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How to choose a scope for "General" shooting

Shooting at targets, steel plates, milk jugs or other objects for fun falls under our general category of shooting. 

Usually, the object is increased or decreased in size based on the accuracy and precision of the rifle set up and the shooter’s skills. A Large gong 42x48” is approximately 4.2 MOA at 1,000 yards. So, if your setup is MOA, i.e. it shoots a 1” ten shot group at 100 yards, it will be 10” at 1000 yards, so to hit that gong you will need a 4-MOA shooter and rifle setup. 

Image credit: Jeremy Hicks - Millet LRS 6-25x56

Image credit: Kyle Hawkins - 24in plates at 1 mile. Burris XTRii 4-20x50 G2B Mil-dot reticle.

With general shooting, there is time for setup and positioning of the rifle, and range is either known or can be found with a rangefinder or using the reticle to measure the distance. See the topic on using the scope reticle. 

Elevation is easily adjusted for using your ballistics rangefinder, a phone app, or your paper ballistics tables. Windage is either adjusted for based on a wind call or calculated with a test shot.  

Mechanical precision is the most important criteria, paired with a good hold over or mil-dot reticle and other long-range features. Optical clarity and low light features are less important which allows for some flexibility on the price range of the chosen scope.

Scope buying criteria

Scopes for general long range shooting come in a range of price points and with a host of features depending on how serious the shooter is taking the sport. It’s possible to hit targets out at distance with a hunting scope or even irons sights, your sight or optic is the linkage between you and the rifle.

However for this article, we are focused on the user that wants to build a long range setup, and therefore we have filtered the results based on those key features, with price being the key differentiator.

You can get the job done with greater levels of accuracy and precision — and therefore hit smaller and harder targets — as you move up in price. The quality of the glass will improve, as does the internal adjustment range and reticle design.

Other features

• Illuminated reticle. Useful for providing contrast between your crosshair and your target. 

• Zero stop. Useful to quickly move between ranges of elevation.

• Focal plane. First focal plane should be a priority for any reticle other than a duplex or fine crosshair. Many people do not realize that without a first focal plane scope, bullet drop compensating reticles only work for specific guns, calibers, or load data, and then only at a specific magnification. Mil-Dot, Horus, and other holdover reticles also require a first focal plane reticle to have the correct subtensions.  While it is possible to learn the different subtensions at different magnifications on a Secondary/Rear Focal Plane scope, the cost difference would quickly be eclipsed by the training ammunition needed. 

• Locking Turrets. Turret caps on the elevation turret is a sign the rifle scope is not designed for long range. Locking turrets allow for the turrets to lock in the even they are bumped. 

• Reticle. Reticles are the bread and butter of long range shooting, and it comes down to training and personal preference. Many shooters enjoy the uncluttered feel of a fine crosshair, while others preferred a hard grid system. We recommend having at least a Mildot system built into the reticle for shot corrections.   

As your use case may vary, you will need to pick any features you feel you need to enjoy the sport. If you want to do it seriously, then we encourage you to buy the very best scope you can afford, which will likely require spending at least $1,000 (at 2018 prices).

Example “personas” for Long Range Shooting

Maggie is our general purpose long range shooter

Maggie didn’t own a rifle larger than a .22lr, until a range buddy let her shoot his hunting rifle 300 yards and she became addicted. Maggie checked around her local ranges and found the longest distance that she can shoot is 400 yards. 

She uses a 

• .308 Remington 700 or Savage Axis II. 

• Weaver or Vortex rings

• SWFA SS 10x fixed power scope, 

• Caldwell bipod.

Total cost $700.

* * *

Maggie can immediately upgrade: 

• Stock > Trigger > Barrel and Bolt. Stock first, then trigger then barrel and bolt. This allows you to practice on a cheap barrel then upgrade. 

• Rings. Switch scope rings to Badger Ordnance, Seekins or other higher end rings.

• Bipod. Switch to Atlas. Harris is good, but Atlas is better for a long range shooter vs. hunting.

• Scope. Switch to SWFA 3-15 or any scope on the list.

• Caliber. Caliber is the determining factor for Shooting.  Upgrade to a 6.5mm or caliber of choice but the .308 is a great general purpose caliber because it is cheap. While the barrels last a long time, .308 is not ideal for long ranges, 6, 6.5 and 7mm might be better choices for that.

* * *

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

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