Riflescopes 101: How to choose a riflescope

Would you like to learn how to choose a rifle scope, what to look for, how to determine what you really need? This one page rifle scope guide is aimed to provide you a comprehensive no BS approach to choosing a rifle scope and save you money.

How do you choose a rifle scope in today’s market? Simple question with a reply that can seem rather bewildering. Where do you start? The options out there are thankfully massive and as the market and disciplines have developed, so have manufacturers in their broader range of offerings.

I’m going to break it down into a matrix for you so that it will hopefully simplify the process. This is not the only way but it’s one that works for me and I tend to stick to these when taking a decision.

So let’s start with your main objective, what do you want to achieve with your rifle scope? One of the main challenges shooters face is that they want to buy a rifle scope but they do not know exactly what they want to do with it. This could be because they are buying a rifle without a specific objective and hence the scope that will sit on it has no specific objective either. Not the best way to start. Let’s help you out.

How to choose a rifle scope.

  1. Ask yourself, which rifle do you want to put it on? Be specific and it will help you narrow it down. The rifle is generally intended for a specific use which will largely dictate the use of the scope as well. Start with your rifle. If your rifle is at best a 3-inch gun at 100m/yards, it’s pointless putting on a high magnification optic. You maybe better served with a red dot sight or a low magnification rifle scope say 3-9×50. Here our guest is inspecting an amazing Sauer in 7mm rem mag in Denmark. This rifle can take close and long range shots with the right ammunition or handloads. The march 2.5-25×42 would make a fine choice for this rifle. It’s light weight, compact and fit for purpose. A low powered IOR 1-10×42 would also be a good match for running boar or african plain hunt while maintaining a classic look.
    How to choose a rifle scope
    How to choose a rifle scope. Start with your rifle of choice.
  2. Use/environment: Where do you intend to use this scope? A rifle scope made to sit on a high dollar precision rifle and be carried all over the world has different build requirements than one that is going to be used on a plinking 22lr rifle to pop off tin cans informally.
    RPA field Rifle in 300 Norma Mag
    Will the rifle be a range only rifle or do you intend to take it in the field, practical rifle competitions or hunting?
  • Budget: This is the single most deciding factor which dictates which brand/model you should be looking at in your price range. Starting with this ensures you don’t waste time.
    Swarovski scope with price tag
    Top glass comes top dollar. This Swarovski x5 3-18×50 makes an amazing hunting scope as well as ideal for target shooting.
  1. Weight: Do you have to make weight for a specific discipline? Most competitions have a weight requirement and based on your rifle weight, your scope choice maybe effected. A field scope on the other hand ideally should not weigh more than 800grams or so given you will also add a good pair of sturdy scope mount/rings.
    IOR scope VS March optics
    These two scopes have similar capabilities but the IOR 3.5-18×50 is massive, has less magnification than the March and weighs a ton. The march 2.5-25×42 is an amazing all round scope, light weight and very compact. For weight sensitive customers, it makes an amazing scope but costs significantly more than the IOR (+£600 more circa). IOR on the other hand is great value, built like a tank, can take abuse and probably easier to find second hand. Both have very good service and after market customer support.
  2. Do you prefer to work with imperial units (MOA) or Metric (Mrad)? Scopes typically come with adjustments to correct for fall of shot as well as wind drift. Adjustment typically come in Minutes of an Angle/inches (MOA) or Mrad (cm). There are countless videos explaining this so I won’t go into it just yet.
    March 2.5-25x42 MOA Turret
    March 2.5-25×42 MOA Elevation Turret with 25MOA per turn. This will take a 308win 168gr amax to about 686m/750yds in under 1 turn of the elevation from our 100m zero. It also has an amazing 12 MOA per HALF turn of the windage knob which is alot.
  3. Illuminated reticle: Will you be using this in low light environments, late evening shoots, dark forests or thick vegetation? In which case it is better to have an illuminated reticle.
    March MTR-3 illuminated reticle
    March MTR-3 illuminated reticle with Long Range Arms digital bubble level below
