate shots. You can also purchase scopes for pistols, shotguns, and other firearms.

It consists of a main body – called a tube, which is generally 3/4-inch to one-inch in diameter.

At the far end of the scope – the point furthest from your eye, you’ll find the objective bell, which contains the objective lens. This is what controls the amount of light that reaches your vision.

Generally, the larger this section is, the more powerful the scope – so that’s something to remember and look out for.

The opposite end of this is called the eyepiece, which contains the ocular lens. It is through this lens that you look to sight your target, housed in the eye bell.

look thru rifle scope

Some scopes have the option to vary the magnification power – similar to some of these awesome tactical binoculars. This is achieved by adjusting a power ring located near the ocular lens.

A windage adjustment knob (also called a dial, or turret) is located somewhere in the center of the scope, either on the top or to one side.

This is to allow for crosswinds, and adjusts the projectile impact to the left or right.

Also located somewhere in the center of the scope is the elevation knob/dial. This, you’ve guessed it, is to adjust the height of the bullet impact.

Both windage and elevation will be measured in something called MOA – Minute of Angle. An MOA is 1/60th of a degree. You should understand how this works in order to become a more accurate shooter.

The reticle is what you see when you look through the scope – those fine lines that help mark the target, or help with measuring scale. Also known as the crosshair.

Some scopes have the option to illuminate the reticle, others might have a side-focus dial, and some can come with an adjustable objective.

Once you understand each feature, you can be in a better position to make the right choice when selecting a rifle scope.

Don’t confuse a scope with a rangefinder, however, as they are two different things.

However, some more expensive scopes are starting to include this capability, and a scope with the reticle in the first focal plane can be used for this purpose (more on this, below).

Regardless, for more accurate distance measurements to aid with shooting, you need a dedicated ranger finder.

Follow that link for some great examples, and find something you can include in your range bag essentials.

Why Do You Need a Rifle Scope?

For some reason, when I’m trying to line up the iron sights on a rifle, my eyes start to water like I’m cutting onions.

That, and for any number of other factors, is why I prefer using a rifle scope.

Aside from how much faster and easier it is to line up your target with a scope than it is with the naked eye, it also allows you to see much further.

Riflescopes are essentially mini-telescopes, and that magnification is almost essential for making shots at greater distances.

Unless you happen to be superhuman with bionic vision (and there are some hunters/target shooters who are or appear to be).

With a magnified target, you’ve got a much better chance of making an accurate shot, which is imperative for a clean kill, and/or a bullseye.

Choosing a Rifle Scope – Points to Consider

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the features you need to focus on when you’re in the market for a new rifle scope.

Eye Relief

A rifle scope’s eye relief refers to the distance the ocular lens is going to be from your own eye, in order for you to see the full field of view.

It’s a feature that scopes will share with binoculars.

This is vitally important for two main reasons:

  • For a more powerful rifle, you’ll need greater eye relief, so the eye bell doesn’t kick back into your eye socket. (This happened to a buddy of mine, and he had a fun time explaining that shiner.)
  • If you wear spectacles, the eye relief is going to help you keep the correct distance from the ocular lens without hampering the image you see.

Make sure you take both of these factors into consideration before purchasing.

Field of View

Another important consideration when choosing a rifle scope is its field of view (FOV). This is the size of the area in feet that can be viewed when looking through the eyepiece at 100 meters.

FOV is related to magnification – the wider the FOV, the lower the magnification. The narrower the FOV, the higher the magnification.

Choose a wider FOV if you’re commonly shooting at moving targets, or for scouting purposes.

Exit Pupil

Simply put, the larger the objective lens (the lens located furthest from your eye) the more light the scope is going to allow in, and transmit to your eyeball.

The exit pupil measurement is how much light is being transmitted through the scope in millimeters.

This number is the size of the objective lens in millimeters, divided by the power of the scope. The higher this calculation, the more light the scope will transmit.

