Selecting the Best Riflescope for your Hunting Rifle
When it comes to hunting optics, one thing most outdoorsmen – from seasoned vets to newbies – will agree on is that … well, they’re complicated. This makes choosing the right scope to top off your long gun of choice a rather daunting (if not all-out debilitating) task, especially if you have little experience hunting or shooting.
A lot goes into selecting the perfect optic for your hunting rifle, it’s true. But, if you’re aware of your own strengths and limitations as a sportsman, as well as how you plan to use your rifle after the build is complete, we bet you’ll find the process of selecting the right sport optics to be a lot less complicated than you might be thinking right now.
A Perfect View
When it comes to power, riflescopes fall into one of three categories: low-magnification, mid-range or high-power precision scopes. While each category satisfies a different need afield, ensuring outdoorsmen are covered for virtually every hunting and shooting situation.
So, what’s the best way to determine the power of riflescope best suited for your preferred style of hunting? We suggest you start by identifying how your firearm will be used. If you’re a hunter, this means knowing how you plan to hunt. If you’re a non-hunter, this means determining your unique target-shooting needs.
For instance: If you anticipate encountering or harvesting your quarry at close range, as can often be the case when hunting dangerous big-game animals, consider adding a low-magnification riflescope (typically ranging from 1X 4X or 1to 6X in variable-powered scopes) to your long gun. Vanguard’s Endeavor RS VI 1-6x24 Riflescope, for example, delivers wide fields of view and a generous low-magnification range, making it a quality, versatile option for those hunting fast-moving targets on driven hunts or pursuing dangerous game.
On the other hand, mid-range scopes (think 2X to 14X) are traditionally preferred by big-game hunters across the board, as they tend to be smaller, more lightweight and incredibly versatile – meaning they’re up to the most commonly encountered big-game hunting tasks, which typically require shooting distances ranging from 100 to 300 yards or so. The Endeavor RS IV 4-16x50 Riflescope (available for both magnum and non-magnum caliber rifles) checks all of those boxes, which make it appealing to spot-and-stalk deer and other big-game hunters especially.
For those that enjoy the challenge of long-range shooting, a high-power riflescope is sure to give you the most bang for your buck. And while we by no means recommend just anyone attempt to harvest animals from distances of 500-600 yards and beyond, we also understand such a scenario might one day arise, and that such shots require many hours be spent and hundreds of practice rounds are fired in order to be aptly prepared. High-power scopes, which can range anywhere from 5X to 30X, are your best bet for making those long-range shots as accurate and as consistent as possible. Our Endeavor RS IV 5-20x50 Riflescope with illuminated Dispatch™ Varmint reticle and 50MM objective offers solid long-distance performance out to 600 yards, while maintaining high-resolution imagery and fantastic low light capability – making it a great scope for varmint hunters, predator hunters, and target shooters alike.
Aim and Planes
The reticle (aiming device inside the riflescope measuring distance and defining point of aim, which appears as hash marks within the scope) is another important feature to consider, given each is designed to function in a different hunting situation.
Before immersing yourself in the nitty-gritty of those big words and complicated definitions associated with these riflescope features, first take some time to consider the following (it’s sure to help, trust us!):
- Point of aim: All reticles provide an aiming point. Finding the view you feel best secures your target and provides minimal room for confusion or error should be a top priority here.
- Shot placement: We’ve all missed shots, there’s no reason to deny it. When you do miss, however, the reticle can help you readjust, shifting the scope to target and helping you place an accurate shot.
- Holdover: Holdover points vary by rifle, ammunition choice and shot distance. Subtension lines in the reticle allow shooters to adjust and accommodate for ranging, holdover and windage corrections as necessary.
- First focal plane: In first focal plane reticles, these corrections can be made regardless of magnification, since images and reticles are magnified in tandem with one another.
- Second focal plane: In second focal plane reticles (which are a bit more complicated since spacing for holdover is correct at one magnification, typically the highest setting), subtension changes along with magnification.
Beyond that, reticle choice will also be impacted by the distance a hunter plans to shoot. Duplex reticles, for example, are most commonly used by hunters in pursuit of varmints and big game, as well as shooters focused on close- and mid-range target shooting. Long-distance shooters, on the other hand, may prefer mil-dot scopes, which are both extremely versatile and easy to adjust in target shooting and varmint hunting scenarios.
Diameter (and Size) Matters
When hiking miles over rough terrain with a loaded pack on your back, one might not think bigger means better. But, in the case of the diameter of your riflescope’s main tube, it absolutely is – even if that means humping around some added bulk and a little extra weight. Typically, these main tubes measure 1-inch, 30mm or 34mm in diameter. The larger the diameter of this tube, the greater the range of adjustment – an important factor to consider for those long-distance shooting scenarios.
Regardless of your desired magnification, look for a tube that’s nitrogen or argon purged, and both waterproof and shockproof as well. This ensures it’ll withstand heat, moisture and the many seasons of hard hunting you’re bound to put it through.
Objective lenses range in size from 20mm to 72mm, with 40mm and 50mm sizes being the go-to’s for many of today’s marksmen. When considering objective lens size, keep in mind that while increasing lens size will boost light-gathering ability and overall resolution, it will also result in a scope that’s a bit more awkward to carry than one of a smaller diameter, not to mention heavier and bulkier as well.
As always, your objective lens should be made of the best glass you’re able to purchase (aka: the best glass you can possibly afford). Given perhaps the biggest mistake a hunter can make when purchasing a riflescope is perhaps sacrificing high-quality glass and additional premium lens coatings for the sake of a larger lens, this is key – take it from us!
The Looking Glass
As with spotting scopes and binoculars, and as we implored above, when it comes to glass, you really get what you pay for. High definition (HD) and extra-low dispersion (ED) glass lenses enable hunting optics – riflescopes included – to deliver sharp, super clear images with ample contrast and resolution. Coatings are also added to scope lenses, improving light transmission and reducing light lost, ultimately resulting in a clearer sight picture.
Riflescope glass should also be fully multi-coated, with all lens surfaces having multiple layers of thin, antireflective coatings on all surfaces, and feature additional hydrophobic lens coatings for repelling moisture in those less-than-ideal late-season weather conditions.