How to Choose a Scope?

As a shooter, you cannot deny that a good scope is an essential part of the job. Deciding which one to eventually pick can be very confusing especially seeing all the many technical terms and numbers that accompany them. However, with this guide, you will learn how to choose a scope and be able to make awesome choices like an expert.

Table of Contents

how to choose a scope

So what is a Scope and why does everyone talk about them?

A riflescope is a telescopic piece placed on the rifle and allows you to focus far ahead. This simple device made of essentially an objective or focus lens allows you to focus on the target, an ocular lens through which you can see.

  • A scope improves your accuracy. You might be able to shoot a target from a distance. But imagine how precise you would be if you have a marker to let you know where exactly to place your bullet. Exactly! A scope would allow you to mark the spot you want the bullet to hit. That’s why learning how to choose a scope is important for all kinds of shooters.
  • Imagine you were a little bit far away from the target, how accurate do you think your view of the target’s surroundings would be? Maybe your trained eyes might pick out the target but you would be able to draw the whole image closer to yourself using the magnification of the scope.
  • One more reason why you should get yourself a scope is it helps you view a target even in low light. It gets harder to see clearly as the sun goes down or at dawn especially for a hunter. But if you use a good scope, the light that gets transmitted to your eyes through its lens is greatly improved. This is another good reason why you should know how to choose a scope.

Are they all the same?

There are different types of scopes and each meets specific purposes. 

  • Tactical scope: 

Tactical scopes are created for a type of shooting. They often have lower magnification values and are not often used for long-range shooting. Tactical scopes are mostly used by the military. Some tactical scopes could have a red dot that guides the shooter. 

  • Hunting scope: 

Scopes used by hunters are not too complex. They are simple and create really bright images under any weather condition. Their magnifications are often not too high.

  • Competition scopes: 

In competitions, you would be required to shoot very small targets from a distance hence scopes used for competitions are very high-powered. They have very high magnification of about 40x. These ones are quite bigger, bulkier, and heavier than the other types.

  • Sniper scopes:

These are scopes with moderate power and a magnification of about 10x. They are often used by the military and a lot of training is required to use all the adjustments and advanced tools that come with this scope. The red dot akin to these comes from the reticle and gives information such as the distance or windage to the shooter.

  • Red dot scope: 

There are scopes similar to the sniper scope with a red dot. But in these ones, the red dot is inside and not visible to the outside. The magnification of these types is low.

Scopes could be fixed or variable. They could also be long-range with high magnification values or short-range when they have lower magnification values. Some riflescopes have infrared illuminators in them to allow you to see when the light is low or when there is no light at all.

Fixed scopes have a fixed magnification that cannot be increased. Hence it is not possible to draw the field of view closer to yourself using these types of scopes. Variable scopes unlike fixed scopes have magnifications that can be adjusted. There are many magnification values for these scopes.

how to choose a scope

How do I choose a scope?

There are several types of scopes so you must choose a scope that has specifications that suits your needs best. You might have seen different specifications and numbers on scopes don’t be alarmed, they are just guides to help you choose which would work best for you. 

  • The magnification

Magnification implies making something bigger or larger than what the naked eyes would have seen. In the scopes. The magnification makes the objects appear much closer than what it would have seemed when viewed with the naked eyes.

It is important to know the magnification of the scope you need so you do not buy one that is either too small or too much.

For riflescopes, a magnification written as 2x means the image created is two times closer to you than what your eyes alone would have shown. When you pick a scope, you would see a series of numbers such as 3-12×42 or 4-14×56. 

The first two numbers in this series (3-12x) give a range of the magnifications the scope provides. It means you can choose to magnify the view between three times to twelve times what the naked eyes would have seen. Or between four times to sixteen times the normal view (4x-16x).

Some scopes have their values written differently such as 7×32 or 4×30. In these types, the first number (7x) is magnification. This means your scope can make objects appear seven times closer to you. 

The magnification on these types of scopes cannot be increased or reduced. So when you turn on the magnification, you are would be viewing an image enlarged seven times than normal. Remember the fixed type of scopes we mentioned earlier? 

  • Which magnification do I choose?