And the more light is allowed in, the easier it will be to see through the scope, the brighter the image, and you won’t have to be dead-center when lining up a target.

There’s nothing worse than peering through a scope with a low exit pupil calculation and not being able to see much but a large, black outer circle.


Check the scope specifications to find the magnification number. It will look like a multiplication sum.

The first number is how much the target is going to be magnified. If it reads ‘10,’ for example, then the target will be magnified 10 times.

The next number is the size of the objective lens. So, a 10×30 magnification scope will magnify the target 10 times, with a 30-millimeter objective lens.

Simple, right?!

But there’s more!

A scope that features variable power will have some extra numbers for you to get your head around.

A scope that reads 5-10×40, for example, will have an adjustable magnification of between five to ten times, and a 40-millimeter objective lens.

black rifle scope

Just like binoculars with variable power, a scope with this feature is going to be useful for shooting targets closer (turn the power down) and further away (turn the power-up).

But how much power do you really need?

It depends on what you’re using the rifle for.

If you’re typically aiming at targets that are up to 100 yards away, you don’t need anything more than a 1-5 X scope.

For targets between 100-200 yards, consider a 5-8 X scope.

And for anything over 200 yards away – you should be shopping in the 9-12 X magnification range.

Scopes are available with fixed power and variable power, but most experienced shooters prefer to have the option to adjust it.

Bear in mind that this is just a guideline, and the above examples are down to personal preference. With practice and experience, you can fine-tune the magnification of a scope you prefer for the distances you’re shooting.


Commonly known as the crosshair, choosing the right reticle is actually one of the biggest decisions in your hunt for the right scope.

There are four main types:

Crosshairs – so called because they used to be made by crossing two, fine, hair-like wires. This is the most basic type of reticle.

Duplex – a duplex reticle features thicker lines on the outside of the cross, which then become finer at the target point. This is the most common, popular, and versatile reticle type for general shooting.

Dot reticle – this design features a single dot in the center of the scope. It is usually a bright color, such as neon red or green.

Bullet drop – a bullet drop reticle is identified by the markings designed to show you where the bullet will hit for shooting at greater distances.

Of course, there are many more designs to choose from, but they will more or less share the basics of these four main types.

You can also decide if you want an illuminated reticle, which is ideal if you’re shooting in low-light or poor weather.

Finally, the location of the reticle is something else you should consider. It can be either in the second focal plane (the tube of the scope closest to your eye) or the first focal plane (the tube furthest from your eye).

The most common location is in the second focal plane, which ensures the reticle is always at a constant size.

If, however, you were using a scope for shooting at long range, you might prefer the reticle in the first focal plane, which allows you the opportunity to better judge distances, and can take the place of a dedicated range finder.

The reticle you select will depend on your personal preference, what you’re actually shooting, the range, and the conditions you’re shooting in.


A factor that can certainly freak out new scope users is something called “parallax error.” Let’s try and keep things simple.

airsoft sniper rifle

Parallax is defined as the displacement in the position of an object when it is viewed along two lines of sight.

With reference to rifle scopes, this means the relationship between the reticle, the target, and where your eye is placed.

When parallax error is in play, where you think you have your crosshairs trained, might actually be floating completely off target.

Parallax is more common when shooting over long distances, and is an important consideration for how to choose a long-range rifle scope.

In layman’s terms – if your reticle appears to be floating, or moving with the slightest adjustment of your eye position, then you are in the dreaded parallax zone.

Many rifle scopes will come with a feature that can accommodate this, enabling you to adjust what you’re seeing through the scope depending on the distance and to make sure that your reticle remains fixed on your intended target.

You need to know that what you see is what you get before you pull the trigger.

As this is quite a complex phenomenon to get your head around (even the pros have trouble with it) you should check out the video below for a visual walkthrough.


As mentioned, windage and elevation adjustments allow you to account for crosswinds and bullet drops at greater ranges.

