Guide to buying a rifle scope

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bubblewhip
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Guide to buying a rifle scope

Post by bubblewhip » Sat Feb 09, 2013 6:04 am

(Now before I start, just a reminder I'm just a 20 some year old with no real world experience in either competition, military or law enforcement. So you can take this information for whatever it is worth from myself. I decided to write this for fun, but mostly to address the problem that I feel the firearms community doesn't have good documentation of some topics like this online that has information for beginners, entry level shooters, and experts alike. The information out there is mostly fragmented, full of myths, and it takes quite a while to learn all there is from several different sources. All I can do is hope that the information here is accurate and helpful to whomever searches this information with regards to the confusing world of rifle scopes. There is some pictures and examples regards to mil-dot scopes that I have taken from the video game ARMA, primarily because I was lazy and I already have a Sniper Manual written for the video game and decided to simply copy and paste it since it still applies. Anyways enjoy reading, and feel free to report any embedding errors, factual errors, and even gramatical errors. Enjoy.)

(Previously posted on another much smaller forum)
Guide to buying a rifle scope:

If you are new to firearms or getting more serious into precision shooting then a good rifle scope is what you need. Unfortunately with the literally hundreds of different features, reticules, turret systems, and price ranges from $100 up to $4000 can you really get mind boggled about what kind of scope you should get and how much you should pay for it. To make things worse, there is a lack of very good optics reviews from a centralized source. Sniper Central and American Rifleman will generally do a good job, but can hardly cover the whole range of scopes and scope manufacturers. As you get into this area, you really are going to have to look carefully and understand what a “good scope is” from a “bad scope,” without any professional review sources. Once you get a better understanding of the different features and quality levels from different price points can you really figure out what scope is right for you and your weapon system.

Nomenclature:

Any time you are buying a scope, it's always going to follow a specific format of how they present it.

Let me give you an example...
Leupold Mark 4 10x40

I want you to pay special attention to the 10x40 that is bolded. The 10x means that this scope is magnified to 10 power. If a target that you're viewing through the scope is 1000m away, it will appear as if it is 100m away. If a scope advertises it is 20x it means it is at 20 power, and a target that is 1000m will appear as if it is 50m away.

An example of magnification/power:
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Now a lot of the times you will be faced with a scope marking that’s like this:
Leupold Mark4 ERT 6.5-20x50

What this means is that this scope has magnification between 6.5-20x. There is a setting on the scope that will allow you to dial the scope the 6.5 power, 20 power and everything in between. You can dial it to 12 power, 16 power, so long as it is in the range between 6.5 and 20. This is what we call a Variable Power scope and they are much more common then the fixed power scopes of today. Most of all your rifle scopes will be in variable power settings.
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Once we rotate this wheel the magnification increases or decreases depending which direction we rotate this wheel in.
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The last number 50 in the 6.5-20x50, indicates that it is a 50mm objective.

Well why is that important?

It’s important because it dictates the size of the scope which indirectly relates to it’s weight, but more importantly it governs how much light transmits into a particular scope. Brightness is a key factor in getting clear and visible viewing when looking through glass (any glass, whether it be binoculars, telescopes, or microscopes).

I feel right now would be a good time to answer a very common beginner question.

“Well Why don’t I get the greatest magnification possible? I want a 50 power scope so I can get really really close!”


This question is asked not only when picking rifle scopes, but also spotting scopes, binoculars, and telescopes.

The biggest problem with going with a really high power optic, is that images get darker as you zoom into a target because of a phenomenon called the shrinking exit pupil.

The exit pupil is a ratio defined by this very simple equation...
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It’s best to show it off for real so here’s a picture of a riflescope at a lower magnification setting.
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Now notice how even the camera is getting overblown full of brightness from the white house, and how the brightness is affecting the camera. In real life though, you wouldn’t see this because our eyes adjust and prefer the extra brightness.

Next is the same scope zoomed in.
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Notice how the edges are a bit darker, and the white house is not overblown. That’s because zooming in darkens the image because your exit pupil is actually getting reduced.

The example above is a 5-25x56mm scope which the first image has an exit pupil of 5/56 at low power. Meaning that it has an exit pupil of around 11.

That’s great, that’s better than great because at best the human eye has about an exit pupil of 7 at most, and which degrades as you get older. So we’re getting an extremely bright image at 5x magnification. But if we go all the way up to 25x magnification. Suddenly our exit pupil goes down to about 2. This explains the darkening of the image comparing it to 5x to 25x. So if we gave the scope a magnification of 50x, it would go down to about an exit pupil of 1, which is not very bright at all.

If you are not familiar with optics, the larger objective will also give more light transmission to your eye than is normally possible with your bare naked eye. So you can actually have some form of “night vision” using a very large objective scope like 50-56mm on a lower power setting.

So are all 50mm scopes from different manufacturers equally bright?


the answer to that is NO.

While objective size is a very important factor to how bright a scope will be, different manufacturers will use different coatings, better glass prisms, and most importantly better fittings to improve the amount of light transmission that goes to your eye. So it is very possible that a $1000 scope with a 24mm objective, will be brighter than a $100 scope that has a gigantic 56mm objective.

What exit pupil will tell you is the relative brightness in the SAME LINE and SAME MANUFACTURER of scope. Generally speaking, every scope manufacturer will have a line of scopes with varying sizes and magnification. So you might have a 1-8x24mm scope and a 4-16x50mm scope. What that will tell you is all things being equal and GENERALLY that the 1-8x24mm scope at full magnification will be equally as bright as a 4-16x50mm scope at full magnification.

Elevation and Windage adjustments

almost all scopes will come with at least two adjustments for your scope called elevation, and windage. This allows you to adjust where your crosshairs are aiming to meet up where your bullets are actually landing. This process is called achieving a “zero” on target.

