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Choosing the Right Hunting Scope- Fixed or Variable?

Fixed vs Variable Scopes for Hunting

Trying to find a new scope for your hunting rifle does at times feel a little like having to go to the dentist. Pricing and quality is all over the place. But, not only that. You’ll also have to figure out whether you’ll go for a variable or fixed power scope.

Your immediate thought is that it would have to be one of those variable scopes. But, is that the best choice? Could fixed power scopes work? Let’s get into the weeds of fixed vs variable power scopes when you’re looking for a good hunting scope.

Fixed vs Variable Scopes for Hunting

There’s something calming and therapeutic about the sound of rustling trees and chirping birds. When you’re out on the hunt, you get the chance to reconnect with nature.

The cherry on top of the cake is when you actually succeed in hitting your target. But in order to aim properly, you need the right scope. Read on to find out which scope is best for your next hunting trip.

The Basics of Any Scope

Objective Lens

This is the lens at the end of your scope. When looking at the lens, take its size into consideration – the larger the lens, the brighter it is. Just make sure it’s not too big, because then it’ll be too heavy and difficult to use.

Reticle/ Crosshair

This is generally found in two styles: as a wire on the lens, or it is directly embellished into the glass. Different reticles have different purposes based on whether you’re going long-range shooting, short-range and so on.

Eye Relief

The size of the eye relief is dependent on the type of hunt and the type of gun you use. Guns with powerful recoil require a longer eye relief range. Short range weapons such as handguns need a shorter eye relief range.

Field of View

To detect your target, you need a wider field of view. The field of view is dependent on the magnification, which is based on the type of lens you buy so choose wisely.

Transmission of Light

The better your lens, the more light it will transmit without the disturbance of a reflection. Premium riflescopes can provide light transmission of up to 95%.

Parallax Adjustment

Parallax occurs when the reticle and your target are not aligned. Your objective lens needs to be adjustable to allow you to focus more easily without tilting your head or your rifle too much.

Turrets

Rifle scopes come with different types of turrets: exposed and covered. Exposed turrets work better for target shooting whereas closed turrets are better for hunting since you don’t need to adjust anything once your target has been spotted.

Exit Pupil

This feature comes in handy particularly for hunting in the dark. The higher your exit pupil, the longer you can see through your scope.

Now that we’ve established the basic features of any scope, it’s time to zoom into the different types of scopes and what they’re good for.

Rifle ready for hunting use

Fixed Scopes

As the name suggests, fixed power scopes offer a specific amount of power, which cannot be exceeded. This offers a greater amount of reliability as opposed to the variable scope.

Pros of the Fixed Scope

1.   As opposed to the variable scope, the fixed scope offers a sharper, brighter view to closely pin your target.

2.   They’re also easy to use since unlike the variable scope, all the settings are done for you. You don’t have to make any adjustments to the parallax or magnification. Since the fixed power scope does your job for you, there is a lower chance of you making a mistake and missing your target.

3.   It is sturdy so you won’t break it easily.

4.   It costs less so it’s an ideal purchase if you’re on a limited budget. Within the same price range, you can find a fixed power scope with a much better and clearer glass than the variable kind.

Cons of the Fixed Scope

While the fixed scope may have been the first to take over the hunting scene, it’s becoming outdated now. More and more people are opting for a variable scope because:

1.   Since fixed power scopes offer a set amount of power, if you don’t need that much, it’s going to be wasted. For shorter distance shooting and so on, the fixed scope might be too powerful.

2.   If you’re hunting a bigger target, or one that is close to you, the fixed power may start bothering you since you won’t be able to pin your target.

Deer Hunting with a fixed vs variable scope

Variable Scopes

Variable power scopes are for experienced and experimental hunters. With more diversity due to variable magnification, the variable power scope gives you the opportunity to adjust your lens based on your location, type of target, and proximity of the target to you.

Pros of the Variable Scope

1.   You can use it anywhere – turn down magnification for shorter distances, and turn it up for longer ones.

2.   You have complete control – don’t worry about your target getting too close. With variable power scopes, you can adjust the magnification as your target moves nearer so that you have complete focus on it.

Cons of the Variable Scope

Despite its many great qualities, the variable scope does have some disadvantages.

1.   Variable scopes do not provide the same level of clarity as the fixed power scopes. With the fixed magnification scope, there is only one glass since you can’t make any adjustments. The variable scope has a number of glasses in the front of the lens, which makes the image less sharp.

2.   It is difficult to maintain control over the variable scope – this can be quite dangerous if your target is close and your magnification is not adjusting according to your needs.

3.   It can be a little heavy on the pocket – variable power scopes can be costlier than the fixed ones. There may be times where the fixed scope may be of better quality and may cost the same as a variable one. That being said, it is important to remember that hunting is a tricky sport, especially if you’re working with a moving target. Make sure you choose the rifle scope you’re comfortable using. Rifle scopes don’t follow a one-size-fits-all policy: choose the one that fits your skill level and your type of usage.

Find the best rifle scope under 500 - see whether it's better to have a fixed vs variable optic

When to Consider Using a Fixed Scope

If you don’t fare well under pressure, it’s probably best that you use a fixed power scope for your rifle. When you’re on the hunt and don’t have time to make adjustments, the fixed scope works best because you don’t have to fiddle around with any dials or knobs.

Fixed scopes offer such a wide view, that if your target is at a distance or you’ve got your eye on multiple targets, they’ve got you covered.

Many hunters opt for fixed power scopes because they don’t have to worry about the Second Focal Plan (SFP) reticles, which need frequent adjustment as they work well on some planes but not others. This leads us to the next point, which is the clarity the fixed scope offers. The fact that it has a single glass not only means you don’t need to adjust the second focal plane, it also means you have greater focus on your target.

If you’ve hunted before, you probably already know that hunters generally have a fixed range they prefer to use. In many cases, it’s not a really long-range distance but a few hundred yards. To cover that with fixed power scopes, a 10x magnification would be appropriate. Since there isn’t a need for variable magnification, it is better to invest in a fixed scope which costs less too.

Fixed Power RIfle Scope - Compare fixed vs variable power scopes

When to Use a Fixed Scope

As discussed, the fixed scope is better for wider areas and distant, moving targets. If you’re in the countryside or you’re hunting small, fast-moving animals, a fixed scope is a right fit for you.

This can also be based off the fact that fixed scopes are used by snipers to shoot from long distances.

If you’re on a budget, opt for a fixed scope: not only is it a sharper image, it also costs less than the variable scope and is more durable. It has a stronger build, which can last you forever. You can also get a premium fixed scope for the same price as a basic variable scope.

When to Use a Variable Scope

If you’ve been hunting for a long time and love the “thrill of the chase”, then the variable scope is the one for you. Whether you’re hunting large animals on land, or fast-moving winged creatures in the sky, the variable magnification scope adjusts to YOUR needs.

If you’re hunting in a smaller space, the variable scope allows you to adjust the magnification to focus on your target as you get closer to it.

Overall, both types of scopes have their uses and their disadvantages. Just make sure that whichever one you end up buying, it’s the one that you can use comfortably and happily. There’s no clear “better” choice when you’re looking at fixed vs variable scopes.

Rifle Scopes Center Staff