Find Your Best Rifle Scope: The Ultimate (NO BS) Guide

by Richard Douglas

Finding the right scope is like lifting Thor’s Hammer.

You’re either worthy or not. It’s the exact same way for finding a scope worthy of your needs.

Especially if you’re new to the rifle scope game, the internet is filled with an endless maze of technical jargon, specs, confusing acronyms, and wrong advice.

Not good.

That’s why I wrote this guide — to walk every shooter (experienced or not) step-by-step through the confusing BS and straight to the bacon.

And by the end of this guide, I promise you’ll be able to find a scope worthy of your needs. Let’s go!

Things To Know Before Choosing a Rifle Scope

In its simplest form, a riflescope is some glass lenses – that you can manipulate – in a tube casing. Before you ever start fumbling with knobs, here’s what you need to know about the lenses themselves.

Breaking Down the Numbers

When browsing for the best rifle scope, you’ll see something like “2-7×40” or “3×32”. The first number (or range of numbers) is your magnification while the second set measures your objective lens diameter.

Should You Choose Fixed or Variable Scope?

Magnification (aka Power) is designated by an “X”. It determines how much closer the target appears than what is seen with the naked eye.

We’ll use our examples above to explain the two types of magnification, then decide which one is best for you.

Fixed Power (3x32)Variable Power (2-7x40)
3×32 is our fixed power example, meaning it only works at one power. In this example, you could only see 3 times closer than with the naked eye – no more, no less. However, these types of scopes come available in just about any power you’re comfortable using.
2-7×40 is our variable power example, meaning you can adjust from 2X power through to 7X power. Some variable scopes offer wide ranges while others are narrower. While there are scopes that go as high as 12X power or more, it’s not always necessary to have that much.
What is Magnification Ratio? It determines how much closer the target appears.

The more you magnify, the closer the target appears through the scope

Why use a Fixed Power Scope?
  • Usually, they offer a clearer, brighter view since there is only one lens through which light passes.
  • They’re usually more affordable than a variable of the same quality.
  • Never fight with sighting in – it’s always ready to go so you can move fast!

Why use a Variable Power Scope?

  • Allows you to shoot confidently in a variety of environments and situations
  • Perfect for hunting, stalking, and long-distance shots

What’s the Best Scope Magnification for You?

1 – 4x:Homestead defense | Target shooting up to 100 yards | Stalking small game
5 – 8x:Target shooting up to 200 yards | Stalking large game | Hunting in closed landscapes (forests, mountains, etc.)
9 – 12x:Target shooting beyond 200 yards | Hunting in open landscapes (deserts, fields, etc.)
Takeaway: Use smaller powers for closer targets and larger powers for long-range targets.

Objective Lens Diameter

Your Objective Lens is at the end of the scope closest to your target and has a measurement in millimeters.

Rifle Scopes Objective Lens Explained

The big clear circle thing, that’s your Objective Lens

Dispelling the Myths

Your objective lens size  does not  directly affect:

  1. Glass Quality – While the objective lens plays a small role in overall image quality, there is much more at play. Size will not make up for poor lens quality.
  2. Light Transmission – Ultimately, the exit pupil determines how much light comes through the scope. While a larger objective lens at low magnification can offer a huge exit pupil (more light), there is a catch. Since our pupils only open between 4 – 7mm at the most, an exit pupil larger than 7mm is wasted light.
How do I calculate exit pupil?
To calculate the exit pupil (in mm), divide your objective lens diameter by your current magnification.

What does Objective Lens ACTUALLY affect?

  1. Scope clearance – Smaller lenses will mount easily with normal scope rings and leave sufficient space between the scope and rifle barrel. Larger lenses require taller scope rings, which can make sighting awkward and uncomfortable.
  2. Weight – A larger lens or an adjustable objective lens equals more weight on your gun.
  3. Reflection – Larger lenses are more prone to reflecting sunlight, which gives away your position.

Which Scope Objective Lens Diameter Should You Choose?

28mm & Under:Firearms with little recoil | Close range hunting | Low power scopes
30 – 44mm:Firearms with more recoil | Low light hunting | Higher power scopes
50mm & Up:Uses higher magnification in low light | Extreme long range targets
Takeaway: Use smaller powers for closer targets and larger powers for long-range targets.

Rifle Scope Lens Coatings

Most scopes have some type of chemical coating on the lens to reduce glare and increase light transmission. Some lens coats will prevent fogging, keep water off of your glass, or protect it from scrapes.

