Choosing a Rifle Scope

I was having a conversation with a fellow hunter over coffee a few weeks ago and he asked what kind and power of rifle scope did I recommend? While that sounds like a somewhat simple question, it really isn't. I say that as I needed to know more information before even beginning to make a suggestion. Here are some of the questions that I asked and why:


What kind of hunting will you be doing? - This is a basic question, but it can play a big role in the decision. Certain types of game will most likely either offer a smaller target or longer distances. A rifle scope for shooting prairie dogs at 300 yards won't be the same for taking whitetails in the mountain areas of North Carolina.

What caliber and type of rifle are you shooting? - Most people understand the caliber question, but don't understand the type of rifle part of that question. I'm sure I'll get some hate mail from this but here's my logic:

My experience has shown that certain types or styles of rifles are simply more accurate or offer longer range capacity versus others. For example, traditional lever action 30-30 rifles made by Marlin are a mainstay among deer hunters all across the U.S. However, I own one of these myself and can speak from experience that it's really a short range, thick brush type rifle. Ranges out to 100 yards or more really become a challenge for this type of rifle no matter how well you shoot. Semi-auto centerfires are very similar in that they offer quick follow-up shots, but have a limited effective accuracy range no matter what the caliber. In scenarios with these types of rifles, a higher powered scope such as a 6X18 or up would really be somewhat of a waste as the rifle really can't match the scope capacity for performance. My point here is that the actual type (not brand mind you) plays a role in the scope choice.


What type of terrain will you be shooting in? -  The reasoning here is simple, terrain will play a role in range. The open plains of Montana will offer far longer shots than the thick swamp areas of southern Georgia. Having a scope that will favor your shooting terrain will be very beneficial to your success. A really nice 3X9 scope works great where I deer hunt as the ranges are almost always under 100 yards. That same scope would be woefully under powered for a Mule deer hunt in New Mexico where shots of 300+ yards are possible.

What's your budget? - This is a really important question as it plays a role in the brand and magnification that might be suitable. It's important to understand that, with rifle scopes, you typically get what you pay for as higher quality scopes usually offer better optics and more features. The trick is to set up a budget and stick with it. There are plenty of good quality scopes that can be had for under $200 and $300 that will meet most any needs. You can certainly spend more as well if you wanted.

Taking the time to honestly ask and answer these questions will get you started down the path of choosing the best scope for both your budget and needs.