These will be dials shown straight in the middle of the scope, which depending on model, maybe exposed, maybe covered, able to be adjusted with your fingers, or require a bullet or screwdriver in order to adjust them.
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The ones above are covered, so you have to unscrew the tops in order to expose the dials that allow you to adjust your scope to your target.

Each of the dials are measured in either MOA which is minute of angle that every MOA = 1.047 inches every 100 yards. Or more simply about an inch every 100 yards. Or mils, for milradians of which a circle has 6283 of them.

Here’s a demonstration why you need such a feature, even when your shooting in an environment with no wind.

Let’s say we put the scope on our rifle, and we went out to shoot at a very visible target like this...
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But when we aim right here we see that our bullets are hitting top right like this..
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This happens because it is really difficult to mount a scope perfectly in line with the gun. If factory machining is even 0.01 inch off with either the scope or the gun, or the mount that’s holding it, it can cause this.

And let’s say we were shooting at 100 yards and we went down range and measured how far we were missing the center of the target to where the bullets actually land
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So we know our bullets are 4 inches vertically high, and 2 inches to the left at 100 yards.

So if we have an MOA scope, all we need to do is dial our “elevation” by 4 MOA and our “windage” by 2 MOA.

Now if it was 200 yards and we had the same measurements. We would dial elevation to 2 MOA and windage by 1 MOA

If we dial those corrections and we aim right down the center of the target again. We should get this.
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The scope is now “zeroed” and will hit what your crosshairs are aiming at.

Now a lot of people do what’s called “slipping the turrets” which means repositioning the dial when you zero at 100 yards back down to zero. Since we adjusted the dials/turrets on our scope by 4MOA, our turret will now look like this...
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We do this by removing a screw on top of the scope. This allows the dials to be moved freely without adjusting the scope.
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Now we rotate this to 0. And we successfully “slipped” the dials.
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Not all scopes have this feature, but almost all of the larger hunting scopes, and certainly all credible tactical rifle scopes have this feature.

Target Turrets

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You might be looking around for scopes and find that there are different dial designs for your elevation and windage. I introduced this simple dial adjustments that are on most hunting scopes that look like this...

Now you can see that this dial in particular rotates to 14 MOA, but the scope is capable of rotating up to 60 MOA of adjustment allowing you to zero the scope for longer range.

Let’s say in the middle of a hunt you had to dial the scope from 0 to 20 MOA to zero the target. Now your dial reads 6 because 14+6 = 20 MOA. The deer got away, and 4 hours from then you see it again but at a much shorter range that requires you to dial 8 MOA. Biggest question is do you remember the fact you went one hole revolution and you are sitting on 20 MOA of adjustment and not 6? If you forgot which most people do, they you dial 2 more MOA to get 8, which makes them sit at 22 MOA and then sit and realize why the hell their bullet hit 10 feet higher than they were expecting it to until they realize they were on the wrong rotation.

Most target turrets fix that. Target turrets are very tall elevation and windage dials that most of the time are exposed meaning they don’t come with screw caps.
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As you can see they sit taller so you can see it without moving your head too much off the scope, and they have rotational indicators on them.
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Right now it’s pretty easy to see that this scope is sitting on the 3rd rotation of the dial. That’s what target turrets offer you compared to low profile turrets which make them a lot more suitable to tactical uses. If theline sits at the 5, the he/she can know 5 minutes to 5 days from now that the scope was rotated 2 times and needs to make the corrections accordingly. You can also see that it is the same story for the windage turret as well. So keep that in mind although that will rarely ever be touched beyond a single rotation.

1 Inch vs 30mm vs 34mm main tubes:

You might see bullet points listed next to your scope calling it a 1 inch or 30mm tube. But what does that exactly mean?

The tube is in regards to the main body of the scope, that a 1 inch tube is 1 inch in diamater throughout the scope.

This is also what dictates what kind of scope rings you should have so that they will fix your scope.
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So what does this do, other than make us choose what kind of scope rings we want?

The size of the maintube dictates how much windage and elevation adjustment we get from our scope. So a 1 inch tube will generally have 50 MOA of adjustment up and down in total. Which means if you spin the dial all the way down and spin it all the way back up again it should have 50 minutes of angle in the scope. A 30mm tube will have about 65 MOA of adjustment, and then you have progressively larger bodies like 34mm and 35mm scopes.

It’s important to note that this is ALL you get from a larger main tube. Some say that the larger maintube produces a brighter image. This is incorrect, the amount of light the scope can produce is directly related to the objective size, and not related to the size of the maintube.

Eye Relief:
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Eye relief is a specification on the scope that dictates how far your eye needs to be from the scope in order for it to work.

If your eye is too close or too far from the scope, the scope won’t work, it will look like a visable blob in a sea of black.

Now some scopes of a range of eye relief which is called non-critical this means that you can put your face anywhere between the two numbers, like a scope has an eye relief of 3-4 means your eye just needs to be 3 to 4 inches away from the scope.

This differs from critical eye relief scopes which have a much narrower range, generally manufacturers will just put a single number like 4 inches, indicating their range of eye relief is very minimal.

Now there are a different catagory of scopes which are called “long eye-relief scopes”. An example would be scopes seen on the Styer Scout.
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This along with pistol scopes indicate scopes that should be placed far away from your face, that’s why they work with pistols.

A wide non critical eye relief should be critical in scope choices that are more close range in nature like on AR-15s if you decide a close quarter 1-4x24mm scope is the way to go on your AR-15.

Adjustable Objective/parallax Controls:

An adjustable objective or parallax setting is feature that is normally only on scopes after about $200. Now we’re getting into the difference of what you pay for when you go out to spend your money on a scope.

Now Parallax is a difficult to describe phenominon but thankfully Burris has put out a very good video on what it is and why you would want an adjustable parallax.