Rifle Scopes Lens Coating Explained

A visual representation of coating on the lens

While many companies have their own formulas with fancy names, these are the basic terms you should know:

Coated:One layer on at least one surface
Fully-Coated:A single layer on all exterior glass surfaces
Multicoated:Several layers on at least one surface
Fully Multicoated:Several layers on all exterior glass surfaces
Takeaway: Not all coats are made alike. That’s why you get what you pay for in optical coats.

Choosing A Scope Reticle

Now that we’ve laid the foundational concept of our lens, let’s check out the building blocks to the perfect aim.

What is the Reticle on a Rifle Scope?

Your reticle is the aiming point (or crosshair) you see when you look through the riflescope.

reticle is the aiming point (or crosshair) when looking through a scope

Reticle = Crosshair. I’m sure everyone knows this because we all played COD before

Basic Reticle Types

Infamous optical giants like Nikon and Bushnell offer pages and pages of reticles to choose. While they all serve a purpose, many of them are specializations of one of these basic patterns:

What is a Duplex Reticle?
  • A duplex reticle is the simplest crosshair pattern, which is what makes it so popular. Crosshair lines are thicker on the outside edges to guide your eyes to the finer, center lines.
What is a Mildot Reticle?
  • Although the mildot reticle looks very similar to the duplex, there are important distinctions. In the center, there are dots are aligned in a way that let you estimate your target’s distance based on its size.
What is a BDC (Bullet Drop Compensation)?
  • In a BDC reticle, you can save time in adjusting your elevation for varying distance. On the lower half of the center crosshair, each line corresponds to a particular distance.
Three basic reticle types which is Duplex, Mildot and BDC (Bullet Drop Compensation)

A visual representation of how Duplex, Mildot and BDC Reticles look like

What’s the right Reticle for your Scope?

Duplex:Hunting and Target Shooting
Mildot:Military, Law Enforcement, and Security
BDC:All-Purpose
Takeaway: Before choosing a specific reticle type, make sure it uses the basic pattern you prefer.

First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane

The focal plane refers to the position of your reticle within the scope. Currently, there are two different styles.

Rifle Scope First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane Explained

First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane. Spot a difference?

Pros and Cons of First Focal Plane (FFP)

  • In a scope with FFP reticles, the reticle sizes adjusts as you scale through different magnifications. Why is this important? No matter what power you’re using, the marks on your reticle will remain accurate. However, its main disadvantage is obscuring your view at low powers (about 1 – 3x).

Pros and Cons of Second Focal Plane (SFP)

  • Most scopes use SFP reticles. Unlike a FFP reticle, it stays the same size regardless of what power you’re sighting through. This gives you a clear picture through all powers, but only if you zero your scope at its maximum power.

Which Focal Plane is for you?

FFPLong-range tactical shooting with powers 10x and higher – Ideal for open environments
SFPHunting and target shooting with powers 8x and under – Ideal for busy environments
Takeaway: For most general situations, you’ll be more successful with SFP. If you specialize in long-range shooting, spend the extra cash for a FFP reticle.

MOA vs MRAD

MOA (Minute of Angle)MRAD (Milradian)
The MOA (Minute of Angle) unit measures 1/60th of an angular degree. Simply, this rounds off to 1” at 100 yards. Many scopes adjust at ¼ MOA, meaning ¼-in at 100 yards, ½ at 200 yards, etc.

  • More precise zeroes
  • Easier math for yards and inches
The MRAD (Milradian) unit measures about 3.6-in at 100 yards (1/1,000th of a radian). Many scopes adjust at 0.1 MIL, meaning 1/3-in at 100 yards, 2/3-in at 200 yards, etc.

  • More ideal for long-range
  • Easier math for meters and centimeters
  • Used by most pros
MOA (minute of angle) vs. MRAD (milradian) Scope Adjustment

MOA vs. MRAD

MOA vs MRAD – Which is Better?

The only answer to this question is…neither. While one may hold a very slight advantage over the other, the differences aren’t large enough to matter. Just because more pros use MRAD doesn’t mean it’s more effective than MOA.

Regardless of which one you choose, here are a few important tips to keep in mind:

  1. Try to align your system with your hunting buddies. If you’re adjusting in MOA and they’re talking in MRAD, it’ll lead to some confusion.
  2. Make sure that your reticle measures in the same system as your turret. Accuracy drops when you’re adjusting in MRAD for a reticle that measures MOA.
Takeaway: The difference between MRAD and MOA is as narrow as that of MPH and KM/H speedometers. Simply, it’s all about preference.

What is Parallax?

Parallax refers to the reticle’s drift from a position in relation to the target when the shooter moves their head slightly. This happens when the scope can’t focus the target and reticle within the same optical plane.

