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Comparing Hunting vs Tactical Scopes – What are the Differences?

Different rifle scopes serve different purposes. While some are more diverse and suitable for almost all types of shooting, others are more specific. Many shooters make use of a variable tactical scope because it helps them in various different shooting situations. A variable magnification enables the shooter to use the same scope for a wide range of distances.

What is the difference between a hunting scope and tactical scope? Honestly, not much. At least not for many hunting scopes vs tactical scopes. Tactical red dots are certainly different but optical tactical and hunting scopes are very similar nowadays. In the past, a hunting scope was somewhat simpler in its features and functionality. Today’s scopes don’t have many differences anymore.

Hunting vs Tactical Rifle Scopes - Is a tac scope better than a hunting scope? Which one is better to mount on your hunting scope?

What is a Tactical Scope?

The word “tactical” generally pertains to military or law enforcement firearms and their accessories. For many a tactical scope translates to a AR 15 optics which is certainly not the only tactical weapon requiring a gunsight.

Tactical scopes, also called tac scopes, are characterized by a low magnification range and serve the purpose of extending the shooter’s range beyond their regular vision, which is why their usage is associated with the military. They simply require you to align your target with the reticle of your scope and eliminate the complications people face when making use of iron sights (co witness sights), which require a little more training to be used effectively.

You will often see 1x red dots being used for law-enforcement and military uses which allow close-quarter shooting with ultra-quick target acquisition. This obviously would be the wrong sight for a sniper who might be required to shoot out to 1,000 yards or more. At that time a tactical scope with a top magnification of 25x might be the better/right choice.

There’s no typical ‘tactical’ use. Depending on what the scope is used for, you will have a wide range of different magnifications. A sniper will require different rifle optics than a member of law enforcement.

Comparing Tactical and Hunting Rifle Scopes for use when mounted on a tactical or hunting rifle

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Tactical scopes are ideal for any shooter, from a beginner level to the more trained one. They are relatively simple and easy to use, and their features, such as the wind adjustment and elevation adjustment make it possible to get a proper aim, no matter how tough the environment is. 

A tac scope pretty much consists of all the elements you expect in a rifle optic: an eyepiece, a lens, a power ring, and wind and elevation adjustments.

Variable tactical rifle scopes offer different magnification ranges. The common range is 3-9X, but there are others where the minimum level of magnification is 8X. For shotguns, rifle scopes with a 2X magnification are sufficient. 

Properly Adjusting a Tactical Scope 

Tactical rifle scopes can allow you to aim accurately across various distances. The key is to make sure you adjust your scope properly, which can enable you to aim comfortably at a distance of a thousand yards or more. 

Adjust your scope according to the distance you will be shooting at. it is ideal to make these adjustments on a day when the wind speed is low because the wind may impact the projected movement of your bullet and cause a parallax error (occurs when the reticles and your target are not aligned).

If the distance you’re shooting at is different from the one you used to align your scope, use a laser finder to determine the new distance. 

The adjustments on your scope will be knobs that you can turn. Adjust the knobs for the wind, elevation, parallax, and focus till your target is centered on your scope lens. Turn the turrets to make adjustments on the field as required to ensure that your target is in line with the crosshairs of your scope lens. 

Adjusting a Tactical scope on your sniper rifle or hunting rifle

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What Features to Look for in a Tactical Scope 

Tactical scopes are very diverse and can be used by snipers, military personnel, and even for recreational use. When buying a tac scope, it’s important to take into consideration the conditions you’ll be working in.

This includes the approximate distance and visibility (whether you’ll require additional lighting or night vision goggles). Also, keep a budget in mind since there are many different types available with varying quality and features. 

The Glass

The quality of the glass used for the lenses greatly impacts the accuracy of your aim. If the glass of the scope lenses is not great, it doesn’t matter how much magnification your scope offers, the performance of your scope will not be up to par. The lens coating also improves the sharpness of the image due to better light transmission. 

The top-rated scopes usually come with ultra-low dispersion glass to optimize performance in low-light conditions. If most of your shooting takes place after dark, you can even buy a Night Vision gun optic. 

The Magnification

Tactical scopes are known for being lightweight and, if they are specialized and top-rated sniper scopes, offer very high magnification like 40X. Choose the magnification range based on whether you’re short or long-range shooting.