If a scope doesn’t have this, then the parallax is set at a fixed distance, usually 100 yards for a centerfire scope, and 50 yards for a rimfire scope. If you see rimfire scope it doesn’t necessarily mean that the scope is any less durable than their centerfire counterparts. Most of the time, it’s the manufacturer who decided to adjust the fixed parallax at a low point like 25 or 50 yards, then calling it a “rimfire scope.” If a rimfire scope has an adjustable parallax it usually means the parallax is capable of going down to a very short distance like 7 feet. Almost all scopes that have adjustable parallax will be capable of going all the way up to infinity range so that shouldn’t be a concern when choosing a scope. How close the parallax can go is more often the issue.

Now an adjustable parallax is not necessary on all scopes. If your intention is to shoot less than 300 yards with a hunting gun or an AR Tactical rifle, then your parallax error is not going to be off more than 1 or 2 inches at 300 yards. But it is an absolute must for precision match guns, benchrest guns, or especially tactical precision rifles. At long range, parallax can induce enough error to make the difference between a hit or miss.
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Some scopes with adjustable parallax comes with numbers that are SUPOSSED to correlate to the range that you are shooting at, but they generally only get close. So you may see a lot of even the high end manufacturers use other things such as lines or hash marks to indicate their parallax rather than numbers.

Focusing Eyepiece/Fast Focus eyepiece:

A focusing eyepiece is a device on the scope that allows you to focus the reticle to you. Sometimes out of box because everyone’s eyes are different will appear blurry to you. We use this focusing eyepiece to sharpen the reticle to our eyes


Below is an example of an unfocused reticle.
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And when we focus it, it should look like this.
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Some scopes will offer a fast focus eyepiece on the rear.
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Now this does as exactly as advertised, it allows you to focus the reticle very quickly as oppossed to unscrewing the rear lens and adjusting it to fit your eye. Sound great! But the problem is that you really onlt need to adjust your eyepiece ONCE, and never need to touch it again unless someone else is using your scope with dramatically different eyes. So some of the expensive manufacturers like Nightforce will not add this feature because it risks losing your focus from bumps and rubs of your scope over time.

Reticles:

Perhaps the most important decision in what kind of scope you want to buy, especially for competitive tactical match rifles, is what kind of reticle you want on your scope. Reticles come in all sorts of different sizes and shapes, and it can be very confusing to go through all of them, but thankfully they come in only a few different catagories.

Duplex Reticles:
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Duplex reticles represents the most common kind of reticle you can buy for scopes. These are usually listed for the more inexpensive scopes for rifles and are dead simple to use. If your target is exactly at the range you zeroed at, like at 100 yards then just simply line up your crosshairs and shoot, what you should get is this...
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If your target is farther away like 400 yards, than your bullet is going to drop 45 inches from your 100 yard zero. so your impacts are going to look like this..
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So there are two ways we can fix this. We could simply aim up to match our point of Impact to meet with where we actually want it to hit like this...
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But the problem with this is that it isn’t exact. Because if you do this, you don’t exactly know which point to exactly aim at, especially if you’re doing this at longer distances like 500 or 600 where you could be aiming here or here.
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Now you are just guessing where to put your crosshairs on to actually hit the target. Much more preferential is to change the elevation knob on your scope to meet your target. If we take the last example here
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We know there is 46 inches of drop at 400 yards and we zeroed at 100 yards. We have 46 inches of drop, and an MOA is 1 inch of drop for every 100 yards. So every MOA we dial in is going to be 4 inches of change at 400 yards. We need to get to 46 inches of change, so we dial our scope to 46 inches divided by 4 inches per MOA to get our MOA. This gives us 11.5 MOA. If we dialed correctly we should get our crosshairs Zeroed for 400 yards instead of 100 yards now.

This is the formula.
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So to do this we unscrew our top cap of our scope and rotate the dial accordingly.
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Now our target should be like this...
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This is the most common way of using a duplex scope. It’s been around forever and is on most of the budget scopes that cost anywhere around $100-$500 from quality manufacturers.

Ballistic reticles:

Ballistic reticles are a step up from the standard duplex and give you a fair bit more flexibility.
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The concept is really simple. The manufacturer puts indicators for a particular caliber load like .308/7.62x51 and marks where the bullet will hit at 200 yards, 300 yards, 400 yards and further.
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So instead of guessing, or dialing our scopes and wasting time, we would just hold the point right over the target depending on our range.
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This makes shooting really easy with the scope theoretically. Unfortunately this system still has some limitations. It’s ultimately reliant that you pick the right bullet, right temperature to shoot it at, and the right barometric pressure. The manufacturer takes the middle of all of these values, but if you shoot with this scope up in the mountains of colorado, and then decide to go shooting at sea level somewhere in Texas, you are going to end up with different points of impact, and it’s not going to be entirelly accurate. That being said, using the markings for ranges between 100-300yards, the variable factors don’t tend to make enough of a difference to cause a miss in most situations. But when going out to 400, 500 or the longer ranges of 600-700 these systems start to lose their accuracy if you are not shooting in the EXACT situation the scope was designed for. But if you are not going to hunt further than 300 yards, then it’s a great reticle choice. Just know where the limitations are.

When you get to the more expensive manufacturers who do hunting scopes like Swavorski, Ziess, Leica, and nightforce, you’ll get more elaborate ballistic reticles like this..
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Just remember these follow the same principles, and more importantly the same limitations. The hashes from side to side are for a wind value, like a 4 mile an hour wind to compensate. at 400 yards at the “4”.
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Correct hold for 400 meters with a “wind call” depending on what the manufacturer hashed it at. (usually 4 mph wind)

You can see that this reticle in particular goes up to 800, just remember that if you are not using their exact ammo, on the exact length of barrel your gun has, to the exact altitude, temperature, and barametic pressure, then ranges out to these distances become less accurate as the distances get further and further.