  • Brand: Are you specific about the brand and their service warranty? Most scopes today have a warranty that last a few years from 5-20 and some even have unlimited warranty.
  • Durability: How much abuse will this scope get over its life? A working scope like a military one or one that sees substantial travel, competitions and hunting needs to maintain zero no matter what. All scopes need to but for some, this is life or death, success or failure. To me it’s very important. I travel a lot to shoot and if my scopes fail me, my trip is over. A trip may cost as much as a scope so if it fails me, it’s going in the bin! Choose wisely don’t be penny wise, pound foolish. As a rule of thumb scopes should cost roughly the same as the rifle they’re going on.
    nightforce with bullet hole in it
    Nightforce with 7.62 bullet hole in it. It is reported that it was still working after this shot. photo courtesy of Towelie4542 on instagram
  1. Cartridge: This will dictate what you can do with that scope really. Do you intend to use this for a specific cartridge/discipline? Say you want to shoot 1000yard competitions with a 308win, your scope needs to have about 40MOA / 11.5 Mrad of vertical adjustment available after zero and probably another 12MOA / 3.5Mrad of windage. If you’re placing it on a 7.62×39 then you’re gonna be limited to say 3-500yds so choose a scope accordingly.
    wilson bullet seater cutout view
    Your cartridge of choice may influence the scope capabilities and choice.
  2. Magnification: This is pandoras box, how much magnification do you need? How big is the target you will shoot? To put you into perspective, I shoot F-class on 18-20x at 1000yards at a 5inch V-bull and shoot up to 1 mile on 18-25x magnification (40x60cm target) so I can see where the bullets are falling/misses. I like a very fine reticle that only covers about 2inches of my aiming mark at 1000yards. Out to 600yds I don’t normally use more than 12-14x on dinner plate sized targets.
    1100m hit with 50BMG
    1100m hit with 50BMG. We captured this image during the exact impact. how much magnification are you after?
  3. Hold off / Dial / Reticle: Do you prefer to hold off or dial your elevation and windage correction? I dial all my corrections including wind from shot to shot with an occasional hold off. If you’re shooting fast competitions, you may want to hold off more often in which case the reticle choice is important including choosing a First Focal Plain scope so you can hold off at any magnification. B) Reticle choice is important especially whether your reticle is in first focal plane (FFP) or 2nd focal plane (2FP). FFP means your reticle dimension will remain true at all magnification levels however reticle may appear too thick if you’re engaging small targets which may cover your aiming mark at long range. On low mag it may be too small to actually use. Sometimes I find turning on the illumination helps on low mag.
  • Holding Off
    Holding off. Here we are holding off 2 MOA high and 5 MOA Left Wind to make hits on this target at about 700M. IF we were dialing in, we would centre our reticle exactly on target.
  • Zero stop: Zero stop is a useful feature which enables you to go back to your initial Zero on your elevation turret without getting confused in the number of turns on the elevation turret. It basically blocks your turret from going past your Zero point. There is no windage zero stop so far however we strongly suggest you mark the spot where your Windage is Zero by using white correction fluid and mark the windage turret body. If you get lost simply dial your windage back to Zero before making any further corrections.
  • New or second Hand? I buy top of the line optics 2nd hand in mint condition. These optics are like Toyota land cruisers, made to last years of hard work. Most of these scopes only have a few hundreds of rounds and are pampered by their owners. The money saved goes to buy expensive ammo which is more important than the ultimate scope. If you want help sourcing an optic, please contact me. I’ve helped shooters save hundreds on their kit. Buy quality high end rings such as Tierone, badger ordnance, Dolphin rings, Spuhr etc. These are an investment. Want to find more second hand optics? Here’s our free tip, checkout Guntrader.co.uk riflescope section
  Consideration Answer
Rifle Which rifle are you mounting it on? Bolt action 5kg rifle in 308win
Objective:

 

What size target do you want to hit with it? Hit figure 11 sized targets from 100-800m on range/field type condition
Use/environment: Where shall you be using it? Hunt, open plains, close up targets, medium range target, thick brush and forest Range use with occasional field use for pig hunt
Budget:

