How to Choose a Rifle Scope

By Bob Campbell published on  in Gun GearOptics

I am asked about rifle scopes and red dot sights often. Which one should I buy, is just under who should I marry in the overall importance, and very hard to answer for another person. When you add that the student doesn’t know exactly what they are going to do with the rifle scope, the answer is even more elusive. The bottom line is the budget.

semi automatic rifle with EOTech scope and magnifer


The budget may not allow expectations to be met. There are a number of offerings from TruGlo and Bushnell that offer good performance for the money, but some expectations cannot be met on a tiny budget. When the question is presented in such a way that I have a better idea of what they really want, and the intended mission, it is easier to nail down the objective. (Pun intended.) Once the student has more knowledge, the field is narrowed.

Budget is important because it is the bottom line on what we must work with. Quality is more important than features, and we don’t wish to waste our money. The good news is the optics field is competitive and has evolved to the point that modern shooters will find that a $300 scope delivers like a $600 scope from a generation ago.

The next question isn’t as obvious and pertains not to range but instead terrain. Is a long shot the rule? You need a scope that is clear and sharp at 300 yards. If you are hunting in the forest, then field of view is most important. A front focal plane may be what you need. Light transmission can be important in the timberland. Is the scope used for competition where rapid adjustment of the dials is vital? If so, I recommend the new shooter study the situation and study hard and nail down their requirements before considering a purchase.

Savage .308 rifle with rifle scope

I often heard students state that the scope is great, wonderful, or one of their other favorite adjectives. For the newcomer, there are many scopes that give a good appearance if the shooter doesn’t have the experience to qualify their comments. Clarity, color and contrast and resolution are all important. When you are checking the scope in the store, try to find a dimly lit corner and look through the scope.

If you are purchasing from a genuine gun store instead of a chain store, and I hope you are, step outside. Try the scope in dim light or under a tree near the shop. (Ask first!) All the big names are not equal in light transmission.


The next step may be to decide what reticle you wish to use. Second focal plane reticles never change their appearance no matter whether the magnification is cranked up. The target increases in size but the reticle does not. Front focal lenses grow or decrease in size with magnification. Sometimes this works better for shooters.

Bob Campbell shooting an Ar-15 rifle with a rifle scope

There is a great deal of information available for shooters and many good rifle scopes at a fair price. The bottom line… the choice is a personal one. The shooter must consider what magnification they need.

A varmint hunter may need magnification of 10x up to 20x. A hunter stalking deer in New England may need 4x and nothing more. The popular 3×9 hunting scope is versatile and effective, and it may just be the better all-around choice that we first think. Use the logic ladder and climb a rung at a time when choosing the best rifle scope for your use. Nikon, Meopta, and Leupold are excellent names to begin the quest.

Which scope tops your favorite rifle? Is it for hunting, long range, defense, or competition? Share your answers in the comment section.


Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Author: Alfred E. Neuman

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