Mil dot or Mil-based systems:


Now we get to the most commonly used reticle in military and law enforcement, which is the mil dot reticle.
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This is a standard Mil-dot reticle used by many civilian and military weapon systems around the world. Each one of the dots represent a “Mil” which is short for Milliradians. Milliradians is a unit of measurement derived from Pi or 3.141 radians. In a circle there is 2*Pi or 6.283 radians. a Milliradian is a Radian*1000. So in a circle there is 6283 milliradians.

Now unlike a ballistic reticle, each dot is equally separated from each other, so they don’t correspond to a particular impact at a given range. So to shoot at 400 yards with a 100 yard zero with a .308 you are going to have to aim up 2.75 mils.

What's the advantage of this? Well this system works with every caliber. So if you choose to get a ballistic reticle that is tuned for a certain load of .308 and really like that scope and move it to a .223 or 5.56 NATO gun then the reticle no longer works. Using a mil based reticle you can move the scope from gun to gun and be able to make accurate compensations regardless of the caliber you are shooting, From .22lr all the way up to the .50 BMG, mils are universal.

You can also use this for range estimation if you don’t have a laser range finder or your laser range finder doesn’t go as far or is broken out in the field. I will quote the Precision Marksman I document I created for Arma to explain how this works...

Consider that we currently have this problem...
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In order to make an accurate shot, you must find the range between you and your target and zero your rifle to the distance you find.

Well what do/can we know?

We can actually estimate the height of an average soldier. In ARMA most soldiers are 1.95m high while standing.
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Okay, what else can we figure out? Using the mil-dot system we can measure how high the target is in milliradians...
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Now we know the target is 2 mils high. But where do we put this value in the picture we have above?

Considering that a “mil” is a unit of measure of a circle, we can also define this as the angle of a target. If this seems confusing, just see the picture below.
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Well, this is all the information we can find out. But we still have the problem of how do we find the distance between you and the target?

We use this formula...
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But this doesn’t doesn’t seem that helpful, so let’s contextualize the formula.
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Better, but we ultimately want to find the Distance of the target (meters). From algerbra we can multiply and divide Distance of target, and Tan(radians) by both sides to isolate Distance of target.
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So let’s apply this...
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Well... Does this actually work in ARMA though?
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This is an actual screenshot taken from ARMA, let’s see if the theory holds water...
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Using a laser range finder:
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Thankfully there is also another easier formula to utilize range estimation...
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Let’s apply the above to see if this works...
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As you can see, range estimation is not that hard. However in most sniper schools, range estimation is the largest point of failure to prospective students. Pick whichever formula works for you.

It’s important to know that range estimation formulas work with any target large or small. You can use it on helicopters, planes, tanks, and even the moon while getting reasonably accurate results.

Now this is for ARMA but believe it or not it works equally as well in real life. In fact better because in real life you can have extraordinarily stable positions with Bipods, sandbags, and tripods, and much more magnified optics and better reticles like this one...
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Now this may look like a standard mil-dot scope but it’s what normally referred to as a milling scope as it uses hashes instead of “dots” to measure the target. You can also note that there is generally a lot more hashes and smaller hashes side to side but everything in principle works the same it just has smaller measurements for you to work with..

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So you can see that this reticle doesn’t work that much different than a traditional mil dot. It just makes it easier to range estimate since you have hashes that are worth 0.2 mils, and hashes worth 0.5 mils. This gets important the further and further you are trying to range estimate something because using mil-dots it’s difficult to tell if a target is 0.25 mils tall or 0.25 mils wide.

Now the problem with mil-dot reticle systems and those like it, is that while it’s very precise to compensate for range and elevation just by using the reticle, the same cannot be said for wind.

Let’s say you we’re trying to hit a 500 yard target and you are zeroed for 100 yards, and you don’t have a lot of time to redial your zero to 500 yards, and there is a gusting wind that requires you to hold 2 mils to the right.
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Now elevation wise, this shot isn’t that big of a deal because all we have to do is hold over the appropriate correction for the bullet we’re shooting. If we are shooting .308 then we hold about 4.25 mils.

Okay, but then we said we have a wind blowing from the left, causing us to hold over 2 mils to the right like this.
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Seeing the problem here? How do you know that you’re holding 2 mils to the right? Is it 2.25? Not quite 2.5 mils? Is this acceptable in terms of error? What if you need to hold 5 mils to the right? Now you’re even further and can you tell if you’re still holding the 4.25 mils you were originally trying to do?

This is what is called often “holding off into space” and it is not conducive to good accuracy because there is no way to be precise. So even the venerable mil-dot scope has some limitations.


Well a viable solution to this is to dial your scope to 500m and then use the reticle to hold off precisely at the middle line like this.
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Great, we rezeroed our rifle to 500 yards if we have the chance and now we just use the reticle to compensate for wind.

Alternatively we can dial our “windage” for 2 Mils of wind and get a picture like this...
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Except there is probably a big problem here still...

Did you notice a few pages back we’ve been mostly talking about MOA or minute of angle when we talk about zeroing our scope? Well the reason why I’ve been doing so is because most people are going to buy their scopes with MOA adjustments. Now... What's 4.25 mils in MOA? Well every mil is 3.438 MOA. Which we need to multiply by 4.25, which gives us 14.6 MOA.

As you can see this isn’t the most convenient way of doing this. Wouldn’t it be easier if your windage and elevation dials in mils, so all we have to do is turn 4.3 mils on our dials?

Well yes it would be, but believe it or not milliradian reticles and matching milliradian dials are not as common as milliradian reticles with MOA dials. Even the US military is still using Leupold Scopes that have a Mil-dot Scope and MOA dials. Price doesn’t even come into the equation too, as you can find $2000 scopes from Leupold that have a Milradian reticle and MOA turrets, so be very careful of what you buy and see if matching reticles and dials are important to you. A reticle that matches the turret is generally regarded as an Mil/Mil scope which means it has matching milliradian turrets, and a matching milliradian reticle. Now there are MOA/MOA scopes out there but they are a little bit rarer.