Your choice of magnification would depend on what you use your rifle for. Anything between 1x-4x would work best for you if the main use of your rifle is hunting small game or to keeping your home safe. You could even choose one with a fixed magnification since most of your shorts are short distances.

When hunting large game, you would often be far away from the target hence using a scope with higher magnification ranges such as 4x-8x would be a good idea. These would increase your view even at about 200 yards.

You would need scopes with very high magnification ranges of about 9x and above when hunting in fields or deserts. 

  • Diameter of the objective lens

The lens at the end of the scope is called an objective lens. The objective lens is responsible for getting light into the scope. The size of this lens no doubt affects how much light gets into the scope and in turn how bright the image would be. Using an objective lens that is wide, would increase the light transmission to your scope and a smaller lens would transmit lesser light.

The diameter of the objective lens in your scope is often written with the figures for magnifications and is often measured in millimeters. It is usually the number after the “x” in your magnification. So in scopes with specifications: 3-12×42, the objective lens is 42 mm and in those rated 4-14×56, the objective lens is 56mm.

The same rule applies even for scopes with fixed magnifications. Scopes with magnification values written as 7×32 or 4×30 hence have objective lenses that are 32mm and 30mm wide respectively.

You should use an objective lens that is just right for what you need it for. Using a scope with a large objective lens would make your scope heavier and cause reflection of sunlight from the surface. 

For short-range hunting, an objective lens of about 28mm or less would be just fine. You would need lenses with diameters between 30mm and 44mm for mi-range shots and for longer ranges, lenses with diameters 50mm and above are the best.

how to choose a scope
  • Diameter of the tube

A riflescope is often shaped like a tube. The diameter or how wide the tube is does not affect the amount of light that gets into the lens. The major effect it has is on the view of the object. Using a tube with a smaller diameter might block out some portions of the image. While a wider tube would allow you to have a wider view of the target 

Tubes for scopes are measured in millimeters. These are easy to find as they are not written along with the magnification but alone in the specification.

  • The type of reticle

In the middle of the lens, you see a set of crosshairs or aiming points when you look through it. These allow focusing aiming and shooting to be done with ease. These crosshair or points are called the reticles.

Reticles could be in front or behind the magnification lens and could be of three types.

  • Duplex: 

A duplex is the simplest type of reticle. It is a crosshair pattern and often used in hunting or for target shooting. It is easy to use and works fast.

  • Mil-Dot: 

This is similar to the duplex but here the dots help estimate using the size of the target, its distance. This type of reticle is mostly used by the military and law enforcement agents.

  • BDC: 

This reticle estimates the bullet drop. It is the best option for long-range shooters. It might take a little longer to get used to, however.

  • Focal plane

Focal plane describes the position of the reticle with respect to the magnification lens. There are two types of focal planes. 

  • The First Focal Plane: 

Here the reticle is located in front of the magnification lens. When you change the magnifications on the scope, the reticles on the first focal plane would adjust in size.

Scopes that come with their reticles in the first focal plane tend to cost more than those in the second plane. The main drawback with these kinds of focal planes is that when the view is magnified, the reticles become smaller. If the view is reduced, however, the reticles can become thick and block out part of the image.

  • Second Focal Plane: 

The reticle is behind the magnification lens in a scope with a second focal plane. No matter the changes made in magnification, the reticles remain the same.  These scopes are comparatively cheaper than those with their reticles on the first focal plane. 

If you are shooting long-range or hunting in a field or desert, a scope that has its reticle is your best bet. For short-range targets or shootings, using a second focal plane reticle is better.

  • Windage and Elevation Turrets

The knobs you see on the scope have several things they do. These knobs allow you to make adjustments to the settings of the scope both vertically (the elevation) or horizontally (distortions made by wind). The windage knob is often located on the sides of the scope while that of the elevation is most times on the top.

It is important to pick scopes whose turrets are reliable. You should hear a clicking sound when you turn them. This is how to easily test if they are working well.

  • Parallax

Parallax is an optical error produce when the reticle and the target are on different planes in the scope. This illusion makes the target look as if it is out of focus and can be observed when the head or eyes are moved while looking through the scope. This illusion can affect your accuracy so it is important to reduce it to the barest.