But you should be familiar with how this is fine-tuned on your scope, and the measurements used with each click of the relevant turret.

There are two types:

MOA (Minute of Angle) scopes are equal to one inch at 100 yards and will move the impact of the bullet a quarter-inch per click at this range. At 50 yards, it’s 1/8-inch, and at 200 yards, it’s 1/2-inch.

Mil/MRAD (Milliradian) scopes use an SI-derived unit of angular measurement, defined as 1/1000th of a radian.  At 100 yards, one MIL is equal to 3.6 inches.

Clear as mud, right?!

For more help with the often confusing mathematics of scopes, including tips on how to sight your gun, check out the video below.

Recoil Rating/Compatibility

Looking down the specifications of a rifle scope, you should find “device compatibility” and/or “recoil rating.”

This is going to tell you the type of weapons the scope was designed for, such as a pistol, rifle, or shotgun, for example.

It may also tell you how powerful that weapon can be, such as a .50 CAL.

And you should also bear in mind how it attaches to your firearm – most commonly either a Picatinny or Weaver railing system.

Night Vision

For shooting in low light conditions (at night, for example), even a scope with the largest objective lens is going to struggle when the sun goes down.

So if you intend to hunt at night (and you’re legally allowed to) you should be looking at a night vision scope instead. For more information, check out this article on seeing in the dark.

And when you’re out in low-light conditions, you might also want to consider if you need a mounted flashlight or a handheld one, if the situation permits.

Size and Weight

While they might not be the most important considerations, you should still keep an eye on the overall size and weight of the scope.

It might make a difference to your handling of the weapon, particularly when you’re on the go, and a heavier scope with a larger profile could cause an inconvenience to the shooter.

Extra Features

Some high-end scopes come with additional bells and whistles to entice you into a purchase, and it’s up to you to decide if they are worth the extra money.

Recording video is one such luxury, which many hunters might enjoy, while others would find it superfluous.

Some scopes even come with Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth, so you can instantly post your shots/kills on the internet.

Perhaps the more useful features include a digital compass, ballistics data, and environmental readings, such as wind speed, temperature, altitude, and precipitation.

Again, you should decide if these extras are right for you, or if you simply want a rifle scope that does what a rifle scope should do – and nothing else.


When choosing the right rifle scope for your needs, you should always consider your budget. Remember this old adage, which can be applied to most things these days:

Cheap optics aren’t good, and good optics aren’t cheap.

So long as you purchase the right kind of scope for what you’re shooting and where you’re shooting it, you won’t go far wrong.

Bigger isn’t always better.


What is a good magnification for a rifle scope?

It depends on what you’re using it for. A 3X9 scope, for example, is perfect for deer hunting, but it’s not going to be of much use for long distances.

But a long-distance scope with super-powerful magnification isn’t going to be the best choice for hunting in the woods.

Choose something that is going to be of practical use depending on where you’re shooting and what you’re shooting at. There is no catch-all, “best” magnification for a rifle scope.

What magnification do I need for 100 yards?

A 9X scope is all you’ll ever need at this distance, maximum –  but it’s a matter of preference and practice.

A 1-5X scope is probably your best option for 100-yard shooting.

What scope do I need for big game trophy hunting?

Why are you trophy hunting in the first place? Animals should only be hunted for food, or as pests, and/or invasive species.

Killing an elephant or a giraffe isn’t big, clever, or cool – so don’t do it.


There’s a lot to cover when learning how to choose a rifle scope, but don’t let it put you off. Once you break all the jargon down, it should become a little easier to digest.

I hope this article has helped in some way.

If you are interested in finding the right optics, take a look at our comparison of LPVO vs Red Dot to learn more and make the right decision.

Let me know if you have any further questions, or if I’ve missed any key points off. Perhaps you’d just like to share your scope-choosing experience with the community?

Stay safe out there, and good hunting!