Adjustable side parallax

Turn this knob (parallax) to make reticle more clear and focused

How to Adjust Scope Parallax?

In some rifle scopes, the parallax adjustment will be factory-set instead of an actual knob. Usually, the factory settings are at 50, 100, or 150 yards and will be mentioned as a feature of the best rifle scope.

If there is an adjustable objective on your scope, it is capable of correcting parallax.

Otherwise, the only other option is that you’ll have a third turret (aka knob) to manually adjust the parallax yourself. In this case, you should adjust the parallax every time you change magnification. If you don’t, you will experience a lot of blur, fuzziness, and a lot of missed shots!

Takeaway: Although they are good to have, parallax adjustments are not a crucial feature for your scope. They are useful in breaking the tie when you can’t decide on a scope.

Windage & Elevation

Windage and elevation are the horizontal and vertical adjustments of your scope, respectively.

Scope's Windage and Elevation Turret Explained.jpg

Windage vs. Elevation

Do you remember the MOA and MRAD units? For each “click”, you’re adjusting by the measuring system built into your scope.

Now it’s all coming together under your final set of turrets (knobs) – windage and elevation. Typically, your elevation knob is on top and the windage knob will be on the side.

When you adjust the windage, your aim is moving left or right by one click. Adjusting elevation moves it up or down by one click.

Takeaway: If you want to keep your scope zeroed, reliable windage and elevation turrets are necessary.

Aligning the Reticle on your Rifle Scope

We have our aim lined up just right and are ready to pull the trigger. What other features are relevant at this point?

What is Eye Relief?

  • Eye relief refers to the distance your eye rests from the ocular lens to get a full field of view.
  • The ocular lens is the lens closest to the butt-end of your rifle.
A visual representation of Eye Relief - the distance between your eyes and ocular lens

Eye Relief is the distance between your eyes and lens

Why is Eye Relief Important?

How many times have you paid the consequences of underestimating the power of rifle recoil? Without a scope, it might just knock you back or bruise your shoulder. Of course, you can blow that off in front of your buddies to save face.

With a scope, it can bruise your brow and leave a big, purple shiner, especially if you aren’t using it right. This is why most rifle scopes come with about 3.5 – 4 inches of eye relief. THAT’s how you save face at the range!

Takeaway: The more powerful your rifle’s recoil, the higher priority you should place eye relief.

How much to spend on a Scope?

Congratulations! Now you not only understand the technical jargon, but you probably have an idea of what you want.

Regardless of what your friends or range buddies have told you, you don’t have to spend your entire savings. It’s perfectly reasonable to find very good quality scopes under $350. We just have a few tips for making a financially responsible decision:

Do you want a variable scope but can’t find just the “right one” for the right price?
It’s better to buy a quality fixed scope rather than a poor quality variable scope.
Have you narrowed your options down to a few different scopes and can’t decide on one?
Don’t base your decision on price. Go ahead and spend an extra $50 if that scope has the features you like. Why buy a rifle scope that’s missing a few of your priority features?

Are you finding lots of scopes with extra-special features that you love like illuminated reticles and fancy phone apps?
Simply, if you’re a beginner, you don’t need these just yet. However, if you’ve got the experience, don’t let guilt prevent you from splurging on something that will improve your shot.

Is browsing the web through pages and pages of rifle scopes overwhelming?
We have TONS of expert rifle scope reviews based on specific rifles and calibers! Check them out here

Rifle Scope Recommendations

Best Scopes for AR-10

When the old AR-10 gave birth to his only son — the AR-15 — the world rejoiced. And for a while, everyone thought the creaky ol’ AR-10 couldn’t ever outperform his ‘improved’ prodigy.

They’re wrong.

Although this AR-10’s starting to creak when he shoots, he can fire more accurately, precisely, and powerfully than his AR-15 counterpart.

Am I serious? Yeah really. It’s a ‘little-known’ fact that only the true masters of the AR-10 know. You see, the AR-10 has a bit of a learning curve. But once you master the AR-10, it’ll win your achy breaky heart.

And if you want the AR-10 to really win your heart, may I suggest you read my best scopes for AR-10 guide? You’ll be on a honeymoon for a while.

Best Scopes for Mini 14

Why do the U.S. border patrol, law enforcement, and military rely on the Mini 14?

It’s because…it’s good. The Mini 14 is a masterpiece, built for only truly expert shooters. After hundreds of improvements, the Ruger Mini 14 has gone a long way. Matter of fact, the Mini 14 outperforms the AR-15 in a lot of ways.