 

How much are you willing to spend? £1000-£1500
Weight:

 

Are you restricted by weight due to a specific discipline? No specific weight requirement but must keep rifle in good balance. Ideally not longer than 12inch.
Metric/Imperial:

 

Do you prefer using metric or imperial units on your turrets? Imperial MOA. I’m trained to think of wind and corrections in MOA
Illuminated: Yes/No

 

Will you be using it in low light or not? Not really.
Brand:

 

Is there a specific brand you are after? This is normally dictated by your budget but not exclusively Yes I favour March and Nightforce but also entertain IOR and Vortex.
Durability:

 

How much abuse should this scope with stand? Competition and travel. It must withstand abuse.
Cartridge:

 

Do you know which cartridge you will be shooting? 308W 155 grain bullet
Magnification

 

What is the average target size you will be engaging? 4-10inch targets. 2-25x magnification would be ideal.
Holdoff/Dial/Reticle:  

 

This will dictate the reticle you choose Hold off and dialing in. ¼ MOA clicks preferably 25MOA per turn elevation, 12 MOA each way windage (24MOA in one single turn)
Zero stop: Y/N

 

I suggest you pick one with a Zero Stop. YES a must.
New/ Shand Are you willing to buy second hand? Yes I have limited budget.

With this information in hand, you are now a step closer to making an informed decision about your riflescope needs. Most reliable websites today enable you to purchase a rifle scope by selecting your criteria.

Now that you know what you need to have, you may head to one of these rifle scope selling websites and start your search. What these sites will give you however are new scopes. Consider that second hand scopes acquired from fellow club members and forums or other facebook groups will be about 55-80% of the prices shown on these websites.

Sometimes you may also get very good deals on demo scopes that have been used or showcased during trade fairs. Just a note, always be careful before sending money to anyone over the internet, pay via credit card and preferably see if that person has posted previously on that forum. Ask for close up pictures other than the ones they show you. I often ask them to include a specific picture or shot of the optic to ensure they are genuine and preferably call them via whatsapp so they can show you the rifle scope. Most forum users would have sold items earlier and forums also tend to show you how often/active that user tends to be. Moreover forums also run group buys for specific optic models which enable you to get a better price on a brand new optic.  Buy the best rifle scope you can afford, it is worth the time and money.

If you need help sourcing a riflescope, drop me a line.

1mile and 2 km target seen through MTR-3 Reticle

Various steel plate targets seen from 500m to 2 km at Coldbore range in Denmark. MTR-3 Reticle.

Rifle Scope in Sight!

Hopefully if you have followed those steps, you should have arrived at making your decision and ordered your riflescope. Now is the time to source yourself a good set of scope rings. The scope rings are what keeps the scope in place and fixed to the rifle. Some European scopes like Zeiss and Hensoldt are made with integrated mount. This means that the mount is part of the same scope tube and not a separate item, so you just have to slide it on to your rifle. Refer to the manufacturer of your specific riflescope for whatever they suggest for mounting options.

Below is the unique Carl Zeiss Optronics Hensoldt ZF 3-12×56 SSG-P with integrated mount. This scope was unique also in that the reticle had an index showing you where your elevation turret setting was whilst looking through your rifle scope!

unique Carl Zeiss Optronics Hensoldt ZF 3-12x56 SSG-P with integrated mount

 

Below, the elevation turret index in the mildot reticle of this Hensoldt SSG shows it’s set to 2.8Mils of vertical adjustment.

Zeiss Hensoldt ZF 3-12x56 SSG-P Mildot reticle with dial indicator
Zeiss Hensoldt ZF 3-12×56 SSG-P Mildot reticle with dial indicator

Here’s a pair of https://tier-one.eu rings that oozes quality. Notice the indicated torque specs on the bottom mounted on my favourite March Optics 2-25×42 MTR3. This is my go-to scope for almost any discipline.