That being said though, mildot based reticle systems are still the most popular tactical reticle choice in the world as it offers precise range holdovers, range estimation, ultimately adaptable to any rifle platform, and a very affordable reticle as mil-dot reticle scopes can be had for good quality around $300 all the way up to $3 000 for some of the best in optics.

First Focal vs Second Focal Plane


Now before I move on to the last form of reticle, there is something you need to know about scopes that separate a $300 scope to a $1000 or even $3000 scope and that is first focal plane vs second focal plane.

A second focal plane scope is going to the scope most people encounter in their lives. It’s when the reticle looks the same all through the power range, so if you have a 4-16x50mm scope that’s second focal plane, then the reticle is going to look the same if you are on 4x as if you were on 16x.

So this is what your scope looks like unzoomed with a second focal plane scope....
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(Done with an M107 .50 BMG)

Now if we zoom in we see this.
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Notice the size of our mils didn’t change when we zoom in. Unzoomed this target is about 1.5 mils tall and zoomed in it’s 5 mils tall. Now we have two different mil-values so which one do we use? The correct mil-value for range estimation and “holdover” “moving target” compensation is calibrated depending on what the manufacturer set it at. Most of the time is max power so with this scope (yes it’s a game) is a 4.5-14x50 scope, and at 14 power is where the spaces between each mildot is worth 1 mil. At 7 power though each mildot is worth 2 mils.

With a first focal plane scope, each mil hashmark (also known as subtention) stays the same throughout the entire magnification range. So a mil is still a mil at 4.5 power as it is at 14x no matter what level of zoom you are in.

So with First Focal Plane, this is what your scope looks like zoomed in.
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And this is what it looks like zoomed out
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Notice that the target is still 2 mils tall when we zoom out and when we zoom in. This is the advantage of first focal plane scope that all measurements are the same no matter what level of magnification you apply to your scope.

Now despite this there are a lot of people who still prefer the older second focal plane scopes, because first focal plane scopes especially ones with very wide magnification range like 3-20x56mm scope tend to have reticles that are too thin at the bottom end at 3 power, or far too thick and wide at the top end at 20 power. Infact so much so that the reticle can obscure the target at the very top end of 20 power. So this is something you may want to think about when purchasing a scope.

If you are not understanding what this means. Please watch this video from Vortex Optics which describes the differences between First Focal Plane or Second focal plane.

Horus Vision or Christmas Tree Reticles

The latest and greatest reticles on the market are generally what is referred as a Christmas Tree reticle which was pioneered by Horus Vision.
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Now do not panic when you see this. This is NOT that complicated. So all the numbers on the side just correspond to mils like on a mildot scope system.
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And each of the large hash marks side to side equates to a mil.
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So why does this help?

Remember our old problem with the milling reticle which required us to hold off in space?
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Well let’s take the same problem but with the Horus Reticle. It was 4.25 mils of elevation compensation and 2 mils of wind compensation that was blowing from the left.

All we do is simply come down about 4.25 mils and 2 mils to the right like this.
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Now unlike the mil-dot scope, we don’t have to hold off into space, we have an exact precise point to hold over and that means you can actually ignore the whole use of dialing turrets altogether for certain ranges. Just simply pick your holdover points for your ranges and wind and pull the trigger.

At the same time, if you happen to screw up your calculations, then second shot corrections are very easy to correct.

Let’s say you took the shot and for whatever reason the bullet landed in the red dot here.
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From this we can see that we are about 2 mils off from our elevation, and 1 mil off from our windage. So after we see the splash of dirt that comes up from taking the shot, all we do is just take where that shot landed and aim there instead.
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This makes the Horus reticle very fast and intuitive to aim and hit multiple targets at various ranges very quickly, and that’s why this scope is up on the US army’s new sniper system the XM2010.

A few disadvantages to this scope is that, mainly it looks extremly busy to a lot of people. Some have described it as looking a target through graph paper. Another disadvantage is a Horus reticle is very expensive. Most scopes are selling in the $3000-$4000 for a Horus Vision reticle. Even the less expensive Horus Vision scope the Bushnell HDMR is $1600.

Now there are other reticles that have similar features but are not a Horus Vision reticle. These would include the Vortex EBR 2 reticle.
Image
And the G2DMR from Bushnell.
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These fall under the same category as “christmas tree” reticles because they form a shape like a christmas tree going the way down. They offer similar performance to a Horus Vision scope but not usually at the premium and also not the same detail Horus Vision gives. This gives some advantages to offbrand reticles that they are inherently less busy looking than the Horus vision reticle.

These style of reticles are my favorite as they offer the most flexible capability, and precision in reticles you can buy today.

Illuminated Reticles:

Image
Illumination is a feature that are on all kinds of rifle scopes with varying amounts of price. All they do is they light up your reticle a certain color much like a red dot sight. It’s generally located on the rear eyepiece of scopes and run off of a battery.
Image
Illumination is designed for you to see the reticle under low light conditions where the black reticle can get lost in the darkness.

A lot of people argue you don’t need this feature because there is only 30 minutes before sunset and 30 minutes before sunrise which this feature is actually useful. Once it’s actually dark, you need to use something like nightvision to actually see the target.

While that maybe the case, what most people refer to is second focal plane scopes with this argument. The argument changes once you have a first focal plane scope because on low magnification the reticle gets so small that it’s hard to tell what or even where the reticle is. Take a look below.
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This is the horus vision reticle at low power, and as you can see it’s really easy to get lost in this reticle at this power setting. But if we turn on the illumination.
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Suddenly it becomes a lot easier to tell where you are on the scope since it’s not obscured by so many thin black lines, the red dots actually pop out. The same goes for first focal plane mildot scopes which tend to get very thin and hairlike with a low magnification setting. So having that option of a first focal plane scope is generally really nice.

This is All really complicated, can you narrow it down for me?

Okay, so these are just the technical things when it come to rifle scopes but what are you actually going to go out there and buy?