For example, it has a lighter 6-lb trigger, higher accuracy, easier-to-clean, piston operated and more durable than the AR-15.

The Mini 14 rifle is, in my opinion, the most underrated gun today. That’s too bad because people are really missing out. Come on, why do you think the A-team chose the Mini 14 as their preferred gun?

Common sense is why. That’s why law enforcement rely on the Ruger.

And if you really want to experience your own Mini 14 to its maximum, read my best scopes for Mini 14 guide.

Best Scopes for 17 HMR

Why do smart hunters and homesteaders shell out extra dough for the .17 HMR? Isn’t the 22LR better? Well, it’s not.

Matter of fact, many of people have actually pitted both the infamous 17 HMR vs 22LR in a final, gladiator-like showdown.

The result? The 17 HMR won. Easy.

There’s a reason for that. The 17 HMR is built like a mini rocket, zipping past supersonic speeds at 2,550 ft/s (at the muzzle) and weighing only 17 grams. The 17 HMR is also more lethal than the 22LR at 100 yards.

But you know that. What you’re probably wondering is how to upgrade your 17 HMR rifle so it can get rid of your pest problem?

Read my best scopes for 17 HMR guide. You’ll say goodbye to your pest problem and missed shots in no time!  

Best Scopes for 30-06

Why did we win WWI and WWII? People will have various explanations. But I truly believe it was because we made the .30-06.

It’s the first cartridge (in its time) that could shoot accurately and powerfully. Actually, there’s barely anything that could survive the .30-06 rifle cartridge, whether it be hulking grizzly bears or a charging elk.

That’s why the 30-06 is still being used by the military and hunters worldwide. It’s just so darn reliable.

But please…for God’s sake don’t use iron sights with your .30-06. It’s stupid. The deer will see you coming from miles away.

Instead, read my best scopes for 30-06 guide and invest in a good scope. You won’t regret it.

Best Scopes for 308

What’s the most popular cartridge in the United States and maybe  the world? The .308 Winchester.

It’s so popular that in Sweden, the .308 is one of the best-selling calibers to date. It’s no wonder. The cartridge is so strong that it can take down a black bear right off its monstrous feet.

That’s the definition of true power right there! And if you’re feeling really daring, read my best scopes for 308 guide to tap into the 308’s hidden superpowers. Be warned: you’ll never hunt the same again.

Best Scopes for M1A

If you own the M1A rifle, you’ve won the lottery. Well, at least that’s what the WWI veterans thought when they saw an improved M1 Garand waiting for them.

That’s because the M1A borrows the M1 Garand’s tested and true design and further improved it. Actually, the M1A is so reliable that even today, the M14 (the M1A’s brother) is still being used in the military.

And it’s going to stay that way. But if you want to cash in on your M1A lottery then read my best scopes for M1A guide. You’ll probably go into shooting retirement right after.

Best Scopes for AR-15

The AR-15 is a beast. The National Rifle Association (NRA) calls the AR-15 “America’s rifle.” The New York Times calls the gun the “most beloved and vilified rifles.”

In my opinion, the reputation isn’t well earned.

Because if you’ve ever owned an AR-15, you know from first-hand experience that the gun is safe. It’s effective, safe, and definitely not a ‘weapon of mass shootings’ as the media says it is.

It’s just a plain, good rifle. And if you own an AR-15, you owe it to yourself to tame the raw power of “America’s rifle” by reading my best scopes for AR-15 guide.

Best 22LR Scopes

The .22LR is stupid cheap. It’s no wonder the Boy Scouts use the .22LR to earn the rifle shooting merit badge.

The bullet is engineered for plinking. Low recoil, low noise, and bargain prices make the 22LR a perfect fit for any recreational shooter or pest controller.

But I don’t have to tell you that. Every single pure blood American knows how it feels like to shoot a 22LR. Pure heaven.

And if you want to raise the heavenly bliss, read my best 22LR scopes guide. This guide, no joke, will turn your 22LR into a dead-point accurate machine.

Best 300 Blackout Scopes

The Spec Ops community needed a subsonic and supersonic cartridge that was Hollywood-quiet and accurate.

So the military asked Remington to fix their problem. And that’s exactly what Remingdon did.

The result? The .300 AAC Blackout.

The .300 AAC instantly won the world’s most competitive shooting competition (USPSA Multi-Gun National Championship). Soon, militaries around the world started to adopt the ammo.

And if you use the 300 BLK ammo as well, check out my best 300 blackout scope guide. You’ll be winning national shooting competitions in no time! (Don’t tell others my secret!)