Rifle scope

Why it’s vital to get the right scope for your rifle

I’m often dismayed about the direction — or lack of direction — of hunters buying scopes, as well as some of the recommendations of counter-jumpers in gun shops. If rifle and scope are mismatched, it can cause big problems for the shooter. 

Once I got a letter from a youngster who had bought a handy Winchester Model 94 in .30-30 — a sensible choice for snap-shooting pigs on the western property where he works. He went on to tell me that the guy in the gun shop had talked him into topping it with a lovely 6-18x scope! 

He was advised that since this was the most expensive scope on the dealer’s shelf, it had to be the best. But for what? Pigs? You gotta be joking! 

And definitely not on a .30-30 where the maximum range is limited to 150 metres. 

Luckily the outfit was on lay-by, so I talked him into exchanging the oversized optic for a neat 1-6×24 which had all the power he needed and didn’t upset the balance of his little carbine.

Could it be that our passionate affair with the riflescope is causing some shooters to abandon common sense and lose touch with the purposes and advantages of the right scope? 

Many shooters are convinced that more magnification is better, and they’re often wrong, but it does goes the other way, too. 

And a chap with a Sako .22-250 told me he was going to equip it with a 2-7x scope for sniping rabbits and pest birds.

He’s not going to pull off very many long-range shots at small pests. Hitting one at 200 metres with that scope would take a lot of doing. 

For his purpose, something like a 4-12x or 6-18x variable power would have been a much smarter choice.

So how do you choose the right scope for your sporter? 

First, understand that once it is mounted, the scope becomes part of the rifle, a vital addition which contributes as much to the performance of the rifle as does the stock, barrel and action. If the scope in any way prevents the rifle from performing at its full potential and efficiency, it’s not the right scope. 

This is why it is important to plan your rifle and scope outfit as a single unit and not just as two separate units joined together.

Today, we have some highly specialised optics which offer all kinds of advantages for the long-range target shooter, but there are some high prices to be paid for these features and, in addition to the high initial cost of the scope, you’ll have to carry more bulk and weight — something most foot hunters want to avoid. 

By my rule of thumb, optical clarity is at the top of the list, but it is just as important to match the rifle to the scope as the other way around. 

Many hunting rifles offer the range, accuracy and shootability that make high magnification worthwhile. 

All things considered, however, you would do well to carefully consider the kind of hunting you will be doing and select the scope that best suits this need. 

For hunting big game, for example, I consider a top power of 10x to be plenty to allow me to hit a big-game animal in a vital area, as far away as I should be should ethically be shooting at it.




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Nick Harvey

The late Nick Harvey (1931-2024) was one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He wrote about firearms and hunting for about 70 years, published many books and uncounted articles, and travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject was unmatched. He was Sporting Shooter's Technical Editor for almost 50 years. His work lives on here as part of his legacy to us all.