Now, while we could go ask what you want, what you are really constrained by is a budget. Unfortunately not everyone can afford a Nightforce, Schmidt Bender, or custom made US Optics scope. So really figure out what you can afford to buy, rather than what you wish you could have. Now if you can afford more expensive scopes but are one of those types which are not willing to spend more on a scope than the rifle then I really would like you to reconsider what you spend your money on, because I’d personally rather have a cheap $300 Ruger American Rifle, or $700 Remington 700 with a $2000-$3000 scope then the other way around.

Next figure out how far and how close you are going to shoot, and pick the size of the optic based on the how much magnification you have and also make sure your scope fits your stock.

What do I mean by that? If you get a really big 56mm scope even if you don’t care about the weight, it will sit higher on your rifle. This will turn your cheek weld into a chin weld and won’t be ergonomic or comfortable to use at all.
Image
You want your face to be more like the one on the left since you are not using a lot of your neck muscles to keep your head up. Keeping you more still, stable, and therefore getting better accuracy.

Different people have different uses, like most deer shoots are 300 yards or less, which a 3-9x40mm scope would be more than adequate for a deer shooter, but for hog hunters and Safari which deal with much closer distances, a 1-4x24mm scope might be more suitable since it will allow you to aim much more quickly and have less “tunnel vision”. Police Swat snipers have to deal with shoots that are 100m or less but end up being as much intelligence as they are active shooters, so a 3.5x scope for wide field of view and good situational awareness is key, a 15x magnification would be useful for identifying suspects weapons, or identifying whether they are armed or not. Competition shooters might require extremely long range shots so a 20x magnification on the top end would be really useful, and benchrest shooters want the absolute precision in their shooting so a 42x optic might be their scope of choice. Figure not only how far you want to shoot, but also how close you want to shoot and be sure to pick your choice of magnification that suits your needs MOST of the time.

Then go ahead and get a reticle that matches your style of shooting the best. If you are a hog hunter, then you don’t really need a ballistic reticle or mildots where an uncluttered Duplex Scope will serve you the best, or if you're a deer hunter and the Ballistic reticle is accurate enough for you to make quick and easy shots of less than 400 yards on a target. And of course if you’re a tactical shooter, pick whatever system that will help your job do the best in competition or in an emergency situation.

Finally look at the feature set of the rifle and see if you need or want anything that isn’t there. Like illuminated reticles, do you feel okay with a Mil/MOA scope where you have a mildot reticle but MOA turrets? Do you need an adjustable parallax? Is First Focal Plane important to you? If your budget can’t fit all of these features, consider how important each of these features are to you and whether you can live without them or decide whether it’s worth sacrificing other components to your rifle like a certain model of rifle, certain stock upgrades, to get that scope with the added features.

“I don’t know how much to spend. What am I really paying for when I spend “x” amount of money?”


For about $150

The first feature you ever get on an inexpensive scope is the fact it will be durable. For only about a $100-$150 you can get a scope from the major manufacturers like Bushnell, Weaver, and Nikon that it will be waterproof and shockproof. That means it will survive drops, being soaked in the rain, and the internals won’t fog up. This also means that the scope is nitrogen sealed, which means it will not fog up in the cold. This is all features that most people care about so it would be smart to at least spend around $150 to get these features. You will also get fully-multicoated-lenses which will vastly increase image quality and brightness over uncoated lenses or “multicoated-lens.” Your reticle options will generally be limited to a simple duplex. Do not expect easily adjusted windage and elevation dials, it will generally require a screwdriver or a coin. Parallax will generally be fixed. .

If you are looking for an inexpensive scope that “just works” and you will only zero for one distance like 100 yards and never touch again, then this will be a perfectly acceptable price range for a scope. Some extremely good rimfire scopes live in this area and are perfect for most people’s rimfire scope needs like the Nikon Prostaff 3-9x40 Rimfire, and the Weaver 4x28 Rimfire.

For about $200-$250

The number one thing you get in this price range is better elevation and windage dials. Generally they are finger adjustable and most importantly repeatable. This means if you dial a zero to 100 yards, and you moved 10 MOA up and 10 MOA down, it should return right back to the 100 yard zero. This is important if you are depending on using the dials for longer range shots. Some ballistic reticles are also offered in this price range too. This is the price range if you want to reliably shoot out to about 300-400 yards either using the ballistic reticles or dials.

Some of the scopes that are a good representation of this price range are the Redfield Revolution and the Burris Fullfield II.

For about $500

Now it seems like a gigantic jump spending $250 to $500 for new features, but you’ll see this going on forth till about $4000.

Here you are getting a clear improvement in optical quality. Usually in this price point the scopes will have improved prisms and better coatings that make them more clearer and brighter than scopes under this price point. Some call them HD lenses, XR lenses, but companies will generally brag that they put some different kinds of lenses and coating to increase the quality.

You will also get side parallax adjustment, a wider magnification range like 4-16 rather than 4-12. Target style turrets are also found here on the scopes that are 50mm big, which will allow you to tell what rotation you are on, but are generally still covered with caps. Duplex and ballistic reticles are still most often popular, but mil-dot scopes start to appear in this price range.

These scopes are generally where the Varmint Scopes live, scopes that are very large like 50mm, and have very high magnification like 18x-20x. Ment for longer ranges out to 600 yards.

Scopes representative of this range are the Vortex Viper, Nikon Monarch, and Bushnell Elite (not tactical)

For about $1000

This is one of my favourite categories because it represents to me one of the best balances in value and performance.

After this point I will be crucified for saying this, but you honestly stop paying for optical quality. After $1000 the clarity and brightness is about as good as it’s going to get. Maybe... Maybe... if you spend $3000 on a Schmidt & Bender you will be able to tell the difference but I bet it’s not going to be anything remarkably worth 3x the price tag. I say this because there are some scopes in this area like the Burris XTR which some people say are optically comparable to Nightforce Scopes that cost twice as much. We’ll go more on to what you are paying for in $2000 scopes. But the point is after this point you are getting very diminishing returns in optical quality that requires you to spend A LOT more money to get markable differences in quality.

