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How to choose a Hunting scope

Hunters have unique needs in long range shooting. The chosen shooting range is dependent on the animal, the kill zone size, and ethical hit probability based on conditions. Most short range traditional hunters don’t spend over $1,000 for scopes. They don’t change the elevation turret frequently, preferring Kentucky windage. 

‍Image credit: Justin White

Hunting scopes are typically the most basic type of scope, with a simple reticle design such as Fine, Duplex or Bullet Drop Compensating reticles without windage holds. Many hunters place a premium on lightweight and smaller sizes to enable more maneuverability in the field. 

Older short-range hunting riflescopes are zeroed at 200 yards at shot at Minute of Deer, instead of Minute of Angle. The bullet trajectory will not take it out of the vital areas until 300 yards. Wind at this range has little effect so turrets are usually capped, and turret adjustment is done with a coin at a known range, usually 50 yards.

Advances in optical quality and precision are allowing modern scopes to be useful in the long range. At longer ranges, there is more time for target acquisition, planning and setting up a shot. 

The scope will need to have adjustable uncapped turrets that are easy to access to dial in the elevation, a holdover reticle for wind adjustments, and better glass to view mirage and for shot placement. First Focal Plane scopes allow for quick and simple math while saving weight. A cheap low-end scope will not allow for an ethical kill at long distance.

Scope buying criteria

Scopes for long range hunting tend to be more orientated to the target animals and distances involved. Shot placement is everything in long range hunting in order to keep it ethical. High-end optics are preferred to traditional cheaper scopes.

Magnification and optical clarity are required for spotting and hitting the animal, while mechanical precision is needed to ensure an ethical kill. 

Optical clarity is useful in low light and during dawn and dusk, and durability is important for the scope to survive the brush and weather conditions. Other features like a wider field of view, a wide adjustment range, an easy to use holdover reticle designed for hunting and illuminated reticles are popular. Windplex reticles are preferred, allowing the hunter to quickly dial elevation and make a wind call, using defined subtensions.

Example persona for hunting

John owns a 7mm bolt action, and he would like to hunt deer.  A Deer’s vital zone is an average of 6 inches. John can go out 600 yards and be within a 1 MOA shot for a deer. John’s scope choice will not impact the accuracy of his rifle, but it will affect the accuracy and precision of the shot using the rifle at long range. John wants to be careful to ensure an ethical kill. At 500 yards, John needs to be able to make a 1.2 MOA shot, including reading the wind and adjusting for elevation. If his rifle is a 1 MOA rifle that gives John a small range of error, he needs to buy the right accessories to ensure an ethical kill. 

An example of a budget starter setup would be:

• Rifle Remington 700 7mm-08 

• Bipod or shooting sticks are great additions for a hunter (Remember to think about weight, and height when choosing a bipod)

• A sling for carrying the rifle. A standard lightweight hunting sling is best unless you are using the sling to steady the rifle. 

Scope options:

• Leupold VX3i 4-16 with a one-piece mount for good all-around choice.

• Swarovski z5 for the best glass.

Scope notes:

Prostaff SF FFP: Quick zero, good glass for the price, good tracking, capped, target turrets or Spot on turrets. The recommended variable scope for the budget oriented. FFP recommended. 

HS LR: Vortex Viper PST’s little brother built lighter and simpler for hunting, capped windage turrets, zero stop, but lacking illuminated reticle.

VX3i LRP: The choice for long range in the western states. Recommended by 9 out of 10 hunting outfitters we interviewed. Custom dial turrets and illuminated reticle options. Leupold custom shop can change turret dials or even make custom reticles. 

Conquest: The most popular SFP scope because of glass clarity. Zeiss makes some of the best SFP scopes in the industry, illuminated reticle, but the scopes suffer from lack of First Focal Plane.

z5: Swarovski scopes are prized by hunters for simple, clear reticles and amazing glass. A Lightweight scope that uses traditional reticles.

* * *

*SFP = 2nd focal plane; FFP = 1st focal plane.

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