Just remember that a high-powered scope for long-range shots will also be heavier and more expensive. These scopes also benefit the most from top-quality glass for improved low-light shooting.


A scope which is recoil/ shockproof can be used again almost immediately for another shot. This feature varies greatly across different scope brands. 

The Reticle 

Premium scopes have reticles that quickly adjust to wind movement and Bullet Drop Corrections (BDC). In recent years a lot of manufacturers also started to offer illuminated reticles. Technology has evolved and improved both the illumination and reliability of scopes with illuminated reticles.


The wind and elevation adjustments (How do you Adjust a Rifle Scope Up, Down, Left, and Right?) fall in different ranges, based on the distance you’re shooting at. For your shot to travel long distances, look for rifle scopes with a high range of elevation and windage. These adjustments are usually measured in MOA or mil-dot (MOA vs. Mil-Dot/MRAD – Guide on the Best for Hunting and Shooting)

The Price

If you’re shooting simply for recreational purposes, a cheaper scope will do the job. If the job is more important, such as military usage, a premium is recommended. Pricing will vary and range from affordable, sometimes cheap red dots to high-priced, high-magnification precision rifle scopes.

Note: Try to get a scope that comes with a lifetime warranty. Since you’re already investing in an optic that you’re likely to use for many years to come, it’s better to have some sort of an insurance policy in case something happens to it. 

Features of Rifle Scopes

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The Difference between a Hunting and Tactical Scope

When looking at a hunting vs tactical scope then nowadays, there are not that many differences. It’s not a stretch to say that you can exchange tactical scope and hunting scope in most cases today.

A hunting scope is extremely durable to deal with harsh weather conditions and tough environments. Hunting scopes may offer fixed (like the SWFA SS scope review) or variable magnification but are generally known for their high level of light transmission. Their power typically doesn’t exceed 20X and the average maximum range is around 8-10X.

Historically, a hunting scope in the past often had not had wind and elevation adjustments. In the last years, it has become normal to find wind and elevation adjustments on hunting scopes. Rifle scopes with higher magnification typically also offer parallax adjustments.

Hunting scopes and tactical scopes are somewhat interchangeable with minor differences. The main difference is that tactical scopes sometimes offer more specialized reticles compared to hunting scopes.

They also at times have higher magnification levels that are not required for hunting scopes. For hunting scopes you need a larger field of view to be able to track and acquire a moving target which often is of less importance for a tactical sight.

The glass quality of a hunting scope is usually better than that of tactical scopes since shooters need to have a proper view of their constantly moving target. Hunting scopes in many cases are required to perform well during dusk and dawn and require great low-lighting capabilities of the optic and crystal clear glass.

Difference between Hunting scopes and a Tactical Scope to mount on your hunting rifle

Different Focal Planes 

The reticle is a series of lines printed on your scope lens. For rifle scopes with a First Focal Plane (FFP), the reticle is above the lens and will get magnified if you make any adjustments to the scope magnification. 

For rifle scopes with a Second Focal Plane (SFP), the reticle is behind the lens. The reticle remains unchanged, regardless of the magnification level of your scope. With SFPs, there might be a proper of misalignment since the reticle is not magnified with the scope magnification. However, the lines are more precise, so once you get the hang of it, the SFP will give you a more accurate aim.

Both tactical, as well as hunting scopes, are available with the reticle on the first or second focal plane. Usually, the cheaper rifle scopes use the second focal plane which works well for shorter distances. Long-range shots are usually easier to make with a scope with a first focal plane reticle.

Choose the Right Scope

At the end of the day, it’s important for you to choose a scope that fulfills your purpose. It’s not just about getting the “best scope of the year”, but it’s also about whether or not the scope features are useful for you or not.

Medium-range or long-range shooting requires one of the top-rated rifle scopes that offer optimal performance during low-light. Keep that in mind specifically when you’re looking for a hunting scope.

You can consult your rifle manufacturer or read online reviews for more advice. Even within the category of tactical rifle scopes (like the Leupold Mark 3HD which we reviewed here), there are many brands and qualities of rifle scopes available. The same is true for hunting scopes. Make your decision based on your budget, the type of use, and the frequency of use.

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Aaron Bennett