Alright other than the quality what makes this my favorite category? Well you can get access to good quality FIrst Focal Plane scopes in this category that has a mil-dot or mil-based reticle. You also get access to true tactical target turrets that are very large and milliradian adjustments are thrown with it, tactile in their adjustments. 30mm main tubes are the norm, so expect more windage and elevation adjustment than your 1 inch tubes. Illumination is generally thrown in as well.

So you are getting a lot in this category, and these scopes are appropriate for people looking to get into precision tactical match on a lower price point than scopes selling twice or 3 times as much, or a Police sniper on a lighter budget. These scopes give shooters capability to shoot out to 1000 yards with good precision, optical quality, and confidence.

Bushnell offers the only “christmas tree” reticle in the price point which is the G2DMR.

Scopes representative in this range are the Bushnell Elite Tactical, Vortex PST, Weaver Tactical, and the SWFA SS.

For about $2000

Now I would love to tell you that “you're paying for the name” but honestly what you are paying for at this price point is for little tiny features as well as the reputation of the scope maker.

These little tiny features is things like 10 mils per revolution. Most of the scopes in the $1000 are 5 mils per revolution. You will also get something called Zero Stop, which means if you zero the scope at a distance you want (like 100 yards) you can set the turrets to never go below that point. This helps because if you don’t keep track of your rotations on your scope (even if they are indicated), you can simply rotate the dials all the way back down to your “zero stop” which will leave you right back to a 100 yard zero. Locking turrets are also added whenever the turrets are not in use

Now this is all garnish, but what you are really paying for is a certified reputation from the maker. This is where all the big boys sit like NightForce, and Leupold. And what they give you back for that reputation is a guarantee that every single thing is right on the scope and most importantly that rotating the adjustments 10 mils will actually give you 10 mils. You have to remember that elevation and windage dials are mechanical devices, if they are even a little bit off and for the level of adjustment you have, it is not uncommon to dial 10 mils and only get 9.7 mils. Now most of the $1000 are close, and honestly close enough for 1000 yard shooting, but sometimes close is not close enough, and some people require the scope be properly calibrated for 1600m shooting with .338, .300 Win Mag or even .308, because they are dialing 20 mils of adjustment and can’t have it be off by 0.5 mil because it will mean the difference between a hit and a miss.

Most people buying these individually will honestly not need this amount of precision to be honest because we’re talking about extreme ranges. But to some competition shooters $2000 for insurance about their adjustments, and superior customer service if anything does go wrong is worth it when they depend on it to win. You also get incredibly variety in your choice of adjustment either MOA or Milliradian, and a large variety of choice in what reticle you would like, whether it would be mil-dot, milling reticle, Horus Vision, and if you prefer first or second focal plane.

Scopes representative of this range are the Nightforce NXS F1, and Leupold Mk 4

$3000-$4000:


Now at this point, what you are paying for is basically future technology, reputation, or immense customization.

Now future technology is something like the Nightforce BEAST which incorporates 20 milradians per revolution, and also friction locked turrets. Another is a much wider magnification range like 3.5-25 scopes rather than the 5-25. This is also where most Schmidt & Bender scope live which run on their reputation, but were one of the first reliable Horus Vision scopes to come out.

However what you can get here is an entirely one of a kind custom made scope which is made especially for you. What I’m talking about is US Optics who is considered one of the top makers next to Schmidt & Bender for riflescopes. The difference is that US Optics allows you to configure your scopes Alienware style. Any configuration, any reticle, any color, and any feature. Just how much are you willing to pay? You can have some fun going to their site and trying to make the most expensive scope ever, but it allows you to make the perfect rifle scope that has all the features you want.

Scopes representative of this range are US Optics Scopes, Schmidt and Bender, some Nightforce and some Leupold.

Got any opinions of Manufacturers?:


Manufacturers:


- Leupold: Good optics, but really difficult to get into a mil-based system from them. It just seems like you have to toss money for a Mk4 which a fixed power Mk4 cost over $1200! Insanity. The highest end Mk4 cost almost as much as the most expensive Schmidt Bender. I question if they are really that good. Even at that price point, you don't get First Focal Plane, or Mil-Turrets. Leupold is really bad at transitioning most of their scope to mil turret systems on mil based reticules but they are at least starting to do that. The big thing that Leupold actually takes attention to that most people don't is their Optics all across the board are actually VERY light compared to the competition like Schmidt Bender and NightForce. A 50mm Objective from Leupold Mk4 only weighs around 22 ounces where an equally large Night Force or Schmidt Bender will weigh 32 ounces. On the other end of the scale, their Rimfires can weigh up to a svelte and invisible 7 ounces for a 4x28mm.

-Vortex: Very good, very diverse range, excellent warranty, great prices. They can give you an FFP scope for less than $1000 with a mil-mil system, zero stop, Illumination, and great optical quality. Unfortunately the Viper PST that is the FFP scope doesn't have the Reticule system in their Razor HD 50mm scope with windage hash marks similar to Horus. the PST Reticule still runs on a Mil-Dot based system. The Viper PST line is very light compared to other scopes but the Razor both weighs as much as a Nightforce and cost nearly as much.

-Burris: Great optical quality and prices with unfortunate lack of modern features. I don't doubt their XTR line is extremely good glass, but I don't know if I can live with 0.25 MOA turrets on a mildot scope and spend $1000 in the process with no FFP. the Burris MTAC line is only one of the few using 0.10 Mil turrets, but there has yet to be a Burris scope in FFP. Usually their Optics weigh in between the big names. Their not as heavy as the Nightforces of the world, but they are not as light as Leupold either.