At very short distances, parallax has very little effect on the accuracy of your shot. However, with an increase in distance or magnification, there is an increase in the parallax. Thus, to take accurate shots at different distances, you would need to adjust the setting on your scope. Depending on the scope you choose, you could make corrections to parallax in three ways:

  • Factory set: 

Some scopes have their parallax adjustments already set from the factory. So how would you know? Well, they would put that up in their ads. No one adds a good feature to a product and keeps quiet about it.

  • Adjustable Objective: 

On some scopes, you would be able to correct the parallax by turning a ring that sits on the objective lens.

  • Turret: 

A turret to correct the parallax exists on some scopes. This would be turned just as you would those of the elevation and windage.

  • Eye relief

No matter how long you are shooting, you do not want to injure your eyes. Eye relief is the distance from the lens you are looking through called the ocular lens to your eyes. Within this distance, you should still be able to see clearly through the lens. If your eye goes farther than this, your view might not be as clear. 

It is important to get a scope with really wide eye relief so you do not cause injury to your eyes especially when using a gun with heavy recoil. The higher the eye relief, the farther the ocular lens can be from your eyes and you would still get a good view.

Many of the best scopes have eye reliefs of about 3.5-4 inches. This should be the minimum value you should aim for. You might need more if your gun has a higher recoil.

  • MOA or MIL

Minute of Angle (MOA) and Milliradian (MIL or MRAD) are both measurements of accuracy. They are used to measure the angular accuracy of the lens. Just as linear measurements can be measured in kilometers per hour or miles per hour, these units are similar.

Mil is the larger value with MOA measuring about 1.047 inches per 100 yards and Mil is 3.6 inches at 100 yards. To convert the MOA to Mil, you would have to divide its value by 3.43 and multiply a Mil by 3.43 to get it converted to MOA.

If you are aiming at a target at 200 yards, your MOA should be about ½. For much longer distances, let’s say 400 yards, your MOA would be 1 inch 

None is better than the other but for consistency in values and ease, it is safer to pick the one you would remember well and stick with it.

  • The money at hand

All the good stuff to look out for in a scope have been mentioned but no doubt the absolute decision would depend on how much you are willing to spend. The prices of scopes vary from $50 to more than $1000. 

You cannot judge the effectiveness of a scope by how much it costs so you can go for any that has all the good qualities within your budget.

No doubt you might have to do a little research to decide which scope is best for you. Following this guide, we have shown you what makes a good scope and that which is not.


At every distance, a specific magnification is required. Since you are hunting at different distances you would need to adjust the parallax at all the distances so your view remains accurate.

To shoot a target 500 yards away, you would need a scope with a magnification range between 5-9x. For longer distances, a higher-powered scope.

Many sniper scopes are moderate power fixed scopes with a magnification of 10x and an objective lens of 32mm. These sniper scopes come with a red mil-dot that allows the shooter to mark the center of the target and estimate distance and size.


Whether you’re a beginner or a veteran, a hunter or a competition shooter, there’s no doubting the fact that a scope can give your precision and accuracy a considerable lift. 

Scopes have become the perfect accessories, and a gun without a scope these days feels and looks incomplete. Perhaps, that’s why they are so popular among shooters of all types. 

The downside is, there are so many different types of scopes available, it’s become a hell of a task trying to find the perfect one. Further, the best scopes do not come cheap, and the margin for error is almost infinitesimal as a result. 

Certainly, the prices of scopes reflect their quality, yet it’s still possible to find a gem of a scope that won’t leave a hole in your pocket. The trick is to know what you’re looking for and go for a scope that suits your needs perfectly, so you don’t end up paying for features that you won’t end up using. 

In this article, we’ve discussed all of those features, with the aim of helping you locate the best scope for you. Our detailed analysis contains really useful information that will arm you with greater knowledge and insight, which counts for a lot in your search for the perfect scope. 

Author Profile

Gabriel Tackett
Double major in Engineering and Geology at the University of Minnesota. Experienced shooter & hunter for over 15 years. Certified NRA officer for over 10 years working as a writer at .

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