Tierone EU 30mm rifle scope rings

If you are going with a solid set of rings, we really like the one-piece mounts like those made by @Tierone in the UK. They come with an integrated bubble level as well as a scope levelling kit that slides beneath the scope tube and the mount to help you level the scope. They also come with torque settings for the scope rings as well as the mount to picatinny rail torque specs. It is very important that you follow the torque specs supplied by the manufacturer and utilise a quality torque wrench to tighten those screws. I use a vortex torque wrench and have been well served with it.

Below is a set of simple rings mounted on an IOR 9-36×52 with a 35mm tube. I like to mark whether I have mounted them at the rear or front part of the tube.

IOR 9-36x56 MP8

Ok, so what I do next?

I want to make sure that the adjustment advertised on the scope turrets (1/4MOA above) is both

  1. i) accurate as well as ii) repeatable. If a scope is not repeatable, trash it, send it back. IF on the other hand you find out that the adjustment on the turret is repeatable but the actual movement is not the amount advertised, then you need to know exactly how much your turrets are moving your bullet point of impact when you are adjusting them so you can take this into account. Remember your ballistics are correct assuming you have inputted all the data correctly, you have verified this data on the range AND IF your scope is moving that bullet impact exactly the increment advertised. (1/4MOA or 1/2MOA or 1/8MOA or 0.1Mrad or 0.05mrad. These are the most common ones)

What do I mean by repeatable?

You will zero your scope to an initial starting point distance say 100m. Let’s say our scope has 90 MOA of vertical travel and 40 MOA windage. Once we dial in our elevation or windage, we want to make sure that the reticle moves 90 MOA up and will always move the same exact amount when you dial 90MOA. Your high-end rifle scopes contain materials like titanium so that there is no spring fatigue over years of use.

How to choose a rifle scope: Tracking test

I test all my optics to know if the click value is true and to check their repeatability. This gives me unbeatable confidence when I’m dialling in my correction. I mount the scope in the rings and secure it in a vice such as that seen below. Make sure its firm.

IOR 9-36x56 MP8 ladder test

Then I will spin the elevation turret and count how many useable MOA/mrads I have on my elevation and take note of this in my notebook. Then do the same for windage, dial all the way right and back and take note of how much windage you have in your scope. Divide this amount by two. That is how much left windage and right windage you have available.

The first test is simple, make sure you set a plumb line down range so we ensure the reticle is perpendicular to the ground. I always carry a black string about 2 m high with a weight hanging at the bottom and mount this against a light background. I will align the reticle to this to ensure it is perpendicular to the ground. The bottle here is providing the weight to keep the string straight. Notice the reticle aligned to it perfectly.

riflescope reticle perpendicular to ground: plumbline check
March 2.5-25×42 MTR3 reticle being aligned to a plumb line to ensure perpendicularity to the ground.

Then, place the reticle on a specific aiming mark. Dial all the elevation available and take note of where the reticle stops. I normally ask someone to mark that spot exactly with a marker as per the picture below. I use a large wooden plank about 6 feet tall covered with 1inch square printouts. Our assistant here is helping us mark the exact spot where the reticle stops. I repeat this exercise UP and DOWN a few times say 10x. Does the reticle go back to the same spot you marked earlier, is it repeatable?

I will also move the reticle to the LEFT and to the RIGHT to the far extreme of its adjustment range especially when my elevation is set at the very top of its movement. Why you may ask? I want to know how much useable windage I have on my rifle scope when my elevation turret is set at its highest. Normally as the elevation turret is pushed to its maximum travel, the windage travel will be limited as the scope turret would be limited in its movement. That is what I am after in my find out.

As you shoot further out, you will need a great deal of elevation but also a great deal of windage. At our last shoot at 1mile in Denmark, we started out at 3MOA wind and by the late afternoon, we were dialling 23 MOA of wind on a 300 Norma Magnum!!! You can test this by dialling UP 90 MOA, left 20MOA, Down 90 MOA, Right 20 MOA. It should stop where you started from. Are you still with me? If not shoot me an email or leave a comment.

rifle scope box test. March scope MTR3 reticle

Above: Here we are dialing left, marking where the reticle stops and dialing back to Zero Windage. I normally do this a few times back and forth ensuring the reticle is moving to the same spot time and time again.