-Weaver: Great optical quality across the board for very reasonable prices. Weaver's Tactical scope line has an FFP Mil-dot Scope with Mil/Mil turrets for $700. I believe it is impossible to go less than this without going to a Chinese manufacturer. No illumination, Zero Stop, or Horus Reticle but for $700 and on a tight budget, I can live with it. It has all the important features which is an FFP scope, Side Parallax Adjustment, and Mil-Mil system. Their Rimfire line has always been excellent and compares well with the Leupold competition for a much lower cost. Everything else in their range is pretty wide and diverse, but has generally excellent durability and warranted for life.

Bushnell: I avoid anything other than the Elite Tactical line. I personally think that Bushnell doesn't really offer anything of value but the Elite line. The nice thing is, is the Elite line is some of the best optical choices for premium features, combined with durability, and glass quality. First off you can get into a Bushnell 10x40 Elite Fixed Power for $250. Other than the SWFA SS 10x42 (which I can't get in Canada) This is probably the best "budget" scope for a precision rifle. Good optical quality, light weight, durable, with Target Turrets and while most models have 0.25 MOA turrets, there are actually models floating around with 0.10 Mil turrets. No adjustable Parallax which I would Prefer the the SWFA 10x42 with the Side Parralax setting for a little bit more, but for the given weight of 16 ounces, it has a role on some with light weight bolt action guns.

With Bushnell however you can go all the way up to the HDMR which is a 3.5-21x50 34mm FFP Scope for $1200-$1600. It's a scope that's been winning a good chunk of precision rifle matches. For good reason, as for 1600 you can order the Horus H59 or Tremor reticule which would cost nearly $3000 from any other manufacturer. For $1200 you can get one with a G2DMR reticle which is less cluttered.

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Darrell
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Re: Guide to buying a rifle scope

Post by Darrell » Sat Feb 09, 2013 2:00 pm

I thought I posted about this in your precision shooting/.22/? thread, but I don't see it... If you're looking for a decent scope for the .22, try the Mueller APV or APT scopes. They have adjustable parallax and mildot reticles, and give a lot of bang for the buck. The APV has a 1" tube, the APT has a 30mm tube.
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Aglifter
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Re: Guide to buying a rifle scope

Post by Aglifter » Sat Feb 09, 2013 2:47 pm

You might want to emphasize "boxing" the scope more.

Also, you may want to look into IOR-Valdada scopes - I thought they offered excellent scopes for the money - so does trijicon, IMO, but they are really just hunting scopes.
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blackeagle603
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Re: Guide to buying a rifle scope

Post by blackeagle603 » Sat Feb 09, 2013 4:04 pm

Great post and use of images B-whip. Yeah, dupe's a lot of Chris's previous work but that's fine. The added visuals will help a lot of folks who don't follow pure text as well. Repetition is fundamental to pedagogy and keeps the cold winter conversations going hanging with the crew down at the gun counter.
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rightisright
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Re: Guide to buying a rifle scope

Post by rightisright » Sat Feb 09, 2013 8:08 pm

Nice work.

I would add a price category between $500 and $1000. There are a lot of good scopes in the $7-800 range.

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Highspeed
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Re: Guide to buying a rifle scope

Post by Highspeed » Sat Feb 09, 2013 8:57 pm

blackeagle603 wrote:Yeah, dupe's a lot of Chris's previous work but that's fine.
There just isn't enough of that kind of commentary around, the sheer ignorance of many shooters about basic optical theory is amazing. And it's because very few people are supplying good solid information which allows the making of informed choices.

Very nice job BW.
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PawPaw
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Re: Guide to buying a rifle scope

Post by PawPaw » Sat Feb 09, 2013 9:48 pm

Highspeed wrote:
blackeagle603 wrote: the sheer ignorance of many shooters about basic optical theory is amazing.
I'm one of those guys who is basically ignorant, and furthermore, uninterested in basic optical theory. I understand that it's important for many folks, but all I want a scope to do is provide an aiming point. Granted, I'm a hunter, and I don't get to shoot over about 300 yards. My $300 Leupold and my $200 Weavers suit my shooting just fine. I know my rifles and I know my reticles and I know the hold-over out to my 300 yards. More importantly, I know the hold-under at 40 yards.

There is no doubt that the long-range riflery of our military services have done much to illuminate the difficulty of hitting very small targets at extreme ranges, and there's nothing I like better than talking to those boys. Most of them are great shots. Still, I am amazed at the amount of information available in today's reticles. When I was doing long-range gunnery in M60 tanks, our reticles weren't as busy as some of the Christmas Trees I see today.

The scopes we have today in the sub-$500.00 range are vastly superior to the scopes that we had thirty years ago for any price. Many of our $200.00 scopes are superior to the scopes available when I was a teenager and young adult. Still, treatises like this are valuable as a reference and I'm glad that we have it available.

I wonder how much of the new scopes features and price are actually usable, and how much of the features and price are simply fashion?
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bubblewhip
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Re: Guide to buying a rifle scope

Post by bubblewhip » Sat Feb 09, 2013 10:32 pm

CByrneIV wrote:Not bad.... Some of this could have been lifted straight from my writing... which is a GOOD thing...
I think someone saying "sounds like Chris wrote it." might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said.

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blackeagle603
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Re: Guide to buying a rifle scope

Post by blackeagle603 » Sat Feb 09, 2013 11:45 pm

Many of our $200.00 scopes are superior to the scopes available when I was a teenager and young adult.
Word.
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Aglifter
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Re: Guide to buying a rifle scope

Post by Aglifter » Sun Feb 10, 2013 12:16 am

bubblewhip wrote:
CByrneIV wrote:Not bad.... Some of this could have been lifted straight from my writing... which is a GOOD thing...
I think someone saying "sounds like Chris wrote it." might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said.
If we ever say something you wrote sounds like Yogi... Its time to check your meds...
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, & our sacred Honor

A gentleman unarmed is undressed.

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