When looking at scopes, there are 1000 different elements to consider. One of these elements is eye relief. If you’ve read about your scope, but still don’t understand eye relief then you’ve come to the right place. We’re having a detailed look at long vs short eye relief for your scope!
Eye relief is a critical element to the functionality of your scope. Choosing the wrong eye relief can mean that your scope will not work for your rifle or handgun – Knowing The Essentials In Adjusting Your Rifle Scope.
What Does Eye Relief Mean?
When talking about eye relief you have to understand what it means with regards to you and your weapon. Eye relief refers to the distance required for the lens of the scope to your eye for optimal focus. Short eye relief on a weapon is typically anything less than 5 inches of eye relief, and 6 inches of eye relief or more would be a long eye relief.
If you have a short eye relief scope, your eye will be relatively close to the lens of the scope. Short eye relief also requires that you mount your scope further back on your weapon – Guide to Choosing the Best Types of Rifle Scope Mounts.
Long eye relief means that you’ll be able to mount your scope further up on your weapon. This makes it easier to manage firearms with heavy recoil. Long eye relief scopes are also what is usually used with handguns – Best Scope Mounting Kits – Mount, Level, and Align your Riflescope.
Comparing Long Vs. Short Eye Relief
Understanding the basic difference between short and long eye relief scopes is the first step to choosing which style of scope to get for your rifle. The type of scope and mounting position does not only impact your posture but also the balance of your firearm and the field of view and magnification power of the scope itself.
Long Eye Relief – Scope is Mounted further away from your Eye
Choosing a long eye relief scope can have multiple advantages for a shooter. A long eye relief scope allows you to mount your optic further up on the rifle. Often this style of mounting is referred to as a “scout mount.”
Scout mounting a scope allows you to have a wider field of view. Many riflemen with scout-mounted scopes (Best Scout Scope – Reviews and Buying Guidance) are able to shoot with both eyes open (Shooting with Both Eyes Open – Better than Aiming with One Eye?) allowing them quick target acquisition. The situational awareness that comes along with having both eyes open and a wide field of view can mean the difference between a kill shot and a missed buck.
The long eye relief scopes allow for a more natural shooting position for some marksmen. Some find that the forward position of the scope gives them a more relaxed shooting posture that doesn’t require them to crane their neck. This can make a long day of shooting much less tiring when you’re using and getting used to long eye relief scopes.
With bolt action rifles a long eye relief may be preferred for easy chambering. The scope can be mounted forward of the action on the rifle allowing you quick access. Having the ability to rapidly reload a bolt action can make all the difference when taking a second shot at a moving target.
Long eye relief scopes have limited magnification. While they do have magnification and provide additional clarity compared to iron sights, their magnification is small compared to short eye relief scopes. The average power for a short eye relief scope will easily hit 8-10 and higher (What is the Rule for Rifle Scope Magnification vs Distance?). In contrast, a long eye relief scope will usually not hit more than a power of 6 to 8 (sniper scopes come with magnification that is higher: SWFA Super Sniper (SS) 10×42 Review – A good fixed power scope?).
- Forward Mounting
- Large Field of View
- More Natural Shooting Position
- Smaller magnification levels
- Requires lengthy rail space for mounting
Short Eye Relief – Scope is Mounted closer to the Eye
When inexperienced gun owners think of a riflescope, they typically picture short eye relief scopes. These are the scopes that require you to be up close to the lens of the scope. The short eye relief scopes are great for rear mounting and can offer additional magnification and reticle options that long eye relief scopes cannot.
For a short eye relief scope (e.g. Meopta Optika6 Rifle Scope Review – How good are these Scopes?), you can get away with 2 inches of eye relief for light recoil guns and 4-inch for heavy recoil. If you want to avoid hitting yourself in the face (How to Avoid Scope Bite – What can you do to prevent scope eye?), it is best to give yourself a bit of extra room. Some of the shortest eye relief distances are 1.5 inches, but you will need practiced skills to use these.