.March rifle scope MTR3 box test.

March rifle scope MTR3 box test.  Here we are about to start dialing for windage from our starting point. Note: If you don’t have the opportunity to do this at 100 yds/m you can also do it at a shorter distance as long as you know exactly how far your target it so that you can then work out how much it would be moving the bullet at 100yds / m.

Below is our rifle scope reticle target test conducted at just 17.65 yards! We conducted this test while setting up our rifle for a one mile shoot in Skjern, Denmark. If you want more info how to work it out at such a close distance, just drop me an email.

riflescope reticle box test

My shooting partner bob setup this rig to check his Nightforce scope.

nightforce scope tracking test rig

Once you have checked that the reticle moves up and down, left and right and follows the same pattern in a repeatable manner, you want to check exactly how much that reticle is moving.

You can do this at 100yards/meters so that you know how much the reticle is moving. Let’s say you dial 90 MOA at 100yards. 1MOA at 100yds is 1.047inches. 90 MOA= 94.2inches That’s how much your reticle should have moved when you dialled in 90 MOA. If you go back to the marks you made on the board when you were dialing up and down your elevation turret, you can measure the distance between the two furthest points. Let’s say you find out that your reticle moved 96” instead.

If 90 MOA moved 96” then 1MOA on your scope is 1.067” instead of 1.047” (1.9% error) That means that 1MOA on our scope is really 1.02 MOA. In this case it is not huge but we know that our scope is actually moving the point of impact slightly more than it is suppose to. This means we would hit a little higher than what we are actually expecting.

Shooting is about trust and confidence in your equipment. Make sure to set it up correctly so you leave with the right mindset. Once I know my scope is working properly, I will then mount it on my rifle.

How to mount a rifle scope properly (20 min job)

mounting a rifle scope
Mounting a rifle scope with the Long Range Arms electronic bubble level on the rail to ensure receiver is perpendicular

Finally, we go to this step. Before mounting the scope, I would put my rifle on a very steady bipod. Attach the bubble level to the picatinny rail on my rifle so that I confirm that the receiver is perpendicular to the ground. Once it is, I will tighten the can’t screw on my bipod to ensure my rifle stays put.

Then I will mount the scope rings onto the picatinny rail. Next place the scope inside the rings. Sit behind the rifle as if you were going to take a shot to ensure you have the correct eye relief. This is the distance between your eye and the scope at which point you can see a proper full sight picture.

I also mount a Tierone bubble level on the scope tube. Do not tighten it just yet. Now sit behind the rifle and look downrange at the piece of string (plumb line) we used earlier. Make sure the rifle is perpendicular to ground. Now also make sure that the reticle in the scope is perpendicular to the plumb line down range. Once it is, tighten the screws just enough to ensure that the scope does not move. Check that the bubble level on the rifle picatinny rail is still centred.

rifle scope for 1 mile shot
Above: Our rifle scope mounted on RPA rangemaster 300Norma Magnum for our 1mile shot at Coldborerange, Denmark. The tracking test mentioned above ensured we could dial in the ballistics given by kestrel and be sure the amount dialed in would match. I will dedicate another post to that memorable ELR weekend shooting at 1mile and 2km.

Once this matches the reticle in the scope as well as the bubble level on the scope tube, you may start tightening the screws on the rings to the torque setting indicated by the manufacturer. Cross tighten the screws. You are ready to go.

Before you tighten your scope make sure that the reticle is perpendicular to the plumb line and then ensure that the level sitting on top of your scope tube is also showing level.

Long range Arms electronic bubble level on top of my Fclass 284win rifle

A perfectly calibrated rifle and scope. Long Range Arms precision rifle electronic level sitting atop my Fclass rifle with Vortex bubble level in the background and nightforce BR 12-42×56 NPR2.

 Do you think we have answered the question, How to choose a rifle scope? Comment below or Drop us an email.

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