For many riflemen, when the scope is mounted further back on the rifle provides them with an added view at true one. Though, these scopes still require single eye use to target effectively. They provide the highest levels of magnification and are ideal for those who want to take long-range shots (Steiner Rifle Scopes for Military, Tactical and Hunting Uses).
You usually get less field of view with short eye relief scopes. They are mounted closer to your eye which can for some shooters make it harder to target with both eyes open. You do rely on the field of view that the scope offers as targeting with both eyes is harder. Scopes with high magnification will have a very narrow field of view at their highest magnification which can negatively impact your ability to track a moving target.
Light transmission is also more of a concern with short eye relief. The scope (Vortex Crossfire II Review – A good Rifle Scope to pick?) sits closer to your eye and you have to have more light come into the scope for improved light transmission to get a better sight picture. This is amplified when you’re shooting and hunting in low-light conditions.
Short eye reliefs can make a rifle feel more balanced since you are not placing a lot of weight on the front of the gun. This will allow for a comfortable hold while firing.
Depending on the total diameter of the lens you can have a fairly large scope rear-mounted without throwing your weapon off balance.
There is not as much sighting flexibility with a short eye relief as there is with long eye relief. Target acquisition at high magnifications can be difficult for new shooters and may present problems.
The slower sighting is compensated for with the additional reticle options. Many short eye relief scopes will have advanced reticles that allow you to make windage and elevation calculations easily – History of Rifle Scopes and their Use by Sharpshooters.
- More Balanced Weapon
- Advanced Reticle
- High Magnification
- Possible Eye contact
- Less Surrounding Awareness With Single Eye Use
Eye Relief on a Red Dot Sight
A red dot sight does not have a specific eye relief. You can mount your red dot pretty much anywhere on your rifle.
If you mount the sight closer to your eye then you will end up with a smaller field of view (FOV). It also can get your eye to focus on the sight instead of the target.
A red dot sight mounted farther away from the eye increases the field of view but it has the downside that the frame of the sight will interfere with your image.
Does Eye Relief Change with Magnification?
Yes, eye relief does change with magnification. Typically, when you have a variable scope, you will have a range for eye relief. The higher the magnification, the shorter the eye relief and vice versa.
On a scope with a 3-9x magnification range, your eye relief will change but not dramatically. To take an example, the Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9x50mm has an eye relief range between 3.66 and 4.17 inches.
Scopes with a higher zoom range would be expected to have a larger variation in eye relief. That is however not necessarily true as these scopes also are a lot higher quality.
In many cases, you will see a smaller range in eye relief due to the better quality of the scope (for which you certainly pay).
An example would be the Leupold VX6-HD 3-18x50mm. This specific scope had an eye relief that is only ranging between 3.7 and 3.8 inches!
Choosing a short eye or long eye relief scope is going to depend greatly on the style of shooting you do (Comparing Hunting vs Tactical Scopes – What are the Differences?). You will also want to consider your natural body position compared to the position of the scope when shooting to decide whether to pick short or long eye relief scopes.
Another factor to consider is that long eye relief scopes usually impact the balance of your rifle as they are mounted towards the front. Short eye relief scopes (Leupold Mark 3HD Scopes – Precision Tactical Rifle Scopes) are usually having a lesser impact on the balance as they are mounted more in the center of the rifle.
Higher powered scopes will usually always have a short eye relief. This does again help with the balance as such scopes are usually heavier and bulkier.
Mounting a heavy scope like that towards the front of your barrel will make it a strain to aim and shoot when hunting. Therefore, in most cases using long eye relief scopes with high magnification power is not the best choice.
Your choice may come down to comfortable shooting over magnification levels (Best Rifle Scope Magnification and Power Range). Understanding the primary differences between short and long eye relief is going to give you a hand up when shopping for your scope.
Eye relief is not the only consideration to pay attention to when you’re looking for a new scope. You also have to take a closer look at light transmission, the field of view, and exit pupil to name a few.
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